"A'Slama" poetry slam project

What issues are young people in Tunisia concerned with today? The answer seems to be everything from major political and social revolutions, to day-to-day matters like family life and love. As part of the "A'Slama" poetry slam project in Tunis, young Tunisians put pen to paper and tried their hand at composing their own texts – in German.

NO!! You are human. A human being, favoured by Allah. So stand up! Hold your head high! Never stand still, keep moving forever forwards. - Wiem Bech
Who feels like they are truly free?! Who feels fully satisfied?! How can we define what it is to be free? All I have found so far, is this: Freedom is the air I breathe. - Islem Kabtani
I have only one thing to say to you: You are wasting valuable time and are stuck in a vacuum. "Salah El-Dine" is not coming back. He cannot live twice. Those from yesterday cannot live today. We need new Salah El-Dines, with new spirit and new ideas. We need you! You are your own hero! You are the sword of new life! Stand up! Trust me! We are no longer headless now you are here. - Feriel Hechemi
Invalid beings must always be that way! Living alone in a cage, Under the tyrants' rule, Waiting for death. - Mossab Ben Naceur

Ibn Rachiq House of Culture in Tunis provides a platform for those working in the cultural sector to engage with colleagues and the public. The House shows international films, hosts lectures and allows artists to exhibit their work. An inviting space with enticing corners and a tranquil garden – a “wonderful setting” for creative work, says Lena Schröder, a former CrossCulture grant recipient who was able to realise her own creative idea here.

With support from the funding programme CrossCulture Plus, Lena Schröder was able to bring her project “A’Slama” to fruition in June 2014. As part of a poetry slam, twelve Tunisian students of German language and literature were invited to put words to aspects of their everyday lives. In Germany, this type of literary competition has a long-established following – while in Tunisia the scene is small, though very lively. As at typical poetry slams in Germany, poets at “A’Slama” were asked to write on any subject of their choosing. There was just one criteria… The slammers had to compose their texts in German. Initially, the idea of writing in a foreign language was unnerving, as some of the participants had only been learning German for two years. But sure enough, slam fever cancelled out any nerves or embarrassment.

 

A spontaneous idea over coffee

“A’Slama” is Arabic for “Hello”. But with a little imagination it can also be read as “a slammer”, as in a poetry slammer. Lena Schröder had the idea for her project during her CrossCulture internship in Monastir in 2013. It was during this time that she met Farah Bouamar. A slam poet with Moroccan roots, Farah is a member of the German Muslim poetry slam club “i,Slam”. Together they cooked up the idea of a joint project in Tunisia: “One day we were having a coffee together and were letting our imaginations run wild,” Lena Schröder remembers. “Wouldn’t it be great if we brought i,Slam to Tunisia – like a holiday workshop?” She made an application, and CrossCulture Plus provided the necessary funding. For the twelve participants, the poetry slam workshops in Ibn Rachiq House of Culture offered a chance to get creative and experimental. With the help of three coaches from “i,Slam” in Germany, they were able to work on expressing their ideas and perfecting their style. “Even after only a few hours they had all absolutely blossomed, and were working very productively and creatively,” recalls Lena Schröder.

 

What future does Tunesia want?

The way in which the slammers approached their individual subjects varied from person to person – from comic, to dramatic and melancholic. Yet it was clear just how much young Tunisians are concerned with their country’s on-going political transformations since the departure of Ben Ali, and the social changes all this has brought. The participants’ works provide a glimpse of their experiences, and pose questions concerning the future of the country: How relevant is patriotism today? What roles should Islam and traditional values play in post-revolutionary Tunisia? How can Tunisia remain a tolerant and diverse society? And what path should the country follow now – socially and politically?

Salah El-Dine is not coming back

 

Report: Dominic Konrad

Photos: Tunislam