Sunday, August 12, 2012

I Love You

I Love You 

You are alone, far from the place you know and without anyone who cares about you or shows you love. The memories haunt you like a incurable rash—itches you can’t scratch, and when you scratch them anyway, they just get worse.  You can’t sleep, and even when you can that’s when the nightmares come, and they’re not that much better than the insomnia. 

You miss your family. They were all you ever had. You had always been marginalized because of your clan, but at least your family was with you. You had each other. Amidst the violence, the killing, looting, raping—they were there. Until the militiamen came to your home and threw off your door. You ran if you could and if you couldn’t: rape, torture, murder. They took all your possessions too, but that didn’t really matter much in the end because life was draining from your loved ones into puddles of blood on the floor. That’s if you had the torturous comfort of knowing what happened to your family.

At some point you ran. It may have been before the blood, during or many years after-- living as a slave--but you ran. Crossing borders, registering and finding yourself somewhere new with the chance of living a better life. But that chance is an illusion, and you quickly learn that the scale of "better and worse" doesn’t apply to you—you need a ticket to step on that scale and you don’t have the money to buy one.  Sometimes you say it’s worse here, but really it’s more that the disillusionment burns you in a way you haven’t felt before. It’s different than the fire you were thrown into or the hand around your neck—it’s a slow, steady burn that breeds bitterness in its coals.

You are young. Too young, and you beg for help. Sometimes you find a place to sleep, but everything for you is temporal. Cleaning houses sometimes pays for rent, but you’re always on edge for the day you’re done and you have to find a new house to clean—because if you can’t it’s the streets again. Sometimes the employers leave and you part ways wearily but unscathed; but sometimes you flee because the husband wants your body or the teenager burns your arm for the pure savagery of it.

Your body hurts. It may have been the beatings, the time you fell, the disease never cured—but your flesh and bones ache like your soul and it’s overwhelming.  The people that pay for medicine tell you that you have an illness or injury and give you a paper, but you don’t know what any of it means because a diagnosis is too much for them to give—just take this to the pharmacy and you’ll feel better. And sometimes you do, for a little while.

Sometimes you push through. You work if there’s a part of you still alive. But when its all set in—and you see that there is no improvement coming, no redemption on its way—not that you’ve ever even dared dream of a magic lamp or white steed—you give in to the callings of your body. Why work and rot your body if it will all end anyway and there is no hope for change, no ladder to climb?

You are a black woman. The beauty of your dark skin and defined features is lost in racism and hatred of the unfamiliar. They know you’re foreign and therefore vulnerable—so the harassment is worse and more intense. You wear the naqab and cover everything except your eyes, in the hopes of obtaining some amount of security--in the hopes that they won’t see your ethnicity so clearly or your youthful but broken figure and call you names or try and take you to unknown places.

You are a refugee. You have the card you once thought brought life—the yellow or blue card with your name and picture that proves to the world you are legitimately unable to go home. 

You tell your story. You desperately kneel at the feet of those who gave you your status only to be given a number that gets lost in “there’s nothing we can do.”

I need to go somewhere else—anything will be better than here. Maybe go home—back to Somalia where at least there’s no illusion of a better life—I'll just die. Maybe that will be better. My fate there is set, but here I am swimming with no land in sight and just enough left to keep my head above water—but I know the ending to that story, so why keep swimming?

Somali “women at risk” (as they are categorized by UNHCR) have a special place in my heart. Most of my clients have been Somali W@R, and their stories have significantly changed the way I see the world and humanity. I have the utmost respect, admiration and love for these women—weak as they may seem sitting across the table from me, I know that what they have endured is beyond my comprehension, and they have strength I probably will never know.