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Arab Angst on Swedish Stages

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Structured as a dream play (as in Strindberg’s Dream Play, where “anything can happen; everything is possible and probable; … imagination spins and waves new patterns made up of memories, experiences, unfettered fantasies, absurdities, and improvizations”), I Came to See You pivots on a fantasy of return. After twenty years building a secure life in the “snow heaven” (جنة الثلج) of Sweden – blonde wife, soccer-playing children, job, house, Mercedes – an Iraqi exile named Salim (in an affectingly vulnerable performance by Miran Kamala) returns to visit war-torn contemporary Baghdad. “I have nothing here,” Salim tells his understandably offended wife Ester (Anette Lindbäck) in Malmö. He picks up his suitcase full of business shirts and departs. It is a symbolic descent to hell, and even the names are allegorical: in Baghdad Salim (“The Safe One”) meets his best friend Mokhlis (“The Loyal”), a photographer who stayed in Iraq documenting Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the US occupation and civil war that followed; later Salim dreams a conversation with Roaa (“Vision”), his former girlfriend whom he abandoned to flee to the West.

Is Salim a disaster tourist or a delusional would-be returnee? As Mokhlis, Roaa, and the soldiers who stop him during the overnight curfew question his motives, Salim offers only the play’s title line: “I came to see you.”[1]But the predictable irony is that Salim fails to “see” Baghdad in any sense. His map is outdated, his favorite bridges gone, his parents’ graves impossible to find. He is surprised at the darkness during a power cut. He cannot stand to look long either at Mokhlis’ photos or at his friend’s face, hideously injured in a recent suicide bombing. In his youth, we learn, Salim had stared up for hours hoping for a glimpse of his beloved Roaa – only to learn he had been stalking the wrong window. And for reasons revealed at the end of the play, he can now see Roaa only in a hallucinatory sequence described as a “dream-within-a-dream.”

 

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