I wrote this piece nearly 20 years ago for the online journal Swans, talking about a different war, different refugees — my war, my refugees. So little has changed, nothing has really changed. And that’s the tragedy.

“They change their sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.”

The words of Horace have far outlasted the Empire to which he belonged. Almost a millennium after it fell, Rome is memory and ashes—and yet many, many people are still driven to change their sky. There have always been refugees, but it’s only now, with the eyes of the world on them through an assault and battery of cameras, that their tragedy has become in-your-face news fodder.

Every day we see them, the exiled, the dispossessed, walking across borders, carrying children and old people with distant, terrified eyes, wrapped in threadbare blankets, barefoot in the snow. Some of them are taken into more blessed lands, deloused, debriefed, debugged, declared free of disease, and then often left to fend for themselves (once their initial newsworthiness and photographic cachet have faded) in a hostile environment whose language they often do not speak.

And these are the lucky ones. The rest frequently spend the remainder of their lives in mud and misery, learning to call tents or barracks or empty basketball halls home, bathing in barrels, often getting vaccinated with expired medications far more likely to give them the actual disease they are trying to prevent, drinking slop, eating tinned food ten years past its sell-by date sent by countries eager to slap a Band-Aid on their conscience.

The guerre du jour that shadows our television news has vomited thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of refugees. Many are not yet even aware that this is what they are, but soon it will be made clear to them. Those that are considered as worthy to be shown on the evening news get copious, often intrusive, coverage. Others, perhaps fleeing the same war and chaos, are not seen and not heard. ,

I have family who have tasted refugee bread. Their story is far from unique; there are thousands like them. But theirs is the story I know. Theirs is the story which will be the light that I can shine into the dark places of the world.

I have a cousin. We were both born in Novi Sad, the city on the Danube river; provincial capital but, despite that, a quiet sleepy place on a rich and fertile Wheatland plain – where the light has a special glow on hot harvest Sundays in July and where the snow glitters thick on the ground on remembered childhood New Year’s Eves when we wandered past the street stalls selling tinsel and Christmas cards. Then, in the year I turned ten and she was still only nine years old, we parted – I moved away, to spend the next few decades living far from home; she stayed behind.

She married, and in due time produced two lovely little girls—who knew the name of their auntie in distant parts of the world almost before they knew their own. On March 24 1999, my older niece was four months shy of four years old. The younger was days away from her second birthday. They had known only love and liberty until that date. They had a garden and four dogs and a cat and plenty of toys, and they lived in a peaceful town whose history had flowing blood in it but where, in their day, none were harmed and none harming.

They had no way of knowing what was happening when they were warmly wrapped and, together with their mother and two small suitcases, put on a bus heading for the Hungarian border even as the first airplanes with their deadly payloads were heading to Novi Sad.

They were among the lucky ones, if luck it can be called. I would live to see the numbers of fleeing women and children climb to tens of thousands; I would also live to see those tens of thousands ignored and sidelined by the media, denied even the protecting status of being called “refugees,” because they were the wrong nation, the wrong faith, the wrong tribe of Israel. These were Serb refugees fleeing the bombardment of a country whose sin was to stand up to the world’s great powers and deny them their will. And these women and children were paying the price for that country’s pride.

Being a refugee does not necessarily mean living in a tent with no running water. Being a refugee means enduring sleepless nights; waves of guilt at the people, the responsibilities, and the lives that had to be left behind; a complete inability to show your true feelings because your children think the whole thing is a pleasant holiday.

I have loved many a place where I have lived over the years; but nowhere was “home.”

But I did have a place that was mine alone. I held on to a quiet love for the old river that had flowed through my childhood—never quite the blue of song, the Danube, not this far down on its silt-laden and mud-churned journey, carrying the memory of Vienna and Budapest past my city on its way to the sea. It smelled of damp compacted leaves and wet sand and sometimes a whiff of diesel from the tugs that plied it; its banks were brown mud of the color and consistency of fudge, overgrown with reeds and young willows; white cruise ships and old, peeling, workaday barges all touched this river city’s welcoming quays.

He talked to me, old man river, in the whispered lapping of the water on the shore; it was in memory of these childish conversations that I would almost invariably burst into tears every time we went back for a visit and the family car that had come to pick us up at the main airport in Belgrade trundled across the old bridge on its way home to the remembered warmth of the family circle. The original bridges are all gone now. This is a place of ghosts. My nieces will never live in the same town that I spent my own childhood in.

Once, talking with a friend who himself immigrated here from a different country, I asked him, What color is your sky? It stumped him for a while, before he thought about it and understood: every one of us has a morning in our memory where a sky has etched itself into our soul—a certain light of dawn, a certain shade of blue, a certain golden wash to the clouds. This sky is yours, unique, a once-in-a-lifetime sight that connects you to a time and a place which otherwise would vanish like so many memories into the vast shadowy storehouse where memories are stored, perhaps never to be looked at again. This sky is your soul, a glimpse of the soul you carry within you, and that is the color of the sky which you will always think of as “home.”

My skies are a cerulean blue over golden fields. I haven’t seen them for years. But Horace had the right of it—”They change their sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.”

I am a refugee. But I am a refugee who carries her home with her like a stone from beside her old hearth, a vial of holy water from her river, a piece of blue from her sky. I am very far across the sea from where I began… but despite the changing skies that I have lived my life underneath I have never let go of that piece of my soul in which I carry my home.

All of us, all the refugees on this tired and beaten and churned-up world, share that characteristic. We may run, for a million different reasons—but the gift in that is to know, because we are preternaturally aware of our world and our surroundings far more than the watchers of the news in comfortable suburban houses across the planet, exactly what color the sky should be when we lift our eyes to it. The price of being aware of one’s unchanging soul is the eternal longing to return, even when that return ceases to be practically possible, to the place where the exiled soul belongs, knowing that there is a Promised Land and, like Moses, to only be able to glimpse it from across a river with no fords.

Children of a Different Sky

Children Title bannerThe fantasy anthology, “Children of a Different Sky”, is a collection of stories which illuminate the lot of the lost, bewildered and abandoned refugees and immigrants of our time.


If you wish to help, and don’t know how, pick up a copy of this book, both for the inspiration and insight the stories will give you, and the material aid you will offer by your purchase. All profits go to aid groups.

To pre-order “Children of a Different Sky”, click on the book cover HERE

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Magical paths

Oh, the stories waiting to be told…

28 magical paths begging to be walked, keeping in mind a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.“

Spring In Hallerbos Forest, Belgium – Image credits: Kilian Schönberger
Hallerbos ForestMount Rainier, Washington, USA – Image credits: Danielle Hughson
Mount RainierSee all the paths at Bored Panda

The largest public sci-fi library in the world is under threat

If you’re a SF/Fantasy fan, there’s no cooler place than the Eaton Collection library at UC Riverside, touted as the largest collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian literature in the world. But all that could change soon.
Eaton collectionimage credit Gallivant

Trent Moore writes at Blastr that new library management plans to drastically slash the size of the collection.

Save the library

10 Great Novels That Will Make You More Passionate About Science

Many of the world’s greatest scientists were inspired to go into their fields by reading science fiction books, Charlie Jane Anders writes ar io9.

it’s easy to see why. A lot of the best science fiction features scientists who solve problems and make breakthroughs. Here are 10 great novels that will inspire you with a new love of science.

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
The DispossessedThis is one of the all-time great novels about a physicist who discovers a whole new kind of physics, which winds up having a practical application. On one level, The Dispossessed is about a scientist who is caught between two worlds: an anarchist planet and a capitalist planet. But a lot of the most fascinating parts involve the scientist discovering the Simultaneity principle, which in turn leads to the invention of the Ansible, Le Guin’s famous device that allows instantaneous communication across spacetime. There is a lot of heroic physics in this novel, and it’s wonderful.

Read the article

Haworth, England: The Tiny Town That Inspired Every Bronte Sister Novel

Haworth, England (Photo: Matthew Hartley/Flickr)
HaworthIn summer when it’s light until 11 p.m., it bustles with visitors; in winter, under snow, it’s other-worldly and full of ghosts, Reggie Nadelson reports at Yahoo Travel.

From every point, as I climb the main street, to the Bronte Parsonage that sits at the very top of the village, there are views of the moors, a huge landscape that reaches into infinity, criss-crossed by the gray stone dry walls, put together without mortar that last forever, a scene more rugged, more powerful than pretty. I feel there are ghosts just over the hill.

I’m haunted by the feeling that I know this place in my gut, even before I get to the Parsonage. You come here because this is Bronte land. In Howath at this pretty two-story parsonage with a modest garden, Charlotte and Emily Bronte lived and wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, two of the greatest novels of any time, stories of powerful emotions, and women with complex emotional ambition and desires.

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Never leave your room at these Hotels for Book Lovers

There are some hotels around the world not on the beach that are just made for book lovers, Jane Reynolds reports at Yahoo Travel.

Whether it’s where a famous novel was set, an author awaited arrest, or a gorgeous library can be found, these eight hotels are a bookworm’s delight.

Cadogan Hotel, Londonphotos courtesy
Cadogan Hotel, LondonThe Cadogan is an unpretentious boutique hotel with a prestigious Knightsbridge address. This 64-room hotel occupies a historic Edwardian townhouse on Sloane Street, in close proximity to local shopping. The property has a rich history, including the room where Oscar Wilde awaited his arrest in 1895 (pictured above) and another where King Edward VII met with his mistress, the British actress Lillie Langtry.

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Shared bikes, the safest way to travel
Safe bikesCity bike share programs are a lot of things: Convenient, green, good exercise and … safe. In 23 million rides, there have been NO fatalities in 36 city programs since the first program was launched in 2007 in Tulsa, Okla.

The programs are found in Washington, Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Tampa and many other urban spots.

Read the article

Humans Need Not Apply

A video to make you think…

or despair!
No humansSee the video (15 minutes)

Quote of the Day

There’s no such thing as a wrong note, as long as you’re singing.” -Pete Seeger

Alma Alexander
My books

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