I met Sarah at our poetry wall at Petit-Château this morning. We had not been to the center or seen our wall since the beginning of the lockdown in the middle of March. I was filled with such hope and joy, seeing the center again. Together, we posted the new poems, which Sarah had printed and carried with her. This is one small way we can make asylum seekers feel welcome.
About our poetry wall
We visited with staff we hadn’t seen in months, passing through familiar corridors that had been transformed to protect people during the pandemic. I was heartened to see Pride flags and flyers and colorful images to brighten the energy of the space.
We left the center and headed to our chosen destination for “Mondays On the Move.” Sarah had come up with the idea for both venue and song. It was so fun to be able to wander the streets of Brussels again after a month away. With the ever-changing restrictions with rises in COVID cases in the city, bars and cafés have been closed for a month. Shops and restaurants were still open. We enjoyed the sunshine and murals and little alleyways, all special places that tell the story of Brussels with beauty and humor.
The venue Sarah suggested is a lesser known spot in Brussels: Zinneke Pis. Zinneke is one of several “family” members in the Pis statue family, Manneken Pis being the most well-known. For those who journey to Brussels, a selfie taken at the Manneken Pis is generally on the checklist of things to do and places to see. There is also the squatting Janneke Pis, sister to Manneken.
During my time in Belgium, I learned that adding an “eke” to the end of a word makes it a diminutive. Under this rule, the translation of my own name, Marieke, becomes “Little Mary.” Marieke was my Latvian grandmother’s name and is also claimed by the Belgians as their own, particularly for the haunting song by Jacques Brel, which I detested as a child because the father who drove the carpool to Hebrew school in the afternoons would often play it in the car (much to my horror and juvenile humiliation). Now that I speak French and feel a deep connection to this region of northern Europe with its own stories and secrets, I enjoy having a name claimed by so many cultures, including Belgium. Of course, I was a bit taken aback when a woman informed me that there was absolutely no way Marieke was my Latvian grandmother’s name because it was, in fact, a Dutch name and not possibly from anywhere else. I just nodded in response. As I seem to be a bit of a tornado of energy, spinning around this world, it is fitting that even my name would warrant such an intense reaction.
The Manneken Pis has apparently been around for some time and even been stolen from his perch and returned several times. The current iteration of the peeing boy dates back to 1965. These statues have captured the spirit of Belgium that my husband and I love, which is a culture that does not take itself too seriously and enjoys a good laugh. The little boy has been dressed in myriad different outfits, which are each on display at the museum just up the road from the statue. I had hopes that Manneken Pis would have a mask on during the pandemic (and he might have), but I did not see this on the occasions I passed by for a glimpse.
Manneken Pis has a global following. There are seven Manneken Pis replica statues in Japan, one that is perched at the edge of a rocky cliff that overlooks a forest below.
Janneke was added to the family in 1987 and Zinneke in 1998. Zinneke was created to represent the people of Brussels, who come from everywhere and are all unique. The word iteself means “mongrel” or literally “bastard dog” in Dutch. Every two years, there is a Zinneke parade in Brussels, and it’s typical Brussels. Everyone makes a float, and they have a theme. It’s a statue that reminds us to laugh at life, so it seemed a perfect spot for our Monday song: Laugh at life.
We wrote the song “Laugh at life,” with an asylum seeker from Gaza, who shared words of poetry about how he finds way to see the light and the joy in life even when it feels like darkness is all around. It seemed a propos to sing this song in a crossroads where people were constantly coming and going, moving in all directions. People walked and bicycled and drove past us. One car drove partway through the intersection, stopped, backed up, and drove in another direction. Many people smiled. Some took out their phones to capture our creative moment. One person passed by, then turned and said hello with a nod of the head and wave of the hand. There were even two tourists who patiently waited to take a photo with Zinneke. We happily moved our film setup so they could take their photo. It was a joyful moment with the sun shining and our voices lifted in song.
To read more about the writing of the song, visit: Guiding Song: Laugh at life
[About] Laugh at life
[Singing] Laugh at life
There are many unspoken stories from the global rise in movement and migration. These are the stories, memories, and elements of a life lived from those thousands of individuals who leave their lives behind in search of a safe place that will welcome them with open arms.
If they make it, are their stories shared? If they are lost along the way, what becomes of those tales only they could tell? They disappear, unspoken and unshared.
It is one of my most fervent wishes that Sarah and I could share every person’s story in a poem and song, but we are only two people with lives and families that also draw our time and energy and hearts. So we do the best we can with we have to give to the creative process.
We dedicate this Monday On the Move to all those with unspoken, unknown stories. May these words and music remind us and all of you that every single being is worthy of love and belonging.