Little black spiders
December 19, 2003
So much went into organizing this gathering
that I wondered whether it was worth putting it on in the first
place. Volunteers spent money out of their own pockets to buy all
the grub and grog. Refugee women started the food preparation a
few days before the event. Tables, chairs, dishes and cutleries
were borrowed and carried from the local churches. Last year they
put on the same function, but apart from only a small number of
people from the local parishes, no one else bothered to come.
The crux of the problem lied in the hearts of the
locals who resented the existence of the refugee camp in the parameters
of their town.
They often blamed the refugees for the increase in petty theft
and other misdemeanors in their town. The Amnesty volunteers
who regularly visited the camp refuted their claim and accused
of racial intolerance. They unconditionally supported the refugees
against such ill-founded pronouncements. They treated us with
respect which in turn restored and replenished our low self-esteem.
many of the refugees the volunteers were their only vital support
and hope. They never let us down and fought tooth and nail for
our rights and dignity.
The volunteers' first and last hurdle, nevertheless,
remained the same, to bring the locals closer to the refugees and
end to the demonizing. But always something happened that undermined
their efforts, whether a scuffle between the refugees with some
Dutch louts in the local pub or some refugee caught stealing a
shaving cream or razor blade from the supermarket. As if all hell
broke loose, it was enough for the local residents to point their
fingers at us for all the other terrible things that they thought
a Dutch person would never commit. We'd become the butt of
their prejudices you might say.
I never liked to take part in these functions any
way. My previous experiences proved to be somewhat degrading to
whatever was left
from my battered dignity. I discovered that the most cumbersome
act is to sell yourself as a human being. And that's what
you have to do at these gatherings. At first you're not aware
that you're doing it. You think you've been merely
nice to people who've housed you, feed you and to a large
extent determine your future for you.
But at night, alone, you
remember their cold stares that bordered on suspicion, their
defensive body language that kept you at arm's length, as if you're
invading their private space. And worst of all, their probing
that exposed and trivialized your little secrets. Secrets that
you never thought you'd share with any strangers. Dad was
so much against me leaving the country. He said to remain and
suffer at home is far less mortifying than being a refugee in another
country. There're always disagreements between my parents,
especially over whether I should sneak off to another place for
a better life or stay at home under tyranny.
I allowed the thought of Rebecca to permeate and
dominate my mind that day. Her caring and happy face always brightened
up the vapid
atmosphere of the camp for me. She became my perfect, clandestine
motive to attend and celebrate something tangible.
Homely decoration of colorful ribbons and flashing
lights, as one would see on a Christmas tree, had covered the branches
to the oval. Long trestle tables were set up along the oval with
rows of exotic food on them. The smell of different dishes, wafted
through the air. They're expecting a lot of people this time.
Rebecca and other volunteers have been working on invitations for
many weeks now, visiting the local businesses, pleading with them
to come, letter boxing all the residents and even mailing invitation
cards to Amsterdam, asking some members of the parliament, sympathetic
to the refugees, to attend.
6.00 p.m. Dutch people slowly began to trickle in.
The volunteers in particular were eager to know how many people
from the town
would show up. I nestled down in a cozy corner, near the friendly
Africans, drinking a Heineken. Rebecca's glance from across
the field suddenly met mine and she smiled. We always managed to
smile at each other from a distance. The only time I ever stood
next to her, close enough to smell the scent of her hair, she was
dragged away by a few refugee women who wanted to show her something.
As she walked away, she turned her head around and looked at me
and smiled. A beautiful smile.
Did I risk my life to get to the
land of the free in order to drink beer and admire a girl from
a distance, free of harassment, I asked myself. To hope that the
Dutch people would not look at me as a petty criminal? Was this
the culmination of all my efforts to be free? I wanted to believe
that my life had a purpose, if not divine, at least human. Siding
with mom, I wanted to prove dad wrong. Yes, there's a better
life out there in the universe where I can fulfill my dreams, where
I'll be judged for what I do and what I stand for. And no
one can hold me back from giving myself to the forces of destiny
that's beckoning me to leave. No one!
8.00 p.m. We had a reasonable amount of guests,
not that it made any difference for me how many people showed up,
I told you I'd
my reason to be there. A ratio of one Dutch to every ten refugees
was what we had and what was needed for volunteers to be content.
People were gathered in distinct divisions however, every group
stamping their feet on a different patch of turf, marking a separate
territory. Peter, on the other hand, as unselfconsciously as the
kids around him, was helping them to put on the black jersey that
he'd brought over for them, and was telling them about the
legend of Lev Yashin as dutifully as an ancient Celtic bard.
I only met Peter that very same day when I went
to his store in town to buy myself a pair of sneakers. My old runners,
ones I crossed the mountains with exactly one year ago, were completely
worn out. The residue of Peter's fame as an ex national football
player was still cherished among those refugees who were old enough
to have seen him play in five European Cups and two World Cups.
Before entering his store, I had a look at my government
vouchers. It was exactly 60 gilder. I could afford a descent pair
much credit I was told. As I entered I noticed a diminutive figure
sitting behind a large desk talking to a customer in a high pitched
voice. I busied myself browsing at the range of sports shoes on
display. Suddenly my eyes caught the series of framed pictures
hung on the wall. The tastefully placed photos, seemingly of various
football stars, piqued my curiosity. I drew closer to possibly
see a picture of any of my favorite football stars, but instead
they're all of one man, Lev Yashin. At first I didn't
recognize him, till I read the caption underneath one of the photos, "Yashin
holds the USSR Cup trophy." The name sounded familiar. It
was Dad, I recalled, who mentioned his name to me first. Not that
he was ever a football fan. He followed everything Russian rather.
The photos covered Yashin's career in chronological
order. There was a picture of Lev in his first factory team, wearing
standing taller than the rest of the players. Or, lying on the
ground hugging a ball, with a player flying over him. In a bigger
photo, with his Derby cap tightly fitted on his head, he'd
sprung up high, grabbing the ball, almost defying the law of gravity,
making other players around him look like helpless dwarfs. One
photo that stood in my mind most was of him pouncing toward the
ball with his arms stretched out further than any pair of arms
can. His arms surrounded the ball like a prey. His feet were barely
touching the ground as if his arms were balancing and directing
his whole body. In the last photo, with his hands firmly on his
crutches moving him along, he was walking together with Dmitry
Kharin the young Russian goalkeeper.
As I was enjoying the small photo exhibition of
Yashin's career as a goalkeeper, I heard Peter uttering his name.
was the best goalkeeper ever. I don't think if anyone can
ever match his standard. He earned himself the nickname Black Spider.'
I glanced back at the photo of Yashin and I could see how he'd
earned the title. Wearing black, his long arms looked like the
arms of a spider and almost as intimidating. The customer gave
out a perfunctory smile as if he'd heard the story before,
grabbed his merchandise and left the store. Peter for some moments
appeared lost. He looked around his immediate surrounding to find
something to do, but nothing seemed to take his fancy. He turned
to his left instinctively, and saw me standing in front of his
icon. He didn't know I was in his shop.
'You like football?' he
asked me in Dutch, from across the store.
I answered back in English, 'yes', and walked toward
him, trying to maintain the etiquette of politeness when talking
to an older person.
'Yes I can speak English too,' he replied.
He straightened his hair with his right hand and
played with his hoary sideburns, one at the time.
'Which team you support?'
'I like Bayer Munich, and Brazil.'
'Yes good teams. But have you heard of Yashin?'
he asked, like a priest examining a disciple about an influential
'I've heard of him.'
'He was the best goalkeeper that football ever had,'
he said it with a deep conviction.
'Nice photos, eh? I collected them over the years,'
'Was he really the greatest?' I asked him.
'Undoubtedly. I met him myself, in 1962 World Cup
in Chile. They won the European Cup in 1960. It was all because
of him. USSR was
a good team, but it was Yashin's goalkeeping that made them
a great team.'
I selected a pair of Adidas and took it to him.
When I produced my vouchers he slowly whispered, 'vluchteling'.
he asked me where I was from. I said Iran. I thought he was going
to comment on the country's topsy-turvy politics, so I got
ready to distance myself from it all. But instead he engaged me
in the history of Iranian football. He named a few players, commended
their effort in the 1978 World Cup and at the end he said, 'Yashin
was better than any sportsman in the world of football. He kept
his goal intact in more than 250 games. Have you heard of any goalkeeper
who's the same record?' Peter asked proudly.
I just nodded my head with amazement. Who was I
to disagree with him. Perhaps Yashin was the greatest goalkeeper
of all times?
Like his previous customer I smiled at him, a smattering
smile. And felt that I'd seen and heard enough about Lev Yashin
for one day. Just, as I was preparing myself to leave without being
rude, he said, 'I'll see you over there a bit later.
I'm bringing some gifts for the kids.'
I didn't know what he was
talking about at first. He was, of course referring to the function
that was on that afternoon.
Peter raised his hand into the air and said 'there could
be even a young Lev Yashin among them' and gave out a guffaw.
* * *
Around last year this time, was also the beginning of Rebecca's
visits to our camp. She and a few other volunteers went door to
door, in the family section, hearing the refugees out. Now today
she was standing about 20 feet away from me and doing exactly the
same thing. Sighing with every wail. Delighting in every joy.
I noticed Iranian and Afghani refugees tossing and
hurling dour looks at each other. The Iranians in this camp always
their frustrations on the Afghanis. They're the most belligerent
group of refugees. My wounded generation I called them.
9.35 p.m. All the guests were gone. The Amnesty
volunteers, like always, did their best to talk to the visitors,
of our vicissitudes in life, reminding them of their own during
II. Some of the more educated refugees tried to engage the
visitors in more specialized talks about politics, economy and
affairs. Anything sophisticated enough to wipe away their stereotype
notions of us. Majority, however, consumed the food and kept
within their own clicky groups.
No one turned up from Amsterdam,
it was too much to expect. My eyes had lost track of Rebecca.
She was probably with the women somewhere. She never abandons
kind. As soon as I made a pledge in my heart to speak to
her, I felt a vague, new sensation rushing through my spine, stomach,
experienced a slight shake in my hands and knees. Was life
all about keeping promises?
10.00 p.m. Peter was the only guest left. He was
still with the kids. Now that the stage was empty, he brought the
the oval and began a practice session with them. The kids
in their new uniforms. As Peter spotted me leaving shouted,
'these little black spiders are good. They just need a coach.'
I checked the mailbox in case I missed the afternoon
delivery and walked back to my room. I turned my radio on, tuning
Luxembourg. I looked onto the oval one last time through my widow.
The volunteers had packed all the furniture up and heaped them
all in one corner. The kids by following Peter's instructions
had formed a line taking turns in kicking the ball. Peter corrected
their technique and spurred them on with his pep talk. The kids' unblemished
enthusiasm blocked out the chill October evening air that vaporized
their rapid, short breaths, and removed them momentarily from the
mazy world of adults.
Farid Parsa left Iran in 1981 and lived in Europe
for three years. He immigrated to Sydney in June 1984,
where he has lived eversince. He has studied mass
communication, theology and Theatre at tertiary level. He
is currently employed as senior staff with the State
Library of NSW, Sydney.
this page to your friends