He sat there. Sat down in the mowed lawn. He started to cry. His eyes got wet by the minutes that passed. Still nobody seemed to care. His wails started to pick up a sombre momentum. And with it, he murmured incomprehensible and yet distinct war-like cries. Still nobody seemed to care.
Next to him on benches were three women. Two were middle aged. Another younger, slimmer and with a striking smile. They talked on and on as if the man crying next to them was invisible to them or they invisible to all around them. The man cried louder, collapsing in his misery.
Two, then three ladies walked out from the building next door. It was a health centre. Building C as we know it across asylum centres. They looked at the crying man and soon lit cigarettes. Smoking away as they did during their breaks, the women appeared to venture into conversation that to many would seem unrelated to what was transpiring in their midst. Is it not the work of the medical profession to attend to the sick?!
But he wasn't any ordinary sick person. He wasn't the typical aggrieved and depressed asylum seeker. We know these types. We have seen them all. They come in different shapes and still they come.
We know because we have been to those places. We know how it feels to be separated for ever from our home, from our loved ones and cut off from our livelihoods. When a man attempts to attract attention by play-acting; we have seen it all. Perhaps the nurses and COA officials have seen them all too. It wasn't a sincere cry. It just didn't come off as honest.
Turns out he is from Iran and is torn between returning to Germany where his wife and four children remain. His Arabic is distinct. He is uneducated and perhaps probably half drunk. The drooling of saliva is inconsistent with a sober sadness turned into teary tirade.
A friend who frequents the Computer room where I volunteer (OLC) walks by. He asks the three ladies some questions. He had been following the whole drama with far more interest than I. He was standing at his room balcony. I on the other hand was seated on the highest peak in a children's play ladder.
IND security soon arrive. They get his name wrong in the first instance. He wasn't called Hajji. But what does he care. He wasn't going to be interrupted in his act by a wrong naming. He soon threw himself to the ground. If his previous yoga folding of legs had given the idea that he was somewhat sportsmanlike, his next actions gave him entry to theatre. He struck the perfect balance between drools, unintelligible words and perfect hearing ...with one ear pressed to the ground.
My colleague would later tell me that “it is because of such fake people that we are punished. His cries are not genuine and he knows it.” He cried like a baby that was being weaned from breasts.
He told his story in quick succession and all was well. Surrounded by five COA officials, his sobs seemed to fine tune like bad music. It lingered for a while, then it died out.
Life is but a stage and we are all actors playing our roles as best suits what appears to many a predetermined place for each and every one of us. Like the caste system in India and other parts of the world, or the sublime implicit roles for peoples of different economic and education backgrounds; we all must find our place on the stage, on the theatre that is life itself.
The asylum centres offer the best stage. The most intelligible asylum seekers are convinced that their intellect will work against them. So many pretend to be illiterate, others avoid contact altogether. This may not be such an erroneous assumption. I have observed the struggles of some officials during my stay in various asylum centres. It would be too bragging of me to claim some level of intellectual superiority, but suffice to say, I must first find my place on this stage.
Reminds me of a colleague in Enschede who during a meeting offered his variety of skills. He was a holder of black-belt martial arts. He was a teacher. He was a chef. And a devout Muslim. I saw the looks on the young COA officials. Their age, as has been the custom with many introductions, made it evident that they were very young. I was ten years older than all of them. My martial-arts-teacher-chef-Muslim friend was much older than I! But the looks exchanged suggested something else. It was more like a look I would give some talkative snob in a London pub, who would irritate me enough with stories of what schools he has attended, what jobs he has abandoned, what beautiful ladies he has scored. My face would make the f-words.
My thoughts were clear. It didn’t matter what we were in the previous life. As long as we were here, we had new roles to play. It didn’t matter what handshakes I have given just some few months before reporting to Ter Apel. Here we are all nothing. Dutch bureaucracy would make sure of that. All are equal here, but some are more equal than others. The Animal Farm by George Orwell still rings true in a way. It would be argued that these young lads are just doing their jobs, and age doesn’t matter in today's world.
Then of course comes the other forms of art. The Ugandan who tries to escape a village accent. The Nigerian who hides his skills with all ways to make a buck. The West African lady who will claim affection but ask for some pay any way. The Farsi ladies who make it impossible to detect that they too peddle the flesh. The Ukrainian officer who moves back and forth between battlefields of his own in two different worlds. The Chinese lovers who appear impatient for a separate life outside of the camps. The Venezuelan mother who misses her husband enough to propose to one particular muscular friend as he leaves the gym.
Life in an asylum centre is not as bad as it is made out to be. Other than the occasional dirty roommates, noisy neighbours and illiterate buddies; it is all manageable. I once listed the twenty most annoying things I have experienced: He snores 2. He is dirty 3. He is annoyingly loud 4. He can never shut up 5. He is an idiot 6. He laughs like a fool 7. He asks silly questions all the time 8. He pretends to be smarter than he actually is 9. He has no eating manners...eats with his mouth open... 10. He can't keep the toilet clean 11. He can't keep dishes clean after use,...but wants to use the cleanest ones next time... 12. He brings other friends to come make more noise in the house... 13. He doesn't sleep half the night (keeps the TV on....) and even when he is asleep, he leaves the tv on... 14. He shaves and leaves hair all over the bathroom sink... 15. He doesn't mop the bathroom floors after use... 16. He sneezes in the bathroom... 17. He has a spitting habit 18. He can't control his drinking.... 19. He eats all night....every time he sees another person eating, he wants to eat... 20. He cant watch TV in silence....even when he doesn’t understand the language of the film, he wants to explain to others who understand the language...
Only when I accept that this is the role my roommate finds fit for him in this play called life, can I understand that he is what he is.