Our Refugee Friends

I was waiting with Mattie in the doctor’s surgery the other day. We were the only ones there except for a couple in their early thirties, or so they looked, who had a baby carrier by their side. I strained to get a look at the baby, a cute little girl with a pink dress and patterned socks that looked like she was wearing little shoes, and Mattie laughed, saying, ‘You love looking at babies!’ ‘She’s cute,’ I said to the mother, who nodded and then brought the baby carrier closer to us so that we could see the baby clearly. ‘She’s got beautiful eyes,’ said Mattie. They were almost black and sparkling. I asked how old the baby was and the husband replied, ‘4 months.’ We began to chat and I asked him where they were from but he appeared to flinch and then he quietly responded, ‘Africa’. ‘Where in Africa,’ I asked, curiously, and he replied ‘Eritrea’ and thus began a conversation as to how they migrated to America (7 years ago) as refugees and about Eritrea and its problems. Mattie and I filled them in on our own immigration background. ‘You’ve been here longer than us,’ I smiled at the couple. The husband then proudly showed us photos of their country. They hadn’t been back since emigrating, he said, due to the political situation there. He later added that many Eritreans, himself included, still speak some Italian. Mattie asked him what religion the country was and he told us it was Christian.

(Later I looked up Eritrea on the internet and discovered that it has one of the worst human rights record in the world and the least press freedom. It had once been ruled by the Italians and was called Italian Eritrea but following their ousting, Ethiopia annexed the country, leading to a long drawn out armed struggle until Eritreans finally regained their independence.)

I later reminded Mattie of a similar encounter we’d had with an Afghani couple in the same doctor’s surgery a year earlier. I recalled the Afghani mother’s black, flowing costume sparkling with silver sequins and Mattie reminded me that her baby had green eyes. As I had with the Afghani couple, I felt the same level of discomfort now during our conversation with the Eritreans, given Trump and his allies’ opposition to legal as well as illegal immigration and his disparaging comments about the countries from whence came non-white refugees. When it was our turn to see the doctor, I wished the Eritrean couple good luck and said I was glad they had been able to come here as refugees and they both beamed at me. Their story gave me a warm feeling and Mattie said it did her, too. ‘They were able to come here and have their first baby,’ she said, and I thought of all the refugees in countries like Syria who will not have the same luck.

Letter Home

Corpus Christi, 11 March 2018

Dear Mum and Dad,

Thought I’d drop you a note. Can hear Mike mowing. I’ve just done some weeding. Yet more plants went in this weekend – mainly seedlings transferred from San Antonio. Mike thinks we’ll have a jungle here soon. The grapefruit tree blossom has a delightful fragrance that wafts over as you pass by. I discovered a myrtle tree I thought had died (it was a new tree that I’d put in a difficult spot). Unexpectedly it has sprouted and is a foot tall. It will be a light purple blossom. I hope it’s not too near the pomegranate tree we transferred from San Antonio as it was in too shady a spot there. When I’m done and (hopefully) the gardens front and back blossom as they should do, I think I could write a book!

I’ve been trying out my new binoculars. There are lots of starlings around, doves and the odd great kiskadee which I’ve only seen on the Mexican border. These birds are medium-size, have a lemon belly, and a white head with what I think of as a lone ranger mask around its eyes. They have a lovely call.

It’s very humid today but lovely temperature (80s). We saw a wild turkey on the way here, so pretty, and more wildflowers are out.

Well, must go. Lots of love to you both.

xxx

Valentine’s Day 2018

This Valentine’s Day morning, it struck me that 13 Valentine’s Days ago I first saw a photograph of Mattie!

Even without having seen a photo of the little four year-old, I had already made my decision to meet her, with a view to adoption, but for some reason her social worker had failed to put her photo in the post (those of you who have read Dear Mummy, Welcome might remember this). I haven’t read my book since it was published in 2011, fearing it might perhaps be too emotional, but I remember exactly how I felt the moment I saw that large, brown paper envelope on the hallway carpet, and thinking that in only a matter of seconds I would see the face of my future daughter, a face I would know for the rest of my life. And how thrilled I was when I saw her! That adorable little face with the big, brown eyes, the mop of dark hair, the cheeky smile, the flowery dress. I remember placing the three photos of her around my kitchen and as I cooked a meal I couldn’t stop looking round and beaming at her.

Unfortunately for many, this Valentine’s Day will be a day they wished had never happened. I am talking of course about the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When I think back, it must have been happening as Mike and I were eating our Valentine’s meal in our favourite Italian restaurant. It was a cold day and there was a fire in the grate and I had commented to Mike that several of the women seated at tables around us wore tops with hearts on them. When later we arrived home and learned of the high school shooting, it was sickening to hear the usual prayers and condolences and ‘now is not the time to talk about guns’, etc. I forecast to Mike that after two days of news reporting this mass shooting would disappear off the radar, as usual.

Luckily, I was wrong and almost two weeks on, the High School shooting still finds itself in the headlines. Finally, the National Rifle Association and all those hypocritical congressmen who have been their lackeys for so long, might possibly have met their match in the brave, articulate, passionate high school student survivors and their families.

I woke up this Valentine’s Day thinking of my joy on first seeing Mattie’s photograph on a Valentine’s Day 13 years ago. I cannot but wonder how many times the parents of the slain children must have looked back on this Valentine’s Day morning, the morning they last saw their sons or daughters alive.