About a half an hour on the outskirts of the city limits sits a shed like building on the edge of the eternal beige carpeting of desert. It looks ill-managed and condemned in its battered demeanor. Camouflaged in brown ,laborers poor in and out of its doors with sporadic ebb and flows. Most wait on the ground sweating with tired patience. Some rub their heads scratching the film of sweat off their brows and cheeks. Others poor water on their faces. I pulled up to this building on a Sunday afternoon in September of 2009 to get fingerprinted for my residency papers just like all the laborers that waited outside the beige walls of brick. We waited under searing suns on that unforgettable day. We were Refugees waiting for relief on unknown borders to places that had no name. We were to cross over and cross back through this building after being stripped of our dignity and self respect returning to the same despicable place, less than same. On empty dirt lots drove a car stirring sand into the air, it was 10 past 5 o’clock. The car slowly found a parking spot, parked, and casually a man emerged dressed in a dish-dash-a and…..He sauntered towards the door past everyone into the building. He did not look anyone in the eye. The crowd parted and opened up like he was Moses crossing the Red Sea, or a King, An emperor, the commoners looked on in awe. After an hours wait the man finally arrived to work. By this time hundreds had gathered outside. They poured inside like ants into an anthill. Streams of them bustling across dead ground they entered through the doors.
Finally my group and I managed to make our way into the building. One man worked in the other room applying the ink to mens‘ hands and hands to cards. It was dismal! A man saw us standing in back of the line and quickly ushered my group to the front of the hoard of laborers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. As I walked past them I felt dirty, disgusted, and grotesque in my skin. Just because my skin color and my passport I had become more important than these people that had been waiting longer than I. To the staff, my time was more important than the masses with darker skin. Some of these men had wives and children at home somewhere waiting for their husband to return, “but he won’t be home soon because the whites were ushered in first, wait your turn you dirty, uneducated piece of trash”. I felt hundreds of eyes on me, harsher than the sun outside. I believed in equality and this was the most disgusting display of a manufactured pecking order and artificial caste system. Racism at its most awesome!
Brought into another room we remained in a line peering around at the windowless walls. It was a prison, shackled fingerprints on the walls. There was a sink but no soap and no hand towels. Thousands of people have entered this room to be fingerprinted. Part of them was taken and part of them was left behind. Stains of their hands smeared down the walls. There was a subtext of “know that you count for nothing”. And we all felt like nothing. I felt demeaned and abused. It was a place where your humanity was stripped and filed away onto a card. Hands became the only reminders of peoples existantces, black hands on a wall. So many stories, so many people, personalities, so many lives entered this room and now are part of it. We were all shit inside that monument’s walls- exiting, we all became trash blowing in the desert winds.
Even though I had been treated as lesser there was a fury that burned in my stomach for the others. An apologetic feeling came over me. I wanted to approach those eyes and say I’m sorry and that I hope they will be okay. I pray that their hand prints on that wall doesn’t become their last mark, their funeral, their tombstone buried behind khaki walls in a dismal desert.