Yousif M. Qasmiyeh
She did to me what a friend would normally do for a friend or a lover for
another lover – she held my hand very tightly. When I looked at her, my ﬁngers
were above the scanner – my ﬂesh was scanned and so was the air around us.
I thought of looking her in the eye again, pretending that we were in love and
in that room where asylum-seekers and suspects gather it was our opportunity
to embrace one another while the machine was doing its job. I gave my
ﬁngerprints and left. Every time I think of that moment I feel the need to go
back to that terminal and ask her what it meant to touch a stranger.
His parents had survived the holocaust. When I arrived in Oxford he gave me
a scarf (his scarf) and a jumper (his jumper). A week later, I cooked for him
with his own ingredients.
In their dreams they used to talk with butterﬂies. Those who descended into
the camp did not like that. They made sure these people never woke up again.
Wherever she went I went with her. I once hid underneath her hanging dress
thinking that she might not notice me.
Thresholds generally embody a polite and, to a certa in degree, diluted strategy
to appropriate more land without vocally unsettling the socio-political codes
Such land-relatedness becomes even more complex when it takes place in
refugee camps. I remember when my father decided to construct the ﬁrst
threshold to our house, announcing that refugees’ ability to acquaint and
reacqua int themselves with spatial in-validity is the nerve which sustains the
normality which is so urgently needed to create a meaningful form of survival
and competitiveness. By so doing, my father’s, and other people’s, benign
attempts to maintain a possessive understanding of well-being have directly
contributed to the dramatisation of fossilised life in the camps. A solid place
or a conspicuous marker for residents and foreigners alike to visit whenever
they feel like it; a place which suddenly becomes more centra l in our existence
than the house or home itself.
For whom are these thresholds created? The people of the house who
also become the people of the threshold. They regularly cross it to access
what is deemed more private. The visitors who, every time they walk towards
the door, are sacriﬁced at the builder’s doorstep. They enter the place
through a ceremony that only exists to baptise the feet of the descending
O crowds, move more slowly so we can all make it to paradise. O crowds of the
hidden, take some air before you delve deeply into the corridors of the sudden.
Our threshold shall not die. It sha ll always be there for the enterers, the exiters
and above all the escapees.
Blessed is the stone of men and beasts!
1. I know some of them. Some of them are friends but the majority
are enemies. Upon the doorstep you observe what they observe
with a lot of care. You look at them the way they look at you, curiously and
obliquely. You suddenly develop a fear of imitating them whilst they
imitate you. You worry about relapsing into one of your minds while
sharing mundane details with them. Sometimes I dream of devouring all
of them, and just once with no witnesses or written testimonies.
2. All of us wanted to greet her. Even my illiterate mother who never spoke a
word of English said: Welcome! After spending hours with us, in the same
room, she left with a jar of homemade pickles and three full cassettes with
Function of inhabiting – after Gaston Bachelard
Even though we tend to have a subtly precarious relationship with ‘our’ place,
we opt to dilute such precariousness, or at least pretend that it does not exist,
in order to claim ‘the our’ in such a linkage; as if it is the place which governs
the way we perceive it rather than an independent perception that slowly
, VOL. 56, NO. 4
develops as the act of inhabiting goes on. We ultimately focus on place as
a property and not as a medium where connections, loyalties and
sometimes relationships are challenged, deconstructed and eventually
reconceptualised. Thus we inhabit a place but there is never sufﬁcient
intimacy to inhabit the place. We inhabit it with the ghosts of the before and
the after, so we only exist in that bracketed state between what happened and
what ought to happen. My trips from one camp to another were the necessary
exercises that I wanted to complete to come to terms with what we
sometimes call ‘intimate clumsiness’. I assume that I know them given our
shared heritage and yet I hardly know them since they are different. Viewing
these differences as present would enable me to extract commonalities by
noticing differences more. The more I add or subtract, the more numbers or
features I commit to memory. Camps only stay the same when we fail to
When the dingy started to sink, nobody knew what to do. Instead they sat
motionless, praying to the sun and other things. I knew one of them. We met
in Manchester. When we last spoke on the phone, after his asylum claim was
rejected, he sounded very down.
They asked him to strip off a ll of his clothes while discussing his asylum claim.
The uniform was loose on him – two sizes bigger to accommodate his solitude.
The being is being strangled somewhere nearby.
On their way to court they disposed of him and his documents.
He never paid any attention to numbers.
They called it his room so he could commit suicide in private.
The last time they called his name he was not there.
His shoes had new soles.
He enjoyed photographing feet, including his own.
His title was written in bold.
His name looked faint.
The interviewer failed to conjugate a verb in the past tense.
He opted for the present tense instead.
He saw term, terminate and terminal on the same page.
He landed unscathed.
His only injury was mental.
In the end, he claimed asylum.
Non-arrival – after Derrida
The moment I arrive, I want to come back. I never knew why reaching a pla ce
has always meant the end of my place. Whether I walk, travel by bus or train,
or ﬂy, I would only be there to mark the occasion of coming ba ck. Non-arrival,
I suppose, can also be another occasion.
, VOL. 56, NO. 4