TANYA MUSGRAVE

Tamim | The other refugee crisis

Tanya Musgrave1 Comment
I got married when I was 17. Zarena was 15 and Uzbek, I was Tajik—People marrying across borders just wasn’t done. She was arranged for marriage to an older man, but she called and said she’d kill herself if forced to marry him. So I took the car and drove days over the mountains to get to her. I put her on a plane and had my brother meet her at the airport while I drove back. My parents were angry because I disappeared, but I explained how much I loved her. We got married without her parents’ permission—they’ve been searching for us ever since. If her brothers found us, they would probably kill me.

Tamim, Zarena and their two kids Adil (3) and Setaush (1)

Note: You won't see many photos of Zarena, Tamim's wife, or of Afghan women in general. Besides possibly fleeing extremist groups, their culture reserves the beauty of the woman for her family only, or at least in the online sense. Usually the fathers or brothers dictate this, depending on how conservative a particular family is—while Tamim would've been fine with it, her brothers would not be. Any photos of refugees, including photos of her, women in general, or children have been posted with express permission.

Tamim takes a selfie with one of our doctors and the other translators for our dentists. 

Ever attentive, even just as a translator.

[Click photos for Instagram story] 

 (I'll admit, I was ashamed that I didn't even know which countries bordered each other...so don't feel bad if you're learning this too, lol, I made the map for both of us.)

(I'll admit, I was ashamed that I didn't even know which countries bordered each other...so don't feel bad if you're learning this too, lol, I made the map for both of us.)


Tamim told me the rest of his story the next day. Of his attempted suicide. Of his son Anil.

I was paralyzed. I couldn’t say anything. I felt stupid.  We stood there, completely silent, propped up against the wall with arms crossed like a couple of sullen teenaged mall-rats, but with the weight of reality in the silence between us. 

Any observer would’ve thought we’d just been hanging out, but the occasional tear-flick would’ve given us away.

He changed the subject.

“Where do you live?” It was an innocent question out of pure curiosity, but in that moment, the mental channel waters of “his devastation” were flowing full force. The channel-lock opened for my ‘Manhattan Beach’ answer, and all the affluence that goes with it suddenly flowed out and collided in stark irony—I couldn’t get anything out. I choked on my answer, mumbled something dumb and incomplete like “…doesn’t matter.” 

By then the team was arriving and beginning to convene in the common area. He nudged us out of our stupor and we joined the rest for morning worship. Over the next few days, I found myself at their tent waiting out a rainstorm, for lunch, or for more visiting time.

The usually-day was turning windy when I found Tamim at his clinic post. We were chatting when the rains drove us to a sprint towards his tent, #23. 

He set to work securing the flaps and waved me under the tarps to some cover from the rain.

 Tamim’s son, Adil, now the eldest, sweeps out of the tent ahead of Setaush. “Come! My friend, come!” He grabs a hand and tries to sweep us into the tent, “Come!” I laugh at his hospitality—Tamim shakes his head and smirks at a memory; he tells of a time he returned home with food only to discover that Adil had rounded up all the neighborhood boys to come share in the bounty provided by his father: 3 bananas.

Tamim’s son, Adil, now the eldest, sweeps out of the tent ahead of Setaush. “Come! My friend, come!” He grabs a hand and tries to sweep us into the tent, “Come!” I laugh at his hospitality—Tamim shakes his head and smirks at a memory; he tells of a time he returned home with food only to discover that Adil had rounded up all the neighborhood boys to come share in the bounty provided by his father: 3 bananas.

I waited with Adil on the porch...well...I waited. The kid was doing laps, lol.

Tamim comes around from digging a small trench with a dustpan that leads water away from the tent, lifting the porch tarp to empty the water.

Adil plays in one of the containers Tamim set out below the seam connecting porch and tent.

 We enter the tent—the smaller tent was to help keep a bit more warmth in. Zarena, Adil, and Setaush would sleep inside, Tamim would sleep on the floor outside so there'd be room. In later visits, the camping tent was taken down.

We enter the tent—the smaller tent was to help keep a bit more warmth in. Zarena, Adil, and Setaush would sleep inside, Tamim would sleep on the floor outside so there'd be room. In later visits, the camping tent was taken down.

 Zarena returns from the community kitchens with lunch: boulani. It’s a most delicious potato “sandwich” aka quesadilla without the queso. Tamim portions out the food while Zarena cuts a couple rotten spots off of a tomato to make some delicious salsa to go with it.  (Photo approved by Tamim and Zarena)

Zarena returns from the community kitchens with lunch: boulani. It’s a most delicious potato “sandwich” aka quesadilla without the queso. Tamim portions out the food while Zarena cuts a couple rotten spots off of a tomato to make some delicious salsa to go with it.  (Photo approved by Tamim and Zarena)

 Adil is your typical 2-year old—finishing his dinner before the grown-ups say so, and chucking fluffy projectiles wherever he may. It seems silly, but the normalcy is striking.

Adil is your typical 2-year old—finishing his dinner before the grown-ups say so, and chucking fluffy projectiles wherever he may. It seems silly, but the normalcy is striking.

 Eventually, Tamim settles him down with one of the mobile devices—a knock-off cartoon in the theme of Disney’s Frozen plays. Pay-as-you-go cards for data and minutes can be purchased in Athens for approximately €5/4GB.

Eventually, Tamim settles him down with one of the mobile devices—a knock-off cartoon in the theme of Disney’s Frozen plays. Pay-as-you-go cards for data and minutes can be purchased in Athens for approximately €5/4GB.

 Tamim brings out dates. When we were doing a video (20 Questions with a Refugee), I had asked before what his least favorite foods were; he had to think for a bit to remember what he didn’t like. Going through the jungles and over the mountains, you ate what kept you alive—it didn’t matter what your preferences were. Dates, however, stand out as one of the very few fond memories that came out of the jungles. The smuggler had brought them to a shelter in the middle of the woods, where his wife was. Before they left, the wife made sure to give them a sack of dates to help energize and sustain them, and he’s considered them special ever since.

Tamim brings out dates. When we were doing a video (20 Questions with a Refugee), I had asked before what his least favorite foods were; he had to think for a bit to remember what he didn’t like. Going through the jungles and over the mountains, you ate what kept you alive—it didn’t matter what your preferences were. Dates, however, stand out as one of the very few fond memories that came out of the jungles. The smuggler had brought them to a shelter in the middle of the woods, where his wife was. Before they left, the wife made sure to give them a sack of dates to help energize and sustain them, and he’s considered them special ever since.

 A video call from his sister comes in on his phone.

A video call from his sister comes in on his phone.

 He chats with his sister back in Afghanistan for a while, showing her the kiddos and giving them a chance to say hi to their auntie.

He chats with his sister back in Afghanistan for a while, showing her the kiddos and giving them a chance to say hi to their auntie.

  Tamim has since left Oinofyta with his family. His tent burned a few days into December 2016, and the family settled in a Syrian camp for a couple months. It was a cabin with heating, air, and running water. Even though Tamim knows 6 languages, Arabic isn’t one of them, which  makes it difficult. February 15, 2017 he texted to inform me that they are now living in an apartment in Athens. There might be an unofficial agreement at play because in order to rent an apartment, one must have a bank account, and to have a bank account, one must have an address. He’s learning Greek, and at the moment, he is glad he did not try to cross the border into Serbia like others had—the plan can change in a day, but as of now, he is working towards building a future in Greece.

Tamim has since left Oinofyta with his family. His tent burned a few days into December 2016, and the family settled in a Syrian camp for a couple months. It was a cabin with heating, air, and running water. Even though Tamim knows 6 languages, Arabic isn’t one of them, which  makes it difficult. February 15, 2017 he texted to inform me that they are now living in an apartment in Athens. There might be an unofficial agreement at play because in order to rent an apartment, one must have a bank account, and to have a bank account, one must have an address. He’s learning Greek, and at the moment, he is glad he did not try to cross the border into Serbia like others had—the plan can change in a day, but as of now, he is working towards building a future in Greece.

"They would throw grenades into our property. We weren't safe."

The Other Refugee Crisis

It's a crazy thing, this refugee crisis. 

I'll admit, because of the news, I was secretly hoping I'd be working with Syrian refugees, and was slightly disappointed when I found out I wouldn't be, except to see them bussed in from the Ritsona Camp.

But Tamim and his family were right there in front of me, real as ever.

Let me clarify: this is not to diminish Syria and Aleppo. There's enough devastation to go around. But there needs to be a little more explanation.

In Afghanistan, there’s no officially declared war—it’s war-torn, thanks to the Taliban and other extremist groups, but there’s no officially declared war like in Syria. As a result, Afghans' paperwork takes much longer to process by default since they're not technically "war refugees." Syrian cases take preference, and might have Syrian refugees placed in several different optional countries. Sometimes they're placed in a matter of weeks (however many Syrian refugees get stuck in the same waiting game as the Afghans).

 It’s as unfair a hand as the one who dealt me in the middle of 1st World Los Angeles. To quote a dumbed down Buzzfeed article on the matter,

[They're] tired of [their] war not counting enough. . .it’s getting harder and harder for Afghans to be seen as “real refugees.”
Afghans make up the second largest refugee population in Europe – so why aren't we talking about it? -Al Jazeerah article "Afghanistan: The Other Refugee Crisis"

After all, there's been non-stop fighting for 40+ years. Old news right? Once they are granted asylum, they’re allowed to work and live elsewhere, but there’s an obvious caveat: The Greek economy sucks. A letter to their government won't change that. Stopping the fighting in Afghanistan wouldn't be much of a course of action for American Joe-Schmo either.

They're trapped.

The Ack.

It’s a lot to handle once the stories collide with the knowledge of how hopeless their situation is...and how helpless we are. It's interesting to just observe the progression of evening activities and how they coincided with my mental capacities. The clinic would wrap up after dark, and I'd retreat with the team back to our place. 

At the end of Day 1, we were doing yoga on the 2nd story porch and laughing at the fart sounds our backs were making on the tiles. (Yes.)

Day 2, I ducked out and took my writing out on the porch away from the group, decompressing and processing all the information of the day.

Day 3, I ducked out on the porch, and cried. 

I’m useless if I just cry. I’m useless if I write and nobody listens. I know my audience—I'm part of it, where most any mention of the "Middle East" gets wafted into the complicated grey haze blocking the empathy-button. Money would make life better while they wait, but it doesn't accomplish what they really want, which is to get out and on with their lives. Which means I'm completely helpless.

 

To Be Continued...