It could’ve been me

childhood1Undated: Author second from right

It’s the 1980s.

My older sister sits on the swing. Back and forth, back and forth, she swings; her feet do not touch the ground. The swing barely fits the narrow, tiled verandah overlooking the main road. Sulking, my sister can not ignore my mum’s calls any longer and returns back inside.

A few minutes later, bullets pierce the window right behind where she had sat; bullets that attest to the horrors of a brutal civil war that drenched my country in senseless blood, indiscriminately destroying and ripping families apart.

And even though our car was bombed and a relative sniped on his way to school, we were some of the lucky ones, the immediate reason being my father’s education.

My grandfather knew that education was a passport to freedom and better opportunities, so he sent my father to study in the United States.

He was right.

My father became an electrical engineer, and like many other young Lebanese men, found work in the fast-rising Saudi Arabia, avoiding the unquenchable jaws of warfare and battlefields. And though this meant that my mother had to brave harrowing trips to the airport with children in tow, it is the very reason I am where I am today, typing this post in a leafy well-to-do area of Melbourne, Australia.

I am one of the lucky ones.

I am reminded of my good fortune every time I go back to ‘where I came from’, a land with the highest refugee per capita intake in the world (equating to 209 per 1,000 inhabitants [1]); tottering on the brink of another civil war since 2005, held back only by the horrors of the past and the courageous defiance of its people. Such is the dire economic and political situation, that in 2014, over 25% (1.3 million) of the population live outside the country, and a further 34% are considering moving abroad [2].

I am reminded by our verandah door and windows still pierced with bullets, the limited electricity, the shortage of water, the bad roads. By sepia pictures of the dead that hang on practically each wall.

But most of all, I am one of the lucky ones that migrated by plane at a time when Australian immigration policy was more welcoming of Middle Easterners.

EDIT- Original article stated that my grandfather sold a piece of land to send my father to study in the US. This was incorrect and has been amended.

 

[1] UNHCR 2015, Figure 5: Number of refugees per 1000 inhabitants, “UNHCR Mid year trends 2015”, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=56701b969&query=mid-2015, accessed: 15 January 2016

[2] Al-Monitor 2016, “Why so many Lebanese are looking abroad”, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/01/lebanon-immigrate-career-opportunities.html, accessed: 15 January 2016

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