Fata morgana in Amsterdam
by Raouf Mousaad Basta
It was after two months in the Camp: the political refugee camp on this island, which is not sure of its name. Then at last I received an invitation from my lawyer to discuss my case.
My case is simple, but my lawyer thinks it is not easy. (I met her only once before. She had been appointed by some ministry.) In this country they think many things are not easy.
However, I told her—my lawyer—“madame lawyer, I do not care about the result of the trial. I care about one thing: going back.”
She asked: “Back where?”
I said: “Back to the desert.”
Of course, she—like all people here—wants to find logical reasons for human behavior. Logical! From the beginning ‘they’ did not know what to do with me. I had come to ask justice but they arrested me to subject me to their own justice.
I told them: “Sorry to have come without visa, just let me go back” but they said: “Sorry. You cannot go back till we subject you to our justice. Then you can go back.”
And so on and so on. It just means they want to punish me.
I know also she wants to wash her hands off me and off my case. I do not blame her. She told me in our first meeting in her expensive office at one of the canals, that my case confused her. Jokingly she said that. I asked her why. She said because I challenged the basis of her convictions as a lawyer. I did not understand it but…I did not comment. I know now that I made a mistake.
If you ask me now what mistake and why this is happening, I can tell you in length the whole story of the journey, which became more important and even more interesting than the reason of the journey itself.
I have no special likening or hatred for the cities and countries and refugee camps I passed through asking justice. They are just places which belong to other people different from me in everything: color of skin, language, habits, even the way they laugh and of course the climate and food of these places.
However, in spite of all that or perhaps because of all that I do not care much about these places, countries, people, language, food, climate, etcetera, because I know I am not going to stay here and live in a small concrete place like my cousin.
And, by the way, I did not come here to look for work or to live or even to visit my cousin who has a shop in Amsterdam. The mistake I mentioned before, was that I came looking for a mirage in concrete buildings around people who have their own way of justice.
For a person like me, born in a tent in the desert with lots of space around, there are many ways of justice. For instance if a camel enters the small farm of my aunt Fatima we do not punch the camel, we give Fatima something instead .But If the camel insists on visiting her farm, we give her the camel and she is free to do what she likes with it. Most probably, she will let him go on eating.
This land here, small and with watery grey rainy mornings, long dark rainy nights, gives me uneasy feelings about myself and the idea of asking help and justice. I was born near the mountain on top of which, according to the popular belief, God spoke to Moses when Moses and his people were looking for refuge. Everybody knows that the desert is the land of refuge.
When somebody comes to us to ask for help and refuge we do not put him in prison (we do not even have one … although the government has many), but we put him in the guest tent, offer him food and water, and after three days we would go to him and ask him what he wants.
My family earned their money and reputation by giving refuge to people and by leading believers to the top of the Mountain, either by mules or by foot (for those who want to suffer more than others). When I was very young, I used to climb the Mountain, waiting for the voice of God to speak to me, because I was stuttering like Moses. I grew out of stuttering and wishing to hear voices from the Mountain.
But then when I became fifty-six, I had to leave the Mountain, the tent, my family and the desert, traveling to other countries, asking for justice, or, because I thought that I should fight for justice I had to travel, leaving behind me the interrogations, torture (and possible death).
But let me tell the story slowly, in my old way of telling things, not in the new quick way people want to hear things from someone like me “please can you hurry up, we do not have all the time in the world ” smiling politely (or so they think), to show “no offence intended”. I am not sure why, as they spend a lot of time sitting in the cafés and bars waiting for someone to speak to them.
However, let me concentrate. Some three years ago, when my youngest daughter was born, I became the leader of my tribe after my father’s death. I inherited it, as eldest son. I got his camels, (and his Japanese four-wheel drive), his sword (there were also modern weapons) and a large piece of land in the desert, which is also part of the common heritage of the tribe.
This land is the prettiest scenery between the Mountain and the sea. It is near the place in the red sea where Moses and his tribe are believed to have crossed when fleeing from the Pharaoh.
I was born in this land, as was my father and his father and all my ancestors.
This piece of land has a history of hiding people fleeing injustice. There are places where one could live in peace and listen to stories beside the fire, where nobody can find you if you do not want to be found.
And, lots of mirages.
Here is the problem I mentioned in the beginning, which started with our mirages. People who do not live in the desert know nothing about mirages, which turn slowly – if you believe and have patience – to things with which one can play.
It would become what you believed you saw.
Are you patient now so I will explain?
They turned to playful things to play with us, the people of the desert. Why? Because they are bored… When you live in the desert you have to do lots of things just to survive, but if you are sure of your survival like the mirages are, you do not have anything to do. They are just there.
That’s how they get bored.
If you having nothing to do, then you are bored…
Then you want to play or you want to kill.
However, because we, the people of the desert, know mirages well enough, we only let them play with us and do not let them kill us.
They—and we—enjoy having games, tricks, and the fun of playing together games and tricks. The funniest game is what we desert people call “catching Mirages”.
The desert is like human beings, she loves tricks and games. She also behaves often like them: angry, moody, deceiving, loving.
Some time self-pity like us.
I could not tell my lawyer or the investigator of the minister of justice about this thing of the desert’s self-pity. Or games. They would think I am crazy. I told them about other things, which are part of reason.
Some of the reasons are like this: Some rich tourist company from across the sea wanted to take the common land of the tribe and build hotels and swimming pools (the sea is so near!) but I refused to sell it for any price.
The other reason that the whole tribe does not want to sell: this land is full of mirage games. I played here “mirage catching” and now my children and their children are playing here.
Even some other tribes ask permission to play mirage catch on our land. We make it in to a great festival.
The games are like this: We all know the perfect time for the mirages to appear. .. So we wait. They always come in time… and than begin to call us to play with them ….One would say, “I see the lost camel of so and so … he is walking beside the tent of so and so.” Somebody else would say “no, it is not the camel you are seeing… I am seeing the four-wheel drive of my brother, which has been stolen. I see it in the oasis of so and so.”
The players divide themselves into two teams. The players of the first team agree with the person leading their team. The second team agrees with the second person. Then we, the elders of the tribe, agree between each other which team should win.
The winner must slaughter a goat or two and offer it to the losers so they can take the best parts and then we all sit together and eat.
Then this tourist company came and with them the money they offered us for the land. Of course, the news spread across the desert and all tribes were angry. I felt that the desert became angry and more hostile and the water in the secret places was disappearing. Palm trees refused to give dates in their time. The desert could hear and listened like human beings.
I asked the elders for a meeting to discuss what was happening. The meeting went on for days. We all agreed not to sell.
This decision was received badly by the tourist company and by the police officers in the desert because they knew how much allowance the company would give them to close their eyes for collecting corals from the sea, or when the tourists go diving in the forbidden areas or shooting eagles.
It happened suddenly: they came with guns and many soldiers to dismiss us from the land of the tribe which belonged to us for thousands of years. They said we do not have papers to prove the ownership of the land. True, we do not have silly papers, because simply our ancestors came here before they came to the valley.
What happened later is a sad and long story; I am not going to bother you with it. The elders of the tribes asked me to travel to the other side of the world and put our complaints in front of the chiefs of the tribes of the world.
So I went to the embassy of the land of America where the nations sit and listen to complaints. They refused to give me visa and laughed at me. They told the local authorities about me.
This is why I fled because they wanted to arrest me.
However, I knew people who take money and help other people to travel. My cousin in Amsterdam said: why go to America… come here to this land because there is a court to do justice around the world. So I decided to go to see and speak with my cousin who lives in the city of Amsterdam city he has a big restaurant. He had met a woman from this country some years ago when she came to climb the Mountain and she took him back with her.
Only once he came back to visit his mother and he told us fantastic stories about this country of his wife and how he eats a lot of halal meat every day, because his mother was worried that he was not eating halal meat.
He told us stories about the important people who came to his restaurant and ask his advice about many things. He said these people like justice so much that they make a special court to put the bad people in front of judges, even if they are big kings or high police officers.
Why I was been chosen to travel? Because I know the tongs of the other two countries at the other side of the sea. I learned their tongs when I used to trade in the town near by the place where tourists come to climb the Mountain.
The Tourist Company did not like that either, so they send somebody after me to put obstacles in front of me, so I would not be able to speak to the court. And of course I did not get visa from their embassy. I was smuggled in after I paid a lot of money.
My cousin in Amsterdam has a small shop selling “Halal shwarma” not a big restaurant as he said. But never mind, he seems happy to see me. He named his shop Fata Morgana. I asked him what it meant. He smiled and told me it means Mirage. He said because he misses the mirages.
Then the police arrest me one day because I have no visa. My cousin brought a good lawyer who said that I came here to ask political refuge, although I told him and the police that I am asking only for justice and would like to return back to my tent and my desert and my mirages as soon as I finished.
That is how I become a refugee in the camp. You see… if you are patient and give me time then you will get to the bottom of my story and may be find a way to help me to go to this big court. If I succeed, then I will bring justice. If not then they will send me back accompanied by soldiers to another prison in my country because the two countries consider me dangerous.
My new lawyer believes me or that is what she tells me; she is asking to meet me today to discuss the case, as she put it. My cousin advises me to drop the whole thing.
I ask him—after I agreed—if he can put me in contact with people who can smuggle me out from here and back to my tent. He looked to me as if I am crazy.
I am sitting now in his mirage shop after he came to collect me from the railway station. I smell the food he is giving to his clients… Not really nice. I ask only for coffee.
I think I would not mind much to return back to the desert or even to a prison in my land where every thing is clear… The mirage is a mirage the injustice is injustice; the prison is called prison and not a camp…
I think he began to like my idea because he looked to me and began to laugh. “People pay a lot of money to come here and you want to pay money to get out… where is the logic?” he asked.
We both laughed. I heard him speaking to some people in his phone asking about a way to smuggle me out.