Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Features: We can: theatre production tackles plight of refugees by BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI

 A scene from the musical production We Can (Tunaweza) at the National theatre
A new musical theatre production titled We Can (Tunaweza) is a story that presents the dreams, aspirations, anxieties and challenges that confront refugees before and after they have left their countries of origin.
The production was recently staged at the National theater by a group of youthful urban refugees and selected Ugandans under the Refugee Youth programme. It was supported by Inter-Aid Uganda, the Makerere University School of Liberal and Performing Arts (SLPA), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office of the Prime Minister.

The play that was free of charge for the public revolves around Mamerito Olave (played by Mamert Olave Nizigyimana) the main character, a businessman in his mid-30s, his family and fellow refugees: Lewis and Jaures.

The production begins with Mamerito pacing up and down his living room. He is restless, uneasy, and in deep thought. He soon breaks into an outburst lamenting over bad governance in his country.
“No! No! It is impossible! This is a problem! We cannot continue like this,” Mamerito says. “The bad governance has affected all sectors…Look at businesses…we cannot make profits because of the high taxes. If things do not change, how am I going to achieve my dream? I was planning to build a house for my family just like other people have done, but now…”
His wife Suzan (Mama Baju), in her early 20s, storms into the living room, and angrily throws an opposition party membership card at him. She quarrels against her
husband’s stance, worried that the young family will get killed. Mamerito attempts to convince her that he joined the opposition party in the hope that they would get to see the change that they need in their lives and society. But Suzan does not seem to agree.

The ministry of internal affairs and public security issues a public announcement informing the citizens that there are suspicions of rebel presence in some communities in the country. The public is requested to be on alert, to move with their identification documents wherever they go. The public is also asked to report any suspicious people or activity in their area to the nearest police station.
The rebels attack people’s residences and destroy houses. Mama Baju runs off with her two-year-old son Didier, while Mamerito rescues their eight-month-old daughter Baju. They run in separate directions.

With no more shelter, the citizens, together with Mamerito who has run back for safety, find themselves in ‘dangerous places.’ The people start running away from the spaces they consider dangerous. Baju gets an attack due to the coldness in the open. Mamerito can be seen in panic trying to save the life of his baby.
He scampers for various remedies and administers a herb in the hope that the child will be saved. This does not help and after a few minutes, the baby dies. Mamerito tries to get up and find protection from the police. Instead, they seem to have come to punish him, thinking he collaborated with the rebels. They start to beat, kick, and torture him.

They only leave when they think that he is dead. After their exit, other people rush to help Mamerito, who is still alive. Together with other refugees, Mamerito crosses into Uganda. They are faced with language barriers and struggle to adjust to the new foods in the host country.
After settling in Kampala, Mamerito writes a letter to Suzan with money for her and their son to join him in Uganda. Mamerito starts hawking fresh foods and vegetables in the suburbs of Kampala in an attempt at realising his dreams as a successful family man. Each day is an encounter of many things; language barrier, nostalgia, loss of his child and loneliness. He wishes that his wife can join him anytime soon.

No sooner has Suzan arrived than Mamerito is arrested by city authorities for hawking. Lewis takes advantage of the helpless Suzan by promising to keep Mamerito from prison provided she sleeps with him. Jaures and Mamerito get Lewis in the process of trying to lure Suzan into a sexual escapade. This injures the relationship between the refugees.
A woman in a Kirundi dance in one of the scenes in the play We Can at the National theater
Upon Jaures’ advice, the production ends with Mamerito abandoning the hawking business and taking up an entertainment job a the hotel in order to secure the economic survival of his family.
The story is told through traditional music, live band music, rap, hip-hop, traditional dance, contemporary and modern dance, body percussion, mime and street dance, among others.
Mamert Olave Nizigyimana, a Burundian refuge in Uganda, told The Observer: “These are the problems we face as refugees. This is a true reflection of what I went through when I fled Burundi. Life is like a flowing river with many turns and bends. So, you have to be tough in order to reach or achieve what you want.”

“A life of a refugee is very difficult. When you flee your country, most times you leave with nothing, which means you have to work very hard to start a new life. Sometimes you don’t know the languages of the host country and which take a long time to learn. We [refugees] have several talents and need support in order to exploit them,” Nizigyimana added.

The executive director, Inter-Aid Uganda, Scholastic Nasinyama, thanked the Ugandan government for welcoming refugees.
“When you give them [refugees] such opportunities [drama] they can explore their talents. It means we have very many talented people among the refugees,” Nasinyama said. “We thank the host communities for being accommodative. Every one of us should support them because they are like you and I and most are from neighbouring countries.”
According to Unicef, Uganda currently hosts more than 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. About 65 per cent of the refugees in Uganda are children under 18 years of age and more than half are adolescents, including unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable children affected by conflict and facing further protection risks.

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