Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Come join in the dance, Part 1-Bosnia

In my faith community of origin dancing was one of the things that was not exactly allowed. I never did quite figure out what the problem was, but I knew that I could not attend the school dances with my family or church's blessing. That is not to say that I did not go , but that is a story beyond the scope of this post. Although I am now an adult and have made my own discernment about the issue, this "training" does cause me to have the misgiving and feeling that my body does not want to dance. I no longer have the prohibition, but getting the legs, arms and trunk moving takes a lot of concentration and letting go.

However, I have three dancing stories. On these 3 times I have had the privilege of being invited by people outside of my culture, to join in their dance.

The first time took place on my first real trip outside of my comfort zone. In March 1994 I joined a group of young Germans to live in a Bosnian refugee camp in Split, Croatia for 3 weeks.  This was while the Balkan War was still taking place. The German  Mennonite Peace Committee (DMFK) organised groups to go to various camps with the mandate to play with the children. At that time schooling was not provided for the young  refugees and the adults were often so traumatised that they were unable to provide entertainment for the children, so a lot of time they were left without much to do. We loaded up a van with footballs,  craft supplies and games and set off on the two day journey.

We experienced extreme hospitality. Here they had made two large pans of "pita bosna" a traditional food made of very thinly rolled dough layered with onions and potatoes just for us.

The women did not understand how I came to come to their camp. It was so unusual that my husband would let me come. One day they delighted in dressing me up in the traditional loose trousers and head covering.

 I met this woman on the second day of our stay. It was also the day that she learned that her 21 year old son had been killed at the front. I spent a lot of time sitting with her.
She-Bosnian Mother
I have lost a son
Far off in Bosnia land
I will never again see him
Touch him, rock him, hug him to my breast
Just 21 years -now gone.
I sit here-so helpless
Nothing I can do
But silently weep into my kerchief
He is gone.
Me- Short-term Volunteer
I see an old woman squatting on the floor
Her eyes slowly fill with tears
She has lost her son
Two days ago she heard the news
Just 21 years-short life
My arms want to hug her, to cry with her
Is it acceptable to touch, to hug?
Three weeks I live with her-learning to sit still and touch.
Very little talking-I don't understand, she doesn't either
So we sit
Sometimes she cries into her kerchief
Sometimes she smiles
Together we sit---together 

Through the 3 weeks we spent a lot of time in the camp, Voljak. There were approximately 80 persons living there in the residential part of a cement factory. They were all from the same village which was near Teslić, Bosnia (north-central Bosnia Herzegovina). In the process of playing we grew to know the parents and other adults. We shared food and times of singing. One evening we sat together in a  room that held 12 bunk beds. Some of these held 4 people for the night. People were relaxed and comfortable. Through our young translators they told us stories of how life was before the conflict started.

They shared a video that showed a large dance festival that was held annually in their village. People of all the heritages came to dance together. They were obviously disturbed as they told of how these connections and relationships were severed as the war began. They had not danced at all since leaving their homes. They had never danced together in the refugee camp.We began to gently explore the possibility of learning a Bosnian dance.
One of the bunk beds being used as a couch.

Us: We are interested in learning a Bosnian dance.
Them: Oh yes, some day.
Them: Oh yes, but we can't do it tonight. Others are sleeping.
Them: Oh yes, but he has no one to dance with.
Them: Oh yes, but the music player is not here.
Us: OK, but we really want to learn a Bosnian dance
Them: Here is the music man
            Here is a woman
             Forget the people in the next room
             Let's dance!!

Arms on shoulders
Feet moving quickly, avoiding bed posts and coffee cups
Sweat, heavy breathing

Them: Come -- now you must dance

Slowly, then faster
Legs in and out
What a great feeling
We are dancing
They are dancing
For the first time since Bosnia.
We are dancing


Monday, February 4, 2013

Singing to an Unseen Audience

(Photo- Sandra Stevens)

Three days ago  I was a singer in a choir to an unseen audience. The stage was a sidewalk outside of a deportation centre in Chicago, Illinois. The audience was hidden safely behind large garage doors and blacked out glass in six vans. I wondered if the safety is for them, us, or the system that tries to hide the fact that 425,000 undocumented workers in the US are whisked out of the country every year. It does not matter if they act like good or bad people, they are sent away. The choir sang in somewhat croaking three part harmony- "Courage, migrant brother,/ you do not walk alone/ we will walk with you/ and sing your spirits home.”


The current CPT training group braved the bitter cold wind as they attended the weekly vigil at Broadview Detention Centre. Broadview is a detention center run by the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Every Tuesday and Friday the bus and vans are loaded with men and women who have been rounded up in raids on their homes or workplaces. Many of them leave behind loved ones. They ride in shackles on the bus to the airport to be flown to a land considered to be their homeland, but which many of them have never lived in. One of the delegates, Cory Lockhardt, wrote in her blog about her experience.


As I experienced this action today I was taken back to my own training in July/August 2010 on a much warmer day. In my notes that I saved in my gmail drafts  I noted that we had met two of the nuns who had fought the system  to gain the opportunity to pray with the detainees before they were sent off to the airport. I wrote, “ I am so I shocked that in this "Christian nation"  they had to fight for two years to be able to pray for these people on the buses.” These nuns asked us to stay within the guidelines, to not plan surprise civil disobedience or some other resistance. For them the important goal was to make a weekly presence and to provide a small bit of psychological support for the men and women who were leaving their homes. We found out that early in the morning they were also allowed to visit any detainee who wished and gave out cards telling them where they could get physical help when they were unshackled and pushed out into the country on the other end.


 I entered one of those buses along with the young man who would become my son in law and another trainee, to pray with and for the persons there. We wanted them to have an image of someone who cared as a lasting picture of the USA. We could do nothing to change their situation at this time, but we could pray with them and let them know that someone knew of their grief and cared.


As we entered the bus and yelled through the plexi glass barrier (because the intercom did not work) introducing ourselves, the whole busload erupted into clapping . That felt so strange. They were thanking us for coming to say goodbye to them. As we spoke our names one man lifted up his handcuffed arms and pointed to the shackles around his waist and ankles and said, “They treat us like criminals. We are not criminals”. We told him that we knew this. Then we read a short statement that we had prepared and that was translated into Spanish by our team mate. We said the Lord’s Prayer together, joined by most of the people on the bus. Then we stepped down to the ground.


Next we were taken to a van that held 8 men being sent to some Central American countries.  Here we were separated only by a grating and we could speak in normal volumes. As I was introduced as being from Canada, a young man right next to me quietly asked, “What is Canada like?” Searching for the correct thing to say I answered, “Canada is good”. He said softly, “I wanted to go to Canada”. I almost lost my resolve to stay calm.  I could not say that Canada would treat him any better. He had shackles and handcuffs just because he had crossed an invisible line in the sand and tried to stay on the ‘wrong” side.


On that summer day in 2010, after the bus and van had driven away, Laurens and I stood with the rest of the vigil, arms around each other and silently weeping. This was not our country, but we knew that in Canada and the Netherlands such scenarios take place as well. I thought of the privilege I had of owning two passports that gave me such freedom to choose where I lived.


Three days ago, as I sang in the choir to the unseen audience, I heard a gentle clinking sound. I turned around to see a man exiting from a car carrying a large armload of chains and shackles. I imagined that he had been there when they released a group of people, and was bringing them back to the centre to put them onto some of the 1000 detainees in that building so they could be sent out.


The three trainees who were in the parking garage praying on this cold day told us that when the large bus sized garage door lifted they could hear our voices. That means that possibly some of the detainees beginning their journey could also. We sang the song over and over, despite voice fatigue and freezing toes, hoping that in some way it would send them on their way with a tiny bit of hope.