Monday, June 20, 2011

World Refugee Day 2011: Stories of Finding Refuge

"To all the survivors out there, I want them to know that we are stronger and more resilient than we ever knew. We survived, that should be enough but it isn't. We must work hard to become whole again, to fill our soul with love and inspiration, to live the life that was intended for us before it was disrupted by war and horrors, and help rebuild a world that is better than the one we had just left." 



- Loung Ung, Cambodian-American human rights activist, refugee advocate

Short Film Feature: 
In the 1990s, the Bhutanese government ordered more than 107,000 of their own minority citizens to leave their homes. In response, the United Nations founded the Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Program in 2008, arranging permanent refugee resettlement in seven countries. 
The Koirala family began a new life in America in January 2011, ending their 20-year struggle to find a place to call their own. 
By Matthew Freire

Series of Short Films for World Refugee Day 2011

A young Afghan-Swedish journalist's journey to her country of birth
The story of Buddha from the Bronx
FEAR + HOPE
The many faces of refugees

Hail to the King

This is my late but not late, late, late tribute to my late father for Fathers Day.

Dear Pa,

It was around this time of the year too—June, Father’s Day—when we last spoke to each other at length over the phone four years ago. I know you had a good time with your brothers and sisters in your beloved seaside hometown and in your family’s old house. I got a picture of you with your brother and sister on the beach at the back of the house with a childlike grin while proudly holding, like a true fisherman’s son, the head of a newly-caught more than three feet-long giant squid while the two held the body.
     My cousin Lizette told me how you lamented when no one seemed to have remembered to greet you a Happy Father’s Day. I did remember. I’m sure you forgot about the 12-hour time difference. You were so happy when I greeted you and you couldn’t contain your excitement in telling me how grateful you were for the treat of a vacation you had. You must know that of all the very few and heartfelt I Love You’s we said to each other, your shyly and almost hurriedly uttered three words of affection during that long-distance phone conversation ranked the best and most memorable.
     It is infallibly true that I got my chronic wanderlust syndrome from you. I know you traveled a lot and you told me countless stories of your adventures and misadventures in the middle of a far away ocean or in the land of Alibaba and Sir Lawrence. You know, I certainly miss your confident and animated story telling especially when you were under the spell of pure happiness and it always seemed like you were bursting with energy and had this must-share/must-tell feeling.

 "Pa, thank you for encouraging me to always study well. Thank you for allowing Mama to be the strict enforcer of good study habits. You have instilled in me the value of good education and that it is the best and only bequest  a father can ever give his child that is guaranteed to last a lifetime and certainly cannot be taken away by anyone." 


     I remember when I was seven, Ben and Mond weren’t born yet as they were still naughty cherubs yet to be plucked (or dropped!) from the skies, you tucked me to bed with my two younger brothers, Jun and Kiddoe. There were three beds arranged parallel to each other and you were in Kiddoe’s bed in the middle of the room because he was the youngest. You said something that really made me cry that night. We were counting sheep or to be exact we were counting the distorted shadows of cars speeding past the busy street outside our house as it swept the bedroom wall. “Someday I’ll be gone, someday your Mama will be gone too. We’ll both die when we get old, really old. So we make the most of what we have.” I kept silent. I cried under the sheets and heard you say good night before you left the room.
        Pa, I also remember the first time I saw you again after years of being away working abroad. I came home from school one afternoon and noticed a litter of big cargo boxes and loosened packaging tapes on the floor. When I came inside the house, I saw you standing with big open arms wearing a white ribbed tank shirt and a chunky gold chain with a large crucifix pendant. Then you said, "Is that how you greet your father whom you haven't seen for so long?" So, I ran and hugged you. Your James Bondish Fabergé Brut Cologne wafted in the air.     
     You know Pa, I have a strange memory, as in always vivid and like an elephant’s. Did you know that I left school and slipped past the security guards in great stealth fashion when I was in junior kindergarten and managed to go home alone by walking 10 blocks with my backpack and lunch pail as my only companions? That was during my first days in school and I couldn’t wait for the person who was supposed to pick me up. So, I left. You were away working in an airport in a distant dessert land. I’m not sure too if Mama told you in one of her lengthy letters that I got into a fight when I was in senior kindergarten because I tilted the canteen of my classmate while he was drinking that turned him into a crying soaking wet frog. I was brought to the school principal’s office. She was a grouchy Catholic nun with Miss Minchin-like sinister stare but she was kind enough to let me dry my clothes using her electric fan. Mama came over and it made me happy because I got to go home early and watch TV.
     Pa, I remember when you brought me along to a well-known church near the city to have a car blessed by a priest. I didn’t get that and I thought there was something wrong with the car. I just saw people on TV talking about the “Poltergeist.” Why bless a car? Anyway, I asked you to buy me some cashew nuts and you did. But I complained because I wanted the whole bucket and not just a small pouch of cashews. You didn’t get my point. I was thinking of sharing it to everyone. What an excuse, right? Or, how about another time when I asked you to buy me lechón or roasted whole suckling pig; it was the same with the cashew nuts, I wanted the whole pig.
     You liked cooking. You were best at it. And, I didn’t find it weird that your cooking was far better than Mama. You whipped up meals from something so boring or from some leftovers. You also liked eating together, always, even if our table got too crowded. I’m really sorry if I didn’t appreciate much the fresh chicken eggs from your well-loved winged and noisy friends every morning of every day. (I now do! It’s becoming a trend now, raising chickens in the city.)
    I know you had the makings of Indiana Jones—part treasure hunter, part adventurer—and the resourcefulness and inventive quality of MacGyver. In the past few years, I discovered that I share the same passion like you for restoring, redesigning, reusing, and re-loving (I invented this word for this piece.) old things. They call it bohemian chic or bazaar chic.   
     Thank you for introducing me to what has now become one of my favorite movies of all time, “Radio Flyer.” You see Pa, contrary to what we talked about before, Bobby didn’t fly away as in fly away onboard the red wagon with Sampson. It is symbolic. I think Bobby and Mike are one and the same. Sampson is still alive by the end of the movie and the adult Mike’s kids are taking care of him. Oh, thank you too for letting us watch the entirety of the movie “Basic Instinct” despite Mama’s heavy protestations.
     Pa, I also miss the occasional beer drinking mini-party we used to have while watching TV and over roasted peanuts and cracklings with Mama and all of your three teenagers and two non-drinking snack-monster participants: Ben and Mond. We took copious sips from our glasses and devoured the salty peanuts. Did you know that Mama’s motivation for drinking beer was just to pass gas?       
     Oh, thank you too for introducing me to a wide array of music genres with your carefully-put collection of music albums and tapes. My carefree and lazy afternoons and long dog days of summer in the 80s were filled with lots of Donny Hathaways, Carpenters, Loggins, Fitzgerald, and even ABBA. Thank you for telling me, although I didn’t ask, that Barry White is not white and that Marvin Gaye is not gay.
     Pa, thank you for giving me my first name and for making it as the symbol of your love and union with Mama. Speaking of names, Pa, did you know that there are four kings in our family (You, Me, Jun, and Mond), one princess (Mama), and one US president (Kiddoe; Or perhaps not maybe you named him after the red, white, and yellow clown of a popular burger chain?).  

Thank you for the 26 years of sharing your life to me. I have so much to tell you but I’ll reserve that for the book I’m writing.

Happy Fathers Day! Hail to the true King!

Loving you always,

Me.

P.S. I found your old love letters to Mama and your old letters and greeting cards to us during the years you were away working in the land of dates, honey, Aladdin and his 1,001 nights. I collated all of it and I put it in a neat and fancy album.