Editor’s Note: These love letters were written by refugees stranded in the “hotspot” camp on the Greek island of Leros. They were an assignment developed by Maria Tetradi, language education director of the Hub, a refugee community space organized by Austrian charity Echo100Plus. The letters were originally published in the second issue of ZINE, a publication by and for refugees that is organized by editor and journalist Holly St. Lifer.
I bought you in a shop. The same shop in Baghdad where I bought my fabric. I bought you the same day I opened my shop when I was 14 years old. Afterward, I bought more scissors, but I will always remember you, as you were my first pair.
You were black, not plastic but metal, just a bit bigger than my hand. You didn’t smell of anything, or at least I don’t remember. I liked you because you helped me make my work. With you I made many curtains. Every time I opened my shop I had you with me. I used you to cut my fabric, but I had to leave you behind because I had to close my shop and sell everything, including you.
Even though I know that I will have other pairs of scissors in the future, I will never forget you because with you I created my first curtains. I hope you are in good hands now and that you will never forget about me too.
Thanks for all the information you gave me throughout these years. It’s really helped me. I still remember when I got you, even though you were small. But you were heavy because of all the pages you were made of and it was a pain to carry you all the way.
I still remember your smell. It was like paper.
At times I really hated you because I had to memorize all your information to pass my classes. But I still like how useful you were, even though you made me so anxious and I wanted to rip you up, especially during exams.
I’m sorry I left you behind. It wasn’t easy for me. I regret that I left you, but it’s too late to get you back.
Still after all, I thank you. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.
I am sorry because I left you behind. You know how much I love you. But I wasn’t able to carry you.
We had some problems being in the same place. You were getting upset every time I told you, “I made you.” You are a little child, you are so small, but even you – so small – I could not carry you.
I had a dangerous road and was afraid to take you with me. I know you miss me like I miss you. I miss your colors and you, like how you told me you miss my hand. I know you are safe and I hope we meet again.
I will not sell you for all the money in the world. I had told you what happened that time, and my wife saw your color on my hand and she discovered our relationship and I had no answer.
She asked me if I love you more than her. What can I answer? Should I tell her I like your shine? Or your brightness? And your shape?
It is difficult.
And anyway, I write to you to tell you I can’t wait to meet you again. And I miss you, my baby.
Basel Al Sheakh Ali
Dear My Sexy Green Shoes,
The first time I left Iraq to go to Sweden, I had to take a small boat to Greece from Turkey. There were too many people in the boat, so it flipped over and everyone fell in the water. I had to swim to the island and leave my backpack to sink. I lost all of my belongings that day, including my first pair of sexy green shoes.
That’s why the next time I had to make that same journey, I left you at home in case I fell in the water again, which I did. But this time, I was wearing red leather sneakers.
When I arrived on the island, I didn’t have anything except my shirt, shorts and my red leather sneakers. I missed you so much. It made me sad to remember how I’d walk in the street with you, the girls eyeing you because of your beautiful color and the soft, comfortable fabric. A lot of people pined for a pair of shoes like mine, but they weren’t available in Iraq.
I remember the day I bought you at H&M in Sweden. One day I was walking the streets of Stockholm, and I saw you in the store window. Do you believe in love at first sight? Your smooth body and the beautiful light green color made me fall in love with you instantly. I bought you, and put you on right there in the store. Then I took a selfie of myself and posted it on social media.
In my country, it’s traditional to leave your shoes outside the front door. But I didn’t do that with you. You were too special to me to leave you outside, so I kept you in my bedroom.
My family moved to a new house three months ago and I have not been in contact with them. I wonder if they were able to take you. I hope one day it will be safe for me to go back to Iraq and walk on its busy streets, wearing you again.
Reprinted with permission from Echo100Plus, a nonprofit organization supporting refugees in Greece. To learn more about ZINE, the Hub or to support its projects, visit www.echo100plus.com. Printed with the support of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Office in Greece.