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.
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.