Javad Cihlář

* 1989

  • „I was shocked there when I got trousers and went to the workshop and I kept looking for the machine that I was supposed to shorten the length on. And then a bit later the head tailor came in and said: 'What are you looking for?' And I said: 'Where's the machine?' Of course, I was shocked to see such treadle sewing machines in there, and some old irons, of course. I was wondering: 'Where am I, in Europe, or a hundred years back in time?' Because the salon, although it's luxurious, it has the traditional way of sewing. And this was an interesting experience for me, because even in Iran I had experienced more modern [things]. We had worked there as ready-made clothes makers, so it was different there. And the head tailor said to me: 'Javad, we don't sew on machines here, we mostly sew by hand while we can.' And he brought me a needle. Naturally, not that he showed me me a needle for the first time, I had known what handwork was. But I didn't expect it here in Europe. I had gone so many kilometres, hoping it would be hyper-modern, and here I came across these hundred-year-old machines, irons and old ways. It was such a process that I had to learn again. But it was good. I was learning, I think, very quickly. I couldn´t use a thimble at the beginning. The boss would always come into the shop: 'Javad, you haven't got your thimble again!' I couldn't get used to it. But it didn't take more than two weeks. Later, when I picked up something, I always forgot I had a thimble on my hand. I would even go to the toilet with it or so, and it was always with me. So I couldn't feel it anymore, because I was used to it. I adapted to the handwork somehow. And I think he really treated me like a father, and I really needed that. The boss really had a kind of special approach to me and he was really nice. He invested a lot in me, and I think I didn't disappoint this investment. Because to this day we have been still cooperating and it's been nine years, we will be almost starting our tenth year of working together in April.“

  • „I figured out it was already morning by the fact that they started opening the doors, and the driver came and got his truck, and I figured out he was starting to get going. And, of course, there was going to be another check, but I was lucky again, I got away with it and there was no problem, I didn't get caught. So I'm going there a bit in the truck, thinking that it's a good thing, if the truck is already in Italy it can take me to a bigger town or somewhere, a little bit further, to get out in peace. I think the truck driver had a coffee break once or twice at a petrol station. Before I could make up my mind, he started moving again. The second time again I missed the decision to get out or not to get out and he started moving. But the third time, it had been really long, by the time I got out, I was already in the Czech Republic. Now I can say for sure that I was in Czechia, but I didn't know where I was then... I didn't have any strength to get anywhere, not at all. I thought I was going to Europe, but where to, I wasn´t going to see anybody or anywhere particular, no. My goal was to get somewhere better and I got to Czechia. And it was after midnight, around two o'clock maybe. All in all, I think I was twenty-eight hours in the truck, ten hours on the ferry maybe, and then another fourteen hours, I would say.“

  • „The way it always worked was that the last smuggler could organize for us to spend the night somewhere near the shore in the woods or so. They always had an inflatable boat depending on the number of people, which we had to fold up at night in the dark [and then] inflate. And usually we were nine people there and the boat was just for four people. In such way they were saving money everywhere. We got there at night, we spent the whole day there until it started to get dark, and they showed us the first night: 'Can you see on the shore...'. It was more like a forest and mountains and so on.... We were hidden among the mountains and the forest and bits of rock. So they were showing us that something was shining there, a light bulb, so far away. It was our destination. 'So you have to paddle all the way there.' We had a boat with a petrol engine, but that was another funny thing. We waited another day until it got dark. We started inflating the boat and we found out there were nine of us, there were two women with us, and the rest of us were all grown-up men. And now what? We had a boat in which theoretically four people could paddle. But there was no going back. So we put the boat on the water, hoping. And the most interesting thing was that after spending two nights at the smuggler... he came up to us and looked at me and said: 'Come here. Hey, you're handy, so why don't you take responsibility and become the captain of the boat?"“

  • „I had a friend with whom I can say we were good friends, he was a friend who spent a lot of time with me and we got on well. He was kind of deciding to go to Europe at the time because he had a brother in England and so on. And he came to me one day and he was like: 'What are you going to do?' I said: 'I don't know, nothing.' He said, he shared with me [his idea] that he was going to England and if, by chance, I wanted to go with him. I don't really know when I said yes to him because I was going through really bad times, [I was] mentally broken down. Anyway, of course, I had to prepare somehow, finances, some preparations, but I don't really remember in detail how it went. When I told him: 'Yes, we are going.' But I remember one sentence, he said, 'There's nothing keeping you here and we were not born here anyway', and that basically it wasn´t our native country. Because for us to go back to Afghanistan didn´t make any sense at all. Actually, he was an Afghan too, he grew up in Iran like me. And we're one of the families which came for a while. [They thought:] 'If there was peace and quiet, we would come back.' But the situation was the same. So anyway, we set out for the journey with Ali.“

  • „My life, for as long as I can remember, hasn´t been about having options and choosing something, rather I have always been obliged to do something. Even in this case, I tried to learn things quickly. There was no hugging anyway, I was more likely to get slapped, smacked or something, when I messed up. I was a kid, so I used to watch kids playing outside and going to school. Of course, I had a child´s curiosity in me. I was forced, I guess you could say, although sometimes I enjoyed something, to spend eight, ten hours with them in the workshop, so it was hard for me. Of course, from childhood I have had a sort of aversion to that kind of harsh behaviour towards me, but I wasn't their child, so they were allowed to slap me as much as they wanted. Or sometimes to make fun, if something didn't go well, they used to make fun of me, so I think I still remember those things. But in a way it did have a useful effect, that I grew up quickly and by the time I was twelve I was normally earning my living as an adult“

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    Brno, 13.12.2019

    duration: 01:58:04
    media recorded in project Příběhy regionu - JMK REG ED
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I approach new things feeling confident that I can do it. And it usually turns out well

Javad Rezai in Mashhad, 2001, Írán
Javad Rezai in Mashhad, 2001, Írán
photo: Witness´s archive

Javad Cihlář, whose birth name was Rezai, was born to Afghan parents on 20 April 1989 in Mashhad, Iran. His parents fled to Iran because of the dangerous situation in their country. It was supposed to be a short-term refuge that eventually extended to twenty years. He grew up with his mother only. His father never returned from one of regular trips to Herat, Afghanistan. The family believes he was murdered by Taliban members. The mother started to make living for herself and her son as a seamstress. From the age of six, he helped out in a tailor’s shop. He did not attend school because his documents were missing. Later, his mother became seriously ill and died in 2008. In this precarious life situation, as a friend urged him to do, he decided to go to Europe. He and a group of other refugees sailed from the Turkish coast to Greece by boat. From there, he took a truck across Italy to the Czech Republic. He found a new home in a country which he hadn´t had idea existed before. After a difficult start in refugee centres, he managed to find work in a renowned tailor’s shop in Prague. At the same time, thanks to his friendship with a Czech language teacher, he began to participate in the church life of the Unity of the Brethren Baptists. In 2012, while cooperating with the non-profit organization Multicultural Centre of Prague, he met his future wife. The same year he joined the educational project “Stereotypes in us” for Czech students at the Multicultural Centre of Prague. He moved to Brno, where he runs his own tailor´s shop. He is currently (2019) learning to drive and remarks with a smile that there is no better Czech language textbook than a traffic rules handbook for driving schools.