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We could be heroes

Pia Zammit and Mikhail Basmadjian in Lampedusa. Photo: Christine Joan Muscat Azzopardi

Pia Zammit and Mikhail Basmadjian in Lampedusa. Photo: Christine Joan Muscat Azzopardi

I finally got to watch Lampedusa, the play scripted by Anders Lustgarten and currently being produced by Unifaun at Spazju Kreattiv. As the kids say, it was intense. I cried, a lot, while trying to hide it so as not to freak everyone out. I also laughed, quite a bit. I walked out of there my emotions shred to pieces.

The topic? Migration.

Not again, I hear you groan. Because, let's be honest and ditch the politically correct smiles. Most of us, including those who harbour the strongest sympathetic sentiments about the issue, are fed up of it all.

By now, migration has become merely a prosaic part of our lives. We have come to expect and accept the headlines that tell us another boatload made it to Malta, or capsized halfway through and killed its hapless cargo. Our reaction typically is a shrug and an "oh well, imsieken", before we forget all about it and go back to what we were doing.

We have come to expect to drive past Marsa to see groups of migrants waiting for 'a bicca xoghol' to fall their way. We might huff and puff for a couple of seconds about how these areas of Malta have "become theirs", before we reach our destination and proceed with our happy, safe lives.

Migrants have become just something we deal with without actually dealing with - like the potholes, the heat, the very presence of the Med. And that's the best case scenario. The worst sees racism rearing its head on a constant basis, but I will not go into that here. All you need to do is click on the 'National' section of this website.

But back to Lampedusa. I will confess to being a tad sceptical before I actually saw it. I know what my views on the topic of migration are, and if this was going to turn out to be some attempt at preaching to the converted, I was worried that it would turn out to be a rather boring ride for me. What can I say? I should have known better, given the names involved in the production.

Lampedusa is, first and foremost, a story about two people; their lives, their defects, their fears, their dreams. The fact that each of their lives happens to be tied to the topic of migration is incidental, almost. What matters is that they are far from being perfect  - indeed, when it comes to migration, they pretty much voice the "I'm not racist, but..." sentiment that we are so used to voicing ourselves.

If only we could remember the people and their stories, as opposed to the statistics, racism would die a natural death

And yet, despite themselves, a series of events takes place to make them forget issues of race and citizenship to make them connect on a human level with these people they fear so much. And man, do they rise to the occasion when required to do so. The narrative progresses in such a way that, when our two protagonists  are suddenly risking everything they hold dear - the one his life and the other her job and dreams - to help "those people", any other course of action would have been unthinkable.

Because,suddenly, these are not "migrants" we are talking about, but real people with real names, real families, real personalities. Suddenly, the two protagonists (and, as a result, the audience) is not thinking of migrants but about a person who is going through some hardships, just like you and I. And who wouldn't want to help out?

With his script, Lustgarten has hit on the very solution for the migration crisis. These are not migrants we are discussing. They are our neighbours down the road, who have no money to pay their bills and might end up with their electricity cut off. They are that man we met at the grocery store, who told us how his heart is broken because his wife is still stuck in Mali and he has no idea whether he will ever see her again.

If only we could remember the people and their stories, as opposed to the statistics, racism would die a natural death.

You do not need to watch Lampedusa with any lofty ideals of making political statements. It doesn't matter if you couldn't give a flying duck about migration; you will still enjoy the play as straightforward, dramatic story. But I have faith that, even if you belong to this category, something deeper will stick to your subconscious, and herein lies the genius of the script (which Immanuel Mifsud did an amazing job with, translating to Maltese, incidentally).

Because Lampedusa comes with a moral, albeit a very subtle one that steers clear of self-righteousness. The moral is one that everyone can get behind: "we can be heroes, just for one day". The play comes with a happy ending, of sorts. And it's a happy ending that would not have been made possible without the selfless actions of our protagonists.

When asked by an audience member how come he chose this ending, instead of perhaps a more realistic one,  Lustgarten's reply was simple:  "I wanted to deliver the message that yes, we can actually do something about migration. It is not true that the problem is bigger than us. We can do more than go home and forget all about it."

We can be heroes, just for one day. And who wouldn't want that?

Lampedusa gets a final showing tonight and tickets are still available online here. If you are free go watch it, even just to enjoy a good, gripping story. The rest will happen naturally.

 

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