Alexia Vassiliou: Conversation Transcript
When people would hear from different countries who haven’t visited, what would you tell them about Cyprus? What is it like?
Hmm.. all these memories. First, the colors of the sea. The turquoise waters, safe seas, from currents and from fish that are (are dangerous) so you can swim the waters without any fear and there's a lot of culture there. It's a mosaic of civilizations and thank you for asking. So there's remnants of all so many different cultures. The Venetians, the French... The Ottoman Empire, just everybody under the sun has invaded Cyprus and has stayed there because of his geographic position, right? It's very advantageous for for the conquerors. It would have been for us as well if they would just let us be, but no, they had to come and conquer this tiny island.
On the map, it’s surrounded by countries and countries and its this tiny dot on the map, but this door is rich with people that are gifted and talented. There’s poetry, there’s music, there's visual arts. Sculptures. There’s a lot. It’s a beautiful place indeed.
So you grew up in a Cyprus that was not divided. Because currently, Cyprus is divided by two and there's Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. How was it before Cyprus was divided? What do you remember over your childhood?
Yes, it was Turkish invasion and illegal occupation of my island. It happened in 1974. This resulted in me being refugee in many, many hundreds of 1000s of people displaced in our own country. And yes as a result the island, my country's, divided by what we call pseudo borders. Theyre occupied by the Turkish army but of course of course of by Turkish deployed Sisters and brothers of ours. We want peace for sure and unity and inclusion. And all that is good and all that is made an offer of love for sure.
It’s good for people to know, we’re not spreading hatred.
It's important to be aware of the things that are happening around the world. And just to understand that.
Thank you. I think you know, very well.
Yeah just also in Rwanda, within the country to kind of genocide and we had to be refugees and all the country. When the genocide ended were able to come back to the country be, you know, normal citizens. I can imagine you as a young girl being a refugee in your own countries still and then you know growing up. How did the history of your country impact your music, your upbringing, your soul?
My beautiful beautiful friend always conversations with you're always calming and soothing and gentle. I mean this, so thank you. So yes, well, the blessing now that I've been working with refugee children then accompany minors in Cyprus from Africa. In collaboration with the United Nations. You know when something happens was, very traumatic, I think the only way to turn it into something beneficial and good is to assist or provide your services will be there for others who have gone on going through the same. So having been a part of this amazing human beings, both boys, young boys and young men, being a part of their life.
I see what a blessing it was for us to be, of course, the curse of having to endure, to experience the displacement. But also to be displaced in your home country, because there's there's people with their own language. We know. They have to travel through very perilous circumstances to reach unknown lands and be greeted by people who are strangers who most of them, do not have their best interests at heart, to say the least. But yes, what I've learned and what is the basis of everything I do is how, thankfully, to turn trauma into creativity. And to turn trauma into all kinds of love. Love for nature, as you can see (points to flowers) Love for people, love for nature, love for a shadows, as they have different kinds of times of the day when they leave. For the sound of the environment, whether rural or urban. Just turning everything bad into good as much as we can.
This is also the basis of my of my method Re-be which you always make a point to bring to light. I could not teach. I believe that everyone has an ancient knowledge. We have an ancient knowledge. I think it’s nice to be reminded of what you already know. So Re-be is the basis of this actually. It’s based on music improvisation, which I found the most healing forms of expression for me in music, but also words. And then turning the trauma the bad into good a trauma to creativity to help us with our lives.
That's a beautiful reminder. I think
We spoke a little bit before, a couple days ago about The healing power of using what you have inside of you for good. When you are able to give people what you have inherently inside of you. I think that other people can kind of see that, you know in themselves. And then in and of itself its a connecting, transformative experience.
I really appreciate you being here and speaking to us, especially talking trauma. To overcome it to survive after surviving, whatever you went through. It's takes your special skills. It takes loving people to surround you. It takes you know knowing like you love nature, love music. To be able to, you know, survive whatever you have been through. So we you see the refugee girls you already have been working with, what do you see in them?
It has transformed my life and the way I sing, actually. I found a purpose in singing in a new way because I never want to sing for me or to gain glory or receive flowers or accolades. It's important, but there has to be, for me, a higher cause. And once I realized that I sing to heal myself but also others to bring them closer to who they are. Then I wanted to sing more. Now I want to sing A LOT more.
When I talk to them, I see the potential. I see who they are. I cannot explain it, I just see who they are. I see through the pain. I never ask them about what they've been through, both the young men and the in the young women. If they want to tell me I will be there but I focus on overcoming you. On actually showing them the tools that I had discover for myself. That the tools lie within us. To focus on saving ourselves. Focus on joy. She that is very hard, especially when you been through the things that most of these young women and young men have. It's almost impossible, but if you want to remain here this this plane of existence you’re going to have to find a way to overcome... Respect the silence and their space.
I wanted to talk a bit more about Re-be.
Okay, thank you. Re-be was derived from through creative writing classes that I took in gender studies in Athens...studying feminist literature. Which opened a new world to me in terms of the way women express ourselves where we're allowed or even when we're not. So Re-be was derived from my, when I allowed myself to express my own language. So Re-be means to return to our authentic state, which is the state of joy. I offered Re-be to the schools of Cyprus, all the schools of Cyprus with the Ministry of Education culture.
So it's from kindergartens to elementary schools. Preschool. Technical schools music listening through the speakers during the recess. So music in the morning at 7am, 7:30 with the children, the faculty. The music welcomes them at the start of recess, and then music is played again as they all leave. I've worked for about a month and a half, maybe even longer to create each playlist. Also the process for it to be in all schools. Music to nurture the spirit and the soul because I couldn't save all the children, but I could send music just to reach the souls of all the children. And it’s classical music, jazz music, improvising, improvised music, experimental, of course, world music and there’s many, many different genres. That's one part of it.
The other part is my own private workshops with teenagers. that's light yeah The path which, again, space Use music listening very important. And then on 10 categories of creative exercises based on creative storytelling, creative shadow play, a lot of doodling. Which is things that I did to save me...There were days where I didn't feel like singing or seeing any one to understand myself so I needed to create meaning. This lies within all of us.
There's a lot that we do. Connection. Connect all the stuff with all the elements. Connection with joy, with the inner peace. I believe that inside we have just one part that nobody can ever and will ever hurt or touch. That's what I try to tap into. That’s where all our power lies.
Yeah it's like working to invoke a sense of freedom within all of us, you know, and expression. And the ability to connect seemed to be the most important things in what you do and what we do essentially. We just want to continue to, like we said, hold space for people. It looks different for everybody. You know, some people may feel more comfortable expressing and how we're going to do that. Do it in different ways, but just the act of encouraging people encouraging these young young people said to be who they are and to express those things in a positive way. That I think is the wonderful work that that you were doing and, you know, millions of other people are doing simultaneously. It's really inspiring to see. Especially when you see the response from alive these people feel when in a world sometimes it hard to to want to do that for yourself? To hold space for yourself.
Do you have hope for humanity?
I have to. You know, human trafficking will continue to exist, wars will continue to exist. But I have to believe that the goodness will prevail and that love will prevail. I have to. I have to believe in that and I have to support this and I have to do my utmost best to hold space for this Because then there's no hope, otherwise. We have hope for the best, we have to. What you're doing, as I mentioned, is a big deal. This perpetuates the goodness. This is hope for me.
That takes me back. You went back to your old house in Cyprus. How was that? How did that help you on the inside?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to express this. Thankfully I am I able to compose music into sing. So I’m able to transform all the feelings into something and it doesn't remain here to to burden me, to hurt me. But deciding up with my parents, my sister, my aunt, in 2003 when we were notified that the pseudo borders are opened. But we hadn't been there since 1974 before and one fine day the Turkish government that decided that they’ll open the borders that will allow us to go visit our homes. So we all did.
I cried. I couldn't enter. I cried and cried there by the gate. I couldn't believe we were there because it was forbidden for so any years. So then we entered there and the people that are living there now the older people. They are Turkish Cypriots, very kindness people. They invited us to make us dinner. To cook us fish, but we couldn't. Really kind of people. They showed us all around the house and then I saw my grandmother's house which was adjacent to my parents house, and I saw the green window from the way we use to put me to bed and choose to cover with clean white sheets and shoes to remember but we couldn't enter at all.
So we went on those days, I wanted to clear my memories from the ugliness of war... and then I went to sea. The beautiful turquoise sea. I stepped in for the first time since I was 10, I walked in the sand. This sand is very fine and velvet-like so have forgotten how it was. So thank God we’re alive, for where we are now. It was a gift to go back.
What brings you joy?
Oh my god. Everything does now. Most of the things do but nature brings me joy. Respecting nature brings me joy. Unfortunately, not everyone, but many have no regard for trees. So they cut them down as if they're twigs, as if they're nothing but within them they hold the very essence of our existence. So yes, nature brings me joy. People with pure hearts and intentions bring me joy. Silence and peace bring me joy. Being with people I love. Craig Newsome enjoying the talent of many people when they carry with us. I'm a great admirer of pure talent and improvisation.
Oh, so LaurenisUnknown asks, “how can we support the Cypriot youth?”
I think it's important to know what's going on and just to be educated about it, and to keep it in the mind and read about Cyprus once in a while. Read and be informed.
Someone made a comment that said “be informed about what is happening in Cyprus and about the crimes that Turkey is committed”. I think it is important to know about the history about these things that happen, otherwise I think it will keep repeating and if it's not in the control group warn. You never know when it can come knocking on your door. So it's always always important to educate ourselves about these histories. We were talking about also how silence is also a message you know, you're taking a side when you have had the choose to be silent.
You know, I’m very supportive of all the women. But everyone of course that is that has been abused in any way. I will always support them in speaking about it because as you're very wisely said silence is helping them perpetuate this. But if you bring out in the open, they’ll at least think twice. At least think twice. So we have obligation to speak and all of us have obligation to hold the space, as you very well taught me, for those who speak. That’s all we can do.
What's your message to the world? Before we let you go, what's your message would you like to give?
It is very important to trust ourselves. And as I'm telling this to us, I can also remind myself to, sometimes I forget to trust, trust ourselves, trust our feelings, to support our authenticity, support. We are everything. If we realize what this mechanism, this systems is, is we are walking miracles. I would say, as you very well said earlier, when we see something, say something. To support each other, to be of service. To be of service to humanity, basically. And if something has hurt us, then we stand by those others who've been through something similar. We stand by each other basically, and we are of service to each other. That's the best way to live. Thats the most joyous of existence for me, nothing else matters. Thank you.