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By Henry AKUBUIRO
The opening gambit of the performance was a hypnotic scene. With frenetic steps, the cast of seven poets suddenly appeared at the dim lit Subterranea wing of SPAR, Ilupeju, Lagos, venue of the performance of the poetry play, Finding Home, standing sentinel for a while before a voice rang out interrogating the tempora mutantur.
The cast –Efe Azino, Titilope Sonuga, Tanasogol Sabbagh (a German), Obi Ifejika, Chika Jones, Ndukwe Onuoha, Adesola Fakile –are better known as performance poets. But, with Finding Home, poetry segued with drama, and the thespian transition came with relative ease. Elevated diction was a given on the night; song was thrown into the mix and theatrics trailed vocal renditions. Sentimental tunes played in the background to add to the surreal atmosphere. It was an eclectic experiment.
Much of the story was told in English, but the German poet, Sabbagh, codeswitched with Deutsche. If you couldn’t understand a word of what she said in Deutsche, relax: you could feel the energy and alternating emotions in her voice and gesticulations, which goes to show that it wasn’t hunky-dory yet. Still, it isn’t in real life.
Finding Home was first put together in 2014 by Efe Azino and his poetic ensemble, borne of the desire to explore the idea of identity, what with the tales of Africans forcefully migrating to Europe and its perilous aftermath either on the sea or in Europe itself. Some even perish in the Sahara desert before getting to Libya.
The recent CNN report of Africans being sold as slaves in Libya against their will elicited a backlash all over the world. What were they doing in Libya in the first place? Yes, they saw Libya as a gateway to cross over the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe. Many perish on the sea, while some make it only to lead a life of uncertainty in the west.
Africans aren’t the only ones fleeing their continents for greener pastures these days, though. No thanks to the Egyptian revolution in 2011, which saw the same happening in the Arab world, leading to civil unrests and wars in some cases, disillusionment has exacerbated, and everybody is heading to Europe for succour.
Finding Home explores the conditions that force them out of relative comfort into uncertainty in Europe, especially from an African perspective. In September, 2017, it was enacted in Berlin, Germany, with the support of Goethe Insitut. It was the turn of the Lagos audience to see the show once again on December 9 and 10, 2017.
Said Azino: “When you look at Libya crisis with many Africans crossing over to Europe, sometimes in the sea, it is very pathetic. It is one of the responsibilities of arts not just reflect society or interpret society but to also help shape it. That’s what we are trying to do.”
The storyline is verismilitudinal, for it echoes contemporary African realities. The ride on the defunct Nigeria Airways from their abode to Lagos was the catalyst to sing the blues of yesteryears, even today’s. Mind you, home is a metaphor for comfort, but when it turns to discomfort, do you still get rooted to the spot? For some, getting trapped in a dingy station of life isn’t worth it. A better home has to be found.
In the case of the characters in Finding Home, the dystopian reality in the countryside has made it inevitable to leave for the city. Lagos is the first port of call. Life, they soon find out, isn’t a bed of roses in the city, and the trajectory leads up north on the way to an imaginary oasis.
In the west, they are also unwelcomed guests. Doing menial jobs to survive and send money home, and taking to prostitution and crimes become a resort. Even at that, the police is after the illegal émigré. Running from pillar to post to escape the hands of the law becomes inevitable, but for how long? At the end, disillusionment stares them in the face and the flux never ends: where is home?
One of the narrators reminds us at the nadir of their hope abroad that “…desperation stalks us in this illusion” with “deflated optimism and punctured enthusiasm”. The bizarre twist to this tale is having promising African youths playing the Clarus and Gringory in Europe. Sad as it is, the dereliction of responsibility by African authorities is something of a concern here –not only the African youths with pipe dreams of Eldorado deserve the stick! Finding Home is germane to today’s socio-political talking point.