Thursday, March 20, 2008
Estimado Espana—por favor, yo quiero vivir en su pais
(Dear Spain--please, I want to live in your country)
Yaseen has never been to Spain. He speaks no Spanish. And probably has never tasted a sangria or seen a bullfight. However, he now wants to live in the land of Picasso and Gaudi. You see, Spain began welcoming applications from asylum seekers about two weeks ago.
Yaseen is dark, wears a mustache and a perpetual smile. He is affable and prefers classical Arabic to the Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, so tends to teach me a phrase or two in the ancient tongue whenever he sees me. Yaseen has been a refugee for about half of his 35 years. He first fled his home in Eritrea in 1984 for the Sudan, where he lived until 1998. He then returned to his home, but was forced to leave again in 2002 when he resettled in Cairo. Yaseen’s parents and siblings are still in the Sudan. He is now seeking asylum in Spain. Small problem--the asylum form is in Spanish. Since he heard that I studied Spanish before, he called me up earlier today and asked for my help in filling out the form over dinner.
I agreed to meet him at the gate of St. Andrews. We walk a few blocks to the Eritrean Students club where about half a dozen Eritrean men are watching Al-Jazeera news in a small room. There are no women present. Dinner is served in the kitchen on a small end table: two oval plates of warm injera bread with a large pile of sautéed beef and cow tongue. It reminds me of the Ethiopian restaurants in Berkeley, California and Adams-Morgan, Washington, DC. However, when I taste the soft injera bread, it is a bite of heaven. If you’ve never had Injera bread, imagine eating a piece of nerf football that is slightly sour.
After dinner, we sit down in the adjacent room. I begin to fill out the form with my limited, rusty college Spanish. The form is old as it still bears the date starting with 19__. Perhaps, that is an indicator of when they last opened the doors to asylum seekers. Yaseen will send me his personal account of persecution in his home country, which then needs to be translated into Spanish. All this needs to be done in the next few days for him to have enough time to submit it to the Spanish Embassy. Allah Yakreemak! May God be kind to you!