Waiting for Tea

In the northern corner of the Jungle, Ali Kareemi and two of his friends stare at a black iron kettle bubbling over the blazing fire erupting from a steel garbage cylinder.

The three of us approach cautiously, not to disturb their trance. Sheepishly, we say hello. The men nod in unison, lips pursed, except Kareemi. He returns our English greeting with a smile that lets us know he welcomes the interruption.

We ask questions and his voice fills the space as he waits for water to boil for a cup of tea. It is an all too familiar scene set in an all but familiar place.

Kareemi, on the cusp of 30, fled alone from Tabriz, Iran, to seek asylum in the United Kingdom. For now, he is stuck with 6,000 others at Calais’ refugee encampment. He shows us his dingy blue and gray family-sized tent, strewn with three tattered sleeping bags, three opened cans of vegetables off to one corner, and an iron skillet caked in old wet gravy.

Ramadan has started this week and usually Kareemi would be fasting.

When he begins to explain whether he will break his fast, tears well in his weary eyes and they tremble, darting quickly towards the ground before he speaks: “We do not have enough food to have an Iftar.”

Iftar, the nightly meal that ends daytime fasting during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, is traditionally characterized by generously portioned meals with family and friends. A heart-rending discomfort lingers in the silence that suddenly engulfs us.

Finally, Kareemi lifts the giant front flap of the tent and walks about to the fire. He will wait, hoping his tea is nearly done.

— Nesa Mangal


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