Week 41: 17 June 2012
Playwright and screenwriter
Do we look like refugees?!
I would like to share an experience I had whilst researching a play about a refugee camp that I am hoping will inform and inspire my fellow islanders as it did me.
In 2010, I went to Georgia to make a piece of verbatim theatre, created from interviews with people who had lost their homes in the 2008 Russian/Georgian war and who had subsequently been rehoused in a temporary settlement. However two years on, it was evident that this temporary shelter was turning into something more permanent, as the opportunity to return to their homeland became less likely due to the continued intimidation of the Russian occupation. For the settlers in this sterile new landscape, half an hour from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, it could not have been more different from what they had lost, hailing from the luscious mountainous farming region in the north of the country.
As I ventured around the settlement with the help of a translator, knocking on the doors of row after row of identical soulless prefab bungalows, hoping to collect interviews with whoever was willing to talk to me, I braced myself for harrowing stories of extreme hardship and loss. However I was overwhelmingly invigorated and uplifted by many of the displaced people I met. Despite the enormous challenges they were faced with, in the absence of their main source of income on such barren terrain that could not be farmed, their continued faith in love, laughter and song remained. It soon became evident that these were the key ingredients to their survival and in the given circumstances, their surprising growth. The numbers of weddings and births in the settlement was reported to be far higher than it had been back in their home town and this was something that they whole heartedly rejoiced in.
My thoughts for Nowhereisland are best summed up in the words of one man who warmly welcomed us into his home and whom had within minutes provided us with a veritable Georgian feast of bread, fruit and vodka which we had little choice but to partake in;
“I know one thing for sure, that I am not afraid of the bullet, not afraid of famine, not being naked, not being cold- all I am afraid of is love. Because if you find it - it is difficult to find - but if you do, you should really be afraid of losing it. You should be afraid of both - not to find it, and if you find it, not to lose it. Food and money cannot fulfil your life.”
An extract from Do We Look Like Refugees?!
Drink For Love
VODKAMAN 1. We are a civilized nation. We will be owners of this land again. We are not afraid of Russians, we simply have a weak government. We live in the hands of “not a real man”. I know one thing for sure that I am not afraid of the bullet, not afraid of famine, not being naked, not being cold… all I am afraid of is love. Because if you find it- it is difficult to find- but if you do, you should really be afraid of losing it. You should be afraid of both… not to find it, and if you find it, not to lose it. Food and money cannot fulfil your life.
VODKAMAN 2. Dear, let’s drink to love. Nothing exists without love, if you do not love, then what is the meaning of life then. Tell her!
Owner: Life is the willow, that cries.
VODKAMAN 3. Gena, I love you! I told you to speak English from time to time.
VODKAMAN 2. I told you, I do not speak English!
COUNCIL ADMINISTRATOR. Over there in that settlement called Frezeti, many families were formed among the refugees. I will tell you approximately that in this settlement we had about 40 weddings and about 30 babies were born.
And also couples that could not have children for the last years, they got pregnant… You cannot even imagine how surprised we were! (Laughs) You know, somehow God is regulating the demographical situation!
Weddings every Saturday.
HAIRDRESSER. These girls were all married here, and got their hairstyle here. All were married here.
And I made them here. Both sides. This and this. (Pointing to photos either side of the mirror)This girl was married here, that girl as well, they all married boys from this place, and got their hair done here. So many got married since they came here. It was not the case in their home town of Akhalgory, but here there are at least two or three weddings every Saturday. There is a wedding tomorrow by the way. (Laughs) Last Saturday for instance I had three brides- all married here by the way.
PREGNANT WIFE. We first have met there - in our home town- but here we have become closer, and got to know each other. Then we fell in love and got married. My house is on the 6th street.
HUSBAND. This is the 4th … ( Lets out an embarrassed giggle)
PREGNANT WIFE. It is quite near from here, so he was coming to my place quite often, and…. (Smiles. Pause) I am now in my last month- I’m going to give birth by 20th. Of course there are some difficulties, but what can we do? I have hopes for the future. I did everything whatever I could do for my child. (Pointing to the toy attached to the cot)
This is a musical toy that the baby can play with. (She switches it on. Music plays. They smile.)
House gets cold.
BEEKEEPER. The most difficult thing is not to be able to visit the graves of our loved ones. Back in our homeland are our families graves, no house or anything, just the graves but I can’t go there. How can I say?- We live in hope of returning, but from nowadays perspective it would be difficult. If two or three years pass, then your house is getting cold…It is an old Georgian curse – “ Don’t let your house get cold! If there is no fire in the house, then it becomes like an orphan, like an orphan child, with sad ears.”
COUNCIL GOVERNOR. We should be back to Akhalgory soon, and here they can do whatever they want here. God save us from that, but if we stay here for long, it will be one of the best town like settlements. But I hope god will save us from that.
COUNCIL ADMINISTRATOR. We are people from the mountains and here we live on flat land. We miss our mountains, we miss the sound of the Ksani river, we miss our graves- the churches, we miss the forest- we cannot imagine our life without them.
(Pause. Gently smiles.)
When we first arrived there were not even birds here and now birds are coming since we have settled here.
(Pause) Am I going on too much? (Laughs)
Alecky is a playwright and screenwriter who won a Time Out Award for her first play, Come Out Eli, and was selected as one of Screen International's Stars of Tomorrow in 2007. In 2003, Alecky set up a theatre company, Recorded Delivery (Verbatim Theatre Company. The term 'recorded delivery' has now become synonymous with the verbatim technique she employs). In July 2009, Alecky's play The Girlfriend Experience transferred from the Royal Court to the Young Vic, and London Road won Best Musical at the Critics' Circle Awards and is set for a revival at the National Theatre in the Olivier from July 2012.
Do We Look Like Refugees?, won a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2010.