Friday 27 February 2015

The Camp

by Diana Gitau

There were large tents in the middle of the compound surrounded by a high electric perimeter fence with barbed wire. The main gate was the only entrance and exit point and it was heavily guarded by the military with machine guns and two guard dogs. They kept telling us that we were not prisoners but at the same time, they emphasized that we should never even attempt to leave the compound. I am not sure how different this is from a prison. 

We wake up every day at 6:00am and have breakfast in one of the tents with long wooden tables and benches. Other meals are lunch at 1:00pm and dinner at 6:00pm.A guard stands and watches at all times. They still insist that we are not prisoners.

I have to stay at the camp for as long as it takes my embassy to get me out of this god forsaken country. You see, this is what they call a deportation camp. I was brought here a week ago in the cover of darkness. They didn’t allow me to carry my personal items from my hotel room. In addition, my passport was taken away from me.

The air around the camp is heavy with the smell of desperation and death. I had seen people brought in on their death beds. If you are seriously sick especially with any ailment considered communicable like tuberculosis, you get deported. There were other people who were at Halushi illegally having sneaked into the country by the sea. An oil rich country was a dream come true for most people. I saw a man at the camp who had lost his mind, it was rumored that he had amassed massive wealth at Halushi but his business rivals had found a way to get him deported. The camp was where they dumped people like us.

I don’t want to leave this wretched country. It’s not because I’m enchanted by its scenery, riches, great people or wonderful life that I had here. Leaving this hell will mean leaving Zuhura behind. I keep thinking of the day they took her away from my hotel room. I remember her eyes when she looked back at me, sad and defeated. They roughly pulled her away in handcuffs and reserved to her fate, she didn’t fight. 

In Halushi, they have both regular and moral police and we were found guilty by the moral police. I haven’t spoken to her since that evening. I wonder what they did to her. Halushi is home for her so unlike me, she will not get deported. I had no idea how the laws of the moral police operated.

I met Zuhura four months ago. She was a nurse at the hospital where I was volunteering. The first time that I saw her, I felt something that I had never felt before. Something inside of me stirred and when she smiled at me, my heart leapt.
“Is it a cultural norm from where you are from to stare like that?”

She teased and I stood there like an idiot with my mouth agape lost at the sound of her voice. She spoke English with a tinge of Arabic. Something about her made me want to learn Arabic so I could seduce her in her own language. 

I felt like an idiot when I realized that I was staring. I quickly mumbled something and rushed off. However, I was lucky to have other encounters like that with Zuhura after that. After a while, we started meeting at the cafeteria during our breaks. If our shifts ended at the same time, we would walk out together. 

“What are you two whispering about?” 

Jack was another doctor who like me was volunteering at Halushi. Despite the fact that we had a lot in common, I couldn’t stand him. It was obvious that he considered himself a ladies’ man. He shamelessly hit on me refusing to take no as an answer

“You need a man like me to protect you.”A chauvinist no doubt.

 I disliked him with every fiber of my being.. Unfortunately, I could saw other women who were impressed by his charisma. He was always surrounded by giggling women. It seems I was the only one immune to his charms so I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t let me go.

“Would you like to have coffee sometime?” It was Jack again. 

This time I was walking to my hotel. Zuhura was working the late night shift so I left her behind.

“I am in a bit of a rush.”

I tried blowing him off but unlike other days, I felt him pull my arm at my elbow in a not so gentle way. Startled, I looked up at him expecting his usual goofy grin but was met with a cold stare. 

“You and Zuhura seem to be getting really cozy.” I could feel his breathe on my neck as he whispered, drawing closer to me.

“It’s an offense you know, Halushi does not permit that kind of friendship if you know what I mean.”

I felt my body break out in a cold sweat. I knew what he meant, I had been told over and over again. Not only is any form of homosexuality treated as a criminal offense, but the penalty was quite harsh. I had heard stories of public flogging and just a year before a two men had been stoned to death after being suspected to being gay. I knew all these but at the same time, I never planned on falling in love with a woman at Halushi. Actually, I had never been in love with a woman before.

Although, I have always been attracted to other women, I have never acted on it. I have had boyfriends since 16. At 23, I married Luke and got stuck in a childless union that went on for four years. I was never happy with Luke. He was a wonderful man but something was lacking. I found myself crying most of the times even though couldn’t explain the source of my unhappiness. I thought it was Luke so I had an unfulfilling affair that didn’t last a month. That is when I left Luke and decided to become a volunteer across the globe and start out afresh.

Falling in love with Zuhura was the most natural thing. It was in the way that she smiled, laughed and talked. It was also in the way that she made me feel like the most attractive woman in the world. She was exotic and so was everything about her. She loved jazz music, black coffee, colorful rags, black and white films, abstract art and sandals. I have never met someone passionate about sandals before. Zuhura was the most interesting person that I have ever met. She also challenged me to be the woman that I was meant to be. I remember how I used to dress in jeans, t-shirts and boots every single day.

“What would your wardrobe look like if weren’t limited by budget, who is the women that you admire…”
She often challenged me. With time, I let my hair grow longer, traded my jeans for beautiful long skirts and I realized that I was now happier seeing the woman in the mirror. I liked her style. I explored with music and found out that I liked the classics although for the past four years I had always listened to opera, Luke’s music. That was the amazing thing about being with Zuhura. She never tried to change me to what she wanted; instead she encouraged me to be myself.

 I wasn’t living until I met her.

“So… how about that coffee and perhaps the three of us can be friends?”

That statement revolted me more than anything else about Jack. I felt my throat tightening and for a second, I couldn’t breathe. My eyes burned with unshed tears. I wasn’t going to share my Zuhura and this I firmly informed Jack.

“You will regret this Linda!”

I got home and sent Zuhura a text message. I just wanted to hear from her. I knew that talking to her would help me forget Jack and his vile comments. An hour later she was at my hotel room with a few beers and takeout dinner. 

We drank, watched an old Charlie Chapman movie and started dancing. Holding Zuhura in my arms and taking in the scent of her hair felt like heaven to me. At that moment, I forgot about Jack, the law and everything else. My life with Luke felt like another lifetime, with her is where I belonged.

I was still holding her when they busted into my room. I knew it was moral police by the white hypocritical uniform that they wore. Frankly, it felt like they tore my heart out of my chest as well. I struggled tried to get to her but this burly man acted as a barricade between me and Zuhura. I looked over his shoulder as she was taken away, stared until a curtain fell over my eyes as tears ran down my face. They tore her from my arms and that was the last time that I ever saw her.

I didn’t want to leave Halushi, not without Zuhura. However, there was nothing that I could do than sit in the camp and wait for the dreaded day when they would take me away from her completely and ban me from ever coming back.  Nobody seemed to notice my bleeding heart on the ground; they stepped on it and trampled it under their feet. I didn’t care anymore since there was really no point of living if I couldn’t be with the one who taught me how.

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