It two in the morning and finally, everyone in the room is asleep. They are so quiet that the only sound I can hear is the public buses roaring along the street. I am alone; since I went to bed I have not slept. I feel so tired – even my muscles are aching as if I walked around all day. My head is heavy and exhausted. I have been thinking hard all these hours, but I can’t understand my thoughts—they are all illusions of paradise. I am trapped in a “pipe-dream world”. I have been in this world many times and now I am addicted to it. It is like my home, and there is no way I can escape from it. Every day I am engulfed in this torture of the mind. I start thinking of a good life full of comfort and riches, shared with a beautiful wife and children. Then I see our home and our life there. I am in the sitting room, reading my newspaper, while my wife watches an opera film, and the children play on the floor. The children are laughing happily with their mommy smiling at me. Every day I go through these fantasies for several hours, round and round. To me they are real and as clear as crystal water – I call this my FIRST WORLD. But I am only an asylum-seeker here in Hong Kong, and this world, no matter how real it seems, remains only a dream.
In January 2007 I arrived here, knowing nobody and nothing about this place. The tall buildings and streets of Hong Kong were my only friends. Being an asylum seeker you are a social misfit. Immediately once you claim this identity, even if you are from the most civilized, modern society, you are considered untouchable. Laying in my bed, I am still imagining my future family, when, without warning, the unthinkable happens. I find myself in another world as if I have changed identity – I have slipped from one dream to another. No longer imagining the future, I am wading through the hell of my past. The events of this world take place in a script —each around five minutes long and independent from each other. I dream mostly of my youth; about my brothers and my mother when we were young. When I am dreaming, I can see I am not in the physical world, but I always fail to convince myself of this. Though you know it is a dream, you are a part of it. You play the game together — if somebody is chasing you, you don’t say “it is just a dream”, you run away from them. Often I dream of horrible death. I dream of my own death, my home surrounded with graves. When I am dreaming it is as if I am at war with evil spirits. I feel tired, very weak and my heart beat increases, pounding in my chest painfully. This takes me a few hours and though the others sharing my room call it a nice sleep, I call it hell!
Our room has no hot water, some windows are smashed, the floor broken. Bedbugs are common and it is our duty to make sure we kill them when we come across them. We are their neighbors and also their prey. I sometimes wonder whether the people who sent us here really consider us to be human. But remember, this is our paradise compared to what we left behind. Finally it is morning. My brothers are up, as usual, preparing seek assistance from churches and NGOs. I wake up in the prison of my bed – I am now in the physical world, which I call my Third World. Here I challenge the two worlds I have traveled through during the night. Now I am combining the three worlds together, asking myself whether I am Dead or Alive. I walk weakly toward the toilet, as if I am sick or drunk. I quickly take a cold shower, thinking nothing, for we are programmed. I am must hurry to find some breakfast as hunger sets in. I also need a few dollars for my mobile phone in case Immigration or the UNHCR call me. This is Asia where poverty helps us to masters pain and suffering.
This flat has no lift so I must run down the stairs as if I am walking through the tunnel of tombs. Heading to TST I walk for over an hour depending on the timing of the traffic lights. With me along the pavement are the citizens of Hong Kong, who always tell us they don’t need us here. They say things like, “You need to go back to your country! We don’t need you here! You cannot work here!” On the bus or MTR, if there are three empty seats and you sit down, people will rather stand than sit down next to you. Recently some Africans from my church went to a Catholic church nearby—that priest called our pastor to say “Don’t send black people to our church!” In the real world, I can still sense some forces from my dreams. I don’t know whether I am going crazy, but the voice is very clear. It’s the voice is of my mother, calling me by my native name. The voice is coming from behind me, as if it is a deep vibration in my nerves. This is the second time I have experienced it. I haven’t phoned my parents for nearly three years. I know they miss me but I don’t want to think about them, because I really get a panic attack wondering if I will ever see them again. I see this panic in my friends’ dry eyes, an empty look of somebody who has lost hope. But if you lose hope, then what do you have left to make you human? My eyes remain locked on the floor as I shuffle my feet like a robot, wondering why were we born to suffer …
It’s now nearly noon – time to go to for lunch at a church, where I sense pointless hypocrisy. Even these charities who help us are “in business” and they call us “clients”. After sitting there for the forced Bible service (no preaching = no meal!) we get lunch, usually boiled rice and chicken wings. From here I go see my other friends; they have already gone crazy, forced into idleness by a society that doesn’t care, gossiping the whole day. I call them friends, but truly they are competitors—we are all competing for survival here, for the limited assistance we get from NGOs or churches. I don’t trust them, but they are the only people I talk to, as I don’t have anybody else. If you don’t talk to people you will lose your mind, you go insane without even knowing it, because isolation kills your sense of reality and community. At 6pm, it is getting dark. I head through the streets toward my tiny room to complete the asylum seekers circuit. I have been doing this since I arrived and God forbid that I will stay here any longer. But what are the odds? What are my options? Slowly I shuffle toward my bed. I’m not going to cover myself because it’s very hot. I lay flat on my bed; then, as if I was praying, I cross my hands over my chest. There’s only one comfort now, the comfort of fantasies. That’s what I enjoy most, that’s what makes me happy. My First World … I make it real, so real, that it makes me happy and sometimes I find myself laughing out loud. But it’s eating me up like cancer. I know this, but I don’t want to leave, as it’s the only place that makes me happy. Still I know only my spirit can live here where I see the unseen. I know I’m awake, trapped, struggling in a parallel reality where there is no soul contact. I’m alone – suffering an anxiety so deep that nobody should endure it!
[Editor’s note: If you read this far, you will be interested to know Mr. Nyanbega fled ethnic cleansing, masked by the evil of religious persecution. He was was brutally tortured, tied up and forced to witness his own brother and sister being burnt alive by their captors. Weeks later he managed to escape and tell his story.]