Can I tell you how excited I am to be writing again, especially for you, the readers of the
Portland Phoenix? Ever since I learned my alphabet as a freshman in high school, I have
not been able to put the pen down. Writing has not only become my safe haven, but it
has become my entirety.
When I write I feel like I can express myself fully.
When I write I feel like I belong, no longer a stranger.
When I write I feel like I am capable.
When I write I feel like I am powerful.
When I write I feel like I am free.
When I write I feel like I am human.
Writing saved my life. It has helped me overcome so many obstacles, helped me build bridges between my many worlds, helped me find my voice.
I say all of that because when I first came to America about 13 years ago, I spoke zero
English and found it extremely difficult to communicate with my teachers, friends and
the world. I went home from school with tears in my eyes almost every day, asking
myself, for how long will I be in this bubble? The bubble of the unknown and
It was through a lot of hard work and the help of many of my teachers that I was able to
find some answers for the many questions I had.
See, I already got carried away with the writing, and forgot to introduce myself.
If we haven’t met before, my name is Ekhlas Ahmed. My family and I are survivors from the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. We are among the fortunate ones, to have been given the opportunity to start over again. We were resettled in Portland in 2006 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
It was after a long process and many years of questions that we were able to prove to them the danger that exists in our country. The years we waited to be resettled felt like decades. No one in my family ever unpacked their suitcases, because any day could have been the day.
My parents were worried sick almost every day. Worried to relive what we had
witnessed, worried to tell it all because of the consequences, worried that telling our
truth was not going to be enough or believable.
My mom struggled the most with not knowing the future of her family. Not knowing the
verdict of our interview, not knowing if what she had embedded in us was ever going to
be a reality.
So, we prayed. Prayed in silence, prayed by ourselves and prayed as a family. Tomorrow
is going to be better inshallah.
The UNHCR officials would ask many and every question in the book to me and my
siblings. We did not only have to prove that these were our parents, but we also had to
prove that we were Darfurian. No one ever taught us the native language.
So again, we prayed. Prayed in silence, prayed by ourselves and prayed as a family. Tomorrow is going to be better inshallah.
Regardless of interrogation, the worry and the fear, we knew we were among the lucky
ones because we survived. Lucky to have survived, lucky to be together, lucky that we had pictures of our family and friends – not only to remind us of the time we spent together, but to encourage us to keep going and to be the voice of the many people we left behind.
So, sometimes we smiled and laughed a lot. Tomorrow is going to be better inshallah.
Ekhlas Ahmed is a human rights activist and educator who lives in Windham. She is vice president and co-founder of the nonprofit Chance to Advance, which raises awareness about Darfur and implements initiatives to make education more feasible for all. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at [email protected].