34 years old
During our first session at the Museum1 we had a very interesting discussion about an artwork by Korean artist Kimsooja, called Bottari¸ which means “bundle”. The image felt familiar, because my grandmother used to store things in bundles like that and put them under the bed. I thought there could be some symbolic meaning in the work. The bundle symbolizes man, since we all conceal something inside us and only when we begin communicating with each other do we become aware of what each of us is hiding. Refugees, too, are like bundles. It’s hard being a refugee, being forced to leave your country. At least at first. Your life and day-to-day routine change drastically. You miss your family, your parents, your country.
When you go to a foreign country, you can’t change the country or the conditions you will face there. But you can change your immediate environment to suit you. That’s what came to mind when I saw Do-Ho Suh’s artwork2. “Home” for me doesn’t mean the building. A home is what the members of a family create. “Home” means family, memories and feelings, which you can carry with you wherever you go.
I also associated the artwork with what a refugee is experiencing. From the moment you decide on a journey like this you can’t expect to find a safe staircase waiting for you to climb. There are times when you’ll tread on stairs that aren’t steady, like the ones in Do-Ho Suh’s artwork. And, of course, you can’t stop halfway; you need to find a way to keep going. I remember when we visited Nafplio, we went to the fortress and saw that there were a lot of steps to climb. When they told us there were more than 900 steps, we all wondered how we could possibly make it up there. Ten of us started out. By the time we got to the top there were only four of us. We four were the only ones to enjoy the magnificent view from up high.
Vlassis Caniaris’ artwork3 shows a game that’s played on one foot; we used to [play it], too, in Iran. The people around the hopscotch look like they’ve lost and are now out of the game. They’re like refugees who are forced to flee their country for some reason. There are a lot of reasons why people leave their country and become refugees; apart from war, it could be the way they think, their ideology, their political or religious beliefs. It’s a disagreeable situation. And a refugee’s life, as the artwork shows, is like a game where you have to keep climbing, level after level, until you reach your final goal, which is to adjust to a new foreign country and succeed there.
Before coming to Greece, my family and I lived in Turkey for five years. We had adjusted fairly well, and even though I hadn’t managed to learn the language all that well, I could find work to support us. But we had to leave there, too, because we were afraid to stay after what happened recently4.
So we passed through Alexandroupoli, Thessaloniki and other cities in Greece until we reached Athens. We feel at ease with the people in Greece, as we did in Turkey; they’re warm and friendly, like the people in Iran. Maybe it’s the warm climate in these countries that make people friendly and open to others. In any case, I believe that people can live together in friendship and peace; in Iran, a lot of different populations lived together without problems—Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Lurs and others. It’s governments that often create problems.
I haven’t found work in Athens yet. When my son is at school, my wife, Ava5, and I go to our Greek class and I think that will help. My son is in third grade and has already learned a good deal of Greek. I remember when I was going to school, I liked geography and history, but not math, which my wife studied. I still like geography and history. I like that here in Athens I can visit the Acropolis and the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, who the city of Athens is named after.
My favorite time of day is when I’m in my son’s room and the two of us are playing together.
1 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
2 Refers to the work Staircase ΙΙ, 2004.
3 Refers to the work Hopscotch, 1974.
4 Refers to the events that took place in Turkey in July 2016.
5 Kourosh’s wife, Ava, also took part in the programme.