06 October 2011

Love in the time of frontiers. Winny and Nizar

Winny in front of the CIE of Chinisia, Sicily. Photo by Alessio Genovese

Winny left from Holland. Blond hair, green eyes and a smile always ready to light up her face, only to fade into a melancholy gaze, dimmed by bad thoughts. Pregnancy makes her seem older than her twenty-three years. The policemen on guard at the Centre for Identification and Expulsion of Chinisia, Sicily, where her husband Nizar is imprisoned, recognize her from afar and they ask her to take a seat without even checking her documents. She’s authorised to visit him twice a day. The talks are held under a large tent in the lot, under the watchful and slightly jealous eyes of five agents that keep them under check. They speak little and in English. The rest is communicated through their expressions. He puts his hands on her belly to hear the baby's kicks. It’s going to be a boy, they have not yet chosen the name. The only sure thing is that as soon as he is born, Nizar will add another tattoo on his arm. A little star with the initials of his son, next to the larger star with a W for Winny.

That one he had tattooed in Greece, before the wedding. Love had blossomed with the summer of 2010 on the island of Kos, where both worked as activity leaders in a holiday village. She was twenty years old and he was twenty-eight. After just three months he asked her to marry him and she, who had never believed in marriage, replied without a doubt yes. After the wedding, they moved to Sousse, Tunisia, with his family. They bought a piece of land and began building the house. The revolution came and went suddenly, like a storm, without affecting their projects. The trouble came later, with the pregnancy.

The belly grew and Winny, worried after the first visits to the Sousse hospitals, decided to give birth in the Netherlands. Nizar did not object, but went to Tunis to obtain a visa for himself. The refusal from the Dutch embassy was a slap in the face that woke him so sharply from the world of dreams. Had he forgotten his ten years in Europe, the fingerprints, the first landing in Sicily, the racism? It was she who cheered him up. A lawyer would surely fix everything, he should not despair. He was married to a European citizen and was expecting a baby that would have Dutch nationality. For once the law was on their side.

But it was the lawyer who give him the second slap. For the appeal they would have to wait five months. Winny, who in the meantime had left, was entering the fourth month of pregnancy. So she risked giving birth alone, before he could get a response from the judge. Nizar could not accept this. He had risked it once before, he was ready to do it again. Burning the border had never been so easy. He found the contacts to board mid-April and went to Lampedusa. All seemed done and over. They repatriated him a few days later, but stubborn as he is, he went back to Zarzis and tried to reach Winny a second time.

This time, however, she did not let him do it alone. As soon as she learned of his departure she got on the first plane to Italy. The two youngsters also appealed against the expulsion, with the knowledge that meanwhile the Dutch had issued a Schengen visa to Nizar for family reasons. But time went on, day after day, and the judge's response was slow to come. Meanwhile the due date approached, heedless of the chronic slowness of Italian justice. The rest happened during one of Winny’s daily visits to Nizar.

The visit is over, she is leaving the camp, when suddenly she feels faint and is seized by strong contractions, which suggest an imminent preterm delivery. Her eyes search for her husband, but they have already taken him back to cage. The ambulance arrives soon after, and heads to the hospital in Trapani. Nizar, from behind bars, continues to cry out to let him go. But the police will not hear of it, the risk of him escaping is too high. Nizar is blinded with rage and hurt. And if the agents are not able to put themselves in his shoes, however, the other eighty-three Tunisian prisoners in the centre are able to do it very well. His anger becomes the rage of them all. The time for rebellion has come.

The inmates begin to dismantle the structures of the tents where they are staying, arming themselves with sticks and iron bars. And when, at about nine o'clock in the evening, the agents open the gate to let a new detainee in, it is already too late. The inmates launch themselves against the gate and push against it until it is forced open. Grappling with the agents on duty, the Tunisians are able to get the upper hand and then disperse in all directions through the vineyards and olive groves, covered by nightfall.

Nizar is with them. Despite the beatings on his knee, he continues to run dragging his injured leg. Hidden by trees, he follows from a distance the headlights of the police on the road to Trapani. Winny is still in hospital but is doing better, it was a false alarm. She was discharged the next day and she can finally meet with him. But there is no time for embraces. The police are on their trail. They have to leave Italy. Winny takes a Ryanair flight. Nizar travels by land, with no document.

First a bus, then a train, a ship and another train. Three days travelling. Until he finds himself in the station of Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. Exhausted but finally free to embrace the woman he loves. Just in time to paint the baby's room and witness the birth of Rafael, who came to light at dawn on August 15, between one interview and another on Dutch television, who turned this story into a national case.

Read also:
Love in the time of frontiers. Sakina and Khayri
Love in the time of frontiers. Nathalie and Salah

translated by Camilla Gamba