But with Americans too I was often cute and odd. When Farinaz visited over the summer she taught me the slang term “basic” and I was dropping it every chance I could get.
“You’re a little basic yourself, Dasha.”
“What? I’m not basic!”
“You’re a little basic. I could see you drinking a chai latte.”
“Chai lattes are basic?”
“Yes, chai lattes are basic.”
“Oh, then I’m definitely a little basic because I love chai lattes.”
“I didn’t know food could be basic. What other food is basic?”
My Russian friends wouldn’t call me Dasha though. They thought it was ridiculous for me to have a Russian name when I was such a foreigner. They were definitely right.
Tania was my best friend that year and she called me Dakota. We did a Balkan trip in the summer of 2013. Kosovo changed their immigration laws two weeks before we met up so I could still go, but she couldn’t anymore. She wanted to see Macedonia anyway so we decided after Serbia we’d split up.
I was back in Kosovo two years later for Dokufest, the Greatest Film Festival Ever. The theme was “migration” and in the intro video they tried to fly with cardboard wings. When some article fell through, Fisnik asked me to quickly fill the slot.
“Just your experience of DokuFest. Anything.”
“Like… an outsider’s perspective on DokuFest?”
So I wrote, “This year’s theme of migration is very poignant for me because I’m an American citizen. It’s easy for me to take it for granted that I can visit friends in Belgrade and spontaneously spend the weekend in Sarajevo.”
Was that the right thing to say to a Kosovo audience? Was I more aware or just rubbing it in their faces?
In Kosovo my best friend was Una and we compared notes on attending international high schools. The difference with her was that she couldn’t go back. My passport will probably never prevent me from visiting Japan.
Tarek’s situation was different too. Tarek is Lebanese but was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. He could talk shit about Saudi all day, but when the sun set it was still pretty much “home”. Then he became an adult and eventually lost his visa. He was born and raised there and might never go back.
Aviel is part Lebanese, born 66 kilometers from Saïda and might never get to see Lebanon. Don’t even get me started on my oppressed-by-apartheid Palestinian friends. But if I buy a second passport I can move between them all as much as I please. That one alone can make your head spin for days.
It’s a spin you can forget with drinks and dancing in Barometre or in the Sarajevo Brewery with Juliet and Amir.
“It’s a good job, but they still treat us like Bosnians, you know?”
“Where are they from?”
“Austria. That’s just how they are.”
In a weird way I sort of related to what he meant because I’d experienced the inverse. I’d had superiors who treated me like an American. “Be careful on the stairs. We don’t want anything to happen to you.”
One thing I liked a lot about Altan was his awareness of that. “Yeah, I know I get special treatment in this country because I have a British passport and a dick.”
Dicks and strong passports sure are good things to have. After Mohammad became American he went straight to the passport office, right after taking the Naturalization Oath. He was in Europe within two weeks. He saw 42 countries in five months.
“I’m American now,” he said when he passed through Sarajevo. “I eat apple pie.”
Sarajevo has its flaws, but holds a magic nonetheless. For Una the trip was a long five years coming and she couldn’t believe it when it was true.
Miloš gave her a ride:
“They’re not gonna let me in. I just know something bad is gonna happen. They’re gonna make us turn back.”
“It’s gonna be fine. They’re gonna let you in. You have everything you need.”
“They’re not gonna let me in. They never let us in. They’re gonna turn me away. Miloš, I’m not allowed to go to Bosnia.”
“Miloš, are we really in Bosnia?”
We went for coffee at Rahatlook. Same place Jonny and I kept Internet tabs on our Passport Queen, a classic love-to-hate, and trying not to vomit at her posts sure took a long time to get old. She had an American passport, an Australian passport, a passport from New Zealand, and the gall to complain. The situation wasn’t good enough for her because she was still an outsider living in the EU. She talked down to Afghan “economic migrants” – or whatever you wanted to call them – dubbing them “country-shoppers” in 2016. According to the 2016 Visa Restriction Index, Afghan passports are the worst in the world. Her three were in the top ten and she had another top-ten-er on the way.
How can a human be that ignorant and that despicable?
I sometimes felt sorry for her, but all bets were off when she commended a German law primed to punish migrants who don’t properly “integrate”.
You know what? I moved to Japan when I was twelve and I didn’t fucking integrate. I went to an American school. Most of my friends were American. I never reached fluency in Japanese. I’ve gotten the death stare from right-wing Japanese nationalists with their black vans and microphones and imperial flags, and I was afraid of them when I was a kid. They were just death staring, they’d never dare to touch me. Chinese and Korean kids must fear them way more. God knows if they ever did touch me it’d be an international incident, but when it happens in Moscow it’s just, “What a shame. That happened again.”
I hated having to say that to Kiran. “Look, I loved a lot of things about Moscow, but I can’t in good conscience tell someone who’s not white and not straight to move there. I don’t think it’s safe for you there.”
“Integrate.” “Integrate.” What the fuck does that mean? How could such a thing be measured? At what point have you done it enough? When people talk down at immigrants who don’t “integrate” I don’t just hear the racism, the nationalism. I hear, “People like you shouldn’t exist.”
When the Passport Queen got her Canadian passport she bragged about that too. “Now I can visit Canada without having to wait in the stupid foreigners’ line!”
That stupid Canadian foreigners’ line. What a hardship it must have been in her life.
But what could I say? I had silly passport problems too.
“I had to go to the embassy to get new pages in my passport.”
“Why did you need new pages?”
“I ran out of pages.”
“That’s… a problem I’ve never had.”
After Rahatlook, and before I went to sleep, I learned sentences in Bosnian.
Ja sam Dasha. Živim u Sarajevu. Koji je password za internet? 
Ivo taught me sentences too. It’s true — I’m a sucker for dark Balkan wit.
Smiješno mi je kada pišeš na našem jeziku. Potvrđuju se moje sumnje da si špijun. 
I was running out of steam by then, to be honest. I was now closer to 30 than 20 and starting to understand what they meant by “settle down”. So the sentences I learned in Arabic, those became the most important. I learned them for Rabee, for a lot of people, for someone else.
 .انا بالبيت طول النهار. تعا إذا فيك
 مرحبا ربيع. كيفك؟ عم بدرس عربي. عنجد آسفة إنّو ما حكيتك عربي ببيروت كيفك؟ إنت بأيّ دولة؟
Not taking Arabic seriously in Lebanon was one of my biggest life regrets, but there was nothing to do but move forward with it now. I could practice. After all, I had the best friends in the world. I could remember that in the ECC bar or on a balcony in Slovenia with Rok and Farinaz.
“I love you, but you’re not an American.”
“I love you too, but you are.”
So, I got my passport out, ready to blend in at the border on a bus out of Hungary or into Montenegro. When you cross like that they don’t always stamp you, which can create problems. I’ve sure as hell been an illegal alien, an economic migrant and a “country-shopper”, but no one’s ever called me those things. I held it in my hand, that little passport. At the end of it all, there’s no reason I should have it. That is hard to know.
 Actually, I’m 25% Japanese. Really. My grandmother was Okinawan.
 I work as a freelancer. I’d like to renew my visa.
 Untranslatable. Ask a Persian friend.
 Hello. Yes. No. Okay. I’m Dakota. Please give me one portion of çiğ köfte.
 I don’t speak Russian.
 I speak Russian poorly.
 Excuse me, I speak Russian poorly. I’m an English teacher. I have an interview at three o’clock. I’m looking for Tanya Vdovina’s office. Do you know where it is?
 Why do you think you speak Russian poorly? You speak well.
 I’m Dasha. I live in Sarajevo. What’s the password for the internet?
 It’s funny for me when you write in our language. Confirmed my suspicion that you’re a spy.
 I’m home all day. Come over if you can.
 Hello Rabee. How are you? I study Arabic now. I’m sorry I didn’t speak Arabic with you in Beirut. How are you? What country are you in?
Dakota is a teacher and writer currently somewhere in Europe.