Late on saturday night, I was honoured with an invitation to Amir and Adeena’s house for Chicken Churi - a pakistani classic. They have been playfully teasing me that I wouldn’t survive the chilis so they made it mild - only a fist full of chilis and some flakes.
I met Amir around 8:30 at the Sultan Market where we had bought some oil the first time we met. I was pleasantly surprised. As good brothers do, I teased him about his clean ‘baby-face’ shave and haircut. We embraced and started to walk to his apartment.
After a little bit of walking we had passed their old ‘new’ apartment. I asked if they had moved; they had. He explained that their old landlorde used to harass them late at night after some heavy drinking. One night it culminated in physical abuse, a knife was pulled and they left the next day. I was saddened to hear this, but worse, not surprised. This neighbourhood is one of the most multi-cultural parts of Istanbul where the poorest migrants cluster in the swallowed valley of broken buildings.
Yet, his spirit was high. I could tell by the energetic skip in his walk and the steady ribbings. Finally we arrived at a few steps leading up to a tenement reminding me of middle and north England. Adeena was preparing the supper in the communal kitchen. She had clearly put in a lot of care to the meal, even the carrots were sliced and stacked in spiraling towers. Amir walked me to their room where I was actually surprised. Their new apartment is nice. They have a small on-suite bathroom, clean tile floors as opposed to a thick plastic sheet covering concrete. Later I found out that they even have a security camera in front of their door. They told me that the landlorde is kind to them and is regularly asking after their health. They finally feel safe and settled.
Moments later, Adeena came in with the Churi and beckoned Amir to grab a few things from the kitchen. During the meal we had a chance to finally sit and relax. A whole host of topics and jokes were shared - particularly me joking about the spiciness of the food.
Which the response was a resounding...grown man?
We shared stories of culture and our old lives in our home countries. We talked of family, foods and summer. They showed me a few pictures and videos of pakistani weddings and feasts. Personally I was not aware of the extent of a Pakistani weddings and the various themes for each day. Of course they had a chuckle at the kilts from pictures of us at my older brother’s wedding. Adeena thought my ‘skirt’ was perfect for Amir and my wedding - a running joke which I think comes from a little jealousy for our bromance.
Sadly the time came to leave. We walked through the now silent streets towards Yenikapi metro. When it was time to separate Amir pulled me in tight and gave me a kiss on both sides of my neck. This is a wonderfully deep symbol of his love. I looked over at Adeena, she was quiet and crying. No matter what I said during the night, they believe this was the last time we would ever meet.
Yet even if it were, Amir and Adeena have grown momentously. From living in a windowless basement, in a debt spiral with no work to being independent, having savings and confidently running their own venture.
They have thanked me too much for helping them start their venture. But it wasn’t me. I had an idea and some friends. They worked tirelessly to make A Clean Start. After a couple of months of working at a couple of homes, A Clean Start has grown to service more clients than Amir and Adeena are able, so we had to hired another refugee to cope. Amir and Adeena also have been saving for their future family through the venture.
I am so proud of them. It has been one of the greatest blessings in my life to walk with such humble people; to see them grow from their shyness to confidently present themselves to new clients; to navigate this megalopolis of a city; and in all things stay positive and tenacious.