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Downtown Burlington Waterfront

Downtown Burlington Waterfront

Photo by Erfan Dana

I stand beside my bedroom window overlooking the quiet neighborhood. There are no children playing on the street. The neat brick condo houses built in municipal order make the alleys less busier for the drivers and walkers to cross. I stand still, watching as men and women come out of their houses one by one, open their garages and, after a few minutes of warming their vehicles’ engines, drive off to their workplaces.

I walk down to the kitchen. All the kitchen items are organized. One of the thousand things I love about Renee is that she puts everything in a specific place in the cabinet. Renee is my family now. Renee and Bill, her partner, brought me from refugee detention to Canada, a land of freedom.

I boil water, open the packet of porridge, grab a cup from the cupboard and fill it with coffee from the machine. The kitchen arrangement in the house in many ways looks different to my makeshift kitchens back in refugee camps in Indonesia. In the morning when I woke up in Pontianak prison camp, the first thing that came to my mind was forming myself into a long queue, waiting uneasily for my turn to empty my bladder filled only with water in the open public toilet built in the corner of the living block. The thick stench, emanating from open sewers that ran through the end of the block would always fill the air. Once the primary need was resolved, I had to be ready, thoughts and focus unscattered – like a hunting cat sitting calm to claw its prey, I had to hunt the rusted old pan being used by 15 people to cook a packet of noodles for my breakfast. I didn’t notice how I finished my porridge.

After breakfast I go outside to sit on a chair near the front door. The weather is a bit warmer today. The sun beats down on my body. I keep my eyes closed, feeling good on the inside. The female pigeon with her baby that built a nest in the spruce tree beside the house suddenly flies over to perch on the abandoned Christmas tree near me. I open my eyes. It seems they know I’m new here. They welcome me by dancing and singing for me. I am warmed to the core by their singing. I notice only my own heart beating, and the sound of the pigeons in the distance. They are not the only creatures who are given a safe nest here. They know this house is open to everyone, and through the love, warmth and care given to them they’ve learned to welcome anyone who seeks shelter in this house.

The mild weather and the soul-comforting song of the pigeon are so pleasant that I want to spend the rest of the day on this chair. As I sink into these peaceful moments, Renee messages me that she’s booked a dental appointment for me in downtown Burlington.

I finish drinking my coffee and head to the bus stop, which is two minutes from the house. I keep track of all the buses through the transit application that gets me to downtown Burlington. I board a bus and show my destination address to the driver. With a smile she tells me, “I will let you know when we get to the stop where you can catch the bus to downtown Burlington.” I thank her and remain seated as the bus half-filled with passengers moves forward.

There’s no traffic, almost every driver drives on the lane. I arrive on time for my dental appointment. As soon as it’s finished, I walk to the lake. My mind and body are finally beginning to accept that I’m no longer a prisoner. I’m free. Nobody chases me on the street. I’m not afraid of my own shadow, nor of other people’s shadows that cross my path.

I walk on the paved path by the lake. Unlike many others on the pavement, I am not freezing in the coldness of the day. I say hi to everyone I pass. I enjoy walking and seeing all the activities and signs and movements that prove life goes on, and hope still exists even for the eighty-five year old man taking his dog for a walk. I pat his dog, who barks at me. I distance myself by a few meters as it seems he doesn’t like being patted but the man, whose face is creased by lines and whose voice shakes when he talks, smiles at me, telling his dog to ‘Stay quiet, Johnny, the gentleman isn’t going to hurt you.’ All the same, I put a little more distance between us before Johnny barks again.

I wear my thin sweater. The sun is no longer in the sky. It’s windy now. Most people wear warm coats. As I continue walking on the path leading to the other end of the lake, I see more signs of real freedom. A number of ducks are pecking the seed and food from the grass, undisturbed. I see a couple cuddling on a bench beside a flagpole topped with the Canadian flag moving gently in the wind.

I keep my head down and breathe in the fresh air of freedom, but that last scene transports me back to Indonesia. I remember every call I received from single refugees and couples whose freedom continues to be denied, sitting all day long in their tiny hot refugee rooms surrounded by gray walls and clouds of despair, longing for a taste of freedom.

It’s getting cold and dark. I must catch the bus and get home in time for dinner, which is served at 6:30 PM. Another good day. The sheer joy of freedom strengthens my determination to find ways to end the suffering of the refugees who remain trapped against their will in Indonesia after many years.


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