On the occasion of International Human Rights Day and the last day of the global campaign “16 days of activism against gender-based violence“, the Diotima Center in Lesvos and the UNHCR, held a presentation event of the text “Pousse Pion – Push the pawn”, on Tuesday, December 10, 2019, at the Book and Art bookstore, in Mytilini.
“Pousse Pion” is a text of soul and strength written by six women from Cameroon, all residing in Moria, as part of the Creative Writing Workshop (June-October 2019) of the Diotima Center in Lesbos, which is implemented with the support of UNHCR Greece.
Below is a detailed report from the event, by the coordinator of the Lesvos Group of the Diotima Center, Maria Tzavara, who talks with the narratives – texts by Kameni, Sama, Nael, Cheryl, Princess, Antoinette (pseudonyms), the six authors of the text:
Women speak through their texts
The open presentation of “Pousse Pion” was beautiful, difficult, moving, and unprecedented, and it awakened the lively interest of the residents of Mytilini. Before the time had even arrived, the bookstore had already begun to fill up.
We chose the event to take place on Human Rights Day and the last day of the global campaign “16 days of activism against gender-based violence”, with women speaking through their texts. They spoke in French and we in Greek.
We gave importance to the body, to the voice. In the game. With musical highlights in between and with movements. The room was almost dark to hear the voice that was telling stories and that was lit up with a small light in the hand of each of us when it was time for us to read.
“I fear for my life. I’m afraid to speak”
“My favorite game was ‘Pousse Pion’ – Push the pawn.” We would draw squares on the floor and use mango pits which we would tile and kick from square to square.”
We tried to highlight every aspect of the text, we also let silence play a role. For what was written and what was not. For what the six female writers decided to tell us. And for what they chose to keep to themselves.
“I have no freedom of expression. I feel more than stressed. Suffocated. Imprisoned. That I am being judged by the people around me who are looking to impose their orders on me.
So I become someone I’m not, in order to be left alone even for a moment. I fear for my life. I’m afraid to speak. I’m afraid to get angry with those around me as I know the consequences which I call punishment, torture, executions, blackmail.”
“I feel like my body doesn’t belong to me”
The confinement in real or symbolic cells, in violent conditions, in violent relationships, in the squares of this world.
“I feel lost, alone. I always think about what my life would be like if I didn’t have to go through all these nightmares. I feel trapped in my past, with a damaged dignity and my female body.
I don’t trust myself anymore. I can’t even look at myself in a mirror, I’m so ashamed of my body. Sometimes it’s like my body doesn’t belong to me anymore.”
“My last wish was to leave”
The loss of control of their lives, the decisions made by others – the small and big decisions that make you feel and be a living human being.
“I am in a quiet village, a 15-year-old girl, and I live with my uncle, a very respectable – in the village – man. He is rich and gives us many gifts. But no one can imagine what he does when he is at home when he enters my room at night.
His hands run all over me. It gets worse when I find out I’m pregnant. At first, I tried to kill myself and then miscarry but I didn’t succeed.
The proof of my rape remained. If I tried to tell anyone, no one would believe me or react. On the contrary, they would say that I aim to divide the family. My last wish was to leave to an unknown place even if my life was in danger.”
Running away as an act of resistance
And then the reaction, the escape, the flight as an act of resistance, the search for justice, defense of life. Turkey, Moria. Insomnias. Accommodation conditions at the camp.
“Let them understand that we are suffering! Let them consider our pain. To take that into account! And find solutions to help us. I would like them to listen to us.
To listen to our complaints. We want help, help, help, help, help, help, help, help, help! Protection, protection, protection, protection! Fear, fear!’
The violence. The blue stamp. The violence of the blue stamp.
“After 3 months in Moria, I still haven’t gotten the blue stamp to leave the island. This stamp symbolizes freedom and hope for me.”
“I’m a woman like any other”
Joy and solidarity. And the game. Then, now. But also the power for you to be the one who moves the pawn. The power of (these) women.
“I am a woman like any other. I am all the women who left, who escaped! I am the one trapped in every corner of this world. I am all of them who managed to escape, get trapped again, and escape again.
My cell is in my village, in my house, in Turkey, in Moria. I cannot decide on anything except to continue to exist. To wait and prepare. I find myself flying again. In free fall. I see the city from the sky and feel the wind hit my face.
Here in my cell alone again, I get up, get ready. Soon I will go out and go to sea. I will get to where some people are waiting to pass me across the street.
But every prison is made of mango pits, voices, winners, and losers. Every night I sleep in my cell and I hear someone outside shouting “Pousse Pion!”, “Pousse Pion!” and I know that the door will open and I will come out even if you are not here my sister. I will go out, smell the air and take a few steps around myself. And then I’ll laugh with all the strength I have and that’s how I’ll know for sure that I’m still alive.”
From the event, we are keeping every moment. But also the words of some present who pointed out the value and their surprise for the seemingly only “paradox”: To write in Moria, in a literary way, these texts…
Excerpts were read
A life like everyone’s/ Une vie comme les autres, White Nights / Nuits Blanches, Lullaby / Berceuse, Push the pawn / Pousse Pion, I did not see the eyes that saw/ Je n’ai pas vu les yeux qui ont vu, Family affairs / Histoires Familiales, The beginning of the adventure in defence of life / Le début d’une aventure pour défendre la vie, And then comes the sea / Et ensuite, il y a eu la mer, O tempora o Moria!, Blue stamp / Le tampon Bleu, And then what? / Et ensuite quoi ?, Speak to the woman who has no other way to save herself. Talk to her / parle à cette famme qui n’a aucun autre moyen de se sauver. parle lui …, How can a woman flourish in Africa? / Comment une femme peut-elle s’épanouir en Afrique?
The presentation was done by
- Elina Karagiorgis and France Matrahji, UNHCR Lesvos
- Adamantia Labuka, Angela Taulau, Diotima Lesvos Center.
- Contribution: Astrid Castelein, UNHCR Lesvos
Texts were read by
- Adamantia Labouka, Wafa Foura, Danai Vai, Agnes Matrahji, Natasa Kefallinou, Maria Tzavara, Diotima Center
- Elina Karagiorgis and France Matrahji, UNHCR
Many thanks to the Diotima team for their great daily work in supporting women. This work allowed the Workshop, the text, and the presentation to take place. Thank you to all who came and listened.
A big thank you to all the participants in the presentation for the wonderful way they turned their bodies and hearts into a vehicle for the voice of women everywhere. Thanks to Nota Margariti for the photos! And to Panos Tsitsanoudis for recording the event!
We thank Valia Barbatioti for granting the Book and Art bookstore so that women’s words can come out of the pages and breathe among other words and people.
**The Workshop is part of the empowerment actions implemented by the Diotima team alongside the psychosocial support and advocacy services provided to mainly women but also men – survivors of gender-based violence, with the support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the co-financing of the European Commission