The bus journey was tiring. People were no longer happy. They seemed restless and irritated. Everyone wanted to get home. Sleep. Eat good food. Feel safe. Be in the comfort of a home that would pamper one. These were things one normally took for granted. Things one felt would last forever, until shaken by a calamity like a war or an earthquake, a bomb blast or a tsunami.
I don’t remember how many days it took us to reach the Amman camp. But, it was almost dark when we got there. This was a larger camp and quite crowded too. We are asked to stay together in groups and instructed not to leave elders. As we got down, we heard screams from a tent faraway. Ruckus followed. Little did we know that mom had vanished in a glance! Meanwhile, Dad was unloading our stuff from the bus.
There was no light anywhere. Only the faint glow of candles from some tents. Dad held us. All those who had been with us, had found their tents by now. There was no sign of mom. We were still standing near the bus waiting for her, hoping she doesn't get lost. It took some time before she returned.
Finally, we found our tent, our home for the night. As we unpacked, mom said one man had fainted and he was almost dead by the time she got to his tent. She had to resuscitate him and clear his airway (as if it were some highway). She said the medics had arrived before she left, however he was up and talking by then.
But, I chose not to talk to her. I was very cross with her. How could she leave us alone in the dark in a lonely place just to hand over 'CPR medicine' to a man, she dint even know!
The next day she took us to a tent and introduced us to a Goan uncle in his late fifties. The glow in his eyes and wide smile on seeing my mom told me that the 'CPR medicine' she had given him had helped him live. I tried to forgive her for abandoning us the previous night.
We could see people move in groups towards a UN truck with food supplies. We had enough stock of food to last us while we were at the camp (we were hoping to catch the flight the next day). However, my mom felt otherwise. She insisted we too stand in the queue and beg for food. According to her, begging to another person for your meal was not something everyone gets to do everyday (well, I agree to that part). To her it was an experience that would teach us to value food (well, I have to admit I am still fussy about mine).
I still remember how we stretched our hands towards the military guy, who kept throwing loafs of bread, juice packets and fruits at us, refugees. I managed to grab an apple. A red one.
We started for the airport by afternoon the next day. We were asked to alight at some place close to the airport. We had to walk it down now. There was heavy traffic control by police to manage the crowd. We were treated like desolates. We had to walk a long way before we found the airport.
I never liked airports and flights. There was something about it which made me sick in the tummy. However, now it appeared warm and welcoming. The flight for our batch was chartered for the next day afternoon. We had no choice but to spend the night in the airport, on the cold floor.
As the day dawned, Dad got us breakfast from some food counter. But there was no water to drink. He took our 5 litre can and went off in search of water, only to return after a good 20 minutes. We watched eagerly, for our throats felt dry as the desert. But alas! As he approached, a hundred hands from several other queues stretched towards him for a drop of water. He couldn’t resist the urge to quench their thirst and it took him several rounds of trips beyond the thirsty men to get to us finally.
Meanwhile, Mom was busy filling up a hundred forms to board the flight. Not that we had so much to fill up. When she had finished ours, a voice begged,
“Didi, angrezi nahi maalum. Thoda bhar ke de do na? Bhagwan aapko khush rakhey!”
She dint have to wait to finish the first form. More voices echoed in.
“Akka, ithum konjam fill panni kudunga. English theriyaathu”
“Chechi entey form onnum poorippichu tharumo? Ezhuthaan ariyilla.”
The languages were different. But the request was the same. Most of the men who flew to the Gulf in search of a stable life, were illiterate. They hardly knew how to spell their name or mark their signatures in English. They were all requesting mom to help them fill up their forms.
At 8, I couldn’t understand what my parents were up to. I so badly wished they would behave like regular parents – the normal ones (and mind their own business). Not run around to be utilised by a mob of men who couldn’t get water on their own or fill their own forms.
But today at 27, I feel proud of what my parents were, for what they did.
They taught us to help the needy.
They showed us that in spite of all our constraints, we can help someone if we choose to.
Beyond all that, they taught us the greatest war lesson we would ever learn.
That was of humanity and brotherhood.