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20 June 2017

The Biggest Loss I Never Regretted

A poem by Emmanuel Kubwange (Cohort 2016)

The clocks says 11:00 pm Zimbabwean time.

Bags are packed, hearts are heavy,
The atmosphere, the external, is loud and boisterous, but the hearts is silently grieving,
Friends are here to celebrate, but also to say goodbye in what appears to be an eternal separation,
Tomorrow morning, I will fly to Australia, a new life will begin.

A panoramic view of my past life unfolds in my mind,
As I close my eyes in silent meditation, images of refugee camp:
the lines for food rations,
The barefooted walks to schools:
The merry songs and dances on refugee day,
The rainfall one was not sheltered from,
the diseases one was not prevented from,
The death of a child friend to communicable disease,
the unclean water from the borehole,
The scramble for firewood in the forest,
These images play in a visually melodramatic procession.
All of this I will leave behind tomorrow. Tear drops wet my cheeks.

“But what was life in the camp like?” a friend has asked.
Was it about the fear of forced repatriation at any day,
Oh dear friend do you want to hear about the dreams, hopes and ambitions,
That every refugee child had that were buried in the abyss of hopelessness and despair,
Or about the uncertain future, unguaranteed aspiration… a psychological prison?
One thing I know for sure it that it was awful. It is degrading.
It is dehumanizing. It chokes humanity, innocence, hope and faith out of children.

“So what do your parents do?” asked fellow students in an earnest effort to make acquaintance,
Should I tell them that refugees were not allowed to work, however qualified and competent?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” they would enquire with genuine interest.
Should I share with them my deep-rooted but privately held dream to be a scholar?
Or a scientist, or a farmer or a teacher or a musician?
But I could neither think nor imagine a series of realistic events that could lead to their realisations.
Or do I tell them that the decisions about my future,
The food that I must eat, the place I must live in,
The management of my health, how long I will stay in school,
Essentially that every detail about my life is decided by some UNHCR bureaucrat in Geneva Switzerland? Should I tell them that?

When I was in primary school I lost my favourite book and it hurt,
In high school I lost my pocket money that I had saved by skipping lunch and I cried over it,
After coming of age I lost a girlfriend that I loved deeply and my heart was torn apart,
But on the 6th of August as that Australia-bound Qantas plane took off,
I knew I had lost something huge and fundamental,
I lost an identity that I never chose,
I lost a lifestyle where every turn of my life
Was decided by an institutional representative,
I lost the experience of relying on the goodwill strangers for food, safety, education and self-definition,
I lost my ‘refugee’ label and I have never regretted it.
Never Ever. Jamais!

– Emmanuel Kubwange, June 2017