34 years old
I come from Cameroon. Through Turkey, I arrived in Lesvos, where I stayed for three weeks, and for the last four months I’ve been living in Athens. I like being here because I feel I have more options and more freedom. I believe that things will get even better for me when I learn the language and can communicate, and eventually be able to work.
I have a strong desire to make it here and that’s why I started Greek language courses. I am aware that things will not be easy and I believe this is not [just] about Greece. In any European country, it would have been difficult at first. Anyway, every new beginning has its difficulties. In my country, I couldn’t express myself freely, but from the moment I set foot in Greece, I felt positive, and I decided to stay here. In my life I have learned how to fight and I know that sometimes you need to struggle, even against yourself, to achieve what you want. I will do the same now, and I think everything will turn out well in the end.
Already, with the help of a psychologist who’s supporting me, I’ve managed to fill my days with activities and learning new things. This is very important because it gives me strength. My day starts early in the morning, at home. After praying, I have breakfast, listen to music and study Greek. Then, depending on my schedule for the day, I go to the Museum for the programme I participate in, do the Greek course, and in the evening I’m free to take a walk or go back home and continue studying Greek. Soon I will start going to the gym, too. That’s how I’ve organized my everyday life.
Although I had never visited a museum before and I had no previous contact with art, the projects and the discussions at the Museum1 created strong emotions and gave me the opportunity to focus on issues that concern me a lot. I kept thinking about them even after I got home. I saw in them pieces of myself, pieces of my life.
For example, Vlassis Caniaris’ work, Hopscotch, which is about a game we used to play in Africa, too—mainly girls, not boys. Through it, the artist wants to show that he feels like a stranger in a foreign country. It shows human figures who are tired and worn out, with their suitcases by their side, struggling to start their lives again. The same thing happens in the game hopscotch, where you need to make an effort to move from one square to another – you have to try your best to win.
Kimsooja’s Bottari reminded me of the boats we all started out in when we left Turkey for Greece. The Raft by Bill Viola brought to mind the time we got ashore; we left the inflatable and were so happy we all cried. It is a very powerful feeling, hard to describe. It is the moment when you become aware of your own existence and how close to death you can be at any moment. But once we set foot on land, we had already had our first victory—a victory over death. I saw something like that happening in Viola’s work, when all these different people, who were standing together in the same space, were suddenly hit by a jet of water. I saw it as a divine intervention, a threat, a shock sent by God, after which the people realized they needed to come together to better face the danger. We, too, faced this danger in the boat in the rough sea, when we all tried to save ourselves.
What we experienced was a transition from dark to light. This is what Mona Hatoum’s work Fix It made me think. Light always symbolizes life, regeneration. When light lights up in this space with the old, rusty objects, it resembles the moment you turn back to light, you find yourself after a deeply thoughtful or difficult phase of your life when you have sunk in the dark.
But the work that influenced me most of all is Heart in Heart by Yael Kanarek, which looks like a wedding dress hanging from hooks. There is something hard and violent about it, far from gentle, cheerful and pleasant. When I learned that the love letters of two people living apart from each other are written on the ribbons, my thoughts immediately travelled to my relationship, to my girlfriend who stayed back. It is the first time I’ve had a relationship from a distance and I can see how painful it is. We think about each other, we communicate through social media. But as time goes by, I feel despair, because I see that, in fact, there can be no relationship. When you live with your partner, however difficult it is sometimes and whatever problems there are, you have the chance to face them. When you are apart, the problem is permanent. I do not know who invented love, but it is the hardest thing on earth. In Cameroon they say that “love is a fool.” It causes problems, it upsets you, it can even hurt you, while the beautiful moments are few. Who hasn’t cried over it? I do, often. In order not to think about her, I try to fill my time with activities or housework. And that takes my mind off things.
Although thinking about all this made me cry, in the end I felt positive. I was even keener to work, earn money and be able to go for a few days to see my girlfriend and then return to Greece.
I know that when we ask something from God with all our might, He will give it to us. And I still know that happiness is always within us and God sends it to us.
1 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.