Couch potato

11 nov 2015

Biniam Biniam is a geographer living in asylum seeker centre Heumensoord Bekijk alle berichten van Biniam

Recently, I saw this phrase on my friend’s smartphone dictionary app (yes, refugees have smartphones). ‘Couch potato’ means ‘a person who sits all day on a couch, watching tv shows, eating popcorn, or whatever. This phrase applies somewhat to the way people are passing their day in the Heumensoord refugee camp, except for the eating popcorn part. My column is going to be about life at the Heumensoord camp, which for outsiders can be a source of curiosity or empathy, but is daily life for us.

First, let me describe the place we are living in. It is a big tent, divided into 12 smaller rooms, each holding eight people. Our tent is connected to seven other tents by a hallway. We all share the same toilet and bathroom. The restaurant can be found close to our tent, in a big hall called Olympus, which is divided into the restaurant and the so-called entertainment room.

Like everybody, we have three meals a day, which you get after waiting in a long cue, except for breakfast which is at 7am. Most people are asleep then, because they have nothing to do and nowhere to go at that time. During breakfast and lunch, the food is the same, it includes bread, cheese, butter, jam and a warm drink. Dinner is where we get the chance to eat warm foods, with typical Dutch dishes like potato (mashed or boiled), rice, meat and vegetables with desserts (yoghurt or ice cream).

We mostly pass our day in the entertainment room, where you can play ping pong, watch predetermined tv shows or browse the internet. There is not much to choose from, unless you want to go to the city to simply wander the streets, worrying when you will go to your place. It is a long walk and you don’t want to miss lunch or dinner. This life is especially hard for children, who have pass to their day playing or sitting instead of studying.

Our social life is like a marriage, full of drama and conflicts. People try to live peacefully, respecting others privacy. At the same time, we need privacy of our own. In the camp, there are people from different countries, races, backgrounds and religions. It is a complex society, where the differences sometimes lead to conflicts. One example is, since our rooms are open at the top, when people talk or play music it can be heard from one corner of the tent to the other. This can be a problem during the night, when you need peace and quiet to sleep. All in all, life at the camp is alright. Simple, yet complex in a sense that you get the basic needs, but also have to deal with the strange aspects of a new environment. It is also a place where you get to meet interesting people from different backgrounds, with rich life experience. This adds spice to your life and makes you appreciate what you have.

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