Growing in Greece

A-1 Publishers introduces its publications on Moria Refugee Camp: two selections

The garden is alive, taking root. As the plants grow, they meet other travellers. Some come here to talk, calling those near and far in languages familiar and new. Others come here to recline, to relax during the hottest hours of the day amidst the cool shade. One passes by—not to sit—instead plucking fistfuls of mint, thyme and purslane with an expert hand; small harvests that reappear in cups of tea the same evening or on small plates, stoves and dinner tables the very same night.

The evenings—it is during the hours nearing sunset that the garden knows its popularity most; the air is refreshed, festive with groups of people filling up all possible forms of seating, coexisting with florets of pink Oleander and peach-petalled Bougainvillea. Light filters through the jute roofs in tones of ochre, blown in all directions by the strong gusts of the Meltemi—the wind that brings with it scents of earth, herbs and flowers.

Through our observations and talking to our friends and colleagues living in Moria Refugee Camp, we felt the need to create spaces of solitude, positivity and peace where people could disengage from the harsh atmosphere of the camp. Initiating a project—either in the camp or in the sprawling settlement outside it—is a complicated process. Whilst our goal to work with communities in the immediate vicinity of the camp led us through a trail of bureaucratic non-commitments over the last few months, we’re also aware that the scope for change is intentionally limited, and that the current state of Moria is a political choice, and not simply a consequence of the Greek financial crisis or number of people on the island. Still, complications aside,  September brought a wave of collaboration into our garden and we managed to work towards our goal in an unexpected but impactful way.

Ludovic Péran, Clément Aadli and Jimmy Granger dedicated two weeks to plan a series of poetry/open-mic nights in the Olive Grove. Located outside the formal camp, the Olive Grove is a large settlement of young, single men that are denied place inside Moria. Fights between communities are common; the place is spoken of as unsafe, stressful and indeed it isn’t the smoothest neighbourhood in town. Within such an environment, the evenings were—for everyone that  danced, laughed, shouted and sang—unforgettable, beautiful and joyous moments of rare kinship. Tensions between people turned into friendly musical rivalry. Between poems in Farsi and an Arabic freestyle rap/beatbox duo, we had an old Palestinian gentleman who threw his cane in the air before jumping on stage to sing; a Cameroonian woman who taught an Iraqi man how to dance and Congolese post-colonial poetry recited to a piano improvisation.

And carrying on the music, Amélie, Adrien and Clément from Radio Monobloc held a workshop over the span of three weeks at OHF, sharing skills on radio-production, editing and recording to an enthusiastic and committed group of individuals. Here’s their final work. They also set up a series of live radio-broadcasting evenings with an amazing crew of musicians from Congo, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kurdistan and Syria. Between sips of Ouzo and puffs of shisha, Farshid Mohamedi aka candidate for The Voice of Afghanistan raps freestyle besides Mapipo aka Congolose Afrobeats superstar:

“This gathering of composite voices lead to hilarious moments (when Mapipo improvises, in the middle of one of his hits, a serenade to his Iraqi wife who was sulking a few table further), bittersweet moments (when the Congolese began to sing a sharp and spontaneous complaint against the living conditions in the camp), frenetic moments (when Mapipo and is friend Half-God made the whole assembly rise and scream by rapping in Lingala, in afrantic way, almost like they were possessed by the music), moving moments (when the symbiotic voices of the two Afghan friends tuned perfectly and they sang a beautiful lamentation that we could feel even without understanding the words that were spoken), unexpected and breathtaking moments (when an Afghan rapper (Farshid) and a Congolese rapper (Don King) engaged in a sort of improvised featuring, spontaneously giving the mic to one another every thrity seconds, accompanied by the two guitarists, Amir and M16, who gave the impression of having known each other forever while they were playing together for the first time).”

1) Together in the Olive Grove

On the left side of Moria camp is a field called the Olive Grove. Hundreds of refugees, those that the overcrowded camp can’t contain, live there in tents or containers. Near the entrance, under a big tent facing a big white wall, the volunteers from Danish Red Cross organize movie nights twice a week. For more comfort, they built a few rows of wooden benches. This is where we decided to put together music and poetry nights. In order to set up these concerts, we could count on a formidable network of mutual aid. And this messy organisation, infused with solidarity, already expressed a common desire to create a joyful moment in a place that really few things brighten up.

So after we borrowed a keyboard, a mixing-deck and a few security agents from the OHF community center; a guitar in a music shop in Mytilini and another one from a German man passing through to give music classes; after we used the Danish Red Cross container to store all this equipment and after we solicited their help again to serve refreshments during the concerts and also to add some people to security; after some people lent us microphones and others lent us fluorescent jackets; after we asked an Australian sound engineer for his help too; after meeting Afghan guitarists, Congolese pianists, Irani poets, Syrian and Cameroonian singers, Togolese writers and even more singers, musicians and artists from those countries or from others; after spending three afternoons rehearsing and after building a stage in front of the wooden benches, the concert were ready to begin.

Around a hundred and fifty people attended the first night and almost twice that on the second night; overflowing from the big white tent, finding space anywhere they could see the concert from.

At times, people wanted to hear songs in their own language and it was necessary to adapt in order to satisfy everybody but most of the time the different communities listened to each other with respect, supported each other, applauded each other, whistled through their fingers to show their approval, shouted at the top of their voices, sang catchy choruses, sometimes they even danced on songs whose lyrics they had no way to understand.

If the situation in Moria camp, only a few meters away, was not so disastrous; if the reasons that brought so many refugees to this island were not so painful and their horizons so uncertain, one could almost be amazed at seeing so many people from different origins and backgrounds come together in the same place just to have a bit of fun.

2) It is important to record the sea (by Clement, Adrien and Amelie from Radio Monobloc)

The room where the radio workshops took place is a wooden shed. In September it was hot and through the half-open door we could see the Turkish coast in front of us. This room is one of the spaces of OHF, the community-center where we would spend the next two weeks.

An hour’s walk from Moria, it is still one of the closest places to the camp where people can come to rest, charge their phones, eat, get a haircut, exercise and participate in various activities.

For two weeks we organised radio workshops for two hours everyday. We brought microphones and recorders and offered the participants the opportunity to do radio themselves.

By recording radio programs and choosing themes they wanted to talk about, participants were both journalists and guests; interviewers and interviewees. Of course, they often wanted to address life in Moria Camp, the reasons for fleeing, and the long hours of waiting but they also wanted to talk about music, the sea and poetry.

Doing radio also meant learning how to use a recorder—leaving the class with one, coming back the next day and making the others listen to a voice, a sound, a place.

They interviewed friends or strangers inside Moria, and learnt how to record atmospheres: sounds that tell us of a place without words. One day, Sahar—a young Afghani woman living on the island with her husband and daughter—made us listen to the sound of the camp at night: indistinct voices, crickets, the wind. She explained that we were listening to the voice of Moria at midnight. We thought that radio atmospheres are precisely like Sahar said: a sound without words is still a voice.

Some participants showed up everyday. Others came once or twice or joined us for a few days before the end and stayed until the final broadcast. They used the microphones with ease or shyness, with gravity or casualness but always with a lot of attention. Each of them chose what they wanted us to hear.

Anoosh recorded the sound of the sea. To address why they left their countries, the participants agreed that it was important that one of them recorded the sea because it is the sea that they all reach when leaving their countries, before getting on a boat to Greece. Alain recorded the crickets who are already singing when he wakes up—very early—in Moria. Every morning he goes for a run when everything is still quiet except for the crickets.

Sarah told us about the day she arrived on the island.

When she attended the workshop, it was the first time she left the camp—“When I arrived in Moria three weeks ago, my fiance and I spent a week under a tree. We slept in the open. We were told we should have been looking for a place to stay ourselves. When we come here, we are already devastated; we took risks. I’m sitting here and I see all that water that I had to cross. I risked my life because things were not easy where I lived. I didn’t expect to end up in a camp and be treated this way.

The image we have of Europe is that here the human is in the center of everything. But are we treated like human beings? If I speak with my heart, with my spirit, I think that I might burst in tears. Because here, in Moria, there is complete insecurity. It is overcrowded. How can the government not hear those cries of distress? If people come here, it means that where they lived things were not right. Where they were, they suffered a lot. Now we are here in Greece. And what should we do? Is containing us in such a place going to make the situation better? No. Some people here have studied, some know how to use their hands.

Give them the opportunity to go find a job in Athens and maybe continue their journey. Here, the living conditions are inhuman.” Giscard “caught”, as he said, the desolation of a guitar.

Sahar hid a recorder in her husband’s pocket to make us listen to the foodline, the never-ending queue that people have to wait in to get meals inside the camp. They sometimes wait for eleven hours a day. Inside Moria it is forbidden to film, record or take pictures. They all talked about moriantese, a mix of English, Greek, Farsi, Arabic and French that comes out on the island.

One day, while coming to the workshop, Alain recorded himself rapping—“I’m singing this record, just improvising. He asked me where I’m from… without answer, I’m fleeing into my passion. I never wanted to be a refugee, but that’s life anyway. The youth are fighting when you’re sleeping. After that you’ll say that’s my destiny. For every try it’s the same setting, what else? That’s if you live with no effort. You spend your nights dreaming of gold.

You have too much remorse. Why accuse others at every dirty trick? To succeed here you need to be strong. Go! Try more! Why are you hesitating?

Follow the path of truth. Meditate your approaches. Hang your expenses off your pockets…Brother”.

Inside Moria, there are also music classes and a children choir. Anoosh recorded it.

Here are a few excerpts from the workshops that we chose for this exhibition. All the sounds were recorded by those who participated in the workshops.

But there is so much more that we would want you to hear. We would want you to hear Sahar crying when listening to a friend she recorded inside Moria; to hear the translation chains from French to English to Farsi so that everybody can understand everybody, to hear the questions asked that say so much about the person who is asking, to hear Alain constantly greeting the viewers, to hear the hesitations, the seriousness, the exchange, the voices…

We would want to keep doing radio in Lesvos.

Image credit: A-1 Publishers.

 

This is part of The Learned Pig’s Tuin Stemmen (Garden Voices) editorial season, autumn-winter 2018/19. Guest editor: Marloe Mens.

 

The Learned Pig

 

A-1 Publishers

A-1 is an itinerant publishing house founded in 2017 by Jimmy Granger and Zuri Camille de Souza in Bombay. From February 2018 onwards, we became a floating collaborative platform for publications around the themes of landscapes, borders, coastal ecology and geopolitics. We are a multidirectional non-profit organisation. Through collaboration with interested individuals, our team is always developing - leading to a constantly evolving and dynamic skill set. This allows us to approach our themes through practical work within communities, as well as put forth resources for people and landscapes to share their stories in tangible ways. Each publication is unique - informed by the places we work in and the projects we are part of. Our books refrain from objectifying situations, observing and listening rather than assuming. We invite the reader to re-engage with their prejudices, assumptions and beliefs.