Children of Roots

16 Feb

Part of what we do for a living (now and hopefully for many many years to come) is giving a variety of workshops to children and adolescents. It’s very rewarding and beautiful work, and gives us insight to our art as well. Mark gives robot-building and puppeteer workshops, while I give circus classes and film workshops.

That’s what brought us to Holland this week: we’re teaching students at an international school how to make a documentary. The subject of the documentary, as well as the filmmaking crew, are the students themselves. While they learn the basics of filmmaking, the camera work and directing, they’ll also be learning to stand in front of a camera (and the rest of their class) and give poised replies.

The topic of the documentary is their own multicultural background and their personal experiences or issues with it. They’re at the age of 14, when the quest for personal identity starts to rumble their souls. The who am I, where is home, where am I going earthquakes, avalanches and soul-blossomings thereafter. This workshop is help them voice their thoughts and perhaps possible inner conflicts, hear fellow students’ stories and thoughts on the subject – and all in all become more aware of the question of roots and cultural heritage.

To give the workshop a unique slant, Mark and I created the figure “Ochoa”, which Mark then made out of foam material. Ochoa is a small South American potato who was, according to our film Children of Roots, exported to a German potato field. Ochoa climbs out to explore his new home and asks the people he meets the question of home, roots and how they keep their cultural heritage alive. Mark and I made the puppet-documentary in September 2009, then went on a film tour through northern Peru, showing the film at schools and group meetings in the area of Lambayeque. We filmed the tour and interviewed the people who saw the film, and subsequently added it to the puppet-documentary, thus creating an extended version of the film.

And always using the potato as a symbol for roots and integration. We figured that all a potato really has on its mind are, well, roots. Literally.

The topic of roots, travelling and the quest for one’s home is obviously something international students can relate to. Most of them have lived in at least three different continents already, have been exposed to cultures and languages as diverse and unique as it gets.

Like most international schools, the one we are working at has been constructed to feel very much like a home. Ofcourse a school is a school is a school, but the atmosphere is exceedingly welcome, open-minded and friendly. One student complained to us in private: “Sometimes I think it’s too nice. What would we do if we were ever confronted with a bully? We wouldn’t know how to act.”

In the comfort of the nest, everything is softer. The students are taught to be tolerant towards different forms of expression and cultures. It can be a terrible slap in the face to go out into the “real” world and see that not everybody believes in tolerance and the beauty of diversity. To be stereotyped and classified because of the country you were born… that may not even be the country you consider home!

It’s true that these students can have a hard time stabilising their roots once they leave the comfort of the school. By the time they graduate, most adolescents will have become so used to being on the road that they have a hard time actually staying in one country for a period longer than 5 years. They are trained nomads with the itch to travel and disbelieving shock at the thought of: “What do you mean, stay here for the rest of my life?!”

The wider the horizon, the wider your world. But where is home other than the place you keep leaving? Is it in your next destination, the next adventure around the corner?

Is it in the ones you love? Do you buy a house in the countryside, stash all your stuff there, and whenever abroad, call that home?

Or do you find it perhaps, in your self? A moveable home, kept warm by the pumping of the heart, and the laughter and sorrow that fills it?

I grew up just like the students in my workshop did, and I constantly find myself wondering what place my childhood friends call home. I live in Germany but I don’t consider it home. I’m technically half-German but I don’t feel German, not one bit.

Perhaps what “home” actually means is γνῶθι σεαυτόν.

Know Thyself.


10 Responses to “Children of Roots”

  1. Mazen February 18, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Wow! Great one Ritti! Moved by it.

    • rittisoncco February 23, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

      Thank you so much, Mazen. It means a lot to me that you guys are watching and approving. I’d really like to get everyone together at some point and interview us on looking back, and show it to the kids who are going through it right now. Thanks again my friend!

  2. nankas February 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I loved the concept from its birth Ritti. Congrats on the project. After attending six different schools from kidergarten to grade 12, switching bewteen British school systems and American based ones, two different continents, four different countries (now five) and exposed to a wide range of foods, cultures, traditions, languages, religions, etc. I agree, home just may be as simple as knowing yourself. Even well into my adult life, I still pause to think when I am asked “So where is home for you?” Do I name my birthplace, where my family lives, where I had the most fun, where I now live…the search for identity and sense of belonging is like a name tag some people who have grown up in such a way may have to carry for the rest of their lives.
    Keep up the fantastic work and I hope you do get to do this for many many years to come 🙂

    • rittisoncco February 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

      Dear Nancy, thank you so very much for your lovely words of support! It means so much to me that people from (I’m going to simplify it by calling it this) “my background”, support my work. It has been a VERY rewarding experience and now we’re working on getting more schools interesting in offering this workshop experience to their students. They were bright-eyed and eager, open-minded and friendly, and when given a lot of responsibility, carried it with great capability. Mark and I are both under the impression that these kids grow up faster (well we already knew this, didn’t we!), as they are exposed to the world quicker. That leaves us all branded with the problem and delight of not really knowing where home is, spreading the blanket of home all over the planet, and being able to rest our roots pretty much anywhere. Sometimes, it breaks my heart, but I would never want to change it if I could!

      I would really like to do a documentary on the adults who experienced this in childhood, and hear their thoughts on it. It’d be great to hear from everyone around the world, and find out how we truly managed to cope with it. I know there are so many problems involved, but every problem is there to strengthen you in the end. And here’s a funny anecdote: I bought a book by a Nigerian writer at the international bookshop in Amsterdam, while we were in Holland. It’s a collection of short stories called “Say You’re One of Them” and the last one I read is set in Nigeria. And ever since then, I can’t stop speaking pidgin english! Mark is really annoyed with me because he can’t understand me (except when I say “wahala”. He’s figured that one out by now) and keeps demanding I speak properly. And I reply, “I can’t oooo. This be my native tongue, this how I talk, abi!”

      We can swim in all rivers, oceans and puddles of the world, and if anyone asks me where I come from, I’ll reply, “I can swim here, I can swim there. I’m a fish.”

  3. ThatOneMan February 27, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    How have I not commented on this?! Your post is truly splendid, as is your work on Children of Roots. You have hit a tender spot on my third-culture-kid heart with a healing, nostalgic ointment that makes the horror of existence in a foreign world seem a little less frightening. If for no other reason than evoking the feeling that we are not alone. Thank you for that!

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