A New Country
My USA permanent residency card arrived totally unannounced in the mail today. I stared at it in happy shock and amazement. I am now an American (albeit one with a funny accent). Exactly one year after Tanya and I wandered into Pittsburgh, for the first time, almost by accident, I can now stay here, live and work for life if I want. Just like that.
Once again, I could hardly believe my luck – how did I manage this transformation from Aussie to Yankee, in such a short space of time – a feat no more astounding than the emergence of the butterfly from the caterpillar, say, or the frog from the tadpole? I could say good-bye to my ‘extraordinary alien’ status and say hello to being just an ordinary American.
The first thing I did was write a letter to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette complaining about the American health-care system and the incomprehensible resistance to national health insurance by a lot of my fellow ordinary Americans. I then signed up to turn up to a Sierra Club rally against mountain top removal coal mining projects next Thursday.
A brightly hued vista of public complaining about my new country now opened up for me:-)
I could also start to think long-term about my life. I wasn’t in a legal holding pen anymore, I had a new permanent home, if I wanted. After years of instability, I could now start to make a serious plan about where, at least, I was going to live and work.
Over the last year I had found myself reflecting more and more on the plight of the millions of refugees worldwide – like Palestinians, refugees in their own country; Burmese, for over 50 years fleeing militaristic oppression, huddled in camps on the Thai border; Sudanese, fleeing to Chad to escape war and famine. The list goes on and on. And many of these and other refugees sometimes turn up as ‘boat people’ in Australian waters where, without ‘official papers’ from the countries they are fleeing, they are locked away indefinitely in our concentration camps which we call ‘detention centers’ (one reason why Australia did not object to Guantanamo Bay). Many of these detention centers are situated in isolated parts of Australia, where the prisoners subsist ‘stateless’, separated from their loved ones, without legal rights, for years. Many are then eventually sent back by the Australian government to their ‘home countries’. Refugee action groups in Australia have documented many cases where boat people so forcibly returned have been subsequently imprisoned and/or killed by the oppressive governments from which they were trying to escape.
So many refugees across the world have fled homelessness and persecution only to find themselves living in the eternal purgatory of the refugee camp or worse, sent back to the death sentence of their strife torn home countries. My emotional distress in not being able to know where I could put down roots for the last eighteen months was real enough: but my choices have been vast compared to the millions of the world’s genuinely dispossessed.
My own father was a refugee – a Lithuanian boy from peasant family stock, he was drafted into the army during WW11 then found himself imprisoned in a concentration camp in Germany in the final two years of the war.
When Dad was released – as Europe was liberated by Americans – he thought his entire family had been killed during the war. He was given the option of countries to immigrate to – worker hungry countries like the UK, Canada, Australia. He chose Australia, almost randomly, just because he had a soldier buddy who was also going to immigrate there. That was all my father’s emotional connections in the world seemed to consist of then, men he had met during the war.
I try and imagine that isolation and statelessness, that complete lack of emotional connection or sense of belonging, no longer even able to converse in your own language to get by. From gathering firewood for the family farm in the gentle misty forests of the Baltic coast to, a few traumatic years later, slashing sugar cane with strangers in the sweltering fields of tropical north Queensland. I used to find it almost impossible to imagine, but the older I get, the more I seem to get some glimpses into what it could have been like. And it struck me today, for the first time, that I am in at least once sense, a spiritual sense, continuing my father’s journey, an ‘unquiet spirit’ that continues to drift with no sense of home, and to search.
I spent today at Pittsburgh’s Fourth annual Podcamp conference. This is a wonderful annual grassroots, totally free, conference on digital social media, made possible by local social media enthusiasts with sponsorship by local entrepreneurs and some heavy weight Pittsburgh corporate and philanthropic organizations: Podcamp Pittsburgh. It was packed out, beyond capacity in fact.
One of the many useful take-away messages I got from today, is this: please decide what your blog is about, and where is it going? And in the last few hours, I have taken this question to heart. Like many bloggers, I started blogging purely as an efficient way to keep friends and curious strangers up to date about what was happening in my travels around the USA (with my fellow Jilted Bride, Tanya Stadelmann). And to provide some ‘back story’ for the journey. But over time, I can see it has clearly changed and morphed into a number of different genres – ranging from personal confessions for imagined and hoped for sympathetic ears, to declamatory and mystical poetry, to travelogue, to slapstick, to political polemic.
As I typed these words, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘County Fair’ has started to play, and what better metaphor for my life, or anyone’s life?
So I’ve decided from now on I will blog at least once every week, hopefully more, a more immediate, continuous discourse, like a ‘real’ blogger. I hope someone holds me to that! xx