Piachaud Gardens, Kandy, Ceylon

THE RETREAT

By my seventh birthday, we had moved again. Since our arrival from Hong Kong to Ceylon just over two years earlier this was our third home. I couldn’t count the temporary homes in three different countries on three continents we had lived in the past six years, but this house felt different. Each step I took towards the house felt like I was walking in a dream. The house became a nurturer of my dreams. Mother sent our address to friends and relatives in Finland.

“THE RETREAT” Piachaud Gardens, Kandy, Ceylon.

I did not know the history of the house at the time, or why it got its name. I just knew it was home. It was my home only for thirteen months, but its impact has lasted a lifetime.

The Retreat

A book- A Key to the Future

The former occupants of The Retreat were Swedish missionaries Einar and Anna Johansson. They had fled with their five children from China to Ceylon just a few months before us in 1949. They shared a Swedish teacher, Marta Persson, with the Bjorkenfors family who had four children. The fact that they had a teacher was one reason why Mother chose to take us to Ceylon. She did not know when she made that decision about the school in Kandy that would form my identity for years to come.

The Swedes had left a behind a book by Elsa Beskow “VILL DU LÄSA” – Do You Want to Read. It had beautiful pictures. I found in it a story which led to important choices later in life. I wanted to learn to read that book. Mother’s native language was Swedish. She taught me. I had read several books in English before I started school. Our home language was Finnish.

Elsa Beskow’s book

Parcels from America

Sometimes we received packages from churches we had visited in America. Once, among all the clothes and dried foods was a post-order catalog. My nine-year-old brother and I studied the pages with pictures of children’s clothes. Can there be so many lovely clothes for children? I wondered. My mother sewed most of our clothes on her hand-driven Singer sewing machine. Some of our clothes came in parcels, but they were never as beautiful as the pictures in the catalog.

  

“If there are such a lot of cute clothes for children, we must have a lot of children when we grow up!” Emmanuel said.
“How many should we have?” I asked.
“Twelve, I think is good. Six boys and six girls.”
“Why six and six?”
“Well, Dad always has so much work to do, so he would need more boys than he has to help him put up his tent for tent meetings and preaching. He has only three of us.”
“Yes, and Mom has an awful lot of work every day, and she has only Mary and me to help her here at home.”
Since we agreed on these matters, Emmanuel went to mom and asked, “Can a brother and sister get married when they grow up?”
“No, that is impossible. A brother and sister can’t marry each other.”

We decided to pray for each other to find the right person to marry – and for the twelve kids, each one of us should have.

 

A Refugee Kid is also a Third Culture Kid

Just another refugee kid

You might find me in one of the overcrowded stinking slums outside a big city of Pakistan or Iran,  or up in the mountains hiding from the latest danger. If I describe myself, it won’t help you much in your search. I do my best to look like any other kid, so the police will never find me and send me across the border. My name is Omid, and I’ll be fifteen my next birthday. My father gave me my name, which means Hope. The birth of a son brings hope, he said. I don’t know what he meant. Hope is something I lost when he left us once again to try to find somewhere for us to live in safety.

Just another Afghan Kid

It is four years since he left us in my mother’s village in Afghanistan. We waited and waited for news after he had left. We hoped that maybe next year we would be together again. Next year has come and gone four times. My baby sister could not yet walk when our father went away. Last year my mother decided to take us to Pakistan. We could not live in her relative’s home any longer. We joined a group of refugees who also had to flee from their homes. This must have been the fifth time in my life that I had to flee from one place to another. I can’t even remember what happened the first two times.

I sometimes dream of a home where can live together in safety. I don’t care where that home is, just that we can be safe and live without fear, without bad dreams. I have to stay here and take care of my mother and my sister. Women and girls cannot live alone in this country or our country.

My mother has told me stories about my father. “When you father was fifteen years old he had to flee from his home in a mountain village to Iran. He traveled all alone to find work to support his aging grandparents. If he hadn’t fled he would have been forced to join the rebels and fight the Russians, and his grandparents would be left starving. He always came back home hoping that he would find a peaceful place for his family. Each time he returned there was a new war, and he refused to fight. That is why he always is on the run. They would kill him otherwise. He has always longed for peace. He has been in several countries, trying to find work and trying to make a home where we could live in safety.” Mother repeats that each time I complain about him leaving us.

Just now he is in a small country somewhere in Europe seeking asylum for himself, and as he says, for our whole family. Europe is very far away from where my mother and I and my little sister live. Sometimes I have talked with him on our cell phone. That is our only link with him. Mother always cries after she has talked with him. Sometimes even she thinks he has abandoned us.

I remember a short time of peace when my father took us back to Kabul, the capital city. It was quite frightening to see the ruins of bombed houses. Father said we would be safe now. His cousin knew one of the rulers of the city who had promised to take care of us.

Father had returned from Europe. We might have been able to join him there if his cousin had not asked him to return. There in Kabul, we lived in a nice small house with a tiny garden where mother quickly planted some of her favorite vegetables. Coriander grew quickly and gave a distinct aroma to our food.  I helped her tie strings for the yellow and green beans to climb the fence. Tomatoes, cauliflower, and eggplant grew in that small garden. I saw my mother was happy again.

She did not have time to gather in the harvest when we had to flee again. My father’s cousin was shot, and the Taliban was looking for all his relatives and friends. My baby sister was born in a cave somewhere up in the mountains where we were hiding. We returned to the village where my mother was born. It was not safe even there for my father to stay for longer visits. He said that one day he would find a safe place for our family.

The Search for Safety

To be continued.