My third visit to the Fedasil Petit-Château refugee asylum center was literally stormy and creatively dynamic. Rain, hail, thunder, and lightening swept through the open courtyard as our little group sang our hearts out to a melody shared by one of the participants. The poetry volunteer had written two lines from an ancient Chinese poem called The birds have vanished by Li Po (701-762) onto the top of a strip of paper.
We sit together, the mountain and me
Until only the mountain remains
The participants from the center who were brave enough to join us in the extreme weather decided to translate these two lines into several different langues. The first language was Dari.
Ma Baham Neshastim, Koh bah ma
Ta waqte Ka Koh, Tanha bemanad
I was more than a little worried when we first began our session because most of the people we invited to join in writing and singing gave us looks like we were likely insane and seamlessly disappeared from the covered corridor.
The couple of people who did remain were so very invested in the creative process that I soon forgot about the others who had left. Our brave singer emitted a hauntingly beautiful minor melody to the Dari phrases. We sang them together, over and over and over, mostly so that I could learn how to pronounce the words correctly and in a rhythm that flowed.
We then shifted to the original two phrases in English, mimicking the melody from the Dari lines and singing them over and over to figure out which syllables to emphasize when singing the melody in a different language.
We wound up repeating these phrases: We sit together four times; the mountain and me four times; and the last line, Until only the mountain remains, two times. We were so enthusiastically singing that it took the weather heightening to serious extremes for us to finally retreat indoors. At one point, the wind had picked up so much that a chair flew past us as we sang the words We sit together. We all burst out laughing together. It seemed a sign.
This became our pattern as we added more and more languages to the mix. By the time 4 o’clock rolled around, we had been singing these two lines in English, Dari, Flemish, French, Somali, and Tigrinya (from Eritrea).
While we didn’t write a song from a story, the energy and creative dynamic was truly incredible. We all laughed and sang together for two hours. We became a small but mighty creative force. We became a musical community. For two hours, nothing else in the world mattered.