The school years I had so earnestly coveted came to an end. As soon as graduation was over, I realized I had been irrevocably torn from the place that had nurtured my mind and character for the past several years. No longer would I be permitted time to grow within the safe haven that transformed me from a shy student in a mismatched uniform into the leader of my peers. While, of course, I was delighted I had graduated and proud of my accomplishments along the way, my very uncertain future in the refugee camp weighed heavily on me.
As time passed and my friends began to get jobs and build upon the foundations of their lives, I became restless. On many occasions, one of my closest friends spoke of moving to South Africa. I was surprised by this because of the deep-seated fear many of my community members had of that area – talks of xenophobic attacks instill a sense of foreboding in my family, and this was one of the reasons I could not follow my friend south. The other reason was the same one that shaped much of what I was ever able (or not able) to do: money. I didn’t have the familiar connections or monetary wealth necessary to travel abroad and settle down somewhere else – somewhere with potentially more opportunity, more vibrancy and life.
My grandma and grandpa began to look at their lost grandchild with great sadness. They knew I was struggling within the confines of the refugee camp, but they had little power to save me or create space for me to save myself. Most of my classmates had begun successful businesses, others had found ways to overcome the seemingly insurmountable barriers to success our natural habitat created. I missed being a student. I missed my friends, learning and the intermittent escapism attending class had allowed for. After three months of this overbearing inactivity, my grandfather insisted I contact my uncles and ask for their help. He thought they could use my help in their grocery stores, even though my last visit had gone so terribly, and I had never taken steps to patch things up with them. When the reality of staying stagnant became more terrifying than the thought of reuniting with my ruthless uncles, I decided to reach out to them and ask if they would allow me to return to their city and work in their stores. I joined many of the young graduates in my village, who had said goodbye to the camp and went off to earn – not quite a living, but something like it. Working for my uncles was not at all my vision for my life: there is little reward in stocking grocery shelves for very little money and even less appreciation. But, it was better than sitting in a bar in the refuge camping, sipping and spending away time, and money, I certainly didn’t have. What made it more difficult to swallow this new arrangement with my uncles was my inability to keep in contact with the people who really cared about me and my wellbeing. I didn’t have a cellphone or a computer, which meant I didn’t have any social media to stay up to date with what my friends and family were doing. At times, my uncle let me use their cellphones to access a Facebook account I could use to reach out to the people who I had left behind. But, more and more, as I saw my friends’ updates, when they shared posts and pictures of the progress they were making towards new careers and lives, I realized it seemed that they were, in fact, leaving me behind – not the other way around. I saw that most of them were working with Non-Governmental Organizations. They were doing things they were passionate about – things that mattered – meanwhile I was counting produce and contributing to my uncles’ success, while doing nothing for my own.