Meeting Ahmed

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November 2014, Bangkok, Thailand


Kacper walks out of his comfortable air-conditioned office. The heat hits his face, his entire body instantly becomes uncomfortable and sweaty. He does not mind the heat that much, but definitely does not like the idea of dealing with it in his suit, shirt and a tie! "Bummer!"he thought to himself. "This is going to be a reality of my life for some years to come," he reflected. He expected that moving to Bangkok from South Sudan's capital, Juba, would bear a personal price-tag. He knew that he would need to forget his 'hands-on approach' to deal with his work related projects, and would need to start dealing with issues that involve 'larger picture'. Kacper would need to push his comfort zones and start accepting a fact that he would need to be talking to politicians, diplomats, or people having power. He would need to challenge himself and find ways to reach out to consciousness of those who could realistically change things for those trapped in detention centres, refugee camps, of villages cut off from outside world due to floods, typhoons or other natural calamities. He knew that in order to be able to be taken seriously, he would need to look a bit like his partners... and that meant that Kacper would need to be 'decently dressed'. Shirts, jackets, and even suits with ties were to become Kacper's dress code. He could no longer get away withT-shirt in the office, as he used to in Juba. This would not go well in this country, not in his new position. 

He is leaving his office building, next to Bangkok's iconic Lumpini Park. He is hungry, and needs to have a quick lunch, rather than going for a proper meal with his colleagues, for which he had been invited. Kacper has to prepare himself for a meeting with colleagues from International Organisation for Migration, during which they would discuss the latest developments relating to the an exodus of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from Myanmar to Malaysia. He needs to go through three lengthy reports, and this will take considerable time, therefore he wants a quick food-grab. He decides to go to that small but cozy cafe in a shopping mall, just behind his office building. 

The automated door leading to the mall opens and Kacper is experiencing a reverse temperature shock. An icy air coming from the mall is uncomfortable. He shivers, but his body adjusts quickly after. Inside the mall, he walks down the corridor for about 30 meters, and enters a locally run cafe with Thai food, chooses a seat next to a glass window, with a view to a pavement outside. He collapses on his chair and orders himself a glass of sparkling water. "Can I get a menu card" asks Kacper in clear English, making sure that the waitress would understand. "It is nice seeing you here again" she responds enthusiastically, and smiles at Kacepr. While waiting for his water and menu, Kacper looks out of the window. "This city is certainly different from Juba," he thought to himself. "All is shiny and modern.... one does not need to worry about a frontline coming..." As he started comparing his new Bangkok life to what he had left in Juba, just few weeks earlier, a painful realisation kicked in that he would miss South Sudan. Yes, working in that Sub-Saharan country of eastern Africa was hellish and horrid, but it was also special, however strange it may appear to lots of people. Kacper certainly witnessed some unimaginable human tragedies. His experiences would always haunt him, experiences that he would never be able to get rid of. How can you forget visiting a village after it had been raided by militia soldiers who had gone through streets and had burnt houses and huts? How can you forget that smell of ash mixed with fresh blood? How can you erase an image of mutilated and naked bodies of young boys, or raped girls? All in front of you, in front of your eyes? How can you unlearn the pictures of vultures picking on flesh of people corpses spread around under the trees? How would you ever forget the odour of bodies decomposing in the African heat? How would you forget the priests at the local Catholic church praising the massacre you had been disgusted with, just a few days after it took place, merely because most of the victims were Muslims? But then, there were stories that Kacper would not like to forget, stories, which in fact, kept his faith in humanity. How many times would he be amazed by ordinary people helping their neighbours, even if they were in grave danger themselves? Why would you not be inspired by doctors, nurses or logisticians of MSF setting up their mobile hospitals and operating the survivors of massacres in tents, while literally bullets were flying above their heads?  How would you not be overwhelmed with pride, when your South Sudanese work colleague would adopt a daughter of her neighbour, who had been brutally killed and violated during an attack on her and other women in a local food market? Kacper's posting in Bangkok was supposed to help him heal and come to terms with life. His Spanish boss Marta, decided that a decade in a war zone was enough, and despite Kacper's resistance would force him to work in an environment that is easier and kinder to humans. "There is no discussion, and I am not listening to you anymore, Kacper," she decided. "You are going to Bangkok. We need you there, and you will be able to do a great job in the region," she carried on. "It is a win-win for us and for you," she concluded. 

So the fresh start it was... he was sitting at his Thai cafeteria in Bangkok, next to Lumpini Park, ordering his food and looking at the modern buildings of the metropolis. He felt safe from fears of war. He appeared well, but somehow he was not sure he really was. "Would you like your soup being spicy?" asked the waitress in her best English she could master. "No, I am one of these Europeans, not being able to handle hot taste," responded Kacper. "Please, make it mild," he added. She smiled. "You will be eating spicy food soon," she joked. "You will like it, the way we do!"

As Kacper was waiting for his meal, he looked at the street outside, and noticed a boy sitting in the payment. He was begging outside his cafe, in the shopping mall he was sitting in. No one seemed to have given much attention to the young man. Perhaps because, he was  clean, neatly dressed, and not seeking attention. Obviously, he did not appear to be successful with getting money from the people passing-by. The man was clearly distressed and his face looked sad, extremely sad, in fact. By looking at him, Kacper decided that he was not Thai. His skin was darker than majority of those in the streets of the city. His facial features suggested that he must have been somewhere from one of the South Asian nations. "He must be Indian, or Bangladeshi," Kacper thought to himself. 

People kept on passing on the pavement, while the man sat, or knelt really. His face was exceptionally friendly and there was something very attractive about it. Kacper caught himself gazing at him attentively. Perhaps subconsciously, somehow, Kacper attracted some attention from the man. He slowly looked up until his eyes crossed with Kacper's. Then he froze his movements again and would just stare at him. The man's face was  inexplicable sad. There was nothing but extreme sadness. Sadness that freaked Kacper out and made him panic. He tried salvage his afternoon and not give himself in to that strange feeling of  trouble that he felt was coming from the man. He attempted to look away from the man's face immediately, but deep inside, he knew that it was too late, that something incomprehensible was about to happen. "Why would he look at me like that?" he would wonder. "What the hell does he want from me?" he asked himself. As the waitress was approaching with his food, Kacper was determined to switch tables, hoping that he would not need to be confronted with the man anymore. He desperately did not want to have his meal, while some beggar would look at him eating. While he was getting off to the table, he gave one more look at the young man. He noticed tears at his face. The man was visibly crying. Tears shook Kacper's integrity... he knew he did not want to deal with dramas, but then it was clear that he could not just walk away. The man overpowered him and exposed Kacper's vulnerabilities... Kacper got up. "Please do not get my food away from the table," he asked the waitress while walking out of the cafeteria. "It will just be a moment, I will be back in a second," he reassured her. 

"Are you okay, mate?" Kacper asked the man, who was appeared to be waiting for his arrival. He would not answer, but just look at him with his fearful but trustful eyes. "What the hell?" Kacper hesitated. "What kind of drama am I stepping into?" he hesitated. "Are you hungry?" he asked afterwards. The man nodded his head, without speaking a word. "Okay, get up... why don't you just join me for lunch?" added Kacper with a hesitant smile. 

At that time, even if Kacper perceived that the person he spoke to, was special, he could not have suspected that one of the best and the most precious friendships of his life has just started...

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