Amidst an inundation of news relating to Rizana Nafeek’s tragic execution, I was reminded of this encounter from a a few years ago, which I wrote about in the past incarnation of this blog.
I find myself wondering about these girls. All I can hope for is that they are okay and that they have found their freedoms.
11th March 2009
Katunayaka International Airport, several minutes had ticked by half-past six when I stumbled towards the liminal olive green immigration desks to fill out the embarkation forms. Laden with a weighty laptop and a folder of documents which traced my life in a paper trail, legitimizing me in the eyes of British Border Control, in the event they decided to question my presence at a place which has been my reluctant domicile for nearly 3 years now. I still need proof that I have no plans of leeching off an overburdened welfare system or disappearing into the woodwork to wo-man the counter of a rural 7-11. Because that’s what an MA will bring you these days: a minimum wage job in a country that can never replace home. I hope the sarcasm has not been lost.
My country may have its share of problems but that kind of desperation doesn’t affect me. The kind of desperation which leads to catamaran journeys to Cyprus and Sicily. I’m happy where I am, thanks very much. But the papers I carry, just in case they do not appreciate this implausibility.
I scribble in my tired details etched on tens of forms identical to this, filed away in some musty corner, picturesquely gathering mould. The government plans on recycling are rather sketchy. “Nangi.” (Younger sister) A veiled woman approaches me. I’m complacently contained in my own personal semiosphere of memories, goodbyes just said and the dread of a day long journey ahead. I’m made uncomfortable by such acknowledgements of kinship, looking up uncertainly. An unnecessary cultural idiosyncrasy of uncles and aunties.
Expectantly she hands her embarkation form over. “I cannot understand what is said. I don’t know how to fill it in.” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t irritated. She could not read. So much for a 90% literacy, the pride of South Asia. My travel karma did not need unnecessary jinxing. Unnecessary like Nangi. I glance at her crisp novelty of a passport branded for the next decade as “House Maid”; a bold proclamation from the profession box. House Maid. No euphemisms, no embellishments. Were we post-political correctness already?
Forgive my post-modern cynicism.
Born in 1982, somewhere in the slums of an undiscussed part of the capital. The other peripheral worlds marked by petti-kades, lelli geval and communal taps, rife with crime and unspoken professions. Bound to Jordan, several worlds and a universe away. That House Maid stamp seems awfully permanent for three years. She had that snappy sensibility only an urban existence could mould. I do not say anything as I hand over a completed form. She thanks me curtly.
Another hovers over my shoulder, insistent not expectant, as if it were my cheerful obligation fill out her form. She cannot read either. Sleeplessness and general morning grumpiness blankets me protectively as I complain to myself. I’m ready to settle down with a book at departures, catching snatches of sleep between the mechanical announcements of planes which pendulum between the Occident and Orient.
Born 1991 in a village off “Polonnaruwa?” I couldn’t contain my shock. A child. I am horrified. 18, perched somewhere between the wisdoms of my 21 year old self, and that of my 11 year old sister. Still horrified, I realise the width and depth of the chasm which divides Polonnaruwa and Beirut. Across the Universe, five oceans and seven seas. I am afraid for her. She did not offer her thanks, strolling to the queue. I’m still taken aback. I do not know what to say. Do I wish such naivety well, as they chase their dreams into deserts faraway?
I watch them huddled together at the Gate making their last phone calls to extended family and friends, running out money as they swap sim cards. She gingerly sips the last of her Polonnaruwa water from a refilled Mixed Fruit Nectar bottle.
I plug in my iPod and return to a soundsphere suspended between the angst of Nirvana and Jason Mraz’s cheer. Conflicted.
I am still afraid for the mirages they chase, towards the oases of dowries and new homes, husbands and children.
The journey ahead would be no smooth sailing.
Rest In Peace, Rizana.