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Vreemde Grootmoeders (30-05-2005)

Strange Grannies

An intercultural tale brought by Mostafa Benkerroum

... A good way to learn something and to counter prejudice...” (Primary school De Letter, Antwerp)

Since October 2005, Mostafa Benkerroum has played Strange Grannies at Primary Schools and Social Service Centres. The text has been developed further and was played at Sering and toured along Flemish and Dutch theatres and Cultural Centres.

Karim, a ten year old boy from a mixed marriage, goes for the first time to Morocco, the homeland of his father. He meets his Moroccan granny there, who is completely different from his Flemish granny. The habits and traditions are also different from those in Flanders. But Karim lives the similitudes more than the differences.
“Sometimes people ask me whether it isn't annoying to have a mother and a father from two different cultures. I don't think so, I then say. On the contrary: I have a country more than my friends.”
Who doesn't remember from the time of childhood, how pure and open only a child can be? With this play, Mostafa wants to make us look again through the eyes of a child at this new, diverse world. A bridge of memories is thrown between Flanders and Morocco. As a child, he certainly sees what makes one grandma differ from the other, but he lives much more the similarities. Why do the reminiscences of a child have another colour than those of an adult? For children the difference of skin colour or of traditions is unimportant. Kids give each other a hand, and see that the inside of the hand of each kid is white. Because they don't stumble over differences, they also look without prejudice upon our world, not like us, the adults.
“If I later become Minister of Belgians and migrants, I willorder to make pink cards only.
“A pink card for a white Belgian. A pink card for a yellow Chinese. A pink card for a brown Moroccan.”
In the same child-like manner, he travels with no more than a red chest full of souvenirs, a map he's drawn himself, a photograph, a few objects that he keeps as valued treasures. Treasures that he shares with us during his tale. Treasures that become tales themselves.
Mostafa Benkerroum wants to underline that innocent feelings, happy faces and good memories still live on in children. Do we have sufficient insight into both cultures? Can we meet each other in the reminiscences of a small child? Can we, during the time of a children's tale, forget all those rusted forms? Can we put all clichés and prejudices over board?
Strange Grannies makes the eyes of a child into a double mirror of our society.
At this moment, when the debate about interculturality and diversity sits that high on the political agenda, we count on all of you to give this project the space it needs.

The performance was played since October 2005 in a number of primary schools and in Service Centres of the OCMW (Antwerp's Public Assistance Agency). De short monologue was always followed by an open discussion with the public. These talks have become an essential part of the project. The play was developed further on the basis of the reactions during the play and in the discussion afterwards.
The performance remains very intimate, and this closeness continues during questions time. This openness and the intimate atmosphere are the most easily achieved in a venue with a limited number of seats (up to 120), and if possible, we opt for a setting where the public is also on the stage.
For many spectators, young and old, it is the first time they have a conversation with a 'real Moroccan'. The curiosity is great then, and we see that many, also among seniors assisting the play in one of the Services centres, the sometimes deeply rooted prejudices are put into question. For kids of migrant origin on the other hand, it's an eye-opener to see an actor of Moroccan origin (another first for many).
Inspired on the book of the same title by Mim El Messaoudi (Facet, Antwerp 1998)
adaptation and play: Mostafa Benkerroum
coach: Brit Alen
with the co-operation of Mia Grijp, Inge Verhees and Bart Luypaert

Mostafa Benkerroum
Mostafa Benkerroum was born in Borgerhout, in 1974, from Moroccan parents. He came into contact with theatre at Sering by accident. Since then, he's been bitten by the virus and has played in a number of plays, at Sering and at other social-artistic theatres such as Collectief Hart, where most actors were political fugitives and ex-prisoners.
He also tells fairytales in schools, for organisations, etc. “Fairytales are universal. Little Red Ridinghood or the Seven Goats are also known in the Moroccan culture, with some small cultural differences here and there. Fairytales give migrant children something from their culture of origin. For kids from here it's fun to hear a known story that's served with an exotic sauce.”
The fact that 'Vreemde Grootmoeders' brings two cultures together was something that immediately attracted him. “It's so recognisable and we live between two cultures anyway. The book presents a nice insight into Moroccan culture, which is interesting and instructive for Belgians, but also for people of Moroccan origin. Many don't know the origins or the symbolism, and take part in rituals they don't know the meaning or origin of. Just like Belgian kids: how many of them still sing Epiphany today, or how many do know the significance of 'innocent children's day?”

'Mostafa looks for his Granny with his memory as a compass'
Anita Twaalfhoven wrote in the Dutch newspaper Trouw on 26-09-2007:
“Actor Mostafa Benkerroum sits on a wooden chair on an empty stage. If you wouldn't know that 'Strange Grannies' is inspired on the book with the same title of Mim El Messaoudi, you would believe that he's simply telling the story of his own youth. But it's a story that keeps you hanging onto his lips from the beginning till the end. (…) Mostafa Benkerroum is a born narrator, he knows how to bring alive the whole village  (…) We all know that this is the story of very many children with family in another country. After seeing 'Strange Grannies', you would like to go along with them on their holiday.”
City Council Primary School ''t Grijspeertje' from Deurne came to see 'Strange Grannies' at Sering.
Afterwards, we got reactions from a teacher and her pupils.

The teacher:
“After we saw the theatre play 'Strange Grannies', I asked the pupils tow by two to make a drawing about the play.
“We then held a circle discussion and everybody agreed that the play was very good! Funny, close to their world, enormously well played and responsive to the pupils. I myself appreciated the fact that our Moroccan kids saw a Moroccan man on stage who really got into the play, and sang and danced and acted. A real revelation for many of them!
“So to summarise briefly: a very good play, brought by a splendid actor! Many thanks, and hopefully you will program more good plays.”
“Friendly greetings – miss Wendy”

“I thought it was well acted and good that he wore such a robe. I would go to Morocco for the sun and to make friends and to learn to read, understand, and write Moroccan." -- Benyamine
"I thought it was very good. Because he was funny and how he danced and imitated his grandmother and how he slept. It was cool!" -- Sidney
"The most funny was in Arabic. And with Jema it was also funny with that fine." -- Zaineb & Laura

An interview with Walter Soethoudt (Knack, 5-04-06):
"I am still astonished at the power of language. A few days ago I went to the monologue 'Strange Grannies' after Mim El Messaoudi's book. It was about the first encounter of two Moroccan children born in Flanders with Morocco. Mostafa Benkerroum played... sublimely young! He got a standing ovation. Here in the Seefhoek, in a home for the elderly, of which many residents are in favour of the Vlaams Blok. That's what you can do with language. "

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