I may as well have been standing before them stripped naked. That’s how exposed I felt. The soldiers had announced their arrival with a loud pounding on the front door of our home. A few days prior, my husband and I had begun the official paperwork requesting permission to leave the only country we had ever known.
It still felt surreal to me, like a terrible nightmare I would awaken from, drenched in sweat, heart racing, awaiting the wave of relief that would undoubtedly wash over me once I regulated my breathing. Except, as surely as the sun rose each morning, so was the reality of this new way of life in my beloved country.
I held my two year old in my arms, hushing her cries, swaying my body in an instinctual movement only a mother understands. She had been fast asleep when the commotion startled her awake, and clung to me for comfort. I longed for the same.
The soldiers worked in tandem like a synchronized choreography lacking the grace and beauty of the ballet I had so loved as a little girl when life was simpler.
“One toaster! One blender! Two radios!”
One soldier called out as he made his way from room to room, opening cabinets and drawers as he went. The other soldier who remained in the living room with us, either out of efficiency or as an intimidation tactic, jotted down each item on his clipboard. My understanding was that this inventory sheet would be reconciled on the day we were finally granted exit permit to begin our legal passage to America.
I prayed that day would come soon. My sister-in-law and her family had waited four long years. Others had waited only nine months. There was no rhyme or reason to the ever changing process. We all walked on egg shells for fear our departure would be cancelled before it was even scheduled. I spent my days in silent prayer because these days the only one to be trusted was God.
The new government had created a model of mutual vigilance between neighbors, a system of social control. It encouraged citizens to report all neighbors’ illegal actions including any buying or selling of food or goods not disbursed via the established rations program. A few months ago, in much the same manner as today, homes had been searched for firearms.
All guns had been confiscated.
Those who had tried to get around the system, had paid the price for going against communist orders which also included but were not limited to receiving unknown visitors, participating in opposition movements, gathering in prayer or any action that didn’t support the new regime.
If you weren’t with them, you were against them.
Once it was common knowledge you were trying to leave the country, a new level of fear began. Now you feared for your life and your family’s well-being. You were no longer allowed to keep your job, and were sent to camps to cut sugar cane for as long as it took for your exit process to be completed.
As the soldiers completed the inventory, they reminded me not to gift any items to family or friends left behind because it had all been accounted for. I would only be allowed to take one small suitcase of bare necessities and the clothes on my back.
Clipboard in hand, he leaned in close to me, ran a finger along my daughter’s cheek, and wiped her tears.
“You can take two toys of your choosing, sweetheart. We’re not monsters.”
I pulled my daughter’s face to mine, rubbing my cheek against hers, as he turned and walked out of my home. I’m not sure how long I stood there, my daughter’s tears mingling with my own, but in that moment I vowed she would never live in a country that did not value its people, a country who pushed an agenda which violated economic freedom, destroyed incentive, muffled innovation and entrepreneurship, and undermined meritocracy, a government which stripped its citizens of all freedom.
I thank the Lord for the vow that young mother made as she held her baby tight, because that woman was my own mother and that little girl was my sister. I pray we all vow to do the same for all of the children in this country, that they may live free.