A story that siren tells

Korean war and family

While I was visiting my parents in countryside, I went to the community centre to run an errand relating to documents. The moment I stepped in the building, startling air raid siren went off. It was a civil defence drill day or something, since we are technically still on war against North Korea. I knew that it was a drill so I didn’t make fool of myself panicking and running around. The staff working in the office were supposed to guide us to a safe basement in case of bombing but they just took us to a room on the ground floor. I asked if we shouldn’t go downstairs, she told me someone blocked the way by putting something on the doorway down there so we’re kind of not able to get there. I said alright. I won’t fight.

So all 5 people who visited the centre that time are at this small dark room. All lights are switched off on the ground floor. We are sitting in silence and darkness. An old lady breaks the silence. She says the air raid siren reminds her of independence day and Korean War. She’s 81 and she went through 2 wars in her life time. She started working in a factory remote from her home at a very early age. One day in year 1945, independence from Japanese rule was announced. She was 11 that time in my calculation. Upon the independence, she left the factory in hurry with other colleagues and headed somewhere she didn’t know. It was 40 years later when she met with her family again. Her father had gone. And her mother was already too old. I ask why it took 40 years. She says she didn’t know where her family lived after everyone fled from the war. It was almost impossible to track down where her family was, and especially so after an another war in 1950. It was not until 1983 when broken families started reuniting through one public TV programme. Family members stand in front of cameras with a piece of paper on which their stories are written. Families who recognise the person would call the broadcasting company and then finally meet each other. Whole peninsula cried. However, not everyone was lucky to be on air. Others gathered in Yoido Square near the broadcasting company and looked for their loved ones independently. She was one of them. Although she only told me when and where she met her family, I am 98% sure it was through this opportunity.

Her story is overwhelming. She even lost her veteran husband early in her marriage. Left were 4 children and no money. She couldn’t even buy a spoon for her daughter’s wedding gift. She cries. The wrinkles on her face are telling the 81 years of her life.

I get to listen to her life because things have shifted so much in only 2 generations here in South Korea. But will there be anybody left to listen to a story in countries like Syria? Will the war end eventually or will there be anybody left in the place that will have used to be called Syria?

#world humanitarian day

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An anthropology novice with passion for small things. A development worker in a world of imponderabilia.

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