I once read somewhere, perhaps heard, that nations who’ve been through a civil war have higher instances of mental illness than those who haven’t.
It’s obvious that countries whose populations have been through devastating internal conflict and colonization would wear those scars on a deeply personal and intergenerational level.
Perhaps it took this long to realize it, because it was the air I breathe. The reality that I’d been born into.
The fractures of my heritage had become the nooks that I’d been cradled in as a newborn. The oblivious nature of childhood had left me unaware to the emotional absence that had infected those closest to me.
I was left only to realize the depth of what had happened to me, and my family had yet to be fully realized.
How did hollow shells of war, dropped thousands of miles away, in a place called home affect me? Me, someone who had never known a home and yet made a home of homelessness.
Who was to blame my spiritual and emotional homelessness? My otherness. How did I make a home of this, let alone survive? How will those other Civil War Kids, children of the occupied, those other Somali, Sudanese, Syrian, Afghan, Yemeni, Eritrean kids survive? Let alone the First Nations kids who are othered in their own land, the Oneida land that I now settle.
This is a letter to those needing to cope with the bones and blood crackled and tilled from homelands. On how to be. How to arm yourselves for the fight to assert your existence.
First know that being, requires decolonizing the mind. Decolonizing your conscious. As to be just to yourself. To love, to see, to believe, to exist, freely as a human being in whichever space you choose.
You must live your life knowing that although your life may be defined by these histories, it does not have to be chained by them.
A mind awake to these truths, moreover your own, is a dangerous one. It is dangerous because it cannot un-know the truth. It is heavy because it is rooted in familiarity with the violent reality we find ourselves in. Knowing the meanings of those truths is something you owe to yourself. You are entitled to it, despite being entitled to nothing else.
Know that on your journey the world will teach you things, cruel truths and beautiful lies. Sometimes the beautiful lies will hurt you, sometimes cruel truths will liberate you. Sometimes it maybe the opposite.
Know that years 8, 9, and 10 are a rocking into the rhythm of unwontedness. Living as a stranger to waning mother tongues. Waning anonymity as a child. Increasing visibility as a target of vicious assimilatory politics. An introduction to the great unsettling truths that I had yet to encounter.
Being 10, 11, and 12 is a slow horror. A parade of figures scarier than any bedtime boogieman. Order and complacency in the form of a teacher, guidance counsellor, social worker and policemen. They are not for you. They are not for those who break the rules by existing.
Then 13, 14, and 15, where the civil war isn’t something far away, but something that takes root inside of you. You become its vessel. Bombarded with the heavy silences of parents who you no longer know. They war in denial that the girl is no longer a girl. That the wolves at the door smell the freshly menstruated blood.
At 16, 17, Parents will wretch that they cannot contain her. That her teeth start to rip out the seeds of foreign and native misogyny planted. Planted to keep her in line. She claws for a forest. To roam it. So she can stake her claim over what’s rightfully hers.
Next, 18, it becomes a war of independence, where battles are engrossed in ideology. Where learning of Araweelo sparks anger in my father’s eyes and shame in my mother’s. You give up trying to prove your thoughts are yours. That respect and obedience are not synonymous. You become resolute that a life un-lived as your own is not a life worth living. You despair. You rise, remembering that death is the only absolute.
Yesterday, 19, now 20, it is learning the sound of your own voice. It is breaking the smother on its volume, of depression. It is halting the hesitation of anxiety. It is awakening. It is walking. It is fearlessness. A journey to live an authentic self requires no less.
For Civil War Kids are not those who need to find self, but those who must fight for themselves. You may very well be on different path, a different point in the road or even an entirely different road, but your duty is to qualify it and do anything but quantify in their terms. Once you do so, what matters is that you continue, and that you continue to seek to live the authentic self. As that is the spark of revolution, of change and growth.