On the second day of the workshop, and international worker’s day we did non-formal educational activities which aimed to expand our understanding of the refugee condition.
Revijara opened the day with a follow-up from the previous day. After sharing our fears and hopes for the outcomes of the work-shop, it became clear to her that some of the participants were not very confident that they comprehend the differences between the different forms of education. For this, Revijara wrote the three categories of education – formal/ non-formal/ informal – and participants were asked to put adjectives on them.
Then we moved to the first floor of KUBIZ for the World café where Valeria welcomed us with her melodies on the piano. The next step was to divide in groups of five or six and sit in different tables where a moderator with a topic was assigned. The topics were Inclusion, Media, Detention/ Deportation, Living Conditions and European Borders. After a few minutes of discussions the groups moved to the next table to discuss a different subject. Each table had a large white sheet were participants could draw or write their ideas. In the end of the café the moderators presented the sheets that were made.
In the next activity people were called to estimate the population of the different continents of the world, their wealth, their CO2 emissions and percentage of refugees. Then each one put her/ his chair on the sheet writing the continent’s name. It was interesting to test our knowledge and occasionally challenge what we regard as common-sense.
After a delicious vegan lunch cooked by our chef the program of the day continued with an incredibly inventive theatrical game which was starred by the amazing perfomances of the trainees. Each participant was given a role either as a refugee, a smuggler, border control, an NGO worker or a bureaucrat. The aim was for the participants to train their social imaginations for the labyrinthic procedures and difficulties that refugees are facing in their journey to reach the prosperous North, which in this case was called KUBIZlandia!
The day was finished with most of trainees participating in the exciting demonstration of the worker’s first of May in the centre of Berlin.
An interview with Samee Ullah / Refugee club impulse
[“Art can’t change your bureaucratic and political problems.. but it shows you how to survive and how to resist. I mean, you are very brave when you have nothing to lose. And this is what I feel now, I have no identity, I have no citizenship, I have no right to work. I live an isolated life in refugee camps.”] Samee Ullah
Monday, the second of May 2016 in Berlin. The sun is shining so everybody is exited about the program that day. While most of the activities we engaged in before took place in and around the Kubitz, today we have an excursion planned. We split up in five groups, five persons each.
Every group had a different person and project to meet, one group visited Die Gaertnerei (http://diegaertnerei.berlin/), a multicultural gardening project for refugees where 12 young men are working in the garden and receive German lessons, they also host a multicultural event Cafe Nana. Another group met with Dilan Gülmez, a Turkish – German actor who was involved with a theater called ‘We Are The Play’ (http://sdfprojekte.de/sdf20151213_023.htm), an interactive performance examining the perspectives of immigrants and Germans of other descents from the Fall of the Berlin Wall until today. The third group went to Al-Dar NGO (http://www.al-dar.de/ – Al Dar means Home in Arabic). This NGO has a building where they do integration activities for refugees and other migrants with Arabic background. The forth group brought a visit to Bantabaa bakery (https://www.facebook.com/Bantabaa/), a bakery at Görlitzer Park providing education, accommodation and jobs for African refugees and an alternative to dealing drugs.
Our group took off to the Maxim Gorki theater, a theater in Berlin-Mitte that has a large focus on plays tackling issues like immigration, race and assimilation. At the theater we got ourselves a coffee and sat down at the garden of the canteen, ready for our 3 o’clock appointment with Samee Ullah. Samee is a Pakistani refugee working at the Gorki Theater for the campaign ‘My right is your right’, as well as member and actor in the initiative ‘Refugee Impulse Club’, a self-organized refugee theater collective.
During the conversation we addressed various topics like female inclusion in theater, politics, racism and the meaning of Art. The following is partly a transcript and partly a summary of the 1,5 hour long interview and conversation we shared with him. For stylistic reasons I have adjusted the formulation and grammar of some parts. For full interview refer to the audio-file.
So maybe we can first tell you about ourselves.. We came on this training on migration related issues, especially on non-formal education. So we have different workshops and presentations inside and outside. As part of the project it was today that we divided in groups, and we are one of the groups, and we wanted to get in contact with people and groups that have initiatives or projects in support or solidarity with the migrants, with refugees in particular.
“I’m Samee from Pakistan, and since 2013 I live here in Germany, more than 2,5 years. […] In July 2013 I moved to Germany, and I’m fighting here until now about the right of work, that I could get the equal right of work, that I don’t have.. [..] Its almost three years that I live here with not equal right, I can’t travel out of Germany, I cant work here.. [..] and this is my whole story, myself being a cultural activist, a political activist, this everything is around this work-permission story, this is my actual aim, what I’m fighting for”
We speak with Samee about his life in the ‘heim’ [migrant living place] where he lived for the past 2,5 years together with 350 other migrants.
“In the heim there is no Internet, they don’t allow the guests to come in. In some not at all, others not after 8 o’clock. The journalists at all are not allowed to come in, no playing area for the kids, there is no community area where you can sit together and get to know each-other, like indoor games or table-tennis, there’s nothing like that. So the best activities there are sleeping, and when you wake up roll a joint, smoke it, and when you don’t want, take some whiskey.”
Were you involved also when you were in Pakistan in campaigns or theater or art things, or this came to you when you were here?
“As an artist I have no experience in Pakistan. It might be one or two times that I went to see a theater performance. I never had time for this.. I became artist when I tried to learn how to live the live in these circumstances, when nothing positive is happening. I Have this fear since three years now, I’m never sure how long I’m gonna stay here. Till now I’m still waiting for the asylym interview, I’m not sure if it will be accepted, then I will stay and I can imagine my future, what I will do and how I will live in Germany. But if its rejected, whats the next destination, thats a question mark for me.”
Can you explain more why you became an artist, what does art mean to you?
“Art can’t solve your political and bureaucratic problems, but it shows you how to live, how to survive and how to resist. This is what art means to me, and this is why I’m artist. When I was on stage it was the best place for me to say everything that really I could not say anywhere. All the arguments and discussions that I had with my work-permission, and the answers that I got. So on the stage that was time for me to throw everything on the stage, throw all my anger on the stage. And I felt very well after that. [..]
We started to build up a self organized platform for refugees. We started to work in a refugee camp giving them the writing workshop about the situation here in Germany. The idea was that you had to write a letter, to your mother or your dearest friend back, and write them about the situation here in Germany, and how you feel. [..] we selected seven letters from them, they were seven problems actually what we discovered what refugees feel here.. and the things they want to write back to home, and we try to show that to Germans here on the stage. This production is called ‘letters home’.”
We spoke with Samee about the issue of racism and his latest project, a street theater that took place in Berlin this April.
“From a political point of view, I must say that theater is the best way to reach the people, and if you get into it for the right reasons, and you don’t give up, you are non stoppable. [..] We cannot let the extreme right people go on the top, and make the situation worse. This racism is the very important topic here, and we should talk about it. Racism against Muslim, racism against refugees, everything is connected. And after the letters home project we did this street carnival, and this was a big big success. And when 5000 people came on the streets, and seven theaters came on the streets together for the refugee rights, this is a very good sign. This shows that one party, Pegida or AfD, they don’t represent Germany. This is the Germany, they are the theaters, the street-theaters, they are the activists, those who want their system to go in the right direction, and they want to project on all the things that have been projected in a wrong way”
How do you project those things that have been projected in a wrong way?
“Criticism is important if you want to improve.. we criticize the living situation, of course, we should. Although many people who are into the system, who are making money from this refugee-business, who are using this issue for their benefit, not only political but also personal benefits and the way they are treating the refugees in the camps, will disagree with this.. but we have to talk about these things, we can not live in Germany with these prison-cells in the middle of the cities, holding thousands of people, I mean nowadays you call it refugee crisis, and you taking the political benefit, and people don’t focus on these things. I mean, look in the future, if we think about after five years, when this influx of refugees is over, and everybody is integrated like everybody was in the 70s, and after that we don’t want to see this cell prison in the middle of the city. Why can’t we give the living standard to refugees the same as to the students, why can we not give the living standard the same as what we give to the Germans, why we can’t give them Internet, why we can’t allow the journalists there [In the camp] to see whats happening there? Hundreds of things.. refugees that are living there don’t even know where to complain, what are their rights when living here. They feel this isolation.. so we have to talk about these things. If somebody says they don’t like it, and its risky, we will go for it because its the right thing what we feel, as being part of this society [..] it belongs to my responsibility to talk about this..
The seventh day of our workshop began with a fun energizer which involved a curtain and a fast response from the participants, which seemed still a bit sleepy, but all that changed rapidly.
We continued with a discussion about the difficulties that we have encountered while working with migrants in trans-cultural situations. As usual, we formed little groups and a lot of people mentioned the presence of certain stereotypes within the community of activists and professionals who work with migrants and refugees and pointed out to the fact that most of the times these processes happen without the individuals being aware of it. Discussions were made about the methodologies (eventual role-playing games/satirical theater and performances) that can be used in order to make this stereotyping more visible but no concrete conclusions were reached about the content of these methods.
It is important and funny to me to point out, that Leah arrived late again. 🙂
The day continued with a second energizer which turned out to be also quite fun but ironically a bit stereotypical (as we will now see in its description). It resembled a collective game of rock-paper-scissors in which our lovely group was divided in two teams and the participants could choose between three categories of characters – a dragon, a prince and a princess. The dragon “took” the princess, the prince “took” the dragon and the princess “took” the prince. After a few rounds, the superiority of the second team (of which this humble reporter made part of) became apparent, but in the end the game finished in a draw, as not to offend the first team.
A talk about stereotyping followed in different groups, mine dealt with gender stereotypes and the role of the parents, as a lot of kids seem to be raised with certain prejudicial concepts and the importance of work with children was stressed out. We talked about how society has shaped and is still shaping the gender roles and basic construct of our identity. As an example was given the idea that women should be soft and friendly and how frustrating and dis-empowering this can be. How are women supposed to react in the face of this macho attitude? And how can we, as men, should act in order to acquire and spread awareness of these problems? How can we break this macho view of gender roles? Some suggestions pointed out towards direct communication and exampled behavior. It was noted that men do not talk about these topics amongst each other and that people in general tend to blame society and its structures and not take personal responsibility. Pop culture has a great role in perpetuating the gender roles.
Another group discussed the stereotypes associated with the migration culture and methods of dismantling them. It was pointed out that is important to get to know the different cultural backgrounds of the migrants in order to avoid prejudices and that more activities and interaction are needed between newcomers and the local populations (for example picnics, games, cooking) in order to bring these communities together. It was noted that migrants and refugees are perceived quite differently and the level of their acceptance within the local communities is different which leads to certain prejudices.
Another topic that was discussed was the question of how to deal with friends who have an opposite view on migrants – it was suggested that a level-headed and a reasonable conversation which takes into an example a particular case helps break down misunderstandings about migration.
The topic of body contact was also discussed, taking into an account the misunderstandings related to it – for example, the cheek kissing in many counties versus the handshake which is dominant in other places. These cultural differences about the body touch can lead to awkward and unpleasant situations (example: a Muslim man refusing to shake the hand of a woman/ too much of a body contact when one is not used to it) but it is important to understand that this should not be taken personally and this is where the by better understanding of different cultures comes in handy, as well as a good awareness of one’s own traditions and habits. Respect is always a very good stepping stone into any trans-cultural relationship.
The day followed with the controversial and emotionally charged lecture “P.O.C. Perspectives” given by Lawrence Oduro Sarpong from Ghana, which provoked a wide range of emotions and managed, to a certain degree, to divide the group in its reactions and opinion on the whole thing.
The main topic discussed was the concept of white supremacy which the group characterized by a number of aspects – privileges, power, wealth, oppression, racism, colonialism, euro-centralism, inequality, violence, stereotypes, different forms of slavery (economic, political, physical), persecution, hierarchy, megalomania, imperialism, exploitation, internalization, othering, amongst others.
Mr. Sarpong expressed his opinions on the impact of what he called “White Club” on human history and the planet as a whole. It is quite difficult to describe objectively the whole discussion due to the fact that it was quite personal and intense, and each member of the group experienced it in a different matter.
I would describe his method as quite formal and conflictious with the conscious goal of provoking an emotional response from the participants. Vagueness and generalization while stirring the whole topic into a pre-determined direction are also ways in which, me personally, would use to paint his method.
As I do not feel capable (and it is already quite late) to objectively describe the workshop with Mr. Sarpong, I would let each member of our super cool group to make up her/his mind about the topic.
All is all, I would allow myself to say, that the day was full of surprises, emotions and fun activities that helped me (and others, I guess) to reflect and learn.
We have just experienced our first day. We are all excited about a long term training. You can feel how everyone is interested to know each other, to know what they are doing, where they are working, etc. When you are part of a project like this, you start your travel with a lot of questions: will the people be interesting? What’s the background of the participants? Will it be productive? Will it be a good vibe?
Two participants gave me their first day impressions but I will write as a group thought. At the arrival we felt really good welcomed, some of those questions that we had at the beginning of the travel disappeared when we knew the participant’s background. Then we started to get excited about all the knowledge that participants have and all the possible collaborations and productive classes we can have.
The atmosphere is really cool, everyone wants to know each other, nobody is staying behind. We are really happy with the food and with the training schedule.
First activities of the day were the opening and training introduction. It was a little bit hard to start the personal presentations without energizers but the games we did made the situation easier and it was really great to have activities and games outside with a nice weather.
Evening activities were more focused on the migration topic: We started working in teams, defining migration with our personal photos. It was time to get more personal and intimate. For participants it was a nice opportunity to understand each other and have a moment of solidarity listening other stories.
Dimensions of migrations activity brought us to the complexity of the theme. We realized that we didn’t know how to define it, there are a lot of aspects to take into consideration. We felt that we don’t have enough time to discuss about the subject in our group to define the term but we agreed that it is not possible to define it exactly.
We have a lot of positive feelings and hopes about the training. We are eager to know what it’s coming and what we can make together!