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'News from Roman' is a place where I write about events or experiences that are important to me for one or another reason. It is a space where family and friends can get themselves updated on my latest undertakings, and where occasional readers can learn about issues which are important to me.

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 did 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 needed to flee from the place where they used to live and go to hiding from people that wanted to harm 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 Ahmaddyia 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 have even 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… met. A strike of luck, a pure coincident, caused that we happened to be in the same place. 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. Against the odds, these two started talking, and against the odds they continued talking for these years! Yes, Tahir has become my best friend and he is the best friend I have ever had, and possibly, I will ever have. Our friendship has become so special that some people even assumed and speculated that we may be a romantic couple!

I am not sure what and why things happened as they have. All what I know however, is that Tahir challenged me, challenged my values to the very core… He made me realise my arrogance, and my privileges in very practical ways. Before meeting Tahir, I might have been aware of my lucky life and how unfair the world around me was, but in all honesty, this realisation was very theoretical and non-threatening to my safety zone. Meeting him changed a lot in my life. Slowly, patiently and gradually, Tahir started teaching me how to slow down; to appreciate small 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, who may be different from me or from the people that I considered as my friends. Importantly he taught me to trust, trust others, and trust them against the odds. He also taught me that it is absolutely okay to be hurt, and it is okay to be cheated by others: he taught me that it was better to give credit of trust to those around you, and possibly get disappointed, rather than allowing your fears win over you, and 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 moved and 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 that he thinks that 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 are doing to me. I am the luckiest person on earth to have met you and I will always be grateful for looking after me, for being my teacher and for being such a kind person to me. I am thrilled of the opportunities, the future may bring to you, and I just hope that the last difficult 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?