Remembrance Day is a day to remember those who served and died in the line of duty in the armed forces. We wear a Poppy proudly on our lapels to not only remember those who fought for our country, but for those who stayed back and waited for loved ones to return, for the nurses who helped the wounded and for those who continue to serve our country.
For me, Remembrance Day means more – not only do I remember those who fought for this country, but for those who fought to ensure this country would be a home for those who seek refuge.
I wear the Poppy as a sign of remembrance and gratefulness. Grateful for those who sacrificed so much for a family that they never would meet -- Mine.
In November 1972 – decades after WWII had ended – Canada opened its doors to thousands of refugees from Uganda – my parents and their families being among them.
In 1972, the President of Uganda, Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of all Asians – giving them 90 days to leave Uganda. My mother with her parents and 6 siblings immediately recognized the severity of this order and accepted that they would be separated as they immigrated to different countries to escape this dictatorship. My mother ended up in the U.K, while her parents ended up in B.C Canada, and her siblings, everywhere in between.
My father on the other hand, didn't have the same swift process.
His mother (my grandmother) refused to have her young children separated (her older son and daughter were able to flee to Austria and Canada respectively).
While visiting one embassy after another, waiting in line day after day, they had to follow the new rules that were put in place – which included curfews, bending to the corrupt security personnel who were enforcing beatings or jail. As the days went by, the deadline for expulsion was quickly approaching and law enforcement were increasingly taking it upon themselves to police people the way they saw fit.
Finally, a few days before the deadline, my father's family secured an appointment with the Canadian embassy. Unfortunately, his father (my grandfather) was in their hometown some 250 miles north. With poor phone service and the curfew imposed, my dad had to contact his father. Taking a chance to use a public phone booth 2 blocks from the house they were staying at, he managed to contact his father to let him know about the interview.
He tried to get home before being seen by the security forces. Unfortunately, they caught up with him just 2 houses away from his front door. He was arrested and detained. He figured that he would never see his family again, as people were known to vanish once arrested.
When he didn't return home, his uncle went to search for him and when he arrived at the security base, he negotiated my dad's release by promising the officer money he demanded plus a bonus if he could wait a couple of days. Somehow, the officer accepted the condition and released him.
The family nervously packed what they could and waited for their father to return. However, by the time he did return, they missed the interview. They lost hope but went to the embassy anyway. As they approached, their hearts dropped as the gates were closing. They were too late. However, when a staff member saw them, they invited them in. The family was then handed 6 airline tickets for a flight to Canada.
The following morning, they went back to their hometown, Soroti to say goodbye to the place and the people they had to leave behind. My grandfather left the keys to their house, their car and all the other equipment for the workers and told them to share it among themselves. On the way back to the embassy in Kampala, they were stopped numerous times, an average of every 8 to 10 miles! They were searched repeatedly and at one point an officer, who had been drinking, tried to body search my grandmother. Hearing horror stories of how women were abused by security forces, she pushed the officer away. He then proceeded to draw his gun and point at everyone.....one by one...making them empty every suitcase they had.
Relieved to have made it out, they were able to stop and rest before having to head to the airport the next morning where they would join hundreds of others, to board a plane – a plane that would take them across the ocean, over a part of the world they had only read about in books – and would be told that they were going home. How can you call somewhere you know so little about, home?
As the passengers boarded, they all started to say their own prayers. By 9.00 am., you could see the Ugandan army surround the airport. With some fear but more hope, the passengers held their breath as the jet plane left the ground at 9.05 am. -- 5 minutes after the deadline.
When they arrived to Canada, the Canadian armed forces greeted them – waving, smiling reassuringly, handing out winter clothing (because they most certainly needed it). They were saying hello, you are home, you are wanted. This feeling was indescribable. They were "home", they were safe, they were together.
My dad and his family were provided with food and accommodations for the night, as their journey was not yet over. They left by train the next day – and arrived in Kentville, Nova Scotia on November 11, 1972.
So today holds a very special place in my heart – not only because we remember those that fought to make this country what it is, but grateful because, this country represents home (and freedom) for those who seek refuge.
Thank you and Lest We Forget.
[post note: My mother and father reunited by chance in Vancouver B.C after being separated for over 2 years. They picked up where they left off, got married and recently celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary]
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