Use these stories to change the world! (V)

E. Working
This is working too, of course: what you’re beginning to do in the Stories Exchange Project.
But it’s the kind of work we want to do: work that’s primarily about making friends – and making it a little bit more possible for other people to make friends.
In “I had a vision about how to build a team of people,” the lead story in Working in Stories and Responses at this Web-site, Eva from Usti talks about how she began working in the Stories Exchange Project. And she ends by saying:
“I met a lot of people who became my friends. I got to know the problems of people in other towns, of national minorities in London, for example, and it was very useful for me. I could see many things – and I made many friends: a lot of friends; good friends.
I would like the young people who use our stories to learn how to communicate.
I would like them not to be isolated, and not to dig abysses between themselves and others. I’d like them to be close to each other.”
But it’s not easy, this work of making a lot of new friends and learning to work with them and encouraging them to work with each other. It demands that we pay attention to every detail of the real-life stories which we are creating by working in this way. It especially demands that we pay attention to how we relate to the persons who are right next to us, people who are working with us.
Ondrej Gina says it well. (You’ve met Ondrej before, talking with Ilona about how Ethela changed in the Stories Exchange Project.)
“When we were working at the Roxy – 
the experimental theater space in Prague where we performed stories in 1995 – 
it was a really tiring job that demanded a lot of concentration and energy. It was a locked-in space and we were concentrating on the work. It was team work: each of us brought to that space his own life-experiences, but also what he went through that day. During the day everyone experiences something, whether good or bad. So when I joined the team I was influenced by what hadhappened to me – at home, for instance. It was the same with all of us.
So in practical reality we were coming to understand what is involved in communication, in cooperation: what influences communication.
And when we – when Hana [Syslova] and I – had arguments, that was a problem of communication. We had a problem, and we had to talk it through. That’s tiring; it’s very demanding. When people have some other problem, they can’t understand each other in a discussion and there is conflict.
Of course the whole Project was about that: how to solve conflicts among people, how to look for ways of understanding, how to find a way to communicate without insulting the other person.
We were learning. And the fact that we argued – well, it was a life-experience.
So I know that when it happens again, I should be more tolerant, I should have more understanding. And that’s what it’s about. I have to understand the other person in order to make it work.”
That’s what Ondrej’s comment is called in Interviews here: “I have to understand the other person.”
That may be the hardest work there is—-for all of us.
Usually we don’t communicate very much, and cooperate less. And not just if some of us are whites and others non-whites. It’s true of Czechs with Czechs, Roms with Roms – or Americans with Americans, black or white.
At least that’s our experience.
Have a look at what Mitch Chanelis from Boston says about working with people for good causes. The whole text of “You can’t see the nose on your face” is here in Methods, but here’s some of it: “I came to the Stories Exchange Project because I had discovered in working with people for good causes – all very worthy causes, such as human rights, the environment, social and economic development – that there was a big problem.
Sometimes the people you are working with, the people who share your values and goals: these people can be your worst enemies. And their own.
They believe in all the right things, but they don’t really like themselves or each other.
Sometimes I think that they – that we – believe the right things and want to help people and change the world just because they don’t – WE don’t – like ourselves or the world.
People usually say, ‘Well, it’s the goals that are important. If you have problems with people, you should lay them aside, because the goals are so important. The main thing is the goal that you’re trying to reach.’
But over the years I’ve some to the conclusion that that’s not true.
If you don’t have good relations with yourself, with your family, with your friends, with the people you’re working with to make a better world, then you can’t do anything of really lasting value. The goals and the means really are connected.
For me the Stories Exchange Project has been a way to start the process of learning how to deal with people in a meaningful way. People who are my friends, people who are not my friends. What I want out of the Project, and what working to develop the Project over the last eight or nine years has given me is skill in working with other people to achieve my goals, our goals.”
But look at Mitch’s whole presentation—-and you’ll be able to find the nose in your face!
Talk about this too in class. Have you had anything like Mitch’s experience?
Have you ever tried to do something good and found out that the people your were working with weren’t really cooperating — maybe because they weren’t happy with themselves?
If you’ve been involved in any of the Project Citizen work, it would be especially interesting to talk about that. Because it’s often when you try to DO something together that you find out who’s really there and who isn’t – and even begin to suspect why.
And of course that goes for you too. That’s what Mitch starts with, in fact.
“When I have to tell a story about myself, I find out things about myself and everybody else. When I tell my story to somebody else I have to think about what parts of it may mean, and it all becomes new for me: it’s new information. I think this is one way that stories can help us: they do more than convey information about ourselves to other people; they’re also sources of self-knowledge.”
This has been true of all of us in the Stories Exchange Project.
Take last summer when we were getting ready for our big September of presenting and discussing stories in London and Terezin and Vienna. Stories and talking about stories helped us find our way to ourselves, and told us what we could do with both the stories AND ourselves.
What Eva says about making friends – sure, that’s the point of it all, and what happens over and over. But you have to WORK to get there, and the going can be rough.
In Prague during April of last year Zuzka Gaborova from Brno—- you’ve met her, indirectly: she brought you the story about her sister Jolana and Vashek who likes being called by his first name – talked with Eva Bajgerova from Usti about how difficult it is to work with Roms: with their own people.
Zuzka was talking about her work with Drom, the Romany center in Brno which, among many other things, has been renovating flats for Roms.
The families there are very closed. They don’t cooperate. They don’t tell you what they think. They don’t tell anybody what they think.
I know this well from my own experience.
For example, when we were celebrating International Romany Day they told us that they would bring over some meat, some drinks for kids, and so forth.
On the day we had music ready, we had everything ready.
But people did not come down to the courtyard. They watched us from their balconies: they wouldn’t come and join us.
They didn’t bring the meat they promised.
They didn’t bring the drinks they promised.
It’s not because they don’t like us. It’s just that they do not loosen up when we’re there.
We’re a kind of institution: we’re Drom Center personnel and they won’t loosen up. They’re families with many members and they keep to themselves.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of rivalry among them. And when a family does something wrong to another family they don’t go to them: they come to us and start yelling at us about that family breaking their window.
What Zuzka has said is also very true for Maticni Street in Usti – where last year the Czechs built a wall between themselves and the Roms.
The Roms there keep very much to themselves but they expect a lot from you. Throughout the country peoplereally do not trust any kind of organizations – but they don’t trust their neighbors either.
Anything you do for them is wrong. Anything you do for them is actually not for them.
Anything you do, you’re actually doing for yourself.
And so anything they do they also do for themselves.
They keep criticizing you. They never stop criticizing you.
But we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about it: we should open this subject.
And we should prepare then to put up with a lot of criticism, because as soon as we start talking openly about them they’ll start criticizing us.
And they do bother their neighbors.
I tell people, ‘don’t behave this way because you’re really bothering your neighbors.’
And they start yelling at me: they start calling me names. They call me a whore and whatever – you know. It’s very hard to talk with some of these people. You try to help and they yell at you, and you cry and you don’t want to do anything any more.
But you have to get up in the morning and go back and go on working with them.Because if you just walk away, you’ll just confirm what they feel: thateverybody is bad.
Tell Eva and Zuzka what you think about what they say.
Again: has anything like this happened to you?
What did you do about it? Or what did you wish you had done about it?
Did you get up in the morning and go back and go on working with the problem?
You can write your comments and suggestions after “You have to get up in the morning and go back and go on working with them” in Working here in Stories and Responses. __________
So. That was in April. Zuzka from Brno and Eva from Usti were already good friends. But at that point their friendship hadn’t been tested, and hadn’t had a chance to grown and develop because it was tested. Then one June night in Brno the food ran out.
Here’s some of the discussion in Prague after that small version of Irish Jack’s Great Hunger.
It’s a discussion that not only made Eva and Zuzka stronger friends than ever, but also helped us all re-shape the Stories Exchange precisely by shining a strong light on the difficulty that all of us have in working with anybody else – Rom, Czech, American, or British. As Ondrej says, “You have to understand the other person.”
Do pay close attention to the way this discussion moves. It’s funny, sometimes, and silly, and people’s feelings are hurt. But they express their hurt and other people pay attention and apologize. And they also tell what their experience was.
Some very good ideas came out if it all because it was a free and open but orderly discussion and everybody took his or her turn and was clear and honest and learned about mistakes that he or she had made.
That’s what discussions can be—and if they’re like this, they can DO something.
Honza Vesely from the Stories Exchange Project group in Brno started it off:
“We were looking for a form: how to present stories that have been gathered in the Stories Exchange Project.
At first we felt like putting it on stage. So we turned to a guy from a theater in Brno.
He said we needed a stage as well, so we turned to a stage designer.
But we realized that we didn’t have enough time or money.
It became very messy and confusing.
But finally an idea grew out of this mess: we decided to have a meal and have people around the table tell stories. So we invaded a house organized by the Drom Center, and we invited the people to eat with us and to talk with us. We thought that was a really good idea. But then we had Roms telling us that they wouldn’t eat goulash, only schnitzel.
Then some Roms said they wouldn’t sit at a table with whites. At one point we had a majority of white people at the table and a minority of Roms, so we had to kick some white people out and invite some Roms so that there would be a balance.” And here’s Lucka from Usti – remember? She played first violin:
“There’s a tradition in our family that everybody has to eat. You can’t have some people eating and some not eating. You can’t sit down and not eat. If you sit down you eat. Otherwise you’re just not there.”
And David from Usti; he told you about the white tent: “When we got to Brno, we somehow got to this Romany housing project, and Ivana came over and said to me, ‘Thanks for coming. We’d like to invite you to eat with us.’
If you had invited me to eat in a small circle, that would have been enough, but I was to sit at the table and eat while there were lots of kids running around staring at me eating. I couldn’t sit down and eat while there were kids running around not eating, or standing around not eating. But we had come from Usti and had nothing to eat all day. And our feet were sore.” Ivana Simikova:
“I can imagine that, and I know that you felt we weren’t paying enough attention to you: that you were not being well received. But please understand that we were busy: we just didn’t have the time to help you sit down. On the same day I took my finals at the university and I went home to fix my dress for the performance and I ran to Drom with a big soup bowl – I was in such a rush that day, and it was all too hectic.
I’m sorry you felt that you weren’t being welcomed. We didn’t have enough people, and we couldn’t manage all the people who were in the courtyard.” David: “We were standing there by the door as you were washing the dishes and a Romany woman came up to me. I didn’t know her, but I saw Martina and Katka with her; I didn’t know it was Martina’s mother.
She said ‘Have you eaten?’
I said no, and she said ‘Do you want something to eat?’
I said ‘Yes: I want to eat.’ So she offered me food, and that was it for me: she was going to take me where I could get something to eat.
Then I felt a little awkward that we ended up somewhere else and we were sorry about that because we wanted to spend time with you.” Ivana: “I think that really spoiled the evening for Zuzana and me. We didn’t know where you were, and then finally we knew where you were, but we felt really bad that we weren’t together.” David: “But other than that I really liked your performance. ” ____________ But the performance too revolved around eating! “We thought if we had a real table, real plates, real food…”
Honza: “We probably counted too much on it being very spontaneous. We thought people would spontaneously contribute their own stories, and we underestimated a lot of things. We were invading people’s homes and they were not as spontaneous as we imagined they would be. People did come and tell stories. But they were talking one on one; people felt awkward talking to the whole big group of people. They were not ready to do that.” Zuzka: “We thought if we had a real table, real plates, real food, and a real family type of set-up then we could do without microphones – which would destroy the real set-up that we wanted to have, with real food.” Honza “We had a great idea: that this would become a regular thing: that we would have a shared dinner where people would tell stories, both Romanies and whites, and this would be the first event of that type that would attract people: one time it would be hosted by the Roms, and the next by the Czechs.” Eva: “All that could work. I think the idea is great. Sitting around a table in a family-like situation – and it’s true that in Romany families most of the talking goes on during the meal. But the problem was that it was in the courtyard of a house.
I know that if we did that in a courtyard of a building we would have the problem of a hundred and fifty people coming in. Maybe for telling stories you have to have a more intimate set-up. So we’re trying to learn a lesson from what you’ve done.
I think we’ll also have a table to create a homey feeling – but we would want it to be more enclosed, more intimate. Maybe we’ll just have ten people together – and maybe we would have a little side table where a person would be able to write or draw a story and give it to us in that form.”
And out of all that came, after a lot more thinking and discussion, the cafe-tent in the main square of Usti nad Labem.
So why not pretend that you’re in the café-tent in Usti two months after this discussion and write your comments to Eva and the rest of us.
But do it in the—- white – space after “If we had a real table, real food…” here in the Working menu of Stories and Responses.
THIS is our permament café-tent! This Web-site.
It moves around and around the world, as far and as fast as people put black type on its white surface—- “how can Roms have a white tent?” – to give us their comments and stories. ______________
But this discussion in June 2000 in Prague about being hungry and feeling hurt – 
and about forgetting that spontaneity often has to be carefully planned! – 
produced much more than the white café-tent in Usti.
It also led us back to Drom to begin work on what is proving to be a much stronger idea about how to use stories and talk about stories to create better relations between Zuzka and the families at Drom, and to create jobs for members of those families and other Roms in Brno.
But this is work, still in progress.
It would be wonderful if you could help. Maybe you can, if you like music as well as stories, and want to find out more about Romany music.
At this site and www. you can read about the project of feeding a lot more people that we began to build by talking so honestly together about what happened when the Brno group invited the Usti group to a presentation of stories at Drom last summer.
It’s called the Drom Recording Studio project, and you can read about it here in NEWS under Romany Recording Studio Project and make suggestions at
In HISTORY at this site under “Review of Activities 2000-2001 (Part Five)”-—Jack must have put on a suit and tie to write this one! – you’ll find some reflections about:
how the Drom studio project came out of the very honest June discussion about misunderstandings between the Usti and the Brno groups working in the Stories Exchange Project
how the Drom studio project is putting to work the basic understandings and strategies of the Stories Exchange Project – and how it is in fact doing something similar to what our partner Project Citizen does with the information it collects: trying to solve a community problem.
But as Zuzka and Eva say, “You have to get up in the morning and go back and go on working with them,” and it’s not always easy. It’s work.
We get a lot of inspiration from two beautiful stories about the importance of music-making in the Working menu in Stories and Responses:
“He lost his life trying to save the violin that had been his livelihood”
“May his hand with the bow in it do what he wants”
Don’t leave Working before you get to know and talk about these two stories. They can give you some sense of the life-or-death importance of music in Romany culture.
And this is of course what the Drom recording studio is all about.
You might want to look too at what Ronan, a violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra says when he reflects about his fiddling contest with Roms in Terezin in the video and also in The Holocaust menu of Stories and Responses here: “How lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing.”
Ronan is talking about his job, in fact, but also how central it is to his life. And that’s what he sees in his new Romany friends—and co-workers—in ARTS OF TOLERANCE.
American English calls working “making a living.” “How do you make a living?” means “What do you do for work? What’s our job?”
But in the two stories about music in Working it’s clear, isn’t it? that a Rom literally makes life, makes his or her life, by working as a musician.
Which gets back to what we began talking about: what it’s like to work – even to have a job – in the Stories Exchange Project: “How lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing!”
As Eva says,
I—- you – meet many friends: a lot of friends; good friends
you make mistakes;
they make mistakes;
you run out of food – or you walk out on your hosts because you’re hungry;
you don’t order microphones;
you take on more than you can handle—
“bite off more than you can chew” is the American English for that, speaking as we always are, of the kitchen—
You get up in the morning and go back and go on working with them.
And you have to get up and go back and keep working because there’s SO much to do.
We have to do what we can to make sure that more and more people get a chance to get up in the morning to go back to work and go on working. Rather than getting up in the morning to look yet again for work and not find it – day after day after day. Because they’re different from the people who are hiring, often because their skin is darker.
Look, for instance, at “All the jobs are taken,” collected by Martina Hudeckova in Brno.
“Gábina Oláhová told me this story in her room, which looks like the rooms of most twenty-one year-old girls.
‘I’ve been listed at the Employment Office for two years, and now I’m looking for work. But I often think that it is hard for me to find a job because I’m a Rom. This story is about just that.
I was at the Employment Office for my regular visit and received an offer for a job as a cleaning woman. Not the greatest job in the world, but I wanted work.
I was hopeful, and went home and immediately called the telephone number on the form. I was concerned that the place would be gone, so I asked the voice on the other end, ‘Excuse me, but do you still have a job available?’ Since the answer from the other end of the line was affirmative, I went to the place where the company was located.
But I got a surprise. When I said I was there about the job, the lady across the table gave me a sullen look and simply said, ‘The jobs are all taken. Give me your paper from Employment so I can fill it out.’
I went home feeling very sorry – but I just couldn’t get it through my head that there were no jobs anymore.
So I picked up the phone one more time, dialed the number I had called before, and once again asked if there were any jobs available. I was quite surprised when the female voice answered that there were, and that I could come in any time.
This happened a year ago, but I remember it very well because this has happened to me several times again.”
And of course it happens to Romany men as well as women. Janko Horvath’s son Honza collected this story, ” I told him not to lie to my face,” also in Working:
“Tomás Slanina is twenty-two and lives in Kolín.
‘I’m a graduate of hotel school, and one day I decided to go look for a job.
I called about ten restaurants. Only two of them were looking for new employees, but both said that they would take me immediately. So I shaved, dressed up and went to the first restaurant.
I spoke to the owner who had promised to take me on right away, and told him that I was the Mr. Slanina who had called him about a job.
But when he saw that I was a Rom he said with no hesitation that someone else had been there just a minute before and that the job was taken.
I asked him to tell me the real reason and not lie to my face. I guess I told him twice that I wanted to know the real reason.
He answered that he wasn’t going to employ Gypsies, that he would never give them any work. On top of that. he told me that if I tried elsewhere I would find the same response.
So there was nothing left to do but turn around and go home with a sour expression on my face.
It’s hard to find work these days, especially if you’re a Rom.
Before, I’d always had my doubts when people told me they’d looked for work and the same thing had happened. I wanted to go get a normal job, but it didn’t work out. So all I could do was go and dig ditches for my brother-in-law.'”
Have you had an experience like this, like what has happened so often to this other Gabina and Tomas?
You know Gabina Setunska, and you may meeting Tomas Knaibl, coordinator of the Stories Exchange Education Project in Brno. Here are indeed, another Gabina and Tomas.
Have you had anyone refuse to consider you for a job or for anything else because of the color of your skin?
Have you been discriminated against for any other reason?
If you are so fortunate that you have not been, try to imagine how you would feel if you studied for years, for instance, to get a job in a restaurant or hotel, and had to dig ditches instead?
Tell Gabina and Tomas—-both Gabinas, both Tomases – by adding your comments at the end of these stories, “All the jobs are taken” and “I told him not to lie to my face.”
And talk with each other about this.
You might also want to consider what you can do—right now, not years from now—to change the situation.
This is happening every day in your nation – and in nations throughout Europe and all around the world.
But how can you begin to change the situation by doing something very concrete, very small, very focused, in your own community, in your own neighborhood, in your own school?
Can you think of ways of working together with your friends and your teachers, your parents, your neighbors to make sure that whatever you think of doing can have greater effect?
Can you think about how to communicate your idea—and your practice: this is about DOING, not just thinking and talking—to other people so that they can be involved and help make it grow?
Of course think aloud with us in the Stories Exchange Project, and WORK with us
But you’ll have to come up with your own idea, and start acting on your own. That’s where it begins: with yourself. That—- should be as clear as the nose on your face!