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!