Where are the People?
I found myself, fresh off the plane, riding in a car with two English speaking individuals driving through Indiana, small towns passing by, old cars parked on the streets. I asked: “Where are the people?”
It was an odd question to my companions. I was used to people walking everywhere, sitting on the streets in cafes, taking children to school, children walking home from school, stores filled with occasional shoppers, no large carts, just small canvas bags, filled with fruit and bread.
My question was followed by an amused chuckle. It was a cultural shock, and I did not know it then. I thought: I’m adjusted, I'm not afraid, I can do this. I was nineteen years old.
Religion was something I did not know growing up. I picked it up along the way, and in the war, it was a shield of sorts. A shield from desperation we all felt day after day when sirens would announce that the enemy hidden in the mountains surrounding our town was ready to spread more death, like seeds, we spread in the spring, except, out of death more desperation and grief grew, that unlike the weed no amount of chemicals poured on the roots could kill.
My host parents were religious people. The husband was a retired priest, and the wife was a musician, both deeply devout. They believed in goodness and in God, and I was not sure how to tell them that even God did not believe in goodness. He was indifferent. But I followed. I was in their country after all. I went to church with them on occasion to show respect and gratitude that I was here while others like me where elsewhere struggling.
And as I am told now that immigrants are taking something from this country, making it foul and unstable; as I am told that we should go back and quit taking what is not ours, I wonder, what does belongs to us? What can we take from this life and from the chance given to us at birth to hold, to keep, to call our own? Can we claim towns, call them our home? Can we claim churches and God given to us at birth? Can we claim the sky above or the trees in our backyards?
I then remember the small Indiana towns we passed in 1999, the closed storefronts and the old cars and I wonder: “ Where are the people?”
Thumbnail Photo By: Edina Jahic