Island field notes (and what gets let in and left out of the pond?)
‘If I were The Ocean’, the working exhibition, held at the Norwegian Maritime Museum at Bygdøy in August 2016, can be seen as a map and a compass for the entire Amphibious Trilogies project. Amanda Steggell and I used this map and compass at the isle of Fourni in September 2016.
Instead of circumnavigating the island, or climbing its highest peak, we navigated the northern shores of the island by walking as far as we could in every direction. When we found we couldn’t get any further by foot, we would enter into the water and swim to the next shore, and then continue to walk. This is the amphibious way of getting about. We also tried to find passages between different islands that were close enough to swim across. (⇐ 🎥)
Every morning Amanda would go out with the local fishermen to get the catch of the day. And every evening we would sit in the fish restaurant and eat what they had caught. This became another of our routines that gave a variation to the otherwise sleepy fisher village. One day there was a great deal of fish, octopus and lobster. Other days almost none.
Besides walking, swimming and fishing we would read, draw, do tai chi tai chi (⇐ 🎥), dance (⇐ 🎥), photograph, film, speak to locals, gather herbs and document the events as they unfolded. Amanda´s practice of enquiring could be considered to be of an enquiring journalistic approach.
In my opinion, the first trip to Fourni was a way of testing out all the different directions that Amphibious Trilogies can take in the coming three years.
SAMOS ISLAND I
In September of 2016, while staying at the island of Fourni Amanda and I visited the neighbouring island of Samos. We met the volunteering group Samos Volunteers who are working at a camp for boat refugees coming over the water from Turkey. We joined in for two days teaching English classes and gave swimming lessons for refugee kids at a shelter at the Paradise Hotel. The meeting with Jasmine Doust of the Samos Volunteers and encounter with the refugees sparked the idea to come back to Samos again in 2017 to work for a longer period of time. It also sparked the idea for a ‘pond ballet’, a colouring book and making plastic rope out of plastic bottles. More about this later.
SAMOS ISALND II
We arrived in Samos, Greece on 3 April 2017 and worked for Samos Volunteers daily from 6 am until at least 6 pm for 3 weeks (until 23 April) at the shelter at Paradise Hotel and in the refugee camp.
There were around 700-800 persons living in the camp at that time. Around 200 of them were children. Around 40 persons, mostly families with small children and/or pregnant women, were staying in the shelter. Every night there were between 20-30 new persons arriving to the island by boat from Turkey.
The everyday routine of activities consisted of working at the tea kitchen, library, English lessons, children’s activities, playing chess and backgammon, walking on hikes and arts and crafts; drawing and dancing workshops. During these activities there was no time to reflect upon the overall situation. We could only deal with each moment, one at a time, or else the graveness of the overall situation would make us unable to do any practical tasks at all.
Meeting with the refugees was very intense, direct and often resulted in laughter despite the harsh conditions, the lack of common language and many chances of misunderstanding.
The two events that Amanda and I were responsible for, the dancing and drawing workshops, didn´t not necessarily require words.
In the workshop for grown-ups every Tuesday and Thursday we facilitated a welcoming atmosphere in which the men would feel free to participate and start their own activities. We would be holding the space rather than activating it, so that the men could join in or bring their own activities to the space. An Algerian man spent several weeks painting a sign. A man from Kurdistan would bring his Udh to the classroom and play wedding songs. Then other men started to dance traditional wedding dances, and we joined them. A deaf man from Syria could easily join in dancing and drawing.
The dance workshop for kids was held at the shelter at Paradise Hotel. There was not much explanation needed because the children would simply copy our actions. The workshop consisted of a warm-up circle where everybody got to suggest a movement and then everybody else copied them. We then moved as slow as we could, like we were moving in water, to some electronic music. Afterwards we did the Dance of the Evolution, starting as a one-cell-creature, going through all the different stages of development before ending in John Travolta-disco dance. We would end the workshop again in a circle with a breakdance movement called the wave. Everybody held hands and watch a wave move through body of one person at the time through the circle.
One kid that came over to Amanda and me during library and wanted to skip rope. After asking many times Amanda gave in and we started to make believe that we were swinging a rope. The kid saw that there was no rope, but still he started to jump. Everybody else around saw it and started to smile at the fact that the kid didn´t care if there was no rope there, but nevertheless jumped to 100. The smiles spread all around the main square of the camp. For Amanda and me this was the purest moment of belief in our whole stay at Samos and an example of how performance can create hope.
On our first visit to Samos in September 2016 we asked several people what the refugees needed the most. One man, a former refugee himself, answered that they need money and hope. When we asked Jasmine Doust of Samos Volunteers what was needed, she said that the kids love to colour, and that´s how the idea for the colouring book came. Amanda asked me if I could make one, and I drew five images. Two were of superheroes, refugee boy and refugee princess with whom the kids could identify. The other three were of a paper boat, a paper plane and a kite. The idea was that the drawings could be coloured and also images of objects that could physically be made simply by folding paper.
Together with the kids we folded paper planes and boats out of the blank pages in the book, but we didn’t get around to make kites. The idea behind the boat was to physically deal with their past of traversing the sea by boat, and by colouring it and folding it into a paper boat, also mentally deal with the fact that that’s how they got here. The planes were to symbolise their future; hopefully they would be allowed to fly to Athens or to another place in Europe. The idea for the kite was that the kids could draw their past on one side of the kite, and their future on the other side, and that when they later would run with the kite on the beach it would give them the feeling that they were in charge of their own life.
On the cover of the colouring book there is a smiling frog under the big block letters saying REFUGEES WELCOME. The Refugees Welcome movement are very visible in the west, but is not very visible in the periphery of Europe. The idea to put an amphibian on the cover came from Amanda. When showing it to my cousin, Charlotte Bik Bandlien, she asked if the frog was meant to resemble Pepe the Frog of the Alt Right movement in the US of A. First then it became clear to me why putting a frog under those letters had resonated with me. Mixing the logos of the two political organisations that are the furthest apart in one drawing, and also the refugee children colour of it, it makes for a powerful action that produces a strong image of the present reality.
Every evening Amanda and I would debrief and recap. We would talk about the day, what had happened and how we felt about it. We would let down our guard and tell each other thing we liked and didn´t like, and we would allow ourselves to laugh about situations that were no fun at the time when they happened. This relief helped being in the tense atmosphere camp.
The Samos Volunteers:
Every Wednesday there was the volunteers’ weekly meeting at the Paradise Hotel where we would update one another on the events of the past week and discuss new issues. Meeting with the other volunteers was challenging in the sense that Samos Volunteers consist of persons of diverse backgrounds and from equally many different nationalities as the refugees in the camp. All of them arrived to Samos with the good intentions to help out, but there are many different ways to help out. We soon found out that there was an established hierarchy among the volunteers, which determined who got to help out, where and how.
This became clear on the second week when Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe, our collaborator, arrived. Since our visit in September the year before the volunteers had adapted a structure more similar to the one that we found between the police, the army and the other NGOs found inside the camp. Hans-Jørgen was only allowed to work with the refugees outside the camp. His wife and her sister were refused access when they approached the camp on their own. Hans-Jørgen, and ultimately Amanda and I, got to feel the tensions that this situation created. The encounter with the hierarchy of Samos Volunteers echoed a part of the project; what is allowed in and what gets left out of the pond? And who decides?