SOCIETY

Migrants play out their stories at the National Theater

When Bakkar Hussein Albakar from Syria, Irfan Muhammad Arif from Pakistan and Barkat Hosseini from Afghanistan first arrived in Greece just shy of a decade years ago, they could hardly have imagined that one day they would be walking the boards of the Greek National Theater.

The three men are currently performing in ?Homelands,? a play written by Michalis Reppas and Thanasis Papathanasiou — popular stage and film writers best known for their comedies — on the subject of immigration.

Penned in the style of a docudrama, ?Homelands? is a narrative based on authentic letters and diaries written by Greek emigres throughout the 20th century, juxtaposed with the stories of three modern-day immigrants who made their way to Greece.

Kathimerini met up with the three actors shortly before their afternoon performance.

?We are not actors, but we would like to be,? said Albakar — the chattiest of the three as he has the best Greek — who explained that the three met while attending an acting class run by Yolanda Markopoulou at the Synergeio Theater.

?It is different here at the National Theater,? added Hosseini. ?The audience looks at us more than the others, because they already know about the Greek experience. I feel at every performance they are thinking, ?Let?s see what kind of tribulations you went through.? This is what I think about every time I walk onto the stage.?

None of the three expect to make a living from the theater and they have not given up their regular jobs — Albakar is a plumber and air-conditioning technician, Arif, the eldest of the three, is a warehouse assistant, and Hosseini is a construction worker or kitchen assistant, depending on where there?s a day?s wages to be made.

The scenes in ?Homelands? in which they perform are based on their own experience of migration.

?There is nothing false,? said Albakar. ?Of course there are parts that are completely personal, but the journey concerns thousands of migrants. Thousands face these hardships, thousands perish in rivers, thousands end up in jail, thousands have disappeared in Turkey or on the borders,? explains the Syrian, who made the journey from his troubled country eight years ago to Greece via Turkey.

All three hail from villages, and the greatest impression was made by the Greek capital itself.

?It?s a different civilization, a different culture. It is certainly a different world,? said Albakar. ?It has nothing in common with what we knew. When we first came things were hard because we couldn?t communicate; we felt out of touch. At first I would only leave the house to go to work, but because I wanted to learn the language, I began trying to meet more people. If you don?t go out into the world and communicate with the people who live in this city you will never understand them. I love Greece. I have traveled around the country and I like it everywhere.?

Arif has also traveled around Greece. ?I saw mountains for the first time here, as well as the sea,? said the Pakistani. ?Every time I go to the beach, I forget all my troubles. When I dive in, all my anxiety goes away.?

The language was not their biggest obstacle when they first arrived, but getting legal status. Arif and Hosseini have applied for asylum, while Albakar has a temporary visa.

After almost a decade in Greece, none of the three are considering returning home.

?How long can you run for?? asked Albakar. ?As an immigrant you go to a country, you learn the language, meet the people and make friends. It is hard to start all over again somewhere new. Greece is the last stop for me. There is respect here, modesty, help. In Greece a neighbor or a friend will give you a plate of food or a place to sleep.

?The truth is that I want to stay in Greece forever, but I won?t find my family here, my people, my village,? he added.

Arif is keen to return to Pakistan ?to find a wife and then to come back to Greece.?

Hosseini is emphatic: ?I never want to go back to Afghanistan. Everything I have learned in life, I learned here. I want to return to Afghanistan only as a tourist; to visit where I grew up. I see nightmares of me taking the sheep up to the mountain.?

Hosseini, Albakar and Arif are joined on stage in the Greek narrative scenes of the play by Vangelio Andreadaki, Thanasis Efthymiadis, Stavros Karayiannis, Eleni Kokkidou (whose grandfather?s biography is part of the play), Panayiotis Tsevas (who also contributed family letters) and Taxiarchis Hanos.

?Homelands? is on at the National Theater?s New Stage Wednesdays to Fridays at 9 p.m., Saturdays at 5.30 and 9 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., until May 13.

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National Theater New Stage, 22-24 Aghiou Constantinou, Omonia, tel 210.528.8170/71