If this is your final destination, welcome home

Always the smell of tiger balm

takes me back to Kuala Lumpur in 1980,

the sweltering airstrips,

the sea of expectant upturned faces

of the refugees waiting en masse

at the bottom of the plane’s stairs,

on their way to Canada

and to second lives.

 

Plane load after plane load,

week after week, four years running,

we ferried them across oceans.

After days and sometimes weeks in crowded busses

they waited to be next in line,

these survivors of Pol Pot and his merciless Khmer Rouge,

these survivors of unimaginable horror.

We delivered them to Montreal and to Toronto,

away from all they had known,

everything they owned in small tidy bundles at their feet.

 

We chose our words carefully for the interpreter,

Trying to prepare them in some small way

for what lay ahead.

Where do you begin?

How do you tell someone how cold feels?

 

We played them music we wanted them to hear,

hits of the day, Blondie, REO Speedwagon,

handed out sandwiches and Pampers and wet naps.

They in turn watched our every move,

accepted anything given to them, suspiciously at first,

then with vigorously nodding heads, pouring forth their thanks,

holding up their solemn, silent babies proudly for us to hold.

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