Two Iraqis in Amsterdam

It’s never easy to come ‘home’. I hate to admit it mostly because I wish it was different and I am embarrassed about it. Iraq is my home and it takes time when I return to the Netherlands to adjust, to settle in. I feel alone, lonely and lost. My heart is open and everything hits hard because I am tired. I feel guilty for not being able to see dear friends, I feel disappointment towards myself. I basically just don’t know what to do with myself. It’s part of transition and I know it will pass. But today I thought I would feel like this for the whole christmas holidays.
Until I met this guy, my Uber driver who was going to take me to the train station. We started to chat. After 30 seconds I said: “Sir, where are you from?”. He looked a bit surprised but answered: “I AM FROM BAGHDAD, Iraq”. My mouth fell open. “ME TOO, I live in Erbil”. His mouth fell open. “I just came from Baghdad last night”. His chin dropped further.
A wonderful conversation followed, about one thing that we have in common: a shared frustration with the injustice of life in Iraq. Talking about this made me feel acknowledged, so not alone anymore at all. He told me how his brother was murdered by the regime in 1981 and how he himself had to flee the country because he was also seen as ‘a state enemy’. And how he has been trying ever since to share the truth with everyone who could maybe make an end to the corruption and injustice that is still existing. It was so beautiful that we had this moment together, in a car towards the train station. So open, raw, honest and real.
At the end of the journey he said: “Anne, can I please give you my contacts and can you please promise me that you will call me when you need help, with ANYTHING, here in the Netherlands or in Iraq?”. Living in NL had definitely not washed away the typical Iraqi trait of generosity and hospitality…! I smiled. He smiled back, gave me his number and said: “Meeting you today has made my day Anne!”. I smiled back and said: “Meeting you today has saved my day Andilbast”. We said goodbye in Arabic. His smile was big. And I found my ground in the Netherlands again. Marhaba ❤️

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A safe harbour

“Hola Anna!”, says a little Belizean children’s voice while I pass by on my tiny bike. It’s unbelievable how this village welcomes me as if I am one them. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, which language you speak or what religion you practice, you are safe here. Even if you don’t believe in electronics and have 17 children because birth control doesn’t suit you, like the Mennonites just around the corner. They have travelled through Europe (The Netherlands!), Northern America and Central America before they were able to find a safe spot to live their lives in the way their God wants them to live it. They were never welcome, until they reached Belize.

I have only been here for a week but everyone seems to know that I am the white girl called Anna who stays with Nathalie at Backpackers Paradise. And, more importantly, they seem happy that I am here, the only gringo in town. How generous and warm could you possibly be welcomed? Just ask the Belizeans. And I love being one of them.

My bike takes me to the little pier but to be honest, it doesn’t matter where I leave my bike behind cause no one steals anything from anyone here. Again, I am safe. I sit down with my feet dangling in the water and stare across the green ocean in front of me. There is no one in it. It’s all mine. And I love being alone. Until a little dark-skinned 6-year old taps on my shoulder. “No quieres bano?” he asks me. He takes off all his clothes and jumps into the water. Very naked. Well, if you are taking a bath, you might as well be naked, right? He asks me to come in. We play with the water and the smelly mud that’s on the bottom of the ocean. He thinks the mud-beard looks good on me. After a while I notice that he is holding on to me and is very decisive not to let go.

And there I am. In that still, gorgeous, green ocean, with a 6-year old clenched around my waist. It’s all ours. He digs his beautiful little face into my neck before he stops moving and then is quiet for minutes. I can’t do anything else but melt. He relies on me. For only this moment, I seem to be his harbour, his safety. I give him all the love I have because maybe he doesn’t receive enough wherever he may live with his 6 older brothers. After 5 gorgeous minutes of loving care and silence, I ask him if I can be his friend. He looks at me and nods before his head goes back into safety and silence. I love being together. The world has just stopped moving.