Flying Kites in Idomeni 

Debra Kalmanowitz 

Kites were introduced into our art therapy sessions. Working in the small tent in the heat demanded that we work with all the flaps to the tent open so that we could breath. Exposed to all passerbys, what began as a group for only Afghani children and mothers, expanded into a larger more inclusive group (Syrian, Kurdish and Iraqi). Children were attracted to the activity of making and flying kites and filled the entrance and windows to the tent eager to join the group. In the beginning there was acrimony between the children. This was understandable in that this conflict reflected the conflicts in the camp at large, but we managed to create a safe and accepting space in the tent and children seemed to forget when coming together to make kites.

A combination of a lack of mobility and stuck-ness, the volatility and instability of Idomeni camp, the observation of random kites being flown in the camp, the understanding of the importance of kite-flying traditions as a hobby and art form in the Afghani culture, an understanding of the suffering and loss, survival and resilience, of principles of psychosocial support as well as the understanding of kites as a vehicle for play and as political and social resistance- were all good reasons to introduce kite making into a group with Afghani children and parents (Kalmanowitz, Lloyd, in press).

 
 

The kites interested not only the children, but two of the Afghani fathers too. Intrigued by the way we were making them, he offered his advice and showed us how kites were made in Afghanistan. Soon we were scavenging the camp for materials – broken and discarded tents and tent poles. These were perfect materials for building kites - the fabric - colorful and light, and the tent poles pliable - able to bend without breaking. Soon after this a group of Afghani adolescent boys were brought into the group. Taken by the kites, they took materials to their tent to experiment with different styles of kite making- returning to the group, with examples of kites much improved from the ones with which we had begun. We experimented with different versions, discarded fabric from tents, black bin liner bags, paper. The test was in the flying and with the right wind, the kites made with the tent fabric and the bin liners soured high above the camp and managed to stand up to the sometimes gusty winds that came over the mountains. About 30 children made kites by the end of the week, aided by myself, one of the adolescents or fathers.

When the wind allowed, children and adolescents were seen flying the kites and on one occasion, an RTI worker witnessed a touching interaction. On arrival late in the afternoon to the camp, the children brought the kites they had made to show her how well they flew. She described that is was a beautiful evening and as she watched, she witnessed an engagement, patience, attention and playfulness between father and children she had not previously witnessed. She described that for a while they all forgot where they were and just flew kites.

On another day, I arrived in the morning to find four of the adolescent boys making a kite in their tent. On stopping by, they looked up and asked me how to spell “Hello Macedonia” in English. I wrote it for them. They then asked me for more string. When I asked why – they explained that they wanted to create the quintessential kite with those words and fly the kite over the border into Macedonia. When it crossed the border, they would cut it loose and set it free.

To the unaware eye, making kites may have seemed like just making kites. And indeed it was making kites, but this creative, artistic and aesthetic endeavor held many of the principles of psychosocial work. Drawing on internal resources of the individual, the kites tapped into both very individual and personal strengths, memories and skills, as well as tradition and culture. They allowed for children and adolescents to work together - to solve creative problems, for a father to be a father -  with knowledge to impart to his children, as apposed to the disempowered man he had been forced to temporarily become, and for the adolescents to dream – to imagine themselves crossing the border - creating for themselves a life with potential - a future.