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  • Mourning and Migration: the living also need to be mourned


    CRY FOR ME is a dystopian cabaret that imagines a not too implausible world in which crying can be outsourced -like everything else we don’t have time for- to a cheap migrant workforce. It’s based on Romanian folk customs of wailing for the dead, where professional mourners come to funerals to cry for the deceased, exorcising grief and allowing families to feel that their personal loss is also a communal loss. Professional mourning originated as a practice in Ancient Egypt, China, the Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, and it’s swiftly dying out around the world. In Romania, the wailers (bocitoare) are mostly older women (babe), rooted in their communities with deep, encyclopaedic knowledge of their neighbours. When these women die, the whole practice will die with them.

    CRY FOR ME is a celebration of professional mourning, of the cultural figure of the babă and of the living, with all their problems. It is also a celebration of another, more recent Romanian tradition: migration. UN figures from 2018 suggest that about 20% of Romania’s population has emigrated. Most of them are economic migrants, who move to Western countries temporarily or permanently in search of better opportunities. A lot of them are here in London. The largest community of Romanians is in Brent, which borders Camden. 

    So we, like so many Romanians before us, headed out West in search of gold (i.e. people to interview) to Wembley Central.

    Not even fully out of the station, notes of £20 and £10 fly around, a man promises that the perfume he’s selling will bring you marriage (but won’t tell you what will protect you from it, even when probed). 

    A few moments later: a handful of people help a woman desperately chasing her wage, blown out of her hands by strong winds. The smell of the seller’s perfume is sickly sweet and disappears within minutes. 

    We decide to channel our inner babe and treat London as our village for the day. [ No Romanian village is complete without its on-call elderly women who, uniformed in the classic headscarf, long skirts and thick socks, need to know who everyone is: ‘tu al cui ești, mamă?’ - roughly translating (and losing all of its charm in the process) to ‘whose son/daughter are you, dear?’ ]

    Equipped with a few questions about the area and whether they would recommend migrating to London, we take to the streets. 

    “London? No. It’s expensive. Yes, it’s one of the most beautiful capital cities. Yes, there are many Romanians that live here. But it’s not a place to live. It’s just a place for 2-3 years.”

    “No, I wouldn’t recommend London for living, London is good to come work for a bit, make some money and leave. But there is no life here.”

    “London? Job home again job home and then again job home. Every day. What for?” 

    “The cuisine, the people, the weather- I don’t feel at home here, after 16 years. I’m here for my work. But home home is Romania, and home is Italy, this is just a place I live.”

    “No. London is too busy, life is disorganised and repetitive.”

    “Tell them not to come here. This is a country where you come to make some money, that's it. And anyway, no one is able to come even if they wanted to. They won’t give them papers anymore. Yes, you can come as a skilled professional, maybe it’s easier. But just a worker like me? No”

    “Mă*, if you have a dream and you want to follow it and you can’t do it back home then yes. Come here then.”
    *mă= interjection. It doesn’t mean anything. Could be translated to “hey” or “yo” 

    “The problem is when you start a new job here you are welcomed with a label already. Oh he is a Romanian, he is a hard worker! A high achiever!”

    When the Conservatives pass their Rwanda bills, increase salary thresholds for skilled worker migration permits, and generally make inter/national embarrassments of themselves, they create an impression that without these measures this island will be overrun with people who will claim it as their own. 

    Instead, the people we interviewed- who ranged from business school students, to hospitality workers, to a Romanian Orthodox priest, spanning from 20s to retirement age, within one or two sentences, and between jokes- spoke of loss: what they lost by coming here, pointing at a sense of ‘life’ that they are missing out on, that they are sacrificing, by being here, in the mecca of capitalism, to work. 

    They spoke about fears: that their children would grow up to speak English better than Romanian, that this would create distance, that their ageing parents would be ill and alone, that they wouldn’t enjoy living here but would no longer be able to live there

    The fiction that we are being sold when it comes to economic migration is that it is a choice. 

    AR Hochschild, "Love and Gold" (2003): 

    The yawning gap between rich and poor countries is itself a form of coercion, pushing [people in the Third World] to seek work in the First for lack of options closer to home. But given the prevailing free market ideology, migration is viewed as a 'personal choice'. The problems it causes we see as 'personal' problems. But a global social logic lies behind them, and they are, in this sense, not simply 'personal'.

    This is also what CRY FOR ME is: a tragicomic invitation to cry for ourselves, for the choiceless choices many of us have to make and live with, to mourn the versions of ourselves that we will not get to become. Our work is to reframe the ‘personal’ difficulties, losses and grief of our migrations as communal: collateral damage in a vampiric economic system that ultimately casts us all as the living dead. 

    With such dark things to cry about, best to leave it to the professionals. The babe are ready and eager to work for YOU.

    Thurs 23 - Sat 25 May 9pm
    Tickets £8 - £12 (+ booking fees)

    Andreea Tudose
    iulia isar

    "CPT is as a beacon of fringe goodness, a theatre that champions diversity, inclusivity and the best kind of weird uniqueness"