“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land”
Warsan Shire’s Home
My mother loved me, as mothers love their daughters. She wanted nothing more than to keep me close, watch me roam the hallways of my beloved university some more, then finish school, then meet someone perhaps, travel, bring her grandchildren.
In one secret embrace so the neighbours wouldn’t see, in one omitted wave at the airport, the airport that didn’t carry passengers anymore but runaways, she waved it all away, kissed it good buy, happy to never see me again. If that meant I never saw that horror.
And she succeeded, royally, my mother. I never saw the horrors. Or worse. I went on, roamed the halls of other beloved universities, saw the world, and married the love of my life. Made her proud, even if she grins about my happiness from afar.
All ended well for us, we got to reunite, she got to see the birth of her granddaughters, even if she watches most of our lives from far away. She was the lucky one. Her kid got on the plane, her baby got to another shore safely. But in that moment, it must have been awful, letting go of her daughter’s hand, not knowing what would become of us all.
She never thought of me, she told me later. She survived the hunger, thirst, danger, hatred, cold, darkness, explosions. But one thought she couldn’t allow herself. She didn’t let herself think of how much she missed me, how much she loved me, and what will become of me in years to come. But the secret, exhilarating thought that I was safe, made the war seem far away from her, she said.
And mine was a fairytale compared to many others. Now I know very well that no mother sends her children across the world, no father puts his baby on an inflated boat, unless they know that staying on that shore could make them perish. For themselves, mothers would risk staying, as mine did. But for their babies, a grain of hope is still better than having to see your babies suffer. It is like breathing, you cannot begrudge a drowning man trying to gasp for breath. What love those mothers have, to send off their children on uncertain boats, in uncertain lands. What bravery, in the face of cowardice of those who decide on violence so easily from afar, and then kiss good buy their own well dressed and well fed children, and send them off to school to learn and prosper.
And yet, they are all the same children, children of the same world. So when they finally end up in our waters, our rich, safe waters, we must rejoice in that mother’s happiness, happiness she is ignorant of, that her child harboured safely. We should embrace those children, we should celebrate their arrival and make the best we can so they see those mothers again.
And our hearts must break for those mothers whose children were succumbed by waves or hot deserts, for the sorrow those mothers are still ignorant of. It’s easy to think that someone else’s children are washing ashore. It is easy, these days. They are different, they are different colour, they wear different clothes or speak a different language. They cannot be like our children. Their mothers cannot love them like we love our children. They put them on those boats after all.
It is not some romantic notion I speak of. A utopia where every escapee from terrible places on earth can be welcomed with open arms by more fortunate countries, that those families could all be reunited in this new, magical land, where there is plenty for everyone to live in harmony.
But I’m saying that more humane policies and laws regarding citizenship and immigration could be achieved if there was political will, fuelled by compassion, rather than irrational fears and divisions. Because our hearts should break when a child washes ashore. Any child. Break so much that we lift our heads and realise what was done in our name. What was done to keep our own comfortable countries bountiful. To call out our representatives whose policies contributed to destroying the peace and bounty of other countries, making their mothers put their kids on boats, with no safe shore in sight. We need to acknowledge and own up to our own role in demolishing their homes and families, which made them seek our shores. We need also to work harder at understanding what leads to such disasters that uproot millions, as only through learning and understanding can we hope to start repairing the damage, and preventing it elsewhere. We need to look into the eyes of mothers, who just want their children to be safe and grow, instead of absorbing religious truths as do some loudmouth politicians from all sides, who have nothing to lose in this battle, and everything to gain. Meanwhile, we all risk losing what makes us who we are, our humanity. We lose it if we can think that us worrying about our child’s scraped knee or worrying when our daughters are late from school, is any different than some other mother across the world wrapping her child in a warm shawl to protect them from cold wind, just as we do, one day, but then the next day she has to wrap her baby in a blanket this time to send her away from bombs and violence.
No one leaves their home, with a bag in their hands, with only half of their family, without family photos, not knowing if they will ever see all that’s dear to them again. No one does, unless they have to.
Those families we see on the news, with bundles of clothes, in corn fields, on trucks, on orange boats. They look washed out, with crazed eyes, messy hair, and dirty shoes. So we thing, good, we can relax, they are not like us, somehow they have this tragedy woven into them, this was somehow destined for them. So they must be somehow used to it, they must somehow love their children a little less, if they can sit so listlessly beside them, in some muddy hut.
And yet, not so long ago, those families may have been sitting in their living rooms, under the light of a wonderful chandelier they inherited from their wealthy aunt. They were eating on that dining room table they had since the kids were born, that they loved so much as it was always there with them, through family dinners, birthdays, celebrations, mom and dad’s big fights. On the wall was the old book shelf that was always cluttered, although mother always vowed to clean it up, but those knick knacks and souvenirs from their travels nested there permanently, for forever it seemed back then.
One grenade was sufficient to complete the mother’s ever planned chore. All knick knacks were down, souvenirs, together with memories, blasted to pieces, heavy dust falling on remaining books.
It is hard to imagine a jump from that last dinner at the beloved dinner table, to that never cleaner bookshelf in an absolute clutter of a blown up dining room, to that mother, once worried about her bookshelf being constantly used for everything else but books, to that mother handing her daughter off to complete strangers with desperate hopes that she reaches shore safety, touching her extended fingers as long as she can…
People seeking refuge, immigrants seeking better futures, it is a story as old as we humans are. Like with everything else, naturally we needed to build rules, laws, and sometimes even walls. And it is hard to share, it is hard to give up our own comfort, the way we’re used to. All of us are also just humans, and mothers who try to shield their own daughters from dangers. It is that animal instinct, to gather your own and growl at the intruder.
But we are all humans first, and we’re still all the same. We should be loyal to each other first and not our tribes. We should make our governments accountable, not mothers who put their kids on boats. We need to help make their countries whole again, we cannot ignore miseries just because they’re far away or allow our own countries to wreck havoc elsewhere and then be surprised, or worse, outraged when they show up at our door.
The least we can do is not let them wait out in the cold until we figure it out. Now that they’re here, let’s invite them in, get them a cup of tea, and let’s all talk. We are all the same, fathers and mothers who love their sons and daughters. Let’s start there. And we can certainly figure it out. Together.