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Yani extract

Published on


Issue number: 2023:2


from Yani

by Nora Khalil

introduced and translated by Catherine Venner

Yani tells the story of a group of teenagers living in one of the poorest suburbs of Stockholm. Each of the three main characters has an immigration background, and through their usual adolescent adventures and high-jinx we see the problems they encounter in Sweden. In particular Amir, who is waiting to be deported and whose friends are campaigning for him to be allowed to stay in Sweden, especially by doing things that make Amir ‘look Swedish’.

The teenagers have their own identity as first- or second-generation migrants, which is reflected in the way they speak: Swedish infused with words and sayings from all over the world. Their slang isn’t always understandable to Swedish speakers, some of whom have reported looking it up on ‘slangopedia’. In my translation, I have kept these words (which can normally be understood from the context) to generate the same inter-cultural atmosphere for the English-reader, but I’ve also included a glossary, which can be found at the end of the text.

In the two selected chapters, we see the boys firstly becoming visible to ordinary Swedish folk on the ski slope, and secondly trying to generate awareness of their campaign for Amir. In the first case, they are slightly embarrassed that they’re different, even though they take photos of Amir to prove he fits into Swedish society, while the second case is an example of how they feel that both they and their issues are generally unseen.

Young woman wearing peach-coloured hijab and a pink jacket smiles at the camera in front of yellow building.
Nora Khalil. Photo: Daniela Spiroska.


from Yani

11. Flottsbro Ski Resort

It just felt sooo weird to be wasting a whole day on a ski slope when we had more important stuff to do. Still, Sebbe reminded us of the third point: that we also needed to chill. But what’s fun about a ski slope?

In the gear we’d got off Caspian’s mum we looked proper Swedish. We posed for a couple of cool pics and made sure we took some ‘Swedi shots’ of Amir. He looked right at home on the slopes. We got Wahida to write the captions for the posts to our Insta campaign. The more pics we added, the more followers we got. It gave us hope, especially when celebs shared our posts. We already had 765 followers.

Even just going from the café to the ski slope made us feel like donkeys trekking through a desert. The crowd from school were falling all over the place, while little kids zoomed past us. Some of them even had snowboards.

‘If we was proper Swedish, we’d be like them,’ said Caspian, pointing at two boys.

‘Bro, that lot, they ski before they’re even born,’ I answered.

‘Wallah, I bet them things they’re riding cost as much as all your child benefit put together,’ said Amir, who was struggling to move, which was proper funny.

We stood at the bottom of the slope and looked up. It was dead obvious that we were from another planet. Anyone who hadn’t believed in aliens before, did now.

‘How are those funny little hangers supposed to take us to the top? What you gonna do if it breaks? Or if you fall off? People are coming from behind all the time. Can you get away? Will anyone help you? Is it even safe?’

Amal’s list of questions was longer than the entire slope. She’d always do that, question every last tiny detail. Nobody answered. We didn’t know where to start with all her questions, plus our eyes were all fixed on the slope. Amal announced that she wasn’t gonna ski because she didn’t trust the whole slope+lift+skis+sticks+people-on-the-slope combo. Her girlfriends tried to persuade her. Wahida said the Swedes had been skiing for millions of years and nothing had happened, but Amal was as stubborn as a mule.

Even people who didn’t know us could tell we’d never skied before. Khaled and Josef were wearing Adidas trousers instead of ski overalls. And the worst thing was that they weren’t even the worst. Some kids had come in sweatpants, grey sweatpants. And obviously Christian had rocked up in jeans. He was so sure he wasn’t gonna fall that padding was unnecessary. Caspian’s mum had sorted everything for Caspian, Amir and me. Man, we were ready to race slalom and do somersaults on skis.

‘Hey, couldn’t the racists chuck us out in the winter, bro?’ said Amir, whose nose had turned red like a clown.

‘Wallah, at least we’d get some vitamin D,’ said Khaled.

Luckily everyone had a helmet. I don’t even want to think what could’ve happened otherwise. Huddinge hospital would’ve been overrun with sixty immigrants, and we’d have been headline news. I was proper glad our teachers had picked Flottsbro and not some monster slope, where we’d have made fools of ourselves on a totally different level.

We all felt sooo sorry for Halima, who didn’t realise where to get off the ski lift. She just sat there as it went all the way up, and then she had to jump off before the lift turned. We felt so bad for her that we nearly held a minute’s silence. Halima was so shy and so embarrassed that she didn’t even make a scene. She just took it. Luckily, she managed to get off without dying.

Apparently the slopes were colour-coded. When we realised, Caspian said, ‘Abri, all the slopes are white.’ Luckily he said it first so that the rest of us didn’t end up embarrassing ourselves.

‘Are you a man or a mouse?’ Caspian asked, pointing at the biggest slope.

Like a proper hiyawan, I headed towards Caspian. Amir, who still had a few brain cells left despite several years in our class, went to another slope. I didn’t understand what was going on until I was a few metres down the black slope and thought, ey, what am I doing, Bre? The worst panic hit me, and I sat down on the spot. There was nobody nearby, and the rest of the class was just dying of laughter down the hill. Even though it wasn’t true, I yelled I’d broken my leg until some shuno arrived on a snow motor (or whatever it’s called) and gave me a lift down. The class stood watching and clapping. I don’t even want to know how many of them videoed it.

The others were no better. You could hear Sara’s laugh from miles off. First she fell off the lift on the children’s slope. A kid came from behind and fell over her. I bet Amal was thinking, ‘told you so’. But Sara didn’t give up. She went to the green slope. She fell over. Got back up. Fell over again. Got back up again. Eventually, she lost her ski sticks and didn’t dare ski down. She began wailing. Then, sitting on her skis like a sledge, she slid down to Amal. After that, she didn’t ski any more. Amal and Sara stood at the bottom, filming everyone like journalists. You’d have thought they were on a mission to provide the Migration Agency with a video of every immigrant.

Khaled even managed to ski down backwards, then landed in a heap. He’d been boasting he’d already skied at some shopping centre in Dubai. Not that you could tell.

Anyway, it’s just a few bruises, our teachers must have thought as they looked at us all mangled up on the slope. From down there, we looked like caged animals that had finally been set free. It was total chaos. People were falling up and down on the lifts, everyone was doing involuntary gymnastics, someone lost their skis while another sat on the slope and cried. We were dying of laughter the whole time.

It was as if we’d discovered a whole new world with hundreds of different ways to injure ourselves. The sick thing was that some people paid for it and called it a holiday.

Wallah, after this ordeal Amir deserved a Swedish passport.

12 Toast

After school, we headed straight over to the youth centre. It was time to stir up some chaos.

Sebbe had put out toast and juice. We always knew something was going on when there were cartons of juice on the table. Caspian and Amir ate their toast with cheese and turkey. I just had cheese on mine. Amir was always saying the youth centre should do toast with sujuk, but it was too expensive, alasas.

There was a weird vibe at the youth centre. We were used to a bit of a buzz, but today it was completely dead. Only Josef, Khaled and a couple of kids from another class were there. Even Caspian sat silently and waited for Sebbe to tell us the plan.

‘How’s it going with the Instagram account?’ Sebbe asked.

‘We’ve nearly 1,000 followers,’ I said.

‘Loads of celebs have shared it,’ Caspian added.

Sebbe nodded.

‘So, what are your ideas?’ asked Sebbe.

It was totally awkward since I had exactly zero ideas, even though I was thinking about it the whole time. I’d even asked my big sis. She started babbling on about community, blah, blah, blah. She was just like Wahida, though she reached a whole different level of headache. But she also said people who work for the Migration Agency don’t have a heart. Fact. How did they even sleep at night? My sister said one of her uni friends used to work for the Migration Agency but had to quit because she couldn’t cope with deporting kids. Apparently, some of them died just a few days after deportation.

Amir just stayed silent. How could he act so cool? Even talking to him didn’t help.

None of us said anything. We just looked at each other.

‘Amazing that the account’s livening up! Hopefully it’ll set the ball rolling and get even more attention,’ said Sebbe.

‘Can’t we just hide him? I’ve heard that’s what some people do,’ Caspian asked.

‘That’s plan Z,’ said Sebbe.

‘I’ve seen people block planes…’ I started before Sebbe interrupted me.

‘Listen up, lads,’ he said as he opened up the document, our weapon, alasas.

‘We’ll start off with something simple,’ he said as he wrote PETITION. ‘Now that we’ve got more followers, it’s time to start a petition.’

We nodded in agreement.

He asked Amir questions and Amir answered as if it was a police interrogation. The problem was Amir’s asylum application had already been refused, and he was waiting for the final notification. Sebbe was annoyed with Amir for not saying anything when he got the first notification. ‘It would have been easier to help you then.’

‘Add that he’s gonna die if he gets deported,’ said Caspian.

I glanced at Amir. He still looked really angry. When Sebbe was finished, he read out what he’d written.

‘The Migration Agency has issued the decision that fifteen-year-old Amir is to be deported. This ignores Amir’s strong connection to Sweden and that he has built a safe life for himself here. He speaks fluent Swedish and is good in school. Amir aspires to be a civil engineer. With his drive and determination, he will succeed in everything he sets his mind to. Sweden needs Amir. How can Sweden deport a fifteen-year-old who has lived here since he was nine? Sweden is Amir’s only home. Iraq is an unsafe country and it is now also a foreign country to Amir. Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “All organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child.” How can deporting a child to a dangerous country be the best for them? Why does the Convention not apply for our friend Amir? Sign the petition to protest against this inhumane decision.’

‘Man, you can write!’ I said.

‘Wallah, Eva would give you an A,’ said Caspian.

Sebbe looked at Amir and asked him what he thought.

‘Good,’ said Amir.

‘Come on bro, be a bit pumped. We’re gonna cause total chaos for you.’

Amir smiled and said, ‘But I dunno if I wanna be a civil engineer.’

Sebbe patted his shoulders and said, ‘Habibi, you can do whatever you want. It’s just so the Migration Authority understands you’re hard-working.’

Caspian raised his hand. The shuno never even put his hand up at school. ‘Just don’t be a dealer,’ he said and laughed.

‘Just think like a dealer.’ I added, and even Amir laughed at that.

‘By Monday, I want to see three thousand signatures,’ said Sebbe.

‘No problem,’ answered Caspian without a thought about how we were actually gonna do it.

‘Hey, the pigs are outside,’ said Joseph, who’d been sitting next to the window the whole time. The youth centre looked out over a road, a car park that was always full, a bus stop where we always saw someone’s mum holding carrier bags overflowing with food, a few trees and part of the district centre. The pigs were driving their car through the middle of all this and parked it right in front of the youth centre. Yani, their way of showing they did outreach work.

Even though Josef was in our class, we didn’t know him that well. We didn’t really bother with him as he was always so serious. At 12, he’d already decided that he was gonna specialise in science at high school. Josef always got As, even in art. He’d sit there and draw, rub out, draw again, over and over until the lesson ended. The shuno polished off a rubber per lesson and then wondered where all his rubbers had gone.

‘Chill,’ Caspian replied.

We saw the pigs more often than the sun round here. Still, everyone went to look out the window, like it was something new. Khaled went up to our balcony, alasas, and shouted, ‘Police, police, dirty pigs!’ like a proper little brat. Sometimes Khaled was so annoying, you wished they’d lock him away for at least two weeks.

‘Stop that,’ said Sebbe.

‘Huh? Not scared of the pigs, are you?’ answered Khaled.

‘Who wants to play FIFA? Winner gets chocolate,’ said Sebbe, who thought we were five years old and could be bribed with a bit of chocolate.

Glossary of slang





by God













Stockholm slang


a sausage

Middle East/Balkans








you know


About the book


Natur & Kultur, 2022, 150 pages

Foreign rights: Koja Agency

Nominated for the 2022 August Prize

We are grateful to Koja Agency for permission to publish this translated extract.

Nora Khalil is a teacher and poet. Yani is her literary debut. It was reviewed by Catherine Venner in SBR 2023:1.

Catherine Venner is a translator from German and occasionally from Swedish. She lives in North East England and loves reading Scandi-noir. (