Zaid and Maitham in Stockholm
(continued from August 2nd)
Zaid told me about defacing his new fake identity card on the flight from Madrid to Stockholm.The idea was to remove all traces of traveling from or through Greece so as to avoid getting sent back.Maitham went first, using the rear airplane lavatory.Then Zaid went to the front. He took the sim card out of his phone and snapped it.The passport wasn’t so difficult, but the id card was made of plastic—Zaid pulled out his RI driver’s license to demonstrate the similarity—and a lavatory designed for turbulence was not an easy place to destroy it.He didn’t have car or house keys because he no longer had a house or a car. In the end he chewed off the face and decided that would have to do and stuffed the pieces in the trash.This took about 15 minutes.
Zaid usually sticks to the facts, but some of the stories he chooses to tell feel like invitations to grapple with the perplexities of being a displaced person.The few Americans I know who had fake id’s, bought them in college in order to get into a club call Toad’s Place to see a show and drink a beer and dance on a sticky floor.I didn’t have the nerve.I wonder how it might impact my sense of identity to chew my own face off my only id—even a fake one—for a chance to live in a country that I knew very little about and where people spoke a language I didn’t know.
By the time Zaid and Maitham found their way to baggage claim in the Stockholm airport the huge room had already emptied out. They wandered around in their stiff new suits and fake glasses with their computerless computer bags trying to look like Europeans who knew where they were going and what they were doing.But they couldn’t find the door.
There was an Arabic-looking woman in a head-covering at the far end of the room, so Zaid went to ask her.She pointed back towards the gray wall near where they’d been waiting.On closer look they did see a small sign representing a person walking, but still no door, so Zaid went back to the woman to ask again.She was from Egypt and spoke Arabic, but she also seemed to think Zaid might be making fun of her.She pointed back at the same gray wall.Still, a door that isn’t a door—even if it’s the door to freedom—isn’t very obvious to people who don’t know how to see it. Zaid was laughing when he told me the story.(It reminded me of Harry Potter needing to walk into a brick to catch the Hogwarts Express.) Then, sure enough, someone else rolled their bag towards the spot and the wall opened up and allowed them through.
Sweden, however, turned out to be the brick wall.Zaid and Maitham went to the authorities and formally requested asylum.The government offered to place them in a camp in the north.This was February, mind you, and northern Sweden is very near the Arctic Circle where winter nights last most of the day.Instead they found a small apartment in Stockholm.Eventually, Maitham found a job selling hot dogs, leaving Zaid alone in the apartment to watch people walk by on the street.He told me how he’d see fathers walking hand in hand with their daughters—little girls about the age of his own—and he’d cry.He cried every day. There is sometimes a refreshing bluntness in conversing with someone who is still learning English.By the time he found a job, like Maitham, selling hot dogs on the sidewalk outside a popular bar, it was winter again.Sweden has, as Zaid described it, the coldest weather in the world.He’d wear 2-3 pairs of pajamas under his clothes.
They bought phone cards and called their wives.They debated the usefulness of trying to learn Swedish.Since most Swedes speak English anyway, they hedged their bets and tried to speak English to each other in their own apartment. Their wives tried to convince them to return to Syria.“Give up, come back,” their wives said. They waited a year and a half.During that time Sweden went from being a country that granted 90% of asylum requests to 10%.Apparently Prime Minister Maliki visited Sweden and after that Iraq was deemed “safe.” Zaid and Maitham were each promised the equivalent of $5000 and given plane tickets to Mosul in northern Iraq. They stayed until the money came through and then joined their wives in Syria to start over again.
I hope some of you get a chance to meet Zaid or Maitham at one of farmer's markets. While you're there pick up a bag of our August flavor, Maple Rosemary. We almost sold out of our first run already, but we will make more this week and offer it on our web site.