Sunday, January 08, 2006

Cookbooks and Immigrants.

It happens sometimes, where life is good for an extended period of time; that's not to say the other times aren't good ... these times are just better.

For reasons I don't understand, I occasionally crave deep-fried battered fish, like the ones we found in our fish and chip parcels back home. Neither Belgie or Turkey had fish and chip shops, so it's always been a craving left unsatisfied out here in the world, and anyway, I knew it was ridiculous.

Last night, Gert finally got tired of my random, but becoming disturbingly regular, 'Do you know what ... I'd really love a piece of deep-fried battered fish', and he bought some Icelandic Cod, studied the New Zealand Edmunds cookbook, and whipped up a lovely beer batter, making me the fish that I've been craving since he first knew me.

Oddly enough, the mess in the kitchen may have cured us both ... despite loving it.

But we were rushing, last night was the party at Ria's place. Ria was my Nederlands teacher ... 5foot of nothing, with a heart big enough to invite the whole world into her home ... the new year party where all her students of Nederlands are made welcome.

It was a little bit like an Olympic Games opening ceremony ... Morocco, Iran, Iraq, India, China, Mexico, Mauritania, Peru, a couple I didn't remember, and this New Zealander. And it worked, despite the fact some of us were meeting there for the first time.

There is this delicious thing about expatriates, political refugees and travellers ... the constraints that confined us in our everyday life, or confine most of us, are gone. We are all swimming a little out of our depth ... the man who could never visit with his girlfriend back home, is suddenly shoved out of his country and into this one, completely alone with no rules ... our boundaries have to become permeable and this seems to create a warmth that I haven't felt in those regular everyday social gatherings that we all do in life.

You know, in these days I am struggling to understand peoples fear of the immigrant. The extreme right is growing in political power and yet, if people could only get over their fear of the other, and meet some of these people they might be stunned and warmed by the moral codes and the generosity of spirit they would find in them, and by their determination to turn the other cheek and fight to create a better life for themselves.

Sometimes I think that Turkey has a lot to offer the world ... they have been a globalised country for centuries... old Constantinople was a melting pot of so many countries of traders. The Italians built some beautiful buildings there; the Jews had a safe haven, and while living there, I was taken in and made to feel like family by Chechen and Kurdish Turks ... I walked home alone through city streets at night and felt safer than I've felt in any city.

Europe feels closed in a way ... there are more rules here, I'm learning them, I'm not saying it's bad, but the people I meet feel lonely sometimes, isolated from each other. I always used to smile at foreign guests who loved the Kiwi friendliness they found in my world; smiled because I knew it was true ... but understanding that we have no shared borders... we have the luxury of space; there has only been the one occupying force who treated the inhabitants badly ... and hopefully that part of our history is over with.

I see that Europe and Turkey both have reason to fear the other ... innumberable wars, shared borders, and different occupying powers ... but Turkey still throws open her door to strangers ... admittedly because they have huge logistical problems when it comes to closing them ... but so many countries seem to lock theirs down with regulations, rules and waiting lists that can break a person. Surely there's a point, somewhere between both, where it is possible to deal with people who are trying for a better life ... often in the same way that our ancestors did, with mine fleeing Scotland and Ireland more than 6 generations ago.

I understand the practicalities and rationale but not when I put it into terms of the individual ... and when we die, we all become the same set of bones ...

It is natural and healthy to allow change ... why are we being taught to fear it? Sometimes I look at one of my 'in asylum process' friends and I wonder how he can stand what he has gone through to try and find a country that wants him. He was forced to flee his government, and has spent the last 5 years proving this ... it would have destroyed me.

I remember reading an article in the Guardian Weekly back in 2001, and perhaps this sums up what I am trying to say in my rather disjointed, and seemingly naive fashion. Sadiq Hanafi fled Afghanistan when he was 26 years old. His father had been put in prison by the Taliban and died there after two years. Sadiq and his family crossed over to Pakistan with 2 million others, and waited for it to be safe to return ... but there was no going back. His family decided he should go to London, it was a journey that took him 7 months and almost killed him twice.

Before I go further, in Kabul he had planned to become a paediatrician ... his first stop was Peshawar in Pakistan, there he hooked up with a people smuggler, who was once a fighter pilot with the Afghan military ... imagine the paediatricians and pilots you know, and hold them in your mind as you read on.

His family sold land and got the 9,000usd the smuggler demanded. The smuggler took Sadiq's group through Iran without too much trouble, then they had to cross the mountains into Turkey, it was snowing and cold, and they were attacked by wolves. Shepherds traveling with them beat the wolves off with sticks, then Turkish soldiers fired on them and their smugglers ran off, leaving them alone without food.

After 2 months in Istanbul, he was put on a boat with 300 others, only to be rescued by a Greek military boat when the water began rising up past the portholes. He made it to Greece, took a train into Rome, and then he was placed on a truck leaving for Britain.

Seven months after setting out, suffering hardships that I can't begin to imagine, this man who had planned on becoming a paediatrician arrived in England and began the process of asylum seeking ... which is long and difficult, to discourage others and stop England from becoming overburdened with people like Sadiq ... I understand that but ...

Can you imagine, after all of that, it is the hatred around him in England that most bewilders him. 'At a supermarket checkout he was buying food with his $37 worth of weekly grocery vouchers when a voice behind him said, "Look at you, eating our taxes." He said, "I felt so embarassed at the way she spoke to me, but how could I explain?"

I guess some would prefer that they can choose when to give charitable donations, and perhaps unconsciously prefer that those in receipt of donations stay in their world; that people retain the right to be able to turn them off with a flick of the television remote ... I don't know, but it seems like a mess out here in these days.

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