Foreign in Denmark

Foreign in Denmark

Back in the 60’s, Baghdad was a modern city. Almost western. Young people dressed like the Beatles. Boys from affluent families wore Charleston trousers. I helped founding an illegal Iraqi student union. We didn’t even attend the 9th grade. We held secret meetings out in the woods.

I don’t constantly go around feeling foreign. It is easy for me to communicate with others. I have always been interested in learning and reading Danish, and I have translated poems, which have been published. But today I am homesick. My mother is ill, and I have become an elderly man. I really ought to be back in my home country
and contribute to it. Once when I was in England, I insulted someone when I included him by saying “us foreigners”. “I am not a foreigner”, he said steadfastly. He was a young man with a Middle Eastern background, and he spoke with accent. Yet he was unable to accept the premise of being foreign. In the UK, nobody cares about accents, but here in Denmark you have to speak perfectly.

I was named after a great Arab poet from the 6th century. His poetry is full of wisdom and very inspirational. Today the teenagers hang out in water pipe cafes. They can’t figure it out. When I was 12, I hung out in Baghdad’s old and famous Al Mutanabbi Street. The street of the bookstores.

Back in the 60’s, Baghdad was a modern city. Almost western. Young people dressed like the Beatles. Boys from affluent families wore Charleston trousers. I helped founding an illegal
Iraqi student union. We didn’t even attend the 9th grade. We held secret meetings out in the woods.

At university it became really dangerous. So I left for Moscow. I was left-wing. But Moscow was so depressing, and we realised that the socialist society was not ideal either. So we went to Libya, the only option at the time. One day the windshield on my car was smashed. Not everybody liked our being liberals or the fact that my wife did
not wear a headscarf. It got me thinking about the future of my wife and daughters. So in 1990 we travelled to Denmark.

Zouhair Yassin Shlaiba / 64 years old / married / children / Lecturer & author / PhD in literature / Roskilde / Iraq / came to Denmark in 1990 / Residence permit in 1990