My Kingdom I Lost
Our experiences in the past affect the way we see present places. Memories of trauma or extreme delight can resonate with us as we see a crook in the river that looks like one from our childhood home or smell the scent of ferns that used to line the the sidewalk on our walk to school.
In this project, “My Kingdom that I Lost” I am collaborating with a family from Syria and migrant from Venezuelan to explore how their journeys from their past to present homes influence the way they see the physical places they now live.
With the ongoing crisis in Syria and Venezuela, it is important to care for the migrants in our area by welcoming them and helping them find belonging here. Art therapy through guided sketches provides a way for families to heal and agency to express their stories. I asked them to draw memories from their homes. After we talked through their drawings they told me of places in North Carolina that sparked memories of the places they missed or feared in Syria and Venezuela. I decided to overlay the sketches with the photographs as a way to comment on how we repress memories in light of trauma and how recalling the memories can bring healing.
“May 12th, 2011. The war started, and their bombs start from the air. Bombs on houses, airplanes — drop them into houses and then houses got destroyed. That how they destroyed the whole country. Then they started collecting people and shooting them and that kind of stuff. And then people started fighting. And then people are dead. Then this man said if you go to a church and pray, he will kill you. Sometimes, if you resist, they will kill you immediately.” Muhammad, 12.
“They were hitting us when we would go to school. They are taller than us, bigger than us, they are not in school. Sometimes when we were eating lunch, they would stand outside and throw rocks. They stand and throw rocks, but the teacher don’t say anything.” Ali, 10. “It was kind of similar to [Syria in Jordan]. You know why? Because one time, we were walking so we went on the bus, and we find there's a wall. It's like exploded, and there's dark stuff — I don’t know what it is — and found a killed person inside. Sometimes I would make up stuff so I didn’t have to go to school because these people wait on you to go to school. Give them money or they will hit you or hurt you. Sometimes I come late on purpose so I know when they're gone, but the teacher had to hit me with a stick because I came late. The education there, they carry on. If you don't understand it, they don't care. And then there's garbage that kids throw when they are done eating snack, and when your done with recess, you're supposed to pick up garbage so they can make you a better student, but they never do.” Muhammad, 12.
The feeling of safety is the feeling as if you were dead and you came to life. I’m almost dead, and now I have the chance to live again — that’s how I felt coming to Jordan from Syria. Heidi, 34.
It’s not fair because I’m the same as them. Just because I'm from a different country doesn't mean I'm different than them. Muhammad, 12.
“I remember sometimes when my mom and dad get into an argument. When we were traveling, they asked us if we like Bashar or no. When my dad ask us, we said no and we get in trouble, hit with a stick, but not hard so we don’t cry. And then and then until we learned. So then we learned, so we don't get killed.” Muhammad, 12.
I have survivor's guilt in the way I was hugely privileged in the way I lived there — hugely privileged to have gotten to leave when I did. Patty, 24. “The mourning process has been delayed in the sense that when we moved, I was so excited about moving I didn’t grasp what it meant to leave and not go back. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve realized a little more. Growing up, I went to protest with my parents. It's been tough keeping up with stuff there and what a lot of people don’t realize about the situation now is that it's been building slowly for a long time, before people ever started starving or dying, because there’s no stuff at hospitals. Journalists were being detained, and TV stations taken off the air for criticizing the government. The slow trickle of things getting worse and worse for years now. So now that things are coming to head and things are picking up in American media, it's like, ‘Yes, I’ve been keeping up with this my whole life.’” Patty, 24.
“This is kind of like older directions as a sign of lostness, not knowing where we’re going. The boat is the place of refuge but at the same time is being beaten up by the waves and the wind and the storm, and it’s being taken in all directions. And it's hard because you are in the middle of the storm, and it's not safe in the water.” Heidi, 34. “The waterfall [at Eno River] reminds me when we went to Jordan beach, but it was all dirty. You couldn’t swim in there, but at least you got to go and play in the water with your cousins.” Muhammad, 12.
“When I was a kid, for a few summers I went to a day camp called Shangrila. The logo was a peacock feather because they had peacocks on the property. I remember collecting feathers not just from the peacocks but the other birds like parrots and macaw and ducks. I feel like there are parts of North Carolina, when I go on a hike or to a big park, that remind me of summer camp and the peacocks. After you leave a place, even if you go back to the place with the exact same people, it will never be the same as before. I think Venezuela is a huge case of that in the sense that it would be drastically different if I went back now. I have dreams probably once a month where I go back, and they are pretty anxious dreams in the sense that I wouldn’t want to go back any time soon because it’s pretty dangerous for someone like me. I think that familiar muscle memory of remembering those streets that come up in dreams, of me in the car not driving. I’m usually in the passenger seat in a main highway, backroads from my house to that summer camp 20-30 minutes away. I wonder, if I find a place I really like, if it would be as familiar as those memories in Venezuela. I haven’t been one place very long in the past ten years. I wonder if I’m kind of nomadic.” Patty, 24.
“Weirdly enough, I don’t remember the day we left. I remember before we left. The last place I lived before we moved was this building in a neighborhood in Caracas called Santa Rosa, and there was a panadería, which means a bakery. It was awesome. We went there a lot for breakfast on the weekends or if I had a day off school and I was going to work with my dad. When I came here, everything was straightforward with the legal process. I struggled a little bit to apply for citizenship with the expense and it being time-consuming. I applied two years after I was eligible. My first panic attack [happened] during that year of the citizenship process. I had taken $800 saved and took it to New York to interview for a job that didn’t pan out. So I had to start from zero with the job search and with citizenship. On my 21st birthday, I woke up to a email that my friend Sophie wrote and copied 24-25 of my friends. They had helped raise the money for my citizenship. I spent the whole day crying because I was so overwhelmed.” Patty, 24.
It’s more about the people than places. When we get together with our friends, all of us sitting together having fun, reminds me of Syria because we left people we love behind, but we have people we love here that are like family to us. Heidi, 34.