We shall meet again, Sanam

Page 1

”I had the intention to reach a place where I could live in freedom. To live like a human being.” From UNCHR’s report Voices of Afghan children

karlskoga, SWEDEN, 2012.

DAMN! that was easy. one more, you can do it!


what’s your name?

NiCE! you’re stronger than you look!


you work out here every day, don’t you?

Yeah, almost every day.


no, I just have trouble sleeping, that’s all . . .

getting ripped for the beach?

“ok, see you around, hamid.”

“are you up? first day of school today! your family would’ve been so proud! I’ll meet you outside school. Hugs, paula.”

it’s true. mom would have been proud. and sanam too.


ten years ago. afghanistan, 2002.

yo, hamid! we’re here!

tell all your friends we offer free cab rides from school! and candy!

give him some snacks!

haha! dont’ eat it all! give some to a girl!

people said that airplanes had flown into skyscrapers in america. and that’s why the foreign soldiers were here.

look, mom!

come in, hamid! is your school finished for today? go sit in the back with your little sister until we’re finished here.

I didn’t even know if it was true. the important thing is that the taliban disappeared.


the school for girls could open again. my mother was a teacher there and got her job back.

thanks for today. see you tomorrow!

five years she had been at home, doing nothing. during the taliban regime, women couldn’t leave home without their husbands.

thanks for today. see you tomorrow!

“life in pakistan is hard. but we are alive. khamil sends his greetings. maybe we will see each other, one day, my beloved brother. insha’ allah.”

mom was one of very few in our village who could read. after school, people always came to get help, like reading a letter. even powerful men from the mountains came to my mother.

would you like to write a reply?

I don’t want you to go on the soldiers’ tank hamid. it’s not safe.

what’s for dinner mama?


it’s hamid’s birthday. guess!

it’s not a tank! it’s a humvee!


me and sanam were always very proud of mom. she could make anyone laugh.

finally we had plenty of food again –- sometimes even meat! on my birthday we always had kabli palau.

it’s the national dish of afghanistan. rice, with lamb, vegetables, raisins and nuts.

then I will be a pilot!

you haven’t changed your mind, have you, hamid? you’re still going to be an aircraft mechanic? yes, dad! and I’m buying a candy store so I can make candy in silver wrapper.

girls can’t be pilots, sanam.

anyway, it’s bedtime for the two of you, so you won’t be tired in school tomorrow. nonsense, of course they can!


I didn’t know then that I would come to hate everything that flies, except the birds. maryam’s an idiot. don’t you remember when she tricked you to give her your nice orange for her two rotten ones? don’t listen to her. I’m a little scared, hamid. maryam says that if the taliban come back then maybe we have to marry them!

but what if? what if the taliban actually come back?

then daddy will protect you.

I will. always.

but I want you to protect me!

those were the happy days.


five years later, 2007.


salam alaikum.

wa alaikum assalam. what brings you here at this hour? she must stop it! is it your wife that runs the school for girls?


my wife has worked all her life. she stuidied at the university of kabul.

girls don’t need to go to school! and you know it is a sin for women to work!

girls have the same right as boys to go to school!

this is my house. don’t you ever come back here again.

cover your face in the presence of a stranger, woman!

who was that, hamid?

leyla, go inside.

you don’t want to know.


the foreign soldiers closed their base outside our village. the taliban were able to move back, little by little, every day.

dad had to leave us. otherwise the taliban might have forced him to fight with them. I’m going to look for a job, hamid. A long, long way from here. until I get back, you are the man of the house, hamid. you must Be strong.

but I’m small. smallest in my class!

not that kind of strength, hamid. in here.


2008. my mother continued to teach but there were fewer and fewer students. many feared to let their children go to school. and one day . . .

what are you doing! stop it! stop it!

run home girls, and don’t come back!

we told you to close the school! you’re a


mama! stop it!



and tell your son to get ready! soon he will join us to prepare for battle!

my school for boys was turned into a quran school. my mother had to wear her burka again.


one day, dad called and told us he had got a job far away in the mountains. they were building a large dam. the pay was really good.

maybe he could earn enough money so that we could flee to pakistan. but that never happened . . .


about 95 percent.

aircraft carrier, persian gulf. I have it on screen, sir. suspected weapon convoy. talibans.

how sure are we?

damn! what do we do, sir? it’s about to pass through populated areas.

Ok . . . remove it.

I later learned that the planes don’t have windows or pilots. they are called drones and are controlled by a joystick from far away.

did my father die IMMEDIATELY or did he have to suffer? only allah knows.

the foreign soldiers came to our village again, for the first time in over a year.

on behalf of iSAf, I am very sorry for your loss ma’m.

we offer or course, compensation for your deceased husband.

my mother had to sign a paper. they gave her an envelope with 3,000 dollars.

we have to leave sir, this area isn’t secure.

what’s happened to dad? is he coming home? I’m thirsty!

and why can’t I sit by the window, mother.

we’re going to stay with my brother zahir and his family.

mom, you have to tell us where we’re going.

that wasn’t the whole truth. only mother and sanam were to stay in kabul.

uncle zahir was going to help me to start a new life.


in europe, everything is different. there is freedom. you will make it! but remember that . . . you will always. . . be my son. mine and daddy’s little boy.

my mother made a secret pocket in my jeans. she hid 200 dollars in it. then she hung a gold chain around my neck.

I bought this many years ago for sanam’s wedding. but if you run out of money, you have to sell it. do you understand?


don’t worry mother. I’ll work. and send money. and then I’ll come and get you.

sanam knows nothing, right?

no, and you leave before she wakes up tomorrow. have you packed? bring only one set of clothes!

yes, mother.

nothing you don’t need.


my mother cried herself to sleep.

I was awake all night. her head in my lap. and with sanam’s tiny hand in mine.

I was freezing so much that I shivered, even though the night was warm. my stomach was like a black hole.

goodbye, little sister. when I see you again, I will give you your necklace back.


2009. islamabad, pakistan. the bazar. my name is zahir. I’m the boy’s uncle. we have traveled from kabul. he must flee. and you have the best reputation of all the smugglers.

so, why have you come to pakistan? and why me?

you helped my wife’s cousin’s boy. Reza. he is in germany now.

I remember him. What’s your name, boy?

I will make it! you know nothing about me!


have a glass of tea, hamid!

that’s the spirit! haha! how much money do you have?

no, thank you.

what is wrong with the boy? he doesn’t drink tea? and he is weak. he can’t make such a journey.

3000 dollars.

bah! that will only take him to iran!

so be it, then. iran is good. they speak persian.

that is true. but then you also know that afghans have to work hard in iran. very hard.

we know that. but he is tough. he’s been through a lot. his father --


enough about that. the boy will go to iran and earn money. whILE he can afford it, he will continue.

maybe to england. have you chosen a hawaladar?


good. let’s go see him now.

an honest hawaladar is a neutral link between the smuggler and the byer. that way, no one risks losing their money.

you know how it works. when he arrives in teheran, the boy will call me and give me the password. and not before that.

have you chosen a password? write it down on this note.

when I know that he has arrived I will give the money to the smuggler.


first we travelled by car and then we walked over the mountains.

how long did it take? a week? two? I can’t remember.

I only remember that it was the easiest part of the trip.


early one morning, we arrived in teheran.

here, talk! your hawaladar.

it’s me, hamid.

here’s the “employment service”.

go sit there with the other boys. when you have money, call this number!


I think we are in teheran.

the password is “sanam”.

every morning we sat in the roundabout and waited. every now and then a small truck would stop and someone would offer us work for the day.

you! and you! get up here, you’re picking melons!

I got nothing the first weeks. i guess they could tell I was new. Maybe I looked weak. But then I got lucky.

they were going to build a huge hospital. many of us got jobs. 55 dollars a week. about a third of what the iranians got.

come on, flat-nose! faster!

sometimes the iranian police dropped by. we had to pay a “fee” for “residence permits”. those who refused got beaten with belts or batons.

we worked twelve hour shifts. one day off every week.

we stayed at the construction site, under tarpaulins, with our mattresses on the cold ground.

to europe.

have you decided where to go, hamid?

sure, but europe is large. what country?

everyone were friends here. Hazara, tadjiki, pashtun. some were sunni muslims and others shia. it didn’t matter.


I don’t know. what’s the difference?

better than you!

I’m going to england to become a football pro!

well, germany is the best. they have car factories that employ thousands of workers.

what can you do in greece?

leave as fast as you can! haha!

sure, what chance do you have of becoming a football pro!

no one gets to stay in greece, hamid.

ok. I guess I’ll see.

I bought a cheap cell phone and tried to call mom and sanam in kabul. but the number I got from my uncle only went to an answering machine.

it’s hamid again, please call back. please.

I counted backwards from a thousand to fall asleep, but it almost never worked. the memories from my last night in kabul always came back.


after ten months in iran I finally had enough money. the smuggler got me tickets for a city on the turkish border.

this time there was no hawaladar. I had to trust the smuggler.


salmas, northwest iran.

hundreds of refugees were already there. the smugglers told us we could only walk at night, or risk getting caught.

hi buddy, enjoying the vacation so far?

we could rest during the day. the smugglers handed out bread and brew some tea. that’s when I met farhad.

yeah, mountain climbing is a bit expensive but aside from that it’s my favourite sport.


and I love the air this time of year.

are you crazy?

don’t worry, I’m just kidding. do you have any food?

uhm . . . no.


here, have a snickers bar.

like my cousin. once, at a party, she swelled up like a pig! couldn’t breathe!

but maybe you’re allergic to nuts?

what if you survive everything up here in the mountains.

you don’t trip and fall into a ravine. you don’t freeze to death, you don’t get a bullet in the back by a turkish border police.

it’s death by chocolate!


shut up down there! no talking!


farhad was like no other I had met before. he had a glow about him. did he save my life back then?

I’ve checked you out. you take far too long steps when it’s steep. take shorter steps. a guy fell last night. he was injured badly so they’re leaving him in the mountains.

that guy is the worst! have you seen his face? I call him the wart-farm.

another tip . . . make a list of three things to do before you die. eat a good meal, have kids, go to the moon -I don’t know.

see you! insha’ allah.

okay . . . thanks.

but make a list in your head. it helps you to stay alive.

van, eastern turkey.

we made it to turkey and waited in a barn. after 14 hours the first truck arrived.

first group, hurry up! get in amongst the boxes!

I headed for the exit but someone pulled me back.



what about it?

why wait?

always choose air conditionINg if you can, buddy. trust me!

check the truck!

I’m hamid by the way. what’s your name?

how come you know so much about all of this?


this is my second time.

second? why?

haha! I’m a backpacker. I love life on the road, you know. you get to see so much of the world.

just kidding. I made it to holland last time. but they sent me back to greece. who in turn sent me back to afghanistan.

why couldn’t you stay in holland?

I’m “dublin”.


don’t you know anything? [sigh]. I’ll tell you later. you’d better stay with me. but don’t show the smugglers that we’re buddies. they’ll split us up.


they don’t want us to cooperate. then we can make demands. they don’t want trouble.

istanbul, turkey.

they brought us to a warehouse outside THE capital OF TURKEY.the first truck was already there. I knew right away that something was wrong.


what’s wrong with them? are they sick?

don’t look unless you want nightmares, hamid.

they had been too many in the truck, and the truck was too tightly sealed. they suffocated.

we heard later that five people died. two of them were small children. “Always choose air conditioning”.


for three weeks we were sitting in a basement in istanbul, waiting. once a day someone came around to empty the bucket we used for a toilet which made the stench go away for a while.

remember one thing. don’t let them take your fingerprints. not before you’ve reached the place where you want to stay.

for example, if you leave your prints in italy or greece, they will always send you back there, even if you apply for asylum in another country in europe.

but why?

how should I know? it’s called the dublin regulation.

I’m “dublin” because they took my prints in greece last time.

so how are you going to get to stay in holland this time?


there are tricks.

you’ll see. play your cards now!


kuçukköy, west turkey.

the smugglers took us to izmir and then to a harbour town I can’t remember the name of.


we arrived to the beach in the middle of the night.

get moving!

what’s this? we were promised a motorboat!

not any more!

we paid for it!

shut up and listen! the greeks have increased surveillance. they can hear a motorboat from miles away!

you wanna go to eruope or not?

we rowed for hours. when we finally saw the shore we were exhausted. but I couldn’t stop staring at the sea.

come on, hamid! row! have you never seen the ocean before?


no, I actually haven’t . . .

look over there!

maybe the dead calm was why we were discovered.

hands up!

damn! take them on board!

he’s got a knife!

stop! what are you doing!

[why did you tear up the boat?]

quiet, hamid! it’s no use!


[it makes us shipwrecked. by international law, they have to save us now!]

lesbos, greece.

the island was called lesbos and the capital mytilini. they took us to a huge refugee camp. later that afternoon we were called in for registration.

can we go together? he doesn’t speak any english!

next! please come in!


it was a lie, but I decided to trust farhad.

how old is he?



[sigh] that’s what you all say.

you dream of europe. but you have no idea what’s in store for you.

he has to put his prints on the paper.

don’t you know that europe has become the butthole of the world? we have no more money. the stock market has crashed. Racists in the parliaments everywhere . . .

is the boy ready?

[I’m already screwed. it doesn’t matter!]

they took us to a dorm.

good, you can go. good luck my friends!

new guests . . . welcome to hotel pagani. I’m the managing director here!

wanna sleep in a royal bunk bed? Five EUROs PER Night. on a mattrEss-- Two EUROs. on the floor -- absolutely free!


they let us out after five weeks. they gave us id-papers that allowed us to stay in greece for 30 days. that’s how we were able to take the boat to athens.

this is it buddy! how much money do you have?

if you need to exchange money, you talk to me!

in iran, a dude sold cigarettes, one at a time, to people who couldn’t afford a whole package. he made big bucks on it.

35 dollars.

i’ve got 18 euros. we need to work to get more money.


look at you, mr business man!

athens, greece.

we rented a place with twelve others at a place called omonia. there were refugees from the entire world there. and everyone was on their way someplace else.

still, we were better of than most. we bought packs of cigarettes at 4 euros a pack. then we sold a cigarette for 40 or 50 cents. that way we doubled our profit on every package. cigarettes . . . you’re slim and cute. you could make a lot more.


haha! start working in the shiny cars.

drugs, weapons, passports. people. everything could be bought in omonia.


one day we decided to go on vacation. we still had some time left of our 30 days and could move around as we pleased.

I’ve decided on sweden.

no! everyone says it’s the best country if you want to study.

why? because they make nice watches?

it’s good, hamid! you’ll be a teacher, like your mother.


come with me to sweden! together we can make it!

sorry. it has to be holland.

I’ll tell you some other time my friend.


that’s how it was with farhad. I told him everything. but he didn’t want to talk about himself. all I knew about him was that his parents were dead and that he grew up on the streets of kandahar.


who can swim?

I can’t swim!

get into the water you dirty afghan!

you know my list, “three things before you die”?

I can tell you one thing that’s on that list.

haha! no need!

I’m off! I need to buy a few things. I’ll see you back at the apartment.


farhad? what’s up?

I stayed until night and watched the sun sink into the ocean. When I got home . . .

the fingerprints. he had burned and filed until they were gone.


the trick . . .

The next day we took the bus to a harbour town called patras. we hung around the fences at the docks for weeks.

we tried to learn as much as possible.


memorizing where the trucks from different countries parked before they drove onto the ferries.

how the guards made their rounds.

check out the somali!


it’s the same gang as yesterday. they’re getting desperate.

not everyone could afford to wait as long as us.


we slept in a tunnel by the railway. we ate the same thing every day. maccaroni and red beans that we boiled over an open fire.

i named the dish “patras pilau”.

it’s worse again.


never mind that now.

I think you have a fever. and you’re shaking.

I know. did you buy the thick duct tape?

yes. everything is set up.


good, we’ll leave in an hour.

good! now climb over!

throw the backpacks!

tape the planks! be careful with the axle.

[we stink buddy. the dogs will find us in no time.]

but we were lucky. we rolled onto the ferry without a hitch. the journey over took 19 hours.


bari, southeast italy.

we knew we couldn’t jump off before the truck had passed the gates in the italian harbour. do you have any more water, farhad?

no. and I can’t feel my legs any more.

but there were no traffic lights. the car drove for hours. the noise was deafening. rocks from the road hit us all the time.

we’re off at the first traffic light!

Now! we’ve stopped! come on, let’s run!

I can’t do it.



people were staring. someone called an ambulance. the police came and we were taken to a hospital.


I won’t leave you, farhad.

you have to leave, hamid.

it’s an order! you’re going to sweden, buddy. study! you have my number. when you’re rich, married and have a big house, then I’m coming to stay with you.

I will wait. we’re leaving together.

no! listen! they’ll take your prints the moment we get to the police station, and then you’re screwed like me.

I’ll create a diversion and then you run, ok!


I don’t remember everything that happened after that.

I know I found a train station and took the train. sometimes without a ticket.


I was hiding in public restrooms.

I was in berlin a couple of days. I got to sleep in a church and they gave me food.


stockholm, sweden. central station.

I had arrived. but what was I supposed to do? I sat on a bench . . .


it’s quarter past one. we’re closing. beat it, kid!


it’s late, friend. need a cab? taxi, no.


where are you from?

the cab driver was from iran. we could speak persian. I decided to trust him. his eyes were large and friendly.


the cab driver took me to his home.

I got to shower. his wife served food. rice and chicken. they had a lot of questions but I couldn’t answer even one of them. all I could think about was that farhad should have been here. Not me. it wasn’t fair.

before I went to bed the man wanted to show me something.

here. my son and daughter. aria and golnaz. but all children are my children, do yo understand?

tomorrow I will drive you to the migration board.


I was registered as asylum seeker and made it to a transit home. there were others there who had come to sweden alone. somali, algerians, eritreans.

we had to take introductory courses in swedish.

in the evenings we played cards for change. it wasn’t allowed but we did it anyway.

it made me think of an envelope my mother had held in her hand. a million years ago.

guys, this is shadi from kurdistan. she’s going to stay with us for a while.

sometimes I thought I saw sanam, but of course it was never her.


I called uncle zahir in kabul all the time. but there wasn’t even an aswering machine now. the number couldn’t be connected. I hope you haven’t forgotten me, buddy! but I did talk to farhad the first couple of months. he was in athens again. the italians had managed to get his prints somehow. they sent him to greece and he was forced to hide.

you’re thinking about switzerland, farhad! I’m in sweden!

it’s eight degrees here. and it’s raining all the time!

haha! tell them i said hi!

of course not! how’s sweden? do you have a nice watch yet? what’s the chocolate like?

I know that! I just wanted to make sure you finally knew where you were.

bad luck! here in athens, it’s warm as usual. I’m down at the beach, looking at our girls. they miss you, hamid!

of course. take care now!

it was great to hear that farhad was the same. but then his number stopped working as well.

the days got darker and darker. I was an empty shell. Bad things happened . . .


karlskoga, sweden, 2012.

but that’s another story. a story that could have ended if i hadn’t met paula from social services. today I’ve been in sweden for two years and four days.

hi, hamid!

are you nervous?

a little.

hi, paula!

it’ll be great, I promise. didn’t I tell you that you’re strong.


I talked to the red cross this morning. your warrant is up in kabul now.

thank you.


hamid, good! welcome to our class! go sit in the back for now.

thank you.

so . . . tell us a little about yourself?

what do you want to know?

oh, like, what are your interests?

I like school. and football . . .


school and football! perfect. you’ll like this class, I can tell. so, tell us about your family?

I had a mother. and a little sister . . .

you have a little sister. that’s nice. I bet we get to hear more later. now, open your books on page twelve.


that’s right. I have a little sister. and I will see you again, sanam!

the end.



To feel at home in a new country LOGO

! k c a p k c a b R YOU

It is war in Sweden and nothing is like it used to be. Both your dad and many of your friends disappear. Everybody is scared and you can’t trust anyone. In order to survive, you have to leave your country. You can only bring one backpack with your most important things.

What would you put in your backpack? Participate in Bonnier Carlsens contest where you, alone or together with friends, write or illustrate what you would bring and why. Your submitted story or illustration might be chosen to be published in a book in the summer of 2014. Read more: www.hejsverige.nu

”We will meet again, Sanam” Text: Oskar Ekman, Illustration: Peter Bergting, English translation: Peter Bergting, from the swedish original edition. Published by Friends and UNHCR, 2013. Publisher: Lars Arrhenius. Project Manager: Linda Bonaventura. Editor: Rolf Classon in cooperation with Thomas Olsson and Kiki Rodriguez Norman. Produced in collaboration with Kartago Publishing, Stockholm, www.kartago.se. Printing: V-TAB Vimmerby AB April 2013. This album can be ordered via www.hejsverige.nu. ISBN: 978-91-75150-390

Illustration: Sanna Söderberg


This is a publication from Friends and UNHCR Hej Sverige is a joint campaign by Friends and UNHCR. By telling the stories of unaccompanied minors we want to raise general questions about the right to a safe and equal school for all. Our goal is to increase knowledge, change negative attitudes and work against alienation. The campaign offers all eight-graders a material free of charge which includes this album, a short film, a website, a play and a lecture. All parts of the campaign come with a material for teachers, based on Swedish curriculums. This project is financed by the Swedish Post Code Lottery. About Friends Friends is a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of bullying. Our vision is a society where children and adolescents grow up in a safe and secure environment where all are treated equally. We reach this goal by conducting trainings in schools, preschools and sport clubs. About UNHCR UNHCR is the United Nations Refugee Agency leading and coordinating international action for the worldwide protection and assistance of refugees and other people of concern, including seeking durable solutions to their plight. UNHCR was founded in 1950 by the UN General Assembly and is a humanitarian and non-political organization. For more information please visit www.hejsverige.nu

This project was made possible thanks to the support from the Swedish Post Code Lottery.