28 January, 2006

Coming To Yemen

Early 1979. Uganda had been over run by rebels supported by Tanzanian forces; Idi Amin, the then Ugandan leader had fled; and my family who were then living in Uganda - fled too, to Kenya. Except my late Father! He was left behind, in Uganda. He had refused to flee, saying there was no need to. He believed, like most, that no one could remove Idi Amin.

I was in Kenya then, where I had been having my education since 1973; I was very settled in Kenya, and had come to deeply love it and its people. At that time, that is - in 1979, I was thinking of college and where I could get funds to continue with my education; little did I know that, I was never to have that big goal of being in a university and getting the much dreamed of 'degree'. Little, did I know too, that, for the next three years and a half, I would be responsible most, for the upkeep of my family.

We never heard about my Dad for some times; but as time went, we started getting worried, and then very worried. Then, we started receiving the even more disturbing news; that: he had fled to South Sudan or even that he had vanished. These news, were having a very bad effect on all of us - in particular, my Mother. She started thinking, that: maybe, Dad was dead. By this time, I was already working as a teacher in a secondary school.

About two months after my family's arrival, and after all the worries and tension of waiting for my Father - some one came to the school I was working in, and said my Dad was at the Kenyan-Ugandan border and wanted me to go and get him. Just when, I too, had thought I would never see him again. I immediately left for the Kenya-Uganda border; found him, and brought him home. We were all over-joyed. But only for a little while.

One of the most difficult situations to be in, is: to be a refugee and a poor one at that. My Family had fled with nothing at all; not even bedding! They had only a few clothes. All because, they believed they would only be for a very short while in Kenya and then return to Uganda. But, the situation in Uganda only worsened with time. We were stuck in Kenya, or so it seemed then.

The little I earned was barely enough to feed us, let alone pay for rent and the other expenses. My younger brother quit school and started working too - doing odd jobs here and there; my Mom tried her best to earn some money selling her handicrafts. But, still it was a monumental struggle. Dad, my mentor and with all the wisdom he had, seemed completely overwhelmed with the whole situation; most of the time, he was quiet and always saying that, it was only a matter of time and the whole Family would return home to Uganda; time - became months, and months became years. And Uganda was bleeding even more.

Then in August 1982, an attempt was made to overthrow the Kenyan government, but failed. Failed after many people had been killed and enormous damage had been done to the Kenyan economy; our situation worsened. It was then, talk of moving to Yemen started.

Yemen, which both my Grandfathers and Dad had many years earlier, left due to drought and poverty! And there, we were thinking of returning ! Dad wasn't at all for the idea; but Mother, as always: foresighted, determined and tenacious - took the matter completely in her hands! And single handedly, with a little help from me and others, she kept traveling up and down to Nairobi to seek assistance from the Yemeni consulate and move to Yemen. And move, the whole Family did, in early 1983. Against my late Dad's advice. I joined them in late 1984.

What I found on arrival, was hard for me to believe! Though, the Family had come with nothing at all - within that short time, they had managed to get a lot: all was economically well and secure at home! My younger brother, with a little help from relatives, had managed that; alone. And best: my youngest brother was in college and younger sisters were all going to school; all paid for by the government.

Though, living in Yemen has had its own trials, challenges and ups and downs - Yemen offered us what we, certainly, would never have had - had we continued waiting for the situation in Uganda to settle down and return. It has offered us security: economic security and the security of being at home.

In the years that we have been here, we have witnessed wars, the unity of South and North Yemen, and incredible development. Institutions, the infrastructure and the economy - have all rapidly developed.

The city of Al Mukalla, where I live in, is a reflection of the enormous change that Yemen has seen, since our arrival. Yemen, very poor as it is, and with a large population of twenty million plus - still has managed the leap.

We arrived in Yemen with nothing; not able to speak Arabic at all; but, not refugees. We had come Home. And home we felt; at home we were made to feel; and home it is. I know: no where else, on this planet we could have felt or can feel - as much at home as we are here.