Final Reflections (Again!)

Just wanted to add on briefly to Madisen’s reflections. First off, here are some photos from the Blowout Bash we hosted as our last major event at Clare Midtown, complete with a potluck barbecue, karaoke, and a talent show. The event happened too late to make it onto the final CD of photos we submitted to the IGC, but here are a few for everyone to enjoy.

I’d also like to reiterate Madisen in mentioning our final guidebooks. We’d love it if you got the chance to take a look at them, but more importantly than reading ours, I’d really encourage you to follow through and engage in some kind(s) of formalized reflection yourselves. To everyone still working through their projects, I can’t stress enough the impact that reflecting alone, discussing with others, and formally compiling these reflections (and then reflecting again), has had on my ultimate understanding of this summer.

That said, all of our projects are different, reflection happens differently for each individual, and some of us don’t have the luxury of a group to reflect with outside of this blog. But that’s what Skype is for, right? If anyone wants to take a step back and talk through their summer, I would be ecstatic to hear your stories and to help you process your experiences, especially since Madisen and I will be gone in the fall when all of you reconvene. Just let me know! My email is bbattafa@macalester.edu and my Skype name is betreeb.

Finally, I’d really like to thank Eily, Christy, and the Student Council for seeing this project through –– the last two months are definite contenders for both the most challenging and the most rewarding months of my life. Never underestimate what can go down right here in MSP!

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Final Reflections

Bethany and I are officially home in Omaha, NE.  We completed our Live It! Project on Sunday, July 10 and now we are spending the rest of the summer with our families.  We are both sad to have left the Twin Cities but especially bummed not to have more time with all the wonderful people we met over the past two months at Clare Midtown.

It’s hard to describe the relationships we formed with the residents, but I like to think of them as father/daughter or uncle/niece relationships.  Our interactions were silly, sarcastic, honest, loving, and serious at the same time.  Even though we only spent two months with these people we felt like we had known them for years.  Everyone started calling us “the girls” and we hope they will remember us over the summer and until we return to Minnesota in January (after Fall semester abroad).

Here are some photos from our last events at Midtown.

The Live It! Grant gave us the chance to carry out an amazing project.  We watched relationships grow and residents become more open to activities.  They came to events in good moods and were more social with each other.  When we said goodbye to everyone they were extremely thankful for the work we did at Midtown and were sad to see us go.  We hope that volunteers and staff will continue the main events we started like movie nights, bingo night, bowling trips, Clare Cafe, and yoga class.  We encourage everyone to look at the three guidebooks we created for the IGC (specifically the IGC student council and members of the CEC).  One is specifically for the IGC and gives a section on “lessons learned” and a section on “how to create community”.  The second guidebook is a copy of the book we left for the residents at Clare Midtown, and the third guidebook is a copy of the staff/volunteer book.  We also left a CD containing all the pictures we took during our project.  Thank you IGC Student Council for giving us the opportunity to create community at Clare Midtown.

On the importance of trust.

On Tuesday I got a call from a man who had been a refugee from Eritrea.  He had wanted to know if there was any way that he could get his brother who was still in the country to the United States, as he had managed to leave his country beforehand.

In order for a refugee to come to the United States, there are various qualifications that have to be fulfilled.  In the past, the most important qualification was to be a direct relative of someone who was already living in the United States.  It used to be that coming to the United States as a refugee was virtually impossible if you did not have a relative, as the Institute was swamped with these familial cases.  It has always been the case that there are more refugees interested in coming to these country than we are capable of accomodating.

However, about 4 years ago, DNA testing and investigation uncovered that the vast majority of these family cases – as much as 80% – were fraud.  Those in the United States would try to bring indirect relatives, or friends, or some times even strangers.  In general, these were not done out of malicious or devious motives, but rather to help those who were in need and wanted to come to this country.  Unfortunately, this presented a massive risk to the integrity of the Institute as it had potential for severely tragic consequences.  More importantly, it was a betrayal of trust for the Refugee Resettlement program, as we found out that many people in the United States had lied about relatives and thus had prevented us from helping others who may have been in even more dire straits.  The result is that the program of enabling American citizens to help us get their relatives was completely shut down, and now most of the work is done from the country where the camps are located.  Claiming to have a relative who lives in America presents no further advantage, which is unfortunate for those who do not lie.

It is probably for the best that I could not understand the foreign words that the man said in his anger.

We may live in an age which is more impersonal, where face to face communication is no longer quite as important as I discussed in my previous blog post.  However, concepts like trust are still critical in a bureaucracy.  While having a brother or sister in the United States is not going to help, we still have a lot of cases where the incoming refugee does have a relative.  This is all the more so in a place like St. Paul, as a refugee without relatives is more likely to be sent to a bigger city where there are more resources.  The Institute would not be able to function to its full capability without these families that help take care of the incoming refugee and help them adjust to American culture and society.  Naturally,the Institue suprevises these families to avoid any trouble, but there is an important trust between our bureaucracy and these families.  This trust and willingness to cooperate  is important if we are going to help as many people as possible.  An organization where there is no trust, where there is constant squabbling and infighting will never last and will never reach its potential.  It is an important lesson to understand for all of us, Council members or Live It students, as the summer starts to enter its second half.

The final presentations

As a final presentation to conclude Meza, the food group created a recipe book, the music group performed their compositions and the theatre group performed a series of overlapping monologues talking about our journey. For the monologues, we were all sitting in different spots among the audience in darkness, and used flashlights to dramatize the space and focus on the person talking. We performed in different languages- English, Hindi, Hebrew. I had trouble writing my monologue in English, while on switching to Spanish it flowed easily, so I decided to perform mine in Spanish, as many other people were also performing in English despite it not being their first language.

I want to share my monologue as a reflection…

Me voy con mucho que aprender.
En Meza, cuando estamos trabajando y jugando con los demás, hay veces que olvido los temas y las técnicas que usamos. Creo que es importante estar presente y comprometerme con los demás, pero al mismo tiempo, recordar constantemente los temas. No porque los temas sean más importantes que las personas, sino porque los temas marcan nuestros cuerpos y mentes. Creo que cuestionar estas marcas es muy importante para comunicar realmente, y además, qué es arte sin comunicar?
Por mucho tiempo, creí que mi arte era sólo para mí, y pensé que no me gustaba compartirlo o comunicarlo. Pero, recientamente, me di cuenta que aún asi yo creo algo por mí misma, siempre hay un deseo de expresarlo a alguien más, para saber que piensa.
Con Meza, esto cambió, junto con el hecho de darme cuenta que tal vez, puedo ser creativa. Este año, en Meza, me encontré con muchas posibilidades, diferentes maneras de combinar las artes y las cuestiones sociales. Esta experiencia y todo lo que he aprendido de la gente que conocimos, y de los participantes y mentores dirigirá mis decisiones en mi viaje.
Quizas, en este viaje, I will have peeled the onion, o al menos, I will have begun.

The English translation:

I leave with a lot to learn.
In Meza, when we are working and playing with people, sometimes I forget the themes and techniques that we are to employ. I think it is important to be present in the moment, and engage with people, but at the same time, remember constantly the themes. Not because the themes are more important than the people, but because the themes imprint and mark our bodies and minds. It is important to question and subvert these marks in order to truly communicate, and what is art without communication?
For a long time, I thought that my art was only for me, and that I didn’t like to share or communicate it to other people. But, recently, I realized that even when I create something for myself, there’s always a desire to express it to someone else, to know what they think.
With Meza last year, this changed, along with the realization that perhaps, I could be creative. This year in Meza, I found many possibilities, different ways to combine arts and social issues. This experience and all that I have learnt from the people we met, and from participants and mentors will guide my choices in my journey.
Maybe, in this journey, I will have peeled the onion, or at least, I will have begun.

Ahmedabad: different ways to marry the arts and social issues..

In Ahmedabad, the theatre and music groups worked together, as a performance group. In one part, we visited Bhudan Theatre and in another, Darpana Art Academy, to look at two different ways to combine arts and social issues.

Bhudan Theatre was started 15 years ago by a group of people from the Chara community, in Charanagar, Ahmedabad. The Chara community were originally spies for kings in India. However, after British colonization, they lost their livelihood and adopted a nomadic life. The Charas used to be one of the 191 tribes classified as the criminal tribes by the British on account of their nomadic lives. The criminal tribes were then kept in “open jails” which was enclosed pieces of land, they couldn’t leave without permission. While India became Independent in 1947, the criminal tribes were given their independence only 5 years later, during which “India was busy celebrating its Independence” as one of the founders of Bhudan theatre said. Since 1952, these communities are called the de-notified tribes. Since there wasn’t any rehabilitation, many Charas had to resort to thieving in order to survive. Bhudan theatre was founded to fight the stigma still associated with the Chara community. It uses theatre as a medium to express that Charas are artists too and to talk about stigma, discrimination in jobs, child marriage and other issues relevant to their lives. Their plays are based on improvisation by the actors. In addition, they have a library, and help students with academics and theatre using activity based learning.

Darpana Art Academy is a very prestigious art academy in India. It is 60 years old. We learned about one wing of Darpana, called Darpana for Development. This wing works with funding organizations like the UNICEF and travels to villages across Gujarat, and sometimes India to communicate issues of health, hygiene and girl’s education. Their model usually involves working with very specific issues like diabetes or cervical cancer, and then creating a play that talks about the issue, remodeling popular songs and games to incorporate new meanings. They also work with people from the community to create this play, and in doing so try to learn the dialect of the people, in order to communicate better.

Bhudan and Darpana have similar, yet quite different approaches. Both Bhudan and Darpana seek to work as mediators through theatre- Bhudan as a mediator between the Charas and mainstream India, and Darpana as a mediator between UNICEF and the villages. On the other hand, while Bhudan is an organic group of people from the Chara community (although as is expected, not all appreciate their work), Darpana brings issues from the UNICEF which definitely is an outsider for the people in the villages. They also come from different backgrounds- Bhudan theatre has to fight against stigma for the Charas, while Darpana is an established and respected institute. Also, as Darpana is a much older organization, it would be interesting to see Bhudan theatre when it has been around for 60 years and then compare and contrast them.

That is an update from our week in Ahmedabad, which has given me a lot to think about. About which choices I would be comfortable making in the shoes of Bhudan and Darpana…

Experiments from the first half

Over the past few days in Meza, we have been exploring different ways to engage with people through art. The first day, the mentors of food, theatre and music introduced their approaches towards art and community. The same day the participants chose one of the three approaches to learn and play with for the two weeks. I am part of the theatre group with nine participants.

Recognizing that the word “community” can bring to mind many different ideas and associations, Meza begins with our community of participants, and then slowly expands to the communtiy at MUWCI, the villages and  towns around, Pune city and finally Ahmedabad. 

So, we began by exploring the community within the theatre group by preparing monologues/performances with the prompt “What would I do with my performance skills in an ideal world… ” Through this activity we got to know the people in our group better.

The next day, we moved to the community on campus- Meza participants and the people who work on campus. Each of the groups played with different groups of people- food group with chefs and kitchen staff, music group with construction workers and theatre group with drivers and guards. The idea in the theatre group was to experiment, to find inspiration in the people that surround us. So, we split into groups and talked to and played some games with various people on campus. In the evening, we discussed the dynamics of the interaction, which are complex on account of class and an institutional divide between students and people who work on campus. For instance, the campus land used to be owned by people who now work here and are in uniform while the students aren’t.

The next day, we explored the approaches used by three theatre groups- Yuyachkani inPeru, SAFE (Sponsored Arts For Education) inKenyaand Janasanskriti in Kolkata. Keeping in mind their approaches, we then expanded community to include a small town near campus, Kolavan. We walked around the town, talking to people, observing potential spaces to perform. The following day, we went back to Kolavan and the music and theatre groups formed a procession in the town. The intention was to simply have fun, since we did not have enough time to create an issue based performance that would be relevant to the area. During the procession, the local government head and a principal asked us if we were doing social work and what message we wanted to deliver. On finding out that we didn’t have a message and just wanted to sing and dance they were taken aback as the expectation now is that if outsiders come to perform, they would have an agenda. So, in not having a social agenda or message, we inadvertently made a political statement.

Yesterday, all the groups visited Pune city. The theatre group teamed up with the food group to perform issue based invisible theatre on themes discussed in the food group. We split up into groups of 3-4 people and performed invisible theatre on themes like the freshness of “fresh” juices served in restaurants that are actually canned juice, or   how food travels around the world to reach the markets we buy it from, or how the chicken in most commercial food chains in Pune is poultry chicken with hormones.

Today we leave for Ahmedabad,Gujaratto explore these themes further, to see how many people are doing interesting work in and around these themes.

While this is an update from my perspective of the theatre group, there is a Meza blog where every night a couple of participants blog. Mezauwcindia.wordpress.com is a great way to get a holistic sense of our experiments and projects.