Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
Change happens and affects us!
Whether it happens for the better or for the worse depends on how we effect change:
Change affects us but we effect change
Last night, I dozed off in the sofa in our living room after a long day. The T.V. was on the BBC News channel, I woke up suddenly and I could feel my pulse – it was really high! On the T.V. was an update on the rescue efforts: the news stated that the captain of the boat carrying the migrants steered into the rescue ship and capsized. Later, reading the New York Times online, I find this:
What happened when the King Jacob, nearly 500 feet long, approached the multitiered migrant vessel early on Sunday morning is not precisely clear. But an account provided Tuesday by prosecutors in Sicily, based on interviews with survivors, said the captain of the migrant ship, seeing the approaching King Jacob, made “wrong maneuvers” and collided with it. The migrants then crowded to one side of their boat after the collision, causing it to capsize.
Both the TV news and the article in the New York Times have the names of the captain of the migrant’s boat, but not the names of a single migrant. Why do we have no names when the sinking of a tourist cruise liner in the same sea meant those affected were known by name, through the naming of victims? Why does a person become effaced and just become a part of statistics for the authorities?
In my head are the lines of the play I’ve been performing in for the last three weeks. Last Dream (On Earth) created by Kai Fischer. I’ve been playing the role of a drowning migrant and here it is, happening, happening again, as if to my role, the role – of Zouma – to which I lent my body and soul; for which I made music.
I still shake all over whenever I remember making the sound of ‘Zouma’ drowning, as I choke on a mouthful of bottled water to play the role. I am overwhelmed by emotions I never knew lived in me, at the memories of my own recorded voice over the phone to the girl called Sam, (played touchingly by Mercy Ojelade) whose father encourages her on after she had arrived at the beach and seen the sea for the first time in her life and yearned for home, cried and begged to speak to her mother and sister and could not.
Not even for the last time before she lost her precious life. The sound of high emotion in the voice of the young woman who they called ‘Pele’ because on the journey you ‘take on the name of someone you think can make it in life’ (played by the highly talented Adura Onashile). After she had made it to Spain, with the nine-year old boy they called Yaya, the young woman called her mother to let her know she had made it, but also to say the others did not make it. “I need to get some clothes” , she says to her mother before hanging up!
I have come out of this with a sharper sense and awareness around the issues raised by the Last Dream (On Earth) production. Many times I told Kai, “…this production has a long life ahead of it beyond the initial Scotland tour” he had always replied to me in that deep voice and endearing German accent:
“…Oh I don’t know about that, we shall see”. And here, on the news, the long and large death. The Mediterranean – not a sea but a grave. We shall see, indeed.
The audience were given a rare opportunity to go on two separate but connected exploratory journeys simultaneously. My heart still pumps when I remember all the images that appear to me through the headphones conjured by Matt Padden’s sound art, and the ‘voice of Gagarin’, (played by the young, funny and brilliant Ryan Gerald) and all the anxiety of getting ready to be jettisoned into space as the first human to embark on such a pioneering, uncertain and dangerous adventure. It is akin to today’s talk of sending the first humans to Mars. I have come out of this touched and transformed.
Creating Last Dream (On Earth)
I was performing with the Glasgow Highlife Band at the Glad Cafe in December 2013. Unknown to me Kai Fischer the creator, director and the lighting designer of Last Dream (On Earth) was ‘fishing’ for musicians for his ‘dream’ production and had been told by my friend and colleague Alison Phipps to see me perform and meet me. After the show Kai approached me and said he would like to meet up with me and discuss a project he was working on. Little did I know at the time that so many important parts of my life would converge and relate to this project Kai was dreaming about, and bring affective change in my life in the space of two years!
When we met later and Kai told me about his production I was touched. At the time, I was silently agonising about the plight of many Africans in the prime of their youth, risking their lives across the Sahara and the Mediterranean in an effort to reach Europe, with the hope for a better life for themselves and their families. People who are running away from war and poverty mainly, and ready to risk whatever was left of their lives and in some cases the wealth of their families to make this journey. The sad part of this is that although some people succeed and make it through, many pay with the ultimate price of losing their lives in the desert or at sea, in makeshift vessels. There was regular news about women, men and children, perishing near Spain and Italy. Lampedusa found a place in the news. I have wondered all my life about political and state borders. I have often thought that not too long ago in history humanity was free to move and settle wherever supported life. Birds still do that every year. Other animals do it, they migrate to live: are hard wired to migrate. Are we not hard wired to move too, until we are comfortable and settle?
Kai wanted to tell this story alongside the story of the first manned space flight of the USSR space programme. And he wanted to ‘tell it to be heard’ so he asked me to join a group of really talented people to develop this idea, and asked me to bring along any African musical instrument I thought could help bring the dream alive, by creating a soundscape within which the audience can embark on their own risky journey to explore the ‘dangerous unknown’ imaginative world in there. So this is how I became involved in the development of ‘Last Dream (On Earth)’ which has now become one of the most evocative and innovative productions I have ever had the honour of being a part of. I grew to know Kai, Adura, MJ, Matt and later Tyler, Mercy, Ryan also, Amir, Deanne and Lisa! All very great theatre professionals who have now became dear friends and inspirers to me. Let me tell you what I mean by ‘dear friends’. On the opening night, the World Premier of Last Dream (On Earth) I found a card from Matt on my changing room table. It was in Akan and read: “Ensi wo yie!”, meaning,”May it end well with you”.
I knew Matt did not speak Akan, which is one of the many Ghanaian languages I speak, but those three words, and the manner in which they are brought together are loaded with poetic value, and the gesture to speak to me in a language I spoke that he did not speak himself, It is a gesture only a friend can make. I was so touched and remain ever so touched.
In the mist of all this, I went back to Ghana in May 2014 to my dear mother Ellen Vera Tamakloe’s funeral and met my long lost cousin and dear friend, who has been on the journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean on two different occasions. The links between all of this meant that I became more and more immersed, concerned and affected, by ‘Last Dream (On Earth)’ as it evolved through development into rehearsals in 2015. “Two years!” (I joked in rehearsals the last time, to the cast of Last Dream) “it has taken Kai to write this masterpiece.”
My involvement in the production has been through my music. This meant I have had to consciously have a serious chat with ‘Gameli’ the theatre director, and warned him to shut up, observe and learn from ‘Gameli’ the musician and everybody else and not be in the way for whatever reason. It worked. But my involvement has also been as someone deeply affected by the stories being told: the Yuri Gagarin story, and what it reveals about the insatiable human need to explore the unknown and the migrant story and the dangers people face, and how these stories would never be as glamorous as a single Russian young man risking his life going into space in the Cold War era. Pertinent and continuously alarming to me is how thousands of people – those who succeed in crossing and those who perish in the attempt, women, children, men, fathers, brothers sisters cousins, people who were loved and loved back, people who are suffering endlessly – continue to be reduced to mere statistics.
When Kai told me that the funding application he had put in for producing Last Dream (On Earth) had been approved by Creative Scotland, and supported by The National Theatre of Scotland and The Tron Theatre, I was thrilled for many reasons. After rehearsing and performing Last Dream (On Earth) only one thing remains with me. ‘I am not the same and would never be the same again’ My contribution to the piece was music created and performed in collaboration with Tyler Collins in a manner to communicate what words are unable to carry: to capture out of the world of imagination what gets lost in translation from one language to the another, and attempt to rephrase that in the language of music in a manner that reaches a part of our shared understanding beyond the reach of words.
‘Last Dream (On Earth)’, which opened at the Tron Theatre on the 2nd of April to the 4th of April, and toured to St. Andrews, Paisley, the Shetland and Inverness and the Shetlands has turned out to be a great musical journey.
Dreams and Journeys
My own ‘journey’ to Scotland, was relatively safe and ‘legal’ but it was still a wild adventure and was first to visit my older brother Kofi and his wife Margery in 1983. I remember I did not have time to even inform my mother and she did not know I was away for 4 weeks. It was only the gifts I brought from Kofi and Margery and from our big sister Unity and her family in Belfast that proved to her that I had been away, visiting our itinerant, entrepreneurial family. My second and third visits were in 1991 and 2000 then finally, 2003 to settle here, living away from my family for three years until they joined me in 2006 – a massive leap into the unknown for us. But thinking about it, we are always making those leaps into the unknown. The question is how much one is prepared to risk for a leap into the unknown world, even the one that exists within you to explore.
People are responsible for creating difficulties for others. Difficulties that are serious enough to send the weak to risk everything and move in search of a better life. Shame on all of us who make it difficult for innocent people fleeing from war and poverty to find protection. Shame, on us for the little value we place on human life and the high value we place of spurious security. Shame! for policies that replace the names of the weak with statistics just to reduce our own guilt. Shame! for belittling the bravery of the poor. Those who embark on a mission to rescue ‘the drowning’, let them move further to effect change enough to take away the need to risk one’s own life. Change affects us but we effect change.
“Ensi mo yie!”
‘May it end well with you’
all of you.
This article is part of GRAMNet’s personal reflections blog series, where contributors offer short reflections on their personal, day-to-day interactions with migration issues. If you would like to contribute to this series, please get in touch using the contact form below. We welcome all contributions, whether sharing positive or negative experiences.