#ArtIsMyLife | Armand

Giorgos Moutafis for SolidarityNow

“You need to have hope. If a star falls from the sky, it does not determine the end of the sky”

What can biochemistry and geology have to do with poetry and existentialism? “None” someone would answer with ease. But in Armand’s case, philosophy and science complement each other and can be used to better understand the world. It is no coincidence that at the door of Plato’s Academy the following phrase was engraved: “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”.

We met Armand at the International Book Fair of Thessaloniki this May. The French Institute, in collaboration with SolidarityNow, invited French-speaking artists-refugees, asylum seekers to participate in the parallel events of the fair. Armand took part, along with other Congolese. He wrote two poems, which were read by two women. Armand helped them to learn the rhymes and encouraged them to perform on stage. The poems’ words and metaphors in combination with the women’s performance gripped the audience.

Armand , 36, is a scientist and philosopher -as he states- who loves Paul Verlaine and writes poetry. He studied Biochemistry at the University of Kinshasa and Earth Sciences in France. “I am a philosopher. I like philosophy and I really like to ask questions about life”, he tells us. His need to capture his thoughts and feelings through writing began when he was a child. He wrote theatrical plays, which were performed at his school. His mother, a Professor of History at the University, always supported him. He wrote his first poem at elementary school. “I loved my mother very much. I wrote about her and about my life”, he says. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, having a book published isn’t easy. The government is not willing to encourage and support artistic initiatives.

When he grew up he decided to leave poetry for a while and study science. His wife, who is a doctor, she used to say that she didn’t know if she was married to a scientist or a philosopher/poet. “I love my wife; we met at the University”, he tells us and shows us their wedding photo. She is very beautiful in her white dress. He was in Moria (Lesvos), almost 1,5 years ago, when he started writing again. “When I was there, I wrote a note about the inhuman living conditions, which I wanted to send to the UNHCR, but also to the European Parliament. The Congolese community was afraid that this note would have a negative impact on them, so they stood against its publication”, he explains. After that, he felt that he had to find a way to express all the things he was experiencing. As a result, he created a refugee forum.

Armand came to Volvi last August. Because of his personality he quickly gained the trust and respect of his compatriots. They were coming to him seeking for his help and his advice. After reflection and following many discussions, he decided and created “Umoja” (in Swahili means “together”), a refugee forum. Once a week, the group members gathered to discuss and exchange views on various topics. They put a lot of personal effort and they managed with their own expenses to design and publish three journals. The first issue was dedicated to the political situation in Congo, the second one to the journey from Africa to Europe and the third one was about the integration in the Greek society. They distributed the journals in the Book Fair.

After a big break he started to write again. “I was very busy with the forum, but I wrote these poems because I wanted to participate in the Book Fair. So, I wrote about the situation I’m experiencing. But my poems are not self-referential; I tried to make them more general”, he says. The two poems are as if they are one, there is a logical sequence between them. The first is more existential, it’s about losing your identity and all the things that determine who you are. “I thought the best way to express the importance of existence was through absence”, underlines Armand . The second poem is inspired by the French song “Espérer” by Michel Sardou, and it is about hope. “You need to have hope. If a star falls from the sky, it does not determine the end of the sky”, he notes.

“The best is to come”, with this phrase ends one of his poems. “I’m optimistic and that’s what makes me stand on my feet right now”, he says. He had to ask himself many questions about the meaning of existence and his own life in order to be able to write. The theory of existentialism always accompanied him throughout his life. “When I was young I was writing about existentialism, without even knowing the theory. Later on, I learned what existentialism is and I realized I was writing about it without knowing it”, he adds. “I asked myself many questions about the relationship between existence and dream. I thought my life was a dream in another dream and one day I would wake up and realize that everything was a dream”, he states.

“I need to express myself through writing. I want to talk about the difficulties that refugees are facing. A friend of mine says that you decompress when you express your sorrow”, states Armand and adds “writing is a way to express something, is a voice from a desert that wants to be heard”. “Throughout my journey, I met and lived with many people. I had to strengthen my willpower because I wanted to get out of Moria. I was shocked by all this violence and the problems that the asylum seekers were facing in Moria. I was shocked by the fact that the international community left them there without doing anything. It was very important for me to write about all these things. I had an inner need to talk about how people are treated, about the deportations and the EU-Turkey deal”.

For the future, Armand is moderately optimistic. He is rational without losing his hope. The last five years he is seeking to find stability. We all need to feel safe, and especially the people who were forced to leave their homeland. “I don’t thing that my life will be improved in the near future, because my wife is not here. At the moment, there is too much instability. I have to continue my professional career, but here there are not opportunities. So, it is somewhat utopic to talk about improvement, but I think I will find stability, and I will have my life back because I think positively”, he says. 

*Armand is a beneficiary of the Child and Family Support Hubs program, which is implemented by SolidarityNow, supported by UNICEF, with funding from the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO).

**The Organisation Internationale De La Francophonie (OIF) finances French language courses for asylum seekers in Athens and Thessaloniki.

*** Iliaktida as UNHCR’s partner has the management of Volvi Accommodation Scheme, through IATAP