Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Peek into the Life of a North Korean Refugee

Another vignette about the life of  North Korean women refugees living here in the South appeared in a column in the Peace Weekly by the Sister working with refugees in Incheon. Taking one of the women to a large market, she noted how everything surprised her, from the  size of the market to the number of products on the shelves.

The Sister stayed  close to her so she wouldn't lose her in the large crowd. The woman bought a 5kg bag of brown sugar. The Sister asked her why she bought so much; she laughed, telling  Sister it would be alright if she didn't  know.

But knowing the Sister's desire, she relented and said that it was to wash her face to make it smoother and more woman-like. She then sang a little North Korean ditty: "Womanhood is a flower/ a thrifty flower of the house/ an affectionate wife and sister/ without them an important part of life would be empty." The song uses an old word for a wife not used in the South, meaning "the sun of the house."

These refugees are thinking of those they left behind and are dreaming of being reunited with them some day. So they try  to save money in every way possible. They will walk instead of taking a bus. When they need to call Sister, they will often hang up after the first ring, not  wanting to run up the telephone bill and hoping the Sister will know who called and will return the call. 

Since they have no skills they work at odd jobs, such as packaging chocolates, assembling hand phones in their homes and in restaurants washing dishes. In trying to realize their dreams, they pay little attention to their health. And feeling sorry for the children left behind, they try to make up for it by buying for the children that manage to rejoin them, but too young to appreciate it, expensive clothes and hand phones.

Their life is full of intensity and warmth for the family, a part of life the South was accustomed to in the past. These women from the North are showing us the kind of life that once was the common experience of many in the South,  but now is fast disappearing.