23 June, 2014

Tell a different story: a silent story

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Category: European Action Day, Refugees' stories
Ruxandra Pandea
7 am

Refugee Day

A silent story

by Svoboda Stoeva

“Men imprisoned here were criminals and their crime was great – they had lost a war.   And they were alive”

The King Rat

James Clavell



I spend all my childhood in a refugee camp – which exactly, it doesn`t matter – they all are the same. The smell of human disaster is the same in every place, which shelter those wretches who was not born in Europe. Europe – “the promised land”. Once, when I spoke with my father, I asked him “Daddy, why is so important to go there? Is there like the land is made of gold and the sky is purple?” – in my imagination, in the imagination of 5 years old girl, it should be something really special, since everybody wanted to go there. “Because no one dies there” was his answer. “Wow, it should be a paradise” I was thinking. Such a naivety, childish thought. Now, when I am writing this story, when I think over my past, it seems like it`s somebody else life. It looks like it was in another life.

Although I was growing up in a refugee camp, my childhood was happy. We spend 3-4 years there until the Authorities cleared up our case.  During that time, my parents were asking out language teachers for every single piece of detail about her culture. “Integration” was one of the most says word from all policy makers and social workers around us. My family was thinking that if we would like to be part of this society we should know more about their culture. But in the same time, they tried to preserve our roots, because all people, cultures, ethnicity, religions are different, but are equal, with their own values. My parents were telling me stories about how important is to know who you are. They were thinking that knowledge about whom you are always is born in understanding who and what you are not. If we would like to know more about ourselves, we should know more about others. Where they are from, what about are their dreams and wishes.

My mother used to be a beautiful woman- with dark long hair, deeply, honestly eyes, with glowing skin like silk. When I am watching pictures’ of my father, I notice how self-confident, proud, and manly he was. Now, when my look fell on their faces I see only humility, and sometimes – deeply in their eyes – are hiding some sparkles of hope. My childhood was full of love; full a fear, full of dreams. We lose everything, but my parents manage to stay strong, to give us values, respect for life itself like the most important thing – theirs conviction were that if we are here, if we are born- there is a reason for that. May be we will realize this reason some day, if we are with open mind, with open soul we will see through the mystery of the life. Those lessons are my lodestar – they are my religion, my belief, my inner stronghold – suffering of my family, of my people are some meanings.

My motherland was beautiful: incredibly nature; generous, strong, kind people, full of love. The food is tasty, every mouthful touches your soul, like you put part of this land in your body.  I wish to see my country again, with my very being. My mum was telling me stories about the wind in my land. The wind which whisper to trees so many different stories, how is touching leafs and bringing them stories from all over the world. Stories, that people cannot or do not want to hear. Stories about how absurd human behaviour is. In my country the Wind never stops – he speaks instead of us, who cannot touch the grass, the earth, who cannot come back…

I remember the day of 14.09.2000. It was such a strange day – the sun was sneaking through the cloth of our tent, the wind was strong and angry this day.  Some man came to our tent and told to us “congratulations”. We got a family status, but what now?  For first time I saw my parents so confused – on their faces it was written every emotion that human being can have: happiness, sadness, fear, hope, and surprise. After a few days, we moved out from the refugee camp. I was terrified – like an animal born in zoo and put back into its “natural” sphere. But, what is natural? What is natural for a human being who spent his entire childhood in a refugee camp?

We moved from the refugee centre, some organizations and people helped us to find a place where we could make a home. Then was the most terrifying thing that I ever seen: the school. I didn`t understand why kids there are so curl  .  My teacher said to me “people like you” – who were people like me? I had a mirror at home, I was the same as everybody else: with two eyes, two hand, two legs… I hated them – all of them – I hated this looks full of regret and at the same time full of contempt. What was wrong with me? Was it my fault? Did I have some sign on my forehead on which was written “DIFFERENT”?
As blaming myself that I am different…

One day a kid from school came to me and said to me “Go home! We do not want you here – people like you are distorting our social system, you steal our money. Our people, our grandparents and parents are hungry – we have no money for people like you. Why EU support you, but do not care about us?” He was so angry, his voice was like a thousand knifes, his voice sticks with me. I was so confused. Where is my home, when my country was laceration from war? The state – that is just a land and if my piece of land is broken, where I should go? Does that mean that I have no country?  Who are “our” people? We all are human race, aren’t we? I was so ashamed because of those words – were they the truth? Were my family members thieves? Why these people do not see how hard my father and my mother work? How many languages they know? Why these people do not see how my father was coming home every night exhausted, because he was spent 12-16 hour at the hospital where he was working? Why those people do not see how kind and careful was my mother with children in the kindergarten where she was working? One day I was full of so many emotions, I couldn’t` control them on my anymore .  It was like some lump was blocked in my throat, I wanted to cry, but I couldn`t. My tears didn`t want to come like they lost the way to my eyes. My parents saw me. I was already 18 years old, so my dad put some wine on the table and all together we had a drink. I was playing with my glass, my fingers were making circles over the edge of the glass, and the wine was so tasty – light, but aromatic it was making my body full of sensation. This evening will always stay on my mind and my soul. In this evening for first time in my life I found myself, I realized who my parents are. My dad told me: ” Look honey, there always will be some people who will hate us. This is human nature – to blame somebody else for his or her sadness and frustration. To be responsible for this world means to be responsible for the people and it doesn`t matter if they are different from you. See, we live in a small village, here the medical workers are not enough. Doctors prefer to go in bigger cities or in other counties, where the payment is better. But we are here and I heal those people, I put all my knowledge and efforts into their health. Look at your mum: she is a teacher, she takes care of children, she has really a big responsibility to make them better people, to teach them what is good and what is bad. So, we are part of this society. If somebody else tries to convince you of the opposite, they do not understand what society means. We are not a burden, we are equal with every citizen of this country”.

I grew up and I understood that every person has his/her inner demons, inner fears, wishes, dreams. This kid in school and his family were angry – they were not angry at me and my family – they were angry at the system – the system, the world which was so unfair with them, as it was with me. This kid was the same kid as me – his grandmother died, because she could not pay for treatment. I understand this years later… that every person has his rights. And even the right of feel hate is a right] . Sometimes is hard to accept this right, but it’s a right. Why people hate? I still have no answer, but in my opinion people hate others because they are not strong enough to love. They hate because somebody else told them to hate, and hate is a way to preserve from pain. If we love it is always possibility to be wounded, but if we hate – we are those who bring suffering to others. And this is so easy…

I have so many “silent stories” – stories which I will never tell to the world. Stories about torture, suffering, pain, cries, lies and broken pieces of faith. I have a lot of stories, stories that everyone of us have – they are anger and insult stories about how helpless and lonely we are. It doesn’t matter if we are born in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica and America. That is what and who we are – just human beings full with stories. But there are some silent stories, they are crated in our souls – in these stories boundaries are broken, the world became whole in these stories. The only enemies we have are ourselves. When I look in somebody’s eyes I see how fragile all we are, like dolls made from porcelain. Today I know that those who want to hurt me, hurt themselves. Today I know those who kill, they kill in the name of something, of some idea, ideal. And those who die, die in the name of something they believe in. Today I know, that people who tortured my father have done this because they believe in something – they believe in some social constructs like state, history, money, power, religion – and such things separate people: they make people believe that one is better than another. Today I know that those people are more lonely and miserable than I’ll ever be. Today I know that my silent story is inside of me. This story is about acceptance and understanding. Today I know that to be different is value and not sin. Today I know that if I believe in myself, everything is possible. The world could be a paradise, but it is not. And it is not, because every one of us is fighting for his own rights and conviction.

Today, when I am sitting in my office at Council of Europe, when I meet refugees and asylum seekers I could see exactly the same questions as mine: “Am I good enough for Europe?”, “Will I have a successful future?”, “Am I able to contribute to those societies?”.
But, at the same time, I can see so much anger and pain, like those eyes are saying to me: “The others are indebted to help me. They have everything and I have nothing and it is not because they are better than me, but because they were lucky enough to be born in Europe”.
To those people I would like to say “Yes, you are good enough to be here. If I can work in Council of Europe, if I can know 5-6 languages, if I can, you can too”. And to the others who are thinking that people here are indebted to them, here are also homeless people, roamers, orphans, uneducated and poor people, here people die too.  I strongly believe that all together we are the change of this world. I believe that with my work as a Secretary General of the Council of Europe I am able to help people, to show them that to be part of something means to take your own responsibility for your actions and actions of institution that you represent.

I hope that someday the Wind in my country will subside…. And instead of it, people will whisper… and there will be no more silent stories …

Refugee Day

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