I’ll forever be grateful to God for having a house built through an NGO project. With a kitchen, and a flush toilet, and a proper flood warning system. I promise to foster changes in my community. I promise to raise awareness. I promise to promote participatory values. But after they film an interview with me, I have my own story to tell. How to be a beggar globally, and a prepper locally, anything they want me to be, and my other incredible identity misadventures.
It was the day I paid back Francisco. It was the day I finally paid back Fernando. I had some cash left to buy something I wanted, too. I felt free, like I’d smashed a police car in a movie about white male police officers. So I felt guilty when all that apocalypse business started. I had the munchies and I felt terribly guilty at being so frivolous. In the streets, there was more water than there is in the tears of all the people of Beira! And all the people of Mozambique! And of everyone who knows where on Earth Beira is and how wonderful Beira people are. And there was more shit in that water than in the country’s entire IMF debt.
The wind which brought the flood stank of oil and money from the Global North. I know cos I’d tried to land a job in hotels which stank like that. I used to dream of serving baked fish to their tables. I would listen to VIPs’ conversations while drizzling coconut milk onto barracuda fillet. Their NGO would have a nice name: “New Mozambique”. They would be creating opportunities for young, motivated activists. I’d be coming there to pick up my sanitary pads.
People from the Concrete City work with the Cane City. Not “in” but “with”. The Cane City communities are like tools for their work. For their careers and their wealth. The Cane City is where I used to live, where I lost my home, where I have to wait and hope. And God will hear my prayers, and my offers, and my submissions, and my what-the-fucks.
On the form, I ticked that I had got enough pads. I ticked that I had been instructed. I ticked that I had applied for microloans, more than once. I ticked that I had been encouraged. I ticked that I had nowhere to live. I ticked that I had nowhere to study. I ticked that I had nowhere to go. I ticked that I had nothing to lose. I ticked that I didn’t mind the NGO using my personal data for their future projects.
You can only get out of here by air. But it only works for the privileged, the money surfers, seekers of exotic shit, and Lonely Planet backpackers on appropriation quests. For those who use others‘ wings, others’ metaphors & others’ rhythms to fly high and go far. In short, those who emit much more carbon than you and hypewash all the shit that they’ve done to you. And I’m here to help you, honest.
They only believe in their cash and their vaccine. But there’s more to life than wealth and a shot. I’ll help you to get to the EU! No cheating, just a miracle! With a good discount cos you’re from Beira. And I like Beira girls! Here’s my WhatsApp. You can call me, any time, just for fun, for a date, for a night, or to discuss our deal further cos I can see you’re a very serious lady.
You’d better sign the contract – don’t bother to read it – and then we’re allowed to perform a miracle. We’ll transform you into an avian. That means a bird in the system. No GMO and no 5G. We have several varieties, several kinds of plumage, several different speeds, and several routes via pet shops, zoos, eateries, I’m joking. But surely the European bee-eater is the best choice this season.
It’s called European but you might’ve seen it here a lot near the river and elsewhere. It’s called European because it flies to Europe. You know, it’s freedom. You fly to Europe and land there. You decide where you belong. There. And you don’t worry if you don’t belong. Because Europe’s Europe, and that’s all there is to it.
This species nests in burrows, doesn’t it? Burrows are like tunnels, aren’t they? I’m scared of dying in a tunnel, I’m scared of even sleeping in a tunnel. Can’t you fly me there in the form of an eagle or an owl? Can’t you fly me there as a toy drone?
No, there’s one single clear best option this season. And miracles sell like hot cakes in Beira, so hurry up! If you don’t want to creep there like a reptile, it’s better to fly like a bee-eater.
European bee-eater! Loving freedom but belonging nowhere!
Your destination is Mariupol, Ukraine. It’s like Europe: lots of work and fun. And Ukrainians always win Eurovision, have you watched it? Never mind. Mariupol is a big city. It’s like Beira, right on the coast, but far more industrial. Lots of opportunities for herons and swans in the muddy waters, for seagulls near the piers, for cormorants near fishermen’s nets, for hoopoes in the posadkas in the suburbs, for sparrows in the street markets, for jays in the old parks, for pigeons in the new parks, for magpies in all kinds of parks, for rooks in the rubbish dumps, and for you in the sandcliffs. You can see how diverse economic and cultural life in the beautiful city of Mariupol is.
You’ll arrive in mid April, which is colder than any season here in Beira, but luckily there’s no floods and hurricanes. Just the occasional clap of thunder. Remember to visit Veselka Park! It’s like our Chiveve, and a bird’s eye view is perfect. We’ll provide you with special avian lenses so that you can see everything like a real bird. They’re tetrachromatic with three types of special effect. But you’ll have to stay in Pischanka, on the opposite side of the city, which is a sandy beach with steep sandy cliffs. Dig a tunnel there and enjoy early summer! The climate has got warmer, so you won’t freeze, for sure! And there’ll be plenty of critters for a bee-eater’s dinner! But beware of SSVs cos they drive like crazy up and down the hills and produce a lot of noise! But apart from that, it’s safe.
There are bee-eaters and beekeepers, nothing-eaters and nothing-keepers. If there’s lots of work and lots of fun, I don’t mind going on a weird diet for a while.
Give me your heartbeat! Give me your cash rhythm! Let your brain be drained! I’m transforming you into an avian called Merops apiaster! May luck be with you as you travel to the EU! May your song bring you closer to the sky! May wasps be as tasty as the menus in the hotels where you used to look for work but couldn’t afford a coffee!
You should stay there until the end of May. Then you turn human again. Ukrainians can travel to the EU visa free. Just catch a train from Mariupol, it’s a one-day journey. Ukrainians are good travel companions, you’ll like them. Some of them tell racist jokes, but you just tell them to fuck off. All in all, the country is beautiful, it has potential, but it’s a bit unpredictable. By the way, if you consider staying in Ukraine, we’ll pay you back 50%, as most of the money goes to our European freedom coordinators and handlers of the miraculous.
I’m on Pischanka beach, and it’s pure hell. I’m perched in a wild olive tree trembling from fear as Russians comb the area. Mariupol’s as terrifying as Beira in 2019. I lost one of my 7-D avian lenses when I saw a Russian bomber raiding the city. The first bomb wrecked a five-storey
block of flats. The second bomb hit the playground near the building, but no one was there, just fresh graves nearby. Now I’m going crazy as I can fly like a bird and sing like a bird but one of my eyes is back to being human. And I’ve seen two hells in my life, Beira in 2019 and Mariupol in 2022. Russians from the Carbon Empire have attacked the Ukrainian people. And their imperialist shit smells the same as the oil&gas, as the flood in Beira three years ago, as my boyfriend’s corporation-branded baseball cap. He brought it from Cabo Delgado, where he was doing odd jobs for the LNG project. He couldn’t tell the difference between love and violence, so I kicked him out and tossed the cap.
The starlings arrived earlier in March and now they’re singing like demons mimicking the sound of weapons. Whistling like mortars, rustling like grads, thumping like rockets. There are bodies in the streets and puppies playing around them. They have human muscles for breakfast, human brains for lunch and human bones for dinner. The city has been on fire for days. The Russians shelled all the fire engines to make the city burn longer and hotter. The carbon footprint from all this reminds me of poor old Beira too.
Early summer smells ptomainic. Summer will always smell ptomainic to me. Thousands of Mariupol citizens killed by Russians and left lying on the ground for weeks, waiting for Western intellectuals to make the next clever move on their geopolitical backgammon board. But nothing’s happening, none of the bodies are moving. And I realize that something is wrong with my transformation function. I’m not switching back 100%. It’s early summer but I’m still partly a European bee-eater, stuck in this dead city, sharing it with other species, eating some of them.
Now I can still fly, but only like a hen, so basically it’s not really flying. I can shed tears like a human but my crying sounds more like the songs of bee-eaters, murmuring in the blue sky. I have a human sense of smell but there’s just one smell I detect clearly – ptomaine. I can navigate like a bird but it’s more convenient to use Google Maps. And I’m too big to fit in a tunnel in the side of a cliff. I left the urban area on foot. I got decent sneakers and a phone from the first body I came across. From the second body, I got a T-shirt and sweatpants. On the coast, there were abandoned hotels, like the Grande Hotel in Beira. They were packed with refugees. For a few days I slept near living bodies that stirred while sleeping and woke up like I did, and that meant a lot to me.
My transformator’s WhatsApp is silent. He hasn’t been online for weeks. I’ve found a volunteer group which evacuates pets from Mariupol. Animals that have lost their homes and owners. Do I even count as a pet? Could I ask those volunteers to help me? I texted them claiming to be the owner of an exotic ostrich, telling them where they should pick up my cage. Then I had to look for a cage big enough to fit me inside for transport. The volunteers didn’t even notice that I hadn’t locked myself in. “Giant parrot, might’ve escaped from the zoo”, said the guy when he put me in the boot. I’d never felt as desperate to be free as in that boot on the way out of Mariupol. There were several cat carriers in there with me. I wondered if the cats were also people who had let themselves be transformed by some dodgy guy just to get them to the EU.
It took ages to get to Zaporizhzhia, and at several of the checkpoints the Russians searched the boot. One of them said, “Your bird isn’t locked in properly. Lock the cage, or we’ll fucking smash it”. The other Russian said, “Where are you taking this lot, faggot? I’ll break their necks now and shove them up your ass”. When I heard those words, I wished I had stayed a bee-eater forever so as not to be associated with a human like that. The volunteer driver gave him five banknotes, enough to get by in Beira for half a year. What am I doing here? Where do I belong on this planet? Obviously the volunteer driver had left my cage unlocked just in case I needed to flee.
Who are you? You say your Mozambique passport got soaked, and your Ukrainian passport got burned. Couldn’t you have been more careful? How can we identify you if everything we want to know about you has been soaked or burned? Without your papers we can’t transform you back or do anything about your unidentified condition. Who transformed you into a bee-eater? Your friend? Your WhatsApp contact you can’t contact? He should’ve transformed you into a turkey, we’d have a nice dinner tonight, ha ha. Why couldn’t you order a waterproof identity document first? Or better, a fireproof one? You’re an adult! When you were preparing for the transformation, couldn’t you have backed up everything you were before?
Isn’t this a story about everyone in the world who can only travel when forced to flee? Isn’t this a story about everyone in the world who is always displaced and out of their time? I was standing in the queue for the European Freedom Coordination Centre, number one-thousand-and- something. There weren’t any benches, no AC, no journalists to tell how you feel, no wifi to install some stupid app, no civic society, no participatory democracy, only gender-segregated toilets with tap water that is apparently ok to drink. You have to spend a day getting used to being superfluous to requirements. You get the impression that the crappier you feel about yourself, the further forward you can jump in the queue.
Will they ask me about my first love? She was a white girl at the mission, with a Jesus smile and lots of chew. I dreamed of flying with her to the end of the world. But I guess she was positive she was there already and didn’t like it so much. Will they ask me about my favourite drink? I used to like R’n’R so much I could fall in love with anyone in the bar after one sip. I knew it wasn’t reasonable but it was my way to push the limits. Will they ask me about my recurring dreams? I keep dreaming about a new music style emerging in Beira, both rebellious and melancholic, so that every lost soul in the world will want to make a pilgrimage to Beira clubs to listen to the best artists. I can see people dancing, but the music sounds too remote.
You look like a species of bird but you can walk and smile! Do you have any experience of working in eggs- and chicken-meat advertising campaigns? Wow, you speak English well. Do you have any experience in recording automatic messages for eggs- and chicken-meat retailers’ call centres? You’d like to work more creatively? We can register you as a nightingale with the right to sing from 5 am to 5.30 am in designated areas only. Or as a blackbird, but there are no singing vacancies for now. As for bee-eaters, there’s no need for bee-eaters on the coast currently. But we could house you on an oil platform in the North Sea, which is recommended in such cases. You’ll have canned wasps three times a day, a special adaptation program, including guided tours of the area, and satellite TV 24/7. This is the cap and uniform from the corporation that will take care of your stay on the oil platform. Do you need to wear the cap?
Well, wearing the cap is not obligatory throughout your whole stay, but we’ll need to take one photo of you wearing it for our social media and reports.
Ana, I haven’t dyed my hair, this is my plumage. Ana, I look so sad because I feel sad, I can always be sincere with you. Ana, I don’t know when I can travel to Beira. Ana, I don’t know when I can invite you here. Ana, that transformator guy is quite dangerous. Ana, don’t trust supermen. Ana, we shouldn’t try to be superwomen, either. Ana, trust humble and friendly people. Ana, I can’t send you any money, I’m broke. Ana, when I find a job, I’ll give you a hand. Ana, thank you, you’re my best friend. Ana, in Mozambique I knew I couldn’t be happy. Now I’ve been to two more places where I couldn’t be happy, Mariupol and the oil platform. Ana, it’s a burden, it’s like carrying three babies simultaneously with no chance of seeing a new life.
If you pay gas bills as required, you can gaslight someone you would like to look down on. Of course, it’s only for fun, no offence is intended and there are no shadow revenues. And if you extract gas, you can afford to be slightly more pushy and more ambitious when it comes to your self-esteem and profit planning. It might be good to think about some investments, to turn the gas you’ve extracted into something else, something more lasting and useful. You can call it a great culture. And we do have a special section in our museum dedicated to great ideas, great national identities, the great minds behind all that greatness. When we planned to build this museum, we meant it to be great, too, but not in a conventional way. So we chose to locate it on an isolated oil platform at sea so that you could think about the splendour and mightiness of gas and oil, literally in the middle of nowhere. You have to take a boat ride here, and on such foggy days you can’t even see where you’re heading, which is part of the entertainment as well. This is a prerequisite for thinking about the power of great ideas and their dynamics. If you don’t identify with great ideas, it’s not a problem. Social workers say that marine mist is good for health anyway. You can absorb greatness from the air, and your feathers will shine, making you a more interesting date, or if you’re more into building a career, a more successful applicant.
Wow, you definitely fit our project, such an apocalyptic personality, with so much experience in inimical conditions! We’ll be happy to hire you for the whole span of our project, with a trial period lasting as long as you need to get used to our values and pace of work. We’re a family business which means we work really hard as our family life is our work and vice versa. We’d like to organize a wintertime apocalypse hub in one of our villas. We’ll be responsible for the promotion and administration of the project, while you’ll take care of everything practical to make clients feel like they’re living through really harsh times. My husband is Russian, but he only travels there on business, and he’s very serious about his country’s crimes and their consequences. And he shares his anxiety with me, which I find so inspiring and worrying at the same time. Rather than blaming and victimising, I suggest a more reflexive and immersive strategy for everyone. Our project is called “Seven days of destruction”.
There is total shit and holy shit; total shit business and holy shit business. if there’s money in it, I don’t mind working in the apocalypse industry for a while.
You need to shit all over the toilet, and the running water will be shut off of course. I’ve seen that in the photos, I find it really frustrating and fascinating. Of course, we’ll have a working bathroom in the other part of the house, and we could make clients pay for visiting it. Extra cash won’t hurt even if it’s the end of the world. Here, in the kitchen, switch off the fridge a few days in advance, so that the clients will have to search for edibles among expired dairy products and sausages.
Here, we’ll leave several boxes of caviar. Did you have that in Mariupol? Never mind, we believe it works well for the concept. And we’ve ordered the cheapest wine on the market, semi- sweet white, it’ll work perfectly, especially with the caviar. We’ll have some mineral water, but we’ll also sell it for cash, by the third day 100 pounds will seem like a bargain. We want you to drill several holes up there in the ceiling to make the roof leak. Here’s a box of tape. Please tape crosses on all the windows, to make the place look more authentic and more fragile. And scatter human-size dolls with open wounds all over the backyard, we’ve brought plenty in the van. Also, a siren machine will be delivered tomorrow. You’ll have to install it somewhere in the garden, and you’ll have a schedule, programmed by our designer, that you’ll have to follow closely. We’ll organize 2 or 3 real explosions in the area nearby, but later on we’ll just play recordings. So we’ll save money on explosives. Anyway, they’ll have to run with their grab-and-go backpacks to the basement all the time. There are damp mattresses in the basement, and some wax candles. On the first day, the electricity should be on and off, for dramatic effect, until very late in the evening when we cut it completely. Throughout the week, we’ll also have some UAV episodes
and a guided looting tour to a corner shop that we’ll rent for a few hours. On the seventh day, we suggest you appear near the bonfire wearing some extravagant leopard skins and do some kind of dance, like people do in Mozambique when they’re really having fun, something ecstatic and unstoppable. It will symbolise the end of the quest. And we’ll pay you a bonus for each participant joining your dance. So you’ve got to engage them! They have to feel the energy of the apocalypse! They have to feel that you’ve done your job really well. We even don’t mind you accepting some tips from them at that climactic moment. Of course, we’ll be shooting that scene secretly with 2 infra-red surveillance cameras so we can get some extra cash and publicity after the project. You’ll have to work the whole shift, 7 days, but there’s free accommodation, no need to commute, and you can have as much caviar and wine as you wish. We’re considering having 3 shifts per month, depending on how well the project goes and how quickly the utility workers can prepare the house every time for the next shift. Sorry, we aren’t going to pay for your first- aid kit or first-aid course, as legally, we don’t allow our employees to do any perilous tasks. It’s just a show where all the hazards are just part of the performance, which must follow the work plan, so accuracy and the dedication of our workers are vital to the project. As you can see, we’re definitely up for making sense of all the tragedies that people have experienced in war- stricken countries and we just choose more engaging forms to make curious people aware of extreme forms of reality. We hope such forms of entertainment will gradually become more affordable for people of all social classes and statuses.
I’ve done 3 shifts. I haven’t made it through the trial period as on my first shift the participants managed to find the boxes of mineral water. On my second shift, the participants broke into the working toilet and left some very unflattering graffiti there. And on my third shift, the participants managed to shut the project managers in their bedroom and got some weed from guys who happened to be passing by the house. Those guys joined our apocalypse, we had a good laugh, but later the project managers blamed me for providing apocalypse services to customers who hadn’t paid. So I got fired. But I swear I didn’t dance the dance from my recurring dream near the bonfire. I just danced some bullshit every time.
Later, I worked in a warehouse where one smart guy, a fan of conspiracy theories, told me he’d heard that the apocalypse basement project was only a small part of an enormous start-up which was supposed to allow ruscist former pilots, who felt kind of nostalgic, to fly over the area and drop a few bombs in some predetermined geolocations. There was, allegedly, a top-secret investigation but it went nowhere. All we have now are cryptic messages in the lyrics of a few rock bands formed by the investigators‘ kids. But the smart guy couldn’t find a link to them, and I didn’t manage to find any other proof on the net.
Sashko Protyah is a film director and activist from Mariupol, Ukraine. He’s a co-founder of Freefilmers, a collective of artists and filmmakers. In his films, he works with topics of memory, otherness, and alienation. Now Sashko is based in Zaporizhzhia and volunteers for IDPs and the Ukrainian army.