Borderlines is a collection of thought pieces, some creative, some direct accounts, some memoirs, all true. Borderlines collects stories from people who are not fleeing from one country to another, but rather chose to move, or were made to do so by a series of non-threatening circumstances. In these stories there is anger, hope, disappointment, joy, fear, optimism. They are all different, and yet all striking in their approach to the subject matter.
Borderlines aims to show the reality of migration, and how we are all, in our own way, migrants.
They called me Paki and asked why my skin was bleached. During lunch-break they shouted ‘Osama!’ across the school quad. My lone friend, Ian, told me to ignore them. Then he asked if my mum wore a veil. I told him no. ‘She’s English. I’m English.’ I do not feel English. People ask me where I am from and I’ll shrug. I say my parents live in Cornwall; that I now live in Norwich; that I have a British Passport. ‘Yes, I’m British – I guess.’
Once, in answer to a question on a GCSE geography handout, I wrote, ‘To solve climate change, I’d blow up Heathrow Airport. That is my life dream.’ I’d been joking around in class. I was pissed off at my teacher. My first girlfriend was sat next to me. I felt reckless. I wanted to cause offence. I handed in my answer unchanged. Kids thought I was crazy. They whooped. My back was slapped.
When I told kids in England that I’d owned a Kalashnikov back in Pakistan they believed me.
My teacher called me into her office. The head of upper-school was there. The headmaster was there. They held up my solution to climate change. As though I might have forgotten. I explained how limiting air-travel would have a beneficial effect on the environment.
‘It’s important that you talk to us. Do you know how sick this is?’
‘It was a joke,’ I told them. No one laughed.
‘Jake, if you harbour these thoughts– ’
They wrote to my parents. My mum told me not to be silly again. My dad did laugh.
When my first girlfriend and I broke up she told everyone that I’d killed people in Pakistan. She said I’d told her about killing children. I was called ‘Paki-killer’ after that. This, I remember thinking, is education. In England kids start school aged five. They stay in school for 13 years. The United Kingdom’s access to basic knowledge index is the fourth highest on Earth. English kids are well educated.
Jets roar across the Norfolk skies, on training exercises. I still flinch.
I hate Bonfire Night. Unless I can see the floral bursts which accompany each explosive crack and bang, I’m scared of fireworks. I still dream of glass exploding. I remember how our windows blew out, remember the ground shake, my mum screaming. In the garden we lay on the ground when jets roared above. The bombers were quieter, but they caused more fear. Jets roar across the Norfolk skies, on training exercises. I still flinch.
The UK has 125 Eurofighter Typhoons. To fly a Eurofighter Typhoon for one hour costs £3,875. In 2011 the RAF achieved 4,500 hours flying time while bombing Libya.
In 1996, Taliban fighters occupied Qala-e-Naw, capital of Badghis province in north-western Afghanistan. We’d lived there for three years. My mum was setting up girl schools. There were tortoises living in our garden. My dad drove through the bazaar looking for food. There was no food. We had starving men climbing the perimeter wall to pick unripe mulberries from our tree. Our Land Rover returned from Pakistan laden with baked bean tins. My youngest sister loved baked beans. We had a dog, a lamb-turned-ram, a donkey, white peacocks, aggressive geese, my eagle owl.
I was proud of my owl. I still am. When I showed English kids pictures of Owly (I was good at naming things) they didn’t believe I’d owned him. They called me a liar. ‘Stop lying, Paki,’ they said. Instead I told them about my AK. They wanted to know if my dad was an Al-Qaeda spy. I told them he was.
‘You gonna bomb us, Paki? You gonna blow us up?’ Sometimes they pretended that I was blowing them up. It was a game.
In an attempt to drive the Taliban out, Qala-e-Naw was bombed. We were bombed by Soviet planes. I do not remember their make. I was six. Today Afghanistan has two combat aircraft. They are EMB 314s. They’re Brazilian. Operational costs come in at $430 per hour. They did not help in bombing Libya.
In ’96 my family fled Afghanistan. We returned to Pakistan, to where I was born.
They wanted to know if my dad was an Al-Qaeda spy. I told them he was.
Who am I? I am me. My name is Jacob. I was born in a mud house outside Quetta, in the province of Balochistan. I lived in Afghanistan for almost four years. For seven years I lived amidst Karakoram mountain peaks. At Christmas we’d hire a generator and TV-set to watch Narnia films made by the BBC. I went to boarding school in India. In 2005 we moved to Britain. I lived in Cornwall. Then Australia; Scotland; Norfolk.
So, yes, I live in England now – a country under threat. My grandfather frets over the number of foreigners coming into Britain. He says they’re destroying this country. Last time I saw him he said, ‘They don’t speak English. They won’t integrate. They’re not from here, they’re not born here.’
I said, ‘Neither was I.’
He said, ‘But this is your country, Jake.’
If you have a migration story from your experience that you would like to share, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, with BORDERLINES in the subject line.