Saturday, March 26, 2016

Guest blog from Lesbos

Björn Dahlman, Artistic Director of our Swedish partner organisation Banateater, reports on his recent work among newly arrived refugees on the island of Lesbos.

Björn clowning in Lesbos
Clowns without Borders (Sweden) got funding from Sweden to make a series of so-called Emergency programmes. We went to Lesbos for four days of performances. The Lesbos Project was quite unusual: normally there is an organisation in the country we visit that welcomes us and have prepared a programme, but for Lesbos we just went there, checked in at a hotel, and took every day as it came. We had apps on the phone telling us where boats had arrived the previous nights and where there could be lots of new people. Refugees usually stay only 1 or 2 days on Lesbos before they are moved on.

Mainly, there were four big camps we visited. The biggest one, Moria, is where everyone has to go to register. When we were there we used to do big shows for 4-500 people. Also in some other camps we managed to arrange shows, but sometimes we only did mingle gigs, walking around as clowns and playing with the children that came up to us.

We had to find friends in each new camp that could help us, for example in Moria Save the Children, who had some kind of permission to be in the camp, told us that we could say that we were collaborating with them when the guards asked.

In the camps we just defined a performance space using a rope. We walked around the camp in clown characters inviting people to come and see the show. Walking around was very difficult: we wanted to be happy and joyful and tempt the kids and the parents, who often felt a need to protect their children, to actually come. At the same time many families were gathering to mourn family members that had drowned just the night before and of course we did not want to disturb them. Being thrown between sorrow and despair in one second and joy and happiness the other was a totally bizarre experience.

We also visited a hotel where some rich dude just rented the whole hotel and let families who had special needs or great grief use them for a couple of nights to recover. Since many families were in grief the staff there didn´t want us to perform, but finally they agreed to let us sneak down in the basement where no-one who didn’t go there on purpose could see. About 50 people, mostly children, came to see the show and it was a huge success - the hotel asked us to come back regularly.

The one experience I bring along is meeting the parents. Children are children; sometimes I think that they don´t understand what they have just been through, and just like all the other children I meet they are a bit shy at first and then they just crack up with laughter. But the parents, who just one day earlier took the decision to put their children in a small boat that would cross the stormy Mediterranean in the night - a journey that should take only two hours but usually lasts for 10-12 hours because the boats are so full - were amazing to watch. They look scared at first, but when they see their children laugh again I see them smiling, having tears in their eyes, and dancing with us in the final number in a way that I never seen anyone dance before.

No comments: