She was kind enough to invite me for her traditional wedding (Muslim marriage introduction). I could not say no. For we went way back. I remember fresh memories of favors she dished my way in the dark of night and the toxicity of alcohol at numerous hangouts across the city of Juba. She had all the connections. She knew firsthand of all new arrivals (Uganda, Kenyan and Rwandese ladies), who sprawled the most exotic of what Juba could offer in way of a modest prostitution industry.
Honesty aside, none of the clients, especially us who had lived across the borders of South Sudan, ever saw these nightingales as flesh peddlers. We were equals in a way. We were outsiders of different epoch. We all came to offer this country a service or a product. And we soon left. We gambled our way into the variations of languages; but in the middle of all this disturbing clash of realities, we found ways to go into asides, only we could understand. We understood each other. So, she offered me numerous favors. I was privileged to make a pick of the latest arrivals. And some close friends also benefitted from my cherry picking escapades.
I was honored to attend the traditional wedding ceremony. Little did I know at the time that this simple gesture would provide the ingredients for what you read now. I met several Ugandan friends. All had shock written all over their faces when they saw me. Some knew me. I played football with one at some point. Two had heard of me from my high school days [my school was superior in sports but also notorious for strikes].
However, what came as little shock to me, was their responses to my questions about how they are faring in the Netherlands. I had last heard of one colleague as doing some work in Qatar. Amid chuckles, it appeared the body language was enough. I was led to read the body languages of some of the friends at the wedding and to make my own assumptions. They cared less. And my story, which many of them already knew [my arrests and detention and police beatings] only won snares. One said "Chris, you are lucky. You will get papers...". I had told them that, it was becoming increasingly difficult to return to South Sudan, let alone Uganda.
In a nutshell, the stories I have heard this far about Dutch asylum, mostly from my fellow Africans, is amazing. However, what is real, is that these African friends know what works and what doesn’t. They have become experts in formulating the right asylum stories. We spent nights in Enschede discussing weakness in each other’s story. I always tried to fit in, in the process, learning to act along. I learnt to leave my journalistic poking at the door. I was only part of the clan, when naked of my interviewing skills, especially that of poking holes into stories. I was the worst brand of IND (Immigration and Naturalisation Service, Ministry of Security and Justice, Netherlands) one such colleague stated, after, I shared with him my honest opinion about his story and stories.
I have also learnt to keep my peace. Since moving to Ter Apel, I have made as little friends as possible. However, just as moths are drawn to light; I was placed in the same building with a number of Sudanese, a Nigerian and a Eritrean. Having undergone mutation, my next worry was food. How would I be able to prepare pork using the same cooking utensils?
Little to my surprise, sexual orientations aside; most of my roommates drank more alcohol, smoked pot heavy and violated the house rules as they wished. My voluntarism in keeping the toilets and kitchen clean, only drew scorn. This was my price for asylum, I told myself.
Back to the stories. As a journalist, I can see a white lie as far as humanly possible. I am trained to read body language, choice of words, context of truth etc....snippets that offer an entry into the world of the interviewee. So when, late in the night, I hear murmurings of the geography of some place in Africa, or a list of relatives; I lay awake, smile and failing tears give me away.
"What is wrong my broda?", my roommate asks. "Problems of this world", was my reply. Like Koranic recitations, the murmurs went back to the piety that asylum interviews have become.