Going Back to My Motherland

In 1986, when I was 18 years old, I went to Korea. I travelled with a group of adoptees; some with their parents, but I was one of those who travelled alone, since my adoptive parents didn’t share or even understand my wish to see the country where I was born.

Deep down in my heart I was hoping to meet my father and my sisters. Before leaving I got in touch with the Norwegian adoption agency; I’d written a letter with many questions, and they forwarded it to Holt Children’s Services in Korea. One evening towards the end of my two weeks there I got a phone call; and I was the only one who did. My Norwegian guide told me that someone from Holt had been walking door-to-door in the town where I was born, showing a picture of me, maybe a year and a half old, and finally, finally, someone had recognized me. I’m not sure whether he had met one of my sisters, or someone else who knew them. God bless him for doing that. I got the message that we would meet in the early evening the next day.

I remember that I was in shock, that my mind went blank and stayed that way for the rest of the day. I could not believe that I was going to meet family, my real family, after all those years of yearning to see where I came from. At last we met; one uncle, two of my three sisters, their kids, my oldest sister’s husband, and a few cousins. I was overwhelmed, and I’ll never forget the moment when I gave my oldest sister a big hug, the first one since I was a baby. My only thought was, I’m home! Deep inside in my soul I recognized her, even though I didn’t remember her face anymore. She told me about how she used to carry me a lot when I was a baby, after our mother died. It was a very powerful moment, to finally feel that I belonged somewhere, that someone truly cared about me. I was used to adoptive parents who loved their alcohol bottles, who used to yell at me and beat me. And here at last I was met with love. The contrast was overwhelming, and I cried the whole time, but I was happy.

Later the same day I got the bad news, which nearly devastated me … I had arrived ten years too late to see him, the one person whom I’d longed to meet for all those years. My real father, my Appa, my treasure, was gone. He died while he was searching for me, still hoping to find me and bring me back home. He never even knew how far away I really was. I felt as if someone had torn away a piece of my heart.

It’s more than twenty-five years since I went to Korea. It hurts to think back, and my heart feels so empty, and I know that I have to visit my motherland at least once more, while am I still young enough and have my health. My dream is to complete the circle by standing beside my real parents’ grave. I never met them again, having longed for them all my life, I no longer have any memory of their faces, their voices have been silent for too long, and I don’t know the way home.

About one hour’s driving outside of Seoul a house still stands. There we lived, there I was born, there my parents made their living, probably as farmers in the countryside. I hope one day to take a glance at this part of my history. It’s more than 40 years since I was taken away. The country is a part of me, but I’m a stranger there, a tourist. I don’t speak the language, and I don’t know the customs or the culture in my motherland. Deep down in my heart I will love Korea forever, because that is where my parents are resting. A part of me will never forget. But I will never return to stay; that ship has sailed, a long, long time ago.

Today I keep in touch with my oldest sister by email; she doesn’t understand English, but her son speaks some and translates as best as he can. I’m grateful to have had this experience, to have met my family, and my sister has even been here in Norway to visit, a few years ago. I realize that I will always be an outsider in the family … all those years apart is too great a barrier. My childhood dream is gone forever: I know now that I can no longer think or dream that, one day, I could just move back and jump in, catching up where I left off. We are family, but have become strangers to each other, and this makes me sad. My heart is torn in half, with one foot in Norway, and one in Korea, for the rest of my life.

~ Khara

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