I have evolved so much that I am convinced I can face this new world. It feels like I don’t know who I am. But we must make the most of what we have. We are on this journey as a mass. Our individual lives do not matter. We may go into the interview room as individuals, but we are one collection of people that must be processed. Like livestock on a farm, the slaughterhouse has no preference. We are all the same in the end.
It has been obvious that standing out from the crowd is inevitable. We all bring our own unique burdens to the camp. Our interactions or failure to interact are what defines us. What efforts we make to blend with the others helps in how we are labelled. Like the glass window in most Dutch living rooms is visible from the roadside is intended to send mixed messages that are only understood by the most conscious onlooker; how we are labelled is only known to us. In a way, this is good. We have the freedoms to choose our own awkwardness.
“Do you really have to return to your country? Can you not stay here in the Netherlands? Can you not ask for asylum like the rest who have come here? Our government must surely be able to help you”, said students from Tilburg schools. I had been invited to make presentations as part of their geography and history lessons. I was telling them things about Africa that they would not find adequately explained on the internet, nor in textbooks written by Europeans or even by my fellow Africans.
“Why are you here? Have you ever been on a ship on the seas? Have you walked hundreds of miles to reach here? Have you lived without food for days? Have u been without clothes on your back, no shoes on your feet? These were the questioning stares turned into actual questions when my roommate finally gained the confidence to talk to me. To say more than mumbling of some phrases! He had asked if everything was mine…three pair of shoes, two suits, laptop, camera and two phones. Football boots, a number of text books such as Annemarie Middelburg’s Empty Promises, to Hugo de Burgh’s Investigative Journalism (2nd Edition), The Low Sky by Han van der Horst. I also have in my possession Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and the “The Greatest Invention—Tax and the Campaign for a Just Society (a Tax Justice Network Production).
The fact that my story and photo appear in the next list of publications has not helped my case to my Bangladesh roomy. From page thirty-four of the May 2016 VillaMedia magazine is a story on me and another colleague. In “Blad voor de Mond by a good friend Peter de Ruiter, the story of my journalism career features on page hundred and fifty. Then to top it all up, on the 5th April publication of Brabants Dagblad newspaper, I was featured with a picture that made me look much bigger than I actually am—journalist Jasper Harthoon doesn’t do my case here any justice.
While the asylum journey has rightly dominated all what I am; it is worth noting that there is a self-awareness about self-discovery. I wonder what kind of Dutch I will make! Will my sense of belonging start from a new reality that my African predispositions must all become a faint history, ever disappearing into oblivion? Will the new Opoka be an extreme of far right ideals or far left conservatism?
All that I am certain of is the fact of living in the moment. Of course I am torn between these extremes. How can I belong if I haven’t had to bribe an immigration official for an escape to the seas? How can my story compare to those of my Syrian colleagues or Eritrean neighbors who must pay thousands in United States dollars to make that long journey in a container with little oxygen hardly enough for all inhabitants who are on a journey to nowhere? How can my connections with Dutch society for the past few months be taken against me instead of it being the asset I presume it to be? How can my experiences interacting with University professors across the country, with human rights activists in Den Haag as well with veteran Dutch politicians and civil servants not count for anything in this new world I find myself?
A good friend in Tilburg, weary of my inadequate preparation for asylum and refugee life, had rightly warned that Ter Apel would not be the luxury I had gotten accustomed to. The friend insisted that, nothing I had experienced in another life would come close to this. This friend made this remarks even after hearing my fair share of experiences in childhood refugee life as well as arrests and detentions in one of Africa’s most dangerous countries for media. To some extent, this friend was right. My room in Tilburg, though simple, had a different feeling. My neighbors though, were a constant reminder of what I would have to embrace, if I were to make such decision as I have now made. My neighbors were Lebanese, Turks and Syrians!
The most striking difference is perhaps the most irrelevant of my worries. Cooking and dining at a time of my choosing. I allowed myself to struggle to follow any routine. I enjoyed the spontaneity of a surprise. The friends at the “Inter-Vict” School of Law in Tilburg University are a much needed bonus, and a constant reminder of the work I strive toward.
The rest are as they say, cast to the winds of change.