This is my story; this is my love for my land of the lonely trees. Once so close to the heart and now broken in a Brexit world — watching helplessly how the storm of populism is pulling on the roots of my beloved trees...
That is how I called it, the land that I fell in love with when I was 16 years old. From the first day of my exchange student summer I knew that one day I would live here.
It was 1981 and I spent my first summer without my parents in another country. In a bus full with teenagers singing to the songs of Shakin Stevens and Soft Cell we arrived in Hastings and already on the way there from Heathrow I knew that this country would play an important role in my life.
It was a magical summer with meeting new friends, going to London, spending days and evenings at the beach, getting to know and hate salt & vinegar crisps and fish paste sandwiches, tasting flakes, doughnuts, fish & chips and tea with milk for the first time, giggling about the Charles and Diana wedding hype and enjoying the freedom as only a 16-year old can, who does not have a worry in the world.
After that I went to England every summer. The following year I spent 4 weeks on the Isle of Wight and in 1983 I was an exchange student in Torquay. Torquay set the course for my future. My host family was the nicest family you could imagine and despite staying in a room wallpapered with Spiderman for 4 weeks I really felt I was part of this family. They took me everywhere. We drove down to Land’s End and they showed me the beauty of Cornwall, we had Cream Tea, explored Dartmoor and Exeter and followed the steps of Agatha Christie at Babbacombe beach back in Torbay. I was so included in this family that I ditched the exchange student program after that and visited them several times a year for another 3 years. Torquay became my second home.
But something else happened in the first year I was there: I fell head over heels in love. Right there in Torquay, right by the harbor on a mild summer night. We both knew it was special. But he was, just like me, only on holiday and had come down from Swindon where he spent the summer to visit his mother’s side of the family for the first time, because he lived in Colorado, USA…
Years of heavy letter writing followed with the occasional phone call in between. Those were the 80s and the world was a lot bigger then… He joined the Army and finally got stationed in Germany. We married the following year and I moved with him to Colorado.
Our daughter was born there, we had a lovely house and 4 years later our son was also born in Denver. But I was homesick. I missed so many things that us Europeans take for granted. Without health insurance, sick pay and many other things the safety net was missing. I felt myself getting much more self-centered in order to survive and I did not like myself much anymore.
But where could we go? My husband did not speak enough German to even consider moving back to Germany. But luckily a German passport did not restrict us to just one country. Thanks to the EU we could take our pick and we did not have to think long before deciding that finally the UK would become our new home- the home where we wanted to raise our children, to fulfill our dreams, to build a future.
Starting over is never easy, but we had the great advantage that his mother’s side of the family lived in Wiltshire. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins all right there and happy to have us there.
I finally felt home.
Happy years followed. We got on the housing ladder, had another son, our kids had dual citizenship (US and German) and were brought up bi-lingual. I learned how to make Cornish pasty, spent bank holidays with family and friends picnicking in the forest, took the kids to bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, ate black (burned) sausages at barbies, bought them school uniforms and watched school plays about Henry the 8thcountless times and saw my daughter off to the prom. My husband opened up a restaurant and I worked in the IT industry for an US company. I belonged.
Over the years we had countless visitors from abroad. Friends and family, but also colleagues of mine from the USA, Germany, Denmark and the Philippines. I proudly showed them around – took them to Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, the White Horses, the Cotswolds and London- introducing them to Cream Teas, Steak and Ale Pie and Fish &Chips with vinegar. This was my home and I was so proud of it.
Just our marriage did not survive. We divorced and both remarried. His new wife was US citizen and my new husband was German. Both of them moved to us to England in 2003, because that was our home.
Our son was then born a year later in Wiltshire: German parents and delivered by a Scottish midwife which replaced the Danish midwife from the shift before and we were looked after by a German anesthetist and a Swedish doctor.
2007 my husband and I decided to move back to Germany. This was not an easy decision & was prompted by a lot of different circumstances and responsibilities towards our elderly parents, but my heart was bleeding leaving the UK. What gave me comfort was the thought that I could always come back when circumstances change.
While my eldest son decided to stay to finish college and then go to Uni in the UK, the other 3 kids came with us to Germany. My daughter did a 3-year apprenticeship in Germany and then moved back to England to marry her British school sweetheart and I now have a wonderful granddaughter.
So now I have my 2 USA-born kids living in England and my 2 England-born kids living in Germany. No problem if there would not have been a certain referendum, which changed everything for us.
My choice of returning back to England has been taken from me and my kids in England are now in Limbo.
My daughter was 4 years old and my son was 4 months old when we moved to the UK and all of a sudden their status is in danger. They feel British, they sound British, but they do not have British citizenship. In order to get it they would have to give up either their German citizenship, which is their entry ticket to the EU or their US citizenship.
Nothing will change, they said…
But time is running out. 5 months to go before they could become illegal aliens overnight in a country where they lived almost all their lives. 5 months of hoping, praying, that they will get confirmation that they can stay.
The site to apply for Settled Status will not even open until March 2019. They need to provide proof that they lived in the UK for 5 years continuously. Gathering bills, flight ticket stubs, P60s, explaining gaps, getting and paying for a criminal records check, holding off on any travel plans abroad after March 29th in fear they are not allowed back in, fearing to lose their jobs and again a lot of hoping, praying…. And still no agreement on citizens rights in writing from the government, still no guarantees. Everything could still change. How do you live with this, how do you plan your future? How do employers and landlords react when faced with hiring or renting to EU citizens if nobody knows if they are allowed to stay?
I still have so many British friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues and family in the UK and it makes me so angry sometimes that a lot of them act like nothing happened. They go on with their lives, make plans and seem completely oblivious to the fact that their country is on the brink to suicide.
I used to see people from the UK posting stuff on FB that made my blood boil because it just screamed ignorance, populism and false facts and when I tried to correct them by giving them facts, I was just dismissed because I was “scaremongering”.
Lately nobody posts anything about Brexit anymore- almost like it does not exist. I detect a lot of British politeness and a lot of „Don’t mention the Brexit“ attitudes, because many do not want to offend somebody who may feel differently about it…
I can’t stay quiet. My country has a history that taught us what “staying quiet” can lead up to. We must speak up! So I keep posting preparedness notices, facts about the EU, Trade implications and so much more and I am usually not getting a single reaction.
I am reading from Leavers when they are travelling to other European countries and watch with disbelief how they even declare that they love it so much that they could imagine living there and I feel so helpless because I have no idea how to reach anybody, how to make them understand that because they voted “Leave” living in another European country is not an option for them anymore.
They talk about EU migrants, but they never mean you.
No, not you, but all the others. There are just so many… The many migrants they are talking about are just the ones who are not their friends, their nurses, their doctors, their teachers, their cousins, their colleagues. The others, the ones who talk in foreign languages in the tube- those are the ones who are responsible that they have to wait so long for a doctor appointment, that they can not find a job, that life in general is bad. Once they leave the life of the British people will be great again. But you, you will be fine. You don’t have to leave. You have nothing to worry about.
I am missing the collective screams of disapproval from the British people, the standing up in solidarity, the voices of outrage about the treatment of the EU citizens who have built a life in the UK, built houses, raised families and yet had no say about their future. I am listening so closely now and the silence is so deafening.
I want to scream sometimes „Hey, it is us, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, please wake up, please raise your voice for us!“
But I know even that would get ignored…
Not too long ago I spent a week in the UK and that made me realize something:
When you are inside the eye of the hurricane you do not feel the devastating and destructive powers around you.
While I was there everything felt so normal – just like it always was when I lived there before the referendum. It almost felt surreal to me- like the Britain after the referendum was somewhere else in a parallel world. I almost got caught up in this- it is hard to connect the dots which make up the facts with the dots from the „normal“ life. They seem to be on different pages…
I am so proud of my kids dealing with the uncertainties of their futures. My daughter and son-in-law fighting for the future of their daughter by writing letters to their MP, attending information and discussion evenings, joining the people on the street peacefully demanding another People’s Vote, connecting with groups like the3Million, InLimbo and local Pro EU groups. My kids are not bitter, they deal with it with their heads held up high, exploring options, raising awareness and educating others.
Yes, I am proud, but my heart breaks when I watch helplessly how my children are exposed to the same populism my grandparents had already listened to. I am afraid what will happen to my kids. They are at an age now to buy their first house, to build their future and everybody around them acts like they should just go ahead with all of this, that there is nothing to worry about. My granddaughter is one year old and I do not know how one day we can possibly explain to her what we have done with her future…
Yet my concerns are still getting called “Project Fear” by so many and my worries get dismissed.
I feel helpless, tired and unheard and there is a deep, deep sadness for my land of the lonely trees…🔷
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(This piece was originally published on Heart-beat(e).)