Sea of People: Found and Told Stories – text on the wall

A friend came to see me in a dream. From far away. And I asked in the dream: ’Did you come by photograph or train?’

In half
They were let into the mountains just across the frontier and left there. Totally disorientated, some found their way back. They devised a system to protect themselves. Before leaving they had their photographs taken. They tore the photograph in half, giving half to their guide and keeping the other half themselves.

The courage of departure, the endurance of the journey, the shock of arrival, the deaths far away, the black foreign nights, the proud obstination of survival.
Images are sometimes in colour, and sometimes purely verbal; the instantly recognizable moments refer to different experiences.

Champs-Elysees Economy
Amidst the tents and portable shelters housing 160 000 a busy little commercial district has sprung up with shops and people offering all manner of services.
The military, who helped out here in the early days, dubbed the main street Champs-Elysees and today you can buy anything here from a washing machine to a bridal dress.

Fire and the Sea
I was on a deck of the air-craft carrier that collected us earlier that day. I recall watching the burning remains scattered on the sea surface, hanging over the fence in my T-shirt. One of the arsonist leaders, a former army man, dropped by to tell me not to worry, I was completely safe. I had never imagined that I was in danger.

Girl is the Ocean
Somewhere, out on the Ocean swell, a dot in the ocean off the shores of storm-lashed land, there is a fishing boat. And on it, is a man who doesn’t yet know he’s a father.
His family got word that his boat and all souls on it are safe, hundreds of kilometres away. But that’s all they know, they didn’t manage to pass on word that they are safe too, and that his wife gave birth on a classroom floor as a Cyclone raged all around. Finally, he doesn’t know that his first-born child’s name has already been chosen. She’s Ocean, of course. Her mother says the 12-hour labour, assisted only by other mothers, was “easy”.
I ask her what she wants for her child, in the future. She thinks for a long time, so long that I think she’s forgotten I am there. Finally she says, “I want her to work on the sea, because sea helped us through the storm.”

Will the Last One to Leave Please Turn Out the Lights
I live with someone whose country no longer exists. The culture my wife was brought up in as a child, the festivals, the education, the products, like the country itself, exist only in books, films and memories. But the land, the land is still there. The people still tell their stories, sing their songs, grow their crops, raise their families.
In my own migrant nation, entire villages from the 19th century, ravaged by famine, lie decomposing. Once-thriving islands have lost centuries-old communities to modernity. Only the birds and the seals remain.
Countries disappear, are renamed, and borders are redrawn. And other countries are dying. The sea is encroaching on them, ever higher tides making the soil unfit to grow plants or raise animals. The coast, where fishermen need to live, is crumbling into the sea. Houses calve off the cliffs like the melting glaciers that feed that change. Storms swell rivers, washing away the soil, creating new floodplains, or simply covering precious land where houses once stood.
Those who can, pick up their corrugated iron sheets and their planks and move on to the next raggedy edge where they start again, without jobs, without health care, without schools, without any thought other than a brighter day for their children.
But could this ever happen to a whole country? Will a whole nation ever pack up and leave? If they do, there are a million questions to be answered, micro and macro, apart from the whimsical “Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?” Can a citizen exist if its country is no longer on the map? What identifies a country; land, people or culture?