“That would be a good name for a poem,” he says to me as we say goodbye.
God, let there be a “next time!”
This guy, one of the refugees I know, he’s a poet. He’s reached out to me after I posted a photo of myself in Athens on Facebook. I have four days between landing in Athens and catching the ferry to Leros. He’s asked to meet up and I accept the invitation. He brings a friend, another one of the refugees that I know.
The last time that I saw the pair of them, they were tied up in their asylum cases the same way most of the refugees I worked with are. When I arrived and when I left, there was no movement on either of their cases. Neither one got any closer or any further away to accessing the European Union or being deported for the three months that I knew them. Both of them were already excellent English speakers, but they still attended English classes in an effort to further progress in the language.
The one who initially reached out to me, he’s a poet, in every sense of the word. When he was imprisoned in his home country of Iran for being Kurdish (you can be put in jail for simply existing in Iran), he was stuck in his prison confines for six years. Halfway through his sentencing, he begged a guard for a pen so he could write poetry. When he was later caught by a different guard with this pen, his prison sentence was extended.
He had shared some of his poetry with me when I met him initially, and he continues to write now. Whenever I think about how artists critique themselves, especially to the point where they say things like “I’m not a real poet”, I remind myself of this remarkable Kurdish poet and am reminded that everyone is an artist; because, he may not be a published poet, but he certainly creates poetry in every sense of the word.
When I met up with said poet and his friend in the middle of Athens yesterday, I couldn’t help but give them extra long hugs as an expression of my elation to see them. For them to exist, before my eyes, in surroundings that are not the island of Leros, surely meant something was going right for them.
The three of us meandered up the street from the metro stop we had garrisoned at and eventually found our way into a cafe. I went to the counter and ordered three cappuccinos and then joined them at the table they had found for us at the side of the restaurant. They then began to fill me in on everything that had happened for them over the last eight months. Much like some of the other stories I had been collecting throughout the week, there wasn’t much positive content wrapped up in what they were telling me. Yes, they were in Athens, but it wasn’t because they were granted asylum or given ten-year visas to Greece. They were granted temporary six-month stays, which basically only gave them the chance to come to the Greek mainland and then try to illegally bolt out of the country via Italy or Albania, with or without the help of a smuggler.
Both of them had tried to leave, but had failed. With it being November, the encroaching winter is making passage more difficult into and through the Balkan countries. Temperatures around 1 degree celsius are enough to make anyone who is used to 40 degree days in Iran turn back for warmer weather.
The poet, he had arrived in Athens and been robbed of all of his paperwork and documents that made him a legal person existing in Greece. The other refugee had lost all of his clothes when he hung them out to dry and a storm blew through, taking all of his clothing with it. The poet further explained to me how he lives in a “squat”. But he likes it. It’s an area of the city where the police don’t go, so the mafia runs that part of town. It’s a community of people, about 80 or so, and the majority are Kurdish. The squat exists in an abandoned building and there are weekly meetings for the entire squat to make sure each person is on the same page about how life in the squat is going. For eight hours each week, every person is expected to stand watch during a “security shift” in order to protect the squat from being attacked by other squats.
I could hardly believe what I was hearing, but it all made sense, too. “The system” isn’t set up to allow refugees to thrive. It isn’t really set up for them to do anything at all, come to think of it. And so, it makes sense that they would find themselves in abandoned buildings, trying to eek out an existence.
When the afternoon concluded, because they each had a meeting with a lawyer and the weekly meeting at the squat to get to, I offered to pay for everyone’s drinks. That only makes sense, right? I mean, if you have a coffee with a person who lives in a legitimate squat, you pay for their drink? But he insisted that he would pay. And I argued. And he insisted. And that, right there, might be one of the best examples of selflessness I’ve ever encountered. He said it with a smile on his face, too . He only got me off of his back when he said, “next time, you get it.”
This made me feel better. Yes, indeed, next time I saw him, I would pay for his drink. And then I thought some more as I watched him pay the nine Euros. Next time? Oh my God, please just let there be a “next time”! Let the two of us run into each other again somewhere on this giant rock floating around the sun and be given the opportunity to sip on caffeine and talk poetry, please!
As we parted ways, I noted how our meet up had been all sad stories and a cappuccino. He, the poet, noted that this was a decent title for a poem. We hugged and parted ways. When I returned home that evening, there was a message waiting in my inbox on my computer, a new poem, titled just that.