On a plane bound for Europe

 Illustration by Arsenii Markov

Illustration by Arsenii Markov

I had an unexpected, heartbreaking yet touching conversation with Jetham (8) from Eritrea, who sat next to me with his little brother on the plane:

Jetham: Hello! My name is Jetham, what’s your name?
I shake his hand

Me: Nice to meet you, Jetham. My name is Giti. How old are you?
Jetham: Eight. I’m the oldest. My other brothers are 6, 5 and 4. We are traveling with my father, but he is sleeping.
Me: Oh yeah? Where are you traveling to?
Jetham: We are going to Sweden to meet our mother. She is from Uganda and my father is from Eritrea. I was born in Eritrea, but we moved to Uganda when I was five. My mother and father thought life would be better there. But then my mom decided to move to Europe. I haven’t seen her for over a year.
Me: Oh really? That’s a long time. I’m sure you must be very excited to meet her. Are you moving to Sweden?
Jetham: Yes. We are trying, but my father says they might not let us stay. He says that Europeans don’t like people like us.
Me: What do you mean by “people like us”?
Jetham: Refugees. Europeans don’t like refugees. Where are you from?
Me: I come from Norway.
Jetham: That’s next to Sweden! Do they like refugees in your country?

I can’t find the right words to say and remain quiet. Jetham looks down and seems disappointed

Jetham: Can I ask you a question? Is refugee a bad thing? Is that why they don’t like us in Europe?
Me: No, not at all! It’s not your fault that you have to leave your country. And those who do not like refugees are the ones who have a problem. We should welcome all refugees with open arms! And you should be proud of where you come from! You have a mother from Uganda and a father from Eritrea, you have even lived in both of the countries! And now you get to move to a new country, where you will start at a new school, get many new friends and you can tell them about how your life used to be. And who knows, after a while, maybe you will feel that Sweden is where you belong. You will have so much more to give because you have lived and experienced more at a young age than many other boys. You should be proud, not ashamed!
Jetham: Are you also a refugee?
Me: I was, as a child. I moved to Norway when I was four years old.
Jetham: Were you also a lot scared?
Me: Yes, I was… But then I got to know the country, got friends and a new family, because I didn’t travel with my parents like you do.
Jetham: Oh, so you are also from Uganda???
Me: No, I was born in Iran. See, there are refugees from all over the world. Now I consider myself Norwegian.
Jetham: Oh ok…but from now on you will be half Ugandan and half Norwegian, just because I say so!

Jetham smiles from ear to ear

Me: haha, deal!

Jetham’s smile is suddenly wiped from his face and he looks at me with serious eyes

Jetham: Will it get better? Will I stop being scared?

I get a big knot in my throat and feel that the tears are pressing

Me: Yes, Jetham. It will get better, and soon you will not be scared anymore. You are a strong young man and should be proud of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!
Jetham: YES! You know what? When I get rich and become a president, I will come and visit you in Norway. Deal?
Me: Deal!

We shake hands and laugh

 Illustrations by Arsenii Markov. Photo by the author

Illustrations by Arsenii Markov. Photo by the author

Giti Carli Mohn is a Regional Youth Development Specialist at United Nations Development Programme and Former Organisasjonsrådgiver at Operasjon Dagsverk.