Borders: Abandoned

Borders. Who crosses them? How do you pass them? How long does it take? How much does it cost? Do you have to walk, drive, swim, fly? Can you cross a border? Where is the line, exactly? What is in between? What was the last line I crossed? How long did I stay in between: One foot on one side, the other on the new terrain.

Borders are fascinating. I remember myself standing on one side of a border, I don’t recall if I was looking over the strait of Gibraltar, or just observing the next meter through the poles marking the border, to Spain, actually Britain, or the United States of America, simply being amazed by the pure physical fact of looking into another country, another world, another life. At some point, someone came and said: Here is the line. And here I am, staring across the Rhine, to France.

You can develop a relationship with a border (like in Luis Humberto Chrosthwaite wonderful short story, in Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera). Border: female or male? In German, she is female. Die Grenze. I like that. She invites you, she becomes distant, you adore her, you hate her, you get to know all her wrinkles, you grow old.

What happens, if she suddenly leaves you? From one day to another. What happens to the lines on the maps?

Doesn’t the border continue to live in your head?

I love these images by Josef Schulz. He photographs abandoned border stations in Europe. Poetic, lonely, and fragile.

Thanks to Ronny at Kraftfuttermischwerk for discovering them!

Creative Nonfiction: Immigration

I am very excited to join the course Issues in International Creative Nonfiction: Immigration at the University of Iowa starting this Monday! It’s an international distance-learning course, part of their International Writing Program.

Some of the books we are going to read are Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. More on the program here. I am looking forward to working with Stephanie Elizondo Griest and my good friend Mariana Martinez!

Here are a couple of thoughts to start off with:

I am a migrant. Yet, with my G4 diplomatic visa, an eight-cubic-meter box containing my life thus far, my arrival to a new country, this time the US, previously to Mexico, to Morocco, (how do you call migrating back to your own country after many years?), looked quite different from the millions of immigrants arriving, far too often, just barely with their lives.

From the individual to the general, some numbers: an estimated 214 million international migrants worldwide. Migrants: the 5th most populous state. Migrants and remittances: an economy of US$ 440 billion, bigger than Belgium, Sweden, Portugal.

Immigration depends on the point of view. From your point of view, I am an immigrant. From mine, I emigrated. This tells me something very important about migration. It is about understanding: you, myself, your culture, my culture, and the culture we form together. Border cultures in Tijuana, Tangiers (the Interzone!). The melting and separating of nationalities in cities with a stream of international workers, New York, Washington, Berlin (Berlin could classify for border culture as well, some would even argue still).

In Germany, immigrants were considered guests, the so-called guest workers, in the expectation that they would return once they’ve done the job. Suddenly, policy makers were surprised when they didn’t. Turks, Italians, Greeks, they all build a new home in the country they came to work in. Maybe they thought of going back, some do, but what about their kids, their kid’s kids? Considering immigrants as guests excluded them. It also started to challenge the concept of nationalities: one passport, two passports, three passports? (Great column by the Economist)

I only have one passport (a very good one when it comes to visas, not like a Colombian, or a Pakistani). But what is my identity? German (I might even precise south-western German) grown, shaped in Tijuana, Mexico, then Berlin, Morocco, Washington (which, I must say, is not = US, especially in a workplace that is predominantly Latin). Why do I enjoy Japanese and Korean movies? Why do I read more Latin American than German literature? Why do I listen to German electronic music?

How does this all fit together?

And finally, in which language do I write? I don’t know. Each language sounds different. I start in one, and end in another. The same poem sounds different in German than in English than in Spanish. Words migrate, have to migrate.

Hopefully, I’ll be posting some of what I’ll be writing on this blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on immigration, on the texts to come, on whatever related. Definitely look out for some posts and thoughts, images, on immigration, borders and related issues.

With a bicycle in Tanger

I have been travelling a little bit this weekend, wandering Chefchouans beautiful medina and breathing the air of the Rif mountains chain at the ruins of an old Spanish built mosque. Today I arrived at Tanger, the border tozn in the north, new economic centre. Baptised the Interzone in the 50′s, where everything was allowed. I like the word; expressing so much more, describing the feeling of transit, of beeing between the worlds. Although Tanger actually appears more Arab. Curiously, the Instituto Cervantes will be opening an exhibition of the Mexican-American border, advertised with a picture of the border fence in Tijuana; this other famous border town on the American continent; Tijuana, welcome, where… Standing at a viewpoint in the Casbah, looking over the straight of Gibraltar, thinking of all the hopes, the dreams these places bear.

But here again I found a nice and very central movie theatre, inviting to watch the 7pm function of the Moroccan movie “Le Velo”, first full time feature  by Hamid Faridi (see an interview in French with him here). The theatre was, again, empty, but I enjoyed the movie:

The movie is set-up with a basic plot of telling the story of a father and its two daughters, of which one is handicapped who are faced with their evil uncle and the superintdendent of the local police, who want to get hold of the house the family lives in and owns. When the father’s health is getting worse through a heart attack, things turn into worse as the daughters face loosing the house to the uncle, only male in the family. There seems to be no way out until the handicapped daugther disappears with the sick father and the bicycle.

The second part of the movie is the stronger part of the story, turning into a dramatic-comic road movie with the whole police force, the daughter and her best friends chasing behind the missing. Le Velo criticises machism in Moroccan society, believing women to be helpless without a men and displaying everyday machism and the constraints society places upon them. The movie portrays strong women, fighting for their place and right. An atmospheric soundtrack flickers to the takes, catching the landscape and the faces of the characters (not always well focussed). A brave little movie that deserves definitely more audience.