Last week Zaid Wadia and I stopped in at Fratelli’s Pastry Shop in Quincy, Mass to reward ourselves for maneuvering a 55 gallon drum of organic, expeller pressed oil into my Volvo.No pulled muscles or broken toes, although the oil was sloshing ominously back there and that thing weighed about 450 pounds.I am enjoying the adventure of starting a granola company though I confess I get nervous about testing the infrastructure of our family vehicle. I get nervous about a lot of things. One great thing about Zaid and his brother Maitham—both refugees from Iraq who now work for PGP—is that they are marvelously comfortable with adventures. Zaid was clearly having a good time.
“I have a funny story for you,” Zaid said.
I had ordered coffee and Zaid hot chocolate. Both cups had tear-tab lids.Zaid said that the first time he’d used one of these lids he didn’t understand how the chocolate was supposed to come out and it had spilled.He was in Athens, Greece, wearing a new suit with a new white shirt, and en route to the airport to make his second attempt at an escape to Sweden.He laughed and demonstrated the size of the spill on his chest.“Everywhere.Like this.”
Zaid and his brother Maitham spent 3 months in Greece as part of an adventure that included being jammed with 16 others in a van across the Turkish border, a middle-of-the-night voyage over open water in a tiny inflatable boat, and four days of literally round-the-clock bar-hopping on a remote Greek island with vigilant local authorities and no cheap hotels.They’d taken turns dozing and keeping look-out in the back rooms of bars.The voyage to Athens was another 14 hours.There the “hotel” was one of the dirtiest places he’d ever been.A “zero-star” hotel he called it.Zaid has a great sense of humor and his English is getting to the point where he can express it.And yet, after all that, their fake passports weren’t good enough; they got pulled out of line by airport security and escorted to jail.
Their injunction, upon release, was to return to Iraq in 30 days.Instead, they returned to the zero-star hotel.They visited a relative in the north of Greece who gave them more money. They called their wives and parents back in Syria and told them they were pressing on.They switched guides to someone who was more adept at faking id’s and passports.All this took 3 months and more of their life savings.Their new guide required them to buy suits, glasses, and laptop bags.This time Zaid could tell that the ids looked genuine.Zaid was now Belgian and Maitham was Italian.Zaid pulled out his shiny new RI driver’s license to show me.“Just like this,” he said.“Plastic.”
When he spilled the chocolate, the guide got upset. He’d already gathered all their remaining clothes and possessions mailed them ahead to Madrid.There wasn’t much time to shop for a shirt.I suspect he mostly didn’t like the idea of helping someone who was too nervous to make it past the police.
“Were you nervous?” I asked.
Zaid grinned and pointed at the coffee lid.For people who’ve been through what they’ve been through, both Zaid and his brother have incredibly open faces.They’re curious and friendly, interested in other people and new situations, seemingly glad to be in America despite what they left and lost.This is part of what I love about working with refugees:it’s a daily reminder that we—our city, our country, and despite all our own problems—can still be a place of hope and refuge and opportunity for people who feel lucky to be alive.My feeling is that now is an important a time as any in our country’s history to be welcoming refugees—and for our own sake.We have a lot to learn from them.
By the time he spilled chocolate on his shirt, Zaid understood that Greece didn’t deport refugees back to Iraq. They’d made friends with the jailer enough for him to wish them better luck the next time.At least their lives weren't in danger.The worst that would happen would be another week in jail and a few more months preparing for their next attempt.So they found a public restroom where he washed his shirt in the sink and dried it under the hand-dryer and headed for the airport.
“No problem,” Zaid laughed.“Good as new.”
A big welcome to anyone who arrived at this site via our new QR code.I’ll fill you in on more of Zaid and Maitham’s story next week.In the meantime, check out the rest of the blog and our on-line store.While you’re at it, why not support job training and opportunity for refugees in Rhode Island by enjoying or sending a gift of some of the best granola on the planet?