There is a God

I’m positively certain of it because yesterday, It was the four of us.

In the evening I got a call from one of my friends while I was on my way home from work. He had just been accosted by some Iranian woman. From what he had made out of the conversation, she had arrived two days earlier as a refugee and the police had given her an adress to go to. She asked for directions in the few English words she knew. The adress turned out to be non-existent. My friend didn’t want to leave her just like that. The conversation didn’t go very well and then he realised that I spoke some Persian. Couldn’t I translate for her?

My Persian is nowhere near the level where I can make a conversation over the telephone. So I told him I was going to sms him the phone number of my Persian teacher, who is a native Iranian. I quickly phoned her to tell her she was going to get a call from one of my fiends in a strange situation. She happened to know him though a mutual friend, so that paved the way.

Having arrived where I lived, I went to my local bar for dinner. To my surprise, my Persian teacher was there too. I knew she had an appointment with our mutual friend, but this was at another place. It turned out they’d changed their arrangements. I asked her if she had been able to help my friend and his new Iranian acquaintance. “Oh, they’re coming this way,” she said, “they were at a place near here!”

So a few minutes later, there were five people sitting at the table. Two Iranian women, one freshly arrived and one already living seven years in my country, the friend my Persian teacher had an appointment with, my friend and me. The Iranian woman could effectively only talk Persian. After the initial questions about her predicament, we started phoning. The police told us the correct adress they should have given her: the foreigners’ police. She could go there the following morning. That surfaced the next problem: she had no place to sleep.

Two years ago, one of my best friends became a psychiatric patient, and homeless. So I happened to be the one with all the phone numbers in my cell phone for shelters. The first one to call is always the Salvation Army. They had no room left. There’s another shelter in town that you have to call at exactly half past seven. If you happen to be lucky, they have room and they pick your phonecall first, you can get a bed. At half past seven all the homeless people in town call them, so it’s difficult to get through. To increase our chances the four of us went outside of the noisy bar and started calling the number at the exact right time. Whoever got an answer first would give the phone to me, because I knew the drill…

We got through, only to be told that the shelter harbored people with legal status only. That’s: citizens and legal aliens. I called the Salvation Army back. They told me to bring her to the nearest police station. One of us went there to investigate and was told off: the police wasn’t going to do anything. Again I called the Salvation Army and they explained how the police procedure worked: only in a ‘police situation’ they would claim a bed that was kept free by the Salvation Army for people in extreme situations. Basically: if we’d beat her up, she would have a bed.

Luckily they gave me some phone numbers of shelters specifically for women. One of them was a convent. I called them first. I’m a catholic after all. They did have a bed, but they needed someone to translate for them. That was no problem as my Persian teacher volunteered to come. She’d have to be picked up at ten o’clock the next morning by someone who vouched for her. Luckily, the one with whom my Persian teacher had an appointment volunteered to do that. Could we deliver her in fifteen minutes? We could do that too: the convent was only a block away.

So we left the guy who initially got into contact with our Iranian refugee in the bar to guard our stuff and the rest of us went for the convent. We were received by laywomen who’d been hired to do their job. There are still about ten nuns in the convent, but they’re to old to do all the work. Some of them still do some work. We were led to a reception room. We were offered coffee. She was taken in after a long talk where she was asked a lot of questions. What was her name? When was she born? Where was she from? Was she married? Did she have children? Did she take medication? Did she drink or use drugs? “No,” she answered, “I’m muslim”. Did she have any medical complaints? Did she want brown of white bread for breakfast the next morning? Tea or coffee? Oh, and if she wanted, she could take a shower.

My persian teacher translated all. She also explained a bit about our country and customs. I paid for her stay. My friend who was going to pick her up the next morning signed for her. Together we left an enveloppe with some money for her that the convent was going to give her the next morning. Had we given it to her directly, she would have refused. Courtesy of ta’arof: the Iranian code of conduct that never fails to baffle westerners.

Then we left, drank our beers at the bar and went our ways.

Just now at work I got a phonecall from my friend: he picked her up and escorted her though unchartered lands far north, to the refugee-shelter that she had to go to and where she’ll have to apply for her status as a refugee. She’ll go though hell. My Persian teacher can tell, because she went though the same hell. She was lucky because she arrived seven years ago, when my country was still reluctantly willing to harbour refugees. Nowadays my country doesn’t. They’ve made laws, they’ve tightened regulations, they’ve limited the number of grounds that will give you a refugee status. Even the refugee shelters are located in unpopulated areas. This way the chance that many people will meet a refugee, or take pity on them, is kept at a minimum. Refugees in my country are kept invisible. There’s very little the four of us can do against that, except be ashamed for our county.

But yesterday evening the four of us were God for a couple of hours. And it felt good!


10 Responses to “There is a God”

  1. rambambashi Says:

    Nice to read this!

  2. jpvdgiessen Says:

    επεινασα γαρ και εδωκατε μοι φαγειν εδιψησα και εποτισατε με ξενος ημην και συνηγαγετε με γυμνος και περιεβαλετε με ησθενησα και επεσκεψασθε με εν φυλακη ημην και ηλθετε προς με

  3. Awesome story!

    May God bless you and your friends.

  4. […] does not exist It’s a bit of a contradiction to my earlier post, but that’s only […]

  5. […] friends we managed to find a place where an Iranian refugee could sleep for a […]

  6. I wonder why one of the four didn’t take her in for the night?

    Is she prevented from staying with a stranger by religion? Is she worried about sexual advances? I would think the genuine concern shown by each of you would make her feel comfortable.

    • shirhashirim Says:

      I don’t know about the other three, but I can give you my answer. You’re one of the few careful readers of my blog, so you’ve probably come across a few references about a friend of mine who had a very serious mental breakdown a few years ago and became homeless as a result. I took him in and very quickly found out that this was not the right approach to solving his problems. In a matter of days I was under so much stress, I had to kick him out again. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to do besides kicking my girlfriend out, but it was necessary. Had I not done this, I would not have been able to help him any further.
      Ever since then I’ve stuck to the rule to never take in a psychiatric patient who could not cope. Instead, I think one should leave it to the professionals. In the case of the Iranian woman, I could not ascertain whether she was functioning normally, so I assumed the worst and called in the pro’s.
      I’ve read some of your blogposts and I understand you’ve got some experience taking in people with comparable problems. My hat’s off to that, I don’t know how you manage, but you apparently have skills that I don’t…

  7. Thank you for responding.

    I do think of myself as a careful reader of your blog, for you have much to say. You sometimes write things I haven’t thought of, and sometimes write things I just didn’t know.

    I do remember your friend with the mental breakdown. You’re making the right decisions in these matters.

    Regarding my own experiences with the troubled, I don’t manage well at all. My personal efforts have always, except once, failed. I plan to take in no more of those in trouble, primarily because I fail. If I had some effectiveness, it might be different.


  8. shirhashirim Says:

    Personally, I’ve become convinced that your own ‘effectiveness’ has little to do with it. If you had effectiveness -and you probably have- it would only work with people that you’r not emotionally involved with. Either that or you’re incredibly lucky, as you were once.
    That’s the reason -imho- that the professionals are better at this than us mere mortals: for them it’s a job, they’re not as emotionally involved.

  9. I did learn two things.

    1 – It is difficult to overcome the effects of childhood emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. In some cases, it may be impossible.

    2 – Someone wanting another to live a healthy lifestyle has no effect. The dysfunctional must desperately want recovery themselves.

    I have found a huge impediment to the recovery of alcoholics and addicts to be the fact that they must change their peer group, the friends they have. Maggie, now age 38, was doing well on methadone, but missed her friends terribly. They were the only life she knew.

    On the other hand, Mika (she’s Mika, I’m Mike) really did want to change her life. She abandoned her peer group by moving 500 km north and reuniting with her parents and 2-year-old son. She was 20 at the time and is now 24. She’s doing okay and has turned her life around.

    It is nice talking to you.


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