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Refugee Nation ~ Escape Artist in Tanzania

For the past couple of years, I have been a migrant worker in Refugee Nation. Moving from place to place, working alongside these people as we build health facilities, install water systems and try to figure this whole place out. Currently I work in a large established, mostly Burundian and Congolese area called Nyarugusu Camp, in north western Tanzania.

Refugee Nation is a fascinating place to work. Its populations and locations are interesting, fluctuating constantly, tossed around by world events and interventions that will keep your head turning with problems, and hopefully solutions. Its citizens are a mash of languages, religions and ethnicities, with their own stories and cultures. Its history is lost and made daily, with new expulsions and integrations occurring in every part of the world, seemingly every day.

As such, Refugee Nation is transitory and at times, translucent. This is a nation of comers and goers, who could leave at any moment, or simply disappear, overlooked by everyone else. But Refugee Nation will never establish itself anywhere. In its very nature, it is repulsed by the idea of borders, well, of its own at least. Institutions may be established in some localities, but any kind of national building would be against, if they cared to establish one, a national motto or credo.

Now, let me tell you about the people of Refugee Nation, at least what I have seen thus far. It is a nation composing of entrepreneurs, financiers, grafters, smugglers, pan handlers, tinkers, tailors, farmers, creators and others, for the challenges of daily life require the skills of many. These professions, as its citizens, are also largely transitory. One does not simply lay down tracks of his/her occupation, but dabbles in many, sometimes adding to resumes which may possess past university degrees and doctoral theses. It’s necessary though, to survive in a place like this.

And this breeds brilliant resilience. I have seen kids on their own, handmade bikes, laughing and screaming as they race down crowded market hills. Musicians strumming guitars made from aluminum oil cans and fishing wire. People selling resoled, restitched and relaced shoes. Soccer balls from plastic bags, laced with intricate webbing made from floss, grass and mosquito nets. 30 year old generators running incredibly complex and dangerous second hand wiring to 20 year old speakers blasting the beloved music from the lost homelands.

The homelands, always a touchy subject. And the host-lands, always a touchy subject as well. And the eventual homelands too. Sometimes everything feels like a touchy subject.

To be honest, no one in Refugee Nation wants this nation to actually exist.

Because Refugee Nation is an unsettling place ultimately. The instability rattles futures so much, that the pursuit of stability, and thus a future, will never die. And this is why the people will keep moving to find a new homeland, to finally check in somewhere permanently. It is why they will continue to brave dangerous seas, storming shores and borders only to hope to assimilate into an accepted normalcy. A normalcy which simply involves a safe home, a university or a job where they can do whatever it is that they want to do.

If you visited, after getting over the poor shelters, the sometimes unavailable water, food and other resources, you may be surprised. People are incredibly welcoming, smiling and friendly, it truly looks as if it is “not so bad”. But it’s a trick, not the welcoming part, but the “not so bad” part. Refugee Nation’s precarious nature generally breeds amazing sea legs, able to take any rock, roll or tip that may come across. Its citizens, when I stumble and struggle to operate in this place, look incredibly composed and stable. But do not be fooled, they are desperate. Desperate for the chance to have the opportunity for their goals to be achieved, just as we all are.

I think I will continue to migrate to new states and localities of what I have named Refugee Nation a few paragraphs ago. It is an exciting place, with amazing people, challenging experiences and strong bonds. I feel inspired here, by the ingenuity and resilience it requires, and by the people around me. Wherever they migrate too ultimately, I am certain that nation is all the better for it. And the great thing about a transitory people is that if I am lucky enough, I will bump into them again somewhere. I just hope I am the only one still wandering when it happens.

~ Mirno Pasquali


Bio – Mirno Pasquali has been working in Nyarugusu Camp since July of 2015. Previously, he has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. You can find more of his writing at https://medium.com/@Mirno_Pasquali and photos at http://robertpm0101.wix.com/mirnopasqualiphoto

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