This is a True Story of a Journey to Freedom in a Wooden Boat

Today’s post is an interview that you won’t soon forget. The interview reads like a novel you can’t put down. It’s about one family’s journey to freedom.

As the title suggests, they made the journey in an overcrowded wooden boat.

It is with Mr. CFC, an anonymous blogger from the U.K. who blogs at Cash Flow Cop. You’ll understand the name as you read. I didn’t need to tell you he was from the U.K. It becomes clear as you read. Here in the U.S., when we discover something, we say we’ve learned about it. Over there, they say they’ve learnt it. But hey, it is their language. They’ll tell you we have it wrong.

His writing style is clever, personal, and in-depth. Here are a couple of examples I’d recommend.
Being a 1% – Guilt and keeping it real when making a ton of money
Maternity Leave for Men: Tips for dads on paternity leave

All kidding aside, Mr. CFC’s story is a roller coaster ride of emotion. You’re going to have to dive in and see for yourself. These stories about overcoming adversity are also about perseverance. They are open, honest, inspiring stories. This one is no different.

With that, meet Mr. CFC.

The Journey to Freedom Begins

Tell us a little about yourself.

I shouldn’t be alive typing this because the odds were stacked up against us when my family decided to escape almost 35 years ago.

Today, I’m a husband, daddy to two young boys and a cop from the UK and on target to reach financial independence by 40. I have four other siblings; two brothers and two sisters. I am proud of all that they have achieved.

After finishing high school, I went to university and graduated with a business degree. I followed this up by studying for a postgraduate in finance. However, part way through my finance postgraduate, I decided it wasn’t for me. Not one to quit, I made sure I completed the course.

After university, I applied to become a Police Officer for reasons I will explain later. I’ve been doing it for over the past decade now.

When I am not working, I enjoy photography, hiking, and traveling. However, like any parent of young children will attest. Hobbies go on the back burner for the first few years of their lives. My days off pretty much consists of nappy changes, taking them to play-groups and improving my patience to handle the inexplicable tantrums they have.

Tell us a little about your career path.

My career has only really been in Policing. At university, I worked in a restaurant and after that, I sold tiles for bathrooms and kitchens whilst I waited to join the Police. I decided that my personality didn’t suit a career in finance and I wanted to do something to ‘give back’ to the country which gave my family a fresh start.

Today, I’m 12 years into my career. I started as a uniform patrol officer as all officers do. After a few years, I passed my exams and became a Detective. I started off investigating crime like robberies and burglaries but then moved into a department which dealt with more serious crimes.

After getting promoted to Sergeant, I decided to put the uniform back on and return to patrol. A couple more years of that and I returned to the investigative world to be a Detective Sergeant.

Recently, I passed the promotion process to be an Inspector and currently waiting for my posting.

You told me a gut-wrenching story about your journey to freedom. Please share that with us.

In 1985, my parents decided that they needed to find a better future for us. They were tired of being oppressed and wanted to be free. I was 8 months old at the time.

Together with my older brother who was 8 years old, my parents managed to gather together enough gold to secure passage on a small wooden fishing boat. The boat was designed to have a maximum of 20 people on board. In the end, 58 souls were crammed in.

We weren’t aiming to reach any particular place. All we wanted was to get out and hope that once we were far away enough, an international cargo ship might pick us up. There was enough food and water to last a few days but by day three we were out.

Desperate to survive, everyone was in self-preservation mode. Some adults were even stealing what little food and drink were left reserved for the children. Miraculously, a storm arrived. This allowed those with enough strength to collect the rainwater. Whilst the storm provided the gift of water, it also meant horrendous sea conditions.

By day eight, a large container ship rescued everyone on-board and took us all to land and into a refugee camp. In total, we spent 10 days at sea. We were the lucky ones.

No one perished this time around.

After you arrived, your grandparents tried to get your sister out. Tell us what happened.

After a few months in the refugee camp, the UK gave us asylum. We arrived in the UK by plane. We had never been on one until then. Once we landed, my parents were full of hope for the future. For the first time, they felt free. Unfortunately, this happiness did not last long.

On the night of our escape, my older sister was meant to come with us as well. However, at the last second, my grandparents refused to let go of her. My parents pleaded with them. There just wasn’t enough time. The boat had to leave on schedule and patrols were on the streets. My parents made the decision to leave my sister behind.

The plan was for the whole family, excluding my grandparents to escape together. They didn’t want my grandparents to endure the journey. They were unlikely to survive it. Once we had found a safe place to settle, my parents would have completed the necessary paperwork to bring them over to join us using a safer route.

A high price to pay for freedom

My grandparents decided to face the seas and embark on a similar journey with my sister. Sadly, my sister passed away because they were not rescued in time. I can only assume my sister missed us so much and might have been putting pressure on my grandparents.

A few years later, all the paperwork was arranged and my grandparents flew over to the UK to join us. To this day, we don’t know the full details of how my sister died or where she was buried. They spent 16 days at sea. It is indescribable how frightened my sister would have been and how she must have felt in her final days. I don’t need to be told to know this. It upsets me just to even think about it. My grandparents have since passed away.

My guess is that she was buried at sea and died due to a combination of dehydration and starvation. It is such a painful topic that my parents did not bring it up with my grandparents again, or if they did, they were too upset to talk about it.

I cannot begin to imagine the guilt my grandparents felt. Nor can I imagine what my parents went through when they received the letter with the news. They regretted their decision to leave my older sister behind that night. I know that they wish to have the power to turn back time.

Hindsight is such a wonderful thing  

Would our family still be alive if we all stayed? If my parents delayed things, even more, to try and get my sister from my grandparents’ grip, would we have missed the boat or potentially be caught by the authorities?

Growing up, I see this regret written in their faces often, especially around the time of her birthday. I remember asking them if they would have done anything differently. The pain on their face was enough for me to change the subject immediately. I didn’t want them to think about it anymore so I don’t know what the answer would have been.

I’ve never asked them again.

So when I said I have four siblings, only three of them are alive today.

What I know about my sister is that she was very bright for her age, kind and wanted to become a doctor. Although I was too young to know her, I think about her a lot.

You speak highly of your parents choosing to have you speak your native language. What does that mean to you now?

It means everything to me. Language is one of the most valuable gifts any parent can give. When I started school, I didn’t speak a single word of English. This was because it was banned in the family home so that we could get as fluent as possible in our native language. Knowing my native language provides a connection to where I was born. It keeps me anchored so that I don’t forget my culture or my roots.

I am trying my best to give the same gift to our children. My wife is not of the same ethnicity as me and she only speaks English. This has meant that I only communicate with our kids in my mother tongue and then translate it back to English so she can understand.

It is working well…so far. My eldest who is only two can understand two languages. It’s hard work flipping between the two languages though.

I know a part of your story is experiencing racism. In what way?

It’s sad to say this, but racism is a price to pay when you’re an immigrant. It is not acceptable and it’s wrong, but the reality is that as a child, I have learnt to reluctantly accept it. It is part and parcel of living in another country where I am different. Almost like a condition of entry.

I know the comment above sounds controversial and almost as if I am saying it is okay to be a racist.

That’s not what I am saying!  

Having been what my family has been through, any racism directed towards me still bothers me, but not as much as I know it should. Everything is relative. Perspective is everything. It is difficult to explain.

Growing up, I would get picked on at school; called derogatory names. I particularly hated taking the bus to get to and from school. At that time of the day, the buses were usually filled with kids who can be very cruel when they want to be. Especially when there are no other adults around or someone in authority.

When I went shopping with my mum as a kid, I could see and feel people stare at us. Even now as an adult, I still experience it; although it is to a far lesser extent compared to when I was a child. Perhaps times have moved on. Or people are now less likely to air their true thoughts because it is no longer socially acceptable.

It’s a shame the actions and words of a few can make me feel like a stranger in my own country. But like I say. There is always a price to pay for freedom. I just wish my sister was still with us.

What lessons did you learn growing up the way you did?

I’m a softie at heart. Despite joining what has traditionally been viewed as quite a ‘macho’ job, my experiences growing up has helped me to be more emotionally resilient. This definitely helps when it comes to some of the types of cases I deal with at work.

Growing up, I have learnt to be grateful. I think gratitude is so absent in much of today’s society. Perhaps this is due to many of us living in abundance, improved life expectancy, and relative world peace. We’ve become used to it. The view that a reduction even in the slightest of what we feel entitled to is just not acceptable.

I think this is where again, perspective is everything. My experiences, seeing my parents struggle, emotionally and financially, the loss of my sister, trying to start afresh in a strange new country helps to keep me grounded.

Unfortunately, I know that the odds are against me to pass this onto our children. I can tell them our family’s story, but the strength and growth comes from experiencing it themselves. This is why there is a saying: “wealthy parents do not raise wealthy children”.

What encouragement would you offer embarking on a journey to freedom in a new country?

This is what I would say to them:

You’ve decided to leave your old country to a new one. Accept the rules, laws, and culture of the country that has allowed you to make it your new home. You don’t have to agree with them all, but make peace with them.

No matter what you’ve been through or escaped from, that is your past. Don’t dwell on it and fall into a life-long victim mindset. Use your experience as a strength to get out there and make something of yourself. Let it guide you through any future struggles you may face and be the anchor to your values.

There are opportunities out there but they will not come looking for you. Get out there. Always learn, grow and operate outside of your comfort zone. That way, when you find the right opportunity, you will be in the perfect position to make the most of it.

Finally, just try to enjoy your new life. Go make friends. Meet new people. Don’t blindly work towards some future you envisage in your mind and forget to make the most of today.”

Final thoughts

I told you it was an incredible story, didn’t I? You hear about people’s journey to freedom in shabby little wooden boats. Hearing a story first hand, for me at least, brought it to life. I don’t know about you, but I truly hurt for his grandparents and how they must have agonized over the loss of their granddaughter. And for Mr. CFC’s parents.

These real-life stories remind me how good I have it. I was born and raised here. I never experienced the oppression and conditions still present in other countries. People are, quite literally, dying to get to America – even today.

Thanks, Mr. CFC for sharing your journey with us. And congratulations on the life you’ve built for you and your family. Your encouragement to those coming to another country is good advice for those of us who grew up in a free society.

I’m glad you and your parents made it. I’m sorry your sister didn’t; that you never got the chance to know her. You honor her in telling her story. I wish you and your family the best. You’re setting a great example for all of them.

Now it’s your turn? How did Mr. CFC’s story touch you? What encouragement did you get in hearing his story?

Now it’s your turn? How did Mr. CFC’s story impact you? What impacted you most about his story? What would you like to say to him?

3 thoughts on “This is a True Story of a Journey to Freedom in a Wooden Boat

  1. Wow. What an interview. Definitely heart wrenching regarding the older sister but also inspiring for the author and his parents to make the trip in the first place and then prosper later.

    I too can only imagine how the grandparents felt, second guessing their decision to hold on to the older sister instead of letting her go as planned.

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