In June and July 2014, I will be spending two months as a writer-in-residence at Teatru Salesjan in Malta, creating new work and holding workshop sessions under the name ‘Beyond Borders’. This project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Part of the process will be writing down my experiences weekly.
This third week I tried to focus on the story, which worked. In the gaps I tried to watch the game between Australia and the Netherlands, only to find myself on a terrace surrounded by shouting Australians when the first goal was scored. I had a conversation with a theatre producer about a possible collaboration, nervously giggled with my fellow passengers on the 110 because the bus driver apparently had a death wish and walked home with a lovely woman when another bus didn’t show up. But most of all, I found what was missing in the story I was constructing in my mind so far: Urgency and politics.
While struggling with my own story, the workshop I’m giving continued with great progress. It wasn’t until Wednesday evening – when one of the contestants asked me about ‘political correctness’ – that it became clear to me what I needed to write.
I said that if you’re willing to bear the possible consequences, there’s no such thing as political correctness for writers. One can discuss about that answer. We did.
But to me it became clear that what I said was the exact reason I got stuck. In several conversations I always stood up for silence. For I believe nowadays a lot of people are so eager and willing to share their opinions and views, that I rather like the quietness. But in a way it’s unfair. Maybe there’s another way of showing. A way that can mention important issues while nursing the quietness; for sometimes the world is too big to put into words.
Let me take you to a fictional future of Malta:
The small island of Malta is entirely used as a refugee camp for Fort Europe. It is the only possible entrance for irregular immigrants, but leads to nothing; A big rock with Border Knights roaming the shores. If you manage to get past the beach, you’re allowed to stay. A way of making it more interesting for disaster tourism; they bet money on the immigrant’s chances while gazing through their binoculars.
Few people remained in Malta. They defend M’dina, The Silent City. Clocks run counter clockwise as if preserving something that has left a long time ago. There’s Carl, a historian, who couldn’t part with Malta’s rich history and his wife Siri. There’s the old man who believes God has left him, a journalist reporting back weekly to mainland Europe, the tour guide repeating and repeating the same thing all over again…
There’s the fat lady on the sofa, hired by Carl to just lie there in his room. And there’s Ayra. She survived the boat trip, pregnant and ready to give birth. When she finds her way into M’dina all seem to fall apart. For what will you do in front of the eyes of an innocent child?
I wrote Ayra a monologue, right after she’s reached the shores at Sliema and you can find it here.
So to cut the story short; it’s a surreal world that only slightly resembles ours, that shows us anxiety and fears and tries to give a perspective on immigration. It won’t be a political play solely, but I find that in Malta it is hard to avoid either politics or religion in any conversation. It is part of daily life and impossible to ignore. Therefore I must write about this. If I want to reach ‘Beyond Borders’ with this project, this is a chance.
This fictional Malta might seem like a dystopian world. Perhaps it is. On the other hand it could be just an exaggeration trying to put things into perspective again. The coming week I hope to visit the refugee camp here and talk to people about their opinions. Without judgement. For I rather understand than feed on assumptions.