Still, P1 visas may be restrictive, but without them, they simply provide undocumented migrant athletes with at least a little security. For most of these runners, a P1 visa is not a dream come true enough to avoid a nightmare. As a longtime member of WSX named Girma Segni says, “just go to America and you’ll be rewarded.”
Segni is rare among his teammates: he came to New York at the age of 16 almost 20 years ago when his brother got a job at the United Nations. Currently 35 years old, he is a certified accountant in the city. For him, running is a hobby and a luxury that is barely reachable by the Ethiopians of WSX. Segni says many WSX runners have never been to school. Some people can’t read it. He says running is their only shot. And while reaching America is a victory, staying is a whole different matter — especially during a pandemic. Some runners on the team are waiting for their P1 visa to be approved or renewed, but this may not be the case unless the results of the race in the United States are displayed. The closure of the US embassy in Ethiopia, which processes visa applications, for most of 2020, and the already slow bureaucracy gear leading to a complete and catastrophic outage did not help.
Tadese is not the only WSX runner whose deportation can mean death. Listen to 25-year-old Urgesa Kedir Figa, who said he was detained in Ethiopia for three months in 2016 to support the human rights of his family. He says his uncle was killed by government forces. In prison, Urgesa says he was tortured at night with an electrical cable. He has a deep scar, 3 inches wide, around his left arm, just below his elbow, and a circular scar, 5 inches in diameter, on his right hip.
A quiet, few man with a gentle smile, Urgesa fled to the United States on a tourist visa in the spring of 2019, trying to make money to send his wife and newborn daughter home. That May, he finished third in the Brooklyn Half Marathon, winning $ 500. It was his first race in New York. “It’s heavy to have it while running,” says Segni about Urgesa’s experience in Ethiopia. “So there’s a struggle to make a living here, right? And there’s a spiritual struggle. The torture he has to carry.”
Tadese and his three roommates I live on the second floor of a six-story walk-up in the same brick building block. The poorest part of the city, but close to Van Cortland Park, an idyllic urban hideaway for forests, fields and lakes. Ethiopians at WSX usually do most of their training there, up to 100 miles a week, often before working 12 hours on a cash job.
Such a tight schedule does not leave much time to settle down, and Tadese’s apartment has a spartan feel. In the undecorated living room, you can see the brick wall from one window. Neighbors’ voices echo in the hallways and permeate the thin walls of the apartment. When I went to lunch last afternoon, a TV set to an Ethiopian movie and one of my roommates, Tariq Abosetevokan, sautéed beef with hot chili, spinach salad and traditional homemade injera. I found Ethiopian sourdough.
In 2011, Philadelphia Inquirer Tariq identified that he liked to win the Philadelphia Marathon that year, but he tore the hamstring in the middle of the race and didn’t finish. He cooked a green card at an Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem. He is currently driving Uber Eats and Door Dash. COVID-19 has hit his livelihood, but he says time is better than restaurants. He had little work last year.
Bronx Ethiopian Marathoner
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