‘Dear Stranger’, a personal letter from a refugee to all of us

Today is World Refugee Day. It is the day that we stand in solidarity with those around the world who are displaced due to conflict or persecution. It is the day that we reflect on their journeys to safety, remember the many that didn’t make it, either because they couldn’t leave or because their treacherous journeys took their lives. It is also the day that we celebrate the resilience of the human spirit, our ability to come through dark times and shine. Today I share with you Nahid’s dream for her family and her daughter. Nahid is everywhere, in America and in Europe, in Asia and Oceania, in Africa and the Middle East. Please, wherever you are, help the ‘Nahids’ in the world to see that we live in a world where love and kindness persevere.

Dear stranger,

My name is Nahid and I left my country with my husband in June 2014. I am a survivor of torture and violence. In September 2016, our beautiful daughter N. Zahra was born. I encountered multiple challenges during my pregnancy and delivery. I was unable to afford regular pre-natal checks and as a result developed gestational diabetes requiring emergency admission. Thankfully our daughter was born healthy and after a few days of hospitalisation I was discharged.

We are very grateful to our country of asylum, even though we are considered illegal migrants, without the right to work or study. After our daughter was born we grow more concerned about her future here and struggle to wait for resettlement as we see no future for her here or back in our country of origin.

Growing up my life has been hard. I was not allowed to finish high school or pursue my dreams to become a doctor. I was continually treated badly by persons close to me resulting in me having a miscarriage. I accepted it as my fate and I was not strong until I met my husband. Now with my daughter, this strength and renewed hope only grows stronger.

My husband and I don’t want our child to feel like a refugee or that she cannot achieve her dreams for a better future. She is born a refugee but we want our daughter to have options. Living here provides us with limited to no options. Zahra will not be able to go to school, she will not be able to have an identity, she will not be able to pursue her ambition, and she will not be able to work legally. My husband too works hard but struggles to provide for us financially as he is not allowed to work here legally. We want our daughter to be protected, have stability and an identity. We want her to have an equal chance as any other person in life.

I want to teach my daughter tolerance and to respect other people’s different views. I want to create a safe space for her where she can be who she wants to be even though she is a girl. I want to teach our daughter kindness and that she has the right to be respected and treated fairly. I want to teach our daughter to help other people and give back to society when she grows up. I cannot do this here, where we are, as here we are only surviving and feel like outsiders or that we don’t belong. My husband and I struggle to protect ourselves here, how can we be expected to create a safe space for our child? In my country and here at times I made to feel like a lesser human being; like I am not worthy. It is disheartening and I don’t want my daughter to grow up feeling the same.

My husband wants to further his education and despite having no opportunities to do so formally here, he has participated in as many courses as he could, organised by NGOs. It is still my dream to become a doctor and with the right opportunities, and despite my age I will pursue this dream in the health related field.

Both my husband and I are hard working people and strive to be contributing members to society. We want to teach our daughter these same values. When I first arrived I had repeated thoughts to end my life and although I am working on these thoughts, they do come back sometimes. But my daughter has given me renewed hope and makes us try to be better people and create a better life.

As we struggle to give her options and a safe place here, we ask that you help us give her these options and a safer place to grow up. We ask that you create the first opportunity for her to have a better life and to be treated fairly. We ask that you provide our daughter the platform to feel like a human being and that she is worthy to have an identity, basic human rights and the chance to pursue her dreams.

Yours sincerely,


Meet the Neighbors: Fern Lee

Welcome to planet Earth, a most wonderful neighborhood! Yes, it’s kind of small, compared to the Universe at large, but it boasts perfectly balanced air to breath, you can grow a vegetable garden like NOWHERE else, and there is even fresh water!

Another lovely feature is that the neighborhood is fairly diverse. I say fairly, because even though there are a great variety of races within the animal kingdom at large, the dominant species – humanity – only consists of one race, which has very little internal variation. Appearances do differ somewhat, but that’s it. Underneath their layers of culture and religious beliefs, human beings all function the same, and at the most basic level, they all strive for the same thing – a world where their children can be safe, fed and free (even though they regrettably fight terribly about how to work towards a future where that ideal can materialize).

My suggesting for you, as a member of this flourishing, albeit somewhat unstable, community, is to make sure you get to know your neighbors. This is a good idea for a multitude of reasons: First, it’s fun. Second, since your neighbors might not look like you, possibly will cook things that smell weird to you, or talk in a language you don’t understand, they might make you feel insecure, or uncomfortable, or worse. This HAS to be remedied, and the cure is, of course, to get to know them, so that instead of having someone unknown and scary next door, you have a friend. Third, I have no other ideas on how to bring about world peace. And I really, really want world peace.

With this in mind, please allow us to introduce you to your neighbors from around the world, a whole bunch of people who are pretty much exactly like you. We’ll start with Fern Lee, a Singaporean Lawyer, married to a British man, raising her family in California. She kindly offered to share her family traditions for Chinese New Year with us. It looks a lot like Christmas, the main family celebration where I come from. Families coming together, eating, caring for each other, remembering those we lost. Yup, we’re all the same.


Heralding in a New Year with food (and love)!

by Fern Lee

This year, Chinese New Year comes early, on 28th January. This year, we celebrate Chinese New Year in a different country. New culture, new people, new life.

But Chinese New Year isn’t the main event for me. I always enjoyed Reunion Dinner best, the night before Chinese New Year where the whole family come together to sit down for one last meal before the new year starts, to remember the year that has gone by. The house will have been swept clean, decorated with brightly coloured items for good luck, and flowers, red packets (ang pows) and oranges filling up every corner, ready for guests. Foods that signify luck and unity will be eaten that night, and cooked lovingly.

This year, I am cooking up a storm. I message my parents pestering them for recipes that are too hard to cook, too soon forgotten. Mine is a Peranakan family, from the Straits of Malacca, or Straits-born Chinese as we are called. The recipes are complicated, dishes often taking days to make, but the food is delicious. I feel very privileged to have these recipes. I have tried these dishes in the rare restaurant I’ve managed to find them in, in Malaysia and Singapore, and my mother’s, aunt’s and grandmother’s recipes are still the best, improved and tweaked with each generation. They are the ties that bind because the love that goes into cooking these dishes is unbelievable. You have to love the ones you cook for to cook these dishes! They link me to family and friends – living and dead. They, for me, hold the key to life and memories. And love.

This year, I am a jumble of emotions. I have lived away from my family now for 12 years but have always returned to Singapore to visit during this time. Having recently moved to the Bay Area, I do not have the flexibility to return easily. So this year, I will be away from them.

2016 has also been filled with a number of deaths – we’ve lost many close relatives and friends. It seems a good time to remember them, as Chinese New Year (and the Reunion Dinner) draws close. This year, we remember Third Uncle, First Eldest Cousin, Po Po, and George our beloved dog. In a way, Reunion Dinner is, for me, a time of mourning too, as we remember those who have passed and the absence they leave in our lives.

So Reunion Dinner this year is poignant – lots of changes, lots of lessons to be learnt. A time of reflection for the year that will be gone, and further planning for the year ahead.

This year I am cooking up a storm because I remember the ones who have died, how much I miss them and what foods they loved to eat. I am cooking up a storm because I too remember the living, what foods they like to eat, what they will be doing in preparation for the coming year. My link to my loved ones is through their stomachs and taste buds and preferences. The daily search for the best foods, best meals, best restaurants is for me a never-ending quest of love and camaraderie amongst loved ones, near and far.

I am privileged and very, very blessed to have so many people in my life, people whom I love and who love me. This year, I have new friends coming for Reunion Dinner and I am cooking up a storm.

Happy Year of the Rooster! Wishing everyone good health for the coming year.

Fern Lee

Fern is a writer, speaker, legal consultant, mother, wife, traveller, supporter of animal and human rights and observer of cultures. She writes about her observations of the different cultures she has lived in and the quirks she notices. Originally from Singapore, Fern has lived in Britain and now California. She has written a number of blogs about her travels, her most recent being From London to Californiahttp://fromlondontocalifornialive.blogspot.com/. She hopes to return to legal consultancy work soon.