Many of us have a good favor in traveling, don’t we? Everytime you transit in any international airports elsewhere in the world, you can observe millions of visitors speaking out many languages. From Japanese to Korean to Spanish to Arabian to French to Chinese, and a long list to go on. From trendy Japanese female tourists wearing on cool, weird clothes, to the rich Arabian oil barons dressed in their traditional costumes, but spray themselves with cologne or perfume recently bought somewhere in Paris or London, to a very disproprotionate swarm of decades-old tourists coming from China or Taiwan. You may also observe some youngsters putting up the lightweight Macbook over their thighs, to the look-cool executives who are wearing in Armani’s or Dior’s latest coats and neckties.
When you come to the toilet in Changi, or any airports else in this world, please note that you might see some old ladies, or some young boys, who are cleaning up the places ‘every time we go to pee or poo’. Don’t sue the labor unions; they are just doing that because ‘they feel this is killing time to stay at homes’. But, who knows that these old ladies have unique stories.
Perhaps they befriend with someone who ‘has made airport a second home for a lifetime’. We never know that. Assume 100 million people have a transit in an international airport every year, the odds of finding someone who ‘makes airport a second home for a lifetime’ is 100 million to 1, or more optimistically, 10 million to 1.
Let me introduce all of you to Viktor Navorski.
He’s an unlucky person. His homeland, Krakozhia (a Spielbergian country), located somewhere in Eastern Europe, had fallen to ruins due to an ongoing civil war. Many people were assassinated; thank God Navorski had boarded a plane earlier. He arrived in New York City John F. Kennedy International Airport, actually intended to stay there only a few nights. In the long run, he managed to stay until 9 months, before stability was again restored in his homeland. That was not his intention. Neither United States nor Krakozhia had diplomatic ties after the civil war erupted; it could be concluded that Navorski could neither step out of the airport and breathe ‘American air of freedom’, nor could he return to the country, back. He had been set up by immigration authorities, but his Slough of Despond eventually turned him into a ‘superstar’ in the airport. It was even the bad luck itself which saved his life because, assume he had no inhibitions from the authorities, and returned to his homeland earlier, he could have somewhat died because his country fell in total cahos.
Navorski is imaginary, but the others are unimaginable within our knowledge.
Navorski was portrayed very well by two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, in this Steven Spielberg-directed ‘The Terminal’. As usual, Hanks portrayed a man who with all his naivete, believed that he should ‘go with the flow, and not go against it’. Let us not ajudicate about Tom Hanks’ acting performances; let us examine more thoroughly about Viktor Navorski.
He did not want to request for any political asylum in United States. He was just an ordinary person, a do-gooder who wanted to fulfil his dying father’s the last wish: to gather autographs from one of America’s most famous saxophonists. He gathered many of his savings, and travelled to New York City. But, as he arrived in the international airport, a civil unrest suddenly erupted in his homeland, and eventually led to a civil war. Knowing that left-wing extremists had taken over government buildings in the country’s capital, US Government, with no doubt, eventually ended any forms of diplomatic ties with Krakozhia. Here, his adventure began. Trapped within the hubbub, he did not know what to do. He spoke broken English anybody barely understood; he kept on watching the latest breaking news about what was happening to the country. He had no acquaintances, no friends, nobody. He cried, he wept, when he saw his country fell in ruins, and, that matter was worsened by the reality that he could no longer return to his homeland.
But, Navorski’s story was a lot more blithesome, Saturnian than the reality. He managed to befriend with an Indian old man who was set up by local agents which made him end up as an illegal immigrant (who works as a janitor), a Latino American youngster who fell in love with a local immigration officer (later he would make use of Navorski to convey her a message of ‘love letter’ every day, by rewarding him daily meals), and a poor Afro-American man. To ‘sweeten’ the story, he fell in a love with a stewardess who had had affair previously, who in turn saved his life by forcing federal authorities to permit him ‘one day’s off’ in New York City.
At least, Navorski stayed in the airport for ‘merely’ 9 months. Equal to approximately 270 days.
Rumor has it that the main inspiration for ‘The Terminal’ came from an Iranian ‘refugee’ in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport, who had stayed in the airport for 18 years (from 1988 to 2006)! Let me introduce another Navorski-alike: Mehran Karimi Nasseri.
Nasseri was not as lucky as Navorski. He was born in Iran, in 1942, precisely in a settlement for oil workers employed by then Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now, this company is more popular as BP – ‘Beyond Parody, Big Polluter’). He had a good future. He studied in University of Bradford, United Kingdom in 1973, and was graduated 3 years after. But he frequently participated in protests again US-backed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a shah who ruled Iran until 1979, before he was ousted by Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini and his fellow supporters. Due to his frequent opposition, he was later on expelled in 1977, which automatically made him ‘a stateless person’. He was involved in years-long struggle to obtain citizenship in some countries, and after making a request to UNHCR in Belgium, he was given rights of political asylum to settle in any European countries, in 1986.
Nasseri actually intended to return to United Kingdom (because he claimed his mother was a Scot, although there was no substantial evidence to prove this); however, he had an almost similar Slough of Despond just like what Navorski was. During his transit to London from Paris, one of his suitcases, which contained precious, valuable immigration documents – as well as his passport, was stolen by someone. He only realized this situation when the plane had landed in London. As a consequence, he was deported by British immigration authorities back to Paris, and there, his ‘adventure’ began. He waited until 18 years, before he was initially released off the airport. Most of the 18 years were spent in Terminal 1; this had been his own ‘home’ for Nasseri.
Almost all of his 18 years were spent in writing diaries, reading books about economics, and receiving food and items from airport’s employees. But, Nasseri was not without his own fortune. In 1992, a French human rights lawyer decided to settle his case in law courts. Subsequently after a painfully slow years-long process, exactly in 1995, it was Belgian government who offered Nasseri permits of residency; but under one condition that ‘he would be supervised by a government-hired social worker’. How careless he was when he rejected their offer! He insisted that he wanted to return to United Kingdom to reunite with his family there, and thus, he went on ‘waiting’. Until 2006, which was the first time he was ‘out’ of the airport, and had a breath on fresh, Parisian air. Was he taken to Eiffel Towers by a very generous person? Was he given chance by any benign billionaires to have a ski in Mont Blanc or watch films in Cannes due to his ‘popularity’? A big no, unfortunately. He was out of the airport because he had to be hospitalized. He was then taken care by French Red Cross, and until now, he lives in a shelter in Paris provided by the organization. Until the minute I am now accomplishing this article, he is still waiting for his return to UK.
Nasseri actually had published a book titled ‘The Terminal Man’. Some said this book had inspired Steven Spielberg to adapt his story into a film, and Tom Hanks to portray Navorski (were Navorski’s role given to other actors, I am not quite sure how good The Terminal would be). Some of the mass media reports even mentioned that Spielberg’s Dreamworks Pictures had paid him 250,000 US$. Meanwhile, his autobiography was a hard sell in several countries, therefore generating quite a lot revenues for Nasseri. And, as written by Wikipedia: “Nasseri’s story was also the inspiration for the award winning contemporary opera Flight by British composer Jonathan Dove.”
Which story do you think is more unique? Navorski’s or Nasseri’s? Decide it yourself.
Actually, both Navorski and Nasseri are not ‘alone’. Here are three other persons whose almost-as-extraordinary-as-Navorski-and-Nasseri stories are quite interesting. Find them in Wikipedia or Google them:
– Feng Zhenghu
– Hiroshi Nohara (not Shinchan’s father)
– Zahra Kamalfar