I have never been the one to believe in a supernatural power. I haven’t a shred of belief in coincidence. I have never embraced hope. I have never accepted a surrender of my sorrows to a higher power. I have never counted on luck. Another lady may well put this last one to a test. The results are so far in her favor. Red-haired lady. But only for my color-blindness!
What are the chances that the first of many COA (asylum processing center) projects in Overijssel Province town of Enschede near the border with Germany; would use a shutdown newspaper building, and it would bring together two newspaper journalists from the Sudans? What are the chances that I would share a room with yet another Bangladesh human rights defender (I have just concluded a human rights trainer’s course in Den Haag, in which one of the trainers was from Bangladesh)?
Of all a mother’s love; it so happened that my mother was for many reasons quick to get rid of me. She allowed me to travel to Uganda as refugee on the United Nations antenov aircraft in 1991. She had her reasons of course. She had just lost her husband years earlier. Her new husband was pronounced either dead or joined the new rebellion, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of Dr John Garang (RIP). Her latest husband was under house arrest in Juba for some years before being transferred and detained in Khartoum’s notorious Kobar Prison.
Whether these series of events were to prepare a premise for my departure to Uganda is as it is. Open to interpretation.
For many years I would remain grandma’s favorite until her passing on. This love came at a price. It meant I missed school for a good three years. But it also meant I enjoyed leftover food with the other younger kids. It meant that I tasted locally brewed alcohol much too soon. It meant that I also inherited storytelling. My love for roasted sweet-potatoes and maize was born here. I couldn’t trade this time in my life for anything in the world. Of course, save for the occasional rebuking from grandma; it was more of a cry-dance. She would fine-tune you with two knives in either hands, carefully dug into your belly side. You would get the song she sang and dance away.
For many reasons and by many standards my life is as successful as it can get. “You are in Europe. That is the most important thing. Their jails must be better than freedom here in Africa”, a friend would tell me in a Facebook chat. Come to think of it; I am the first of many new generation refuges that must have access to the internet as a right. We all Facebook, Tweet, Instagram and Skype into the night. We all Whatsapp!
“Yes, I bet their prisons have pillow cushions,” I responded to another friend. Then the conversation would delve into the food and the television programs. I inform them that there is television screening as well as sports center and gym. There are toilets and a school for all ages. There are activities for children and women alike.
Then we discuss money. “They are so rich. They must be giving you guys some money,” the text of the chat read. “Yes in some camps they give some money. But that money is for you to buy some basic things…toothpaste, Vaseline, phone-credit, as well as your own breakfast and lunch—for the camp where I am,” was my explanation.
“How much?” was the impatient chat on the dashboard. I explained that we are given 29€ a week. This money is deposited into a bank account. We are given a card with which to pay from for what we buy.
The chat goes dead for a while. I patiently wait. “….so you are fed, provided clean water and television. And you are protected. You can play football and go to a gym. You can go to school. There is also a computer room. And you are paid some money in addition to all this?”
I was silent for a while. I had expected calculations and numbers. Not paraphrases of the benefits of asylum refugee life.
“So you live on 30€ extra a week. You can save 1,440€ a year. You must not forget what that money can mean for us back home. It means Adele can go to a good school. It means mum can have her back problem checked. It means we may soon get for you that extra wife. You know we never really counted that Ugandan lady of yours. Now you can get a proper wife. A proper Acholi or Ma’di woman. Or from the Kuku. You know….our women are all the same in the end. Not like those city ladies from East Africa….”