I met Achmet 3 years ago in Greece. Nineteen years old, charming and with an excellent command of the Greek language, he took care of horses.
He left his home in Northern Pakistan at the age of 14 in search of a better life. After three months of adventurous travel through Afghanistan, Iran, Northern Iraq, Turkey, his unbelievable journey ended in Markopoulos near Athens.
Achmet overcame nights under open skies, hunger, thirst, warzones, two detentions in Iraqi prisons. How does a 14-year-old deal with such ordeals?
I came to find out during the past three years while working at the stables. From the first day of our encounter, Achmet asked me if I could teach him English. And so we started to converse in English.
We spent hours upon hours conversing together. Achmet eagerly learning English – me listening to all his compelling narratives. Narratives about his journey through the Near East and escaping the terror of the Taliban. Within three years, he perfected his English to the level of a “plus B.”
I gained ample knowledge about his culture. Ramadan, amongst others, became an integrated part of our friendship, to the point of my wife joining him in this ritual. The sword of Damocles as an “illegal” in Greece hung above him on a daily basis. Getting caught by the Greek Police would have meant detention center or prison. In search for solutions, I visited the Pakistani and Swiss Embassies, Greek lawyers – all to no avail. My wife suggested adopting Achmet as a further solution.
In August Achmet informed us that he was determined to migrate to central Europe to better his status. We tried to discourage him due to the risks of people smugglers and dangerous boat trips.
“You know, Mr. Rudi I just need to do this” he replied.
At the end of September we received a phone call from excited Achmet.
“Mr. Rudi, I am in Paris! The trip in a containership from Thessaloniki to Italy and to France by train went fine. Thank you so much for teaching me English. I could communicate with everyone, even with some French people in Paris.”
Beginning of October there was another call from Achmet.
“Mr. Rudi, you told me about the importance of speaking languages. I am sitting here in a French language class. I am so happy now. If I pass the French language test, I shall receive an official paper and I am allowed to stay for one year, work and get a salary”.
He admitted that he had to lie in order to get into the language school.
“I told them that I was only 19, not 22. I am sorry Mr. Rudi, but I had to lie because they admit only children up until 20-years-old into this school.”
I had to smile, remembering our discussions about common values between his Muslim and our Christian backgrounds. To tell lies, we concluded, was a no-no on both sides of the aisle. He must have felt embarrassed to admit how he got into this French language school.
He taught me a lot about his culture and life in Pakistan while I’ll continue to help him along his journey and quest for a better life.
“You know Mr. Rudi, I shall not disappoint you and you will be proud of me,” rings in my ears after our last conversation a few days ago.
Ruedi Haenssler is a Swiss citizen born in Bern. He did his military service in the Swiss Air Force as a pilot and spent 44 years with Swissair in General Management, working and representing his employer in 21 different countries. His passions include travel, reading, music and horses. He works regularly on cattle ranches in the US, trains and rides horses in Greece where he and his wife live at present.