Several Twitter conversations have taken since yesterday’s post with regard to my question –“What would you take?” They prompted me to dig out another object – a small pen knife. I figure that this could be very useful to have with me on my imagined journey as a refugee.
I was given the little knife several years ago by my husband. It’s a Swiss Army Knife and this ‘ladies’ version came in a choice of colours including lime green, black, red and blue. I went for bright orange as it was favourite colour at the time. I’m sure it was marketed as a woman’s choice of knife so as to offer females a chance to buy in to the Swiss Army brand! Mine has a tiny pair of scissors (for nails and labels only of course!), a nail file (thank goodness-what a life saver), a tooth pick now lost unfortunately, a small knife and some tweezers. I haven’t tried them out on my eyebrows but they are actually really useful for splinter removal!
Every object has a story – and I would hope for those people fleeing their homeland in search of refuge that the familiar objects they take with them may give them comfort in some way.
Whilst not the biggest or strongest of knives my little orange knife would still be very useful and I would keep it close to me. Holding it now in my palm brings my late father squarely to mind. Dad was a farmer and a very resourceful man. His pen knife had a black handle rubbed smooth with use and he kept in his front pocket at all times.
With his knife and a piece of bailer twine Dad would happily attempt to fix most things. Gates falling off hinges could be temporarily secured with twine cut to the correct lengths and fencing tied together too; the cleft hooves of sheep would soon be cleaned with this knife, often easing a pain or discomfort; grain bags sliced open to pour food into troughs for impatient and hungry animals; and at the table (I’m really hoping he washed the blade) apples would be sliced and shared as pudding.
On a couple of occasions I remember Dad losing his knife. Anxiety took hold of him “where could it be?” He would work hard on his memory to recall the last time he had used it. Then off he would go retracing his steps. Once I recall him finding it among the hay bales during harvest (pretty much like finding a needle in a haystack!) he was determined to find it. On another occasion he failed to uncover the knife and explained to us that he would have to buy a new one. It seemed very hard for him to give up on finding the lost pocket knife – he had a kind of unhappy acceptance that he had to ‘move on’!
He returned from town with the new knife – looking very similar to the old one. But he wasn’t sure of it at first – it didn’t feel quite right. But after a couple of weeks work the knife was accepted and took on its role as Dad’s handy, reliable pocket knife.
I often think that if objects could share the stories of their ‘lives’ we would learn so much about their owners. My knife has been very loyal – sitting in my bag all these years, but unlike Dad’s knives not put to much use. For now at lease it will become the subject of some drawing.
Back to my question as to what any one of us would take if fleeing our home. The experience of my father’s relationship with his knife reinforces to me the need we have for objects well beyond their functional purpose. They define us and our cultural beliefs and traditions in such profound ways. The loosing of possessions, leaving them behind, must be in some ways an insignificant part of fleeing one’s homeland. And yet to me it seems such a sharp indicator of how much is lost emotionally and physically, on an individual and collective basis.
A couple of months ago I watched a documentary about twin brothers, both doctors, in their thirties, who followed the journeys of refugees from Syria to France. In Greece they spoke to a girl of about ten staying in a camp with her family. She told them about life back home and how she wanted to be a doctor too. “What did you bring with you from Syria?” they asked her. She reached in her pocket and pulled out two coins – “I brought these”. The brothers were dumbfounded “is this all you have to remind you of home?” The coins were all she had. It seems so distressing but I sensed in her the spirit of optimism – at least she had them – and she lived in the hope that she and her family would make a new start in Germany. In a sense they had nothing left to lose. The massive migration of peoples from Syria and beyond is a highly complex situation which surely requires the empathy and compassion of those in receiving countries to understand and deal with. By taking things to a simple level – a handful of possessions for example -perhaps we can begin to understand and commit to supporting our fellow human beings.