When We Meet Again
Two young sisters find themselves with no status and no security. They decide to break the cycle and take a perilous journey to find a better future for the benefit of their family.
Leaving was very difficult; however, I had hope – to find the freedom, education, respect and dignity that were lost in the Somali civil war.
Preparing was not easy because it was a journey of uncountable risks and an unclear destination. We had to limit what we carried and choose only things that were significant to us.
The first significant thing was the holy book of Muslim, the Qur’an, which are the words of Allah, his attributes and his relationship with humankind. Secondly, I packed some of my favourite books, including books about raising children in the Islamic faith. Maintaining my roots and religion was important to me. I also packed two pairs of traditional clothes for special occasions and perfume that was a gift from my older sister. Last, besides pictures of family and friends, was a letter from our older brother, Mohamed, containing wisdom and advice and his request not to forget our loved ones. His letter ended with, “You have to return this letter to me when we meet again.”
Eventually, the night comes that my sister and I must start our adventure. I haven’t slept well for the past two weeks as I counted down the days. I feel butterflies in my stomach- a mixture of sorrow and excitement. I avoid eye contact almost with everyone. How can the house contain my emotions? I walk into my bedroom to see if I’m forgetting anything; everything feels very precious. In the guest room, all my loved ones are waiting for me, including my students. Everyone looks sad, but I smile and greet them. My heart’s drum pounds in my ears; my throat tightens as I try to swallow my tears; however, hugging everyone and hearing their wishes makes it impossible to hold back.
I wear my traditional brown leather-soled sandals. We leave Jeddah by bus, heading to Syria, the first country that we have to cross with illegal documents. Along the way, I keep looking at my sandals and reading the letter through tears, hoping that I will see everyone again.
We arrive in Syria three days later. Then we are smuggled to Turkey. Crossing borders, changing countries drastically changes our circumstances. The tropical weather turns to winter. My sandals are too feminine now. They make me vulnerable. I replace them with sturdy grey leather hiking boots that are lined. The boots inspire strength and hardiness. My sister and I are travelling alone with twenty men.
We climb mountains and walk for several days on rough roads, through farmland and bushes. We feel the pressure of survival. After several tries to cross the Greek border, we succeed; however, a few days later, we are captured by the Greek army, jailed for five days, and deported back to Turkey.
Through this journey, my sister and I encounter many hazards and almost lose our lives. Once my sister is swept into a river, luckily, one of the smugglers risks his life and rescues her. We are captured by the Turkish army at gunpoint and jailed. Even after we are released, I wake in a panic from my nightmares.
Eventually, we register with the UNHCR in Ankara to become convention refugees. Ten months later, we are sponsored by the Canadian Government.
Here we are, seven years later, standing at the Vancouver Airport. I am wearing my sandals and welcoming our family. My sister and I worked very hard for this – like beavers! We promised each other not to marry until we could reunite our family. I feel sadness for the loss of our father and grandmother but happy to welcome the rest.
Before I hug my brother Mohamed, I hand him his letter with a smile and tears.
NIMA BOLOW is from Somalia and immigrated to Canada ten years ago. She now works as a settlement worker supporting new immigrants and refugees for a non-profit organization.