Khaled Alesmael är svensk-syrisk författare och journalist. Han debuterade 2018 med romanen Selamlik och 2020 fick han Sveriges Radios novellpris för radionovellen En tygväska med Damaskustryck. Som journalist har han bland annat arbetat för tidskriften Ottar och Sveriges Televisions Uppdrag granskning.
Här skriver han om ett bibliotek där alla berättelser har en plats.
If I had a library, I would dedicate one day every week to displaying a set of maps and inviting people from around the world to tell their stories and experiences in their own language. Interesting and intriguing things happen to people every day, but not everyone gets the opportunity to make their stories public. Instead, very few people have the chance to inform and inspire others with their stories, unless they’re writers, journalists or others with a public following. There are many stories that deserve to be told, but they never will. Giving space to others to share their stories is a necessity. I will start with myself:
I will tell my story of travelling, identity and citizenship. Receiving my Swedish citizenship in November 2018 came with a great relief – my visa complications at border crossings (particularly airports) would finally be solved! A month later, in December 2018, I landed at Landvetter Airport after visiting the UK, and a handsome and bearded police officer stopped and asked me the reason for my visit to Sweden. ”Jag bor här,” was my reply, with a nervous and humble smile. He smiled back and extended his left arm, guiding me through the way out in a welcoming gesture. Alhmadullilah.(1)
My skin is olive, my beard is black and dense, and I speak Swedish at a basic level, so how is it that I hold a Swedish passport!? I had a friend who worked at the police force in Skåne, and she told me to always refer to myself as Swedish at border crossings, This advice proved to be extremely valuable. Another friend, from a migrant family living in Göteborg, recommended a phrase to use when I was met with wide-opened eyes and a, “really?!”’ when I said I was Swedish. He suggested that I identify myself as a newly Swedish, and explained that this is how his parents introduce themselves, even after living in Sweden for more than 30 years! Newly Swedish!! This phrase makes me feel like my hair and beard are bleach blond and I wear blue contact lenses. I rejected this advice and instead used the recommendation from a third friend, who was from Umeå, but lived in Göteborg at the time. He advised me to say “YES! I AM A SWEDE. SHIT HAPPENS!” in the hope that this response would make border guards consider their questions when they ask about the citizenship of someone with black hair and olive skin, and who only had a basic grasp of the Swedish language.
My first trip was to Palermo in Sicily after two years of “Staying home” due to the pandemic. I’ve received a literary residency as my next book includes Palermo. How lovely! The Palermitani (2) I met said they had heard about an Arab author writing about their city and its people. I loved that they were interested in my writing, rather than where I lived or where I came from, or how I came to be Swedish!
They chose to introduce me as a Syrian refugee writer, which was fine, although People from Palermo.
this made me think of the migrant parents of my friend in Göteborg, who still feel newly Swedish after 30 years of living
in Västra Götalands län.
I have come to believe that as ‘Swedes,’ we need to know how to say “I am Swedish” in Italian before we travel to Italy: ”sono svedese.” Well, I said this in Italian when the airline officer was checking my passport. When she inquisitively inspected me I thought she simply wanted to ensure that my passport photograph matched my face. But then she asked for a second time where I was from? I repeated ”sono svedese”. This did not work – she took my passport and disappeared. It was a bit uncomfortable and confusing to explain that I was born in Syria to a Turkish mother and a Syrian father, and that I am a Swedish citizen, while I was flying back to the UK, where I have been staying with my Spanish boyfriend.
The same airline officer finally returned with my passport, which she handed to me with a smile that indicated she was confident that I was being truthful. I took my passport and shared with her what my Umeå friend taught me: “Si sono svedese. Shit Happens!”
This is my story. Who’s next?
1 Thank God.
2 People from Palermo
Bild: Ben Wilkin