This is the final part of Tahmineh Hooshyar Emami‘s three part re-imagination of the classic children’s story Alice in Wonderland, told from the perspective of Alice the refugee. In this chapter, we learn what has happened to Alice after her journey across the Aegean: this is a moment of confusion and im/mobility. Tahmineh’s piece demonstrates some of the ways in which storytelling can be deployed as an alternative way of understanding conflict and displacement. You can follow Tahmineh on @TahminehEmami.
Alice’s Alternative Wonderland: Chapter Two
By Tahmineh Hooshyar Emami, University College London
One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Even to this point she remembers saying to herself, while taking a bite out of her apple: ‘What a bizarre border between two lands‘.
A group of guards dressed in the brightest blue were expecting them at the end of the field as they walked towards them. They were directed onto the guards’ van and were taken to a transit centre.
The next morning, the once-pristine field of corn was covered with rubbish. Soon after Alice’s safe passage through the cornfield, the guards in blue uniforms had closed the passage as they were taken by surprise by the arrival of the large number of travellers. The crowd had been gathering behind the door, trying to break down the barrier and pass through; they had eventually succeeded. The door broke down and as the travellers came through, the guards could do nothing more than watch. Alice turned to one of the guards: ‘Where do we go now?’, she asked hesitantly. The guard shrugged his shoulders… No one seemed to know the way.
‘We are on an adventure!’ a child said from behind. In a tragic way, Alice agreed with the naïve child.
If she were to go forward, she would be setting off on an unknown road and would walk straight into traps and land mines buried in the ground in the 1980s. But obviously, back then, she wasn’t aware of this… Nobody was. Who knows how many risked their lives through the minefields.
By this point in the journey, confusion had set in, there was tension between travellers and locals, locals and police forces and even between different groups of travellers. There were more and more people setting on their way to reach the Greek islands, now a back door into Europe. The entire trail had become a graveyard, many had perished along the way, especially in the Aegean pool of tears.
The most dangerous portion of the journey had been the beginning – Tukey had opened its doors to let the travellers in to safety, but had then opened the seas to let them drown. This had spread desperation and confusion amongst the travellers, things had stopped making sense, crowds walked with no direction, aimlessly. The smartphones which were once the only knowledgeable guides to the perilous journey, were now incapable of accounting for the shifting laws of the union… every next move was unanticipated, dangerous, and Alice had to carefully think about her choices.
She took another bite out of her apple and tried to foresee what the journey would hold for her. The field ahead was seeded with mines and traps. She felt relieved that not many people were willing to risk their lives through these fields, but havoc and disorder had set in amongst the travellers as the weather became hotter. It was not easy to stay put, there was nowhere to sleep, not enough food and some had decided to move on and test new routes, others to stay still and wait for news.
Alice stayed put for a few days as the guards paved a new route. The travellers who had been escorted through Croatia into Slovenia were stranded on a strip of no man’s land between the two borders, under bone-numbingly cold rain, with nothing more than a few broken umbrellas to protect them.
Others were at a crossing into Slovenia, a road lined on each side by smalls shops stocked to the ceiling with milk cartons and chocolate cake. A few meters away, tents were handing out shoes, blankets and medicinal bottles. Trains had taken travellers to the border of Tiny Slovenia and had crossed them onto a country overwhelmed with numbers. Slovenia’s admirable attempt to house travellers at the borders in a few make-shift tents was soon undermined by the incredible wave of people.
Alice carried on in a human corridor between fields of crops, walking towards the next destination. The corridor was set to make a safe passage for people. Soon, the tiny country would close its doors to any more entries, patience would run out, guards would buckle and eventually ignore the masses of people behind the doors.
This would force travellers to attempt to cross the Serbian-Croatian border, but the doors would continue closing, leaving them in strips of land that belonged to no one. Drawbridges were being pulled up, the leaders covering their eyes to the people behind closed doors. Fences continued to grow. Hungary against Serbia and Croatia, Serbia against Macedonia and many more followed the same example. Soon, all routes were closed. Pocket areas full of helpless travellers were created and only added to the dystopic image of Europe. With most borders closed, tiny transit camps around Serbia were flooded with travellers looking for a dry place to sleep in the evenings.
The garden soon became a false image of hope, the gates closed, the image of hope for a new life was rapidly deteriorating.
THE LOVELIEST GARDEN YOU EVER SAW
The laws at the destination had changed. Many were turned back from the so-called garden Alice had once seen. The journey they had made was in vain, and the journey home awaited them. This time, with no destination, they would be travelling at the mercy of people, settling at the mercy of the leaders, exhausted from the first journey and the disappointment of rejection.
Others, hoping to flee to the garden after years of homelessness and terror, were now finding that they would only be hosted for a year before being sent en-route again. Some would have been separated from their families with no hope of seeing them again soon, without news of their whereabouts or safety.
The dystopia in the garden revealed itself as Alice got closer and closer to her destination. The scene seemed violent, unhomely, a place to avoid. For many, there was no way back. Counting on promises of safety and support, many had fled their war-torn homes to reach a safer haven, but the promises had been broken.
Alice had seen it all by now. She was approaching the final door to a place she would now call her home away from home. She looked down. There was a welcome mat at the threshold. She intended to lay down on the bed and sleep for days, to try and erase the past 2 months of her life, starting a new page in a country she did not know, but which had been welcoming so far.
You see, the garden in her dreams never existed, there was no place as perfect as their garden with the single lemon tree – for her, that was the most beautiful garden she had ever seen… now lost forever, by the hands of strong men who perhaps, had never touched a lemon tree before.