A most curious relationship

image.jpegThis is a cell phone that nearly sank in the pocket of my new Sudanese friend and translator when his boat capsized in the Mediterranean. He will try to repair it. He won’t find the missing part in the refugee camp, and even if he did, he wouldn’t purchase electronics here for fear that they’re stolen.

It is easy between us, this lovely man in his mid-twenties, two years into his computer science degree when a death threat sent him fleeing across the desert, into the car of a smuggler, sinking in the angry waters of the Mediterranean.

It is not easy with the Afghani man who almost punched my translator during music class last week. I remind you that he hated me because I taught Christian songs (which I don’t), and while not voicing this sentiment, because of what my country did to his.

After the argument in class, I initiated a conciliatory talk with the Afghan. But his distrust, even disdain, remained palpable.

The next day, he hung around the perimeter of music class. We held it outdoors in a packed gravel-floored teaching space shared by eight volunteer language instructors – French, English, and German, their students, and the generator whirling a constant, ugly noise. I was teaching a body music pattern to the song Bring me Little Water, Sylvie. It has an arm gesture that resembles giving. Each time the pattern cycled to the arm gesture, I sent the feeling of openness and giving directly to the Afghan.

At first, he was confused. Then his face softened, and he uncrossed his arms. Finally, he smiled. I don’t know whether he was smiling in the direction of the music class or at me.

We repeat this each day – his hanging back twenty feet from the music class, my arms sending him a personal message, his smile.

It’s a start.

My friend will catch a ride in my rental car to a phone store tomorrow in search of the waterlogged and bruised piece of his iphone. To thank him for translating in our music class, I’ll buy it. Here in the Jungle, every action feels like a start, a fix, a restart, a replacement, a stand-in, a new language, a new custom, a new relationship, an unfamiliar risk, a new comfort, and a new friend can embody any number of these.

Author: earefuge

I direct EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) whose work focuses on refugee youth in France and Greece. At home in Oakland, California, I direct World Harmony Chorus and World Harmony Ensemble.

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