Sunday, 24 May 2009

A seventh woman?

Back to wonderful John Berger’s book ‘A seventh man’, its title stemming from a data that in 1973, in Germany and Britain every seventh manual worker was an immigrant. If any of you reading this can work out contemporary equivalent of women or men worker I’d be very grateful. I’ll try and gather the data too.

I've found this bit from Berger’s text inspiring:

“A friend came to see me in a dream. From far away. And I asked in the dream: ’Did you come by photograph or train’. All photographs are a form of transport and an expression of absence.”

With his words in mind I am looking at a photograph of one of the 'guest worker' women I interviewed and her friend, taken outside the dorm in Potsdamer Strasse, where they lived in the early 70’s (image above). Dorms were provided by their employers, a modest accommodation they shared with other women, sometimes up to seven women to a room (number seven again). They are leaning on the car, a beautiful Volkswagen Beatle, and I am trying to add colour in my mind to the black and white photograph. The Beatle looks white (or could it be yellow?) and new and shiny. Their dress could be green/blue/orange combination (on the left) and yellow (or white?) and dark blue on the right; the material was probably polyester or acrylic. I can imagine it making static electricity with each movement, so when they touched the car they got a small snap, a tiny bite to the top of their fingertips. I hear them laughing and then leaning on the car, hoping the owner won’t come too soon. I don’t imagine it to be their car. They would have arrived recently to West Berlin, and were saving all their money to send home. They probably felt a tinge of guilt for buying the beautiful dresses, maybe spending their second salary on it. The first one was sent home, with a message that they are fine, treated well, and that they are earning German marks now, their journey and separation from home justified.

Metaphorically, they arrived in this Beatle. Stories of wealth and new opportunities have certainly influenced and still have an impact on decisions to pack ones bag and set on a journey. They traveled in the back of the car, dreaming of a moment when they will be behind the steering wheel. And they arrived not only in 1970 but again in 2009, they came in the timeless Beatle into my own life, and into my own story of migration and travel. And now I see them looking at me, and images which are neither theirs nor mine are showing themselves to me. In this translation between their wor(l)ds and mine, a (hi)story is emerging and their absence from all these years is demanding presence. They are here, they have arrived.

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