A Child, a Donkey and Peace

 

My inauspicious beginnings were behind barbed wire as Enemy Alien baby #1098. The British locked up my parents because they were farming in a British territory at the outbreak of World War II. Dad (#235) was sent to South Africa. Mum (#514) and toddler son (#515) to Southern Rhodesia, a few countries away, with all the other German women and children (including boys under 16).

The women immediately made life as normal as possible for their kids, despite roll calls, barbed wire, and war. Nothing mattered but protecting their children. Teachers taught. Mothers set up a kindergarten. There were games and songs and bedtime stories.

One day, my mother took the little ones for a walk. As usual they could go no further than the barbed wire. There, grazing on the other side, was a donkey. One of the little girls burst into tears. When asked why she was crying, she said: “Look at that poor donkey. He’s locked up!”

What a tribute to those mothers and how well they, later with their husbands, shielded their youngest from the horrors of confinement… for eight long years, until their release in 1948, well beyond the war. (Scarce transportation was first used to reunite Allied families and, significantly, the British were not sure what to do with the Germans. During the war, German farms and businesses were overseen by British caretakers, who had in good faith eventually invested their own resources and could not now easily be removed. Especially in favour of ex-Enemy Aliens).

My parents were finally allowed to return to the farm they had never sold, on condition they buy it back. Running free with my little friends in the African bush, I had no idea that I was white and they were black. Nor that I did not see other white kids, besides my siblings, because their parents were victorious British Allies, not defeated ex-Enemy Aliens.

The word ‘war’ meant nothing to me until one dark day in a distant classroom. My parents had no choice but to send us to boarding school, hundreds of miles away. There were none close by.

I was six. So, in my diminutive khaki uniform, I entered the bus and a world in which people spoke a strange language, English. Not the familiar German, Swahili or Kihehe. As children do, I picked up English quickly. But there were always new words to learn. For example, ‘war’. I first heard it one Monday morning, two days after a film was shown about people shooting each other. My classmates came in, ringed my chair and, pointing their fingers at me, jeered: “Yah! Yah! You lost the war! Yah! Yah! You lost the war.” I was stunned and, as of that moment, determined to find the ‘war’ so that we could all be friends again.

Soon I spoke English like any other. Which meant that English folks would forget I was there and ridicule Germans in front of me. They might say, “The Germans always …?” Germans meanwhile, might equally say, “The English always …”. Often, they accused each other of exactly the same things. Very confusing.

Equally confusing was a new label: colonialist. Wasn’t I actually just African? No wonder then that I dreamed of a UN passport and being done with labels. I found my UN passport one Canada Day, not far from the Peace Tower, while watching dances from as far afield as Afghanistan and Nigeria, Russia and China, Thailand and Australia. The dancers, although so different, were equally celebrating their ethnic and Canadian selves. ‘At last!’ I thought.

I am a global citizen who chose to be Canadian. Why? In celebration of diversity. Why? Because I believe celebrating diversity is a powerful tool for peace.

 

By: Evelyn Voigt, Penning For Peace, (www.civilianpeaceservice.ca)

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