My Father is a Refugee
Everything came in pairs.
Two plane rides, two restless nights, two long car rides, and two days later we arrived. Electricity was a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. The toilet was a 100 yard walk down a steep muddy hill. Early foggy mornings and late dark nights meant the bathroom was never so intimidating. Water was the public spigot where bare bottomed babies were running, women were filling their pots, and men in their longyis were rinsing. Chickens ran almost as rampant as the children with no school to attend and no parental supervision. Rural was an understatement. Employment was but a dream. Signs with skulls and cross bones were passed indicating a previous landmine area. Abandoned cemeteries and casinos were littered along the drive. We weren’t in a village, we were in the confines of a region where the national government had no reign. We were in a camp in Kachin State in Northern Myanmar.
The residents were victims of the longest civil war in modern history of which you’ve probably never even heard.
Internally displaced is who they are.
Camp leaders, village authority, and respected community members piled into our one room bamboo home. They brought gifts, food, clothing, their pride, and their family name. One by one, we were given a family, we were accepted into a household. We were given a name. An identity. A family line. As far as they were concerned, we were theirs. My name, Lasi Ja Seng Zin, beautiful smooth gold. My father was the camp leader, I had four younger siblings, a mother, and an aunt. My father spoke little English, but if he knew any, he had learned the word daughter. Anytime he saw me, he would smile and say “My daughter.” That night he had us over for dinner and again would smile and say “My daughter.” An instant loyalty was formed with a man I’d only known twelve hours.
The trip was short and a few days later we left. The whole village lined up. Bright reds, yellows, head dresses, and necklaces were the accessories of choice accentuated by instruments and singing. The tune still resides in my memory. We shook the multitudes of hands, attempting to say thank you in Kachin, a meager sign of gratitude for the hospitality we had been shown. At the end of the line waited our SUV. As we climbed in, hands were going through doors and windows still wanting a final good bye hand shake. In the crowd was my father, calm and steady. He reached his hand in the car, I grabbed it, and he kissed my hand. “My daughter.”
There are no words.
Two days, two car rides, and two planes later I arrived home to my comfy bed in Thailand. I had my fill. I was overwhelmed. The ability to process and decompress was non-existent. I had never held something so sacred before. I didn’t post about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t want the memory to be ruined by people who wouldn’t understand, nor the meaning to be stripped to likes on Facebook. Even now, I struggle with sharing the story knowing I will count the views and measure the worth of my words. All my brain could think was “I am responsible for this story. I am indebted to the refugee for the refugee is my ‘father’.” But how do I handle this in a responsible way? Our lives could not be more separate yet it was the most significant experience of my life.
I am indebted to the refugee for he fed me, he clothed me, he gave me a name, he called me his own.