Among the barracks that the US Army prepared overnight at the end of August at the Rota naval base (Cádiz) to temporarily house more than 2,000 refugees from the Afghanistan drama are children who play soccer or run with their scooters , and adults who calm their anxiety walking along this avenue that leads to the bathrooms and bedrooms or dining rooms. There are also teenagers who, on the eve of their final move to the United States, dream of the future. Some already identify, as if they were burned, what they want life after hell to be.
This Tuesday there were about three hundred refugees in Rota and by this Saturday the maximum period of 14 days that the United States agreed with Spain for their stay in the Cadiz base will have passed. During this time, Spanish solidarity, and in the first place that of the people who host the base, filled this site with all kinds of essential elements that have alleviated the urgencies of a scared, sad, helpless community in the midst of languages that barely know.
In the rooms where these objects are distributed (clothes, basic necessities, toys, above all) packages are stacked that look like the luggage of an urgent or forced exile. Two young men wander by, smiling and in silence, carrying pens in the upper pockets of their Afghan dresses. It is for writing, they manage to say in an English that now everyone wants to learn, because the future is drawn in that language. In those faces, blue or gray eyes, there is a melancholy that should not be different from that of other exiles or diasporas that are part of the history of misfortune, of which Spain also has a bitter memory.
Under the now overcast sky of Rota, that melancholy is compensated by the passion with which children run with their skates, dispute the ball with each other or with adults, or greet you by hitting your hand or winking their eyes as if they were already friends. from all over the world, like Kim from India.
Captain Leah Moss, 41, born in Washington, a medical assistant at the American Naval Hospital at Rota Base, tall like a basketball player, sheds her mask and exhibits the contagion of her laugh: “Everyone has come marked by the anxiety of the time they lived in Afghanistan ”. This “deep sadness” is also the effect of “the enormous physical burden caused by the emotional pain suffered before the trip.” Now this situation is called uncertainty, and it is drawn everywhere as if it were a hymn for help.
Those anxieties the doctor describes have been alleviated here by games and, she adds, “by conversation.” As it is said that words heal or alleviate, we ask you to choose one that helps heal, in this time of uncertainty of exile, these people who are now looking for a future in America: “I would say the word hope.”
Ditches divide the different areas of this military park in which are the barracks, rooms, bathrooms or entertainment for Afghan refugees. In the middle of them, some panels collect the postcards that Rota kids have written, in English, to wish luck, health or hope to those who are now running around behind the ball or on their scooters in this temporary home that welcomes them.
Veiled women, men who walk up and down, military or civilian personnel in charge of helping them in the transit to the United States, pass in front of this group of adolescents who tell, as if they had already landed on the other side of this story, what they want to be in the future.
Mostafa, who is 17, wants to be a doctor “to serve people in need.” He has seen the doctors here, and he has seen them in Afghanistan as well. “They take care of people, their pain, and I want to do that,” he says. His own pain, on the trip to exile and right now, is what causes him “the situation of my country, my homeland, where part of my family has remained, and a tormented people.” Next to him is Elhan, who is the same age, and wants to be a politician. Political? Why? “Because of the situation in Afghanistan, to serve my country.” How would you have attacked the situation in which your country now lives? “I would have defended my country and I would not have handed it over to the insurgents.” He wants, he says, “a happy future for Afghanistan, for there to be peace and independence to cut off the influence of neighboring countries.”
There is no adolescent hesitation, nor is there the denial of the future that often occurs in conversations at these ages. There is, on the other hand, a constant appeal to the homeland, with the insistence that encourages loss. They are vibrant, eager eyes that look as if they are talking. We asked Elhan if in these times, on the trip into exile, for example, he has cried. “Yes, seeing photographs or videos of the attacks, yes, I have cried.” At his side is Ferhad, who is 16 years old and wants to be a pilot. “To serve my country… And what do I miss about Afghanistan? The smell. The smell of the earth, the memories ”. Sohrad is 14 years old, he also wants to be a doctor. To cure what? “The diseases of the people.” He wants to take care of the lung. On the plane, he says, “I had been thinking about the future. That of my family, that of all of us. Where are we going to go so that there is what they call a future ”.
And this is Solaiman, he’s already a photographer, he’s 15 years old. From Afghanistan he has brought, and exhibits on Instagram, entire accounts of the drama he experienced before getting on the plane that brought him to Rota from Kabul. They are intimate portraits of guys from Afghanistan, the early training of their passion to bear witness to what they see. He portrays “so that photography can be talked about, because each face you capture has something inside.” He speaks as if he is portraying us.
David Baird, 47, born in New Jersey and since 2019 commander of the US Naval Activities in Spain, had said, before bringing us to this camp in which soon there will be only the memory of this reception of the exiles from Afghanistan , that what impressed him about these people was the quality of their gaze, “the emotion of looking at them.”
As we spoke to these teenagers who are now starting the American journey, Baird, who looks like George Clooney and who was hardened in missions that took him to Iraq or Afghanistan, noticed the boys as if he himself had caught their glances. His collaborator María Díaz, a Spanish interpreter, said yesterday about the experience of seeing them get off the plane when they came to Rota: “It was hard for me to look at them. I felt unworthy to do it, ashamed of my lucky life in the face of their misfortune. “
Beside him he heard himself say: “The pain of his sadness strikes our conscience.”