Zarifa is content with my eye make-up today. Phew, glad I got that right, although I’m not sure I’ll be keeping up with appearances every day!
Straight to work this morning as I only have an hour instead of two. The director wants to work for 3 hours with them as we slowly get deeper into the story. I want to culminate a lot of the things we have been working on over the last 3 weeks. I start with warm up exercises for the voice then give them their task - in groups, decide on a text to present and how to present it, using all the things we have worked on so far. They have the freedom to choose an extract from Antigone itself or write a short poem/story/paragraph about something relevant in their lives. They excitedly get to work, a little confused as to what they will perform, some wanting to use lyrics of famous songs like we have in the past. I guide them to think of their own. I’m pleased that each group’s performance is different from the other. One group uses an extract from the script and incorporates a personally written rap song into it. Another write their own poem about Syria ending with Fatima singing her beautiful song. The final group use news they had heard a couple of days ago of a bombing in Homs as their story. They act it out using dialogue with solo characters and a chorus and no inhibitions. Brilliant! Afterwards they all come up to me - How did we do? Was our group good? That was great, wasn’t it? We all did well, didn’t we?
During the break, I see Ahlam sitting on her own in a corner, facing the wall. I approach and ask if she’s ok. She says too much thinking gives her a headache. I ask if she means thinking about the work we are doing, “No, not that [you idiot] just thinking, I have too many thoughts in my head, you know when your thoughts hurt your heart inside? So sometimes I just like to sit on my own to clear my head.” I leave her alone and as I walk away I think - actually, no, I don’t know what it’s like to have thoughts in my head that hurt my heart. Maybe superficially but not real pain.
The director’s session today is very intense. He asks them individually to write a letter to someone they miss and then gather back to read them out to everyone. Whilst writing her letter, Isra’a says to me ‘He can’t ask us to do this, it’s going to make us cry’. Eventually they gather back in a semi-circle and Montaha begins. My precious brother…..I miss you. Where are you?…. I just want to hear your voice. Where did they take you?…..I will not be quiet, they will not shut me up, I will tell the whole world about Syria…. Her letter has not only herself in floods of tears but half of the group. It takes me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting this, I hadn’t paid the exercise much thought really. I think I’m guilty of forgetting what they have been through because they are always so happy and full of life in my sessions. By the second or third letter it hits me and I break down in tears, by which time almost all the rest have too. The room’s atmosphere is so heavy. Ahlam has always seemed like quite a hard character, defensive, she is tough and won’t let anything hurt her. I notice her failing to hide her tears and that really affects me, especially after our conversation earlier.
I think about people back in London living their safe, comfortable lives. Imagine if you saw dead bodies lining the streets as you passed by on a bus - I mean, actually imagine, you’re on a London bus driving down Oxford street and you pass a load of dead bodies??? It almost sounds funny.
These experiences of war have been personalised for me through the workshops and getting to know the women. I am even more eager to make an impact on their lives and hopefully work on more projects like this in the future. Sadly these stories are so similar to the other 2million refugees who have been forced to leave Syria.