Mother’s Day: On gold-smuggling, refugees, and the strength of women

On a hot African day in 1972, my mother and I were standing in line at the Post Office in Kampala, Uganda. She was dressed in a turquoise sari, her hair was braided and lustrous, and she was clutching a large cardboard box in her hands. I still had my school uniform on, a white shirt, khaki shorts, black shoes, long tan socks, with a garter in the socks. The garter had a little flag; the color of flag indicated the form you were in. Mine was green for 8th form.

We had packed the box earlier. It had mostly saris in it. In the borders of the saris, my mother had threaded coils of gold. There were toothpaste tubes in the box as well. Sometime earlier, my parents had uncrimped the bottom of the toothpaste tubes, slid in small bars of gold, and crimped it back.DSCN1594

Soon, we would flee Uganda. We were an Indian family, and Idi Amin had decreed that all foreigners were to leave Uganda, or else. We had seen enough to know what ‘or else’ meant. People had disappeared. There had been public executions, and stories of atrocities and torture. People had stopped eating fish on the rumor that the rivers were full of dead bodies. My father, being the eldest of four brothers and four sisters, had taken over responsibility for all of them when my grandfather passed away. His mother, two of his brothers and one sister were still young, in India, and dependent. They had no other means of support and they were one of the two reasons that my father could not decide to leave Uganda, even though the situation was getting bad. The other reason was we had a luxuriant life in that beautiful country. Leaving meant leaving everything behind, except a few clothes.

So my mother decided on her own to send gold to India, at great risk to herself. Her thought was that with the gold, the family in India would be secure, and then my father would be able to decide to leave.

I had no idea what was in the box. My mother was calm; there was not the least bit of sign that betrayed her. I wondered later if she had fought to stay calm the whole time.  The room was crowded; this was the only way that foreigners had to salvage a little bit of their possessions, by shipping them out. The African workers opened some of the boxes, it seemed at random.

It was uneventful. When our turn came my mother plopped the box down, the worker weighed it, my mother paid, and we left.

Life in the following years was hard for my parents. They lost every cent, except that box. We were refugees in a UN camp in Austria for two years. When we came to US, my mother didn’t speak a word of English. She learned English, developed working skills, starting as a seamstress in a sweat shop. Most of her life, my mother has worked for the well-being of others. I can’t write this without tears.

Many, many people are safe today because of my mother’s foresight and fierce, compassionate strength.

30 thoughts on “Mother’s Day: On gold-smuggling, refugees, and the strength of women

    1. Kaushik Post author

      The strength of women is both ferocious and compassionate! Love your new article. Happy Mother’s day!

  1. Liara Covert

    This is post is very moving. Thanks for sharing it. I find your blog as the result of visiting the Happy Lotus. My mom is a role model for me in her own way. As she experiences a serious physical illness and her chosen treatment, I am reminded how blessed I am to have taken steps to move back home to care for her. Every experience is a teacher, not only for you, but as this post points out, each person learns from the varied experiences of others. When a person we love is humbled, we are also humbled. As we realize we are eqaul and one in the same, we realize we learn from everybody, everywhere. Love and forgiveness are profound teachers in their own right. Blessings to you!

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Welcome Liara. Mothers are the ordinary unceleberated everyday heros! You’re absolutely right; we learn from others experiences as well, particularly loved ones. It is challenging and growing to care for others. Thanks so much for sharing. Blessings to you as well!

  2. Johnny Gee

    Nicely written and very moving! Its so true that women are so much stronger then men! And their strength is quiet and enduring….Write more!

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Thank you Johnny. Yes, I agree, the feminine energy in us is far stronger than the masculine one. Thanks, I will keep writing, I love it!

  3. Lisis

    Kaushik, this is beautiful. I am always so amazed at the stories of your life… particularly your youth. Have you written a book yet? If not, it is begging to be written. And I mean a real one, not a free PDF… I mean the Oprah book club kind. Your life story is fascinating, and your mother sounds like a good part of the reason why!

    Thanks for sharing this with me today!
    .-= Lisis´s last blog ..Inspiration: Helen Keller “Great and Noble Tasks” =-.

  4. Nadia - Happy Lotus

    Hi Kaushik,

    What a lovely tribute to your mother. My mother passed away some years ago and I have to tell you, a mother’s love is unlike any other.

    And thank you for sharing your experiences of what you had to go through as a refugee in another country. My dad’s side of the family had the same experience and I grew up hearing stories of how tough it was and I often think it is so sad that people have no idea what happens to people when they are forced to flee their homes. If more people knew the horrors, I think politically speaking people would do more to prevent such events from happening.
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..The Happy Lotus Diaries Begin – Please Share Your Thoughts =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Thank you Nadia. Honestly, for me the whole thing was a wonderful adventure. And everything turned out for the best!

      And you’re right of course. Today, there are horrors and injustices that we simply are not aware of enough.

      k

  5. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    That was a moving story, and I thank you for sharing it. I can’t imagine what that type of life – living in Uganda and being forced to leave – must have been like. Such strength, courage, and then perseverance to come here and make another life work, whatever it took.

    Be well, my friend, and joyous!
    .-= Megan “JoyGirl!” Bord´s last blog ..Read. LAUGH! Repeat. =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Yes, it’s remarkable in one way, and yet in another, it’s the resilience of human beings. We rise to the occasion.

      Thanks JoyGirl, I hope you’re doing very well!

      k

  6. adele

    Beautiful article. It makes me really appreciate what people have had to endure at times. I’ve been sitting with the feeling lately that many have forgotten the tremendous sacrifice people made thru difficult times in history. Right now it’s all about going to the mall and buying stuff, I guess…

    a.

  7. melina

    My dear friend,
    I remember you telling me this story when we first spoke on line….
    there is not a day that goes by that i don’t think of my mother …
    mine and your’s are alot alike. they took care of the family at any cost to them..
    worked and came to this place called america with nothing…
    think about what they had to go through….
    we should think of them when we’re having a bad day or feeling sorry for ourselfs…
    could we have been so brave….?
    the pictures were great… call me…e.

  8. Prerna

    I am glad I stumbled upon this website. To begin with, I enjoyed reading this piece on your mother. I have in my family, uncles who fled Uganda the same way your parents did. I am glad for the fact that there is some Indian voice writing about depression or mental health challenges, even though it’s an American Indian voice. I had no real exposure or understanding to any mental health issues until I met someone who disclosed to me that he was bipolar. Not really knowing what it meant, apart from a recollection of it being mentioned in the same place as Virginia Woolf, I was like, does it have something to do with your eyes (confusing it with bifocal!). In my attempt to know this man better and to understand him, I began reading and searching for real life experiences on the net. Most blogs were very very helpful, but I found that there were very few Indian voices. Maybe, we tend to push things about mental health under the carpet, maybe we rather not talk about them at all. So coming across this blog was a pleasure.
    Best,
    Prerna

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Prerna,

      Thanks for your wonderfully open comment.

      As you point out, there is probably more stigma about mental health issues in the Indian community than in western communities. There isn’t as much acceptance, and possibly many Indians, in India or abroad, go a long time without seeking help. It’s wonderful that you are open and you want to know more about it.

      That’s funny–bifocals!

      These days I write much more about awakening. Depression and anxiety are in the past. They do affect me–sometimes I go through periods of inertia and low-energy, but the unhappiness and sense of futility are gone. The resources I found very helpful about depression include the books by Andrew Solomon (Atlas of Depression) and Kay Jamison Redfield. I would also recommend exploring non-duality: this website of course, and the resources on the external resources page.

      Thank you for visiting and I hope to hear from you again.

      love and peace,
      k

  9. Janice

    Wow, Mr. K.
    Thank you for sharing your memories of your Mom.
    That is a beautiful story.
    Janice

  10. Mary

    Kaush,

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

    It reminds me how much we take things for granted. Your story helps keep things in perspective. All humans struggle with some-thing(s). Reading a story such as yours reminds me to be grateful for the life I have. I am truly blessed – a life not without difficulty – but many blessings as well.

    God bless!
    Mary

  11. Renuka Chokshi

    Kaushik,
    Great story, I enjoyed reading it and lots of sacrifice she has given.
    Happy mothers day.
    Renukakaki

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