‘Encounter with migrant narratives’ explore definitions of home

Despite its frequent mention, the word ‘migrant’ tells nothing about an individual except for that he no longer lives in the country of origin. Although it gives no insights into what makes one a migrant, the term itself is enough to draw a line between those who remain in a home country since birth and those who deliberately chose what country to call home. Linguistics and social sciences attempt at classifying ‘migrants’ into different categories based on the external conditions that lead to leaving the country of origin, yet these categories dehumanise the individual experiences hidden behind them.

What distinguishes RIMA project from other initiatives focused on the matters of migration, is that, rather than calling for acceptance of migrants, it delves into the very heart of the matter by searching for an integral and comprehensive definition of the term ‘migrant’ itself. Coordinated by Virginia Monteforte and Elise Billiard Pisani, RIMA project brings out personal experiences of migrants – individuals looking for their sense of home outside of their country of birth. The project dissolves boundaries between a ‘migrant’ and a ‘non-migrant’ by defining them both through a personal journey in search for home that is common to us all.

The real life stories collected through RIMA were transformed into a theatrical adaptation titled ‘Encounter with migrant narratives’, directed by Marcelle Teuma and held at Palazzo Pereira on 26th and 27th February. The performance involved four actors, two of whom were amateurs, and a minimalist set-up which helped to establish a feeling of intimacy and connection with the audience without sacrificing the means of expression.

RIMA-2
A scene from Marta Lombardi’s narrative

Four actors, five different journeys in search for a place to feel, as stated by one of the narrators, “accepted, protected, welcomed”. Sharon Bezzina, an actor by profession, presented her interpretation of two stories – one by a Japanese woman, driven by photography and thirst for travelling and the other – by a young Maltese female who moved to Milan for her studies. Magdalena Van Kuilenburg interpreted a narrative of a USA migrant married to a Maltese man, who was attempting to find home in Malta after spending a few years in UK. Both, Marta Lombardi and Ali Konate, told their own stories which established a unique and profound feel of intimacy and trust between the cast and the audience. While the reasons that set the female characters on a journey originated in their own willingness, same did not apply to a Mali-born Ali who was forced to leave the country of birth even though he was deeply rooted to it.

The expressive exploration of the limits that prevent the sense of home from setting in was the most memorable element of the performance. The play began from portrayal of unspoken distrust and isolation between the Japanese avid traveler and the American migrant, expressed by placing a line of tape which remained dividing the two for a while. The interpretation of this line of tape could vary from physical limits such as country frontiers to more subtle reasons like lack of common memories or customs that consolidate individuals into a nation. After a while, the sharing of life experiences finally broke the ice between the two and created an opening in the previously solid line of tape. The exploration of limits did not stop at portraying the country frontiers, it delved into such obstacles of emotional comfort as physical boundaries of a tiny studio apartment (whose plan was outlined with tape right on the stage) which made the Maltese architecture student miss Malta in Milan. Marta Lombardi’s search for home was of a more intimate kind, the barriers keeping her from feeling at home emerged from difficulties to be understood, accepted and welcomed. “We find home in people just as much as in places” (*). For a moment the cast got united around a dining table celebrating Marta’s hospitality yet, even in that warm surrounding, she admitted the struggle to feel at home in Malta.

RIMA-5
Maltese architecture student played by Sharon Bezzina who struggled to feel at home in a Milan’s tiny studio apartment

The most visually striking part of the performance was Ali’s narrative. The sense of uneasiness and alarm created by his story of forced resettlement and a journey on a flimsy boat was accentuated by his colleagues on stage, whose synchronized fluttering interactions with scarlet draperies gave an extra visual dimension to the powerful message. Thus, at some point the scarlet cloths turned into waves, a symbolic expression of the waves of blood, the waters of the Mediterranean that kept the lives of so many on their way of finding home.

Through the artistic means of expression, ‘Encounter with migrant narratives’ succeeded to depict the longing for a place where an intuitive inner state of home develops naturally. Also, the performance did quite a good job at underlining how natural it is for everyone to search for home, be it the place of birth or any other place on the planet, and how illusory the differences between ‘a migrant’ and a ‘non-migrant’ are within this concept. The only room for improvement could have been increasing the number of performances since the limited amount of seats at Palazzo Pereira did not allow the play to be viewed by a broader audience, which it certainly deserved.

Click here if you wish to participate in crowdfunding of publishing the migrant narratives collected though the project.

P.S. (*) “We find home in people just as much as in places” is quoted from an article by Marcelle Fenech.

Train Stories

Trains, how much I miss them. Especially long routed ones, with a brass boiler and berths, crossing vast Russian ghostly spaces. It is often said the world became smaller due to air travelling; airlines connected distant corners of the world and placed them all within reach. Undeniably, planes have facilitated travelling with speed and comfort yet hardly have brought distant places together. A collective term “world” still remains an abstraction, used to describe a great number of realities, sharing common space and coexisting in time though still remote from one another. Every time, arriving to a destination only a few hours away from a starting point, it is so awkward for the mind to accustom to the suddenly changed reality. Air travelling feels like moving through a set of diverse rooms, with no corridors and staircases and where doors connect and isolate at the same time. Trains provide the missing corridor and erase borders, binding together travellers and spaces.

Twenty-nine hours – this is how long it takes to arrive from Astrakhan to Moscow by train; by plane – it’s two and a half. How unfortunate it is to sacrifice those twenty-nine hours for two and a half in order to “save time”! Time does not exist in trains. There is nowhere to rush. It’s time for books, long conversations, staring at the slowly changing landscape and consuming an impressive amount of food supplies. Yes, trains must be a nightmare for introverts and diet freaks. Although, there is an escape – upper berth, where one can just stare at the sky through a dusty window right above the head.

IMG_3222_edited
IMG_2400_edited

After sunset, the view is swallowed by darkness, rarely interrupted by other trains heading from the opposite direction. More jokes, more food sharing, more stories. Someone would be completely drunk by then – Russian distances also encourage the national sport. The upper light in the wagon goes off, but conversations still continue in whispers. Someone is preparing to leave – to dive into that tick darkness outside the window at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere.

Night at trains is surreal and annoying at once. Falling asleep to a lullaby of monotonous “choog-choog, choog-choog”, you are very likely to be soon woken up by newly arrived passengers, loud snoring of a neighbour, drunk as skunk, or by thunder of an oncoming train. Slumber, tinkle of a teaspoon in a glass, crush of luggage, whispers, choog-choog, the dusty smell of the pillow, rhythmic swaying of the wagon… Moving forward at full speed while being asleep to wake up in another town – that’s train for you.

IMG_2360_edited1

Morning greets with another station, gleaming by the window, new faces and queues to lavatory. The atmosphere is no longer careless and fun – it’s the arrival day. All plans and urgent matters jump back to mind, discussions turn to practical issues. “Why are you going to Moscow? For how long? Transit?! – Luckyyy!”. Remains of food are finished in a rush, bags – all packed, mattresses – rolled and placed on upper berths. Dust particles shine in the sunlight.

Half an hour is left until arrival and facial expressions become concentrated, impatient, longing. Soon all of them, who once were so close, will disappear from your life as randomly as they walked in. The giant megalopolis will absorb them together with their secrets, leaving no trace – it feeds on people. Final goodbyes, gnashing of breaks and, a few moments after, then-friends and now-strangers roll away as quickly, as peas scattered on the floor – each one to a different direction.

IMG_2403_edited

***

Alone in the snow

It was a gloomy winter day, the train was crawling through the endless fields powdered with snow – the same view for hours. “Next stop is for two minutes only. Stay inside please!”, warns the conductor. We stop in the middle of nowhere (literally), the station consists of a one-story building with one window and a kiosk nearby. “I will only buy cigarettes! I’ll be quick, will be back in no time!”, one of the passengers, a man in his 30s, quickly ventures out of the wagon, wearing bed slippers and light jacket. Two minutes pass as a finger click, the doors are closed and the train is gaining speed. There he is, our careless fellow, trying to catch up with the train, running on the snow with snow-white bed slippers, shaking his hands, screaming something. “Let’s stop the train! Please pull the break, pull the break!!!”. “Are you insane? She wants to stop the train! We’ll end up in such a trouble! What time we arrive then?!”. You fuss about strangers left in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Russian winter only when you’re 24. Others, older and more experienced in life, do not have time to waste and Moscow does not wait.

Bearded late night visitor

Late night train, 30th December 2008. Right after checking in and saying hello, me and three other passengers (a middle-aged woman and a young couple) prepare our berths in a cosy modern compartment. Lights go off and someone mumbles something about locking the door before falling asleep – something that everyone knows. Sleep refuses to come and I decide to spend some time in the corridor. Memories of Malta and of waves, crushing on the shore in Sliema Surfside, are still so vivid. I wholeheartedly hate to return to the frozen desert and want to weep. After a walk from one wagon to another, I return to the compartment and try to fall asleep. Ten minutes later, the door opens and one of my fellow travellers walks in, locking the door behind. I realize someone is sitting on my berth and is going to lay down. “Oh, please, I am not in mood for jokes!”, I whisper, not seeing a thing in pitch darkness. Not saying a word, the interrupter of my dreams starts climbing on the upper berth. In a few moments that same someone gets down again and climbs on the upper berth on the other side. “Man, who are you?!”, I hear next. Someone switches on the lights and we see a bearded man on the upper berth with our male fellow traveler. All becomes clear: the stranger simply entered a wrong compartment and, since drunk (New Year celebrations had started), he could not remember what berth was his. He apologizes and leaves quickly. The accident amuses us all.

– When he sat on my bed I though it was Raisa!

– When he sat on mine I thought it was Sergey!

thought it was my dear boy, so I did not notice anything wrong!

I thought it was my dear girl, I hugged her and was about to kiss her … then I felt the beard!

Have to admit, It was my fault – I should have locked the door behind me.

The couple leaves the train in the morning. “I bet, she’s his mistress, not wife”, my only remaining fellow traveller is in mood to gossip. “He is cheating on his wife, I smell these things”. I shrug shoulders. Well, trains must be paradise for swingers.