Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Men's Camp--Part II

Y. comes from Sudan, via Libya.

“Two years I worked there—it was hell.”  On his way to Italy he was picked up, or shipwrecked--the stories blur in repetition--and found himself in Malta, in detention.

M. is the friendliest—from Eritrea, young, slight of build, with a shy but ready smile.  He invites us for a meal on the first day.

On the 3rd day, I meet a string of French speakers, from Burkino Faso and Côte d’Ivoire. 

Côte D’Ivoire man asks me for my hat.  I refuse.   

“But I want it.”

“Sorry, but I need it for this heat.”

He shrugs, goes off and returns with a peach iced tea for me.  I'm hesitant to drink it; it's Ramadan, and the majority are fasting.  In Islam, that means no liquids either during the day.  I put it in my backpack. 

M. comes by and asks me if I want to play pool.  I don’t; he insists.  I capitulate…and now give the men more than a few minutes diversion.  Laughter erupts as I miss shots, hit the wrong ball, and sink nothing.  I finally plead for mercy, relinquish my cue to M, who has been watching with great concern, asking at one point if we play pool in America.  He proceeds to sink all the balls in one rapid volley.

The call to prayer comes and Burkino Faso man grabs my hand.  He looks uncertain; it is his first day in the camp. 

“Come with me,” he pulls. 

“No, I need to stay with my group.”  He goes off resigned, looking for all the world like a five-year-old boy about to get on the school bus for the first time.

And then I am off on my own bus, back to the prayer house, thankful for the air conditioned bus, thankful for the peach iced tea, which I now pull out and guzzle--discretely, for some of the refugees are also on the bus, and Ramadan doesn't end for two more hours. 

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