What does “home” mean?
What does home mean to an 88-year old woman living in a coastal city in South Africa waiting to attain official refugee status? What does home mean when you don’t know if your other children are alive; the ones you didn’t see getting murdered along with your husband as you fled in different directions from your village? What does home mean when you share tight living arrangements with hundreds of others in the same situation as yourself? And by tight, I mean a 12x12 room that functions as your entire home, including a bed that lodges a neighbour’s kid on the top bunk every night. What does it mean to stay safely at home and self-isolate due to the COVID-19 situation when you need to get out every day just to find enough to eat for that same day?
It was difficult not to think of the stark contrast that this meaning of home has for hundreds of people – nay, millions of people – to my own impression of home as I travelled back from a recent learning tour to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Along with 12 other participants from Saskatchewan, I had the honour of meeting and hearing the stories of asylum seekers and refugees who had fled from their own country at the risk of their lives in hopes of surviving and finding a permanent place to live. Or, in their more optimistic dreams, a safe place to call home and a place that would provide an education for their traumatized children. For many in this situation, those dreams are a luxury.
MCC photo/Rick Guenther
Beautiful people, they are. Inspiring, actually.
Unfortunately, despite wanting to spend more time with the people we met, we had to make an unexpected exit from the country when COVID-19 made its debut into Canada and generated all kinds of mayhem. It created a challenge for us too – cancelled flights, changed routes, and expensive cell-phone calls to book last-minute lodging – but we got home. It cost about $500 more per person than what we had planned for and we were feeling a little anxious about the whole thing but just like that, we were whisked away to our homes. Our safe homes. Thank goodness for extra dollars in our bank accounts, travel agents and MCC country reps to help us through the situation.
Thank goodness for valid passports.
It’s a really big deal to have one of those when you just visited an 88-yr old woman who has to renew her Asylum Seeker Temporary Visa every month just to ensure that she doesn’t get removed from her… home. It has become her monthly routine for the last 12 years in her attempt to get official status. Having that status would mean something. Among other things, it would give her the opportunity to “take advantage of” some health care services.
It’s hard to imagine calling this reality home in comparison to what I get to call home.
I could see from our visit that she had some family there. Maybe not her blood relatives, but there was a big card on her table that said, “I Love you Mom.” I was glad to see that she was close to somebody and that they called her “Mom” but we knew she didn’t have any of her children with her. In fact, she recently heard a rumor that one of her daughters may be alive and living in the United States. She had no way to find out. While we were there, her TV was tuned onto a station with an Evangelist from the USA preaching up a storm. Maybe she was hoping to catch a glimpse of her daughter in the crowd.
Maybe she was longing for home.
MCC photo/Rick Guenther