Fully Human

 

In February this year, I was invited by Pan Intercultural Arts to work with Good Chance - a theatre for migrants based at the refugee camp, or 'The Jungle" in Calais. For these young men, the theatre tent was a sanctuary, as vital as medical care, safe accommodation and basic food and clothing. I returned in March, the day after the theatre had been dismantled.  I went simply to pay respect to the space which had left such an indelible impression on me.
 
 Site of the Good Chance Calais theatre, 12th March 2016

Site of the Good Chance Calais theatre, 12th March 2016

The Jungle is a kid

Who should never have been born

Fathered by hatred,

Mothered by war.

And yet, she exists.

And she grows

As Calais

The son of the North Wind blows.

Caged in by fences

Triple layered to guard

With enough barbed wire

To rebuild the Shard.

With police cars and vans and guns

Skimming

The edges

Like running stiches

Across your favourtite

Frock.

Migrants

Enter and leave as they please.

Shocking

The good folk of Calais.

Liberty, equality

But not so much

Fraternity

As they return

From the port

Every morning

Bruised blue

Bruised black

Across their necks, heads & back.

Every night Mohammed tries

To climb fences 10 ft high

A thousand attempts

At a better life

With equal rights.

But can’t you hear, mate?

The borders are shut

Not for me but for you

Cos

We’re fresh out of love.

 

The Jungle contains

The great, the good

The bad, the ugly

Every colour, every hue.

Liberty, Fraternity,

Feels just like theory

Cos she’s swelling at the sides

With a lack of humanity.

The Jungle has no check points

To protect

Her children

On a sunny Sunday

From ‘refugee tourism’

Telephoto lenses

Pointing into weathered yet hopeful faces.

Indiscriminate.Entitlement.

The Jungle has no border control.

To stop the wings of the ‘right'

Attack the food and clothing supplies

In the dead of night.

She has no dogs or Co2 detectors

To stall bulldozers

As they crush over

Makeshift schools

Crumbling

Carefully crafted huts

From OSB

To debris and dust.

Leaving tiny fingers

To forage newly ploughed mud.

For their lost dolls, cars and books.

The Jungle lets all this survive

Little option but to let it thrive.

 

The good folk say,

“Calais has been cleaned out of palets.

And ginger is scarce in the supermarket.

Because its all in The Jungle.

That slum.

That bidonville.

Not fit for my life.

Not fit for my kids.”

Anyway you look at it

It’s not fit to exist.

Who wants to trudge

Ankle deep in mud

To a soundscape of

Incessant gusts.

Calais

The son of the North Wind

Blows all this in.

Blows all this in.

 

And yet all is

Not lost

In this melting pot.

Where Afghanis pray on their knees

Beside the Sudanese

Iraqi’s cook alongside Iranis,

Eritreans and Syrians

A cocktail of languages

Pashto, Urdu,

And honey-dripped Arabic

Where you can see Alan Yentob

Walk around in his pyjamas

And Jude Law campaigning

For unaccompanied minors.

A world in miniature

Its own rhythm

And infrastructure

More love than hate.

More visible smiles

Than audible tears

More folk who will invite you to

Share a fire

Drink coffee with cardamom

And fistfuls of sugar,

Than would shop your i-phone.

Life goes on and

In the absence of authority

Lives ….creativity.

 

It’s built from scraps,

You see

From unwanted materials

In the burnt out landscape

Ingeniously crafted

Sculpted and grafted

Into restaurants,

Mosques, churches,

Schools,

Huts for medics,

Huts for lawyers

Huts for coffee and chai,

Library

Corner shops

Selling coca cola and pop.

These I understand

I even get the Hammam.

But a community theatre

In this space?

Is that really what they need?

 

I mean, the kids don’t even wear socks

When the sun goes down

There’s no heat

Why should theatre be a priority?

Where tents are set on fire at night?

Where houses are bulldozed on sight?

Where you queue for a shower

3 hours, maybe longer.

For six minutes under water

Never mind if you’re a mother

With a baby and toddler.

A community theatre in this space?

Isn’t that a bit luxurious?

 

Beyond the imagination.

So they built it.

Good Chance it’s called

#becauseeveryonedeservesagoodchance

And this great dome

Became a home

To play, to move

To sing

To check your phone

Take shelter from the rain

Dress up in insane

Costumes

Meet friends

Be someone else

Express your inner self

Just for a moment.

Play indoor cricket

Tell a story through mask

Get eye contact

Heart contact

Or just get a hug

A lifeline for the mind

And if you’re really frustrated

You can set fire to plastic

Ride your bike

Through a workshop

Play guitar

Or smash it up.

If that’s what you need

You will be heard

Held and supported.

Hula hooping

Call and response

Dervish-like dancing

From Bollywood and disco

To fashion shows

They cut, stick, make, create

Express, vent

To connect to themselves and to others

To yourself and to your brother

But the migrants didn’t call it a community theatre

Just ‘British hema’

‘The British tent’

That is what it meant.

And when the bulldozers bulled

And the tents burnt down

200 metres away

People still came round

Turned up

To write poetry

To play

Exchanging safety

For dignity.

At night, it was a dormitory

A home to those

Who had lost theirs’.

Literally…

People slept there.

 

Two weeks ago

After six months of serving

It had to be dismantled

The reason was simple:

A community theatre

Without its community

Is irrelevant.

(And there’s only so much you can do

With CS gas twisting through the air.)

Now, an empty space.

Existing only in the memories

Of those who came

And yet

Games continued to be played

On that very soil

No dome.

But it is still a home.

A home for ideas.

A space of their own.

Calais

The Son of the North Wind

Can’t blow this all out.

Can’t blow this all out.

 

Why do the arts matter?

We all have our reasons.

For me, it’s a vital part of

Feeling fully

Human.

 


45 Days of Recovery and Reflection

 
A performance poem about the subtle yet powerful impact of the arts on trafficked women.  
Performed for International Peace Seminar at Faculty of Education, Cambridge 23-25 September 2015.
 

Most days she sits in her room

Wondering,

‘Should I go out?’

She could go to pick up those pills

Or to the shops?

It’s too hard.

She decides not.

She used to

Remember her mother singing

Lullabies

Falling

From the skies.

It had been a hard bargain

This marriage

She was no beauty

She was no poet

With that skin colour

Who would have her?

Sold.

To a man

And his

Promise of care

 Attention he lavished

With

His Lips

hips

And (at times)

 fists.

First in the family to get on a plane

Insane then,

That it was a one-way ticket

To London

And a concrete floor for a bed,

Where she was

Served to anyone

Who paid

And the lullabies fade.

 

 

Later

Years later

She wakes up

escape?

rescue?

“This is a safe house.

You have 45 days

Whilst we examine your case.”

The government said,

“To reflect and recover”

A merciful nation.

“After that you may need to seek alternative

accommodation.”

Reflect and recover?

Recover?

Pills to help you sleep?

Pills to help you breathe

Pills to help you wake up

Pills to calm you down

Pills to not be so still

head spinning

heart racing

Pills to stop the effects

Left

by the other Pills

 

Once a week

Whether the pill cocktail

Kicks in or not

She ventures out

A rendez vous

She meets

She greets

Her sisters

Her friends

They sing

They move

They play

They role play

They laugh…and how.

She is.

They are

In the now.

She pieces her body

back together

Stitch by stitch unsure

If it will hold

In the stormy weather.

But she stitch and she stitch

Regardless.

She never misses this.

For this, she leaves her room.

I ask you what can this offer

To help her recover

Not medical

Not logical

Perhaps.

In singing I mute the voices in my head

Perhaps

In moving I shut the past outside the door

Perhaps

In playing like a child

I stay long enough

To hear the lullaby

Again.

 


Saraswati & Me

A poem inspired by the idea of Me-searching and an old photograph. Written and performed for a webinar between Cambridge and the University of Chiuahua in Mexico, Oct 2013.

 

 Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma

Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma

 
 

Questioning practice brought me here

To beginning of 'Mita the re-searcher'

I close my eyes ready steady….

But what is that before me?

Not my practice

Not my students

But a bright red box

Inside

An old photo

I’ve seen it 100 times before

But today I look with the

Eyes of me-searcher

Wondering

How much of me now

Was there back then?

Its 1977

My parents’ cultural roots

Woven in saffron

Around my 5 year old body.

It was the festival

Of Ma Saraswati

The goddess of learning and music

My school books at her feet

I pray so hard

That wrinkles formed on

My forehead.

“Hi Saraswati

Sorry we haven’t spoken for a long time.

I’ve got a couple of requests

Please make me understand

English.

Please help me with my maths.

Oh yes and

I know I’m not blonde but

Can I please be

Mary in the nativity this year?”

My palms glued together

With hope.

My eyes open and...

Saraswati is walking towards me

“Look darling,

I know I’m a godess

That’s a lot of requests

For one person

I tell you what

I’ll grant you one”

I quickly collect my books and hurry home.

I tell no-one (until today).

So much of me today was there back then

The links and inconsistencies,

In this simple image.

And the memory it contains

Straddling to two cultures

To find an inter-culture

Which led me to

Explore movement from

Three different continents.

Scared of school

So I left

As soon as I could

 Spent years

Questioning the system

Which defined and redefined

Intelligence

And find myself here.

Saraswati granted

More than one wish that day.

This makes me think

Of my practice

How children can be the vessels

Which hold all their adult selves

How do we best grow

Those possibilities

How do we best explore

Their worst fears,

Their most glorious dreams,

Whilst keeping alive

Their imaginative selves

How can we hear the

The questions ask

In secret?

This short journey back

Grounds me

Re-roots me

Back

Into my practice

With children and others
I put the photo back

I close the box

Until the next time.

 


Let me count the ways

A poem positioning myself as a researcher
 

Let me count the ways

Performer, Choreographer

Theatre Deviser, Project director

Artist-teacher

Facilitator, Practitioner

Evaluator

Researcher (as instrument)

Bricoleur

Intersectionalist

All the above

Dance was my main thing

South Asian Contemporary

(If you must ask)

No easy task

To live by the rhythms in my feet

The geometry of my arms

The curving lines

Of my spine

One night I heard

A psychotherapist

By accident

Stories

A heady concoction

Of blood, fire and flesh

Children

Playing in landmines

Witnessing rape

Held at gunpoint

Children

Who had lost their words

From far away countries

Whose home was here

Caught in the in-between

I asked to

Volunteer

18 years ago

and began adventures in

Applied Arts

or was it

Arts-based Learning through Care?

In any case

That moment lead me here.