Somewhere along the way on my journey through East Africa, I have one of those reality shocks where you wake up from the flow of living and stare back upon the scene surrounding you – as if a passenger looking in upon your life. It’s around midnight in Bukoto market in Kampala, and above the tapestry of shacks, composed of corrugated iron, wire and simple building materials, there is a white man thrashing a guitar with bleeding fingers, and next to him a Ugandan man dancing on his two hands. Little beads of sweat drop from his brow as he takes the weight, and they drop onto the red foot flattened earth beneath. Above, two small stumps sway back and forth, accepting and interpreting the rhythm. There are howls and claps from the troop of local men and woman surrounding this curious scene of the dancing man with no legs, and the howling bandana-d white man with the guitar.
As I look down, for that small second, with the moon, looking in on human activity, I’m filled with hope. In certain moments, the abstract dreams we have of our lives, take a concrete form. Bridges are made in the most curious of circumstances – some bridges are abstract, some are momentary, some are concrete and some last for generations. Yet my moment of understanding is very simple in form. It is about the act of participation. How are barriers broken down? By participation. By that moment, when a belief or an ideal ceases to be carried only in mind and takes form. When our capacity to have choice ceases to be passive but to be active.
I am not one for great actions, I believe in very simple things. I am foolish for the arts. That a song means something more than the number it climbs in a chart, or the red carpets walked for its success. “Journeys” was about trying to break out of restrictions. The chains of what other people call success. The cynicism that idealism is met with. The belief that a simple action in a far off place has significance, resonance. Of butterflies flapping over oceans. And the possibilities which can be derived when they dance in tandem.
I am back in Europe now, a Europe in the midst of the greatest migrations since the second world war. When NBHAP asked me to continue my Journeys journal, I listened to the voices of certain demons. “Can you write of wonderful journeys – journeys of choice – in a moment when hundreds of thousands are making journeys of compulsion – across deserts and seas – driven from destroyed livelihoods, the thread of persecution, the presence of death”.
I listened to these demons, and gave them voice – rather than rejecting them. At some point, I gave my great friend, the musician and refugee worker Espin Meta a call and we went together to the solidarity for Refugees party in the Berthanien squat in Kreuzberg. It was a marvellous night, with men and woman who have fled from Syria, Sudan, and Chad, dancing, drinking and talking in solidarity and togetherness with Europeans.
It re-connected me to the feeling I had so often while touring through Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. That it is the barriers between us that are illusory, and the “brotherhood of man” which is the reality.
The point for me is that how we chose to participate in life has many facets and colours. My heart moves when I see football fans holding aloft “Refugees welcome” signs. Participation. When people share their flats with people with nothing. Participation. And for myself I arrive back to the heart of what I set out to do with my journeys project. To explore these so called “boundaries” between people and cultures. And my belief that they are not so vast as they sometimes appear.
There is always a link, and that link is our humanity. And beyond that, I see that creativity has not less of a place in the face of great human disasters, migrations and turbulence. But that it is more important than ever. It is reflective our deepest core, and resonates in the abstract space between us.
In the words of Ben Okri:
“Heaven knows we need poetry now more than ever. We need the awkward truth of poetry. We need its indirect insistence on the magic of listening. In a world of contending guns, the argument of bombs, and the madness of believing that only our side, our religion, our politics is right, a world fatally inclined towards war – we need the voice that speaks to the highest in us”
No matter how much the world keeps fucking itself up. Keep creating. Keep participating, the tiniest of actions can be the the most significant, and ultimately will be so.