A son remembers his last telephone conversation with his father in East Turkestan six years ago. After that, the father “disappeared.”
by Abdurehim Gheni Uyghur
“Pure anxiety buried in vagabonds’ misery,
Sullen affection known by lovers of century,
The fine sentiments of grey and joyless life,
Best known by the one who has fled his own country”
(from “Wandering Spirit,” a Uyghur poem)
May 23 is a day I can never forget. It is the day when I heard the voice of my father for the last time. It is also the day when I lost 19 of my family members forever. Six years ago, on May 23, 2017, I spoke with my father on the phone for the last time. I don’t know what happened to him, and whether he is alive or dead. But his words still echo in my ears.
“How are you doing father? I know you mourn the decease of my mother. Is my stepmother taking good care of you? As your beloved son, I am not able to put my consoling arms around you when you feel sad, nor am I able to take care of you when you are hospitalized. I know I cannot fulfill my filial duties. I feel guilty about it. I am sorry, father!” Then, I burst into tears.
“Don’t feel sorry, my son,” my father said. “No one knew in advance that you would flee and live in another country. Think positively, maybe this has benefits we had never expected. I realize that you went through many difficulties after moving to another country. But perhaps now you understand the world and yourself better. Perhaps now you may find the answer to the question why you decided to flee instead of staying with your relatives and childhood friends, and keeping your job. Wherever you live, do not forget your home country, the place where you were raised. Take good care of your family, raise your children righteously. In your life, your wife and your children should be those who always comfort you and please you. Treating them well is the same as treating me well.”
I remember that my father always respected and showed obedience to my grandfather. He always followed the old Uyghur saying, “Treating parents well is God’s own will.”
Having been raised in that environment, I also obeyed my father, tried to remember his advice all the time, and to avoid displeasing him. During that last phone call, he also said, “Now you are living in a country with completely different beliefs and culture. You should obey the laws of that country, be a good citizen, and try hard to find a job and live independently of government welfare, so that you are valued by the society. Holland is your second home country, and your children were born in the Netherlands. Your children would follow your way of living. Try to be a role model to your children, and educate them well.”
As if he knew that it was our last conversation (but I didn’t), he gave me much valuable advice. Six years have passed, quickly. I always miss his voice, his kindness, his righteousness. His face is always in my mind. Sometimes, I even see him in my dreams and talk to him.
My beloved father! I miss you so much. I realize how much you sacrificed for raising us, now that I am a father myself and have to raise my own children. You used to say, “We all love our children more than anything else.” I remember these words every time I play with my children, and I miss you. You fulfilled your duty as father. Mine has just started.
Listening to both my father’s words and his deep breath on the phone, I understood that he was unable to tell me the truth about the endless oppression of the Uyghurs in East Turkistan, and how they were losing their hope of freedom. Since the Chinese police are always listening to calls that come from other countries, my father could not speak openly.
When I quit my job as a teacher and went to study abroad, my parents hugged me and kissed me on the cheeks. My father told me that, “You are going to the free world, but wherever you will go and live, never forget your motherland! You were born in this land; your ancestors suffered for this land! You are indebted to this land! Only Allah knows when you will come back, and perhaps this is our last face-to-face conversation… But you know that it is our duty and responsibility to our nation to tell the story of our colonial oppression to the outside world. Consider as a duty of conscience to fight for the freedom and independence of your nation! Never forget the wise words that ‘it is better to be the son of the nation than to be the son of a father!’”
These words confirmed to me that my father was a sincere nationalist and a good person. I told my parents at that time, “Father and mother, do not worry! I will never forget your words and advice! I leave you and go to another country, but I know what my duty is.”
It is true that today, when their figures appear before my eyes, I still feel guilty. There is an old Uyghur saying, “a son is his father’s secret.” Whenever I remember that my best features came from you, I thank God for giving me such a wonderful father. Your smiling face gives me power. I always try to pass down these good traits to my children. Your modesty and prudence remind me to be patient, your righteousness teaches me how to distinguish friends from enemies. You are my pride, my lighthouse, and the source of my love. May God bless you and protect you if you are alive. May God bless you and welcome you in Jannah (Paradise) if you are dead.