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To Carry Sisyphus and the Rock Together

[Art by Sabhan Adam (Syria). Image from] [Art by Sabhan Adam (Syria). Image from]

To Carry Sisyphus and the Rock Together

Ghatfan Ghannum

 Tr. Sinan Antoon

I do not care if I am number 1234, 4567, or any other number. There is no difference whatsoever if I become a refugee in the European continent.

I held many names in the past. I travelled and moved in my country without fear of canons or airplanes. We only feared wolves and hyenas and used to hunt rabbits and birds. But we recorded the name of our country on history’s forehead so that our children would inherit its renown thousands of years later.

My ancestor Sam the son of Noah used to foresee a glorious history for me, but his brother, Aram, would gaze at me with sadness whenever I passed before him. Not a day passes when I don’t remember his sad gaze. Were he alive today perhaps his eyes would well up when he sees me in the cargo hold of a dirty smugglers’ ship, sailing to seek asylum in Europe.

All that history I carry upon my shoulders is of no use for being accepted in a strange country. The inscriptions of the Kingdom of Mary are of no use. Nor is Ogarit’s alphabet, the victory of Ramesses II against the Hittites in Kadesh. Not even Alexander the Great’s passage through my country. Neither Zenobia’s pride, nor Philip the Syrian ascending Rome’s throne. Not even his historic mediations. That might even be one of the reasons not to accept me.

I gave Ishtar’s statue to the smugglers as a price for a forged passport. They plastered the photograph and name of a foreigner on it and taught to speak a language I don’t know to guarantee my passage.

I came to know many others like me. Some hid in a cargo hold, hid behind a dragnet, or wrapped themselves in a mast. Others were so thin the cracks in the ship’s wood were enough for them.

When the search intensified in=at one of the ports and I saw the feet of one of the inspectors near my head, I said to my friend: Don’t be sad, for God is with us.

But they arrested us and took us back to where we came from. All the attempts to attach wings and charge through skies failed. I fell like my ancestor Abbas bin Farnas and was killed over the flag pole of a foreign state. The fins invented by one of those obsessed with the history of my ancestors, the Phoenicians, were no good either. I drowned after an oil tanker passed over me.

They found my corpse in a photograph taken by a Nikon. It was taken by coincidence by one of those foreign tourists who thought I was a dolphin approaching them for food.

I died and was resurrected so many times!

I cannot remember now, because I am just as I am, the human of geography and history who was destined to carry both Sisyphus and the rock.

How, then, did I became four digits and a refugee in safety? It’s because I figured out the secret: I threw an aging memory behind me, then I carried the passport and recorded on it all the special “visas” for the travels of pain and torture I had to go through from the first slap the teacher handed me in school all the way to the last bullet I received in my heart from a brother.

Still, they didn’t accept me. I remained in the refugee holding camp with temporary papers. Waiting for them to determine my case.

[Translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon. The original texts was published in al-Araby al-Jadeed.]


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