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"Coyote" part 2
Note from the writer
Just to remind you that this is (as far as I can remember) a true story. Or at least it's based on the events that my friend 'Samir' told me when we knew each other years ago.
There are some things that I've used a bit of creative licence with (mainly with the conversations) but the events in the story all did take place, and we look at whom can you trust when you're 'running for your life' and no one seems to be listening to your plight?
I'd go as far as to say, this is the plight of the Christians in Syria right now, flooding the gates of Europe with wave after wave of people just wanting to find safety.
I've got no answers to the problem, you won't find them here, but hopefully, after reading, you might see things from another perspective, through the eyes of the one who had to run, "With just the shirt on my back!" as one refugee put it to me.
From the previous
"Tomorrow night," he replied, "Be here at this time"
They were woken early the next morning, banging and screaming through the hotel as the Police carried out a raid, they were looking for 'illegal immigrants"
"Quick, up, let's get out of here" Samir was on his feet and hurriedly throwing some clothes on, Sara was working as fast as she could, getting George up and dressed. Samir had the door to the balcony open when the door to the room crashed open, two policemen rushed in and physically pulled him from the balcony, they manhandled him onto the bed and handcuffed him, next they handcuffed Sara and dragged them out of the room, through the hotel and into a waiting Police van.
As he was being pushed into the van, demanding to know what they were being charged with, the police screamed at him to "Shut the hell up you Iraqi scum! What do you think you're being charged with, you're here illegally!"
All the comforts of home, not!
“I knew we shouldn’t trust him” Sara’s voice wasn’t angry, more of a sad resignation to their fate. They were sitting in the back of a police van heading for the Turkish-Iraqi border, the nearest point at which the Turks could get ‘rid’ of them without causing a row with someone.
“There were thirty eight people” Samir was still in some form of disbelief, he was glad he’d listened to his wife, but the sheer magnitude of what Hamid had done, he was having serious problems with, “thirty eight loaded on a plane and flown back to Baghdad.” He buried his head in his hands and began to weep.
They knew only too well what awaited those thirty eight people, a fate as gruesome as you could ever imagine, the only consolation was it would be swift, they wouldn’t even make it back to Baghdad.
A one way flight to Amman in Jordan, Jordanian troops waiting to load them onto trucks where they’d be driven to the border where Saddam’s infamous ‘Mukhabarat’ or secret police that were anything but secret and ruled by fear, they’d be waiting, machine guns loaded, as soon as they had them in custody they’d be driven out into the desert and never seen from again!
“Did he take money from them all?” Sara asked, when Samir’s brother left Iraq, during the ‘91’ Gulf war he’d gotten out as a refugee, he still hadn’t been in Australia long enough to become a sponsor, but their situation had become so bad they had to act, and the high risk ‘Coyote’ (or ‘Kachache’ as the Arabs called them) was the only way.
A novel set in the area
How much is a life worth?
“Two thousand American dollars for every one,” Samir replied, “Cash up front, now we know why, he had no intention of getting us through!”
They were both quiet, they were the only ones in the vehicle, at least in that part of it, the guards were in the warm cab at the front, they were in the back, a metal box on the chassis of a truck, almost no suspension meant they felt every slight hole in the road, (and there were lots) the temperatures were well below freezing point, and there was no heating, all they had were a few flimsy blankets that one of the police staff had given them, and each other, that was it.
They had no idea if it was day or night, all they knew was it had been daylight when they were bundled into the vehicle.
“Any idea where they'll take us?” Sara asked, it wasn't that she wasn't aware of world events, but as a woman, and a Christian she had a place in the world, and there were times when she was really glad not to have to make the decisions, not that they had any choice in the matter.
Samir was one of those who could think, and could do it ‘on his feet’. That ability had saved him from Saddam's henchmen a few times, just being able to 'out think’ them, yet stay respectful, despite the fact they were monsters could keep you alive, it was also the reason they ran, it was only a matter of time.
These people weren't smuggling people!
“The only real border crossing that's still working is Zakho,” Samir began, “but that's controlled by the Kurds, and things are really bad up there, sanctions from the West, and no electricity!”
“At least they're not going to kill us” Sara tried really hard to find something positive about the situation, “and they won't hand us back to Baghdad, that has to count for something, right?”
The Kurds were a strange people, Samir never fully trusted them, there was a long history between the Kurds and Christians, centuries ago, it was a good history, but ever since the massacres in Armenia, where a million Christians died at the hands of the Kurds and Turks, that trust was broken, now, they lived together, needing each other, but not fully trusting.
“The enemy of my enemy, is my friend.” So the old Arab proverb goes, but Saddam was the Arab, neither the Christians or the Kurds are Arab, “do they think that way?” Samir asked himself as they travelled along.
“You” the official screamed as he opened the back of the van, “on your feet, time to go” he jumped into the van.
What it looks like in Summer
Samir was struggling to get to his feet, his hands and feet so cold he couldn't feel them, his legs stiff and painful from the cold. Sara was gripping young George in a vice like grip, part terror at the being separated, and part because she was so cold the fingers no longer responded to the brain's commands, she was trying, but so cold she just couldn't do it.
The official climbed in and started manhandling her to the back, “come on, MOVE” he screamed.
“There's no need” Samir tried to intervene, he was halted by a sudden crack across the back of the head with some form of truncheon, he was fell to the floor.
Sara was crying, the terror of Samir getting injured, or even killed causing even more terror than being thrown out of the vehicle, 'God alone knows where’ in snow covering their ankles, “where are we?” She whimpered as she crawled out of the vehicle.
Samir was picked up semi conscious, and physically thrown out, only the fresh snow preventing major injuries. “Where do you think you are?” The official sneered, “you're at the border, your new home is that way.” He pointed out into the blackness, “now get moving, get out of my sight!”
It took a full ten minutes for Samir to regain his senses. Ten minutes of falling snow, but at least the wind wasn’t blowing, that at least was a small blessing.
Light was just beginning to show in the eastern sky, that told them they must have driven through the night, it had been daylight when they were bundled into the truck, though what time of day neither of them had any idea!
Zakho is one thousand six hundred and ninety kilometers, or just over a thousand miles, all in the back of a police van, no heating, in the middle of winter with snow and freezing temperatures, yte they’d made it, ‘Only God knows how?’ Samir thought to himself, but here they were. It wasn’t the destination they hoped for, but right now, any destination that didn’t involve getting killed was a good sign!
They slowly struggled to their feet, and approached the customs post, they were just about to enter the Turkish side, a few moments of warmth before the freezing ‘no man's land’ was looked forward to.
There were trucks lined up five deep, the drivers camped in makeshift tents at the side of the road, having spent almost as uncomfortable a night as they had in the freezing weather. Each truck had a few sacks of either potatoes or onions on the back of the truck, just the kind of things the locals would have no idea how to cook, but the size of the fuel tanks on the vehicles were massive, some of them easily took a couple of thousand liters! Samir had worked in the motor industry, and he could scarcely believe his eyes, he’d never seen vehicles with such massive fuel tanks!
“You” they heard a voice shouting, they stopped, half scared that they were being called back, that the turks had changed their minds, and were going to send them to Saddam anyway!
“See those people there” the guard was actually talking to a truck that had just cleared the customs post and was heading into Iraq, “Put them on the back of your truck and take them across!”
“What?” the driver asked, he was almost as worried as they were, the last thing he needed was to upset the guards, he’d just spent a week waiting to get through the checkpoint, upsetting them could mean spending another week when they cancel his permit, he had a family back in home in Diyarbakir, last thing he wanted was trouble either here, or on the Iraqi side, and extra passengers could be just that!
“You heard me!” the guard snarled, Now don’t argue!”
'Back in the day'
A friend in need!
The place looked bleak, just a seeming concrete hut, with a huge, but totally blacked out building behind. Not one light in the whole complex, just weary guards huddling round the remnants of what used to be a brazier, it's embers dimly glowing.
The truck pulled up close to the hut, just as two of the guards began to saunter over, they looked totally unlike any guard from a conventional customs post you can imagine. Full beards down as far as the middle of their chests, short curly hair and baggy trousers tied together with string that tightened as they went down the leg almost to the point of being a 'drainpipe' at the end, traditional Kurdish wear that said it all, they were the dreaded 'Peshmerga' the scourge of the Iraqi Army
The driver wound his window down and waved a piece of paper at them, “I'm bringing vital food supplies in,” he yelled at the guards, “I need to be on my way!”
“Then what the heck are you stopping for?” one of the guards shouted back, it was time for the Turks to start letting the trucks through, but they didn't get stopped on the Iraqi side, not on the way in that is, on the way out was a different story, everyone had to pay the ‘backshish’ on the way out.
Samir opened the back of the truck and began to climb out, the guard wasn’t even fazed by it, he’d seen it too many times before.
“They made me bring them” the driver screamed panicking, thinking that the guard might think he’d done something illegal. “The guards over the other side” he was frantic.
The guard stopped him with an upheld hand, “Shut up” then turning to Samir he asked, “Where are you from?”
“Please sir,” Samir addressed the guard, but turned to help sara from the truck, the guard himself slung his weapon and stepped up to help, a few of the others had seen what was going on and came to help. “We’re from Baghdad, went to Istanbul to try and get out” he began to reply.
“That’s all I need to know” the guard cut him off, he held up his arms to take little George off the back of the truck, “The office doesn’t open for another hour, but you can stay with us for now, there’s hot food and Tea over with the others, come, I’ll take you”
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"— Statue of Liberty
From the author
They say that a 'friend in need, is a friend in deed'
Samir and Sara were in desperate need, but the first sign of compassion they saw was from someone who was traditionally their enemy, a Kurdish Peshmerga!
It's been about twenty years since Samir told me the story, but as far as I can remember, the main events are true to what happened.
My purpose for this story is that next time you see someone who's newly arrived in your country, you'll take a moment to think of the journey they might have had to make, one that is filled with fear and danger all of the way
At the base of the Statue of Liberty it reads
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless,tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The place where I now live prides itself on being founded on a 'bi-cultural' treaty that welcomes the foreigner, (It welcomed the original settlers)
Let's try and live that out.