“Son, Give Him a Kiss!”: Paying Witness on the Balkan Refugee Trail

I arrived at the refugee camp in Dobova on the Slovenian-Croatian border just after the first snow had fallen. The large white tents, humming generators, military vehicles, police vans and flood lights stood just off the road about 100 meters from the passport control area. The heavily clad police walked in pairs or threes through the slush and others stood under a propane heater smoking. Near the first large tent stood two soldiers with helmets hanging from their belts and machine guns strung up high against their chests.

Straightaway I was given a badge, a florescent vest and told to take plenty of latex gloves and a facemask and to follow a man who’d obviously been there for many hours. He looked tired as he popped biscuits into his mouth and shifted his weight from one foot to another talking rapidly. Although he spoke Slovenian I understood enough to make out that he’d held a two-day-old baby that day; his face gleamed despite his tiredness. He rolled a cigarette clumsily and I followed him to pick up two large garbage cans and take them into tent number 3, which we were to clean.

Inside was that humid, sweet, nauseating stench of wet humanity on the move, something I’d experienced before but never on this scale. A heater vent pumped in hot air and the wet UN blankets strewn all across the floor of the 30m wide and 100m long tent gave off a light steam. The tent was broken up into four spaces longitudinally by portable metal fences, the kind that are put up at sporting events, parades and outdoor concerts. Everywhere were half-eaten tins of sardines, milk packs, water bottles, bruised apples, pieces of white bread, diapers, shoes, trousers, socks, plastic bags full of garbage and abandoned blue Ikea bags, wrappers, wet sleeping bags, rough plastic mats for sleeping on. By its appearance, a great traumatic event had just taken place Continue reading

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An Ibis Hotel on the U.S.-Mexico Border

An Ibis Hotel on the U.S.-Mexico Border

(Originally published in Zarez, a journal for social and cultural affairs, Croatia, translated by Višnja Vukašinović, 2014. For translated version click here.)

About five or six years ago, we were driving along the U.S.-Mexico border, on the Texas side, on our way to Brownsville at the Gulf of Mexico. From there we would cross into Mexico and drive south to Mexico City where we lived. I was driving our 1988 Chevrolet van with a 350 V8 engine that roared. The van was white (rather unimaginatively we called it Moby Dick) with a sliding door that had to be tied shut from the inside and shag carpet that took on the odor of the many people, shoes, drink and food that passed through that van. Driving it was like navigating a boat, or indeed a whale, through traffic, but on the lonesome highway it hummed along nicely and in the dark, with everyone but me either asleep or half-asleep, it was a peaceful way to collect my thoughts.

Raymundo sat up and turned on a light in the back and began rummaging around.

“¿Qué te pasa?” I asked him.

Voy a hecharme un churro,” he answered. He was going to make a joint. I kept driving with the headlights making shallow holes into the dark, high Texas plain. It was the day after New Years and

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