I Remember

Dremko Candil

Artwork by Hidetoshi Yamada

In spring 2013, we organised our first writers' workshop for undocumented migrants. The journal Artikel 14, covering issues of refugee and migration policy, set up a web page, a secret location, and coffee. The organisation No one is illegal invited the participants. I was responsible for the actual activities and content. At each meeting we read a short text, typically a short story or an extract from a novel. We tried to understand the text, analysed it, examined why it fascinated/bored, why we felt like framing/burning it. After that, we tried to mimic it, and wrote something that resembled that text. Or, perhaps, wrote something that was the complete opposite. Participating in the workshop was free of charge, the only prerequisite that the participants should be, or have some experience of being, undocumented in Sweden.

The primary challenge was linguistic. How to communicate in a room with so many mother tongues? The strategy was to use English as the main spoken language and use the participants' respective mother tongues in writing. Where necessary, the English was simultaneously interpreted into Farsi and Spanish. When that didn't help, or didn't help enough, we turned to the whiteboard, sign language, and charades.

The text published here, and in Aftonbladet, was written after a session where we were inspired by the artist Joe Brainard's I Remember, a memoir based on short mementos—in no chronological order. Every new line begins with a hypnotic refrain, the same words, over and over again: I remember. . . Jag minns. Je me souviens. Yo me acuerdo.

The act of remembering, the act of recording, the importance of bearing witness, to have a voice despite uncertainties regarding one's legal status, to have access to words despite being undocumented, to never let someone else speak for me, to never let the dehumanising words of Power stick to you. Here are Dremko's memories.

—Jonas Hassen Khemiri

I remember my childhood home.
I remember the samovar, the tea, and conversations with candy in my mouth.
I remember Nikolaj and cookies shaped like animals.
I remember my name, and my sister's, pronounced in Russian.
I remember a phrase I learned whilst drinking tea.
Tea that tasted of my first tongue.

I remember: "You should jump over the wall!"

I remember coming to a giant city with lots of noise and people in the streets.
I always had to remember not to open the windows, not to open the doors, or my mouth.
Or my eyes.
I remember many things,
I remember what I shouldn't remember.
I remember the black colour of my neighbour's hair.
I remember how she jumped the wall when the soldiers came.

I remember: how she jumped the wall.

I remember helicopters, screaming, guns, guitars, smiles and laments.
I remember when they cried for those who had smiled.
I remember when you could hear screams behind the walls.
I remember my little Ford Capri in a puddle of blood.
I remember when nobody smiled anymore.
I remember that at times I could be a child.

I remember what was behind the walls.
I promised never to cry and jump over the wall.
I remember having jumped over many walls.
I remember the people who were left behind them.
I remember never jumping over the same wall twice.
I remember that the wall disappears as it's jumped.
I remember that you always have to climb it, then fall.
Adrenaline in my body,
I remember that there is no defeat.

I remember I was never especially interested in where I was going.
Another destination for refugees from the south,
birthplace, temporary shelter
of several comrades.
But this time I wasn't running from anything, no one was chasing me.
Getting to Sweden, crossing the border, it was nothing special.
Since childhood I have crossed borders, legally and illegally, seeking refuge,
fleeing, following those who fled.
With a backpack, with only what I was wearing.

I remember leaving the airport and seeing Stockholm, seeing its people.
I remember my problems reaching Visby, speaking only Latin languages.​​
I remember a strange feeling the first few days in Sweden.
I felt strangely comfortable, a return to a place that I never had been to.
I remember a yellow rose waiting for me in the port of Visby.
Her eyes, her smile, an embrace.

I remember returning to Stockholm, no money, no home, no friends, no papers.
I remember walking with my backpack, exploring almost at random: the city, its people.
I remember I never felt like an immigrant, I remember that others made me feel like one.
I always thought that the world was my country and my place was wherever I felt comfortable.
I remember the employees' faces at the immigration office.
I remember the tears in those blue eyes; I remember the rage and the helplessness.

I remember the tunnelbanan in winter, I remember faces of tedium.
I remember the people locked inside themselves behind newspapers.
Behind a book, behind a cell phone, behind their eyes looking into the void.
I remember the loneliness of the immigrants, I remember their idealized memories.
Their ambitions, their dreams, the things they lacked.
I remember their wish to fight, I remember their resignation.

I remember borrowing a tent so I could sleep in some park.
I remember looking for sales in supermarkets, I remember going to sleep without eating.
Working and not being paid, I remember I was not the only one to be ripped off.
I remember standing in the snow, blocking immigrant businesses.
I remember the endless lists of cheating bosses.
I remember how bosses beat up employees for demanding their rights,
both employees and bosses were immigrants.

I remember the terrible indifference; I remember the contempt, the hypocrisy.
I remember greeting the trees on my way home.
I remember the first time a neighbor greeted me.
I remember that the dump was my shopping mall.
I remember who was beside me when the police faced us down.
Not everyone was indifferent and hypocritical.

I remember that exploitation and power know no boundaries.
I remember how exploitation and power benefit from the borders.
I remember a morning in Uppsala, three witnesses and a short ceremony,
I remember my friend who used to wait in airports with flowers of welcome.
I remember the best gift received, a loaf of bread, which
could only have been kneaded by a friend
of the girl who now brings flowers to airports.
I remember agreeing to a deportation, I remember that it was cold
though it was no longer winter.

I remember being immensely sad two times,
two times immensely happy.
I remember when passion collided with reason.
I remember fighting with reason, against the imposition of realities.
I remember crossing my own border, it makes me angry.
I appreciate anyone who reminds me of it.
I remember when I was a child they taught me to jump walls.

translated from the Spanish by Moa Candil

All work with the workshop has been on a voluntary basis. The Swedish translators have been paid courtesy of Albert Bonniers Förlag. More information about the project can be found here and here.