From the middle of a circle, Omer leads traditional and popular Sudanese singing, dancing, and clapping in a group of western volunteers and young men who walked hundreds of kilometers, endured beatings, and face uncertain futures. It is the most joyful gathering, a vortex among the tame Calaisians sunbathing or wading on the beach across the channel from the white cliffs of Dover, smaller than I remember them. They create intimacy by swaying close, here along the vast stretch of sand as in their tent.
My favorites among these young men spend last night in the EAR house. Omer said over breakfast, ‘A beautiful house is made more beautiful by good people.’ Then he sang in that voice of liquid gold, and the others streamed in, texturing the songs – Bakree with his wide open face (far left at the table), and Abdullah with his strength, equanimity, and foot broken by police (seated, indoors).
Tomorrow, my team arrives — Palestinian Americans, Caucasian Americans, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Belgian Palestinian. Singers all, they run IT departments, engineer for a Bay city, choral-direct, run a summer camp, bartend, dance, compose and perform, speak Arabic and French. It has been challenging to run a program during these two weeks between the first and second stints of the Expressive Arts Refuge team. I roped in a French singer/guitarist, an English Mom and daughter, a Medecins Sans Frontier psychologist, refugee translators, and Omer who taught Sudanese songs.
I’m excited for the EAR team to sing in Omer’s rocking music tent, knee-to-knee with Syrians, Iranians, Sudanese, Afghans, feeling their openness and strength, displacing whatever stereotypes they have of refugees.