I am a story

Two years into the Covid pandemic, it is difficult to imagine a time before when Sarah and I could visit the Fedasil Arrival Centre each Monday and interact with people from all over the world. I met Sarah on my very first visit to the center in January 2017, and we met on Mondays until Mid-March 2020. Together with the hundreds of wandering souls we met, we wrote dozens of songs. Some we finished. Some are in process, waiting to be finished. There were afternoons when we sat with the pigeons. Other afternoons, we sat and talked with people, sharing our many migration stories.

Sarah is originally from Scotland. I am from the United States. We met people from somewhere else at a place of transition on the way to a new life. One of our goals was to create a safe space where we could meet as equals. We also wished to offer a warm welcome to the people who graced us with their presence.

My husband and I have moved twice since the start of the pandemic, first to France and then back to the United States. Despite pandemic restrictions, I have managed to return several times to the Fedasil Arrival Centre. Sarah and I offered children’s workshops and have visited the poetry wall the staff posted. We believe it is important to welcome people with poems in many languages. People have told us they recognize themselves in the poetry. Often the poems communicate experiences they can relate to from their migration journeys.

I have been going through the many photos from the years we spent offering poetry and songwriting to the asylum seekers at the center. There are dozens and dozens of images from Mondays that create a patchwork quilt of hope, love, poetry, and music.

This morning, I discovered several images from February 3, 2020, just over a month before Belgium went into the first lockdown of the pandemic. It’s like a time capsule to witness the process of writing a song from a time that feels like an age ago.

These images show the beginning process of writing a song. Together, we post a blank page on the wall. Sarah wrote the phrase “I am a story,” and we invited people to write this phrase in different languages and share the ideas that arose from this concept.

I am a story

Je suis une histoire

Yo soy una historia

One idea was that we are all a story in process, still being written. For people who had left their entire lives and identity behind, this was even more poignant. Who were they now that they had arrived in Belgium? Were they still the author of their story? Or were other people telling their story for them without asking for input or a review. Government officials, the media, people who had never even met them.

With the recent, violent attacks from Russia to cities in Ukraine, I think about a new refugee story, still being written. The storyline now seems dictated in great part by Vladimir Putin and the propaganda being televised in Russia.

There are many thousands of stories from the people in Ukraine who have recently become a new wave of refugees. Their stories are shaped by their choices, which are influenced by external forces they have little or no control over.

How do we write our story? Who writes our story? Story and identity are tied together, a layered and nuanced process with dynamic, moving parts.

We carried on writing phrases on the theme of story on that Monday afternoon in February 2020.

I am a story

Still being written

You are a book

I cannot read you yet

Imagine the many millions of stories from people all over the world. Taken together, what do they reveal about the human experience? If they could be told through poetry and song, might they invite empathy? Solidarity? Understanding? A willingness to let go of fear. A desire to connect.

I am a story

Still being written

You are a book

I cannot read you yet

Together we are a library

Of valuable books

We are one of a kind

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