I have been on a journey where no passport control is necessary and the only
check points encountered are bright surges of pleasure alerting me to the
gorgeous richness of life through which I’m being propelled. I have been around
the world in a few hours and understood the intentions of people who speak in
I have watched a Dutch actor imitate, in Dutch, the cranky German teacher he
once had. As he stood at the front of the room, spluttering and railing I, with
all the others in the audience, become the oppressed, long-suffering, resentful
student who will never forget having to endure such awfulness.
I have felt the stark, penetrating thrill of violin strings, quivering under the
guidance of a powerful, merciless bow to express Bartok’s composition of old
Hungarian folksongs. At the end of this solo piece, my cheeks are stuck to my
teeth, my mouth is dry – I have temporarily forgotten how to swallow.
I have laughed at cutting ironies about American hegemony told in the verse
of a Libyan poet. I have seen tattoos, poverty and ugliness made achingly
poignant through a beautiful photo-essay. Bang Bang. I have been startled out of
complacent judgements to see things anew.
I have learned the word ‘psittacophile’ and, through a recited short story,
glimpsed the troubled soul of one such lover of parrots. I have felt the Tunisian
sun in the warm, lyrical sound of Anouar Brahem playing the lute accompanied
by a clarinetist and a percussionist. Their melodies caressed the hair on my skin
the way a breeze does the grass on the belly of the earth. Their teasing, touching
tones lapped at my ears as the cool sea does at hot feet: releasing, reviving.
I have been to the streets of Accra and, thanks to some evocative prose, smelled
groundnuts on the breath of policemen who practice a justice as arbitrary as dice
throwing. I have sensed the anguish of Palestinians and heard the urgency of their
case through the glinting, blade-sharp lyrics of rap group Dam. I have yelled for
peace in Palestine, while the thud of a heavy base pounded so loudly in my chest it
almost erased my own heartbeat.
I have spent an evening at the Border Crossing Festival.
During the course of the first night’s programme I moved seamlessly across all
these mediums, subjects and styles – spurred on by what can only be described
as passion. The passion of the artists, expressed through their various prodigious
talents. Such performances make you realize that sometimes no translation is
necessary. It is enough to grasp and enter the spirit of the moment. It is enough
to open your mind and step across that line – of language, belief, unfamiliarity,
whatever. One small step, and the divide is momentarily invisible.