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Archives (20th July 2018): Boys cry

There is an old and famous Polish comedy by Olaf Lubaszenko titled ‘Boys do not cry’. As you can easily imagine, the movie suggests that men are meant to be tough, no matter what happens in life…

I have to admit, I, and Tahir for that matter, may have been a little emotional recently. Success with Tahir’s resettlement visa for Canada, confronted us with a situation, when we needed to say goodbye to each other. Although Tahir is not scheduled to travel to Toronto until 15th August, yesterday, he needed to turn himself in to Bangkok’s immigration detention centre (IDC). Refugees in Thailand are not recognised by the authorities, and despite a fact that the United Nations encourages countries to extend protection to people such as Tahir (being recognised as UNHCR refugees), Thailand chooses to treat refugees as illegal migrants (since they do not possess valid visas to stay in the country). A part of being an illegal migrant in Thailand implies that one cannot leave the country without being officially punished. The consequences are severe: high financial fine, and an obligatory detention (3 weeks), and eventual ban from returning to the country for at least five years. Bottom line, for Tahir it means that before being allowed to reach his free life in Canada, he needs to serve his imprisonment - however cruel this sounds. So with a heavy heart, and with the feeling of gross abuse of justice and fairness, Tahir had been saying his good byes to all of us, just before reporting to the IDC in Bangkok, so he could start his last piece of ordeal before he is allowed to be set free. Although I am revolting, I will not explain why I consider his (and not only his) detention to be grossly unfair. Instead, I would rather reflect on the amazing friendship I received from Tahir within last 4 years.

We are both perfectly different in so many ways. Tahir coming from one of the most disadvantaged parts of the Pakistani society - disadvantaged to the point of being oppressed. Oppressed to the point of needing to run away from Pakistan for his life, as many wanted to kill him for being born to a religion that they do not like. His disadvantaged status has also had another major impact on his life: lack of education. He only graduated from 4 years of primary school - the rest of his schooling was not possible, as his family kept on fleeing from one place to the other, so that they are safe from harm that other people wanted to induce to them. As time passed, Tahir’s life continues to be filled with examples of suffering and humiliation - including, his most recent years in Thailand. His arrival to Bangkok, in search of safety, cost him a great deal of a sacrifice. During first years of his stay in the country, Tahir fell prey of being a victim of slavery; beatings and severe abuse; humiliation from criminals, police, or even regular residents that treated him poorly; fear of being detained and being sent back to Pakistan; hunger and malnutrition; fear of not knowing what the future may bring for him; fear of not being able to live a fulfilled life - ever; and fear that his life is doomed, and worse so, a conviction that he does not deserve any better, merely because he is ‘a worthless Ahmadyyia from Pakistan’ - a trait that he obviously thought he would not be able to overcome.

On the other hand, there is me… over-privileged, white male, with fantastic education, great career, amazing lifestyle, being able to travel the world, and receiving an automatic recognition of ‘being trustworthy’ simply because of my ‘status’, my EU passport, my skin colour… and other advantages that I have not really earned, but received by being born into the society and the country where I come from. Yes, I may have got some hurdles in my life; yes, I may even have worked very hard… However my issues have been always been solvable, and I have never ever needed to worry about my very existence.

Then we, the two very different people, met. Two people of completely different experiences, nationalities, background, culture, using different languages, having different approaches to religion, one being young, the other one being middle aged… A strike of luck, a pure coincident, caused us being in the same place, at the same time. One was on the street begging; the other one was in a restaurant overlooking the very same street. One was full of despair, hungry and seemingly hopeless; the other one was enjoying his favourite shrimps and soda water with lime, planning his next overseas holidays… One was poor; the other one was affluent. Yet, against the odds, these two started talking, and against the odds they have continued talking for all these years! Yes, Tahir has become my best friend, he is the best friend I have ever had, and possibly, I will ever have. Our friendship has become so special that some people assume and speculate that we may be a romantic couple!

I am not sure what and why things happened the way they have. All what I know however, is that Tahir challenged me, and challenged my values to the very core… He made me realise of my arrogance, and my privileges in very practical ways. Before meeting Tahir, I might have been conscious of my lucky life and how unfair the world around me was, but in all honesty, this was all very theoretical and non-threatening. Meeting him changed a lot in my life. Slowly, patiently and gradually, Tahir started teaching me how to slow down; to appreciate little things and moments; to appreciate what I have; to notice other people around me and appreciate their ways of perceiving the world. Tahir also taught me to be less scared and less judgemental of the others, even if, they may be different from me or from the people that I considered as my friends. Importantly, he taught me to trust other human beings, and trust them against the odds. He showed to me that it is absolutely okay to be hurt, and it is okay to be cheated by others too: his wisdom given to me was that it was better to give credit of trust to those around you, and possibly get disappointed, rather than allowing your fears winning over you, but potentially overlooking wonderful moments with fellow humans.

Now, my best teacher has left my life in Thailand, and is preparing for his freedom in Canada. When we talked to each other for the last time, hours before his detention, we were both clearly emotional. This is when Tahir told me that he was very grateful to have met me, and that he did not know how he could thank me for giving him a new life. Yet it is me, who owes my life to him, at least, if not more, in the same way, he thinks he owes his life to me. Just like you, I do not know how to thank you, Tahir, for all what you have done and you continue doing to me. I am the luckiest person on earth to have met you and I will always be grateful to you for looking after me, for being my teacher and for being such a kind person, without conditions. I am thrilled of the opportunities, the future may bring to you, and I just hope that the last harsh experience that the Thai authorities have prepared for you will not be too difficult to handle. Thank you, my friend. I will miss your company dearly!

And who says that boys do not cry?