WHAT THIS IS
Desert Stories is a storytelling project with African refugees living in Israel.
In every place where there are refugees, the situation is complex and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the local and the global. The people themselves, though, the ones who are fleeing and who have fled, are even more complex than any "situation." And when we connect with individual stories we better connect with the bigger picture -- whether it be “the refugee crisis” or “the genocide” -- without becoming paralyzed by a sense of generalized hopelessness.
Desert Stories embraces this complexity and in doing so empowers both the teller and the listener.
The project began in 2010 when founder Madelyn Kent began to teach theater at an NGO in South Tel Aviv to a group of teenagers who had fled from the genocide in Darfur. Friendships developed, and collaborations continued even after Madelyn left Israel, and returned. Today, the project continues. It has grown to include various groups of refugees and many volunteers. The storytelling workshops take place where refugees are -- in cities in Israel and at the Holot Detention Center in the Negev Desert.
The stories that come out of the workshops-- a combination of writing and meditational sequences, as well as speaking-- were not limited to their journeys of survival or escape from the organized murder and dehumanizing dictatorships that threatened them but encompassed all their stories -- stories as people before the horror, stories as people after they left, stories as people.
The Desert Stories method for eliciting stories involves an organic approach developed by Madelyn that incorporates not just writing and speaking, but also a physical aspect which allows participants to get out of habits. Instead of repeating a story out of habit, the storyteller and the listener let go of expectations and new discoveries and pathways are made. This storytelling process is as much about process as it is about content, and in the process, through the struggle to find the right story, the right sequence, the right word, we can hear more about the person than we could ever have imagined.
The “stories of being a refugee” often act like ghosts following them around, shadowing, and obscuring. As one participant put it, “One story can hijack all the rest of my stories.” In their efforts to find a new way to tell their stories, they are also uncovering the multiplicities and vulnerabilities that allow specificity and connection.
For both them and the listener.
Of course, there are political and historical resonances here. This storytelling project is concerned with individual experience as it is impacted in the most intimate ways by the historical and political. If you would like to know more about the historical and political context of African refugees in Israel you can go here:
Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel has members throughout the world. Sign the petition and learn ways that you can participate.
You can also find out more about the situation on the ground in Israel through these grassroots NGOs:
Participants in Tel Aviv and Holot 2014-2015: Teshome, Shishay, Biniam, Mohydein, Akilu, Kimo, Mubarek, Adam, Mubarek M., Abu, Million, Achmed, Adil, Achmad.
The project, led by Madelyn Kent, Founder of Sense Writing, includes volunteers from Israel and the States: Jeremy Elster, Libby Gutterman, Ryan Steed, Kei, Ishii, Christie Barron, Mireille Surowicz, Heidi Gleit, Leeron Hoory.
Thank you: activestills, Nitzana School in the Negev.
Photos by: Christy Barron. Video: Lily Henderson.