24 November 2017
LESVOS REFLECTION: Your Longing Hands -- an asylum seeker from the oppressed Arab minority of Iran shares the story of his life and longing to reunite with his mother and sister
by Rûnbîr Serkepkanî
They do not make coffee with cardamom here in Greece. No one makes coffee like your mother. It’s been five years since you last drank your mother’s coffee with cardamom. Borders have prevented her from filling your soul with the wonderful scent of cardamom every morning.
You were born in Kuwait. You went to Iranian school there where you learnt Farsi. You worked as a carpenter. Your brother was in Ahwaz, Iran where he was defending the oppressed Arabic minority of that region. During the Eid al-Adha he was dressing in his finest Arabic dishdasha dress and wearing his agal head-dress. He was going out with his comrades. Eid al-Adha is the day when all Arabs in Iran go out together, in groups of five or more. It is the day of resistance. It is the day when everyone breaks the silence. The day when everyone prays and protests together. During one of these eids they captured him and put him in ‘The Security Police’ prison. Three years later he was dead “of natural causes.” Young Arabs in Iran do not die because of natural causes. They die from torture, police beatings, and government-sanctioned hangings.
Your father had another family and he was not present in your life. It was your eldest brother who was a father to you. He was the jewel of your eye. Your grandfather could not go to the funeral because he knew he could not return. Your mother did not go because she had to take care of your differently abled sister. Your grandfather tried to prevent you from going and he gave you some wise advice, however, you insisted on going so that you could recite al-Fatiha from the Koran at his grave. But your grandfather beat you and you insisted on leaving. You left Kuwait and went to Iran. You visited your brother's grave where you recited al-Fatiha and shed tears on the soil that shrouds his dead body.
When you tried to go back to your mom, to taste her cardamom coffee and to help her take care of your sister, they captured you and forced you into military service for two years. The soldiers, officers and commanders bullied you because you were an Arab. You were forced to serve a country that did not love you. You were in service to an army that occupied your country and you had to defend a government that killed your brother.
You tell me while sipping kainari (traditional herbal tea of Lesvos) with honey, “after the military service, I tried for three years to re-enter Kuwait in order to be reunited with my family.” You have been on hunger strike for many days now demanding freedom of movement. With a very strong Arabic accent, you explain to me in Farsi that you refused to tell the officers of EASO (European Asylum Support Office) that you belonged to the Arabic minority of Iran. You refused to tell them that the Iranian government killed your brother. You refused to tell them how dangerous it was to go around the streets of your hometown singing songs in your mother tongue like lullabies sang from your mother’s heart. That every gathering you had with your Arabic friends was considered a conspiracy against the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, you did tell them that you have been exiled from your mom for five years. You told them that you needed to go back to Kuwait to support your differently sister, your mother and your elderly grandfather. You told them that you needed to cross the borders legally in order to do this. Unfortunately, this was not enough.
You are now on hunger strike in Sappho square on Lesvos, Greece with ten other comrades. You say, “Please do not write my name,” “Please do not take my picture,” “Please do not write where I did my military service,” “They will find me.” We ask if we can take a picture of your hands and you agree. You take off your ring so they can’t recognise your hands. We take a picture of your hands that are haunted by the cold and that long so much for your mother’s cup of cardamom-scented coffee.