Archive for the ‘Borders’ Category

On waiting

October 23rd, 2012 | Alina Müller

‘Who is going to Bucharest?’

‘I am!’

The build up started several weeks in advance. I was about 7 years old and my mother announced that she would take me along on a trip to Bucharest. The Romanian capital was about the biggest and furthest place I could imagine at the time. From where we lived, it would be a whole night on the train – the distance was more than I could fathom.

‘Who is going to Bucharest?’

‘I am!’

This call and response had become a bedtime ritual in the weeks leading up to the trip. So when the day finally came and we were standing on the platform at the regional train station, I was pretty excited. I can’t remember what I was wearing but I’m sure it was something from the collection that my mother kept further back in the wardrobe, behind all the day to day clothes and school uniforms. I imagined Bucharest huge and smelling of bubble gum. There would probably also be some gold.

Since we lived in a different city, my aunt had had to pick up the tickets for us at the travel agency a few days before and we were now waiting for her to arrive. We were there in good time. It was going to be a long journey and the train to Bucharest only passed by once every few days. So it was better to wait for a few hours than risking it. We waited for what to my 7 year old self felt like an eternity, until finally the train was announced. My aunt and the tickets, however, were still nowhere to be found. ‘She’s on her way’ my mother kept telling me. And in between a few attempts to call my aunt from the station pay phone she would turn to me with a smile and ask ‘Who is going to Bucharest?’.  I was. I replied on script but I was starting to sense that something was not quite right. When the train started moving again and we were still on the platform, with no aunt and no tickets in sight, it became devastatingly clear. I was definitely not going to Bucharest. I was inconsolable.

Most accounts of the experience of migrating, have one thing in common: this feeling of anticipation which turns into waiting which turns into despair. Regardless of the reason why they decided to move in the first place, eventually the majority of migrants seem to end up suspended in waiting at some point in the process for one reason or other.

Some wait in their home countries while their work visa application is being processed. Others wait in detention or camps while their asylum application is being processed. Once/if they get the permission to live in the new country, they wait for indefinite leave to remain and eventually citizenship to be absolutely certain that they will not be sent back. Others that have managed to move just wait to make enough money to go back home and no longer have to share a house with ten other people and work harder and be paid less than everyone else. Some wait for the people they love – partners, children or parents, to join them so that they can finally start their new life. Many wait for their degrees to be validated and to finally be considered for a job. Some, especially with age, longingly wait for the day when they can go back to their home country.

Two days after my aunt’s failure to deliver our tickets, my mother and I were on our way to Bucharest.

A lot of people, trying and anticipating to get somewhere, remain standing on the platform.



Prelude to crossings

August 21st, 2012 | Alina Müller



‘As soon as I desire […] I am not merely for here-and-now, sealed into thingness. I am for somewhere else and for something else’ (Frantz Fanon)

What turns desire into obsession?

I remember my decision to leave Sweden as a moment of total certainty, perhaps the only one quite like it to date. It was a  decision that came to colour all my interactions and thoughts until that day when I finally boarded the flight to Italy with a big smile on my face. At the bottom of the escalator at International Departures at Landvetter Aiport, my father, who minutes earlier had handed me a one-dollar bill for luck, held a comforting arm around my mother’s shoulders as they waved  goodbye to their 19 year old daughter. In my mind, it was just like Frantz Fanon described it. I was for somewhere else and staying wasn’t even a contemplated possibility.

My father decided to leave his home country at an even earlier age. Looking back, he once described the feeling to me not so much as a desire but as a form of obsession. His country, unlike Sweden, was not quite as easy to leave. He spoke about spending countless evenings filled with coffee and cigarettes imagining the future ‘over there’ and eventually planning in great detail a route across the border. Before he eventually managed to leave, he would graduate from high school, get a university degree, complete military service, be arrested by the border police for attempting to cross the border, loose his job teaching philosophy as a result and work in a furniture factory for long enough to make his daughter a baby chair.

People today continue to arrive in border towns with the same desire. As controls are tightened and fences built, they spend their days trying to find a way to make it to the ‘better’ side, often repeatedly failing and repeatedly reattempting to get across. Consumed by being in a constant state of fear and longing and often struggling to survive, they eventually get to a point where they can imagine only one release, reaching their destination. I suspect that it is this condition, that finds its extreme expression in these ‘giant waiting rooms for migrants’, where the urgency to leave meets the violence of repeatedly coming up against borders, that ultimately turns a perfectly reasonable desire into an all-consuming obsession.