← Issue 2
by Adila Yarmuhammad
Step one: Get to Beijing.
Step two: Convince the Austrailian embassy staff to allow us to immigrate.
Step three: Flee China.
We are doing this because of the children. If we leave, the children will have more opportunities, more chances, a better life, and a better future. We cannot let them suffer.
Our family, our friends, we will be leaving them all.
I hate trains. They make my head hurt and I can’t sleep. My brother Imran Aka never plays with me, so I have to play alone with Gulmeera. He says that she’s just a dumb doll, but she makes me feel brave when the police come.
Apa says we all have to go to Beijing for a very important reason. She doesn’t say what the reason is, just that we have to leave right away. But this time, Dada will come with us. I always miss Dada when he goes far away. But he always brings me back sweets and tells me stories. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re scary, and sometimes they’re sad.
We’ve reached Beijing and the Australian Immigration office. Finally, I can give my children the greatest gift: a better life. Even though our life here isn’t the best, it is better than what others have. But still, it isn’t safe.
Now, we just have to complete step two. Convince the Australian embassy staff to let us immigrate.
We go to a big building and have to wait for a very long time. Every time I ask what we are doing, Dada just squeezes my hand and Apa hushes me. Imran Aka sits quietly. He looks scared, so I feel scared. But luckily, I have Gulmeera to keep me brave.
Finally, a tall man takes us to a room. Apa and Dada talk about boring things. But I hear them say something about Australia. Australia is a very faraway place, but I’ve seen pictures. I hear they ride kangaroos everywhere. I’ve never seen a real kangaroo, only in pictures. I think I would very much like to see one.
The tall man keeps smiling at me. He and my parents talk for a very long time while Imran Aka sits quietly again. And that is weird because my brother is never quiet.
Feeling sleepy, I climb into Dada’s lap and close my eyes.
Step two is half complete. The meeting seemed to go well. I hope. The officer looked sympathetic. He took a liking to our little one.
Now, we wait for an answer.
“Look, Apa! His hair looks like my lamb! Look! Look!” I point at the man across the street. His hair really does look like my lamb. I miss my lamb. I wonder if he’s eating. Sometimes, he doesn’t eat when I’m not there. I hope he is eating.
Now I’m hungry.
“Apa, can we eat something? I’m hungry.”
Will we get stopped at the airport? Will they make up some excuse to not let us go? I had heard so many stories of those who had all the necessary paperwork and still weren’t permitted to leave.
What if they take my children away?
For now, we must pretend like there is nothing happening. Pretend to the government, pretend to our family and pretend to ourselves. One slip-up might leave us dead.
Chinese people always take our things.
One time, I saw a Chinese man point his gun at the shopkeeper next door. Apa made me go inside but I heard a loud BANG! Afterwards, Apa wouldn’t let me go outside to play with my friends. I never saw the shopkeeper again. Whenever I ask about him, Apa tells me to be quiet. Imran Aka says the Chinese man killed the shopkeeper. But then who’s looking after the shop?
We don’t want our children to grow up surrounded by violence. They say Australia is a safe place. Our friend lives there. He tells us that it is a beautiful country. A safe country.
But the thought of leaving everything we know terrifies me. We will be jobless, our qualifications worthless. All my years of education and working as a doctor will mean nothing, and I will have to start over again. We will have to start over again.
We’re going on a plane!
We’re leaving. We’re finally leaving. After weeks of anticipation, we were finally approved to immigrate. I thought I was going to cry when we received the letter, but just reading the words made me feel numb as I realised what we were actually about to do.
My beloved tells me not to worry and that we will finally be safe.
But how can we leave the rest of our family?
How can we escape to safety while they suffer?
Is it fair for us to leave?
Since we have received the acceptance letter, I have been unable to sleep. Weeks of endless nights, pacing up and down the house thinking about what could happen.
But in the end, this is my resolve: My children are my priority.
We will leave.
I’ve never been on a plane before. I hope I don’t get scared! Dada says we’re going to a far place. I think he means Australia because I remember them talking about it with the tall man. Teacher says I have a good memory. Aka says I won’t see our teachers ever again. And he says that we’re not coming back EVER.
I don’t believe him. When I ask Apa, she says to be quiet. She says I ask too many questions and that I talk too much. Teacher told her that once.
I’m very excited to go on a plane. I have to pack all my favourite dresses and Gulmeera’s dresses as well.
Step three is complete. We have finally landed in Australia. We are immigrants. We will start a new life here, one with less worries and more safety.
We may finally be free.
Adila Yarmuhammad is an Uyghur. Growing up, she was taught about the situation that her people are facing in their homeland. She uses these stories and channels them into her writing. “In Steps” is based on the author’s mother’s immigration to Australia when she was seven years old and highlights the current issue in East Turkistan through the eyes of a young girl and her mother.