We were right. Our second workshop on HOME will hit the people emotionally. And yes, it became a spectacle for the public.
The people that interact with the space around the container are diverse. You meet College kids, professionals taking their lunch break, just passengers, security guards or people considered as homeless. In the meanwhile the only two constants in this space are the homeless people and the container. We knew that a discussion about HOME will in particular address those who are the HOMEless in the container space. However I could not imagine the dimensions of how I would feel later being the moderator of such public discussion.
I started the workshop with asking the audience about their associations with HOME. It ranged from “feeling safe and secure” to “I don’t have a home, I am looking for a new one”. Other people explained HOME with “where my son is” or just described with the word “love”. Feeling home goes beyond housing. It is a terminology we consider as one of the most intimate things in our life.
One of the first things coming up to my mind about home is “feeling comfortable”. Our first speaker Dr. Johnny Anderton had a personal story to tell, in which he lived for several years on a tiny sailing boat with his wife, travelling around the world, being surrounded by foreigners and new environments. He being an engineer developed a sandbaghousing concept that is sustainable and affordable. The origin of the problem for which Dr. Johnny developed one suitable solution was addresses by our second speaker Peter Shrimpton. He is working closely together with Dr. Johnny and functions as the bridge builder between the engineering side and the investors’ side. But after the homeless section found out that there is no sandbaghouse programme for them, it got tense on the container site.
It is hard for me to reconstruct the course of action in the following 20 minutes. I will try my best. As soon as the second speaker ended his words, a discussion participant who calls himself as a homeless man raised his hand and requested to ask a question towards the second speaker. I handed over the microphone and instead of formulating a question he announced that there is no future for the homeless. No government support, no aid from the civil society. As everybody can imagine nobody who considers himself/herself as homeless wants to hear those words. The funny thing about it, he did not even want to hear himself saying that. Anyways, while he was talking he got more and more angry with the hopeless situation and himself addressing the issue to the audience. The way he talked turned into an aggressive tone and hastily gesticulation. Up to the point where his mates hauled him off the “stage” and settled the dispute 20 m away from the container. He got a bit rough with some men around the speakers site but finally calmed down and sat back on a chair in the audience.
I was relieved. But this feeling held only for a moment, because a next homeless requested to express his opinion and since everybody has a right to speak there was no reason I could prohibit him to ask for the microphone.
The second participant, who considers himself as homeless person, had another story to tell. He told the public “I would take something from you and buy drugs, I would take something from you and buy drugs….” I think he repeated it seven times. I could feel that the atmosphere among the audience tilted over. It was scary the way he was talking. Nevertheless, this man did not perceive me as the moderator, he did not listen to the content I was saying, he just judged me by my appearance. White, blond, English speaking = South African privileged woman. Wrong conclusion, but he would not know and also it was indifferent for the situation. I was the person exposed next to him, but I was no longer the moderator, I was now the representative of the system that he blamed for not providing a solution to his life. The moment he got so close to me that his nose was only 10 cm away from mine, approaching me with an aggressive tone being in rage and emotional, I stayed on my position, I did not go one single step back, but I could no longer feel comfortable in my role as the moderator, I became emotional as well. Inside me I was scared and shocked. In subsequent moments I felt disconnected from the audience, only when I sat down I received advice from other participants how to continue. Back on the “stage” trying to continue with the moderation I was impressed when one man tried to support my position by drawing the microphone from the man who did not stop screaming.
By the final intervention of our third speaker, Didi, the situation cooled down. She had a peaceful approach to make sure that everyone has a voice and a right to take part in a public discussion. One thing became clear to me, we can only discuss with each other in a constructive way if we follow the same discussion rules and speak within rationality and self-reflection. If those two requirements are not fulfilled, the discussion will blow out.
I will never forget the moment I was scared. It will stay in my memories. It will be part of my Humboldt Journey experience.