Embarking on the long road to freedom but carrying the burden of a family left behind

Jan 31, 2021 | 1 comment

Geo arrived at the bus station at 5 a.m. His entire family joined him, but only that far. He alone held a ticket that would allow travel to the border – and the beginning of a journey that would take him far from his ancestral home, and onto the pathway of his destiny.

When the bus eventually reached its destination he joined others walking across a boundary line. He then showed his identification papers to a customs officer and presented a ticket to a bus driver who then ferried him through to the next border. This went on for several days.

It was mid-afternoon when the last of a long series of buses discarded those who booked passage to what they imagined their future to be – the end of the line. Gathering heat and humidity shimmered along the horizon deceiving some of the passengers to glimpse an oasis in the distance while others saw an undulating mirage that separated reality from a glistering future, and lightning stabbing the horizon and coming their way.

By mid-evening the trail of weary travelers surrendered to their new surroundings. Blades of rain furrowed the landscape, drenching the fortunate ones first; those who had only been stripped of their wealth and dignity. Soon, no one could bear the weight of falling water and weariness any longer; men and women wept puddles of tears, and sobbed with relief, or anxiety. But it was the children who cried the loudest. They mourned their shattered childhood and the memories that lay before them like mirror shards scattered amongst the broken asphalt…

When Geo was a young boy he would often go on picnics with his extended family after mass. His was an impoverished clan who sought solace in the boundless caring the extended family provided, and the steaming bowls of chicken and rice stew served to all every holiday evening at his grandmother’s house. The presence of family was presents enough.

He said that his own family meals were dependent on whatever food the garden provided. But, the table was always set ‘”ust so”, they all had jobs to do, and all ate heartily while jostling one another and being reprimanded;

“Sit down, no tasting before grace, and remember your table manners.”

During the course of interviewing Geo for this story he repeated on two occasions a recurring dream he had when he was a child. He softheartedly mentioned that the vapors of that dream still occasionally linger during the earliest moments of his waking.

“I was seven, shopping in a real grocery store like you see on television. I was with my mother. The two of us were filling a cart right to the brim with food…right to the brim.”

He knows that his lingering dream is a common dream for countless children. He knows too that children need to be fulfilled.

Geo smiled as he recalled taking long walks with those with which he shared confidences, the substance of which he now barely remembers — of his desire for fine clothes and his dream to one day fall in love and have a family of his own.

But, mostly he lamented the auburn rust of corruption that rotted the core of his homeland until only brittle rhetoric and the rubble of broken lives remained.

He said this too: “Once the decision to leave your life behind is made you must do so quickly so as to not draw attention to yourself, or to those perhaps more vulnerable than you who will be left behind. This is imperative. Go while you can still afford it, go when you are still allowed to, and go while you still have your spirit intact.”

Public service always appealed to Geo; his speed on the pitch when a young man made him a standout on his community team, prompting him at an early age to recognize the yoke and sparkle of being a role model. But, for now he is content to have any level of work because, although he is many miles from a homeland he may never see again, he has obligations to his family and their well-being.

He prays that he made the right decision and that this land will embrace him. He is aware that he wears his nationality like an emblem not of his own design, and that some will disregard him as a barbarian, or worse. Still, he has faith that dogged hard work will allow him to prevail and find a level of acceptance and recognition.  He understands that working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and juggling several jobs has become his new standard.

He is 27 years old now, and imagines he has 50 years of productivity left.

Photo by Thomas Ives

Geo has embraced the resolution that his life is no longer his own; he forfeited that the moment he boarded the bus carrying him on the torturous journey from being one of “self” to becoming a conduit for his family’s survival nearly half a world away. He patiently spoke of the obstacles he faced to have come to this place and of his unrelenting determination to persevere. He spoke eloquently of his “understanding of purpose” that his has chosen for this life… and the next.

He is among the warriors who understand the cost of freedom.

The flag he carries is colorless.