Migration is indispensable for the progress of humanity

To honor International Migrant Day, Draftsy discussed the issue of migration with Sarfaraz Khan, project coordinator at Dom’Asile, the association located in Ile-de-France. Founded in 2000, the association helps people who ask for asylum in France. In this exclusive interview for Draftsy, Khan Sarfaraz talks about how migrants are welcomed in France and what struggles they are going through.

Legal consultation by the association Dom’Asile

D: Could you briefly describe what Dom’Asile does for migrants?

SK: Dom’Asile is an association that provides administrative help (domiciliation) to people in exile who do not have a stable accommodation or are excluded from public services and helps them access their administrative and social rights.

We have nine domiciliation and help centers in six departments of the Ile-de-France region, two specialized centers dedicated to helping people to access their social rights, and a support center for people in Parisian camps, in partnership with other associations, active citizens, and lawyers. These centers are entirely run by volunteers to provide people with an administrative address and help them with procedures and social rights.

Let’s clarify the term ‘immigrant.’ This term is used very broadly to include all categories of people who come to live in a foreign country. But the reason or the motivation for it can be very different. Some people leave their homelands in search of a better life, better career, or job opportunities. Others are forced to leave their motherland because of wars, conflicts, and the unlivable conditions threatening their lives. These people have no choice but to flee their countries to seek protection.

Dom’Asile, in fact, works for the rights of this category of persons; that is, it helps people who are in the situation of exile in France. We have different projects. In addition to several domiciliation and help centers in Ile-de-France, Dom’Asile runs an online multilingual and multimedia platform to provide information to asylum seekers, refugees, and people whose asylum requests have been denied. This platform provides information in articles, videos, and audio material. It has an online service to answer questions in different languages to accommodate immigrants that do not speak French. We have projects to help migrants become self-dependent and obtain their rights through our “do it yourself” video tutorials and collective information workshops in different languages.

Moreover, one of the essential activities of Dom’Asile is the advocacy and interpellation of the public authorities. We work with different organizations to monitor institutions’ abusive practices and find the solution to the various administrative blockades these people face.

D: With migrants from which countries do you work most? Are there specific trends that you see?

SK: We help people from many countries. But most of the migrants in our centers are from Bangladesh, Tibet, Soudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo, and Sri Lanka. The number of Afghan and Tibetan refugees needing help had recently gone up.

As we work with a specific category of ‘migrants,’ that is, the people who flee their countries to seek protection, it is difficult to talk about trends – in this case, they depend on the political situation in the countries. For example, the top five countries whose citizens applied for protection in France were Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Guinea, and Ivory Coast in recent years.

D: What are the main difficulties that the migrants and asylum seekers are going through in France and Ile-de-France specifically?

SK: Unfortunately, they face a lot of difficulties. France follows international and national laws which confer very well-defined rights to asylum seekers and refugees. For example, an asylum seeker has the right to get quick access to the asylum process, get a subsistence allowance, accommodation, and other basic needs. Once the asylum seeker is recognized as a refugee, they have the right to receive language training, get a resident card, a travel document, and the option to bring their spouse and minor children to France.

Those whose asylum request has been rejected also have rights, including getting a minimum free health care service (called aide médicale d’état), a reduced-priced transport card if living in Ile-de-France, and the right to get their children enrolled in a school.

But, in reality, it’s very difficult to obtain these rights. The first hurdle is the language and the lack of information. A large population of immigrants does not speak French, and they have no idea how the French administration and its jurisdictions function. This makes them utterly dependent on the help and support of humanitarian organizations and volunteers.

Then there is a political unwillingness to provide the refugee assistance services with adequate means to receive these people in good conditions. Take the example of the procedure for applying for asylum in Ile-de-France. Since 2018, the Ofii (the French immigration office) has put in place a system of appointments by telephone. The newly arrived asylum seekers can no longer go directly to an asylum reception center but must call a special number to get an appointment first.

It is very difficult to get through to the operator of that line. People wait 40 to 45 minutes each time they call. They try to get through several times per day, for weeks and sometimes months, in order to get the appointment and start their asylum process. And these calls are not free; they cost migrants money.

As a result, the impossibility of getting a quick appointment creates a lot of stress and fear. They are scared to get in trouble with the police if caught without proof of being an asylum seeker.

Another example of the issue that migrants face is the implementation of dematerialized administrative services. It is a major obstacle for asylum seekers and refugees. Services such as the application for the renewal of the residence card and the récépissé, applying for the family reunification, or to obtain social rights, or getting an appointment, are accessible only through the internet. They cannot come to a reception center to submit an application or ask for an appointment. This has created a huge problem for these people.

On the one hand, having minimal computer and French language skills, they have difficulties understanding the administrative procedures. They have to be able to work on a computer, scan documents, and email them to the administration’s websites.

On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to get an appointment online because there is a very limited number of appointments available. These difficulties make an already challenging situation even worse. If migrants fail to take the necessary steps for their legal and administrative procedures to be done in time, they might face suspension of their social rights, not to mention the loss of their job or trouble with the police.

These people eventually turn to the organizations to seek help, but the organizations are not prepared to provide them with help concerning the new online procedures. Dom’Asile and other organizations are currently fighting with the prefectures to make them increase the number of available appointments and set up at least a few reception points for people who cannot do their paperwork online.

D: How did work with migrants and the way they are treated in France change in the past 10-15 years?

SK: I started working with Dom’Asile in 2004. Much has changed in these years as far as asylum seekers’ and refugees’ rights are concerned. The asylum and immigration law has been reformed twice in the last five 5-6 years: in 2015 by the François Hollande government and 2018 by Emmanuel Macron. Each reform has made the condition of immigrants in France more difficult.

For example, before 2015, there was no fixed time frame to apply for asylum. In 2015 a new law required that people ask for asylum within 120 days, once they have arrived in France. In 2018, it was further shortened to 90 days.

If applied after 90 days, the applicant’s file is examined under a «fast track procedure,» which gives a serious procedural disadvantage for granting the refugee status. Furthermore, it deprives them of any accommodation and asylum seekers’ allowance rights. This makes them extremely vulnerable.

A few years ago, the asylum seekers used to get the subsistence allowance through a bank account, which they could use as they wished. Today they have no bank accounts. They get the allowance through a prepaid card which they can only use in certain commercial stores to buy basic needs. There is no option to withdraw cash from these cards. This has put them in different types of trouble.

One of the problems is the loss of accommodation. More than half of the asylum seekers are not housed by the government in France. They find some kind of private accommodation where they have to pay a small rent. As the landlords can’t receive the rent by card, they ask migrants to pay it in cash, which they can’t do. As a result, they end up on the streets.

Many examples show that in the past 10-15 years, the government’s perception and attitude towards immigrants and asylum seekers have changed for the worse. Migrants are thought about as people who come to France solely to take advantage of its social benefits. Often the asylum seekers are categorized as ‘real’ or ‘fake’ refugees. This change in the perception and attitude reflects clearly in the new asylum and immigration laws. The new reforms have made these people’s lives more difficult as far as the administrative process or their social rights are concerned. The Dublin process (which obliges the asylum seeker to apply for asylum only in the European country in which they arrive first) causes huge suffering to people because if the administration finds that the person had traveled through another European country, it refuses their asylum application to be processed in France. The person is often sent to a detention center to deport them to the country they first arrived at.

There are also a few positive changes in the recent laws. Good measures have been taken to attract talented and qualified immigrants like the introduction of the «talent passport» and the deliverance of multi-annual resident cards.

D: What do you think the French government should do to improve how the country accepts and treats migrants? Is there something that can be done on the European level?

SK: I think Europe does not have to make an extra effort to save the lives and dignity of these people; it just has to live by the rules that it has set for itself. Europe, France, and the whole world had agreed to protect the refugees if they arrived in their countries, so they have the legal obligation to do this under international law. They should create a system by which people who need protection can come to Europe without further risking their lives, an option to arrive legally, instead of making crossing the borders by refugees more difficult by erecting the fences and walls.

It is completely against the international convention of refugee protection, which every country has signed. As far as France is concerned, it has always defined itself with certain values like fraternity, equality, liberty of all kinds, and in every aspect of life. Above all, it claims to be ‘le pays de droit,’ the country of rights. Yet, it fails to protect those rights and assure that more vulnerable people have access to them. I think France has a lot to do to live up to the idea with which it defines itself.

D: How is the activity of Dom’Asile perceived by the government and society?

SK: I think the work of Dom’Asile, as well as all the humanitarian organizations, is much appreciated in France. Many people care about this issue. It is a part of French tradition to speak up against injustice or take to the streets if the rights of people are not respected. In general, people show solidarity with humanitarian organizations. They support them financially or through volunteering.

But they do it silently. That is why you do not see these issues discussed in the media. We get a lot of support from people in the form of donations and through their participation as volunteers in our centers. In fact, all our help centers are run by volunteers. At Dom’Asile, we work with around 200 volunteers who accompany almost 10,000 asylum seekers. The coordination team has only four staff members. Our volunteers do the entire work of our association.

As far as the government is concerned, they are aware of the importance of the work we do, particularly in the domain of domiciliation for people who need an address and the help and information that we provide them in their languages. Still, I think that we often make them dislike us because we do not hesitate to denounce the illegal practices or their inefficacies to provide the exiled people decent essential services.

D: What is your prognosis about the future of migration in France?

SK: Migration is a reality not only because it is inevitable, but also it is indispensable for the progress of humanity, development, and enrichment of countries in terms of economy, culture, art, and science. One of the significant concerns for Europe in general and France, in particular, is its aging population. Attracting the economic migrants, be it for seasonal or highly skilled jobs, should be a genuine concern for people who make policies for France and for Europe.

The fact is that immigration has been a very hot issue here for a long time. Particularly during the elections, the politicians try to polarize the French people around this question. The deliberate prejudices are created against the immigrants. Biases based on fear, anger, and hate can change the behaviors and attitudes of people. We can easily observe it today in France. That is why, although people understand the need for immigrant labor and skilled workers for the development of their country, they seem reluctant when it comes to welcoming migrants.

To learn more about asylum procedure in France follow the link

Topic of the month

Volume V – Migration

We launched Draftsy in June 2021 and chose Home as the first topic of the month. The search for our roots, homelessness, and migration are all deeply intertwined. December 18 is the International Migrants Day. We would like to finish the year by talking about migration and complete the conversation about home, belonging, and looking for a better future.

In this issue, we will talk about migration in France, Russia, and the world in general. We will discuss the difficulties people who are forced to leave their countries face in search of a better life and asylum.

We will try to understand the issues of migration policy and social problems. It seems essential to us to draw readers’ attention to this topic because, in the modern world, the division of migrants into “good” and “bad” into legal and illegal is taking root more and more.

Society is banalizing rhetoric about building a wall on the US-Mexico border and erecting barbed wire and barriers along European borders to “protect” the countries from illegal migration.

The Mediterranean Sea has been the center of tragic events for several years, where thousands of migrants die trying to cross it. In France and other European countries, laws are tightened against citizens who distribute food to illegal migrants, who help them move from one point to another and give them shelter.

Migrants cross borders to escape from military conflicts. They leave their countries for political, economic, and climatic reasons and risk their lives by choosing this path. This month we want to tell their stories.


Free form essays

Ryan Michael James: the pandemic taught me that before we are artists, we are human

Credit: Anthony Joseph

I started performing professionally when I was 18 years old. At 19, I was offered a job dancing on an international tour, so I left college to travel the world.

That show snowballed into the next and the next — it was all very serendipitous. Before I knew it, eight years had passed, and I was still performing. Living in NYC, I was hustling as any actor does: standing in line at auditions, juggling multiple “survival jobs,” participating in workshops to be noticed by casting directors, traveling for gigs outside of the city, squeezing in classes and lessons to hone my craft.

It was an exhausting grind fueled by caffeine and catnaps on the subway. But for my entire adult life, my primary source of income had been from working as a performer. I’m very lucky because so many people are fruitlessly working to make it in this industry. While I wasn’t Brad Pitt, by any means, performing was paying the bills. 

2019 was a difficult year, and my performing career came to a screeching halt. I was still fortunate to be working, but that work came at a great cost to my mental health.

I was performing on a Broadway national tour with a grueling schedule of countless one-nighters, long travel days, and terrible pay.

“One-nighters” is a phrase used when the show only stops in a city for one night before traveling to the next. There were times we would perform in five or six cities in a single week, with a grand total of 86 cities in a short six-month contract.

While seeing the world may sound exciting, a tour like that usually consists only of the exhausting, tedious parts of travel (busy airports, cramped buses, terrible lunches at rest areas with limited food options).

There were very few opportunities to take advantage of the actual exciting parts of traveling. When my family says to me, “You’ve seen the whole country!” my response is usually, “I’ve seen a lot of hotels and Walmarts.” It was a battle. I was so poor and exhausted, but I was traveling, and I was on stage. Shouldn’t I have been grateful?

Immediately after that tour ended, I began a contract singing onboard a cruise line. That was cut short due to an unfortunate experience I had with a fellow castmate. I was a victim of a bad situation, and when I tried to report the incident and ask for help, management turned a blind eye, and the cruise line fired me without investigating the issue properly.

I felt helpless. I had no money to my name, and I had to move back home to Central Florida to stay with my family. I curled myself up into a pathetic ball in their spare bedroom and didn’t come out for almost a month. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong. I had worked so diligently and had done everything supposedly right. What was wrong with me that I had let that happen?

Luckily, I have a wonderful support system, including a best friend who encouraged me to move to Fort Lauderdale with her. She promised to help get me back on my feet, find a job, scrape some money together, and decide whether going back to New York and back into the grind that had nearly killed me before was the right choice.

That’s when the pandemic hit.

At first, it felt like an answer from the Universe. It was obviously a sign that I wasn’t meant to return to performing. With that chapter of my life officially behind me, I was excited to start my new life in South Florida. During those initial few months of the shutdown, I found a job, enrolled myself back into college, moved into my own apartment, and adopted a dog and cat.

I was happy. I was finally able to do all the things that seemed impossible before. I loved spending time sitting on the beach. I cherished nights at home with my animals. I braved the bars and restaurants (when they reopened) in hopes of finding a new tribe of friends. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like a normal human being.  

But I felt empty. My artistic soul was not filled by my new jobs: bartending and answering a customer service hotline. I did everything I could to scratch that creative itch, though. I sang in the car, created silly little music videos, taught myself to play a few songs on my keyboard, watched movies, performed karaoke with friends… But I was nagged by that voice in the back of my head telling me I had given up too soon.

About a year into the pandemic, an audition notice for a small local theater production appeared on Facebook. Coincidentally, the audition happened to be on one of my very rare nights off, and the show was a perfect fit for me. I figured, “What the heck? The worst they can say is no. Besides, it’s not like I really do this anymore. What do I have to lose?”  

I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That show was the most rewarding experience of my life. More than dancing on a Broadway tour; more than meeting world-famous rock bands; more than traveling the world. Performing on that tiny stage in that little Florida town and being part of that small production was like a shock to my nervous system — it was a euphoria that I forgot existed.  

That show was therapy. I channeled two years of repressed hurt, anger, confusion, and rage into that iconic role, finally able to release it out of my heart. I cried on stage every single night; the audience cried every single night. I somehow connected my own unique, heartbreaking experience to this character’s unique, heartbreaking experience, and the audience received it through the lens of their unique, heartbreaking experiences.  

Connection. Humanity.

Connecting to that thing that makes us all human. That is art.

I believe at the root of it, humans have more in common than we do differences. We all need love, crave support, and desire connection. We want to be understood, feel seen, and be heard. We thirst for shared experiences and those things that bring us together, especially in this time when our political climate is so ready to tear us apart. That is what art did for the world during the pandemic: it brought us together in a world when we felt isolated, alone, and divided.  

That one little show I did received positive buzz within the community. Suddenly, I had other directors contacting me. Before I knew it, I had shows lined up consecutively for the next year. Much to my surprise, I am back to being a full-time performer here in South Florida.

The pandemic was a wake-up call. It forced me to stop dead in my tracks. I was on a never-ending hamster wheel, tirelessly running, grinding, hustling, working myself quite literally to death. I was working so hard and for so long that I forgot my why. I forgot why I was doing it and what I was doing it for. I forgot who I was doing it for.

It made me take a moment to stop, breathe, and process everything that happened to me so that I may begin to heal. Without that moment of pause, I would have simply swallowed and ignored the pain because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Only, it would have resurfaced and consumed me the moment I felt overwhelmed again. I’ve now come to accept that those experiences will forever be a part of me. They have undoubtedly shaped me into the man I am and will become, but they do not define me.  

It made me reprioritize my values. My Instagram feed shifted away from perfectly curated photos of fake smiles in exciting travel destinations towards candid photos of slobbery puppy kisses and laughter with family and friends. I stopped counting followers and worrying if my posts were “on brand.” Making new friends in a new town introduced me to the kinds of people I want in my inner circle and reminded me of those I don’t.

It made me reevaluate my own worth. I know what I will tolerate from an employer, colleagues, and peers. More importantly, I know what I will not. I’m much more confident in those things and in who I am than ever before.  

Admittedly, I’m still a bit of a workaholic. But I now appreciate the importance of downtime and am quicker to demand time and space for those things that matter. I’ve missed so many important moments before — weddings, funerals, family time — all for the sake of “being a team player.”  

As artists, we’re conditioned to believe that we have to sacrifice everything for our art. We’re sold this “starving artist” ideology and told we ought to be grateful for any work we’re given because there are tens of thousands of people waiting to take our place. I do not deny the importance of gratitude, but I reject the notion of the starving artist who must risk it all. Our society is constantly consuming art, so we have to start treating our artists with more respect. Acknowledge their dedication, compensate them accordingly for their time and effort, appreciate their boundaries, and grant them the same quality of life we’d want for ourselves.  

The pandemic taught me that before we are artists, we are human.

And if we can’t prioritize ourselves as humans first, then there can’t be art.

Ryan Michael James currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Before the pandemic, he was an actor, singer, and dancer in musical theater living in New York City. 


Velvet LeNore: pandemic has been challenging for drag queens, but we persevered 

The pandemic has been brutal for everyone, but performers who make their living doing live shows have suffered immensely. Draftsy talked to Miss Velvet LeNore, a newly crowned Miss Florida Female Impersonation At Large, about the community coming together to support the artists during the lockdowns.

A gorgeous drag queen with 27 years of experience, Miss LeNore is well known and respected in South Florida for building recognition for the LGBTQ community and supporting other artists.

Draftsy: Miss LeNore, how did the pandemic affect your art? Was it a negative influence, did it affect your ability to be in shows and support yourself with your act?

LeNore: Fortunately, I am one of the ladies who are not afraid to save the money, so I personally was ok, but the pandemic had hurt many people in the drag community. Many performers were scared and did not think they could survive it. Thank God for our community and the fact that we were able to do shows online from our homes. We had so much support during the lockdown. 

D: Online shows? That must have been a significant change. 

L: Yes, we found a friend who was computer savvy and helped us get online and link all the performers from their houses. We got all the ladies together and started doing shows. People were very supportive and paid us through instant money transfer apps. 

D: Being in the lockdown, how did it challenge or change your art and creativity?

L: Because of the pandemic, I took a step back and thought about the fact that every artist, no matter what art they are creating, must grow and help others. I decided to take people under my wing who wanted to become performers but didn’t know where to start. Many guys want to try a career in entertainment, but there is no platform for them. So, I made my own platform and called it “The Boylesque Show.” It allows new performers to do drag, and it is going really well; the show is blowing up in South Florida!

D: What was the most important feeling in those months during the beginning of the pandemic? What kept you going?

L: What kept me going was knowing that I would be able to see my family and my kids again one day. Not being able to see everyone for a while has made me realize that we need to love each other more, tell them how we feel every day, and spend more time with family. We must make memories with people. 

I lost someone to Covid-19 recently, a friend of mine who used to do drag to raise money for kids. We did a benefit in his name, and thousands of people came out. That broke my heart – he was so healthy and strong. For him to be taken from us like that has opened my eyes to the fact that we have to be there for each other in life. You just don’t know what’s going to happen and what tomorrow holds. 

D: Do you think the art was more important than usual in the past year and a half? 

L: Oh yes, absolutely. When the bars opened back up, I felt like the community embraced us a lot more. Things are actually even better now than before the pandemic. I am working more than I have ever worked. I think the public appreciates us more because they see what we had to go through. They are giving us the love back. 

People were in their houses for so long, only able to watch television. They could not wait to go out and see live entertainment once the restrictions were lifted. Every show has been sold out. People want to get out and experience life again. Drag shows are a way for locals to have dinner with family and friends, laugh, celebrate and have a good time. The club where I work has been packed every night.  

D: In your opinion, is there an imbalance of people leaning on art in hard times, and at the same time, artists going through difficulties because society is not giving them the means to support themselves?

L: I personally think that the community has done everything to support us through this time. A lot of people were giving the performers gift cards for Publix (local grocery store – ed.). They found ways to help us raise money, kept reaching out every week to see if we needed anything at all.  Local restaurants were cooking dinners and giving them out for free to artists that could not afford to buy food. 

I feel that the community really did give back to us. They supported us more than ever before. It just shows that people care, and they understand that we had no way to make money. A lot of girls live from show to show, so it was difficult for them. Not everyone was able to save for a rainy day. We were sharing everything and helping each other out. At times like these, we must stick together. 

Free form essays

Macha Lemaître: culture and art did not make the “essential services” list

This morning, while reading the news, I learned about a new variant of Сovid-19, which seems very dangerous. The health restrictions are tightening in France, and some neighboring countries have already decided to start another lockdown. My throat tightens.

I remember having the same feeling less than two years ago.

On March 11, 2020, I wanted to start my brand new project, lent a place for it, had friends around me to support it. It would have been a fantastic party, a spring for my art, a great new start.

Instead, we were advised to stay at home. The next day the government officially announced the start of lockdown. I spent a few months in isolation with my partner and our two-year-old son.

Day after day, we had a thousand things to do, and at the same time, nothing was happening. We had anxiety about this unknown virus. I could not go outside, could not tour, did not have any contact with my audience. The pages of social media and news feed became the background of life. Culture and art did not make the “essential services” list.

A thousand questions swirled in my mind every day. What will I do if we don’t reopen? If I had to change careers to survive, what would I do then? I could not find answers.

I participated in some collaborative videos with my artist friends. In one of them, my friend Judith showed our group of friends. I thought it was terrific.

The French government decided to support people with artistic professions who had temporary contracts and released funds to help them. Not every artist made the cut.

I was one of the lucky ones; I should have been happy and waited patiently for the end of the pandemic. But I felt a burning need to create and go back to my audience.

I look at the page, which stays desperately blank because of my lack of inspiration, lack of walks outside, fascinating conversations, and absurd ideas that appear when I look at paintings at the museum or observe people on the subway and the streets. It feels like this hell will never end.

Then, when the number of people getting sick went down, we could go outside again. The restrictions were lifted. I returned to rehearsals and saw my colleagues again; I cried with emotion when I smelled the familiar backstage smell of the theater, a mixture of fireproof paint, dust, and old fears.

I found that my voice had matured; maybe I have done so as well.

It took some time before people were allowed to public performances again. On a cold morning in April, I went to a peaceful protest for the reopening of theaters and concert halls in front of the Odéon theater. I supported the artists and the creators, art students who worked in Paris and other theaters all over France.

Eventually, we got permission to perform in schools again. I rushed into it with a student theater company, to which I owe a lot.

Little by little, we were once again able to organize “real” concerts and play our music. We found that our audience welcomed us back with warmth and gratitude, like seeing old friends years later. Nothing has changed. My life was again full of music; I spent a lot of time on the stage. I was able to relaunch my project; we were playing a lot of concerts, more than ever before.

I lost some connections in this fight. I mourned the death of a stereotypical career only to invent a tailor-made one for myself.

Some mornings were almost careless. Until this morning.

Macha Lemaître is a classical music performer. She grew up in Paris, where she still lives and works today. She studied music at the Normal School of Music in Paris (Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris) and graduated from the Master’s program for adults in Notre Dame de Paris.

In this essay, Macha shares her thoughts about what art and its creators went through during this controversial period between the lockdowns of last year and potential new restrictions.

You can follow her projects at


John Sanchez: when my art took a back seat, family and community got me through the pandemic

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Early Sunday Evening
El Amanecer
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In Search of French Broad Sweets
Merry Round Night
Pizza on a Wet Evening
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The ongoing pandemic, in many ways, had caused a “reset” of my career. Being a working artist with a family and all its responsibilities comes with many pressures: making ends meet is just one small part, and I can say that I have been more than lucky over the years that many have wanted to obtain my work. 

Before 2020, I managed my finances and juggled my responsibilities well enough. Still, the pressure of making sales and being an effective parent and husband has been mounting for a long time. 

When the pandemic began, it forced me to take a look at the trajectory I was on. I took a break from creating and dived into a “normal” life. I began to work in a totally different field. That had its own challenges, but the biggest of it all has been watching my anxiety rise more and more the longer I am away from my paintbrushes. 

Only recently have I begun coming back to creating in very small ways.

Despite moving from actively creating art for a while, however, I was able to sell quite a few works without much marketing on my part. It looks like being home has given a few of my clients extra time to contemplate more of my work. I even had three commissions that kept me quite busy for a few months. 

Being at home most of the time has created some positive situations. This pandemic was a sort of blessing. Our community grew closer. All four families that live next to us have spent much more time together; we had frequent barbecues and shared food and playtime with our children. 

We faced it together, the good and the bad. A few of our neighbors had family members and friends that unfortunately did not survive. 

My art took a back seat for a while. This new sense of community and family has kept me on an even keel for the most part. Most of us got sick at some point, and the support between us has given me an incredible sense of gratitude. I cannot emphasize how having this connection with others was truly one of the most important aspects of getting through all this. 

I was asked about a lack of balance between people who indulge in art during the pandemic, while the art-makers like me fall on hard times. 

I don’t quite see it as an imbalance, but rather as proof of life being a combination of situations, some of which are self-made, while others are down to luck. I do not have any ill will towards people who have more than others. That is just life. 

Society is not this one thing, but a gathering of individuals, and each person has their own choice or circumstances to deal with. So I do not see society as an entity that should or should not give anything to an artist. Every time we try to implement this idea, we create much worse problems. 

Perhaps, to dive deeper into this subject, I might ask about our collective idea of what art is. It is possible that a perceived imbalance, or lack of support for the artists, might stem from the fact that those, who have the means to support the artists, have a differing idea of what art is? 

I believe that we have been suffering from a gradual eroding of what art is from within our community. There are far too many people that create something and then clamor or demand support for their “non-art.” 

Think about it, does Apple need such support from society for their iPhones or MacBooks? Not at all. Why? Because the value is evident in the product and tends to create lines of people at their stores, hoping to obtain what they are selling. 

A room full of dirt or a pile of bricks in an art gallery has no such value and only serves to challenge viewers (would-be supporters). This “art” often alienates the people. 

It is always nice to hear such phrases as “support the art,” but perhaps we should pause and have a conversation about what art is in the first place. 

If we do this, we might see that many artists are already supported by those that find value in their work. I do not think it is the same for institutions that continually have low attendance or individuals that create objects of questionable value. In my opinion, they need to stop stealing the concept of art or artist in order to gain financial support that is not deserved. I believe art that has value will generally find support.

John Sanchez is an oil painter who grew up in the New York City and New Jersey area. He trained at the Arts Students League of New York and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida International University. John describes his style as realism. He uses his traditional training to portray the modern reality of human life, including coffee shop scenes, uber drivers, and city landscapes. 

He lives with his family in Weston, FL.

You can follow him on Instagram @johnsanchez and see his work at  


Meg West: Pandemic gave me the space and time to concentrate on my art

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The pandemic has affected my art and creative process in a surprisingly wonderful way. I had put my art on the back burner for quite a while, never using it to my advantage. Once the pandemic hit, I ended up losing my main income job, like most of us, but what I did gain was loads of time for creativity and creating.

I finally had time to finish those undone paintings, make stickers and prints I had worked on for a while, and learn new skills I had always wanted to acquire.

The pandemic gave me time to invest in myself and my art. It empowered me to start my small business doing what I love. Being stuck in the house with nowhere to go and nothing to do gifted me the chance to finally get the ball rolling and believe in myself like never before.

Not every day was rainbows and sunshine but waking up knowing all I had to do that day was work on my art, create new ideas, designs and share them with the world made a big difference. This was something I hadn’t had the chance to do ever before. That is happiness right there; that’s how I kept the energy flowing during such a weird time. Although it was a rough and sad year for all, I am grateful for the time, isolation, and what it has done for me as a creator.

Meg West is a young artist who grew up on Cape Cod. She got her degree in illustration from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She describes her style as colorful, organic, and edgy. She is currently living in Baja California, Mexico, with her boyfriend and two cats.

You can find her art at @castor_creatives on Instagram and contact her at


Nelya Rakhimova: “We are heading to the hell of climate change on a train without the brakes”

Nelya Rakhimova is a founder of the Open School of Sustainable Development, based in Germany but focused on working in Russia. In her exclusive interview for Draftsy she talks about the sustainable development of society and hope for a better future despite the impending ecological disaster.

Credit: Galina Gavrikova

D: Nelya, you are the founder of the Open School and a sustainable development activist and coordinator of the Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia. You are an undoubted expert on this topic. Which definition of sustainable development seems to you the most accurate and modern?

N.R.: Sustainable development is a concept that describes humanity’s existence on the planet. We can live in harmony with nature while satisfying our economic and social needs so that future generations can also fulfill their own.

In Russian, it would be more logical to say balanced development, which means that we live in balance with both nature and future generations. This is not just some theory. The concept of sustainable development has received wide political recognition. Various declarations have been signed in this regard by U.N. members.

D: You live in Germany, but the activities of the school and the coalition are primarily aimed at the Russian society. What is the reason for this, and what difficulties do you face while living in one country and working in another?

N.R.: I would not say that the school’s activities are aimed only at the Russian society, but rather at the Russian-speaking audience that stretches outside of the borders of mother country. The coalition activities are focused on Russia, but we work with a wider public. The main challenge for me is inability to attend certain events in Russian Federation. Many events take place in Moscow, not all of them are remote. When I fail to physically get there, it means losing opportunities, contacts, and funding. However, even though I am not in Russia, I am recognized as an expert, and often invited to speak at conferences.

I know that if lived in Russia, I could have done more. However, considering safety of activists in the country and lack of freedom of speech, I do not know what circumstances I could find myself in. Perhaps I would have to suspend my activities. It is challenging for me to talk about living in my native country in the subjunctive mood.

D: Are there analogs of the Open School in Russia?

N.R.: A lot of environmentally oriented organizations and projects have recently appeared in the country. Sustainable development and education organizations are most often our partners. They use our materials and link their activities to the Open School. There are also companies that focus on climate change and sustainable business. However, there isn’t a one for one analog of our Open School in Russia. We remain a partner and a teacher to many initiatives that share our goals – we are often invited to lecture at eco-schools; they use our materials and graphics. I understand that I am still a narrowly focused specialist.

Unfortunately, involving civil society in the sustainable development agenda is still very difficult in Russia. We created the Coalition for Sustainable Development to help with this process. We managed to attract rather large organizations to our cause due to the fact that the Open School is known in certain circles.

D: Nelya, your school has existed for eight years. It is known in Russia and abroad. You conduct seminars and meetings, speak at conferences. In your opinion, are there any noticeable shifts in Russia in the field of sustainable development?

N.R.: The primary changes are taking place in the business sphere, primarily due to global competition. Investors want to work with environmentally and socially sustainable companies. Ratings of businesses are created, and investors prefer to invest in “green” companies. Despite political isolation, Russian companies are beginning to focus on international business practices. Otherwise, they lose out on partnerships and lucrative contracts. As a result, business in Russia is at the forefront of the sustainable development agenda, but, of course, it is not that simple.

Leadership in accountability and awareness of doing business in harmony with nature and society does not always mean that specific business practices change, which is very sad. To be honest, I still feel uncomfortable working with commercial organizations because I often think that there is nothing behind their words.

Therefore, I believe that sustainable development is the responsibility of the government. It should determine the standards and limits for how the corporate world operates. There is certain progress on this front, but it is not as fast as we would like it to be.

A Council of the Ministry of Economic Development has been created in the country, and Russia has finally recognized the fact of climate change due to the actions of humanity. However, if we look at the actions of the ministries and the Russian legislation in general, nothing is changing. As a result, there is still stagnation in this area and a rollback to old ways of doing things, despite the significant number of meetings and forums on the topic of sustainable development.

The same goes for civil society. Of course, there have been some shifts, but they are more formal in nature. For example, if we look at the human rights, freedom of speech, and gender equality, Russia is experiencing a complete degradation to outdated views on these matters.

D: You coordinated the first Citizens’ Review on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals released in 2020. What was the purpose of the review? How was it met in Russia? Did the authorities take note of the report?

N.R.: The objective of our report was an independent analysis of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Russia by civil society experts. Our report was attended by both individual activists and influential non-profit organizations, and representatives of the academic community. The final result of our report was significantly different from the state report, which was also released that year. The draft of the official report was very extensive and included a lot of important information from specialists, but then it was shortened, and only what was needed was left. Our report openly talked about the acute problems of Russian society.

D: Have you read the official report?

N.R.: I even participated in its development and was a member of at least three working committees. Participation in the remote format was then impossible. At that time, all meetings were mostly face-to-face, and my colleagues rarely used online meetings. As a result, the problem with the official report was that the regions were not included in the work.

We made a different choice. When we started working on the Civil Review, we tried to include regions in the process, to make everything open and accessible. We decided not to filter the participants, not to hold closed meetings. Any citizen wishing to take part in the discussions could register. We posted information with an offer to participate in the development of the report on major social portals. We wanted to give an independent assessment of the situation, and I additionally set myself the goal of representing Russian civil society at the international level.

Europe still doesn’t know much about Russia. Europeans rarely work with our region and Eastern Europe, because all attention and resources are focused on the developing countries of Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

I believe that our goal of representing Russia has been achieved. We have received feedback from various international agencies.

It is difficult for me to judge which aspects of the report were taken into account by the government, because we do not have effective communication on this topic. We were, of course, thanked for our active position at several international events. The most positive thing we got from the state was Chubais’s reaction. He has openly made statements that our review should be considered in parallel with the official report on sustainable development.

D: In a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, humankind was given a bitter verdict: our activities are causing significant damage to the planet and some changes in nature and climate are irreversible – at least in the next hundred years. In your opinion, what should be done by the governments of states in order to somehow reduce the effect of the approaching catastrophe?

N.R.: They should at least do something!

D: Will this “something” be enough?

N.R.: This is a difficult question. We are heading to this hell on a train with no brakes. But we shouldn’t give up either. It is necessary to set hard limits on the impact of industry on the climate. Russia is one of the countries that do nothing to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

Our country recognized the reality of the irreversible process of climate change and expressed a desire to act. But again, everyone understands that all the goals that the government sets, either have already been achieved or will be achieved without the intervention of the state. What does it mean? To comply with international standards, industrial emissions need to be reduced by a certain percentage, based on the 1990 level. The Soviet Union had a very high level of industrial emissions. After the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of economic regression, all production stopped and, accordingly, emissions decreased.

Russia still uses the fact that we have not returned to the 1990 level as evidence of a reduction of the impact of industry on the climate. When we are told that we are the fourth country in the world in terms of emissions (the first three are the USA, China and India. If we unite all the E.U. countries, Russia will be in fifth place), we answer that we have already reduced them. Arguments are often heard: “Look at the United States, they do nothing at all. Why should we do something?”

I cannot say that I am a climate expert, but the global industry needs to be transformed. It is necessary to decarbonize the economy, which includes three main components: transition to renewable energy sources wherever possible; electrification and the conversion of all technologies that run on fossil technologies to electricity; and industrial energy efficiency.

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about green hydrogen. It can be used like natural gas, but when it burns, water is formed. It is completely carbon neutral. But we need a lot of energy to produce hydrogen. If we find a way to produce green hydrogen using renewable energy sources, we will arrive at the global goal of energy conservation.

Speaking about the transformation of the economy through renewable energy sources, electrification, and energy efficiency, it should be noted that the process should be guided by the principle of a just transition. Decarbonization should take place with social considerations. For example, if tomorrow France decides to abandon nuclear energy, and Russia stops using coal and oil, then the states must provide employment for all citizens who have lost their jobs because of this reform.

D: How can we, the ordinary citizens, help our planet?

N.R.: There are two possible ways to make a difference. A person can be a rational consumer and behave in society with sustainable development in mind, observing the principles of social equality. A citizen can also get involved in work with the local governments, trying to influence politics in various ways.

One of the ways to influence political reforms is voting in general elections. For example, in the German capital, elections were recently held, and the Green Party came in second with a minimal margin over the more traditional Social Democratic Party. Serious changes in society can begin with legislative reform.

D: If you could send a message to the future, what would you write to our descendants?

N.R.: I think it is better to write to those who are in the past and call them to action. I am probably not ready to write a letter to the future yet, because I am in the process of a fight for the better tomorrow. If the moment comes when I realize that I can’t do anything else in the present, then I’ll sit down to write something like this: “Dear future generation, I did everything I could, but the results are not great. I’m sorry, we did our best!”

Topic of the month

Volume IV – Power of Art and Artists surviving the pandemic

Last year turned the world upside down and changed our lives forever. We learned to socialize differently, work from home, wear masks and greet each other from afar.

For many people, art in its many forms has become a comfort and salvation. Favorite music and books, old movies, and online galleries had become a solace in moments when pretty much everything else in the world was uncertain.

At the same time, with theaters and museums closed, concerts canceled, and banned, many artists found themselves without jobs and on the brink of extinction. In every country in the world, they tried to find a way to survive and continue to create while their support systems were crumbling around them.

This month we would like to tell their stories and talk about art. How it saves us and how sometimes it, too, needs to be saved.



Trash in Paris: sorting and recycling should be taught in schools

Credit : L.R.

The modern Western economic model of society produces a tremendous amount of waste. In France, for example, it reaches 38 million tons per year.

Back in 1884, the Prefect of Paris, Eugène Poubel, decided that waste should be collected and put in special containers, covered with a lid. His memory lives on, as, after the reform, Parisians started calling the trash bins “poubelle,” and the name stuck.

The innovation allowed the city authorities to clean up Paris’s streets and kick off the tradition of sorting waste.

Garbage recycling centers have existed in Paris since 1886. Rag-pickers collected paper, cloth, bones, and cans, while other workers took away iron, pottery, and enamel products. After careful selection, only organic waste remained, which was mixed with the soil and used for the needs of agriculture. The rest of the garbage was incinerated and converted into steam and electricity.

The waste sorting law was adopted in France in 1992, but only at the end of 2002 has it been implemented in all districts of Paris.

Parisians throw garbage in three multi-colored bins. Yellow is for plastic and paper; white is for glass, and green is for household waste. Only a few districts in Paris use a fourth separate brown container for organic waste.

For successful recycling, sorting and collecting waste needs to be done right. The main task of sorting trash is processing it into new resources.

Before 2020, some of the plastic and paper packages were recycled, while others were not. Now, the sorting process has been simplified, and all parts of the box can be thrown into a yellow container.

A simple example is of this issue is cookie packaging, which, most often in France, consists of a cardboard box containing a plastic container covered with a plastic sheet. Until 2020, only cardboard was recycled, but now all packaging is recycled in most districts. Starting in 2023, all plastic packaging will be recycled.

Sorting and recycling garbage has not yet become a widespread habit. Parisians still often wonder how to do it right.

As a result, education remains one of the main tasks of successful recycling. High-tech recycling centers are huge progress, but in order for them to work efficiently, waste must be sorted right at the first stage, in the homes of Parisians.

The problem is – no one knows one hundred percent how to sort and recycle garbage properly.

There are many urban legends on this topic. Is it right to flatten plastic bottles? They take up less space this way, but the recycling center may not accept them. The tinfoil now can be recycled and belongs in the yellow bin. But it must be rolled into a sphere the size of a tennis ball to be correctly processed at the sorting facility.

I still have a lot of questions and a great desire to sort the garbage correctly. I am one of those people who understand that recycling waste into resources is an essential process. Yet, the lack of centralized and accessible information prevents us from doing it correctly and efficiently.

Some Parisians don’t care what happens to the trash – as long it is out of sight. It is hard to blame them. Their position is another consequence of the lack of information and social education.

There are many different initiatives to reduce plastic waste, including reusable containers and bulk shopping to avoid packaging. However, these innovations are most often seen in expensive organic supermarkets and remain the exception to the rule. Most city dwellers buy groceries in regular stores, which means that the amount of garbage in Parisian houses does not decrease.

Not everyone realizes the importance of recycling and waste reduction on their own. Informing the public about waste sorting and recycling is a crucial part of the process. In my opinion, kids should be taught at school how to recycle and why it’s essential, so the new generations know better and can do better than us.


A basket of fresh vegetables to save the organic farming: my experience in AMAP

Credit: Ta-Tev

AMAPs exist in almost every city in France. The abbreviation stands for “Association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne”, which translated from French means the Association for the maintenance of farm agriculture. First amaps appeared in the country in 2000. They allow city dwellers to buy fresh vegetables, bread, eggs, and meat directly from the farmers, and farms get the funds and help they need in return.

Joining an amap starts with signing a contract with a local farmer. Everyone involved wins: having many subscribers helps to ensure the farm’s financial stability during the year, and members get fresh produce weekly – organic vegetables, grown without pesticides.

In Paris, a farmer can work with one, two, or three districts, depending on how many people his harvest can accommodate. In some areas of the city, several amaps coexist, with different farmers in charge of each. I had a chance to be a member of amap in Ile-de-France.

At first, I was skeptical about the proposal to join the amap. I’ve heard a lot about this association, and some of my friends have expressed mixed reviews. Among the inconveniences of this system, people most often remarked on the fact that vegetables need to be picked up regularly, once a week, at the same time. This means that on the evening of the amap meeting, the person has to be there and is forced to plan their life around it. By signing a contract, people also agree to help farmers from time to time: participate in the distribution of vegetables and help during the harvest.

Another disadvantage is the fact that the harvest is not always predictable. Some weeks the farmer may have less vegetables, so subscribers can’t fully depend on getting everything they need from the amap. They might have to buy the necessary products in regular stores, which can be annoying if the family is trying to stick to getting 100% organic produce from the farm and uses it as motivation to join the amap.

Amaps in Paris rarely offer fruit (the variety of crops depends on the farm and its location). One of the important principles of the system is to support the consumption of seasonal products. In the summertime, the farmers will bring tomatoes and cucumbers, while during the winter amap will have different types of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, celery root, and black radish.

After much thought, I finally decided to sign a contract. My main motivation was to support local farming and sustainable agriculture practices.

When I went to the first distribution of vegetables, I was amazed by the number of people supporting this system. The crowd was very diverse: couples with children, older citizens, and young people. I saw a friendly face right away – our neighbor turned out to be one of the members.

After talking with the farmer, I learned that about 40 people are registered in the amap of our district (and this was far from the only amap in the area). The farmer at that time had no more space and even had to refuse some people who wanted to sign up.

I was impressed by the friendly and cheerful atmosphere at the meetings. As it turns out, every week, those charged with distributing the vegetables (a task all members have to take turns on every six months) bring pies, drinks and throw a small party. Some people pick up the vegetables and immediately go home, while others stay to socialize. Participants discuss organic farming, alternative energy production, waste reduction, and supporting local farms. During these evenings, people exchange views and experiences.

After several meetings, I realized that the distribution of vegetables from 7 to 8.30 in the evening falls on the time when the French are normally having dinner. Members were multitasking and using the meetings to socialize and have a meal with friends and like-minded people. At the end of the night, when everyone gets their baskets of vegetables and the dinner is over, distributors can take leftover produce home.

The most abundant times for amaps are summer and fall. During that season, our farmer brought the freshest vegetables: juicy tomatoes, fresh onions, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, and fragrant herbs.

Once a year, the most active amap members organize a big meeting, to which all subscribers are invited. They discuss organizational issues and main trends in agriculture, participants vote for innovations and exchange opinions. In addition to these annual meetings, the city’s amap network often hosts conferences and screens documentaries on organic farming.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the amap membership for me was the trips to the farm. Each time it would get together about twenty people. Working on the farm turned out to be a very educational process. On the one hand, I learned a lot about farming and was able to see with my own eyes how it is done in France. On the other hand, during potluck lunches at the farm, when everyone shared something they cooked at home, I was able to meet interesting people from different cultures and parts of society, united by love for the land, desire for a change, and the search for alternatives to the modern consumption system.

Digging in the ground, picking vegetables, having that pleasant tiredness in the evening – it all reminded me of my childhood when I helped my parents in our countryside Russian «dacha». Back then I couldn’t appreciate the pleasure of growing my own vegetables. Working in the garden seemed to me a pointless waste of personal time because everything could be bought in the store. Helping our farmer now, I had the feeling that I, too, make some contribution to the cultivation of vegetables, and even more, a contribution to the development of subsistence farming.

I got a different point of view on local farming. I tried new vegetables, the ones I never bought at the store before since they were unknown to me. I plunged into a world of solidarity not only with farmers but also between amap participants. There was a tradition among the members: those who cannot come for their basket of vegetables can ask someone to pick it up and hold it until the next day. At times, especially in winter, when it is dark and raining outside, it is difficult to motivate yourself to go to the amap for vegetables. But every time, I managed to overcome my laziness and went to a meeting.

I never regretted my decision to join amap. When we moved from Paris, I had to leave the association and now, when I try to grow my own vegetables, I fondly remember this invaluable experience. Thanks to the amap and the people I met there, I have the hope that through the solidarity and responsibility that awakens in each of us as we work together, we can contribute to the better future of our planet. Even if this contribution starts with a simple basket of fresh vegetables.


Julius and his community garden

Julius is an architect. He lives in the heart of the 19th district of Paris. Several years ago, together with many other people that live in his enormous building, Julius planted a community garden. From that day, it remained a passion project for him. The garden, labor, and fruits of which are shared by all the participating neighbors, allowed them to create an island of nature surrounded by the stone jungle of Paris.

In this interview for Draftsy Julius agreed to tell us more about his garden and how it changed the life of the building.

D: Julius, what was your motivation to create the community garden?

J: Well, the “garden” part came first, and the “community” came later. My primary motive was the simple pleasure of watching a seed grow into a plant and bear fruit, watching a visiting bee, the rain, and the sun do their part in it. Experimenting with tomatoes in my own 12th-floor balcony for a few years was enough to satisfy this pleasure. I guess this sort of intimate engagement with nature is the first and necessary element of our ecological being as a society. At the same time, I’ve also been looking for opportunities to shatter social norms, historically associated with urban green spaces, which are exclusively decorative and recreational in their purpose.

What do you do in the parks of big cities? You admire begonias, you jog, you have your picnics on the grass with friends, and you take care not to stain your nice clothes with grass and dirt. In a way, you treat it like a big veranda with flowerpots, attached to your living-room. Parks are full of signs forbidding you to do this and that which is far from the freedom you have while being in a forest.

My first idea was secretly planting some “unsightly”, rural vegetables in those beautiful flower beds all around Parisian parks. This subversive idea brought me to the “community” dimension because the urban space and social norms are unthinkable without sharing, without living together. You can’t undo big cities, but you can try changing them. This is how my connection with nature shaped into a sort of love triangle: nature, society, and the individual. I discovered many like-minded people in Paris, and in fact, this grass-root movement has been going on all over Europe for some time now. Some are moved by the return-to-roots motivation, others – by the looming ecological disaster, the collapse in the bee population, and the climate change.

The idea is to reclaim the urban green areas nearby, leaving the choices of how to make their urban environment greener for private citizens. Some of those reclaimed areas are tiny left-over spots: in German cities, and recently in Paris, people started “adopting” a three square meter area around a sidewalk tree, and planting wildflowers, pumpkins, and whatnot. Others temporarily squat the sites of demolished old buildings. The municipal authorities started following this essentially grass-roots trend and now provide assistance – something that was unthinkable twenty years ago. There are many such initiatives around Paris, and communal gardens are nowadays often included in new housing projects.

I am lucky to live in an apartment building with a large adjacent green area and share it with some like-minded neighbors. We asked the landowner to allocate us a plot for urban gardening. He gave us a go. Partly because, for better or worse, the ecology nowadays is an asset of fashion for housing companies, and partly because this way he saves on lawn maintenance costs.

Now we have a 600 square meter garden, which is rather big for a city that is one of the most densely built spots in the world. This is how our garden came into being, and we just gathered the third harvest.

D: What were the first steps for you and your neighbors to make it happen, once the decision was made, and everyone was on board?

J: The first steps were us trying to agree on what we want to do, how do we want it to happen, and deciding on what is the endgame of the project. This (still ongoing) discussion didn’t magically make the garden materialize but it’s still worth mentioning. France is a country with very strong traditions of social consciousness, and a tiny communal endeavor as this can quickly devolve into hot debates on social and political order. The idea of allotting land for individual use was discarded from the outset. Are we going to be a collective garden or a shared one? This question would perplex a person from some Nordic country, but the disagreement on it was nearly fatal for our group.

Credit: Julius

The steps that did advance the creation of the garden were getting up from the table in the middle of the discussion, going to our plot, building wooden frames, and working the soil. With time, we procured some funds to buy wood and tools and to replace the infertile soil. We learned to enjoy together what we used to enjoy privately in our balconies: watching the flowers and vegetable plants bloom, start to smell, ripen with fruit. There’s a very particular kind of pleasure in taking the elevator down to the garden to fetch some salad greens and cucumbers for dinner – in the middle of Paris! 

D: Who was helping you? How many people participated in the project? How much time do you spend working in the garden now?

J: The landlord – who is a semi-private social housing company – gave us a budget for our bigger expenses: the wood, irrigation pipes, and the new soil. The plans, workforce and logistics came from our group exclusively. This involved all kinds of know-how, ranging from carpentry to plumbing. Our group is very diverse profession-wise, but nearly all come from a white-collar professional background. There are opera singers, mathematicians… We had to rely a lot on my professional expertise as an architect. A lot of very specific knowledge, especially when it comes to gardening, comes from online resources, from YouTube, and so on.

We started with about 30 members in the beginning, but today the regulars count 5-10 devotees. Since we have extremely diverse skills and capacities, some work with the soil, others organize events, do paperwork or take photographs for the archive. Since we’re still in the “investment” stage, putting everything in shape takes a lot of time, but unlike the day job, the amount of work largely depends on the biological calendar, naturally. We are looking for outside funding, and this year the French government created an all-country financial assistance specifically for urban gardening. I’m counting on it to help us buy some trees and wood for the garden furniture.

D: How do you share the responsibilities of taking care of the garden and the harvest?

J: We never established a more tangible “constitution” of the group. There are however a couple of “red lines”: no individual appropriation of land, and no power hierarchy (except for my being a sort of unelected leader). We compensate for the lack of structure by playing by ear. I guess that puts us somewhere within the anarchist camp, but we don’t pigeonhole ourselves in political definitions. There’s an unwritten agreement though that we will keep with the ecological practices and philosophy.

As a general observation, there’s a big gap between the time and effort that people tend to invest into what is a hobby, after all, and the real needs of a well-managed garden, which will simply perish if you don’t water it the moment it needs to be watered. We have a WhatsApp group to quickly react to the weather and call for reinforcement when needed. Sometimes nobody’s available, and the plants take the toll.

While we have no hierarchic structure, we do have supervisors of technical areas: some are responsible for flowers, others for vegetables, for budget, for the compost, and so on. Most of those initiatives come spontaneously, and the person who introduces an idea is usually responsible for overseeing its realization. This makes the choice of the supervisor by voting somewhat irrelevant because it’s rare for several people to author the same idea. Some voices were calling for using voting to arbitrate every little decision, but this proved to be as time-consuming as counterproductive, mainly because gardening involves thousands of small choices that are purely technical. For example, a group can vote very evenhandedly for planting peas together with onions, but those two cultures will never grow well together. Some choices are less obvious because there are various philosophies of gardening. We are still divided over the question of whether we should mow our lawns the “English way” or let it grow wild in the spirit of “French garden”. We’ll have to hear the pros and cons and put it to vote.

Since the land is used commonly, we share the fruits of the garden in the most equitable way possible. The harvest is not big enough to set a quota for sharing, so eating the fruits is a largely symbolic act of sharing. Being- and having fun together is a very distinct dimension of the group, although this has little to do with its ecological purposes, properly speaking. But urban gardening and ecological consciousness have a strong social bond, almost a kinship. Even within the population of our high-rise residence overlooking the garden, our group and its activities are subjects of curiosity and talk. In this sense, our activity is very different from that of an agricultural professional, tending to his or hers obscure rural garden: it’s inevitably a theater stage for other townsfolk to watch. This may sound a bit negative, but at the same time, it’s a form of direct action in transforming the traditional urban mindset. All our new recruits joined us after seeing us through the window. On a broader scale, there are about fifteen similar garden projects in our district alone, which amounts to certain visibility in the city and its municipal ecological politics.

D: What do you usually plant? Did you have to change it at all in the process of trial and error (some plants did not work well, others made more sense, etc.)?

J: In the beginning, we were reduced to a narrow range of plants that could grow in our silty substrate that only had 1.5% of organic matter. Things got better after we added 40 cubic meters of rich soil. Now, besides the usual European-climate friendly vegetables, we grow various tomatoes, even Italian bell peppers. For the exotic peppers, we’ve built a greenhouse. Due to having no formal training in the field, we use the trial-and-error method. This year I tried growing the southern melons in the greenhouse, but in a humid greenhouse the mildew devastated the plants. Tomatoes do very well, although this summer was extremely cold. With flowers, we have the usual pleasure-garden beauties, but in general, we chose the most bee-friendly flowers.

D: In your opinion, will community gardens disappear in the future, or will they become even more common?

J: The urban community gardens can’t possibly disappear because their emerging follows similar reasons that back in the nineteenth century forced the authorities of big cities to create public gardens at the expense of the built areas. The trend is not only a matter of fashion but also an absolute ecological and social necessity. Unlike public parks though, the urban community gardens have lots of limitations: they appear where an empty spot in the built-up environment becomes available. But more and more city planners include such gardens in new housing projects. It’s becoming a norm with benefits.

D: Do you think the creation of community gardens in the big cities could be an alternative answer to the future problems with food?

J: Interesting question. There’s certainly a lot that can be done for cities to be able to provide themselves with agricultural produce, but there are certain limitations to be taken into account. The vegetation footprint in Paris is gradually spreading on the flat roofs, even on the walls, but it will always have to share space with other components and functions of the city. Sunlight is another thing to share. Certain vegetables and fruits are easy to grow even in the city but very difficult to transport from remote places. For example, fresh raspberries. There is a company in Paris that cultivates them on the rooftops and provides them directly to restaurants because a massive amount of berries goes bad very fast and can’t stand transportation. The same is true for salad greens and many other vegetables.

D: If you could have the power to make it happen, which other alternative do you think has the ability to improve the ecological situation in the big cities around the world?

J: Outside the lack of vegetation, there are dire ecological problems in the city that should be treated as quickly as possible, for instance, the transport and thermic insulation of buildings. If your question is more about the nature in the city, I wish I could transform flat rooftops into a real layer of thick greenery floating above the city, with occasional footbridges and small animal overpasses across the streets. It would be a new space for the same population, but it would have different norms of being together. Utopians of the nineteenth century called for combining the best of the city and the countryside, but the idea ended up with sad fenced suburban condominiums. So, this would be my shot. But that would require massive changes in building by-laws, construction codes, and even in the concept of land ownership. French people say Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible!

If you want to learn more about community gardens in the 19th district of Paris follow the link . The garden of Julius and his neigbours is under the number 24.


World CleanUp day

Credit : Brian Yurasits

World CleanUp day is celebrated today – millions of people around the world are coming together to make a difference in their communities.

According to the World CleanUp day official website, last year, despite the pandemic, 11 million volunteers in 166 countries participated in the event and collected 43000 tons of garbage. This year the organizers hope to see even more people take part.

The idea to simply get together, go outside and clean up the environment as much as possible was born in 2008 in Estonia. A local grass-roots organization Let’s Do It called for a national cleanup day. Fifty thousand people showed up and picked up ten thousand tons of trash, ultimately “cleaning up” the country. The event quickly made the news, but what is even more important, it inspired millions of people (and even whole governments) to follow suit.

Members of the initial Estonian group have created an international Let’s Do It World movement in 2011. In 2018 they naturally progressed from the idea of “cleaning up” individual countries and organized the first World CleanUp Day. According to the movement’s 2020 annual report, participants specifically concentrated on plastic bottles and cigarette butts. However, during last year’s cleanup, volunteers around the world unearthed some interesting finds. In the Cayman Islands, they collected a lot of abandoned shopping carts; in France, a washing machine was pulled out of a canal; and in Ukraine, volunteers found a motorcycle buried in the mud.

In my home state of Florida, thousands of volunteers will go out today to clean up local parks and beaches – World CleanUp day coincides in the US with the International Coastal Cleanup, which urges people to pick up trash on the shore and stop plastic pollution of the ocean at the source.

Even if your Cleanup Day will consist of picking up a plastic bottle from the sidewalk or taking a bucket for your morning beach walk – we can all do our small part. Let’s clean up the world!

To learn more, check out

Topic of the month

Volume III – Ecology

In the first two volumes, we wrote about the meaning of home and freedom. When considering the topic for September, it seemed to us that ecology would be a logical continuation of this conversation.

In the recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the humanity received a harsh verdict: we are causing immense harm to the planet, and some of the changes can be considered irreversible for the following centuries to millennia. Scientists from 66 countries have worked on the report. Their conclusion is rather pessimistic and does not leave room for hope to solve global warming issues any time soon.

What is happening to our planet today is the result of catastrophic, insatiable human greed. Humans’ desire to take advantage of the Earth’s resources till the last drop, and our irresponsibility and cupidity to dominate nature have led to the reality in which the forests around the world are burning, new diseases appear, and various species of insects, animals, and fish disappear forever.

We act as if we have an extra planet somewhere, a new, clean home. Unfortunately, humanity has no other planet besides the Earth, so it is time we face what we are doing to it. With the ecological catastrophe already happening, it is possible that in the future, it may cause social disasters associated with the restriction of human rights and freedoms.

Today, we have a choice to make. On the one hand, we can pretend that everything is fine, the planet’s resources will be enough for our generation, and say “our grandkids can deal with this problem.” Or we can choose to act – on a personal level and by influencing global corporations who are causing the most pollution and changing the face of the planet.

This month, we would like to talk about various environmental initiatives and discuss what we can do to help the planet.



Sex trafficking in France: how migrant women end up in modern slavery 

Credit : Ta-Tev

When I think about the freedom of women today, I think about it in the most literal way – as freedom of migrant women that I have worked with. They come to France in search of a better future for their families but instead find themselves involved in sexual exploitation.

Sex trafficking is a controversial topic, surrounded by stereotypes, myths, and tabus. It raises a serious problem of the exploitation of women’s bodies by men, challenges the patriarchal society that makes this exploitation possible, and in some countries even legal and regulated. Sexual exploitation brings into question female’s freedom of choice. Does it exist for women caught in the grip of modern slavery? 

In this article, I will mainly talk about women who have been victims of trafficking and prostitution. Men also fall into this system, but much less often. All the information is based on my experience of working with victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, professional courses I have attended, as well as the literature I have read. This topic is very extensive, so for this discussion, I will outline only the basic facts about how human trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims takes place in France.

Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the modern world is a developed and well-functioning system, supplying women to Europe, the US and Canada, and Russia. Women and girls are brought from poor countries with unstable political and economic situations. They come from Africa, where the main traffic of people comes from Nigeria; Eastern European countries including Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria; and more recently Latin American countries.

What happens to women brought to Europe? Do they manage to get out of this sexual slavery? Can they rebuild their lives in the new country? To answer these questions, consider the situation of victims of trafficking and forced prostitution in France. 

France is a part of Europe, but not all European Union countries have the same stance towards prostitution. France is a neighbor to Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Ireland, which all support the neo-abolitionism approach. This means clients are punished and fined, pimps can face a long prison sentence and a huge fine, but women who engage in sexual relations for money are considered victims of the system of prostitution.

Since 2011, prostitution has been perceived in France as violence against women and equated with crimes such as rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. Since 2016, buying sex in France is punishable by law. The client, creating a demand for the service, thereby participates in the human traffic for sexual exploitation and violence against women, which runs counter to the gender equality policy in the country. 

The women are brought in from different countries, depending on the expectations of the clients. Most are lured to France by fraudulent means. Girls are forced to engage in sexual relations with clients against their will, through blackmail, threats, and violence. Since it is illegal to buy sexual services, these women are victims and not subject to the punishment sex workers face in the countries where prostitution is prohibited and illegal (for example, in Russia and some countries of Eastern Europe).

How do women become victims of the prostitution system and what do they go through? 

The story of every trafficked woman is unique. However, certain situations can put women at increased risk of falling victims to sex slavery. It is important to understand that women who have been trapped in this system and found themselves in France are mostly migrants who decided to go to Europe to work, not knowing what kind of work awaits them. Forced to migrate to feed their families, many of them leave their children with relatives and hope for a better future abroad. 

Others are young girls who have experienced violence in their own country (molestation at a young age by family members or sexual assault by strangers); some are victims of forced marriage; others are forced into prostitution in their home countries. 

Depending on the country the women are trafficked from, the methods of attracting them are different. Often, women involved in prostitution against their will have an unstable income and a history of sexual abuse. They come from extreme poverty. Many did not have or do not have access to education and information. Most, deciding to leave their country to work, do not know what awaits them on that path.

For example, women from Nigeria mostly go through Libya, where they become victims of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. For several years now, journalists and international human rights organizations have raised the alarm, telling the world community that people in Libya are being sold and bought while trying to get to Europe. Migrants are regularly sold into slavery, tortured, and killed. Women who manage to get through this hell, end up on boats that transport them to Europe. Not everyone survives at sea. Once in Europe, women have to pay back the money they spent traveling there. However, instead of the expected job as a nanny, a worker in a nursing home, or a hairdresser, they are forced to “work” on the street and sell their bodies.

How do women leave prostitution?

There are several well-functioning systems for transporting, selling, and exploiting women in Europe. It is very difficult to get out of those systems, but it is possible. Every girl (the victims can be also minors) and woman involved is controlled by pimps and other participants of the process, who have a huge impact on victims of trafficking. Criminals use various methods to control and intimidate victims: psychological manipulation, blackmail, threats of violence against the women and their loved ones. For example, women from Nigeria are forced to take an oath of obedience before leaving. During this ritual, the hair is cut off from different parts of their bodies, mixed with nail clippings and parts of the skin, and made into a Voodoo doll. If women refuse to obey, they are reminded of the oath and the punishment that awaits them. 

At some point during sexual exploitation, a woman may be faced with a situation that will influence her decision to flee from a pimp, despite the threats and serious consequences of disobedience. Most often, she decides to take such a step when faced with serious health problems, after being brutally attacked by a hot-tempered client or after finding out that one of her family members was murdered by criminals. Sometimes women simply no longer have the physical or mental strength to continue such a life. It is at this point that they have the courage and strength to seek support from organizations that help victims of sex trafficking.

How can organizations help victims?

Several organizations in France support victims of sexual exploitation on their way to a normal life. They employ social workers and educators, psychologists, lawyers, and other professionals. Some women turning to these organizations just want to tell their stories and rehabilitate their bodies and souls. Many need help with legal issues, some simply have nothing to eat and need help to get food and housing. Whatever issue a victim of sex trafficking may bring to these associations, the central problem for them is the experience of prostitution in itself.

Many women don’t know how to cope with the past and deal with the psychological trauma caused by constant violence against their bodies and souls. They want to start a new life but are not sure how to live with the eternal fear that they will be found and forced to go out on the streets again. At the same time, they are facing the fear of not surviving this new “normal life” without traditional work, knowledge of the language, and support.

Organizations working with victims of sex trafficking help them find solutions for these issues. They support women and help them build a new life filled with positive emotions and experiences. 

The path to normal life for victims is long and difficult. Breaking free of sexual slavery, women find themselves face to face with psychological trauma and fears for themselves and their families. By contacting organizations that support victims of sex trafficking in time, they can receive psychological help and talk with social workers, which allows them to speak about their problems and process what happened to them, and gain access to information about their rights. In addition to psychological problems, victims of the sex trade can have serious, wide-ranging health problems that must also not be overlooked. 

At the same time, women are faced with the problem of survival. They must find ways to feed themselves and figure out where to live. There are a few organizations and associations in France that help them with basic needs. Women can get temporary housing by calling Emergency Number 115 for the homeless; various charities help the needy and the homeless with food. All this social support keeps women afloat for a while. However, for the most part, women find themselves without papers, money, and knowledge of the language, in the country the bureaucratic system and cultural codes of which seem to them (at least in the beginning) a complete gibberish. Many of them, after applying for asylum, are rejected by the authorities and risk being deported, which for many (especially the women from Nigeria), can mean a return to sex slavery and violence from pimps demanding backpay.

There are women who, at their peril and risk, go to the police and write a statement against their pimps. While their case is being investigated, women receive a temporary residence permit. If the investigation does not identify the perpetrators and reaches a dead-end (which happens very often), that residence permit is not renewed, so women, again, face deportation.

France has a state program for women affected by sexual exploitation, called “Exit Prostitution”. The program lasts two years, supports women financially, and gives them access to intensive courses in French and the labor market. However, the program is not perfect. Depending on the area, it is not always easy for women to access the program. Once the victims join the program, it can last longer than two years, which in itself becomes a difficult test for women. Many of them want to forget the past, start a new life and look with hope to the future, yet they are forced for years to speak about their trauma and remember it. 

Is it possible to leave prostitution for good? 

Many women escape and never go back. Those who return do it for various reasons, but this is a topic for another article.

In Russia and France, one can often hear that prostitution is the oldest profession, and if women are engaged in it, it must be their personal choice. No “job” in the world causes as much psychological and physical trauma as prostitution. That’s why for me, sexual exploitation cannot be considered a profession, it is constant violence against the body and soul of a woman. No women dream of becoming sex slaves to men that make money by selling their bodies. For the vast majority of women immigrants in France, prostitution is not a free choice. 

I believe our society needs to rethink its views on prostitution. As long as we consider such phrases as “prostitution is a profession”, “because of prostitutes we have fewer rapes”, “it is their choice, they like it” normal, there will be no real equality between men and women. Equality means the female body is respected and not sold for profit against a woman’s wishes. Equality means the women are protected from being beaten up, humiliated, and raped. 

Free form essays

Freedom of having children late

Credit: Adrian Hillman, iStock

When I was a little girl, I thought I would have two kids by the time I was 25. Granted, I grew up in Russia, where getting married young and having children young has been an accepted tradition for a very long time. Instead, I went to college, worked as a journalist for a while, and then moved to the US.

In my early twenties, the last thing on my mind was, “where do I find a fine man who can be the father to my future children?” Instead, I was thinking about how to get the tickets to the latest DJ set or use my journalist ID to get to the backstage of concerts (after using it first to get in for free). I traveled, I made friends, I fell in love. I made stupid decisions. Probably some good ones, too. But the twenties seem like the perfect time for screwing things up and learning from your mistakes.

I did get married for the first time when I was 27. He was much older than me, and having kids right away just wasn’t something we discussed. I felt I had a lot of time, and our financial situation was far from ideal. When I got divorced two years later, not having children (or any property together) was more of a blessing than a regret.

Only in my early thirties did I finally find myself, learned to listen to my desires, and treat my body and mind with the love they deserved all along. I moved across the country, traveled even more, got a new job. I started going to therapy (that divorce was a great thing for me but still left me in shambles).

I am trying to say that up until I was about 31-32, I wasn’t too concerned about having kids. I was hoping to meet someone soon, who would be a good husband and a father. I knew I was getting close to the moment when I would want to become a mom. But I also enjoyed being single, discovering the world, and learning how to be genuinely happy on my own. In other words, I was growing up and becoming the person I was meant to be.

Maybe it is the privilege of our comfortable times and both countries where I grew up and now live. We don’t have to do farm work from an early age; we can get good education, travel, build careers and write dissertations. We are not required to marry a wealthy neighbor to help our family out or birth half a dozen kids to help with the chores around the house. Times are changing, and in many countries, women have kids much later in life.

I am one of those women, and I think it’s ok. I also think people need to stop asking us when we will finally start pushing babies out, “like we are supposed to.”

One of the Russian politicians went viral last year when she said that women should ideally have kids before the age of 25, so maybe the schools need to do a better job at explaining to girls how important this is. Women who give birth later than that she called “the old birth givers.” The term is not new and was widely used in Soviet times. It refers to women who become mothers after they turn 27.

Russian society did not take her comments lightly and suggested she leaves it to women to decide what to do with their bodies and instead focuses on astonishing levels of poverty amongst single mothers in Russia. While the attitudes of younger generations are certainly changing, a doctor in a Russian infertility clinic still might suggest a husband (of any age) chooses a younger wife if the current “after 30” partner is not successful in conceiving a firstborn.

A couple of years ago I went for a walk with a friend. He lives in Madrid; we have known each other for many years but never had a chance to meet. I was in town for work, and we decided to go for a stroll and grab dinner together. It was a perfectly lovely evening, up until we started talking about our personal lives. I told him I was dating someone, and I believed we would get married at some point and start a family. To this, my perfectly kind and well-meaning friend said, “Oh yeah, it is time to start trying for kids, no? How old are you, 33? 34?”

Because I was going to therapy for years and was able to react to things better, I did not burst into tears or scream at him. I calmly explained how inappropriate this question was and suggested he should never say that to another woman. He apologized profusely and felt so bad he insisted on paying for dinner.

I don’t think my friend is a horrible person. I think it is just too normalized to ask such questions and make jokes about the subject. People rarely realize that they might be hurting others with their unwelcome inquiries.

Yes, we are having kids when we are much older. Our lives and attitudes towards motherhood are changing. Still, our bodies are largely the same as they always were, with the exception of the availability of much better nutrition and medicine. This means that having kids can be difficult at any age, but it sometimes becomes even more difficult later in life.

I have friends who have been trying to conceive for years. I know a few girls that are currently going through IVF treatments and a few others that just gave birth after it. I know women who suffered miscarriages. Fertility is a difficult subject, and problems with it can be devastating to the family. It is also not something couples might discuss with friends or acquaintances in a casual conversation.

When someone asks, “when the babies are coming,” or comments on a woman’s weight gain with suggestions of pregnancy (which can be completely random or a result of hormone therapy to battle infertility), they don’t know how much pain they are causing.

Not everyone is ready to have kids at the same time. Some people decide not to have them at all, and that is also ok. Some families wait years to have a kid and focus on other things in life. Others have six children and are universally hated by everyone who has the misfortune to dine at the same restaurant with their large brood.

Let’s agree not to ask stupid questions about fertility, lack of kids, not enough kids, kids of opposite gender “to finally have a boy/girl,” and all other things that are none of our damn business. Let’s learn as a society to be better and do better. We must remember that even the questions that come from the most loving heart of a good friend or an elderly relative can be hurtful and most definitely unnecessary.

Let’s learn different ways to ask married couples about how they are doing and to check in on single female friends approaching their mid-thirties. Talk to them about their favorite Netflix shows. Discuss plants and dogs – no one will get mad at you if you ask people when they are going to finally get a puppy. Devise the plan to take the patriarchy down and solve the climate change crisis. Just stop asking women about having kids.

Free form essays

Freedom of a mother

Credit: Linda

Our reader shares her view of what freedom means for her as a mother living between Turkey and Germany.

When asked about freedom, I wanted to write about freedom of choice as a mother. I am a mother of two, a 4-year-old girl and an 8-month-old boy, both amazing children. I am German, but we live in Turkey, in the city of Edirne, near the Greek and Bulgarian border. I gave birth to both of my children here.

I feel very privileged when I think about the freedom of choice that I have. I know about families that are staying apart because the mother has to live in another country for work; there is a lot of work migration from Eastern to Western Europe. Turkey is rather a destination for migrant workers from even further East nowadays, like our friends from Afghanistan, young fathers working in Edirne, leaving their wives and children behind, in order to support their families.

As a mother, I also had the freedom to choose where to give birth to my children. We moved to Turkey when I was 3 months pregnant. At the time, I was very unsure whether I could imagine giving birth here, in a foreign country with a foreign language, under the care of a health system I knew almost nothing about. In hindsight, I am more than content about our choice to stay here. The health system is very professionally managed, and I had the freedom to choose a natural birth (instead of the predominant birth style of planned cesarian in Turkey). 

My gynecologist was very much in favor of natural birth. In the Turkish medical system, the gynecologist who supports the woman during pregnancy is also with her during birth, together with several nurses and a midwife. I have heard stories from friends in Germany, that they were often left alone as a couple during labor for long periods, as clinics in big cities are too busy and understaffed. We ended up staying in a hospital after birth for another night because it was so comfortable and the staff was so supportive to us in this new situation.

Having a baby (especially your first) doesn’t leave a lot of freedom for the parents. It is not easy and has its ups and downs, but the most important thing about raising children is having support and people around you, in my opinion. 

With my parents-in-law living only 15 minutes away and my husband being self-employed and having flexible hours, we could always go see the pediatrician together. Again, I heard about the desperate hunts for an appointment for the third-day routine check-up in cities like Munich – all pediatricians would be full or not accept new patients. 

I always felt very supported as a mom and see it as a positive thing for my children to be able to stay and interact with other people, even if it is just for a few minutes when they are very small. They are learning from a variety of humans while knowing that the love and care of their mom are always there when needed.

I also had the freedom to choose to start working again very soon after birth, when my daughter was 4,5 months old, which is more than unusual in Germany. Due to the governmental regulations such as paid leave and job guarantees for parents, the vast majority of moms there stay home with the baby at least until it is one year old. Dads usually stay home for 2 months only, as governmental support in Germany provides 14 months of paid leave that can be shared among the parents, with one parent needing to take at least 2 months. Dads mostly do the minimum.

I had the freedom to work part-time, 16 hours a week on two days during the first year, then moving up to 25 hours a week. I was working from home on my computer for my company in Germany, while my daughter was with a nanny/house helper, a local woman a little older than me who had never worked before but was more than happy to earn money herself, a very positive, smiling, much-loving friend for both my children and me. 

When my daughter was 14 months old, she started going to kindergarten for several hours a week. She loved it and had a very good balance of only sleeping at home, getting enough rest, and enjoying the interactions with other children. 

We had the freedom to travel to Germany every two months with the baby. The trips helped us establish a good, trusting connection with my part of our family there as well. It also allowed my daughter to learn German as well as Turkish.

I had the freedom to choose not to buy all the luxury, woolen or wooden made, seemingly eco-friendly clothes and toys for my daughter that seem to be the necessary (but very expensive!) standard for the middle-class parents in Germany. I kind of pity the families living in Munich, for example. I see them as victims of the need to earn the money to make a living in this expensive city. Being forced to maintain a certain level of income gives them a lot less freedom of how to structure their family life and life in general.

I had the freedom of choice to do a couple of work trips to Germany and Western Europe when my daughter was around one year old. My husband would spend the day with her, going to the zoo, the aquarium, and making me a little jealous of their adventures.

During the pandemic, the newspaper columns on parentship in Germany were full of complaints about how difficult the situation is, how parents have to balance work and child care, how little politicians think about families and their needs. 

I was feeling for them and supported their desire to be heard. Nevertheless, I think that instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities and the freedoms we have. 

I can personally say that we did not suffer due to the pandemic. Of course, we were all scared at the beginning. I was mostly afraid of what would happen if someone in my family in Germany would get sick and I would not be able to go see them. But we adjusted quickly. 

I continued to work. The kindergarten closed for some time, because of safety concerns. Our nanny and then my husband were able to stay home with our daughter for a month each, then her Turkish grandma looked after her for two months, and after that the kindergarten re-opened and we chose to send her there again.

It was a free choice for us to have a second child, but it was not our first choice to become pregnant during the pandemic. Nevertheless, I have not regretted it at all. Doctor appointments were a bit more regulated, and during birth, the father couldn’t come to the labor room, but he could be at the hospital. It was the opposite of Germany, where the fathers were allowed in the labor rooms only, but not in the hospital in general. Pushing the second baby out only took me 15 minutes anyway, and then my husband, our new child, and I were reunited.

With my son, we could not travel to Germany as before due to the coronavirus, but we had the chance to move there temporarily for a few months when he was 3,5 months old. The car trip from Turkey to Germany usually is a 16 hours drive, plus one night spent in a hotel. It is not easy, but doable, and we have done it several times already. In fact, it seems to be the most common way of travel for Turkish families living in Western Europe.

Because we chose to move for 4 months, my firstborn could experience kindergarten in Germany. I found it to be a very enriching experience for her and she enjoyed her time there a lot. I think German kindergartens emphasize much more that children play freely and with less organized activities than Turkish kindergartens. Teachers in Turkey establish a somewhat closer connection with the kids, interacting with them very lovingly and warmly. In our temporary kindergarten in the German village, everything was closer to nature, with a big garden and kids watching little frogs grow.

In Turkey, our kindergarten is all-inclusive and flexible regarding food and eating times. When we get there late, at 10:30 am, for example, the teacher would say: « Has my little sheep had breakfast yet? No? Then I will prepare something for her.»

I find these differences only enriching, and I am happy my child could experience kindergarten in both countries.

Here we are now, excited about what else we will see and live through as a family. I want to repeat my point: instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities we have and the freedom of choice. And that often, choices are not made easily and freely, as we have specific stereotypes about different countries in our minds. Such as that life in Turkey must be worse and more difficult than life in Germany.

I have learned to see the good and difficult parts of living in both countries. I do not really have a favorite place to live in, but I encourage everybody to explore and not trust the stereotypes and fears. Even if moving to a different place with two kids means packing a lot of stuff and traveling, while one of them needs to be breastfed every hour. Organizing this is exhausting and can make you cry in between doing what needs to be done. Hopefully, your family and friends will be there to help and support you. But either way, if you muster the courage, you will experience a lot of amazing things and enrich your life.


Osy Milian

“The Grays”

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El Sofa (The Couch)
Comprometidos (The Compromised)
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Osy Milian is a contemporary Cuban artist from Havana with a strong presence in the international art world. Her works depict the complexities of both personal and cultural experiences of modern citizens of Cuba, expressed through a vibrant artistic reflection. In this exclusive material for Draftsy, Osy agreed to tell us about her latest project – “The Grays,” a series of paintings currently on exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida.

While Cuba is currently going through a period of upheaval and disquietude, and Osy’s works in many ways remain relevant and match the mood of the moment, “The Grays” were actually created prior to the recent protests, during the pandemic and are inspired by it. The paintings reflect the uncertainty and disorientation of young Cubans affected by the virus and the further havoc it wrecked on their country. 

Osy normally uses vibrant colors to create her paintings, and yet the series live up to their name and are mostly done in grays and pastels, with rare splashes of brighter hues. The works are meant to convey a gray moment in the Cuban panorama, full of uncertainty, fear, and change.

“The figures on the paintings are translucent, they look and feel like ghosts. They are anxious, waiting for a change, waiting for something to happen in the country, for the things to get better” – explains the artist. 

In one of the paintings (“Karma” – ed.) a woman is holding a horse head, an oversized knight chess piece in her lap. The authority and strength of this powerful animal create a metaphor for the woman having full control of decisions in her life. The red hue over her eyes represents her anger. (Osy uses red for this emotion throughout the series). Ms. Milian adds that we also need to control the animal within us, the instincts of it – hence the red rage encompassing the head of the woman in the painting. We must be in balance with it and with the world around us. 

The red color is visibly more prevalent in the paintings depicting young girls, demonstrating that the new generation is more aggressive than the old ones and is willing to fight for their rights. The repeating theme of the birds represents the concept of migration, the flight that most Cubans cannot make. The inability to get away. 

Some of Osy’s figures are meditative, looking calmly back at the viewer. According to her, this calmness is also about control. In this case, control of emotions as the pandemic was making people in Cuba (and all over the world) anxious and crazy. The artist offers to meditate on the passing of time and realize that one day this period in our lives will be just a stage in the history of the world. 

When asked about the subjects of her paintings (they are all women or young girls), Osy explained that she considers herself a feminist artist and wants to speak for all women in the world. 

“My subjects are beautiful and strong women; my art represents them and the struggles they go through. I am also including myself in my paintings. Female artists deal with sexualization and the male gaze, we carry the weight of experiences that male artists don’t have to ever encounter. Women don’t want to be perceived as sexual objects. That is another theme of the series – you can see it specifically in the “Lilith” painting”, – added the artist. 

Osy Milian’s “The Grays” exhibition is presented by NCO Creative. It is on view at The Gallery Lounge of Boca Raton, in the Town Center Mall, and will be featured until Friday, August 20th. For viewings by appointment, please contact Natalie O’Connor at

Draftsy would like to thank Natalie O’Connor for her help with this article. Natalie is the founder of NCO Creative, a boutique art consulting company dedicated to procuring international works, with a special focus on Cuban art. NCO provides services, such as art acquisitions, select artist representation, exhibition coordination, and the curation of Cuban art tours.

NCO Creative


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Topic of the month

Volume II – Freedom

Once we know where our home is, we are often tempted to wander. For the second volume of Draftsy creative efforts we have chosen the topic of Freedom.

There are many reasons why we wanted to talk about it – in most basic meaning of it, as freedom of choice and freedom from being enslaved, to freedom of expression and opinion.

This month we will write about the victims of sex trafficking in France and the long difficult road they have to walk to live as free citizens of the country. July 30th is also World Day against human trafficking. The fact that it is still happening quite often right beside us – no matter what country we live in – might be outside of our everyday worries. We would like to talk about the reality of human trafficking happening in the world.

We will also return to our Kazan story about Yulia Hakimova who helps homeless and needy and write about beggars on the Russian streets that found themselves enslaved by the local mafia.

We hope to have a guest writer and artist present a photo project about the crisis in Cuba and Cubans’ most recent fight for freedom.

We invite our readers to reach out to us via with more stories and visual projects.


Free form essays

FLiMM of “mid-length films”

© Simon Arcache

The term “mid-length films” is used very seldomly. We live in a world of full-length movies and short films. In France, this term is not recognized officially, yet such movies exist. Mid-length films are characterized by conditional duration from 30 to 60 minutes. 

They are seldom released, which puts them in opposition to traditional cinema. Besides, the National Center of Cinema in France simply does not recognize the existence of such a format. Financial support in the form of subsidies is instead distributed between short films (1-59min) and full-length movies (over 60min). Nevertheless, there is a festival of mid-length films, the only one of its kind for a long time, – Festival du Cinema de Brive, also called Recontres Internationales du Moyen Metrage (International Cinema-Meetings of Mid-Length films), which has been taking place in the south of France since 2004. 

Another film festival celebrating the format was created in 2017. FLiMM (Festival Libre de Moyen Metrage, or Free festival of mid-length films) was organized by Agathe Debary, Annabelle Avanturin, Thibaul Jaquin Jaquin and Theo Carrere. Thomas Paulot and Bullet Meigna later joined them. The festival takes place in art-squat DOC (which has existed since 2015), located in the 19th department of Paris. About a hundred creative people live and work there. DOC is an association that doesn’t have any commercial purposes. All the points concerning the organization of events are settled by agreement of members of the administrative council. Freedom of the festival expresses itself in several ways.

© Simon Arcache

It starts with the price: everybody pays as much as one can or considers reasonable. Such an approach reflects the social, political, and cultural position of the organizers. The festival is also free in the sense that it’s being based not on competitive aspect. There are no prizes for the best direction or the script. The festival is based on the principle of accessibility and open, respectful dialogue. Everybody is allowed to watch a movie and discuss it with other viewers and the directors who present their films. Movies of all genres are allowed to participate in the festival, but documentary movies prevail because many documentaries have mid-length footage. 

The topics of the movies that qualified for the festival are often social. The festival team sticks to an active life position and tries to show modern cinema that is not afraid to ask difficult and inconvenient questions; movies with heroes you don’t meet in mainstream films. Quite often, it is movies that describe a part of someone’s story or of the life of a state. Movies of a hybrid form deviating from standards are very welcome.

The pandemic had its adjustments during the 4th festival in 2020.

Despite the threat of lockdown, the organizers were getting ready for the festival in a normal rhythm. Five days before the start of the festival, the authorities have imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. All evening sessions and one show outside the squat were canceled. Viewers were forced to leave at 8:30 to observe the curfew. Despite the pandemic, there were many visitors, which was surprising for organizers and volunteers. Everyone was sad to leave so early. More than ever, people wanted to be together and discuss the movies. A day after the festival closed, a national lockdown was declared. All the museums and cinemas were closed again. 

FLiMM is about movies in the first place, but it’s also a great family of friends and relatives of the team who take part in the organization of the festival as volunteers. Technical preparation for the festival begins a week before. Movies are shown in two cinema rooms, one of which is created almost from nothing. It’s an exhibition space with a white wall, equipped with carpet and theater curtains. The curtains, by the way, are rented from one of the largest theaters in Paris.

The last day of the festival is reserved for general cleaning. This year volunteers and carpenters even built a bar stand. The bar is also a very important part of the festival; it is the very place where all gather together to drink a glass of beer at an affordable price and discuss the movie of the night. Guests can also have dinner before the last showing while paying as much as they can afford. A team of volunteer cooks prepares the menu in advance, and the most popular dish is Italian arancini. As the festival is based on volunteer work, it takes place from Friday to Sunday evening. It is always a busy weekend. And for organizers and volunteers, there is always Monday for cleaning and discussing the festival!

Translated by Cyril Korobenin