The New York Times reports of refugees “piling” up at the border between Italy and Switzerland. At the border between Italy and Switzerland it is also time for the Locarno film festival , two weeks of screening of films from all over the world which takes me back to one particular year, three years go when i had stayed at a small cheap hotel just outside Locarno with the dog, sneaking her into the film festival in a large bag. It was in this cheap little hotel that had served coffee and bread and jam for breakfast, where i had slept in a bunk bed for the first time since many years, my dog had run into a room where the door had been left open in the floor below, straight into the arms of a toddler, baby and young Syrian mother who was staying the hotel courtesy of the Swiss authorities who had let her stay for the past eight months as a refugee. Fatima ,she later told me, had been a double refugee since she had escaped Saudi Arabia where her Saudi husband had moved to after having completed his studies in Syria. Fatima was not used to the Saudi way of life, and did not deal well with the fact that her young husband whom she had met while studying at the university had taken a second wife and had children with that woman too. Fatima was a modern Syrian woman with other ways of seeing the world than as a second wife living in a culture that had too many rules regarding how women and girls should dress, covering them from head to foot etc.
The afternoon i had met Fatima i had skipped the Locarno film festival and had spent the evening listening to Fatima’s story long into the night. Fatima’s life dilemmas seemed more interesting than any film i could have watched in the festival and whatsmore Fatima would be part of the first influx wave of refugees that would become a tsunami that would sweep Europe in a debate of humanitarian needs versus national needs.
I left my dog with Fatima and her toddler daughter and baby, my dog was used to children and the children were delighted to have an amusement, something to do after spending long hours in the hotel and the area though it was a beautiful place, there was still not a lot they could do due to a limited budget.
In the Locarno film festival i met many people and had interesting talks but none were as irritating as the retired swiss journalist who upon learning i was from Israel began to preach to me her ideas , not that i had asked her, about how badly the Palestinians have been treated by Israel ..when i had told her about Fatima, the refugee from Syria who is being deported by the Swiss to Germany and would have liked to have stay in Switzerland since her daughter had already begun speaking Italian and wanted to stay in the region, the retired journalist whose brother , she said, had worked for the red cross and witnessed , she said, how badly the Palestinians had been treated, had said that was none of her business…neutrality apparently is a matter of nationality ..
I returned to the little hotel , went to the local Supermarket and loaded the cart with fruit and healthy food for Fatima and her children, who had lived off coffee, bread and jam and whatever they could offer, which was not much , from the budget they had . I added some drawing paper and colors for the little girl . Fatima was very grateful and had her Saudi husband with whom she had communicated through Skype thank me as well.
I wish i had the talent to make a film about Fatima and her children, it would have been just the beginning. Switzerland is an island that takes only the amount of refugees the country feels they can handle. I do see both sides of the coins since the Swiss are not used to immigration, they do not have the colonial past of some of the European countries like France, UK, Holland, nor the Turkish mass immigration the Germans had taken in as cheap labor force decades ago, the swiss culture is of an introverted shy aloof nature and so taking in masses refugees seems to be unlikely , and on top of that one needs to add that many of the immigrants that have crossed the border are NOT living in the brutal civil was Syria is but seemed to have jumped on the wagon and are seeking to improve their social economical situation rather than escape the fate of being killed in bombings and fights between the government and rebel forces and ISIS.
I used to love watching films and visiting other cultures this way, going into the mind sets of diverse human predicaments but since that summer in Locarno i have looked at the film industry in much more lucid eyes , having lost my respect for the medium though i still believe in the power films have to expose certain realities.
When i used to have a Facebook account Fatima who had befriended me on Facebook, used to post photos and we would remark on each other’s photos but things have changed since then, i have deleted my personal Facebook account, so i can no longer see what is happening with Fatima but last time i saw a post of hers on Facebook, the children were thriving in a small community in Germany, three hours away from the Swiss border and so this film is over though they are still in my thoughts , especially nowadays and i can definitely testify to the influence the meeting had on my life and my point of view .
I remember telling Fatima that European men too take multitudes of women besides their one wife, the only difference between them and Moslem men who marry several wives being is that the European men do not marry the other women , well at least not at the same time.
The real life meeting with Fatima meant a lot to me, it helped solidify my view that we are all human beings struggling to survive somehow, we just have different strategies and opinions fed to us by society but we really should all try to get along.