For refugees granted asylum, the transition to a new life abroad is anything but easy. In Germany, a theater group provides a creative outlet to help them come to terms with their often painful experiences.
Many members say the theater group has become a second family for them
Priscilla stands on stage and screams her lungs out in a gravelly yet captivating voice: "My feelings, your feelings, our feelings!"
The new play by Hamburg's Hajusom Performance Group is all about emotions and feelings. It takes its cue from India's melodramatic mainstream Hindi film industry known as "Bollywood."
But the cast on the stage here consists of young refugees in Germany. Their stories speak of trauma, hope, luck and fate.
"God, bring me to Germany"
One actor, Arman Marzak, dressed in a gray baggy shirt and jeans, talks about growing up in Afghanistan. He witnessed the beginning of the civil war as the Taliban seized power.
"We had a good harvest in our village, we had many carrots that last summer. There were so many carrots, and my brother and I were at a stream, washing them," Marzak said.
"Suddenly, there was gunfire, and bullets flew just a few centimeters above my head."
That story is now ten years old. Marzak fled Afghanistan as a child and arrived in Germany at the age of 13 - alone. A friend of his made it to Germany but was then deported.
"I saw his pictures and thought, 'I'm going there!' I prayed to God and said, 'Bring me to Germany and let me stay there,'" Marzak said.
Marzak has been in Hamburg for a decade now. At the Hajusom theater, he's already considered a veteran.
The group tries to provide a sense of security to refugees
Twelve years of song and dance
The theater project has been working for the past 12 years with young, often unaccompanied refugees. By way of dance, song and acting, the group helps them deal with and express their traumatic experiences in the past.
Everyone is welcome to join in, said Dorothea Reinicke, the group's artistic director and co-founder.
"Those who are able to draw some strength from the group, often find friends here. They notice that for the first time, their interest in learning new forms of dance or whatever else is taken seriously and developed further," Reinicke said. "They are the ones who stay and who are especially interesting for us."
But even participants who are shy or don't see themselves as well-suited to performing can take part, she added.
"Then it's our job to let them seek out what role they want to have on the stage and be part of the professional show."
A second family
Sahar Eslahi certainly isn't one of the shy performers among the group. She stands on stage and sings a love song from her home country, Iran. It's a melancholy song about lovers unable to find each other again during the war.
Even though she came to Germany with her mother, she often feels lonely. She has trouble finding friends that are the same age. She's been part of Hajusom for nine months now.
"It's a lot of fun for me, and I'm no longer alone. The people here are like a family for me," Eslahi said.
Aminatu, who's been performing with Hajusom for the past ten years, agrees. "We're like a big family here," the 22-year-old said. Many Hajusom members share her view.
Part of the reason the group is able to foster a sense of family is that it meets at least once a week. Along with rehearsals, there's also time for participants to talk with social workers who help them cope with what they've experienced.
"We want to give the young people a base level of security in their rather uncertain situation," Reinicke said.
Artistic director Dorothea Reinicke says everyone's welcome to join in
Problems fade on stage
Even though the young performers often bring elements of their traumatic experiences with war and crisis to the stage, Hajusom gives them the chance to leave the past behind.
When asked whether he talks with the other group members about his problems, Ousmane Diallo responds with a quick, "no."
"I come here just to have fun with the other people," Diallo said, adding that he forgets a lot of what weighs on him when he has a laugh with his fellow performers.
The 18-year-old fled from Guinea in western Africa, where he was forced to witness the murder of his father.
He has since gone through two rounds of therapy, but Hajusom, it seems, has proved the best treatment for him yet.
Author: Janine Albrecht (gsw)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar