Refugee

“Name and place of Origin… Name and place of Origin?” the officer was lofty and seemed to love his work. I wished to reply “Yes Scythians we are, yes Asians we are,” but my body was much smaller then and my wit not as sure of itself. It was on that day I found out there is no “I” after the “D” in my name and that my place of origin was to be known as Odessa, Ukraine not USSR. I also learned the words “economic refugee” and found out that while my place of origin now had freedom, the price was hundreds of thousands of us economic refugees. Today there are such refugees, some economic, some fleeing something drastically worse, standing in consuls, docks or airports, maybe also figuring out the spelling of their names in the language of the Anglos, yet hesitant to identify their place of origin. This time because their final destination might be denied. The sizes and health of their bodies vary. Their thoughts and insights, mostly developed in other tongues, are now consumed by uncertainty, instability and terror.

There are also those who are not just arriving, those who have been here for a while, claimed their plot of land, mastered the local customs and brought trades of medicine, mathematics and craftsmanship. Nevertheless, under the vision of the new presidium they will all wait in uncertainty, instability and, possibly, terror. Different cries echo through the streets, some calling this appeasement for a duped and bloodthirsty constituency, some say this is a test run of sorts for a broader lockdown on those who believe a better life waits for them here. The courts bring up objections, the executive orders are modified, and the cries of “foundations of democracy” persist but those who are fleeing the uncertainty, instability and terror just wait. They wait behind barb wire fences, in lines spanning miles, under cover of the night or the bright scorching sun, under calm skies or under fire, they wait.

It was on that day, the day I learned my place of origin and waited for my destination that I really learned what it is to wait. I learned every crevice of the red and gray carpets in the consuls and immigration offices, I learned of the endless beige plastered across endless walls on endless hallways. I learned how to carefully listen for phrases in a foreign tongue, phrases like “young man” and “have you experienced any anti-Semitism” were directed at me and I had to respond. I also learned “coffee,” “ma’am,” “how long,” “status” and many other terms. I also learned to respond “no” if I ever get asked if I was a party member and to answer all questions simply and “succinctly,” although the meaning of that last one remained ambiguous to me. But most of all I learned to wait with no expectations, on the train from Odessa to Kiev, under the ceiling fan of the American embassy, back to Odessa, back to Kiev, at the Kiev airport, at this new destination, at immigration offices.

And so, for better or worse, we wait, with expectations undefined, under the cover of the same beige walls and ceiling fans, or worse. And even if they will not be sent back, as we were not, and walk out of the harbor onto the shores of the New World what face of the New World will they encounter? A New World of opportunities or diseases unattended, a New World of far reaching plains or dilapidated ghost towns, a New World of open doors and open ears or pitchforks and bayonets, a New World free of terror or of shootings at Black Baptist churches and bomb threats to Jewish Centers, uncertain, unstable and on the brink of terror.

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