19 years old
I have left my country, Iraq, and I want to talk about how I feel.
Hopscotch1 by Vlassis Caniaris shows people who have fled their country. I want to talk about how important it is to have goals and not give up on them. This is what the squares in Hopscotch symbolize. Each square is a goal. Of course there are always obstacles and difficulties, but it’s important not to stop. It’s not good to stay inactive in our grief, but [we should] pursue our efforts until we reach our goal.
I really like this installation. It’s the first time I have seen something like this: a nice composition with amazing meaning. If someone plays hopscotch and steps on the line, they must start again from scratch. When you go to a foreign country, you start from square one and, overcoming the challenges you encounter one-by-one, you will eventually reach your goals.
A first difficulty for us refugees is the language barrier and how society sees us. Usually they see us like strangers. There are people who want to talk, while others hear you speak a different language and turn the other way.
I have attended some Greek language lessons and I have also learned a lot from my friends. Discussions with friends have helped me up to a point. I want to learn the language well and other things too, so I plan go to school when the new school year starts. I plan to sign up at the vocational high school [EPAL]. I understand you when you speak, but I cannot answer in Greek. Going to school will help me a lot with this, but also with my goals in general: I want to become an engineer.
When I first came to the Islands, Kos and Rhodes, I was detained by the police for two months along with other young guys. Although we came here just to ask for asylum, they arrested us to check whether we had been involved in illegal activities. It was a bad experience: we were all living in just a few square metres and, in general, the conditions were not at all pleasant.
But also on my journey here I encountered many problems. For example, my bag fell into the sea, and so I lost all my belongings. There are so many problems, and each day, when we wake up, we have to think of everything we need to deal with.
But I followed the example of Do-Ho Suh, who turned a difficult period of his life into a creation, a work of art2. Only I made a tattoo out of it. A friend designed it and, when he explained his idea to me, I really liked it and wanted it drawn on me. The lines show all the difficulties that I went through and those I still have in front of me until I reach the stars, which symbolise my goals. Above, where the stars slowly start to fade, is the end. I’ve started from very low, from this wound, from utter destruction, and slowly I am rising. As soon as I get my high school diploma, I will have reached the stars and from there I will be able to fulfil my dreams.
When we talked about the work of Kimsooja3, I thought that if I too was a bundle, I wouldn’t have a tight knot. It’s not good to have hidden secrets. I’m an “open book.” In my opinion, when we hide something, two things may be happening: either we have done something that we think is wrong, or we are scared. But, mistakes can be fixed and we must confess them, otherwise we will be forever living with guilt. And if we’re afraid, it’s not bad to show it. Anyone who’s afraid and doesn’t talk about it, will be afraid for the rest of their lives. That’s why I believe we don’t need to keep secrets.
In the bundle I would put things that I cherish, things that I would put in in my car to take with me. I really miss my car in Iraq. I had a Chevrolet, my most beautiful possession ever!
What I like most about the artworks that we’re discussing is how different they are and how our thoughts about them differ as well. It makes us realise how many different opinions there are, how each person is special. Just like Reem4, who doesn’t share her secrets, Zacharia5 who wants his stuff to be tidy, me who says something different, and so on and so forth. And that is a very nice thing. As long as all views are respected and don’t lead to conflict.
In Iraq, I really liked being outside with friends. We would find a spot, usually near a lake, and have barbecues, go hunting, fishing and camping. What I like here is the sea! I was not familiar with it. In Iraq there is a port, but it is a commercial one. We couldn’t go there. I enjoy Crete! I like it very much! I’ve been to Hersonissos, Rethymnon, Chania, Bali. I also want to go to Malia; I’ve heard it’s very nice.
When I first saw the piece by Alexandros Georgiou6, I thought it showed Mount Olympus, where the ancient gods lived. Then I realized that he had taken a picture of a sidewalk, a dirty sidewalk with cigarette butts and other trash lying around. On those, he had placed the ancient temple, the Parthenon. It’s a very powerful image! The Parthenon is something that the whole world is familiar with. It’s an ancient Greek monument and it’s portrayed in juxtaposition with the trash, the cigarette butts and drug addiction. It’s very sad!
I know that Athena is the goddess of wisdom. I really like mythology. I know the story of King Gilgamesh, who lived in the region of present-day Iraq, I know all about Babylonian mythology but I have also learned a lot about Greek mythology, especially because of a video game I play, called “God of War.”.
We, today, haven’t gained anything from ancient culture. There used to be monumental civilizations, like ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria and other countries that have their own magnificent ancient culture, but it seems that we haven’t learned anything from all this. Whereas the US has a history of barely 400 hundred years and has progressed so much. Reem doesn’t agree with me, but it’s very nice to have a discussion and express our different views.
In Athens today there may be poverty, but at least there’s freedom. People are free to believe in any religion they want. It used to be the same in Iraq too, which is located in a region where great civilizations were born, where mathematics and philosophy were developed and where there was religious freedom. Now, however, there are disputes about religion and all freedoms have been compromised. For example, in my country it is not acceptable for me to wear an earring, to leave my hair long or to have a tattoo. This is something I don’t like at all, because I want to be free!
But that’s not all. There’s a lot of violence in everyday life, to such an extent that we’re almost used to it as if it were something normal. Imagine that there are snipers at different locations who can aim at you and kill you. One day, I had just gone through such a location, and I realized that something had fallen out of my pocket. I didn’t hesitate to pass again, risking my life, from where the sniper was, to pick it up. That’s how much we are used to the idea…
Another problem in Iraq is the status of women. Women have no place in society. While in other countries we talk about human rights, in my country, and other places, women are oppressed: for example, they are denied the right to dress as they choose, or they may be married off to a much older man just so their families can solve their problems. I cannot accept violence against women, something I’ve seen happen before my eyes.
The Harpooned Fish by Costas Tsoclis7 represents the woman that suffers this oppression. Also, seeing the portrait of the woman standing next to the fish, I think of the attitude of women who stand idly by, watching oppression, or even supporting it. They see other women suffering and do nothing. Even in the case of a girl being raped, society will argue that the blame was hers. There is no empathy.
Culture has always been associated with women, that’s why today they need to have the place they deserve in society.
Here in Heraklion, I have friends from many different countries. We youngsters play together without any problems. And I want to travel all around the world, that’s why I had a second tattoo, which shows the map of the world. Just like Sinbad in the fairy tale, who set off from Baghdad, travelled a great deal and discovered many different cultures.
1 Refers to Hopscotch, 1974.
2 Refers to Staircase II, 2004.
3 Refers to Bottari, 2005-2017.
4 Reem, who is 23 years old, from Syria, was also a participant in the programme on Crete.
5 Zacharia, who is 47 years old, from Syria, was also a participant in the programme on Crete.
6 Refers to Athens, Parthenon, 2007-2008.
7 Refers to Harpooned Fish, 1985