Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Walking From the War Zone


Person, by Kinan. Berlin, 2016


The arthur+martha international outreach project Heaven-Proof House is a collaboration with refugees in Berlin, devised by Phil. The project is based at an asylum seekers' centre in Spandau, where residents have kindly granted interviews, made poems and artworks. The artwork above, like most artworks for this project, is by a child at the centre. 

"She is walking from home right now, at this very moment. She is walking with our one-year-old child from Aleppo to Turkey. She's travelling by herself, walking away from the war zone. She has a cheap mobile phone but the signal is bad. Sometimes all trace of her will disappear. To cross the border she will need to pay the human traffickers 1500 euros. But when they get to the final crossing point she and the child must go alone."

Said is telling us this. He peers over the top of his glasses like an old-fashioned librarian. His remarkable eyes are a deep brown and they are full of worry. It is impossible to escape the gravity of those eyes. He is perhaps 40 years old, but seems far older. His room in the asylum seekers' centre is impeccably clean. The last occupant was ill and had left it dirty, but now it is renovated to a bright spotlessness. There is a large photograph of a dew-covered rose on the wall, a bed, table and chairs, a television in one corner. 

We are in "da heim" in Spandau, Berlin. Said's wife is hundreds of miles and two borders away. He explains the situation, in a mix of Arabic and German, to Barbara, Aymen and myself. Barbara and Aymen then pass it onto me in English fragments. 

But however much Said explains, I cannot seem to fully understand. This is not about a failure of language it is about failure of experience. Some things need to be lived to be understood. This is a little of what I've written in my notebook:

His wife
Left Aleppo today, mit kleine
By foss
(Mimes action of walking with fingers)
By foot. You understand?
Left Aleppo today, they walk. 1 years old boy. His wife.
Walk to Turkey. 
Because she has appointment with Embassy
But they won't let her go through
No other way
In ein gruppe? Nein.
No. She's not walking in a group
Only with her baby.
The only chance she has
To find her way is to go through quietly

(Shows route on mobile phone, google map 
Near a forest, near a border)

She has no papers. If she gets through, it just depends on the day. 
This is the only chance.

Said now shows us a phone photo of his tiny daughter. She too has fantastic, intense eyes. All of us grouped around the camera give an involuntary gasp. Said says: "The waiting time kills you. You wait, you waste time and wait."

I say that he is a very gracious host. In his shoes, in his situation I doubt I would be as calm, or considerate. He looks at me, thoughtfully and replies: "When you don't have another option, you have to wait."

Interview with Philip Davenport, Berlin
Translation, Aymen Montasser