Welcome and Safe Travels, Sweet Child: “Walk with Amal” events on Sept. 7

Photo by Queen Kitty. Amal receives a prayer from an American Native tribal representative welcoming Amal to Boston. 

Presented by ArtsEmerson, American Repertory Theater, Company One, and many others. 
Performed by Walk with Amal
Artistic producer Amir Nizar Zuabi
Producers: David Lan & Tracey Seaward
The Walk Productions in association with Handspring Puppet Company 
Puppetry Director: Enrico Dau Yang Wey
Technical Director: Muaz Jubeh
Puppeteers: Ashley Winkfield, Ashley Winkfield, Bartolomeo Bartolini, Craig Leo, Emma Longthorne, Fida Zaidan, Mouaiad Roumieh, Nicole Baker, Sebastian Charles, Troy Feldman, Yukari Osaka

Sept. 7 – 9, 2023
Various locations in Massachusetts
City of Boston website has updated information

BOSTON, Mass. — ArtsEmerson, the City of Boston, and members of the journalism and arts communities extended a warm welcome to Little Amal on September 7 at the Rowes Wharf Rotunda, Boston. It was there that she began her journey of 6,000 miles across the US. 

You are welcome here, sweet friend (and caregivers!). We wish you safe and peaceful travels across this uniquely great but troubled nation. 

Amal is a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl. Her name means “hope” in Arabic. She has already journeyed across many countries, and she carries a message of hope for displaced people everywhere. 

There is a home for you. Our human potential for compassion is boundless.

Amal arrived by schooner at 2 PM at the Central Wharf dock. She was greeted by young and adult American natives in traditional dress with prayer, song, dance, and drumming around 2:30 PM. They graciously offered Amal rituals of healing and peace. 

Amal met American children, watched the dancing, and explored her new environment with cautious curiosity. She appeared just as amazed of us as we were of her. She had a lot of new people to meet and things to see. We’re glad you took your time, Amal. Boston can be a strange and exciting place!  

The event culminated in a group circle dance. Anyone who was willing took the hands of strangers and new friends to dance to the whumping beat of a drum. Two confident dancers took Amal’s hands and we all began to step to our left, one foot at a time, while shaking our clasped and outstretched hands to the rhythm. 

It was a jubilant albeit sorrowful moment. It is good to dance with new friends. And, it is good to sympathize with those who cannot dance with us. There are many children across the world, across the US, and even in Boston who cannot dance. I hope that one day they too may dance with Amal. 

A sign in Dewey Square. Photo by Queen Kitty.

The United States displaced children within its own borders. The patriarch of the drum and dance group briefly recapitulated the horrors of American Indian boarding schools. Before we can truly welcome anyone into our home, the US must reconcile its own recent history of abuse. 

Amal has long brown hair that floats on the wind, gentle hands that caress her surroundings, and eager feet that carry her to new people and adventures. She is brought to life by three puppeteers: one at each hand, another on stilts standing in Amal’s trunk. 

The puppeteer operating with Amal’s thorax is factually caged inside her chest. They function in symbiosis as one. The puppeteer inside Amal embraced his role. His face radiated awe, joy, and curiosity. He/They three were a wonder to behold. 

I was privileged to attend two events on Thursday: Rowe’s Wharf and Dewey Square. Different puppeteers performed in the sweltering sun, amongst crowds of onlookers for each event. I’m relieved to know that Walk with Amal and Handspring Puppet Company took such good care of their performers. Each city can learn from the respect and care shown to the performing puppeteers. 

Little Amal in Dewey Square received by attendees. Photo by Queen Kitty.

In Dewey Square, people began gathering around 4 PM. There was dancing with Emcee A Trike Called Funk getting their groove on. ArtsEmerson had creative projects for attendees. Others found spots in the shade to wait. I found an ice cream cone to nibble on. 

Amal entered Dewey Square, the once location of Occupy Boston and home to one of the city’s largest murals, Breathe Life Together, to the beat of HG Drumline’s percussion. Their sound echoed around Dewey Square and alerted passersby of the wondrous event. 

Amal’s presence signaled the start of the walk. She was a stirring site, but she didn’t stop traffic. She patiently waited for the streetlights to change before crossing through traffic on Atlantic Avenue to Surface Road. (Some humans were not so polite.)

Amal patiently waited to cross the street. Photo by Queen Kitty.

A sea of mostly white faces followed Amal down Atlantic Ave. She was met by the Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy near the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. There were pink and yellow dancing dragons and loud gongs announcing Amal’s arrival in Chinatown. 

The artists in the dragon costumes gamboled and pranced up and down the Greenway. Their energy was infectious. It was difficult not to dance with them. 

Amal with a dancing dragon. The puppeteers on stilts were brave to do so in the scorching heat! Photo by Queen Kitty. 

Together, the crowd walked through Greenway park areas to the Chinatown Gate. Lanterns in a rainbow of colors were strung high above our heads. There, students of Tai Chi Academy performed feats of strength and flexibility for Amal. 

The New England Bhangra Club performed a dance for Amal before she walked through the gates. They circled around her and danced to Bollywood music piped through large speakers. Everywhere we turned, there were smiling faces and friendly waving hands.  

A team of production attendees in “Walk with Amal” t-shirts corralled attendees onto the sidewalks and away from performers to keep the crowd moving. A little after 5 PM, Amal walked through the Gate. It was time for Amal to continue her adventures elsewhere.

On Beach Street, these attendees began shouting “Bye, Amal! Thank you Amal!” to indicate that the walk was over.  Amal turned right on Oxford Street and we waved goodbye. Her hardworking attendees ensured that the event’s activities were fun and safe.  Thank you for keeping us safe!

Amal continued her visit to Boston today. She moves on tomorrow. I hope you were able to catch all or some of it. I had planned to attend more events with Amal, but I found I was too emotionally exhausted to do more. We can only do what we can. 

Look at all these folks who got time off from work to attend the event with their phones!

Northmost North Americans, especially we white ones in New England, have the privilege of shutting out refugee crises. We can protest, feel awful, then go back to our humdrum lives without facing a disaster head-on. Catastrophes are emotionally and physically exhausting. We’re still recovering from a pandemic. 

A global refugee emergency on top of a pandemic is disastrous for one’s mental health. Do not break yourself doing good work, or you cannot continue doing the necessary work. Please take care. 

Amal’s walk wasn’t merely a fun trip with an intercontinental puppet. It is arts activism intended to wake up the populace to the refugee, immigrant, and displaced persons crises happening right now all over the world. Please consider donating your resources to assist as you are able. 

Did you walk with Amal? Wonderful! Please donate to assist displaced persons (many of whom are children) in need. You can help by going to these sites: The Amal Fund. Choose Love.

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