Belgium, the Netherlands, and the end of the project

IRSE, Africa and Europe has finished. In the last stages of the project in Belgium and the Netherlands we have found a neverending quantity of migration realities and worlds. We have seen the reality of sons and daughters of migrants, that live between one culture and another, of young migrants that struggle with a new language and new dreams. We have also seen the reality of refugees without legal status, who are requested to complete impossible tasks in order to obtain an official refugee status; like bringing back a passport from war areas or official letters from authorities of their home countries that confirm that they are threatening them.


We have had heavy discussions about if newcomers need to adapt to the culture of their new country and if undocumented migrants are necessarily criminals. We are very thankful to the group we worked with in Gent, with students from the VISO school, the Turkish Theatre of Gent and of production house the Kopergietery. We are also thankful to the students of the Koning Willem I College and the refugees of Het Vluchthuis of the Hague for participating in this last stage of the project.

And now we need time and space to reflect, to get used to not travelling, to reposition ourselves. After that, we will think of new projects, or new versions of IRSE. And of course, we will let you know about everything we’ll be doing.


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Misery is also here, no matter how well they hide it. These European countries that build monuments to remember de dead of the Second Word War and dedicated to the abolition of slavery.  Structures to remind us not to repeat those obscure episodes of the past. The politics of these countries promote – with the cynism of a farce – a perfect world of squandering and comfort. A perfect disguise for politics of prosecution and hatred. Here the municipal authorities ask the inhabitants of their city to report undocumented migrants; there is a true migrant hunt going on. Friends from Syria, Egypt of Subsaharan Africa, and so many other countries look for refuge and asylum, running away from misery and war. Whilst in this Europe the words “solidarity” and “liberty” are so popular, while there is so much talking about not repeating errors from the past. Here, in this Europe, a new world of farce – like so many others – is being constructed.




Because of a misunderstandig we weren’t able to present IRSE as planned in Madrid. At first, this is a big dissapointment for us. But we would understand – again – that sometimes things happen for a reason. The day our play was originally planned happens to be the day in which Spanish nationality is celebrated. Asides from celebrating Spanish national identity – with a military parade – it is also a day in which Latin Americans celebrate their (colonized?) identity.

We decide to tour through Madrid with a performance version of the play IRSE, that consists in images of wet ponchos, a bucket full of dirty water, and raising and putting down the wet Guatemalan flag. In the meantime, two police officers (actors) give them orders: “hurry up”, “stay here”, “let’s go”, “walk faster, this is not your country”.

With this performance we want to show another side of this Celebration. The side of complex mixed identities. That of a beautiful country like Spain in the midst of economic crisis, that of Latin American and African migrants that travel through this country or live here. We wanted to show another image, not that of the waving flags, and folkloric dance.

A minute after we start, the police stops us, and asks for our passports. One of the many Mickey Mouses on the Sol square lifts up its enormous head and a person pops out, points towards the dirty water in the bucket and yells with a Latin American accent: “That’s the situation of us, migrants”. Mickey Mouse and the real police officers, are also actors in this performance. The endpoint of our tour is the Columbus square, under an enormous Spanish flag…


The next day we travel to a land were no Spanish flag is waving; only the Basque flag. Although only five hours away, Basque country is very different from Madrid, where we saw a lot of people celebrating anidentity that is not the same in all the regions that are officially part of Spain.

On Tuesday we presented the play IRSE, a special that works with this specific issue of policy and identity. But before we also have a workshop with the Theatre of the Oppressed Group from Gipúzkoa and migrants of Latin American countries, Morocco and local guests from organizations like SOS Racismo.

All of them participate in a play with new images and new stories in the cultural center Guardetxe Banda Bat.


The next wenesday we travel to Nantes. In Hendaye (or Hendaia in Basque), we change trains and are able to see how Basque identity is fragmented by the official borders between France and Spain. In the streets we only hear French, while in Donostia we practiclly only heard Spanish. All the signs are in french, and Euskera (Basque) doesn’t appear on signs. But, also here, no French flags, but Basque flags are up in the air.

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After another stop in Bordeaux, we arrive in Nantes. We notice how weather and landscape have transformed since we initiated our journey in the Sahara. All the impressions, changes and worlds have left positive and negative effects on us.

In Nantes we worked with members of Armadillo Nantes – some of them from Guatemala others from France – who join us in an unique presentation (with appearance of the French anthem). The fact that we are working with people with more theater experience makes it possible to create new images and work some specific scenes; this will be very helpful during the rest of our journey. We present this time in front of  around two hundred people and we chat until midnight about all the topics that are present in the play.

We are almost in Calais.  A place, where migrants from Africa, Asia and specially from conflictive areas like Syria gather and wait to make their way to England. A city were the police presence makes it more difficult for them to stay safe, find food or shelter.

We will see what happens….


Saying goodbye to Tanger was really difficult, not only because we were leaving friends and partners behind but also because it was our last stop in Morocco, we were still in African territory and we were planning already new projects that would let us come back, the energy and brotherhood we founded in that continent changed us we were different people now renewed for all the work and conversations our friends left printed on us.

Living the migration in a different way, privileged and easier than millions of people wishing and trying for several years made us travel differently, more conscious, moving from a continent to another one in a short period of time and noticing how that sea divides more than territories, divides people, families, political thinking, fears, believes and goals. The frontiers make us believe that something to defend, guard and protect exists.

In the other side, in the city of Aljeciras we founded a marroqui community that welcomed us with lovely memories as the mint tea and the tajine to make the farewell easier. All the stores and hostels with recognizable names and the language that we didn’t leave behind yet, but the crowd was not the same even those who came from the African territory, living in “the other side” changes your soul, makes you protect everything you had fought for.


We had a meeting with the organization Algeciras Acoje, we exchange experiences, and common grounds, tears and hopeful strength about all the work people are doing to improve the internment centers, integration ways and the free circulation of people coming from Africa or Latin American to the European continent.

With a lot of energy we went to Madrid, a new world with a lot of surprises waiting for us.


Pretty face, Ugly face

After Laayoune we need to cross a large distance from the south of Morocco toward the North, the mediterranean sea. Where our next destination is: Al Hoceima. Everywhere we go we are considered tourists, and nobody really seems to understand the concepts of travelling theater artists. People want to show us Morrocco’s pretty face. The beautiful Medina (historic commercial center) of Fez with its small streets, ancient monuments and delicious local food. In Fez we meet many people that show us around and even have us over for lunch. How nice Morrocan people are!

We definitely see the pretty face, but at a certain point we ask ourselves… what are we doing here? We also want to meet the ugly face. The political situation, extreme nationalism (the king’s portrait is in literally every small shop). The situation of migrants: where are they? But te questions we ask aren’t answered, the little information we get is whispered.

 Al Hoceïma

 This changes when we arrive to Al Hoceima. We should have been received by AJMDR (Rif Youth Mediterranean organisation), but because of unclear reasons, which might include problems with authorities it didn’t happen. Luckily we had already been in contact with Mohamed, an Al Hoceima based theater artist. He and his musician friends Karim and Badr receive us the day we arive, and would treat us like kings for the time we stay.

They would not let us pay for any mail and arranged a place to sleep, although we hadn’t even arranged anything in advance. We feel a little bit bad, but we decide to go with the flow. We find out we shouldn’t receive this extraordinary hospitality with our (Christian?) guilt. Just with gratitude with our new friends and their friends.

We learn a lot about the Amazigh culture, about the repression of the language and culture and the struggle for their own identity. Of course we cannot speak about these issues in a very loud voice whilst on the street or in a restaurant.

The theater and music groups arrange an exchange meeting and a workshop, including local youth as well. IRSE has definitely begun.



In Ceuta we will be received for a morning by the “Centro de Atención a Migrantes San Antonio Ceuta”, but due to Spanish law, only three people can be in the car, so Guillermo decides to stay in the nearby town of Martil. Madelyn, Jorge and I travel towards the Spanish town on African soil.

The border is like so many borders; people offer us all kinds of services, although we don’t need or want them. There is chaos and tension. My Dutch passport is instantly stamped, but the migration officer doesn’t want to stamp the Guatemalan passports. Apparently Ceuta has different migration policies, than the Spanish mainland.

So just the Dutchman is welcome in Ceuta. Madelyn and Jorge wait on the Morroccan side of the border.

I cross the border with no problems. The hallway, a cage, seems to be made for cattle rather than for human beings. While I walk through a nearly empty cage for residents and Europeans, I see hundreds of people next to me, waiting. I guess they have to wait at least two hours to be able to cross. On the other side it’s Europe. On the other side Spain’s Guardia Civil awaits. They seem to be the only Spanish on the border, I only hear Morroccan languages and the people look like on the other side.

Maite – from the migrant’s center – waits for me on the other side to show me around in Ceuta and tell me more. The images and impressions are many, they are impressive. The mountains, the ocean, the view on Gibraltar on the other side. The Spanish military and flags. The wealth, the European architecture. The abrupt change. The countless subsaharian migrants that walk towards the CETI – Temporary Shelter for migrants – that according to Maite is not temporary at all. It looks like a prison. The fences that surround the small Spanish city. “Don’t you feel like your in…”. “No!”, says Maite. “Do you know what I’m going to ask?”, I say, “If Ceuta is like a prison? It isn’t. It’s a sweet prison”

The morning in Ceuta is over before I know it – although I could talk for days about all the impressions  – I’m going back to Morrocco. At the border the Guardia Civil is yelling and beating a group of people that carry goods. I can hardly get to the exit, as people are literally thrown towards me – apparently they can’t leave. On the way back I see Morocco behind bars, the garbage, the poverty that I am so used to seeing, provide with such a sharp contrast to the wealth of Ceuta. People hang against the bars and gaze towards the other side.




The 21st of September we arrive at the desert city of Laayoune. Capital of the non-existant country of Western Sahara. An urban oasis in the middle of sand dunes. A city full of friendly and hospitable people; some of them are born in the desert, others are from all over Morrocco and there are also Subsaharian migrants; some residents, some on their way to the Canary Islands.  It’s a city full of UN trucks and Morroccan police.

Our tourist guide warns us that migration processes will be complicated. After being amazed by the beautiful Saharian dunes from above, we start to get nervous as we are about to land. But although we need to answer many questions about our motives, we finally receive our stamps with mysterious numbers and we get throughcustoms without even showing our luggage.

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The Western Sahara is a region, that used to be occupied by the Spanish, till the seventies, and that is now a part of Morrocco, although many Saharawi – los habitantes originarios de la región – want it to be an independent country.

On the streets opinions differ, the cab driver that takes us from the airport to our hotel is originally from Rabat. When I ask him why he came all the way to Laayoune he defensively answers “it is the same country”.  A man on the streets asks if we’re from Spain and says “we were the 54th and most happy province of Spain. Back in those days everything was better”.  Another man, originally from Laayoune – that would later invite us to his house and give us delicious Morroccan tea and lunch – has a more moderate opinion. When he starts to talk about the subject he starts to speak softly, as if the walls were able to hear him. He talks about “when the Spaniards came” and “when the Morroccans came”, but he would prefer to see Western Sahara as a part of Morrocco to prevent another failed African state to be created. We never rememberd his name in Arabic, since it was very complicated, but translated to English his name is “God’s Slave”. ­­­We don’t hear many people that are in favor of independence, but we think this is because it is not a subject that can be talked openly about, and because the Saharawi population seems to be much more reserved and timid than the Morroccan population.

Laayoune seems to be a city that is still being constructed, with strange abandoned buildings, a new library that looks like a nuclear plant, a central plaza that looks very new and modern and is full of people at night, specially Saharawi mothers – in colorful typical dresses – and their kids.

It seems to be a quiet and peaceful city. People smile and say “be welcome” and “God bless you” The large presence of soldiers, policemen and royal guard reveal serious problems under the surface. As “God’s Slave” says; “this is going to take a very long time”


We weren’t able to do much theatre work in Laayoune. Because of language barriers we hadn’t been able to make an appointment with the local theatre. By chance we ran into the cities migrant shelter. We entered to see if we could speak to migrants and maybe even offer a workshop, but ladies living in the shelter that had enthousiastically waved at us when we were down in the streets rushed into their rooms, and never answered our “bonjour”.

In comparison to the first IRSE project we are much less involved in the migration theme; a big reason is a certain inability to communicate with people; this is another world for us. This feeling is very important to us; feeling like strangers, like foreigners is very valuable for our experience in this first part; we’re in an unknown evironment, everybody looks at us, we can’t communicate wel, and many times we don’t even know what signs and texts on walls mean.

After Laayoune we travel to Marrakech, after a journey of 14 hours. The bus station is directly linked to a modern European style train station. We see MacDonalds, we see touritsts, we see Morrocan culture for tourists and for money, we hear European languages and we know that we are back in the world of globalization.

We know prepare to travel to the Port city of Al Hoceima in the Rif area, whose mountains are a refuge for many migrants that travel towards the fenced Spanish cities – on African territory – of Ceuta and Melilla or to the otherside of the Mediterranean ocean; Europe. We are about to learn many things about the migration from Africa to Europe, about culture of northern Morrocco and… to work on our theatre.

Click HERE to see the blog of the experience on the migrant route between Guatemala and the US.