Have you ever had this feeling, when meeting someone for the first time, that the person is genuinely nice? Like if you could plunge into their heart, you strongly believe you’ll hit a sea of kindness? I sometimes do have this incredible feeling when I meet a new person that I have never seen before. This happened to me today.
My water-heater had to be replaced and I had to be home to welcome the plumbers who would take care of this. They rang at 8 : 25 in the morning, when I was expecting them at 8 : 30 and they immediately put themselves to work.
Both of them were young but one seemed to be clearly much younger, this is how I assumed he was probably an apprentice as I was observing that he was following the other man’s instructions. They were both calm and focused, and during the whole time of their presence they kept very discreet.
After two hours of hard work, I found them waiting in the kitchen while the whole system was purging. I asked them how things were going and we started to talk, starting on a subject and jumping to another one. This is how I learnt that the apprentice was from Asia. “Which country are you from?” I asked. He explained to me he was from Afghanistan, this is where he was born and where he grew up as a kid, this is where his whole family still lives.
At this point of the conversation, I was imagining that he was a bit more than 18 and that he had already reached the legal majority of my country. How could he be there, all alone, in this country, if he was still just a teenager? I kindly asked if he would go back to Afghanistan to see his family, that he seemed to miss very much. The other man there jokingly answered for him “when he’ll have his papers for sure!”. This is when I realized that the boy I had in front of me was a refugee.
I have to be honest with you dear readers, I had never met any refugees before. I know a lot about the political situation of this part a the world, I know about the difficulties of those populations, but I always thought those issues where happening somewhere, far away, being my television screen. Having this human being in front of me was destabilizing, because I realized my innocent questions where pushing him in a very uncomfortable place.
He then started to tell me his story. He was 17, about to turn 18. The fear for his life and the barbarity of the attacks he saw in his hometown pushed him and his family to sell what they had to pay a smuggler for him to run away. He was 13 when he traveled by foot and walked more than 4000 kilometers with a bunch of strangers. He was the only one who could have the hope of escaping his past life as the amount of money needed to get the chance of reaching Europe is incredibly high. “It costs between 3000 to 5000 euros” he said, but if we take into account the cost of living to compare the ratio between France and Afghanistan, it’s like his family paid a million euro to give him a chance for a better life. After reaching Greece, the smuggler abandoned them and they had to gather in small groups to put together all of their financial resources to pay for taxis and train tickets to go to Germany. He found a young man who wanted to reach France, just like him and they traveled together to Paris. They stopped there and found a place where refugees were welcomed.
“Why did you leave Paris?” I asked. “It was noisy and I witnessed some violence there. It was far from the idea I had from this city” he answered, staring vacantly into space. He and his new friend went to a train station and searched for the next destination that costed less than 50 euros, all they had left. This is how he ended up there, in the town I am. “But you never got caught by the police?” I said. He told me that it happened, yes, and this is how he joined a refugee organization in this town. They helped him find a training and an apprenticeship. He found a place in a plumbing company.
He hasn’t seen his family for years and he will soon have the legal recognition to live there like any other person. He then will be able to travel to see his loved ones. From his teenager years to adulthood, he found his way alone, finding some help on the long road of life.
Coming to Europe was an act of hope, hope to live far away from the bombs and the poverty. A country in war cannot prosper. He just wanted to stop fearing for his life every day, he wanted to avoid as much as possible the barbarity he saw, the one that cannot leave his mind. He didn’t want to see the abomination of war and the dead bodies on the ground.
Instantly, I felt a lot of compassion for him, as well as a lot of admiration. At the age of 13, when I was listening to pop music, going shopping with my friends and cursing my homework, he was walking thousands of miles, leaving his roots behind, hoping to find a peaceful life at the end of the road. He still hopes that Afghanistan will know peace and prosperity in some years, as he told me all of the beautiful things which exist there and all the uniqueness of his culture. He still hopes for a clear sky in his hometown, localized in a country were half of the inhabitants flew away, expecting to see this country become a peaceful place to live in the future.
As we went on in our discussion, the oldest man told me he had a gift and that he could predict the future. After many scary stories and some predictions, we ended up talking about the future of the young man. This boy told us than nobody was ever able to tell him what would happen in his life. Will he find happiness here, in France? Only life will tell.
And at this point, I could not get out of my head this poem by Robert Frost “The road not taken” which shows the ambiguity of choosing a path, always hoping that this is the better one, but in the end, is there really a better path? This boy had the choice of staying with his family, living every single day with the fear of dying, and going away living all his relatives behind. He lives in France now, in a stable situation, without wondering if he will still be alive tomorrow. Nevertheless, he hasn’t seen his loved ones for years, went to hell and back by crossing many countries in poor sanitary conditions, facing hard days with other refugees coming from all around the world. Today, he also have to face the look of some native European people, who see him as a stranger, a danger, a robber. Someone with poor morality who bears low principles. He was often targeted in robbery cases. He has always been cleared.
Anyway, after finishing their tasks and cleaning the kitchen, they left. Before letting them go, I kindly ask them if they wanted cherries. The cherry tree beside my home gave a lot of fruit this year which I would not have been able to consume. I asked the young refugee if he liked cherries. Before leaving, he accepted a bag full of them and told me with a smile “I had many fruit trees in front of my house”.
Dear reader, take care.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.