Refugee Week: True life experiences from Light up Black and African Heritage

This year’s Refugee Week theme was Healing. Light Up Black and African Heritage gave us the privilege to hear from two people who had arrived here as refugees.
The thoughts expressed in this article do not necessarily express the views of North Halifax Partnership.

How strong do you like your tea?

They say, people are like tea: You don’t know how strong they are, until you put them in boiling water.

Strength may not be your first thought when it comes to a refugee.

You might think of a downtrodden person, glancing furtively as they cling to whatever they are able to carry. In many cases this is accurate and still it only scratches the surface.

“ Imagine you were given just one hour to pack your entire life in a backpack. What do you take, what do you leave behind? “

These are, not verbatim, the words of Anne Frank, a refugee in her own hometown.

Imagine, having to do exactly that.

My limited experience of being an immigrant (and later a kind of refugee) but mostly my imagination, tried to concoct what it is like being a refugee.

Leaving the life you know behind. The hopelessness of being unable to protect that life, your home, oftentimes your family, children, grandparents, your own self. How about your pets? That patch of garden you tended, where you picked fruit, the corner where you had your first kiss, that café you so loved to go to but put off because you were too busy and now you cannot ever again, your favourite clothes, picture albums, everything, Everything that makes… You.

And then, arriving in a place you have never seen, where you may not speak the language, you don’t know the ways, you don’t even recognise the looks of the faces, everyone dresses and acts differently, you are misunderstood and unwanted.

Despite all this, there is no way back because there’s nothing to go back to or what’s behind is death and worse than.

They say, the wildest imagination pales before the reality of life. So I had to hear it for myself from those who actually went through it.

I have been asked not to reveal the names or to retell their stories, so I shall honour this.

All I will say is that to talk to these people, you’d think they never had a cloudy day. To see them, they are a picture of serenity, even when they speak of tales that freeze me to the spot. To hear what they had to go through so they can stand there, a smile on their face is overwhelmingly humbling.

Nobody leaves their home without good reason, without the hope of a better life, a safe, dignified life where respect is taken for granted.

Fear may displace any of us at any point of our lives. During refugee week, it may be good to remember that.

It may be worth to spare some time to remember that right now, so very close to us, the Ukraine, a country not so much different to ours is torn apart by war, its citizens displaced. Further still, in North Korea, Yemen, in many Third World countries, a term I use reluctantly and with great shame, right now people choose to flee, clinging on slivers of Hope.

Let’s learn that from Refugee Week if nothing else.

Each of us can look into their family’s history to find that an ancestor of theirs had at some point migrated. In a way, We are all refugees. All Different. All the same.

At some point or another in our family’s history someone had to migrate, looking for something better for their children, us. That though we look, speak and dress differently, we all welcome a casual greeting, a bit of chitchat, a “how are you?”

A little bit of normal life. And perhaps a cup of tea.

Not too strong for me, thank you.

Stirring words were shared. Thank you for sharing with us.



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