Little Amal’s eyes opened as she took in the surroundings of the arrivals terminal at Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday. Her head was just visible over the metal barricades that surrounded the area. She looked to the left, then to the right while clinging to her large green luggage that had stickers of rainbows and suns on it. She was feeling apprehensive and disoriented, both of which are common emotions for those who have recently moved to New York City.
But then, we’ll listen to some music. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, its music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and its children’s chorus began to perform music of welcome as Little Amal lumbered through the terminal. The music was the final chorus from Philip Glass’ opera about Gandhi’s early life, “Satyagraha,” whose title roughly translates to “resistance.”
Amal, a Syrian refugee puppet, appeared to be mesmerised by the music, much as the many tourists who were walking by with their baggage appeared to be mesmerised by the 12-foot-tall puppet that suddenly towered before them. Despite this, she approached the orchestra with apprehension and some degree of reluctance. At least, such was the case up until a member of the chorus, a girl who was wearing a shirt the colour of a sunflower, approached her and took her by the hand.
Amal has gone throughout Europe and met with refugees from Ukraine who are currently living in Poland. Now that she has arrived in the Big Apple, she has a lot of ambitious ambitions. As she embarks on a search for her uncle, she will spend the rest of this month touring all five boroughs of New York City, meeting with children, artists, politicians, and community leaders along the way. Her creators hope that this will help shed light on the experience, hardship, and beauty shared by millions of displaced refugees around the world.
More than fifty receptions and celebrations of welcome are planned along her route through New York City, beginning with the one that took place at the airport on Wednesday. She will gather flowers at a community garden in Queens, cross the High Bridge in the Bronx, ride the Staten Island Ferry, dance in the streets of Washington Heights, and find herself in the middle of a Syrian wedding procession in Bay Ridge. All of these events will take place over the course of a single day.
Amal has already traversed a significant distance in her hunt for her mother, having gone from Turkey to Britain, which is a journey of almost 5,000 miles. And on Wednesday, when she arrived at the airport, the welcoming committee was waiting for her in the arrivals area to give her a warm greeting.
Up to four people are needed to run Amal, whose name comes from the Arabic word for “hope.” One of these operators must walk on stilts. Amal is a fragile puppet that was designed by the Handspring Puppet Company, which is situated in South Africa. Her arms and upper body are constructed of bamboo canes, and she occasionally needs care.
In what is purportedly a travelling theatre piece that is intended to remind a public that is worn out by the news about the children who are escaping violence and persecution, the puppet plays the role of the main protagonist. In 2015 and 2016, the plight of Syrian refugees who were forced to flee the nation received a great deal of media attention. The Walk through Europe followed a path that was very comparable to the escape route that some Syrians took.
Amal began her journey across Europe in the summer of 2021, not long after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, which sparked a new wave of migrant crises in Europe. Amal travelled across the continent in the span of four months, making stops at various locations like refugee camps, town centres, and the Royal Opera House in London. To this day, she has participated in over 190 events throughout more than 80 towns, cities, and villages spread across 12 different nations.
As was the case throughout Europe, many of Little Amal’s stops are pre-scheduled and include meetings with influential members of the cultural and institutional communities; other interactions may be more impromptu in nature. In addition, according to the officials, preparations are being made for a subsequent tour across the United States.