Two weeks ago, the GRC was transformed into a cultural experience open to the Greeley community. The office was turned into a buffet room featuring dishes cooked by a few of the GRC’s most loyal clients. The basketball courts outside the office became a stage for an interactive African drum and dance performance. And as the sun set, the playground became center stage for this incredible event.
After experiencing the traditional food and entertainment of just a handful of the countries represented by the GRC’s clientele, the hundred or so attendees of A Walk in Their Shoes were ushered onto the open field near the playground to experience Passages, a simulation game created by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. After splitting into “families” of about ten people, naming their families and being assigned roles within the family, the game began. While our game was only a fraction of the game assembled by the UN, the attendees still got a taste of the refugee experience.
They participated in four simulations including a night in the refugee camp, crossing the border without knowing the language, finding shelter, and being separated from the family. While each game was informative and required participants to put themselves in a refugee’s shoes, I thought that the initial activity, family separation, was the most telling of this experience.
“During a normal family outing to the center of your village, an airplane swoops low over the rooftops. The tremendous noise startles and frightens you. A few seconds later, a whole formation of airplanes appears in the distance and attacks the town. A number of bombs explode and throw debris everywhere. Heavy smoke fills the street where your family happens to be. People are screaming, running in every direction. Your family gets separated. It’s impossible to see through the dense smoke that’s stinging your eyes, throat and lungs. You start yelling too, hoping to find your family so that you can all get away together. You must find all your family members while keeping your blindfolds on,” the game leader announced. The participants were ordered to separate their families, surrounding the field.
Instantly, the field transformed. Blindfolded and screaming, 100 members of the Greeley community, mostly college students, wandered purposefully around the field, yelling for the families they had become a part of only minutes ago.
“A! A! A! A! A! A!”
“Penguins! Penguins! Penguins!”
“376! 376! 376!”
Charged with filming the event, I decided to follow one person until she had been reunited with her family of ten. Her strategy, unlike everyone else’s was to not scream out her family’s name, but instead to listen. At first, she seemed more lost than most, but then her ears sensed the word she was looking for.
She turned and hopefully echoed the call, “Pineapple!”
The word became a chorus shouted between the girl I was filming and someone off in the distance. Never before have I heard so much emotion in such a simple word.
“Pineapple?” Desperate. Hopeful.
“Pineapple! Pineapple!” Optimistic. Apprehensive.
A group of three, two young men in jeans, hoodies and green blindfolds linked on either arm of a shorter girl in a black sweater and black boots rushed to the sound of my subjects timid shouts, “Pineapple?”
Finally, they came within reach of each other. The two guys reached out their available arms while the two girls echoed each other. “Pineapple? Pineapple!”
The group embraced, screaming in joy, you guessed it: Pineapple! They linked arms, hope renewed, and began the search for the remaining six of the pineapple family.