On June 24th 2022, volunteers from various projects hosted by “United Societies of Balkans”, joined volunteers from “Faros tou Kosmou” to carry out an intercultural story exchange activity. At the 3rd Intercultural Primary School of Menemeni – 3º Διαπολιτισμικό Δημοτικό σχολείο Μενεμένης – KDAP/Activity Centre, in Dendropotamos, we gathered in the music and reading room, children and adults together, sitting cross-legged on the floor. While there were many familiar faces, as volunteers are allowed and most welcomed to visit KDAP, which usually happens on Wednesday, many of the grownups were meeting the children for the first time, as for the newest volunteers of the short-term projects it was their first visit to the Activity Center.
The children showed great interest in the presence of the volunteers: they were very curious about the cameras that some took to document the activity, and there were many visible moments of teaching and learning, sharing and caring. The children were all playing with us: the younger kids, a bit more affectionate, the older ones, more playful with humour, with some of them even risking making use of the English vocabulary they know. We were all sharing good energies. There were many moments of laughter and, of course, the occasional “shush” from the teachers.
With more or less distractions in between, we listened to traditional stories from different places. So that we could all understand what was said, each tale was told in three languages: first, a little bit was said in the native language, then the same bit was translated into English, then into Greek, and then back to the native language. We started the journey with the mapping: before each tale, we had to find on the map the country where that tale belonged.
Our journey began in Greece, where, through the voice of one of the students of “Faros Tou Kosmou”, we discovered a tale in βοιλάνενς, the dialect spoken by the Greek Romani community. It is worth remembering that a dialect is a variety of a language that is characteristic of a particular group of the language’s speakers. So, this tale was told in two different ways in the same language and then translated into English. It was pleasurable to listen to the vocal sounds produced by two varieties of the same language – standard Greek, with the accent of the residents of the Thessaloniki region, and the βοιλάνενς dialect – and then following the plot with the help of the English translation. We continued our journey through Europe and Caucasus and discovered Italy, Georgia, Finland, Armenia, and Turkey on the map, listening to the musicality presented in each of the different languages through their stories.
Kids and grownups had a good laugh seeing Pinocchio come to life through the performance of one of the Italian volunteers, with special emphasis on Pinocchio’s nose prop – made of toilet paper tubes, with an added trick that made the nose grow. The expressiveness of the Georgian storyteller made us all smile, as we were laughing before we even got to the translations.
We took a break in between to relax and have some snacks, and we proceeded to continue our journey to Finland, where we had a taste of the mythology of the North, with ducks, wizards and deities with unfamiliar names. In Armenia, we learned about the legend of the king who wanted to trick others and got tricked, and, in Turkey, the interpretation with voices for each mystical character shone. We returned to Greece to finish our stories, listening to another Romani tale in βοιλάνενς, but we still had time to take a quick hop over to Portugal and listen to a couple of songs played on folk guitar and sung in Portuguese, thus ending our incredible and inspiring day.
Preserving stories, tales and legends through the act of storytelling is a task that can go somewhat unnoticed in the society we live in today, where oral transmission no longer carries the same weight it did in past centuries. Making these tales and legends reach different peoples through moments of bonding is a sacred task, for in our differences we also find our similarities, and in discovering our similarities we learn how humanity is so connected from within.
It was a very beautiful afternoon of affections, togetherness, and multilingualism. The universal language of love being the language that needs no words, and children being the wisest and purest speakers of this language, it is wonderful to be able to share these activities with these children. To receive their pure and unprejudiced wisdom, to receive their smiles and hugs, helps to recharge energies for our day-to-day life and also helps not to let our own inner child die. The invitation is open to all the volunteers who would like to visit KDAP.
Words by Eunice and Images by Jan