• welcome week: welcome peace

    I have been going along to Essex University this week to take part in their annual welcome week.

    I’ve been making a peace tower out of origami cranes. The crane is a symbol of happiness, good luck and peace. Legend has it that if you make 1000 of the cranes your wish will come true.

    I’ve been asking people to help me make the cranes. And so far, lots of people have been generous with their time. The peace tower of cranes is currently hanging in The Lakeside Theatre café. If you get a chance, go along and have a look. You can even choose one of the cranes to dedicate to someone or somewhere (or make one yourself); write their name on the crane and send them a picture of it. If you can’t get to Essex University but you would like to dedicate a crane to someone, email or tweet me and I can do it for you.

    My plan for this piece was to approach people on campus and ask them to help me make a crane, but I soon found that this approach just scared people off. There is generally a natural inclination for people to say no or to be immediately suspicious when someone asks if you have 10 minutes to spare, or asks if you would like to make an origami crane. So I have to be a lot more subtle in my approach. Instead of bowling up to people I have taken to sitting down next to someone, opening up my suitcase and starting to make some origami cranes. Then I’ll start a conversation; nothing too personal, I might ask if they are a student or a visitor or a member of staff. We might chat about their journey to the university, the people they’ve left behind, how they’re feeling about things. After a while they’ll ask me what I’m doing so I’ll explain the tower of cranes, the symbolism and the desire to create enough cranes to make a collective wish for peace, happiness and good luck from the University. Then I’ll ask if they would like to make one (I’ll show them how). Invariably people then feel comfortable enough to say yes, or they might ask me to make one for them that they can then dedicate to someone.

    I really like this gentle approach. I noticed that, particularly on Monday, there were a lot of shell-shocked people on campus. I met people from Canada and Iran and Italy and they had only arrived the day before. People were on their own and trying to look as if they didn’t mid being on their own. Shoulders were hunched, bodies were curled in on themselves, eyes were cast downwards. But a gentle enquiry soon allowed them to open up, bodies shifted, eyes became more animated, spirits lifted.

    I learned about loved families many miles away; the close relationships within a family enforced by geographical distance from other people but very much cherished, and the acknowledgement that now there was a vast geographical, physical and environmental distance between them and their loved ones.

    I spoke to people who had never been away from home before, much less abroad, yet they had the bravery and the strength to choose to leave familiar places and people for a whole new world.

    I met people who lived in Colchester and chose to study close to home; happy to continue to have home comforts as well as meeting new people and facing new challenges head on.

    I have met Freshers, MA students, staff, casual staff, PHd students and visitors. It is interesting to note the scale of anxiety and nervousness. The Freshers are nervous about being somewhere new, the Phd students are thinking about the pressure of finishing studies. Third year students are casting their minds forward and considering the future. Students from the hotel are looking forward to their days off.

    Yet as the days move on perspectives change rapidly. The Freshers are meeting new people and feeling more confident and the third year students are making the most of their final year.

    As with all my work, a key element of this piece lies in the conversations that it generates. They allow an acknowledgement of feelings, a wish for the future, a combined effort to create a beautiful piece of peace. Students who have already been through the daunting task of starting a new life at an unknown university have shown great generosity towards those experiencing it for the first time. It is not unusual to hear someone ask: “are you ok?” or “do you need a hand?”

    I’m back on campus tomorrow, so if you see me, and fancy making a crane, come and say hi. I’ll be the one with the little suitcase making origami cranes. Or go and have a look at the peace tower in the café (it’s hanging over the stairs).

    #findme #joinme #welcomepeace

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