– a few words about the lot of the immigrant
By Alen Mešković · illustration by Casper Øbro
One summer day in 1996 I landed at Kastrup Airport after a three-week vacation in the Balkans. “We are home”, I thought- and was instantly start-led at the phrase, which had occurred to me completely spontaneously. Because, what exactly did I mean by “home”? Wasn’t I “a stranger” here? Hadn’t I come from a totally different place?
I was 18-19 years old at the time and had only been living in Denmark for a year and a half. Before that I stayed in Croatia for two years as a refugee, and before that, 14 years in Bosnia. Denmark was still a foreign country to me, Bosnia and Croatia were slowly becoming it, and me, I was a teenager with war in the baggage and hard rock in the headphones. Everything was still strange and unexplored – both around me and within me, while at the same time I was getting to know myself and my surroundings. Concepts like “Bosnian”, “Danish”, “home country” and “the foreign country” were becoming less fixed and more relative each day. I did not see this clearly but I could sense it. The reality around me regularly threatened them.
For instance that day at the airport. For I wasn’t precisely leaving home back then – that is to say Bosnia – but Croatia, where my friends and fami-ly lived as refugees. In other words, I was neither leaving nor coming home. Neither in a concrete nor in a figurative sense. In turn, I experienced for the first time one of the paradoxes which are associated with having two home countries and yet none, with feeling like a stranger and home everywhere. I did not reflect much on it that day, the experience was, as mentioned, primarily of an empirical nature. But ever since I have often recalled this lan-ding and pondered on the heavy symbolism of the situation. It has become my preferred example of the ultimate immigrant-experience, the lot of the immigrant to the highest degree.
My debut collection of poems Første gang tilbage (First time back) (2009), comes as a continu-ation of these ponderings and is fundamentally nothing but a stylistic and thematic circling around this paradoxical position between two places and times, then and now. Several key poems have been written by taking as a point of departure this mixed and contradictory sense of alienation and domestication, loss and (re)conquest of one’s own liquid identity, while concepts like “here” and “there”, “then” and “now”, “inside” and “outside”, “you” and “I” are swapping places, melting together and being tossed and turned.
The collection of poems came about in the wake of a trip to Bosnia in the summer of 2006 and my later contribution to Gyldendal’s antholog Nye stemmer (New Voices) (2007), which three of the poems form part of. It wasn’t my first trip back to my native town. In fact, I was there for the third time, but it was the first time that I stepped inside my childhood home, which my father had just made habitable. Stepping inside over the doorstep was a very special experience. Curious, apropos of the opening poem “The curious house”. At the same time “the homecoming” was closely related to the one ten years earlier. Now I could finally say: ‘We are home’, without being puzzled by it. Or could I? Because both the house and the city had changed in those years, while I was gone. They had become more unfamiliar to me than I had expected. There was therefore a disparity between what I saw and what I remembered. What I had been missing for a long time and what I was allowed to see (again).
I walked around in what was left of the city and thought about a poem by Baudelaire, “The Swan”, in which the poetic self is idling about the renovated Paris and recalling the old shacks, which are no longer there. “In my dear memory, all remains unwavering”, as one of the Danish translations has it. I often think of this poem when I visit my native town, and it’s not just a defiant “regard” to the victors of the war, with ethnic cleansing on their conscience – the ones who first bombed and then restored the city beyond recognition. It is also a sober realization of the fact that the unwavering and the homely are things which live most strongly in our remembrance. In the myth about “home” and “home country” on the one side and “the foreign country” on the other.
In the more concrete horizon of experiences, away from the abstract and most often politicized antagonisms, fortunately things look different. As any human being, the immigrant too is an acting subject. He or she is not just a petrified and divided object, which stands between its two (or more) worlds, between the homely and the foreign, the known and the unknown. No, he has his free will and the possibility of acquiring the foreign, renouncing the homely, combining their individual elements, doing whatever the heck he wants with them- and creating his own world, detached from the alienating categories and fixed concepts. The very fact that the immigrant in his concrete sphere of experience is able to mould himself and his identity, enables him to create a unique existential place of belonging, a home in a broader sense. This home is only his own – liquid, floating and always in transition. It is located there, where the immigrant is, and it always moves along.
In this sense I was right at that time in Kastrup in 1996, when I thought “We are home”. At least just as much as that time in Bosnia in 2006.