Samuel held his breath as his phone squeaked monotonous beeps, each seeming lasting longer as he grew increasingly impatient. Finally, the beeps stopped and woman inquired, “Hello?” The slow drawl of the O and the silent H were unmistakable despite Samuel’s decreasing opportunities to hear them. Samuel did not answer, but merely pressed the receiver closer to his ear as if he did not want to miss the woman’s breath.
“Hello? Who is this?” she asked again. Samuel hesitantly replied, “It’s me, Mama. It’s Samuel in Hong Kong …” Then the line went dead. The woman had slammed the call shut before Samuel finished uttering the sentence. Samuel shook his head despondently and pocketed the phone with a sigh. This was not the first time his mother had shunned him. In fact, he had received this cruel treatment for twenty years, but nevertheless thought it was worth another try.
Samuel lay silently on the family bed shared with his wife and three children. He thought of his mother’s voice, the only person in the world who would not talk to him, yet the person he wanted to talk to the most. Religion had come between them: his mother had raised him a Muslim, but he had converted to Christianity. The reasons for completely cutting him out of her life were complex, but for his mother were serious enough to shun a son whom she presumably still loved.
His mother was not the only one to treat Samuel as an apostate. In fact where he grew up, violence was the reaction to Christian conversion. If Samuel and his family were to return to his hometown, it would cause a lot of pain for his extended family. Firstly, anyone who interacted with him would be punished, but, secondly, it would raise the threat of execution for his immediate family. It would be a public execution that would leave bloodstains on the street. The reality would be gruesome.
Samuel loves Hong Kong because the city accepted and protected his family. But, within this appreciation comes the frustration that persists for twenty years: he is not permitted to work. As a skilled construction worker who could maneuvering bulldozers and cranes back home, Samuel knows he is capable of earning money with his own two hands. He wishes he could support this wife and children through his own efforts, instead of relying on government welfare.
His inability to financially support himself vexed him terribly when he sat in the doctor’s examination room. “I’m sorry,” the doctor faltered, “We are unable to continue the treatment.” His eyes would not meet Samuel’s and instead fixated on the wall behind him. “Samuel, it’s your medical waver.” The doctor nodded slowly, “It only covers basic expenses. If you want to continue receiving treatment, you need to pay it yourself.” Samuel’s heart was hardened against the disappointment. He sat silently in the plastic chair, his fingers tightly clinched. He nodded, thanked the doctor then left without saying a word. No further explanation was required.
On the way home it wasn’t the first time Samuel was disappointed with his predicament. In essence, had his medical condition been life threatening, authorities had told him that they would rather watch him suffer. Luckily for Samuel, his medical conditions improved and life gradually returned to normal for the family. However, this normalcy did not persist for very long: Hong Kong’s street protests began again, hitting their lives especially hard as they resided near the urban area where many of the clashes occurred. Samuel’s sleep, already disturbed by sharing a bed with four people, continued to deteriorate. For many months, the blaring sound of sirens, shouting, and chants became bedtime songs for the family, teargas seeping through closed windows.
These events were regular turbulence in Samuel’s life: the shunning by his mother, the challenges of refugee life, the disappointment of his children, the limitation of medical services, the daily search for essential money, the endless waiting for a decision by Immigration were a rolling tide in his mind. Having survived in a merciless ocean for years, Samuel developed a coping skill that many don’t learn in a lifetime – he learned let go.
“I remind myself to let go,” Samuel explains. “I cry. I pray then let go of anything I cannot control. It is God’s plan. I just live with the hope that someday my time will come.” Although he prefers not to be sentimental for fear of losing what he cherishes, now Samuel considers Hong Kong home. No matter how many challenges he faces, he is grateful for the opportunity to escape the dangers of his country. He concluded, “My only wish for the future is that my children will not have to live my life. Because I made the choice to become a Christian, to leave my country. But for them, this decision of being refugees was made by me.” That thought saddens him immensely.
Contributed by Vania Chow