Posted on March 16, 2016
Under different stars
When I was pregnant I stood in front of the long mirror leaning against the wall of my warm and dry home. I saw my belly full of life. I felt content. Almost everything felt right in this world I was bringing my baby into. Our little world.
But we worried about the carpet. It was old. No place for a new baby. The baby would crawl and the carpet was dirty. Lives had been lived on this carpet. You could vacuum it but it would never be really clean. Not clean enough for a baby.
We had some savings, it was a family home we were renting, we knew a guy.
So we got new carpet very cheap.
We painted the baby’s room. We bought little stars to put on the ceiling. I practiced singing to you – the colours Kōwhai, kakariki, whero…
We bought books about the legends – Māui and Kupe. Stories too of where your papa’s family is from – Tommy Solomon the last full-blooded Moriori Rēkohu. Tales of the Chathams. We wanted our baby to know his whakapapa.
We bought little onesies with the names of our favourite bands on them. We imagined our baby as a mini-me. Would he look like you? And me? Our mothers? Our grandfathers?
Baby, your father used to press his ear to my belly and listen for you – for a heartbeat and the sound of rushing water.
When did you know that this is no place for a new baby, that you had to run? That you had to find a home somewhere so far away from the home that you had? So many lives were living on the roads that you were walking, could you picture your child crawling in safety as you walked that road?
Did you think of a home where the rug was worn from shared memories, of loved ones, of lives lived?
You used your savings, your family helped, you knew a guy.
Out in the open did you see any stars. Did you sing to your baby in your belly the colours of your home. Did you practice the words that you would need to know to try to make a new home. A home where you could tell your precious child about where they are from and what it means and why they’re here?
Did you have clothes for your baby, an outfit of hope, of love. Did you imagine your baby’s face? Did you see your mothers? Like yours, like the loved ones you had to leave. Like your younger sister.
You didn’t have your partner with you they say. Just your little sister.
You crawled through the gap in the fence.
Did you see a glimpse of yourself mirrored in the rushing river. Did you feel fear. That everything was wrong in this world. This big and terrifying world.
This world where we closed our borders to you and and your little sister and your belly full of life.
And they found your bodies by the side of the river. You, and your sister, and your baby.
And they put their ear to your chest, and your belly and they listened for you. And there was nothing but the sound of rushing water.
More than 14,000 human beings are stranded in a desperate, horrific refugee camp near the northern Greek village of Idomeni. On Monday, they tried to cross a river. Three died. They called them migrants. But they have names. They were a mother and her baby and they counted them as one. Her sister. And a man who might have been their brother. This is just one tragedy in the humanitarian crisis happening right now, after war has driven millions of people from their homes. More than four million people, the equivalent of the entire population of New Zealand, has been displaced by war.
We can do something. We can turn toward our fellow mothers.
The NZ Red Cross runs refugee support services in New Zealand. These include resettlement support for refugees and education and employment assistance. They also do extensive volunteer training. You can donate goods to make a house a home for a family arriving in New Zealand. You can become a refugee support person to make their transition to a new country and home easier for them.
“New Zealand’s refugee resettlement quota was set at 800 places in 1987, and has not increased in 28 years. Today it is even lower at 750 places. The United Nations ranks New Zealand at 90th in the world for hosting refugees per capita. When adjusted for our relative wealth we rank at 116th in the world. Even Australia accepts over three times more refugees per capita than New Zealand. Doubling the quota would not make New Zealand a world leader in hosting refugees – we would still only rank as 78th in the world. But with the quality of services offered in New Zealand we would be able to hold our heads up and say that we are doing our bit. ”
We must double the quota.
We must never forget that it’s grace and luck and privilege alone that means we do not have to cross a raging swollen river for our babies. We must never forget our duty, the ties that bind us to mothers no matter what stars we sleep under with our babies.