Refugee Camp in Holland – Part II: Chicken and French Fries

When the policeman called our names, I didn’t know what would happen next. As I packed our few things, I worried: what will be the next step? My husband, who is always optimistic, said, “Don’t worry. They are going to transfer us to a better place.”

I said, “How do you know?” He made a confident face.

As we left with an immigration agent, my daughter’s hand was in mine and she was almost running to keep up with us. “Mom, where are we going again?” she asked. “Are we going to eat proper food?”

“Maybe, I don’t know,” I said.

“Yes, dear, we are going to McDonald’s,” the immigration agent said.

She began laughing while she was running. “Oh, McDonalds. Burgers, chips.”

The agent guided us outside, where we could breathe fresh air. We’d been inside so long that our eyes were sensitive to the sun. When I saw the waiting taxi, my heart started beating hard. Thank God, we are leaving this place. The agent’s loud voice cut off my thoughts. “Okay, we are going to transfer you to a refugee camp which is located in S’Gravendeel, 45 kilometers from here. I hope you like it. If you don’t…” he shrugged and said, “I can’t do anything, you have to like it. You don’t have any other choice.” It was his way of joking.

I said, “Thanks, sir, I am sure we will like it.” We sat in the taxi. As we drove, everyone had their own dreams. At this stage, my only wish was to go home, take a hot shower and sleep. My daughter was dreaming of having a Big Mac. Since the taxi was hired by the immigration office, we couldn’t ask him to take us to McDonald’s, so I told my daughter, “Once we reach our destination, we will go to McDonald’s.” God knows what my husband’s dream was. Our baby was sleeping like a doll.

After an hour’s drive, we finally reached the refugee camp. A kind lady was waiting for us at the gate. She welcomed us and guided us to an office. She told us that this was actually a summer vacation camp, and the owner allocated it to the refugee department. First we had to fill in some forms. Then they gave us some bed sheets and she showed us our cabin. It was wooden and dark from inside, but we were delighted that we had our own toilet. The people in that camp, especially our fellow Afghans, welcomed us and started asking us questions. After giving interviews to the police—when, how, where, did you arrive, and hundreds of others—I was so tired of questions that I couldn’t answer them. Among the Afghans, there was a small family, two sisters and their sister-in-law and her three kids. They didn’t talk too much. They offered us tea. I said “Yes, please.”

My daughter said, “Mom I don’t want tea. I want to eat.” I couldn’t keep my promise to take her to McDonalds, because S’Gravendeel, where the camp was located, is a very small town far from everything. We heard from other Afghans in the camp that we would be served dinner at 5:00. When the time came, my husband went to get food from the kitchen. We were served fried chicken and French fries, and since my daughter loved fries, she was very excited and wanted to eat with both hands. She was trilling. I was happy too, since I thought they would serve the same menu or better than this every day, but the other days were terrible. They only had chicken and fries once a week. Anyway, our first night was wonderful, and on the second day I went outside the cabin and had a look around our neighborhood. There were almost fifty cabins, and it was nice.

Ali’s Story

During the second night, we were sleeping. It was midnight, cold and quiet. I heard someone screaming and swearing in Arabic. I didn’t understand a single word, but I knew his blood boiled with anger. I sat up and asked my husband, “What is wrong?”

He said, “Don’t worry, some Arab is drunk,” and I wondered: “An Arab is drunk?” Because they are Muslim, they are not supposed to drink.

A terrible sound of breaking glass interrupted my thoughts and my daughter ran from her room, saying, “Mom, what is this? What is wrong? Why is this man screaming and why did he break glass?”

I took her in my arms and said, “Don’t worry, dear, Papa will find out.” Then we heard again his swearing and glass breaking; the sound was getting closer and closer. My heart was beating fast, and my husband wanted to go out of the cabin to find out what was happening. My daughter and I were trilling, and I said, “No, don’t go, it may be dangerous.” Right then, I saw the family who had offered me tea on my first day at the camp (and who had no male family members) running toward our cabin with their kids in their arms. My husband opened the door and they jumped in. They couldn’t speak and their faces were bleak. The sound was getting worse and closer. I asked, “What is this?” They were frightened. They didn’t answer me.

The sound was so close; it was only two cabins away from us, and there was a distance of almost ten meters between each cabin. Then we could see him; he had a cricket bat in his hand. He tried to break our neighbor’s window. Then we saw a few strong policemen attack him from behind, take the bat from him, push him down and handcuff him within a fraction of a second. We were amazed; my God, they were so fast, like in Hollywood movies. I have never seen police in Afghanistan work like this. It was a totally different way of arresting someone. The police didn’t beat him. He was not struggling any more. A policeman helped him up. Everyone started breathing and making tiny movements.

My daughter took a deep breath and said: “Look, Mom, the policemen took the bad guy with them. Now nobody is going to break our windows.” Her words broke the silence in our room.

The other kid, emerging from her mom’s arms, said, “He was not a bad man. He was nice to us but I don’t know what happened to him. Why did he break the windows?”

Her mom said: “Sorry to bother you this late. Once he reached our cabin and start breaking our windows, I took my kids and ran away and came to your house.”

I said, “No, no. Please, it’s fine. Your kids were scared. Did you know him? Why he has done this?”

His name, she said, was Ali Al-Hussein. “Almost everyone in this camp knows him. We have heard a lot about his case and his problems. He always gave candies or lollypops to my daughter; he loved her so much. Once I told him ‘Please don’t give sweets to my daughter,’ and he looked dreadfully at me and said, ‘She is nice. I like her.’ After a few second silence, he said, ‘She looks like my daughter. May Allah take care of your daughter. It is so difficult to lose your four-year-old daughter. She was very sweet and innocent.’ Tears welled up in his eyes. He was shaking his head while he walked away.”

“How did his daughter die?” I asked.

“He comes from Iraq. He is Shia. He had a daughter of four and a son of two. He lost his daughter, his mother and his brother while he was in jail in Iraq.”

“Why was he in jail?” I asked.

She told me Ali was arrested in 1993 by Saddam Hussein’s government. He said there was a Shia leader in their town, and everyone respected him, but in 1992 he was arrested with almost twenty-five people from his town. One of them was Ali. He was not involved with the leader, but since he was an educated and bright man, they took him to the prison too. When he got arrested, his wife was pregnant with his son. In jail, they tortured him and gave him electric shocks; they even gave shocks on his tongue. That is why he couldn’t talk properly. One day in 1995, his wife came to visit him in jail. She had dark circles around her puffy eyes. When he looked at her, she started crying. Her legs were shaking; her lips were dry. Ali understood something was wrong. He was holding his wife’s shoulders and shaking her, saying, “Tell me what is wrong? Tell me, talk to me.”

His wife said, “Our son was sick; I didn’t sleep the whole night. After morning prayers, I went to hospital. I was in hospital until 9:00 a.m. When I returned home, I saw a crowd around our home. I thought you may have come back. Then I thought, why everyone is looking at me with their frightening eyes? I didn’t have the power to walk. My legs were shaking. I put my energy and power together to walk faster. Everyone was quiet like a statue. When I reached where my house was supposed to be, I saw my mother and sister crying. They started yelling loudly and said: ‘Oh, my poor daughter, you lost your everything. What is wrong with your fortune? You become lonely, even your husband is not with you so that you could share your sorrow with him. Oh, my poor girl.’ I was looking for our house, but there was no house anymore, just burned off pieces of our house. In a few hours my house burned down. They told me I lost my daughter and my in-laws.”

Ali was crying and yelling, “Why, Allah, why? What was my baby doll’s fault? She was innocent like a bird. Why, Allah, why?” He was smashing his head against the wall and crying. A few guards and detainees came to calm him, but he was crying, and saying, “Sakina, my sweetheart, my angel, I was dreaming of coming out of jail and visiting you. I wanted to see you growing. I was wondering how big you had become.” Even the guards and other detainees were crying. Perhaps the sky was crying too. His words had touched the entire sphere.


By Elay


5 responses to “Refugee Camp in Holland – Part II: Chicken and French Fries

  1. Elay, this is very moving and touching, and very well written. I can’t imagine what life like that must be like, but your story gives me insight.

  2. I can’t help but feel for people like this.I am a father and know all too well the pain of not having my children with me. But this goes to show that even in the deepest of grief humanity is willing to see past common misconceptions and helpanother human being.
    My hat is off to the writer of this story for a rather amazing insight into what it is like to live the way you do. Stay safe and please continue to share with us what you endure!

  3. The events in your story are more than a short story. I really believe you have a novel. Slow down the action, give more background for the characters.. While I know the story is painfully true, one way to get it out into the world is to write it as fiction. I need to see the landscape, descriptions of the people. You capture the action very well! That said, I hold you, and yours, in my heart. I wish you peace and hope. Reach out and feel my concern and deep wishes for a better life for you.

  4. What an intense story. I agree with some of the other readers—you have shown a moment where people were able to simply listen before jumping to conclusions. You have a lot to work with here.

  5. My heart aches just reading your words of grief. I can hear the voices, and feel the emotion in your words. Thank you for writing!

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