Roboteca - Paris 2018

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LA roboteca




The atmosphere is heavy in the emergency housing facility (Centre d’hébergement d’urgence) in Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris, where EMMAUS Solidarité hosts 430 people – families, single women and children alike. The Jungleye association organized a workshop where fifteen women aged 26 to 60 were invited to express themselves. They come from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Iran, Bangladesh, Tibet, the Ivory Coast, Chad, or Romania, and are all going through the asylum procedure in Paris. In the ten days of the workshop, our association explored with these women the portrait medium. The participants created facial composites, using in their own way the model of police sketches. Cutting down into pieces and rearranging photos of their faces, they created new ones as a homage to all the women victims of crimes and sexual abuse. Crumpled paper stands in the background. “What is this shining paper”, Branni, a young Ethiopian woman, asks me as I am setting up the photo studio. Aminata, who came from the Ivory Coast with her daughter Yasmine shouts: “This looks like some paper I was using back home to wrap my daughter’s birthday presents”. This glittering paper also means a specific day for her – the day on which the “big boat” came to rescue Aminata, her five-month old baby and the hundreds of other people with her, as they were drifting off the Libyan coast on a dinghy. The survivors felt like they were being rolled into in some gift wrap. She explains: “They gave us a gift when they wrapped us in this glittering paper that felt warm – they gave us life.” Our conversation has now started and so has the workshop. For Pema, a woman from Tibet, the colour of this first aid blanket is associated with Buddhist temples. She becomes nostalgic. She explains why she is with us today. Buddhists are repressed in Tibet. She had to flee her country to escape the persecutions of the Chinese army and protect her family. At some point, we raise the issue of respect and I mention the recent #metoo movement. They start asking me questions: “What is a hashtag?.” A key word. What is #metoo, then? An awareness campaign to unite all the women that have been sexually abused and to let their voices be heard on the social media. Aminata says: “let’s not draw arbitrary lines. Men, too, are quite often raped and they are the ones who get shot for no reason. – She witnessed such situations in Niger and Lybia. – No one can escape the violence in exile. It’s true, though, that men or family pressure are often the reason why we run away from our land in the first place”. Our workshop is inspired by art therapy and functions as a group therapy. Art becomes a psychological tool that initiates the healing of the inner self. Senses become awake, and these women of all ages and backgrounds look at each other and cry – with their eyes. They feel and breathe – with their noses. They listen and understand – with their ears. They shout and denounce – with their mouths. This is a workshop dedicated to women. New, imperfect, faces have been created – bits and pieces that were pieced together. Around the eyes, along the lips, the shining paper has revealed some scars. They were made at home, in exile, and here. Jungleye is a participatory photography project aiming to recreate a visual memory of the exile journey by giving a voice to migrants and refugees. The compilation of these images and their stories pursue the goal to sensitize the civil society to the migration issues and the living conditions of displaced communities around the world.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I almost witnessed death three times in my exile. The first time was in this huge Sudanese desert where we had no water, no food. Inanimate dead bodies were lying around us. The second time was when I reached Libya. Sequestered in this huge shed, other bodies still inanimate surrounded us. The third time was aboard the zodiac, in this immensity that is the Mediterranean Sea.

This time, I felt that my time had arrived.

My sisters, please do not join me. Fight at home, there in Ethiopia, to change our status as women and finally live better. Believe me, there is unfortunately nothing new here.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

Now I remember what happened. It is 2.30 in the morning. I have nothing with me but a little bag. I recall walking alone all night, lost in the streets of Paris. As soon as I recognize the police from far, I run away. I end up meeting 2 or 3 guys pretending that they want to help me.

I start being a bit scared. I don’t understand them. They don’t speak English.

However, they know perfectly well how to ask me: “Are you married, sister?” “Are you single?” “Do you drink?” “My girlfriend” says the other one. I’m getting very worried. We are alone under a bridge. I tell them that I want to leave. They don’t let me: “Give me all your money or...“ I throw my wallet with the only 2€ I had in it and run away while shouting for some help.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I can not see my family left behind in Tibet. If by any chance, the Chinese find me on the Internet communicating with them, they will capture them. So, I remain alone in my room crying, without even a single picture of my children to look at.

I try to be strong these days, but I cannot do it anymore. I can only hear the voices of my loved ones for two minutes every two weeks. I feel so lonely.

My husband told me that every plane that my little girl sees in the sky, she starts shouting: «Mom! Mom’s coming back!»

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I was not allowed to cry in front of my mother. At the age of 15, when I was running away from my first husband who was 35, I reached my mother’s house with tears in my eyes. She made me go back home, even though this forced marriage was out of her consent. She was scared as well. She couldn’t speak, or my father’s brother would do things to her again.

I went into exile when I was pregnant from my second husband because he was beating me. He was the brother of my first husband who had died several years ago.

Today yes, I speak with my mom! But, you know, it takes a lot of time to forget. I will go back to my country in 20 years when my husband will have lost his strength and will have forgotten about me.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

9 years old. My mother makes me wear the hijab.

12 years old. My dad’s brother forces me to marry a 40-year-old man who already has 3 wives. Once this latter will be found dead, I will be the property of my husband’s brother. 53 years old. I decide to leave Afghanistan alone. I had a dream; to roll by car freely, the trunk filled with my handicrafts, and to rebuild my life here, in France. I left on foot, without a penny in my pocket.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

Two months ago, I had to escape from Tibet to protect my husband and my 7 and 2,5-year-old children. The Chinese police always had an eye on me. They thought I was a spy.

Today, I constantly feel that these army dogs are pursuing me. They sniff my trace, find me, prevent me from sleeping. Sometimes, I hear the Chinese people joining me from behind. They scream so loudly.

I need to heal my head.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I had never seen it in my country before; it seemed like the decorations for the birthday party of my 5-year-old daughter. It looked like gold in paper.

When I heard the voices of rescuers in the sea, it was like feeling the sacred strength of God bringing me back to Earth.

I then wrapped my baby in this golden blanket. We had just been offered survival.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I was barely 5 when dad died. I spent my childhood alongside with mom and my cousins. I got married at the age of 20. I didn’t choose my husband, a man much older than me. He was an addict. Every day, my husband used drugs, beat me and forced me to bring him money for his daily consumption of Opium. I wasn’t allowed to work but I was allowed to sell myself.

I feel so bad.

I had never told anyone before.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I saw the shed in the distance from the smuggler’s pickup. I saw 400 people stored in this shack without water or light, alive and dead. I saw the door closing behind me, shutting myself up among them lying on the ground without their clothes. Beaten, sick, stinking, dying, we were all neighbors of Somalia, Guinea, Ethiopia, Mali, Ivory Coast.

I heard their voices; «Why did you come? Here is only fear and suffering.» I felt the terrible smell of death.

I had simply told the Libyan smuggler: «I want to go to Tripoli to cross the sea and reach Italy».

LA ROBOTECA #respect

Where we live, in Africa, women have neither the right nor the choice. The man decides for you and sometimes you die from it. You start with having a headache.

And finally, you develop the “disease of the heart”.

As I was telling you: «You will die and leave your little children behind you.»

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I remember starring at the Nepalese border to get the strength to step forward little by little until I leave my country, Tibet. I saw both my land and my nightmares disappearing from the porthole of the plane departing to France. Because in my country, yes; I was being abused.

Today, I still hear muffled voices in my head. That was the Chinese military raping us with a kind of electric stick destroying our intimate parts.

I can’t speak anymore; I don’t know what to say anymore. But it makes me feel good to be together and to talk about it. I feel less lonely. I thought I had experienced the worst in this world.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

In my country, at a very young age, you are forced to marry a 60-year-old man who already has several wives. They are your rivals; but you, you are the «little woman», the one who relieves him at night. You are his favorite.

Before the wedding, the women of my family excised me. «There is no marriage without excision, do you understand me well?» It was unbearably painful. Today, I can’t feel anything anymore.

If I hadn’t obeyed, my future husband would have insulted me. He would have told me that I am not cut, that the milk from my sex is bad. I would have been the laughingstock of the village.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

We had to flee Afghanistan with my daughter after a violent dispute with her Opium-addicted husband. Since her marriage, I barely saw my Maryam. One day, she came desperately to ask me for money. Poor me, I had nothing. In retaliation, he burned her body with a bucket of boiling water. It was too much.

Her cries echoed so loudly. The wounds were so deep that I could not close them.

We Afghan women do not have the right to speak. We suffer in silence, locked up under our burka. If I had known the hell my daughter was living, I would have done anything to get her out.

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I came and I saw. I never want to remember those moments ever again.

Being a single woman on the journey is a constant exposure to danger. To be sold, locked up, left naked on the ground, deprived of water and food. They have the weapons; they have everything. I heard death outside this house where I was enclosed on the Libyan border.

However today, I came here, and I saw. Then, I can shout: “We are greater than men!�

LA ROBOTECA #respect

If you meet the eyes of the bandits, you will be banged for no reason. And if unfortunately, you don’t have any money with you, your body becomes a bargaining chip to continue your journey.

You breathe ashamed because they touched you. You feel so dirty.

I have been lucky to flee the Ivory Coast when I was 5-month pregnant. On the road, they let me pass without touching me too much. Men only played a bit with my breasts. But I remember Libya; they don’t do any distinction between men and women, all are being raped. In Burkina, it happens as well; in Niger too. The exile route is above all a men story. You no longer have the strength to denounce it and it would be useless. Rape is everywhere. All I tell you is Africa; it’s like that. Here it doesn’t happen, right?

LA ROBOTECA #respect

I remember being sold to other ÂŤmen in blackÂť in the Sahara.

Then I gave them my body for the simple smell of macaroni.

I spoke to them so politely though, to give me back my freedom.

A Jungleye project in partnership with EMMAUS SolidaritĂŠ and Olympus Iberia - 2018