|The Years of Sorrow and Agony|
The Years of Sorrow and Agony
Sun-hwa LEE (A female defector from North Korea)
I was born in North Hamkyong Province, North Korea in 1976. After finishing the compulsory education for 11 years, I went to a university in 1993, by which time the economic situation was getting worse since the early 1990s.
Over the years of building my own perspective on the world outside of me, I was made to believe that there could not be any better society than a communist society, in which real freedom, rights, and happiness could be guaranteed. This idealistic socialist theory began to trouble me as I was getting a grasp of the reality. Communist ideology sounded splendid, but in fact, all kinds of corruption, dictatorship, people’s anger and tears were hidden behind it.
I had to go through the hardest 4 years of my life, not being able to feed and clothe myself properly and also deprived of the right to see and listen to the outside world. I wondered how much worse it could be to live in a capitalist country, which is “inferior” to the socialist country. I wanted to see what was out there beyond the tall wall of Juche ideology with my own eyes. But, it remained only as a hope.
On August of 1997, I graduated from university and returned home, where even harder life was waiting for me. The factory I was supposed to work had closed. Workers were forced to participate in the farming, road construction, and military training. Ordinary citizens were helpless encountered by severe food shortage and economic plight. My family was no exception. Searching for food, people had to go to hills and mountains. Family members were scattered overnight. Some left never to be known whether dead or alive.
Nevertheless, all my family members tried to surmount these difficulties by keeping one’s own post. Later, it was only my mother who could barely manage to earn for living. But, when she lost the last hope, she decided to join the group of people crossing the border. Assuring that she would come back in one month, she asked me not to tell anyone about her leaving. But, she didn’t come back after two months.
Determined to find my mother no matter what happens, I decided to go to China with naïve hope of meeting her there and coming back home with her. I thought family should never be separated, even if it was not perfect together. No one could imagine how sad and desperate I was when crossing the Tumen river.
I, looking for my mother, went to China, while my mother, in her journey to come back to her family, tried to go back to North Korea. The tragedy of my family was happening right there between the Tumen river. My mother wandered around looking for me in vain, shedding tears everywhere.
Meanwhile at home, due to family members not coming back, the rest of my family became a subject of suspicion and supervision almost everyday by the people from work place, People’s Safety Agency and State Security Protection Agency. Under such heavy monitoring, they could not sleep tight even for one night. In the end, my mother managed to find the rest of the family and bring them to China where we all met again in August 1998 and promised to stay together all the time in the new county.
At first, we were thrilled and overwhelmed by the bright new world in China. But, it took only a short while for us to realize the dangers we were faced. The days in China were full of fear and sighs, completely lacking a sense of security.
The mendacious regime of Jong-il Kim would not let people live in peace even in other country. Who would return to the country which is unable to provide safety to its own citizens? I would not want to return to nor be buried in North Korea even if I were allowed to. Unfortunately, many people who had escaped from North Korea in search for a way of life were repatriated to the land of death, across the Tumen river. Who could ever be sure of the destiny of the people dragged to that miserable land?
The happy time living with all family members did not last long. The harsh blow of suppression did not leave our family alone and took my parents away from me. Afterwards, I survived many critical and dangerous moments. Even now, I don’t think I can describe all my pain and sorrow in words, which will lead me to a burst of tears and a shudder.
Having left all the painful gashes in the past, the time passed. Many times my heart was torn apart, but with the help of good-hearted people, I was able to arrive in South Korea on August 31, 2001. And now, I am trying to turn all the pain and suffering I went through into strength to go on with my life, in order not to repeat such a tragedy. This misery should be halted. I have realized that the freedom that I now possess is the result of constant efforts and unyielding struggle, and could not have been obtained automatically.