Refuge(e)

Refugee (/ˌrefyo͝oˈjē/)- n. a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself at five years old. What are you wearing? What do you smell? What are you touching? What are you doing? What’s the weather like? Who is around you? Are you happy? Sad? Angry? Excited? Why?

Your memory abruptly changes direction. Incensed soldiers kick open your door while violently gesturing and screaming words you can’t understand. Terror. Confusion. Trauma.

Your five-year old self is outside. Twilight. Petrified. Forced to march in a line. Someone stops, SMACK. The blunt end of a soldier’s rifle forces them back in line. People are bleeding. Clothes are soiled. Clothes the soldier doesn’t like because you don’t dress like him. They HATE the food you eat. They HATE the way your family speaks. Imagine what they’d think if they found out you are Deaf.

Mohit, a Deaf activist from Nepal shared this memory with me as a part of a refugee life history project we did a few years back. A young Deaf girl growing up in the borderlands of Nepal and Bhutan. Her family on the wrong side of the line. Ethnically cleansed. Just one of millions.

I wish her involuntarily violent story ended there. Far from it. Forced to live in a Nepalese refugee camp for 17 years before relocating with her mother, daughter, and abusive husband to a very poor, violent neighborhood in the States. Dropped into an urban, cold, post-industrial town in America’s Rust Belt. Seventeen years in the camp. When she wasn’t laboring for water for hours each day, she labored at home between unannounced thrashings from her tormentor. He too a Deaf, displaced refugee. She labored birthing her daughter on a blanket outside en route to the camp medical clinic. Carried by neighbors who heard her cries muted by her aggressor.

I could go on but I don’t want to belabor the point.

This is only one story told by one Deaf woman. A Deaf woman who exists on the tenuous margins of intersectional identities. Intersectional identities she did not choose. Deaf. Refugee. Abused. Traumatized. Some identities acquired by violence. Disabled by violence. Disabled not only by her (now ex-) husband, but by larger societal and governmental structures built on hate and fear of “the other.”

Syria. Iraq. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Nigeria. Ukraine. South Sudan. Israel/Gaza. Somalia. Yemen. India. Uganda. Libya. Egypt. South Sudan. Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mali. United States. Turkey. Thailand.

Just one of millions.