Imagine being kicked out of your home. Not by your parents but by soldiers, soldiers who have been trained to see you as the enemy – as the unwanted ones. By a government that does not recognize your existence as a human being but only as capital gain.
Imagine being forced to flee your home country. You are not allowed to carry your things with you. You are not allowed to speak your language, practice your religion, or continue existing as you.
Unfortunately, this imagery of displacement and survival is the disturbing reality faced by many marginalized groups around the world, and this summer, I had the unique opportunity to interact with and learn more about two groups’ experiences with expulsion and violence and their efforts to transcend these injustices.
I worked with a group of Hazara Afghan women and children who are refugees and first generation Canadian citizens. I find the terms refugee and citizen to be problematic, and the Afghan women themselves (some not knowing english) also understood the difference of trying to exist in a society with labels and expectations while being placed at a lower standard in many aspects compared to others. Some expressed to me that when they had become Canadian citizens they felt safer and that they now had proof that they too belonged. Something that they couldn’t prove back home, despite being Afghan. They shared many different stories with me, all with the same theme of survival.
I was a guest in Rio Negro, a community of indigenous folks who have been battling displacement, violence, and death for more than 60 years now. We did a 5 hour hike into the community and I was taken to a large plateau area that had some surrounding trees. One tree in particular was where soldiers of the government at the time had marched up 107 children and 70 women to kill them by this tree.
6 month old babies had their heads smashed against the tree. Toddlers were left in the woods to die of starvation. Mothers were left childless and children were left motherless. Survivors of this tragedy were forced to hide into the mountains for 3 years. My guide Cupertino lost his older sister, father, and younger brother to this massacre. Him and his mother had barely survived but he believes it was by the grace of God and their determination to make sure the Rio Negro community would never be forgotten about again, that had saved them.
The two groups that I had met this summer are both going through different battles to survive in a world that at one point wanted them extinct. Both groups have risked their lives to save their lives. Resistance is a form of survival.
Writing this blog post, despite only 200 words, has been very difficult for me because I did and am struggling with writing about my experience in Guatemala and the stories I heard this summer – while trying to do it justice.
There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought about the struggles and near death experiences these Afghan women and children have faced to come to Canada.
There hasn’t been a day since my Guatemala trip where I have not thought about that tree and the blood that was shed on the ground that I walked on.