Overseas Chronicle: The Rome and Amsterdam Experience
By Joel Savage
Everyone has objectives, but not everything goes as planned for those who want to achieve something unique in society. I am one of them. I missed part of my education after the sudden death of my father. It occurred to me that if I really wanted to further my education, the only option was to travel to Europe. I wasn’t greedy, thinking that Europe makes one rich overnight, but I had an idea that if I succeeded to integrate legally, I could follow my dreams since they have the best educational facilities and good teachers.
Upon arrival in Europe, I realized that going to a foreign country could be very difficult in regards to financial aspects and visa applications, but nothing was more difficult than gaining legal immigrant status in a foreign country. Like Paul’s missionary journey to Rome, I found myself sleeping in rough places, including the central train station and a deserted food factory. Rome might be a strong Catholic city but they view foreigners, especially blacks, as people from an unknown, strange planet.
At the mission houses amongst other foreigners, we continuously witnessed the abuse of young boys by the priests and the constant stealing of money from our letters that passed through the mission’s office, because we had no resident address. In Rome, I went to a school run by the ‘Caritas’ [Charity] under the umbrella of the Vatican City. I could read and write Italian very well but that didn’t help to facilitate my status as a legal immigrant. The continuous degradation, racism, and discrimination forced many immigrants from Africa to leave Rome as illegal immigrants, but I stayed hoping for the best; however the situation never changed.
After working as a house boy to an Italian journalist, I saved enough money and moved to Amsterdam, leaving behind a year-old child and my wife in Africa. Holland is a multi-cultural country and far ahead in development and integration. Unfortunately, the hard immigration policies and liberal laws on soft drugs have encouraged others to do hard drugs, thereby taking drastic effect on many people including illegal immigrants. I saw the disastrous effects of drugs on many, but they turned blind and pretended they didn’t know what was going on because free sales of drugs is a like a catalyst which sustains the tourism industry.
This was something I wanted to avoid, and the only way to prevent falling victim to depression and drugs was to fight for my documents after almost four and half years as an illegal immigrant. One thing I didn’t understand was the drug issue. The Dutch drug force in the past and present had successfully arrested drug couriers in the city and Schiphol, the airport, but the coffee shops sell drugs, including marijuana, to customers without impunity. Who then supplies drugs to the coffee shops? This was a question I never found the answer to.
I never encourage crime or violence. I fear these two acts, and therefore, try my best to live a clean life. But in order to upgrade my status to legal resident, I was involved in a serious crime, leading me behind bars. A Surinamese woman collected money from me with the promise of helping me get my papers. I didn’t know her but I trusted her. According to the police, she was a criminal preying on illegal immigrants. I was thrown behind bars for several days while my passport was with the immigration police. It was likely they were preparing my documents to be deported, as I foresaw my deportation to Africa to be very close.
One day while behind bars, I had no bath and food for the whole day, even though every day the cell was opened for me to wash myself and be served food. The next day when they served me food, I asked them why they had failed to give me food the day before. The officer thought I was joking, but he quickly realized I was speaking the truth. According to him I was a very quiet person, therefore, the officers on duty failed to realize that there was someone in the cell. Because of this mistake, they gave back my passport and set me free. Today I am a married Belgium national with three children.