As told to Fatima Qureshi.
Sabah* is from Egypt. Seeking refuge in Hong Kong with her husband and three children for a year now from religious persecution after her conversion to Christianity, Sabah talks about her broken past, struggling present and hopes for the future free from the anxiety of danger and exclusion.
This is her story (Part 2 of 2). See part 1 here.
What were your children’s immediate reactions to a city like Hong Kong?
They wanted to go back home. Now it’s also the same. You know sometimes the children want new presents or toys, but we can’t bring them that happiness. It’s especially hard when your children don’t know or have any ideas about what happened. We can’t tell them everything or talk to them about anything. Christian Action has helped us here in Hong Kong. Sometimes they organize trips in the city for the families and invite us all to go to the harbor. When we go to these small trips and my children want to buy something, they can’t and they will get upset. I am upset about it too because we don’t have the money. In Hong Kong, they only offer limited credit for food and it’s finished really quickly sometimes, in just one week or 10 days.
Why is that the case, you think?
No one responds to your requests every month for more money or food. It’s difficult. For my daughter in school, they asked for shoes that are only white in color. We tried asking people to provide us with white shoes. The school is frequently asking me to buy the right color of shoes and socks. As soon as they see even a small pattern on the socks or shoes, they say it’s not allowed in school at all. We tell them our situation that we’re refugees here and we can’t afford some things. They say no, this is the business and you must follow the school system. At the end some Canadian-Hong Kong citizens from the church helped us.
Do issues like language learning or the local culture worry you when it comes to the education of your children?
Egyptians, you know, we have a lot of languages. We have a history of Egyptians learning many languages. When you’re a kid in the world, you can easily understand and learn new languages. But when you get older, it’s hard to understand. When they’re young, they’re very smart. But we have other important matters to think about. We aren’t coming here to learn. No. We’re coming here to bring these children to safety. We look for a place for them that is far removed from harm where there could be a future of them. If I take a lesson I’m not confused. I’m just not focused. But I know that the government won’t let you sit here for 10 years. We are now here for a year, maybe 8 months. They will reject our case. We don’t need anything from the government or another. Egypt is a very good country. It has culture, education and resources. We aren’t coming here to be rich. We are running away and escaping. If Egypt was good, we could never think of another country.
Tell me about the three delicious meals you cooked for all of us. How was your experience significant to your coming here in Hong Kong?
I was very happy, so happy. I wish I could do it again. Koshari is made up of pasta and it’s my kids’ favorite. We have pasta and rice all the time at home even now. I love making food for many people. With Egyptian food, you can make hundreds of recipes with just potatoes and meat. That’s why I love it and it reminds me of home.