There have been 530,265 asylum applications in the EU over the last ten months. 2,988 people have died crossing the Mediterranean in 2015. The UK has accepted 216 Syrian refugees since January last year. The refugee crisis is all over the news, but it’s hard to imagine numbers. Map of Me scales it down to 1: a girl.
Aziza lives in this country, but she wasn’t born in this country. Map of Me is the story of her journey, across the sea, through the air, under the barbed wire of a detention centre and into the snowy streets of Scotland. Following her from the ages of 6-11, the play reveals the complexity of being a young refugee – expected to feel constantly grateful, whilst also missing home (“I’m sick of picking up other people’s rubbish and making it mine”). At the same time, it offers a straightfoward understanding of a loaded term: “Migration is a flock of birds searching for a better home.”
The play is a two-hander between Azfa Awad (Aziza) and Rosemary Harris (Woman), award-winning poets who also wrote the script. Their relationship is initially unclear: the woman seems to be a detention officer, marking off routine questions on her clipboard. “Name,” the woman barks. “Date of birth. Place of birth.” “Asylum seeker. Refugee. Immigrant,” the girl answers, her identity lost behind categories the world sees first. It is only after hearing about the young girl’s experiences, becoming her confidantes and understanding her as a human, that we eventually learn her name.
This is a no-frills production – the empty stage focuses all attention on the spoken word performances. It is a chance for Aziza to have her story heard, and she rushes to tell it, every bit of it, but sometimes there are so many words it’s hard to keep up. Gradually, more moments are given over to just a few lines, which really pack a punch. As Aziza and the woman realise the ways in which their lives intersect, their sentences do too, until they speak at the same time, one voice repeating the same phrases.
There is one question at the heart of Map of Me, one that Aziza is asked most: Where do you come from? She answers it with all her favourite things, lists what she doesn’t like, names her best friends and where she hopes to go to school. If you need to know, Aziza was born in Somalia, fled from Tanzania, and came “from uncertainty”, but that’s no measure of her life and who she is. Map of Me constantly asks the simple questions to show us that we have to look beyond them, to understand what those numbers really mean and to say, at the very least, “I can never be you, but I see you.”
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