#ArtIsMyLife | Sami

Giorgos Moutafis for SolidarityNow

“I am an artist and I will die as an artist” 

“I have my life back home”, says 33-year-old Sami who fled Congo to come to Greece. He has been living in Greece since December 2016. His long journey began from Moria, Lesvos and ended in Thessaloniki. We are sitting at the lounge of the Blue Refugee Center of SolidarityNow in Thessaloniki. He takes out of his backpack his drawings and he shows them to us. He has drawn an African woman wearing a traditional uniform and an African mask. As he explains us he was inspired by his Congolese heritage. Sami created these drawings in Greece. “My Greek teacher in Moria, gave me some markers and Ι came up with the idea to create these”, he says.

Sami has studied art since he was a child. He began when he was in kindergarten. When he was 12-years-old he took painting and sculpture lessons, and afterwards, in University he studied interior design. He graduated and created his own small company. He is showing us pictures of his work. “I miss my job very much. It was my whole life. This is my house. I designed the interior. I lost all of my photos. I lost my portfolio”, he tells us.

Sami is married with a beautiful woman and they have two children -one boy and one girl. He shows us a picture of them. They look happy together, but this image belongs to the past. The last 2 years Sami lives apart from his wife and his two children. “I lost everything. I lost my family. When I came to Volvi, I tried to face the new reality. I couldn’t change the situation, so I just accepted it”, he notes. Life in Volvi was harsh. The small spa town of Volvi is 50 km away from Thessaloniki. Living in a remote area can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. “Life was difficult in Volvi. I was anxious, I wanted to work but I couldn’t focus”, he underlines.

Some people discovered his talent in painting and encouraged him to create an art-piece. They were very persistent, and Sami made three drawings in order to leave him alone. Everyone was amazed by his talent. This reception of his work gave him the motivation and the courage to continue and produce more art. “When I am in pain art helps me a lot”, he stresses. “How do you feel when you paint?”, we ask him. “When I paint I feel inspired. I am disappearing. I am not here anymore. My mind is on the painting, everything goes there. I am experiencing the whole process from an external point of view. When I am drawing I am not present. When I finish, I return and I see the result. After 2 or 3 days I look at my paintings and I am wondering if I created them or someone else did it”, he answers.

The last few months Sami moved to the city of Thessaloniki. His life has changed a lot. In the meantime, he has been granted asylum in Greece. So, he decided to take Greek and English courses, something that will help him to communicate easier with the locals. “I have started to understand how the Greek society works. I have to make an effort to integrate here”, he states. Sami didn’t know many things about Greece. He started to discover it when he came here. Now his goal is to share with Greek people something from himself. “I arrived here and I learnt more things about the Greek culture and history. I want to show to Greek people that we also have history and culture and I want to do that through my painting. I want to give them something back”, he says.

“I am an artist and I will die as an artist”, Sami tells us. We ask him how he imagines his life in Greece. “I see myself as a great man. I think that people will appreciate my art, because I want to give them something. I know that I can do things, great things. However, I need opportunities to express myself”, he answers. At the moment, Sami is looking for a job. He needs to gain money and make some savings to send them to his family in Congo so as to help them to come to Greece. He is really worrying about them. “Since I am not home, life is difficult for them. I am responsible for their lives and I don’t want them to be in pain. I will never forgive myself if I learn that they are suffering because of me. That’s why I am doing all these things now. I wish them to come and live with me”.

*Sami 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