Conflicted Destiny - Season 1 Episode 44
I checked out of my room around 11 o’clock the next morning and went straight to the Canadian Political and Refugee Asylum Administration Office. During the interview, I said I was a Liberian seeking political asylum, and that I had nowhere else to go or stay. They asked me how I had arrived in the country, and I replied that I had flown in, but didn’t have my passport anymore. The officer expressed doubt at my story. He told me that the process usually took a long time, but in the meantime, they would give me a place to stay for a few days. That was perfectly okay with me since I hadn’t come to Canada to seek political asylum, but to get on the other side of the border, into the U.S. I just needed a free place to stay. Nevertheless, if my goal of getting into the U.S. proved to be unattainable, Canada wouldn’t be such a bad alternative. It was an English- and French-speaking country and was bordered by the U.S.
I was assigned to a hostel for asylum seekers. On my first night there, I met other asylum seekers from India, Africa, and Arab countries. For some, their motivation was the free money. Apparently, once a person was granted asylum, the Canadian government would pay them a certain allowance every month and provide housing and other benefits. All of that sounded very enticing, but that wasn’t why I was there. I spent the next few days walking the streets, talking to people, trying to find connections and the best way to get across the border and into the U.S.
A few people tried to take advantage of me. First, I ran into a middle-aged black guy who invited me to his apartment and wanted me to stay with him. He told me that he would help me, but in reality he was gay and looking for a live-in boyfriend. I told him in no uncertain terms that he was barking up the wrong tree. Then I started hanging out with a bunch of Jamaican street gangs. I broke off with the gangs when I met a white middle-aged lady from Greenland. She took me to her place and tried to be nice to me, but as desperate as I was for a place to stay, I couldn’t stand her. Her skin was so pale you could see through it to her blood vessels, and she was also so skinny I thought she might be sick. She tried to persuade me to be her boyfriend, and I tried working my brain around the idea so I could at least have a place to stay. But as much as I attempted to convince myself that she was a human being, there was just no way to make her attractive in my mind. The mere sight of her repulsed me, and I couldn’t understand why I had agreed to go to her house in the first place. I had known right from the start that I could never be with her. But people do crazy things in times of desperation. I finally found the courage to tell her that I had to go. I hated to be rude or offend people, so I added the lie that I would return later. As soon as I walked out of the apartment, I thanked the heavens because I didn’t know what I would have done if I had let that lady trap me. I went back to the asylum hostel.
That evening I met someone who knew a guy who drove people across the border for a small fee. I was delighted. The next day we contacted the guy, and it was agreed that he would take me across the border within the next four days, as long as I could pay. Apparently, there was a wide range of crossing points along the U.S.-Canadian border with very lax security. The guy warned me that it was a hit-or-miss situation, though. Sometimes, one could just drive across the border without being checked at all, and at other times, all the passengers were thoroughly checked.
As I waited a few days for the guy to pick me up, I began to realize how different my life in Toronto was from my life back in Spain. In Toronto I lived like a vagabond, begging for food and shelter, whereas in Spain I lived like a king. I shared an apartment with a girl who took very good care of me and I had nothing to worry about. It dawned on me that if I eventually got into the U.S., I would be undocumented and illegal, which meant that I would have to depend on menial jobs for survival. I also wouldn’t be able to go to school and explore my full potential.
After considering all this, the idea of going to the U.S. undocumented became less attractive. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that I would be making the wrong move. As much as I wanted to go to the U.S., I didn’t want to have to spend twenty to thirty years there before legalizing my status. By this time, I had already paid the guy who would be taking me across the border and we seemed to have a solid plan in place. I was absolutely convinced that it would work, but the night before we were to make the move, I reached a decision. I would not go to the U.S. illegally. I would go the right way when the right time came. For the time being, I would go back to Spain and start all over again.
Having made that decision, I needed a way back to Spain. I called Maria Joana, crying and telling her that I was suffering in Canada and that life in Toronto was terrible. Before I could say more, she said to me, “My love, come back to me. Return to Barcelona.” Of course, she didn’t have to convince me; I had been ready to leave before I made that phone call. I told her I didn’t have money to buy a ticket, and she said not to worry, she would pay for my flight back. She sent me money the next day and I bought the ticket. Within two days I left Canada for Barcelona and met Maria Joana and Quis waiting for me at the airport.
When I returned from Canada, I became some sort of renegade. I had no job, but considered myself the mayor of Barcelona because of my vast knowledge of everything that went on there, both legal and illegal. I became a one-man gangbuster. Unable to find a job, I decided to run around Las Ramblas and Plaza Reyes, playing vigilante against pickpockets and robbers, the biggest problem in Barcelona, especially for tourists. I happened to know all the perpetrators. There was a large concentration of North Africans, especially Moroccans, in Barcelona, and some of them preferred robbing and picking pockets to legitimate work. They usually targeted tourists on Las Ramblas, whom they would track all the way from Plaza Catalonia to Plaza Colon, seeking the right moment to grab their handbags or wallets. Other times, they would go to the plazas and sit among the tourists at the cafés, and at the slightest opportunity they would grab a bag and run away. They would keep money and valuables for themselves, sell any passports they could find—usually to Ghanaians—and then take the bags to the Barcelona lost and found office. I watched them do this many times and had seen Kofi buy passports from them, and I decided I’d had enough of it. I could no longer watch unsuspecting tourists get robbed. I started patrolling the city, and as soon as I saw somebody about to get robbed, I would alert them. Sometimes they would thank me, and others, not understanding my intent, would get burned.
The Moroccans were well organized; they operated in groups and had an elaborate communications system. Once they had a target, the communication would start. One person would follow the target around the block and another person would communicate ahead with the description of the target, and they would switch at the end of each block. Once the target had been robbed, the loot would be passed through many hands. Therefore, if the police or anyone else happened to catch the actual snatcher, there would be no way to pin the crime on him since the stolen item would no longer be in his possession.
A few times I got into fights with them for disturbing their operations. Since I couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, I did run into tourists who had already been robbed, and in such cases I would tell them not to worry and assure them that I would do my best to locate their belongings. Many times I was able to retrieve people’s passports and help them find some of their things at the lost and found office. People were always grateful for my assistance, and their gratitude motivated me to keep doing what I was doing, despite the danger of being targeted or killed by the Moroccans.
I did this every day for three months, and in that time was able to understand how the robbers worked. I saw the vulnerability that existed within the Spanish society. In my opinion, those hoodlums could have become radicalized and evolved into a terrorist organization, and that could have been potentially devastating. They had become part of Spanish society and had a very good understanding of the language and culture; therefore, they could use their knowledge to exploit security gaps and cause tremendous damage.
Three months after returning from Canada, I still had no job and needed to somehow make my stay in Spain legal. Maria Joana had been very accepting of me so far, but I wasn’t sure how long she would keep it up. I had to do everything possible to get a job and a place of my own. My desperation for a job led me everywhere. During my search, I discovered that work had commenced again at my previous job at the Olympic Village and, through my contacts, I was fortunate to be hired again. The work was the same as before. The job was a piece of cake; twelve-hour shifts and more than one hundred dollars a day. I never knew I could love construction work after my experience working with my uncle, but who wouldn’t if one pretended to be working while roaming around doing nothing? We spent hours at lunch and clocked out at the end of the shift. Most of the construction firms were from England and the U.S., and the majority of the people who worked there were also foreigners, many of whom were on vacation and wanted to use the opportunity to make some easy money. The idea was that as long as the Spanish government was footing the bill, the job must be slowed down to make as much money as possible.
Who was I to complain about work ethics when everybody was scheming the system?.