Stella (32), asylum seeker. Two years ago she fled the anglophone crisis in her homeland Cameroon, and crossed the buffer zone from the Turkish to the Greek part of Cyprus. Since then she has been waiting for an answer. Can she stay as a recognized refugee or is she forced to leave? The unanswered question comes to haunt her every day, making it difficult to build a new life.
STILL PICTURE STORY
by Rikke Kjær Poulsen – made in the fall 2020 during her third term at DMJX.
The project tells the story of Stella, and the uncertain life of being an asylum seeker in Larnaca, Cyprus. It shows how an apartmant contributes to feeling adult and independent again, how a simple thing as a home is a God’s miracle and how easy other people can take that away from you. It’s also leaving us with an impression of the many hours of waiting for someone else to determine you faith. For some the waiting takes decades. Stella is not her real name
When asked about how Stella sees herself, the answer is ‘reduced’. As an asylum seeker she is not allowed to work, drive a car or leave until her application is processed. For two years her life has been on hold, while living in the camp or crashing on other’s couches. But a month ago Stella got her own place. None of the furniture is hers except a pillow saying ‘Home is where the heart is’. For a long time, home was still Cameroon. Now the apartment on fourth floor is a symbol of regained independence. To Stella it is a clear miracle of God.
Stella takes a moment to breath in. Earlier the same day her world changed – again. The landlord came by to announce that he wanted her out in 24 hours, defying the one-year-contract Stella signed not too long ago. Knowing that picking up a fight with a Cypriot as an asylum seeker leads to nothing, Stella gives in. He is above her in the social hierarchy.
It turns out the landlord has another apartment for her. It’s dirty, broken and the furniture is old, but anything goes as long as Stella can stay out of the camp. Before learning she had to move, she planned to get her hair done by a friend she met in the refugee camp. Since Stella was a kid she has gotten her hair done in different ways. Though weary and heavy hearted from moving she sticks to her plan. To continue living in between the moments of fighting for survival is essential.
Another in between moment is when Stella takes out the two Kurdish sisters she met at a refugee program. Despite different religions, countries and situations they have formed a sister like relationship, making life in limbo more tolerable. The beach walk starts in excitement as they share a scoop of ice cream and hangs at the pier in Larnaca. Just like regular young women. Later as the sun sets they lean on each other to be free of what burdens weighs on them today.
Stella rests in her apartment the day before her landlord’s visit. To create a sense of meaning in her life she spends every day handing out clothes and food to other refugees at the local organisation Oasis. If someone needs to confide in others she will listen too. Home again, she’ll sleep for hours. It’s the easiest way to pass the time.
Stella takes a moment to herself on the balcony. In 24 hours she lost the most essential thing for her sense of independence, but she knows tomorrow will come either way. ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going’, she mumbles to herself as she gathers her strength to continue. She’s running late for Greek lessons. On Tuesday she will attend the refugee program. It’s the only place she will be greeted with a ‘I see you, I appreciate you and I welcome you,” every time. God’s miracle on fourth floor has been moved to fifth floor.
While flights arrive and depart above her in the water, Stella only flies in her mind. She dreams of leaving to a place where she is wanted. A place where she is welcome. A place where her life can start again.
Rikke Kjær Poulsen won second prize in the “Foreign Reportage” category at the Danish Picture of Year 2020 with this project.