|Women making bread by the roadside, Antakya|
Just over a week ago, Lucy and I arrived in Turkey to begin work on Suppliants of Syria. We're partnering with our old friends from Çukurova University in Adana, where the wonderful İlke Şanlıer combines her role in the Film and TV department with directing the Research Centre in Migration. It's the perfect combination for a project that combines theatre and film with an active engagement in the ongoing refugee "crisis". The theme is being lent additional potency by the current situation in Palestine: just after we arrived, a very large protest in support of Palestine took place at the airbase in Adana, where American planes and personnel are stationed. The police used tear gas and water cannon to prevent people entering the base; but that doesn't mean that the government isn't sympathetic to the protestors' expression of solidarity between Muslims.
We've been able to establish a relationship with the Meryem Women's Co-operative: a fabulous organisation that enables Syrian women to work in areas like gardening and food production. A group of around 20 of them are in the process of becoming our Chorus. We've also been filming and researching in and around the city. I don't want to write too much about this as yet, because it needs time to absorb what we're seeing. Today we went to an area of Adana known as "Little Aleppo" on account of its large Syrian population. The poverty was very apparent. Many of the people there seem to eke out a living by selling discarded or recycled clothes which they show piled in the streets. Earlier in the week I visited Antakya: the city to the south of Adana which bore the brunt of the earthquake earlier this year. Antakya also has links to Syria: the majority of the pre-earthquake population spoke Arabic, and Syrian maps still show the area as part of their country, which they regard as having been annexed by the Turkish Republic in 1939. The city is utterly devastated. My friend Ali, who now lives near me in London, showed me round what remained of his childhood home. He often could not work out where he was, because there were no landmarks remaining. He would occasionally stop and examine the remains of a cornice or a metal door, and then say "This must be the old bank..."
And yet, in spite of everything, life endures. Ali's parents had a 100 year old house in the rural hinterland: it was destroyed. But Ali's father Mehmet, at the age of 69, has single-handedly build a new living space beside the rubble where the old house stood, and on Wednesday night we ate the traditional meal for the end of the olive harvest and the production of the new olive oil on that land. In the middle of the wreckage, Ali pointed out a plant. "It's a tomato plant", he said. "It used to be on the balcony just above where it is now." Somehow it survived - and is thriving.