MA candidate in conflict transformation and social justice
As a child, I lived in a small, rural village on the outskirts of Brno in the Czech Republic. My parents had built our house next to long stretches of gold wheat fields, in which my older brother and I spent most of our early childhood playing. Each spring, when the peach trees that surrounded our home would bloom pink, we’d stand on the edge of those fields and looked up to watch dark flocks of swallow birds dance in the blue sky, returning to Europe for the summer.
Because we were children, we welcomed them with joy and with fascination, but a part of us always felt sorry for them. Imagining tired wings which had travelled thousands of miles from their winter homes arriving in an unfamiliar, distant place. Imagining them lonely and displaced when they finally left the security of their familial flock to nest on their own. But we were children, and our little sorrows were quickly forgotten by a game of hide and seek or the sound of my mother’s voice calling us home.
I still search for them in the sky, all these years later. But green, rolling hills have replaced my yellow fields and heavy, grey clouds loom over the sunny memories of my childhood. I still wait for the swallows to return, no longer a child, but a migrant in a country that does not belong to me.
Northern Ireland has been in lockdown for almost nine weeks now, and despite social distancing restrictions slowly easing, while the number of coronavirus cases are on a daily decline world-wide, many people are feeling extremely lonely as a result of the pandemic.
Trapped in the relative safety of their homes to stop the spread of the virus, but unable to see their loved ones or gather with close friends. For me, the lockdown has brought back memories of my first few months here. The loneliness that came with moving to another country and the sense of aloneness I still feel from time to time as a settled ‘foreigner’, never quite fitting in. Even after fourteen years, it is a feeling that never really goes away.
For migrants like myself, this feeling of isolation is nothing new. We are no strangers to being alone. We have carried this grief with us for many years, and while we’ve been living with these feelings unknowingly or even secretly, this pandemic has opened up old wounds and an all too familiar sense of loneliness and loss. The loss of family and friends, the loss of being unable to be with those you love most. The loss of access to basic services and resources. The loss of your identity and even your sense of belonging.
So while the coronavirus pandemic has come as a shock to much of the world’s population, migrants have been faced with a reality that hits very close to home indeed. In the strange times of Covid-19, amongst an extreme feeling of aloneness that most of the population is experiencing, and with social distancing measures separating us from our loved ones, we have all become expats of an old world – a world that we may never get back. In less than three months, we have all become displaced within our own lives. In less than three months, we’ve had to redirect our paths and even our long-term futures. And in this way, we have all become migrants. Displaced refugees drifting to an unknown and an uncertain destination.
But there is something we can all learn from the migrant experience, something that may even help us during these challenging times. Because despite the pain of separation and loneliness, for migrants like myself, there is always hope. An undying faith in that eventually, we will overcome the barriers of distance and return to those we love. And it’s my hope that we all learn to live the migrant way. It’s my hope that we have the power to pick up our lives where they have been unexpectedly dropped on the ground, and that we all find the the strength to begin anew, even despite our losses.
So hold on, for just a little while longer. Because like swallow birds, we will eventually join our beloved flock. Soar to the skies at the turn of the seasons and finally begin to make our way back home.