The time to leave Hà Nam had dragged on so long that we thought the day would never come. Although we were used to the fact that no one was in a hurry in Hà Nam, my mother was desperate and wanted to give up everything in between. She was running out of money to "feed" the officials who were processing our application. After each appointment, she would return home exhausted, dropping words like "arbitrary" and "corrupt".
It was a strange period in which we neither left nor stayed. Our suitcases were packed, I withdrew from school. Everyone knew we were going to emigrate to Germany. Everyone asked us when. Every day. Our heads were so full that we forgot to live, to stop and see Hà Nam through the eyes of those who were leaving. If we had, we might have discovered something new.
Growing up in Hà Nam was like riding a bicycle at night in a whirlwind. You can't see the road ahead and you run the risk of falling or being seriously injured. Especially being myself felt strange, alienated by all the roles I had to take on. I often wished that I could be a normal child, that I could be a child at all. A child who goes to school and doesn't have to take on the role of Red Star or vice class president. A child who plays with other children after school instead of weaving fishing nets to support a single mother. A child who is not afraid to say no when the teacher asks her to pluck her gray hair or clean her apartment after class. A child who does not carry on her shoulders the heavy burden of being her mother's only hope, but also the greatest risk of disappointment.
I have learned over time that the only way to see something well is to walk away from it. Sometimes, when I think of our time in Hà Nam, what I see most is a concentrated mass of noise: The whirring of the carpenter's saw next door, entering the brain through the ears and destroying the will to live; the incessant honking of mopeds that never stop; neighbors getting up before sunrise and talking loudly; screaming children and babies; the heavy footsteps of buffaloes and the voices of their owners leading them into the fields; the barking of dogs; the meowing of cats; the clucking of chickens; the chirping of birds; the splashing of water - there's always water splashing somewhere; the invitations of wandering vendors; the rattling of various utensils; the bawling of a perpetually drunk neighbor; people singing karaoke late into the night. ... After Hà Nam I had learned to love that first moment after waking up, the moment when you don't know where and when you are, when you are receptive, vulnerable and too tired to have destructive thoughts - you didn't usually have those moments in Hà Nam. There you were awakened by noise. Either you got up when everyone else was still asleep, or you were brutally torn from your sleep. In the height of summer, the combination of noise and heat guaranteed a headache. My cousin told me:
"When you leave, you'll miss everything!"
I thought I wouldn't miss the noise and the heat, but all the people I had become close to in the last few moments.
Moving to a new place also means starting over. And with a fresh start comes the opportunity to become a new person. In these last weeks before I left, I often thought about who I wanted to be when I started over. All doors were open to me, I thought. I could walk through any door and be a whole new person. No one would ever know that I was a shy country girl who had lived too little.
Just before my thirteenth birthday, a classmate invited me to watch the meteor shower. As we waited for the stars, he asked me what I was looking forward to most about being in Germany. Without thinking, I answered:
"To be someone new!"
He understood the answer without asking. I thought of all the things that could be, all the sounds and colors that were waiting for me.
Then I left the shooting stars and the noise behind.