Almost two weeks after my arrival in Germany, my eyes began to open aiding my desire to explore new places and ideas. My language course was a good enough tool to help me curve out a social window from the boring house of loneliness; I was then able to meet new friends or go shopping alone without having to bother my house mates or other friends. The more my language knowledge improved the more I felt integrated into my new society and began, as a result, falling in love with the place.
On this day, waking up in the morning had to be very early and at odds with my routine. I had to prepare breakfast and attend to my homework, which I was always eager to do before attending my language classes as from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Everything I did on this day was done in a hurry, but without a complete exclusion of care. On my daily planer, there was a phone-call to be made from a cyber café in the city centre to my parents back home. I also had to register with the authority as a new member of the society and go shopping for some school items before attending classes. It was a precisely busy schedule.
To save time, I decided to do the unusual. After finishing everything at home, I boarded a train from Littenweiler Train station to the main train station at the city centre, rather than commuting with the usual Tram that required 16 good minutes to reach the same destination, arriving six minutes after the train.
But, before boarding anything to do with public transport, it was always important to confirm whether my Regional travelling card was carried with me. For that reason, as I footed it along Bahnhof street in Littenweiler from the student’s apartment- few meters to the appropriate Train terminal, I passed my right-hand across the left back pocket of my pants and felt the presence of my wallet. That was an assurance that I was an OK fellow. The travelling card was so important to me that it had to be made part of my wallet- without it in my wallet the wallet was almost as useless as my forgotten and disappeared tail.
I kept walking at a comfortable pace for I had quite a luxury of time between then and catching my train. The sun was shinning, fine, but it was still very cold. There was snow covering the nearby hills, and I could also see traces of snow covering the stagnant grass beyond the clean dark footpath under my feet.
A red painted Train from Neuestadt towards Freiburg city’s main Train station finally approached and I walked in out of the cold. There were four empty seats near the entry door to my left and, while removing my winter Jacket, I walked to occupy the one next to the window and placed my bag on the seat next to me leaving the two seats opposite me as free as they were. As I stood up to insert my winter gloves into the pocket of my Jacket hanging above the window, I had an eye to eye meeting with a Dallaian man who was seating behind me. He waved at me with a smile on his face and gently patted his chest twice. I reciprocated his greetings with a matching action and emotion.
After about two-minute ride, I heard some men talking loudly behind me, one was almost shouting while the second voice was trying to explain something. There was a real problem behind me; the Dallaian man had no travelling ticket and was trying to explain how he had forgotten it at his workplace.
“Oh Damn! He can’t even pass a straight face test!” I whispered to myself, not because I was surprised but because I was annoyed with the Dallaian man. Deep in my mind, a thought was at its height of creation that the man was a big shame to any other person of Dallaian origin, in and outside that train, for he was either creating or promoting a stereotype that Dallaians would rather prefer easy and illegal ways of doing things than adhering to the enacted beautiful laws. When the Train conductor approached me, I prepared to make it tacitly clear that that was not the case. A man’s mind is not a perfect tool for cogitation; it has a little room for failure and a bigger one for improvement. He greeted me and I replied with a warm smile as I stretched my hand to flash a wallet out of a back pocket of my thick winter pants.
“Scheiße!” a yell came out of me uncensored.
“I remember putting a wallet inside my pocket, but…but this is not a wallet!”
The conductor was starring at me with a smile, as if to say. “We’re used to that!” …In a sarcastic way. He was a medium-sized man in his early fifties with grey hair, grey eyes and a fairly long grey moustache.
He spoke to me in alemannic German, common in the black forest region. I couldn’t understand him clearly, not at the best of time- leave alone then when I was in a hot soup.
I knew he was used to misunderstandings, as such. But my language proficiency was genuinely below par.
Yes, I was out of words and removed the item that was in my pocket; a small green notebook with a passport between it and handed over my passport to him, as per his demand.
“Was it a one-way ticket or a monthly regional ticket?” He inquired.
“It was a monthly regional ticket”
“Student ticket?” He inquired as he recorded some information on his digital assistant.
“So, you will receive a letter in few days with instructions on how to pay the fine of €40, 00. But in case you find the ticket at home, do take it to the main train station for confirmation- alongside the letter you’ll receive from us. Then you will only have to pay a fine of €14, 00.”
“Heh! That’s enough to comfortably feed me for a whole week!”
“Sure! Me too, but it’s cheaper than paying the full fine and, the cheapest way is to always remember to travel with a ticket. Isn’t it?” He said with a smile.
I gave him my full address and a smile on top of it.
By the time that problem was sorted out, we were about 4 minutes to the main train station. The other Dallaian man stood up from his seat smiling at me and, I assumed that the smile was a gesture of identity not solidarity- men of the same origin in the same plight. He walked to seat opposite me for a talk.
“Comment ça va ??” he said.
“français?” He added after seeing that an answer to his greeting was not forthcoming.
“No! Anglofon” I replied, forcing him to tune to English. He inquired to know my exact Dallaian state after letting me know his as well as what he was up to in Freiburg or Germany.
“I am Mika and work in a steel company in Titisee. In fact, I’m just coming now from an early morning shift. I’ve been here for fifteen years now…and you?”
“I’m Jamba. This is my second week here and, I’m attending language classes at the city centre at the moment”
“Really! But you look as though you’ve been here for quite a while now.” He remarked. For such a remark, I couldn’t know whether to say ‘Thank you!’ ask ‘Why?’ or simply smile.
“Where were you before coming to Germany?” He added
“I’m actually fresh from Dala.” I said. A smile flitted across his face as he examined me from head down my feet. I pulled down the trouser on my left leg to cover my shoes before he could notice that my socks weren’t exactly of the same colour. I was in a hurry and couldn’t find my grey socks. So I picked the black one to make a pair.
“Welcome to Europe my brother. The laws are hard and first but the loopholes are in plenty- you only need not to be ashamed of anything; just try to divorce dignity and respect from bread and butter issues and you shall live your dream. Don’t you have any dream or goal in life?”
“Of course I do! I want to study and…”
“Jolly good! That too is a dream. It must be achieved by all means. No going back home empty-handed, that is, if you must go back. You know, we aren’t here for holiday. Are we?”
A flippant laughter came out of me.
“Yes! You know, if you have full scholarship or, say wealthy parents to send you money all the way, you may not open your eyes to see the reality. You don’t send drinking water from home to quench the thirst of someone in the middle of a fresh-water lake. Do you?” I maintained silence prompting him to laugh victoriously. “Hah…Hahaha… you see oh! Let them pay for you, but you should be working hard towards self-reliance
“You are very right. But how do I go about it? Right now I need to focus on one thing first!” I said.
“Don’t worry boy. There is certainly no problem with having your finger in many pies” I told you, I’ve been here for many years and seen plenty. There are many paths towards success. Just don’t be afraid, shy or ashamed. (He turned to look behind his seat) These young women you see around here can sort you out a great deal” He said, secretly pointing at two women at their forties, who were walking towards an exit door. At that point, he clearly confirmed from my face that, indeed I was surprised.
“Yes. I know right now you might look at them and think that they aren’t young. Just wait, ha ha ha! (Laughing) They might be almost twice your age but the more you open your eyes the younger they become. You understand me? (Silence) even your mum will understand…you see, (gesticulating) when your parents tell you that your future lies in your hand, they mean exactly what I’m telling you. I have a son too. Whenever I tell him that his future depends on himself, he knows what I mean and I’m proud of him because he is only 19 yet living his own life in Paris.”
“Wao! How did he make it, or how is he managing it? Is he studying right now?”
“Don’t worry! I said you’ll open your eyes.”
Whenever he spoke, and especially after he mentioned my mum, her voice kept on vibrating in my ears with her last words to me before I left home.
“We are Dallaians, people with own culture.
There are those who will want to make you believe that,
given a geographical change or economic circumstance, vices can qualify as virtues.
…If you must receive advice from a failure make sure it is exactly what he/she never did.
If anyone teaches you his or her culture, don’t reciprocate by embracing it in Toto
and forgetting your own, but by teaching him/her your culture as well.
If someone takes you to his worship house today,
don’t wait until he/she asks you to show up again and again, take him/her to yours tomorrow.
If you engage in anything that you feel your own parents or siblings shouldn’t know,
know it by yourself that the undertaking is not worthy your salt.
Don’t sell yourself; your values, your dignity for love of material life.
Integrate not by losing and gaining but by preserving and gaining.
Your culture is the rose in your hand; you know its thorns better than the rose
in another man’s hand- remain a Dallaian, a real son of Dala”
The train grinded to a halt at Terminal 7 of the main Train station and I immediately inquired from Mika on where to find an International calling station. We walked together towards the large glass building at the train station where he was to show me an Internet café doubled as an International calling station.
There were several people or passengers inside the building waiting to either catch their train, receive their loved ones or just enjoy the inside warmth away from the cold weather. Mika spotted some familiar faces and walked straight towards them.
They were four Dallaian Men standing and chatting in one corner near the elevator system. They turned to greet Mika, speaking happily.
“…and who is he?” asked one of the friends facing me.
“This is Jamba” answered Mika as we shook hands the Dallaian way.
“New arrival?” another man asked as I shook his hand.
I said yes to him, but Mika was already speaking on my behalf.
“No, no, no! He is a student! He’s actually planning to study” He said. They looked at me again before turning to Mika to begin a long conversation.
One of them pointed to me the direction of the International calling station, which was situated some few yards from where we were standing. “You see that staircase 30 meters away? Use it to reach the first floor and you will see the Internet café.”
I followed his instruction after exchanging contacts with Mika. While climbing the staircase, I kept asking myself what I had just gathered from my fellow Dallaians.
“I’m not a new arrival but a student despite the fact that I landed on this soil last week? Huh! So students never arrive, or should I say new arrivals never study? What exactly did Mika imply by ‘No, no, no? He’s a student! He’s actually planning to study’ to reject the notion that I’m a new arrival?”
Just as per the direction, the calling station was easy to find. I walked in to buy an international calling card for €5’00, which had a bonus of €3’00. According to the audio information given by the card manufacturer when I dialled some numbers as instructed, my air-time was 125 minutes. So I was cock-sure that a chance to communicate with my parents and cousins was in existence. First, I began by calling my Dad. We talked and laughed but I was surprised to be told, some 50 minutes later, that my credit was insufficient to continue with the call. That happened while I was still explaining something to do with culture shock to my mother.
I hated that calling card for the dishonest information. But such dishonesty was as familiar to me as an oath.
After accomplishing everything as programmed, it was some few minutes left for my language class and I was among the 8 students in our class waiting for our language teacher and other students to arrive. On my left were two blond haired Russian ladies, Alexandra and Liliya. The blue-eyed Alexandra was a very polite type but could laugh at anything slightly funny or strange, while the grey eyed Liliya was quite to the contrast- very talkative, inquisitive and humorous.
On my immediate right was Jefferson, a tall youthful man from Philadelphia, USA. As we chatted in different accents making mistakes and laughing at ourselves while we waited for our teacher, a man in his late twenties walked in. He stood at the door 5 feet 8, two meters away from us and observed the classroom for seconds. He then noticed an empty seat next to Jefferson and walked to occupy it after greeting us by passing a handshake to each one of us as he pronounced his name, Hassan.
“Are you a new student?” Liliya inquired.
“Yes! Have you gone far with learning?”
“Not too far. You can still catch up through revision!” I answered.
“Well, where do you come from?” asked Jefferson.
“I’m from Iraq, and you?” said Hassan.
“What! …Iraq!” exclaimed Jefferson with an open surprise that caused laud laughter to the ever-laughing Alexandra.
“Yes, from Baghdad”
“Baghdad!” surprised again. The two Russians and other classmates laughed out loudly.
“Why are you shocked? You’ve never met an Iraqi before, or don’t you expect Iraq to be inhabited?” commented Liliya, as her compatriot laughed even lauder.
“You sound like you are from America!” said Hassan, facing Jefferson but avoiding an eye to eye meeting with Jefferson.
“Why! …because of my accent?”
“No, the surprise on your face” (we all laughed)
“Don’t you have any friend or relative in Iraq?” added Hassan.
We couldn’t stop laughing at that conversation. I was particularly laughing at the manner in which the ever-laughing Alexandra was making a funny noisy laughter, with her head hitting her friend’s back and tears rolling down her chins.
She continued laughing even after the language teacher had arrived, and occasionally during the lesson. A totally different teacher arrived to step in for our usual teacher who was out of sorts. She was in a pair of blue jeans trousers, a dark-grey oblique shoulder polo-neck pullover and was carrying a rucksack on her back.
We were learning about sentence construction in past tense, present perfect and past participle, and the teacher asked each one of us to construct a sentence using the German word dürften (allowed)
Während meiner letzten Schulprüfung, dürfte ich nicht sprechen (I wasn’t allowed to speak during my last school exam) said Jefferson. It was then my turn to speak and I said this after a careful construction:
“Als ich jung war, dürfte ich ins Kino nicht gehen (I wasn’t allowed to go to the cinema when I was young)” I said with confidence.
“Yyeaaah…but… (Thinking while swaying the fingers of her right hand, moving them clockwise and anti-clockwise, again and again facing my direction) Well… OK… the sentence is in good form, but where he (Jamba) comes from…actually, there are no cinemas.” commenced the teacher. I sat attentively like all other students, to listen to her explanation of where I come from. Liliya was equally attentive but her compatriot Alexandra was warming up for her loudest laughter of the day, so it seemed.
“They go out in the nature, especially at sunset or just when the whether is good. In the nature they can watch the beautiful sky as the clouds move slowly in different beautiful shapes…”
“Oh nice!” said one student. Almost everyone’s eyes were between me and the teacher.
“Yes. So beautiful- a scenic panorama of it’s kind. It’s actually known as Sky cinema, so gorgeous. But, sometimes they go out just to watch wild animals walking or grazing freely in the nature…It’s a breathtaking experience.” she paused to look at me, or perhaps I were to loud her wonderful revelation. I was only looking at one Dallaian lady who, even though she was from a different Dallaian state from mine, was equally surprised.
“Well, where do you come from?” asked the teacher.
I looked at her face to see if she was at the junction of a big joke and was only looking for a punch line. She wasn’t. She was just a teacher, with extra information. I thought of a German proverb “A teacher is better than two books” and decided, painfully, not to argue but to challenge her.
Alexandra, the Russian classmate, was already laughing with both her hands covering her mouth. I cleared my voice to say something to our teacher:
“Well, I’m surprised that you know what is in my home country, yet you don’t even know where I come from- you don’t know my home country!”
As the rest of the class broke into lengthy laud laughter, the teacher concluded to herself that her comments were getting into nerves of her Dallaian student and opted to continue with important topics of our lesson.
She had to skip the ever-laughing Alexandra from presenting her constructed sentence with the verb dürften, because the Russian lady was completely unable to speak- she was still laughing at the Sky cinema story.
To date, whenever we meet or have long telephone conversations, Alexandra still laughs when reminding me of the sky cinema story. It must have been a funny story to her. Or, perhaps the funny thing wasn’t the sky cinema story, was it me?
Still, I do not understand why the teacher came up with that story even before knowing my origin. What country did she have in mind and how did she come to conclude that I came from there? By looking at the colour of my eyes?
My surprise was, indeed well grounded; never once had I visited a country with breathtaking sky cinemas, as such. Still, until this day, I do not know where to locate one.
It was 1710hours, time to go back home and I was standing at the city theatre tram station waiting for Tram number one, which was to arrive in 8 minutes. A middle-sized man with a round pot-belly in his late forties approached me. He was in a dark suit with shiny black shoes. On his right hand hang a brown leather briefcase.
He greeted me in French but later changed to English after noticing my failure to sustain a French conversation for more than 4 seconds. And, because I disapproved his lingual expectation, he inquired to know my origin.
“I come from Dala”
“Oh! You are a cowboy, or should I say ranger?”
I thought of what he meant first “No, no, no! I’m from Dala not Dallas, Texas!”
“Oh! I see! So you are a Dallaian. But most Dallaians speak French. Don’t they?”
“You are right. English and French are also spoken in Dala”
“Yes, including several other Dallaian dialects”
“They are actually languages that can qualify as global lingua francas, in case there’s need. Most of them are not dialects.” I insisted.
It did not take me long before I knew his intent. However, I let him beat about the bush as he scouted for the right nail.
Well, my name is Kevin. I like talking to Dallaians so much. You know, you people are very…I mean so…”
“You mean, very submissive?” I interrupted knowing that I had to save his time so as not to miss my Tram.
“Yes. But also…but not in a negative way”
It had three minutes left for my Tram to arrive. He finally informed me of his Worship centre and invited me to join him on their forth coming convention, fortnight later. Meanwhile, he also invited me to his worship centre that coming weekend.
“No, no, no! It doesn’t matter where you go to pray. Just come and see how we conduct our services!”
He said that as a reaction to my comment that I attend religious services in a different worship house.
“This must be the one my mother was talking about” I thought, after recalling my mother’s words. “If someone takes you to his worship house today, don’t wait until he/she asks you to show up again and again, take him/her to yours tomorrow.”
“There are many Dallaians here, some of them are refugees. But not you, one can easily tell the refugees by the way they dress.” He said. His statement revealed a lot to me; that as a Dallaian, I had to always dress smartly if I needed not to look like a refugee. But because there were natives even in that Tram station, who were not smartly dressed, I had to argue with this preacher…and make him take his statement back. “We need to dress as per our wish just like any other native of this country, not native or non-Dallaian is smartly dressed! Is their any refugee amongst the natives?” I added regardless of his apology. For the few days I had been around, I had seen some men with worn-out trousers that resembled Swiss cheese. But they were neither Dallaians nor refugees.
The tram finally came and I walked in thinking of the busy schedule that was on my diary that day and how I faired on with everything- the encounters and the situations I had found myself in.
Out of the many thoughts on my mind, it was the sky cinema story that occupied the lion’s share. I couldn’t stop smiling to myself. While travelling, I tried not to give the picture of a mentally challenged person in that Tram. Being a Dallaian with, a different hairstyle from other passengers made it easy for anyone to spot me in the corner of that Tram. Adding a smile to my face would have made me an unavoidably visible figure in the whole Tram of over 100 passengers. What I did was to try to avoid laughing or smiling to myself.
I almost achieved that by forcing in the thoughts of my Travelling card that was landing me in real trouble. There was no need to worry about it so much for I was almost reaching home, and there was no conductor in that Tram either. “After all, I have a fine to pay and a regional travelling ticket at home for the whole month. Why a one-way ticket now!” I thought, not knowing whether I was right or wrong.
After leaving the second-last station towards the last station, I realized that some passengers were turning their necks to watch me. It was then that I also realized that there was a lady seating opposite me-she was starring at me, occasionally turning her neck to face behind. My mind acted swiftly and made me aware that someone was shouting at me about 10 meters away.
“Why are you looking at me? Stop it!” A lady shouted facing me.
“I don’t know him but he is looking at me and even smiling at me!” She said to her partner, a blondish man who turned to meet my face but cared less. My anger level was springing up but because her own forefathers once said that “He who conquers his anger has conquered an enemy- be silent or say something better than silence” I began conquering my anger by keeping quiet, at first, as I prepared to say something far much better than silence. After all, silence is a fence around wisdom.
A good friend, native of my host country, had already whispered to me earlier that some people, especially women, often perceive that Dallaians are always on hunting spree- hunting without standards just to boost their immigration status. Such women can be a big nuisance to Dallaian men and women who have no interest in hunting, no hunting tradition, are engaged or married. And, those Dallaian immigrants who have their own preference or special standards in mind rather than the immigration law might feel the pain too.
I looked at the lady and suspected that she was one of those women with such thoughts. As a gentleman, very diplomatic as my name, Jamba, defines me, I concluded that it wasn’t in good shape to shout back and call her stupid. “Doing so might either create or promote a negative stereotype that Dallaians are never diplomatic or are violent people. I might not just be me, but us” I thought. Clearly, the lady had laid down the necessary procedure for conflict and it was upon me to decide what to do with her conflict. I wasn’t chicken hearted- what I knew is that my next decision would have the ability to paint or repaint the image of a Dallaian man; I refused to resolve to the cowboy way of conflict resolution.
Because we were approaching the last Tram station, I stood up on my feet and walked towards the exit door where the lady was standing. Meanwhile, the tram was still running, so I turned to the lady’s male partner on my left and made sure I spoke in my mother tongue, not his.
He stretched the skin on his forehead and said
“Ich verstehe gar nichts! I understand absolutely nothing” It forced me to repeat myself in English.
“Were you speaking to me or something? Well, you know I was thinking of my own funny stories when I saw the two of you looking at me and saying something. Were you conveying some important information to me?” I said with a warm smile.
“No! Not me. She was the one.” He said, pointing at the lady.
“Ach so! So she was the one looking at me!” I added with soft and audible voice, facing the lady with sharp but friendly eyes.
Because she wasn’t used to speaking English and, apparently, had forgotten almost everything, her reaction and my whole action brought laughter to her male partner and, even, some male passengers near us laughed the loudest. “Well done man!” said a male voice. I walked out feeling pretty fine and went straight to my address after beating her in her own game of shaming.
“Home sweet home” I said to myself as I pulled out the jacket and scarf from my body after opening the door to feel the warm temperature.
One of my housemates, Annabel, was coming downstairs to the kitchen. We greeted each other and talked for a little while.
“How was your Day?” she inquired.
“It wasn’t too bad. I managed to call my parents and talked for a while then…”
“Wao! That was good. I always feel good when keeping in touch with my parents in Hamburg. Family is very important, you know” she interrupted.
I learnt that she had already cooked and was walking towards the Television room to have her dinner while watching news. I too had to go to the kitchen to prepare mine.
Few minutes later, I had a name call; Annabel was calling me. But, before leaving the kitchen, I looked at the kitchen alarm-timer and confirmed that there were 7 minutes left for my meal to finally get cooked.
“Hey Jamba! You’ve always been complaining of lack of news coverage from your home country, there’s something for you today. Feel happy (laughing)…Ha ha ha! Just seat and wait- it was a news headline and the real news is yet to come” said my housemate.
She was in the leaving room with a lady who was a stranger to me and two other male housemates.
“Oh! Meet Maureen my classmate. Maureen meet Jamba our housemate from Dala” said Annabel.
We greeted each other and, from her dressing style, I kept wondering why she was called Maureen. She was dressed in a Chinese flying golden dragon Cheongsam.
“She is a Chinese, but why is she called Maureen?” I asked myself. “Perhaps that’s just her nickname or perhaps it is the effect of globalisation!” I thought again. “This system of using foreign names has been as common as poverty in all Dallaian states. Perhaps Dallaians are embracing globalization faster than others since it is very difficult to find non-Dallaian people, say a native German or Dutch with Dallaian names such as Jamba? What my grandfather told me was that some powerful forces came to Dala and swept away Dallaian values replacing them with foreign values and that, today, anything Dallaian is related to Tradition while anything foreign is related to modernity. By that he meant that if one doesn’t want to be seen as very local, one had to speak a foreign language. And, for your information, a foreign language does not mean the native language of a person from a neighbouring Dallaian State. It has to be a language like German or French, whose origin is not Dala. In fact, even some Dallaian Media still refers to independent Dallaian Languages as dialects. For instance, a Dallaian Journalist would say something like “…the NBA Star speaks German, French, English and 8 other Dallaian dialects” referring to Dallaian languages that are fully independent just like any other, so-called, ‘modern language’. Of course, there are dialects too in Dala”
Well, I allowed such thoughts across my mind chiefly because I had no interest with whatever was being aired on TV as news. It was something to do with a musical celebrity, who had suddenly become bald-headed after visiting a barbershop. It just reminded me of my plan to shave my hair that coming weekend, but because I had to pay a fine of €14’00 to the Railway company (DB), shaving my hair had to be, strictly, a dead plan. I waited for real news to start even though I was sure not to feel proud of whatever was to be aired on TV, not unless it were something to do with sports.
The news finally came and there began an embarrassment- It was about police brutality, or attempt by police to stop a public demonstration in my Dallaian state. We watched footages of youths lying in pools of blood, we saw dead bodies pilled together in morgues and heard doctors saying that most victims and bodies had gunshot wounds or live bullets in them. The Dallaian governor was still out of reach. At this juncture, Annabel turned to me and posted a serious question.
“Will you go back to your country?”
As if that was the question in everyone’s mind, they all turned to face me and waited eagerly for their answer.
Well, everything, but the answer to this question is still fresh in my mind; I swear! I do not remember the answer to that serious question. What I remember is having turned to the Maureen lady to make noise and divert people’s attention away from the horrifying news and video footages.
“Maureen, nǐ shuō Hànyŭ ma? (Do you speak Chinese?)” I asked.
She was positively surprised to hear me speak Chinese and stood up on her feet and walked closer to me. I appropriately assumed that that was a standing ovation to my linguistic ability.
“Oh, hăo! (Laughing) Wŏ shì Zhōngguó rén. Nǐ ne, Nǐ yě shuō Hànyŭ ma? (Oh, cute! I’m a Chinese. And you, you speak Chinese language too?)”
“Māma huhu (A little bit)” I responded.
We chatted for a while and I learnt that Maureen was just, but her nickname. She had taken it as a nickname because many non-Chinese people found it difficult to memorise and pronounce her first name, Muolihua. Muolihua is such a beautiful name which means, Jasmine (flower) in English.
Even though everyone was surprised to hear me speak Chinese, none of them directed her/his attention to our conversation. Instead, they glued their eyes to the screen to continue watching the darkest side of Dala. And, while speaking with Muolihua, I saw a different video footage picked somewhere in a beach. There was a Marine vessel with some Dallaian passengers in it, what attracted my ears the most was the statement said by the news anchor that “…the new arrivals are being taken care of by the UNHCR” I underlined the word “new arrivals” for it clued me in on what Mika meant by saying that I wasn’t a new arrival “No, no, no! He is a student!”
Believe me you! All my encounters or happenings since that morning, from the fine in the train, dishonesty with the international calling card, the refugee issue and the sky cinema story to the shouting lady in the tram, never made me an angry man. It was that television video footage that spoilt my day, completely. I walked out to go and check my food in the kitchen, feeling very sad. While walking out with thoughts, a voice came from behind me: “Zàijiān!” That was Maureen saying goodbye to me. Without letting her understand my emotional status, I turned to her with a forced smile to give an appropriate response in Chinese language as I closed the door.
“Zàijiān (Good bye)!”
“Dala has once again failed to protect me from shame, has failed to respect humanity, has failed to safeguard the dignity of her dead citizens leave alone those still alive. Why did they allow dead bodies to be filmed? Why didn’t they cover the bodies lying in pools of blood in the streets? Why must they shoot at unarmed demonstrators in the first place? “Do they want other people to view us as failures? – People who cannot organize create and deliver any good? Why do they make decisions that are unpopular with their good citizens of integrity- decisions that can only herald civil unrest and loss of lives?
And, those with the behaviour of forming militia groups, why can’t they just form political parties instead? Some of these thugs are well educated… God! Is a connection between education and civilization in existence, really?
Now the Dallaian public is turning to foreigners for help when their well educated leaders are still defending their acts and offending the masses. When others, so-called ‘foreigners’ come in to extend helping hands to helpless Dallaians, the Dallaian leaders will then talk of sovereignty. Damn! Is sovereignty a shield against justice? There is no rule of law, no participatory governance, no respect to decisions from the ballot box, No …You failed to do it right, why tell others that you do have a sovereignty? Huh!
F**k your sovereignty!
F**k it up!
“Uugh! …Heh! Are you OK?” shouted Annabel.
She had just opened the kitchen door in a rush and almost ran back outside. She stopped at once causing a folk from the plates she was carrying to fall down. It was then that I not only realized that my food was badly burning a meter away from me. I also realized that I was actually holding a frying pan with my both hands. And was hitting it strongly above the dishwasher each time an F-word came out of my mouth. It appeared as though I was crashing a strange insect on top of the dishwasher.
Yes, the lady was shocked, but I was equally shocked and upset. A thick dark smoke was all over the kitchen, coming from the burning food. She moved closer to see whatever was being crashed by a frying pan. What she saw was a dark mark, which came to existence as a result of the pan-dishwasher collision. Because a straight answer to any of her highly imminent questions wasn’t available with me, I opted to walk out of the kitchen and leave her with tough speculations.
An hour later, at around 8:30 pm, someone knocked at my door. I stood up from my bed and opened the door to find that all my four house mates were in front of my room.
“Oh my God! It was this serious! I’m finally a mad man!” I thought.
Michael, the one whose room was next to mine moved forward to speak on their behalf. He pronounced my name almost as “Chamba” but it was OK with me because it sounded better than “Yamba” as some people still do pronounce it.
“Hi Jamba! We all understand your feelings now. Well, we were equally upset with the footages and the way things are happening in Dala. You know, the disappointments, the extra-judicial executions, coup d’etáts and human right abuses of many kinds. But that’s beyond our control now. We have to live our dreams in spite of everything. We have to find other ways to bring happiness in our lives, even if it means forgetting the ugly things.
As your friends and house mates, we feel that you need to sleep well, and for that reason we have arranged the table for you. Come on, you need to eat before you sleep. You are invited to come with us to the dinning room.” He said, patting the back of my shoulder and slightly pulling me out without any resistance from me.
After having a heavy dinner and playing English Billiards with my house mates till 10pm, we called it a day.
I went back to my room knowing that my surrounding was full of very kind people, or perhaps civilized?
I picked my phone to reset the alarm for the next morning, but before doing that, I had to read the Text messages that had arrived on my absence. They were two text messages from one sender. I had to begin with the earliest.
Boy, now that ur Dallaian state
isn’t an exemption- tiz literally
burnin, Hop u’ll open ur eyes en
Reassess ya gols in lyn wit ya immigration status.
Don B stupid en go bk hom!
The papers you receive from class
are important but those you receive
from the alter are very important.
Start hunting as early as now,
B4 tiz too late.
That was Mika, the one who told me “…not to be ashamed of anything; just try to divorce dignity and respect from bread and butter issues”
Choosing words to reply that Text message might have sent me back down the emotional roller-coaster. So, the best option was to say a short prayer before allowing myself to fall asleep.
“Lord, the most merciful the most beneficent,
you taught me, through my mother, that anything dirty at home shall remain dirty everywhere and dirt shall never be good.
When we are at home in Dala we define papers as academic documents and we all struggle to get as good papers as possible. How can it be that when we cross the Sea away from Dala, the same mouth changes the good definition to something else? Lord, it is what some Dallaians go through when searching for these ‘papers’ that lead them into shameful, dirty ways of life. Help us retain our dignity Lord! Help us maintain the original definition of Papers and aid our campaign for good papers. Bless our good hosts and bless all the powerful friends of Dala- give them even more geographical and cultural knowledge of other places and people and may they give us keys to life without changing the padlocks Lord.
Lord, give our Dallaian leaders the knowledge they lack and make them know that decisions they make in any Dallaian state have got effects in Dala and as far distance as here. Help them to act wisely and not otherwise Lord. They might display us as uncivilised people just because of their political bickering or survival politics. But Lord, I pray that all these shall come to past, sooner than later. God Bless Dala! In your name I seal my prayer! Amen”
© Dominic Otianga 2009
If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.