A look into the life of Rafiq A. Tschannen, your Associate Chief Editor of The Muslim Times. (Benghazi and back to Amman, and on to Switzerland and Indonesia)
At the time Benghazi was the new Headquarter of the ‘Provisional Government of Libya’ (supported by the USA, UK, France etc). The IOM Chief of Mission was supposed to be in Tripoli, but at the time of my arrival was absent. I reached there in July 2011.
Our office was in a nice villa in Benghazi, there were two houses in the compound, in one were our living quarters and in the other the office. We even had an indoor swimming pool. The house owner had a young wife and wanted to please her with it. (I did not work. His father was ill and he took him to Europe for treatment. The wife complained that you are only looking after your father and do not care for me. She went on to say: It is either your father or me. So he decided for the father, after all he had been with him his whole life and with his wife just for a few months…)
Benghazi was peaceful. The only shots that were fired in the town were fired in celebration when Col. Ghaddafi was killed. Silly citizens of Benghazi! They did not know that if they considered life under Ghaddafi to be ‘in the frying pan’, then they now jumped ‘from the frying pan into the fire’. Consequent developments in Libya have shown that there really was nothing to celebrate about the death of Col. Ghaddafi.
The IOM project at the time was to assist foreign workers, mainly from Africa, to return home. As the African workers came to Libya during the time of Ghaddafi they were considered ‘friendly to the old regime’ and consequently were now no longer welcome. (A few Africans also fought on Ghaddafi’s side and therefore now all Africans got the blame).
In addition not only the Africans run away, but for instance also all Philippine nurses from the Government Hospitals. When IOM offered ‘free trips home’ all of them wanted to avail of this opportunity.
IOM only facilitates ‘voluntary return’. In the case of Africans in Libya the question would be: Please sign here that you are returning voluntary, or would you like to go to jail instead?
I did attend a funeral of a brother of one of my staff, who had fought against the Government forces. It was hoped that the new Government would take care of orphans and widows of ‘freedom fighters’. At the time it was not foreseen that Libya will descend into the total chaos it did in the meantime. Some worries of course were already there (with me anyway) as armed guys seem never to be keen to just lay down their arms when told to do so.
As I was in Benghazi and not on the front I cannot say exactly what was going on there and for instance who supplied the arms and ammunitions and what foreign guys were around at the front.
I can just recount that one of the friends of one of my staff ones met me and he had a satellite phone from Qatar. He offered me to call anyone in the world for free, courtesy of Qatar. These phones were handed out to the resistance against Ghaddafi so that they could coordinate their operations (and be loyal to whatever Qataris would suggest or demand). (Small bribe for small people). I do not know for how long these phones worked.
Among the UN agencies just about everyone was there. All agencies wanted to demonstrate that they were present. None of them actually had a project (besides IOM) or any funding, but by showing off their presence they thought it would be easier to get funding from various Governments.
Some Britishers also floated around. They had a Private Security Company and were offering services for de-mining and disarming. I suppose they were not successful as the situation of ‘arms all over the place’ is now worse than ever.
Well, I felt that my old boss in Cairo deceived me a bit. He did not tell me that in fact he had advertised the position of ‘Head of Benghazi office’ and I learned indirectly that my replacement was coming soon. This was not a very nice way to find out. Anyway, my stay in Benghazi was therefore short-lived. By the end of September 2011 I returned to Amman.
Ah, Libya! Poor Libya! Col. Ghaddafi somehow managed to keep the country and the various tribes and people united. Dumping arms and ammunitions to every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Ali, Ahmad and Mahmud) ‘the West’ achieved what I suppose they wanted to achieve: total chaos. Destabilization and Destruction.
But, again, as Dr. Tariq Ramadan said during an Al Jazeera interview: “We are being destabilized because we are destabilizable just as we were colonialized because we were colonializable”.
The Americans, French and behind them the Israelis continued their plan of ‘divide and conquer’. May be they do not need to conquer, destabilization and destruction is sufficient for them. At least they have ensured that Col. Ghaddafi did not lead the oil producing nations in abandoning the dollar as trade currency and replace it by a ‘gold dinar’ currency.
And now I was finally retired.
Well, that is now difficult to write and somewhat embarrassing. Normally we should prepare ourselves for retirement and plan ahead. Somehow I failed to do that. IOM councils ‘returnees’ (rejected asylum seekers), but somehow did not consider it important to council retirees. Ah well, we are / were great officers and we should know best.
I found myself continuing to live in Jordan (for the time being). My main reasons, or, ok, excuses were: (1) my two wives could not agree where to go. (2) my daughter Nafisa was in High School and it was not so easy to change ‘mid-term). (3) My junior wife’s sister was also staying with us and was mid-way in a University course.
Regarding my two wives: I also was in agreement that we should go somewhere where they could remain when my turn came to ‘drop dead’. Many of my family members did not reach an ‘old age’. That is also why to remain in Jordan was also not such a good idea, as without me the two ladies could not really remain there.
Anyway, I liked Mauritius from our previous visits and therefore we did go to explore Mauritius. A friend from the United Nations (husband Mauritian, wife Pakistani) was so kind as to offer us their Mauritian beach house. And so I went on a visit to Mauritius with wife Nilofar and our Philippine domestic helper.
Mauritius offered a ‘retirement visa’. It said that at first it will be granted for two years, during which time we could not purchase real estate. After the initial two years a ‘permanent visa’ (of ten years) could be granted. (It seems they hoped we drop dead at least within ten years).
I deposited the required 40’000 US$ in the bank, started to process paper work, do the required medical tests etc.
I even wrote to the University of Mauritius regarding the admission of my sister-in-law. Everything was going as planned.
We visited many houses, but it was difficult to find two similar houses near each other. The houses near the beach had usually very small rooms as they were more meant for ‘weekends’ only. Yes, of course, we should spend more time outdoors rather than in the house.
Real Estate Agents were not all that clever and helpful. When asked what this red button was for we were told very proudly ‘that is the panic button’. When you press this button an alarm will go off. And: ‘do not worry, thieves are usually just local drug addicts who are not dangerous, they just need some drug money’. Not exactly what a wife that is being left alone every second night would like to hear.
Anyway, at first I decided to leave my wife and her domestic helper in Mauritius and go and fetch the other half of my extended family. I was ready to go when I dreamed:
“ How can you leave your wife without Marham (male guardian) ?”
As this dream was so clear I told my wife to pack up and told her that you are coming back with me. Well, according to the dream I suppose we could have gone back to Mauritius together (not leaving each other alone), but remembering the panic button and some other things. We did not return to Mauritius.
One other thing which nerved me a bit was the information regarding the ten year ‘permanent’ residence permit. It was pointed out to me that the law says that ‘after two years the ten year permanent residence permit may be granted’, and does not say ‘will be’ granted. It was more likely that ‘special retirees’, such as ones that would donate for instance a swimming pool to the local school, may be granted the permanent residency, but ‘normal (not so super-rich) retirees may not be considered.
I should have remembered the childhood quiz: “How to bring a lion, a goat and a ball of hay across a river when only two of the three items fit into the boat”. (the goat should not eat the hay and the lion should not eat the goat). Unfortunately somehow I just could not remember the solution. Especially when as an additional factor the dreams also play a role.
Ah well, back in Jordan again.
A Syrian Ahmadi Business man in the meantime had arrived with his family from Damascus. I offered my services and some business deals were discussed that could have made my stay in Jordan worthwhile. But, in the end nothing materialised and there was no reason for me to extend my stay in Jordan for this purpose.
I was able to assist the UK based Humanity First NGO. They wanted to become active in Jordan for the benefit of Syrian Refugees. I was appointed Jordan Country Director and was able to register the NGO in Jordan. It of course took several months of work together with local lawyers, but in the end we succeeded.
I made an assessment of needs of refugees in Jordan. I found that during the first years of the Syrian conflict the basic needs of refugees were to a large extent met. (Shelter and food). Approx. 70 percent of the refugees did live outside of the refugee camps. Most refugees considered the refugee camps as a sort of prison. Also the security inside the camps was not the best. Mafia-kind groups tried to ‘take charge’. Fathers with young daughters were worried about the safety of the young ladies. Consequently who ever managed would prefer to live outside the camp.
In Mafraq, a town near the Syrian border, we went around and visited many refugees. Many stayed in houses in town. In the early days NGOs from the United Arab Emirates came with suitcases full of cash and paid for annual rents for small apartments (of course not in very good shape. It was a great benefit for local land lords to be able to rent out substandard accommodation for at least some decent kind of rent). Others put up tents and said they preferred the freedom of the tents to the confinement in the refugee camps.
Refugees registered with UNHCR would get a ‘food voucher’ for basic food stuffs. Many refugees also stated that Jordanian neighbours would give them some food from time to time. Therefore shelter and food were not the biggest problem.
Later on, when the first year of UAE paid rents was over, then rental payments did become a major problem. In the meantime some Syrian refugees were able to make a little money by some ‘black market’ work (they were not officially permitted to work). However, some, who did not manage, in fact then moved back into refugee camps.
Looking at all that however we found that many children did not go to school! Jordanian schools did receive a lot of donor funds to expand their facilities for Refugees; however, it did not cater for all. Consequently I suggested to Humanity First Headquarters in London that we should sponsor some education Projects.
One project we co-sponsored together with a Jordanian NGO was a project assisting grade 12 High School students to pass the Jordanian University Entrance Examination. It was nice to see how grateful these students were! They were near graduation when they had to leave Syria and were ‘in limbo’. Of course at the end of the course came the question: ‘And, who will now pay for our University Fees?’ That was a bit embarrassing, as Humanity First did not have sufficient funds to cover that as well. I think many students did manage to find sponsors at the end.
Many of the senior students had the problem that they did not have the required documents of previous education to sit for the Jordanian University Entrance examination. Bureaucrats did not consider the war situation. To avoid this problem as a second project we financed in Mafraq a Kindergarten. At least there missing documents would not be a problem.
The Kindergarten project was also very essential, as the going to the KG was also a treatment for Trauma, of which most children suffered. They had all seen war, killing of neighbours and friends and family members. Some fathers were missing.
In order to document this project we prepared a video report and obtained photographs which Humanity First UK was able to use for fund raising purposes also. Funds came from both Humanity First UK and Humanity First Canada.
Please refer to the video here: http://jo.humanityfirst.org
Ah yes, the work for Humanity First Jordan was satisfying. At least I did a little bit for the Syrian Refugees.
Besides the Education Projects we also distributed some blankets. The winters in Jordan are actually quite cold and sometimes it snows too. In a way the winters are more difficult in Jordan than in Europe because the accommodation – especially the ones used by the refugees – are not properly insulated and rooms do not keep warm, even if heated.
Our daughter Nafisa completed her International Baccalaureate Degree in 2016 also. Some comments on that IB Diploma. Our daughter Aischa had completed her education according to the UK syllabus. Consequently I was familiar with that. For the IB I relied on what the school told me. The school looked at the IB’s list of subjects and considered ‘one from here and one from there’ sufficient for the University Entrance anywhere in the world. Well, it was not. European Universities did not consider ‘Mathematical Studies’ as sufficient. They did not acknowledge IT and Art as an approved subject and instead would have like to see proper Mathematics, Geography or History (not offered by the school in Jordan at all). Consequently Nafisa did not get entrance to any European University. (We did not try US universities). She decided to get into a (fairly costly) ‘Foundation Year’ in Amsterdam University, preparing for the PPLE faculty. (Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics). Unfortunately her Mathematics skills were still not sufficient and she failed to get admission in that course also. Later on she got admission in the University of Amsterdam to study Political Science. May Allah grant her success.
As is customary with members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community we try to ask the advice of our beloved Ameer-ul-Momineen, Hadrat Khalifatul Masih, when we take important decisions. When we mentioned to Hadrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V., that we had to make a decision where to go from Jordan he mentioned ‘why do you not all go to Indonesia. Of course you will have to provide separate kitchens for the two ladies. You will also have to provide an annual ticket to your senior wife to go and visit her children where-ever they happen to be’.
Yes, I thought also that this would be a good idea. Cost of living in Indonesia is much lower than in Switzerland (let’s say between 30 and 50 %, depending on the style of living) and it would have been quite possible to finance this ‘annual visit’ to the children. However, my senior wife had an (understandable) aversion to Indonesia and also thought she would like to be near her children. Two sons were living in Switzerland at the time. (One has moved to the USA in the meantime) and Istanbul, the residence of our daughter, is easily reachable from Switzerland. She therefore decided that she would like to move to Zurich, Switzerland.
Keeping in mind that we should move to a place where the ladies could remain when I ‘drop dead’ we decided that the Junior Wife should move to Indonesia. She would have preferred the hills around Bandung (where she comes from), but compromised with me considering that I prefer the seaside. Consequently she moved to Lombok, Indonesia. All readers are welcome to visit us, we have a guest room available for you, just 100 steps from the beach. (Put Katamaran Resort, Mangsit, Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia into Google Map. You will see our house on the other side of the road).
And now we have reached the present time. Next parts will have to wait for a while. (At present I am staying a few months in Switzerland and a few months in Indonesia. Not the ideal situation yet – we shall see what the future will bring).