How I Became a Nuclear Refugee
Or how my parents met in India and then fled from Chernobyl
Do you see the bearded dude up there driving the van? That’s my dad. And the little kid in the back, suckling on a pacifier and poking his head out of a window? That’s me. The nuclear explosion in the back? That’s Chernobyl.
Although not shown, my mom and baby brother are also in the van, clinging to their seats like koalas holding onto a tree in a forest fire. The event depicted happened sometime in the 1980s and led to me growing up on a Mediterranean island.
This is the story of how we all ended up in this situation.
Mitch is my mom’s oldest brother and was the first to arrive in India. He traveled all the way from Germany to India, doing the trip in a Volkswagen hippie van, just like the one my father later owned. On the way, he crossed such countries as Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which I’m told were all quite liberal back then, with women in cities wearing miniskirts and all.
Once in India, Mitch found himself a guru — whom I’ll call Guru Wildeyes — and joined his ashram. Being the seventies, Mitch spent his time there, I presume, mostly meditating and being naked.
As luck had it, eventually my uncle’s van broke down and he could no longer make it to the nearby beaches of Goa. This spared Goa’s fishermen a weekly eyefull of male ungroomed nudity, but it made Mitch exceedingly unhappy. His stay in India had been reduced to meditation only.
Unfortunately, the only way to fix his van was to get a replacement for some very important part. Now, it might have been the steering wheel, the exhaust pipe, or the ashtray. I really don’t know and I’m not a car person. Let’s just say it was the motor.
So, being stranded without his means to visit Goa and hassle fishermen, he recruited all the charm he could muster and somehow convinced his little sister (my mom) and his upstanding conservative lawyer of a father (my grandpa) to buy a new motor back in Germany and bring it to him.