Bordered By Distrust

Recollections of a political refugee

I NEED a confidential conversation with someone who can understand me, who can help me right now, I need a stroke to my soul. I need more than a conversation, I need a confession. To whom can I confess? For more than a month I've been here, in a transit camp, with people from all around the world. We have a common life, but we speak different languages. There are some of my compatriots here, but everyone has his own enigma. We greet each other, we talk to each other, we smile at each other, we're curious to know each other's life. But we are not the best of friends.

I'm thinking about all these happenings and I feel alone and sad. Tell me, why don't we open our hearts to each other with the whole of ourselves so we can have a better life together? I accept what Goethe mentioned in his writings: ``The best friend is the heart of the man.''

So, now I'm writing to you, my heart, and I'll tell you how frightened people are, here, in this little world. Once a week we're given free German lessons and you can see us, around a huge table, people from many countries. But last week, a fellow from Eritrea moved his chair away from his Ethiopian countryman and sat down on my right. Later he told me in French, whispering into my ear, that he suspects that fellow of being a spy. I sat down between these men and for two hours I felt like a strange border, a kind of ``Berlin Wall.''

A young Kurdish refugee refused to sit near a fellow Kurd. One praises Lenin, the other hates him.

In the alley I saw a lady from my country, carrying a big bag on her shoulder. She carries that bag everyday. I asked her politely: ``Are you going to leave this place?''

``No,'' she answered, looking at her bag, ``I'm not going to leave, but I have to carry it with me. In this bag I have my whole life. All my papers, all my best things are here. If someone takes it away from me, I'll be nobody, you understand? I'm afraid, there are so many people here, and we don't know each other well. Someone can enter my room while I'm out and....''

``Don't worry,'' I said, ``God will be there and he takes care of your things.''

``No sir, I don't think the way you do think, but ... listen: I heard you are a journalist? Watch out what you do, people are afraid to talk with you. They suspect you are a spy working for Bucharest.''

``I'm not a spy! I'm an honest man, searching for the truth, and I'm not afraid. Tell them, they're wrong.''

Last night, a fellow from Transylvania didn't hesitate to embarrass me, telling me that, as a journalist, I was working for a communist newspaper, and now I'm looking to serve the capitalists!

But the fellow who was talking to me was almost my age, which means that both of us are part of the first generation that grew up after World War II. As Romanians, we've been educated by the communists to be afraid of our Romanian compatriots. Now, as a new men of a new era, we are afraid to try to understand each other's feelings. Why should we carry the fingerprints of fear all over the world? Why do we behave like recently released prisoners, afraid to open our hearts, to talk about our common suffering here, in our common jail?

I'M so sad, my heart, to learn that many others in the world are frightened too. We left our country for freedom, and now we are afraid to feel this freedom. You know, my heart, how the war frightened me, as a child, when we called the Nazis the black elephants? And how frightened I was after the war, when the whole of my childhood I was scared by the communists, which we called the red elephants?

Tell me, my heart, if I go down there to the yard of this camp and call all my fellow Romanians and tell them exactly what I told you, would they listen? Would they understand? Would I convince them that I'm not a spy? But I don't need to do this. I hope God will take care of me and of our little frightened world, too.

The author's previous article, `Letters From Exile,' described his experiences in emigrating from West Germany to the United States. It was published June 8, 1989.

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