“My safety is in my loneliness”

Lucia Rikaki: “My safety is in my loneliness”
Interview by Mimis Tsakoniatis

On the occasion of the film “Dreams in Another Language”, Lucia Rikaki talks about her innovative vision on the issue of Greek educational reform.

I think that the crisis which Greece is currently going through is not a crisis on a material level, but on a level of conscience. And it is due to the completely wrong path taken by Education in our country. Therefore, the saying “Whoever thinks freely, thinks well,” which belongs to the revolutionary and visionary scholar Rigas Feraios was taken by our “intellectual” leaders in a completely perverted way. Our current education system operates as an extermination camp for childhood and teenage dreams. However, in the school of Faneromeni, located in an impressive building at the center of old Nicosia, an ambitious program of the Ministry of Education of Cyprus is being developed, opening up to the society. The place functions as a new home for many children of immigrants who, although they speak different languages, learn to speak, even to dream in another language. Greek! Dreams in another language... this is the title of Lucia Rikaki’s new award-winning documentary, and it sounds as a joyous bell in the depressing landscape that surrounds us, trying to awaken the Greek Ministry of Education from its deep sleep. It is an enlightening, tender and pioneering work by a woman who, apart from making documentaries and feature films, she is also the artistic director of two very important Documentary Festivals, of the highest organization standards (maybe the collapsing state apparatus should take notes?): The International Film Festival of Rhodes “EcoFilms”, which has been successfully running for 10 years (the 11th EcoFilms will take place on 22-27 June); and the Hippocrates Festival at Kos (the 3rd one will take place in September 1-6, this time at the Sotiria Hospital, in Athens), related to health issues, and the only one of its kind worldwide! “We change because we are sinking” proclaimed our Prime Minister in his pre-election campaign, but it seems that in this poor country, any serious, substantive suggestions don’t come from politicians, but from true artists like Lucia Rikaki. And the burning question is whether an educational reform in our country will be made at last, or if we will continue to turn the dreams of our children in nightmares beyond description.

In your documentary "Dreams in another language..." you address the serious problem of the education of immigrant children and their everyday life in a multicultural society. Is the model school that we see in your movie an initiative of the Ministry of Education of Cyprus?

This is a project called Educational Priority Zone, and it started as a field of the educational reform in France. Then the Cyprus Ministry of Education took it and implemented a pilot phase of it in four schools. Right now there is a similar provision in the new bill on education, to do something along the same standards. Perhaps the film could be used for the purposes of information, now that the training is going on and the implementation process begins in Greece.

So making this movie was meant to touch some sensitive chords in the Ministry of Education?

Certainly. I have made many efforts in this direction. As a matter of fact, it is now on the website of the Ministry. Imagine that, after one week of screenings in the Cacoyannis Foundation, the film continued until January, and schools were going to watch it in morning screenings. We had organized it. Of course, I do not know whether the operation succeeded. Luckily I found some people at the Foundation who agreed to take this risk with me, because it was a project that I did completely independently, without any official support. Meanwhile representatives of the Ministry of Education saw the film and responded positively. There was also the happy coincidence of the award in the competition section of the documentary festival of Chalkida. I certainly do not attach much importance to events such as awards, because I know it's coincidental. However, I see that in the mind of another, the public, the teacher, any hesitation that might exist until then, have left after the awards, and such people started saying “okay, let's go see it.” I can see it in the e-mails and the requests I receive for screenings: after the awards they have proliferated. I get requests from universities, schools. So it has started attracting the serious interest of the educational community.

What you’re saying, Lucia, is very important, as the education of children in Greece is totally obsolete. This is because school nowadays raises people with monolithic, ethnocentric thinking, who are heading for a culture shock when invited to live in a society that is a multiethnic mosaic!

Absolutely. And you see that, when you have this open approach to education, as these children at school of Faneromeni are taught, you actually give them important skills for tomorrow. I envied some of their courses, such as the religious class, for example, where the teacher is asking, “What has God taught? Love.” And then he adds that “what people are saying, that if you do something bad, fire from heaven will burn you is nonsense!” This is very important, because I think that what we learned in our childhood made us prone to guilt syndromes, regardless of how we processed it later. We grew up with strict orders, with the specter of sin and punishment.

This is the Old Testament notion of God as punisher. But here the children are taught more about the God of the New Testament and the Gospels, the God of Love.

In Phaneromeni, children are taught of this in the 5th and 6th grade, when they are in the phase when the basis for a different kind of thinking is formed. Besides, what this teacher teaches his students is mainly acceptance. What it means to understand the other and not trying to change him or make him think like me. So when you take an open approach of matters of history and religion in school, you reach another level. Upon seeing the movie, everyone commented on how wise these children are. Nothing was staged or acted. But the interviews with them were several hours long. As we were talking for long hours, their thinking had the time to mature. The most philosophical and existential confessions are towards the end of a conversation that lasted about two hours, and by then, the children’s thought and their anxiety stemmed from the deepest layers of their soul. At first they will tell you platitudes, but in the end their inner being will start to speak. And most important of all is that these kids express themselves in a language that is not their own, i.e. Greek. And they do it excellently. They formulate a thought, using correct grammar and syntax, and of course it has content, too. To me, that is pure achievement of the school. That is an education that equips you in order to know how to properly formulate your thoughts, to think analytically, to see the complexity, not to be monolithic. All these things are achieved in the school, and school can do that. It takes some people who have come from another country, it teaches them our language, but then it also teaches them to be and thinking citizens, from a young age already, which is all the more important because their family can’t do that. These children are poor, their parents work all day, most of them do not speak Greek, and this is reflected in the way they talk in the movie. And they don’t have time to deal with them as they come home late from work, and they may find them asleep. So what you see is really an achievement of the school, and it requires many hours of work in order to get there.

On the other hand, don’t you believe, given the flood of impoverished migrants into the Western developed world, because of the population explosion in Asia and Africa, the uprisings in the Arab countries, and climate change in the coming decades, that all these that we are talking about are somewhat romantic? We see how nationalism, racism and fascism have grown everywhere in recent years.

Yes, it is quite romantic. Unfortunately it is true, changes are violent, but on the other hand even in the desert there are always oases and islets. I think it is completely deterministic for these islands and modules to make substantial contributions to the extent that they can. I also believe very deeply that through things can evolve through random encounters. It may not be a revolutionary evolution, in the sense that it will radically change everything, but it still is important, to the extent that it keeps alive some islets, cells, or castles, because people who need to breathe, at some point they will find their way to these places. The others who find their place or get used to the state of things as it is, fossilized and still, and anyway they choose to stand by it, they would suffocate there. Nevertheless, because I believe that there is a sufficient number of people who think differently, everyone from his own side, you who do that and I who do to the other, we should come together and try to maintain as much as possible whatever light islets there are. Ensure that these oases remain fertile, because too many desperate people can find refuge there. As for example in the movie, when you see a teenager who leaves from Kurdistan because she isn’t allowed to go to high school there, and comes to the school of Faneromeni to learn to read, while she’s working at a shoe store. And despite all adversity she writes a short story which is awarded by UNESCO! This child then achieved something very important, if you think how suffocated she felt in her village, which led her to go and illegally register in the school, and she eventually succeeded. You can tell me that this doesn’t mean any radical social change, that she still works, and that ultimately she may never manage to change her fate as regards her job, but she can still smile and be happy because at some point she was able to translate her experience in a written text. And you can tell me again, so what! Yet it is important, and ultimately, all of this was possible because she met this teacher at this school, who helped her to transcribe her life experience into stories. And tomorrow she might write something else. You never know how it can evolve. Or even if she makes a traditional family and continues to just work in a shoe store, I believe that she will have something different to tell her children. You can not dismiss all those things as trivial. At some point in the film I tell in the voice over that the school can not fundamentally change the society around it, but it can equip these kids with what they need, so that it will be up to them to make a positive contribution to the society in which they will live. Because even small changes in the smallest communities are meaningful, I believe.

I for one always remember school as an oppressive, stupefying mechanism. And whatever essential I have learned, I learned it out of the school.

I remember school the same way. This is why I was moved by the school of Faneromeni and said “ah, how nice if I could be in this course,” which is discovery and play, and which tells you that all that you need you have it primarily in you. So it basically helps you discover things for yourself. It doesn’t impose any opinions on you, or dictates what you should do. Our school has always about memorization, ready solutions, and private courses. We never exercised our minds at all. But this is a completely opposite case. And then you wonder how a 13-year old can talk like that. But he does because he has learned analytical thinking. There is an awesome lesson in mathematics in the first grade, which hasn’t ended up in the film, a lesson which was delivered by the teacher in an incredibly interesting way using nuts! After that, you see the lesson of Greek beginning, and they all do Tai Chi together on the carpet. These are impressive things. The teacher says: “we are now opening, the day begins”! And then everyone is cooperating with the others. Or, when the little ones of the first grade get into fights, the teacher asks calmly a pupil if anyone has bothered him!

So, since you are so preoccupied with issues around the foreigners, I would like to close our conversation by asking you something more personal. It is human nature to feel a stranger. As the poet Karydis says in his namesake poem: “In this city we are strangers ...” Do you feel that feeling sometimes?

Very often. And more and more so, as I get older. And while I was very social in the past, very enthusiastic about parties and socializing, I’ve done a turnaround twelve years ago, and I really started to feel very uneasy with socializing and all the vileness that surrounds it, where everyone is a fake, pretending to be someone else than who he is. But I admit that I had been a regular actor in all this. That I, too, had my mask and everything. Until that time, I was feeding this system and fed in it. I was inside it. And then, at 37, a bell sounded inside me, which I cannot figure out who ringed it, but it was so urgent for me to hear it, as I realized that if I didn’t, I would run some risk... So I started to develop quite different elements of my character and to become almost quarrelsome. Because this was necessary in order to break the dry husk, so I had to do it a little more revolutionary. With clashes. Which was not very easy, because when everyone is used to your being in a certain way, and when you’re used to operating in a certain way, it is difficult to change. So, I stopped participating in social events, and I could not explain to some people why I disappeared. After that I left from their lives too. I found other friends, and inevitably I changed deeply. So now I feel that I am a foreigner too often. I have also chosen loneliness very consciously, even though earlier on I was afraid of loneliness and I always wanted to be in the company of others. But now I seek solitude. Of course, dealing with so many things, I have little time for personal life, but if I choose to do something that satisfies me, usually I will do it on my own or with very few people. Generally I find socializing to be a very tiring thing. I find it difficult to feel familiar, or not a foreigner, in the company of others. However, because the things I do open up to the people, inevitably I come to contact with many people. On the other hand I am very communicative, I have a Facebook page and many blogs, and I deal with them joyfully, trying to stay really engaged. At least in order to say my truth. But these relationships don’t transcript in human contact for me, either. At this time I feel the opposite of what was happening to me before. I feel that my safety is in my loneliness. I have a very small circle of people with whom we have been acquainted, we have quarreled and we have gone through all kinds of crises, and I feel that at least for some things we can understand each other. But these people are few, very few.

Of course, there’s also this other saying, “he who goes alone, arrives faster...”!

Oh yes! Otherwise one has to look over his shoulder all the time, to see if the other is keeping up (laughs).

So the other becomes something like the ballast in the ship, which you have to get rid of when struggling in the waves... But of course you should be careful not to reach to an extreme point and start throwing indiscriminately all crew members at sea.

No (laughs). You must keep your balance as best as possible, and not lose your humanity.

Published in Nemesis, issue 113.

Source: http://camerastyloonline.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/lucias-rikaki-synentefxi-ston-mimi-tsakoniati/