– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘Two Blankets, Three Sheets’ blogtour, organised by Random Things Tours.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but b
About the Author :
Rodaan Al Galidi is a poet and writer. Born in Iraq and trained as a civil engineer, he has lived in the Netherlands since 1998. As an undocumented asylum seeker he did not have the right to attend language classes, so he taught himself to read and write Dutch. His novel De autist en de postduif (‘The Autist and the Carrier Pigeon’) won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011—the same year he failed his Dutch citizenship course. Two Blankets, Three Sheets, already a bestseller in the Netherlands, is his most successful novel to date.
Translated from Dutch by Jonathan Reeder
‘You have to take care, Mr Karim,’ she said, ‘this is your future.’ With the word ‘this’ she picked up the report from the first hearing. I was amused at the idea that my future would be determined by a few sheets of paper, and not by my health, my happiness or my dreams. Or a never-ending barbeque on the beach, or travelling the world on a legitimate passport.
Amsterdam Airport, 1998. Samir Karim steps off a plane from Vietnam, flushes his fake passport down the toilet, and requests asylum. Fleeing Iraq to avoid conscription into Saddam Hussein’s army, he has spent seven years anonymously wandering through Asia. Now, safely in the heart of Europe, he is sent to an asylum centre and assigned a bed in a shared dorm—where he will spend the next nine years.
Taking its title from the ‘two blankets, three sheets, a towel, a pillow, and a pillow-case’ that constitute the items Samir is given on his arrival at the Asylum Centre, and are the only things he owns during his nine years there, this book is the story of how Samir navigates his way around the absurdities of Dutch bureaucracy while trying his best to get along with his 500 new housemates.
Told with compassion and a unique sense of humour, this is an inspiring tale of survival, a close-up view of the hidden world of refugees and human smugglers, and a sobering reflection of our times.
This passage, taken from the end of the book, describes what happens when there is a general pardon for asylum seekers in the Netherlands. Samir has been in the asylum centre (ASC) for 9 years – most of his housemates have been released, but he hasn’t heard anything yet…
About seventy asylum seekers who did not fall under the general pardon were left in the ASC. For years, it was a place of waiting and wailing, silence and screams, birth and death, suffering and succor—and now, strangely enough, it seemed incapable of near-emptiness. But it was. The emptiness was unbearable. The quiet in the rooms was hell. I have never experienced such a wretched feeling of loneliness and abandonment as in that desolate place. Every morning, I had to adjust anew to the deafening silence. Sometimes the silence was so overwhelming I couldn’t really tell if I was asleep or awake. When my roommates Malik and Salih got their residence permits under the general pardon, they both were also given a place to live. Salih in Groningen, Malik in a village in South-Holland. I stayed behind alone in O-139. Finally, a room to myself: this, too, was a kind of general pardon. But I found out I no longer slept as soundly as I once did. Something inside me always stayed awake. I used to think that this was because I had to share a room with others, but apparently that wasn’t it. It was because I shared my inner mind with others: with Reception, the IND [Immigration and Naturalisation Service], the Foreigners’ Police, Social Services, and all those other asylum seekers.
In the end, I too fell under the general pardon. Don’t ask how, I still don’t really know myself. It doesn’t matter, because it proved that my asylum request had never really been taken seriously. I had seen so many mistakes already that it was hard to take the IND’s decision seriously either.
I couldn’t get to sleep, my last night in O-139. So I paced through Yellow with its yellow walls, Blue with its blue walls, Green with its green walls, and Orange with its orange walls, from wing to wing, over and over, until the colors of the walls all faded and became gray. Everywhere I went was accompanied by memories and feelings. Every brick was a piece of history. On that last night, the building made me think of a sinking ship. I heard a violin coming from O-101. It was Levon, the Armenian. I stood outside listening, as I always did when he played, but this time I knocked on the door when he finished and asked the name of the piece. “Dle Yaman,” he said, and wrote it down for me. He promised to play it for me as often as I wanted, but I told him I would be leaving the next day. Before I left, I returned the two blankets, three sheets, towel, pillow, and pillowcase to the storeroom, and brought the receipt to Social Services, where Anneke gave me a day pass for the train and wished me a good life. I went back to O-139. I had packed my things in a bag Abdulwahid had left behind when he went to London. I picked it up and looked out the window one last time. I opened the door, took one last glance around the room, and left the asc by the back door. “Samir, Samir, wait!” someone shouted. I turned and saw Abdulsalaam. “I was just at Reception and they told me that even you got a letter. But not me,” he said. “Do you think I’ll ever get one?” How I wished I could give him an answer.
As I walked from the ASC to the train station I thought: what now, after nine years of marking time in that place? I looked in wonder at the world around me. Now that I no longer belonged to that building, it was as though I had been shut up in a sealed basement all those years. Rather than becoming open and larger, the world appeared treacherous and less trustworthy. I had changed, both physically and mentally. Social Services knew Samir, as did the receptionists, the Foreigners’ Police, and the ind. But I did not. And I had to get to know him so I could get on with my life.
A young mother, also on her way to the station, was pushing twins in a baby carriage. It was a positive, hopeful sign in those first minutes free of the ASC. The woman was carrying a handbag and a heavy suitcase. I offered to help and she nodded. At the station, she looked up at the departures board. “Shit,” she said, irritated. “Fifteen minutes’ delay.” I laughed out loud. She gave me a questioning look. “I’ve just had a delay too. Nine years. In that building,” I said, pointing to the orange wing of the ASC, still just visible in the distance. The woman smiled. If I hadn’t carried her bag for her, she’d probably have thought I was crazy. Maybe I was.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds