In this new podcast series, poets living in refugee camps in Greece, Malawi, Western Sahara and Jordan bring us their work, and explore the links between creativity and politics.
Produced by Bairbre Flood.
Funded by the Arts Council of Ireland.
Cover art painting by Shukran Shirzad.
Wander – ep. 1 – Parwana Amiri
Originally from Afghanistan, Parwana Amiri has written extensively about her time in Moria Refugee Camp, and now about life in Ritsona camp in Greece, where she lives with her family.
She publishes new poems every week in collaboration with the Brush and Bow Collective and is currently working on her new book – ‘Letters To The World From Ritsona’.
In this podcast, we talked about her creative process, becaming a refugee, and why it’s important for everyone to write their own stories. We also discussed how writing can help trauma, collective expression, personal growth, and social and political change. And how living first in Moria Refugee Camp, and now in Ritsona influences her writing.
She’s an amazing young woman, with a unique voice – and her poetry is a raw and passionate exploration of the injustice within our migration system, and an inspiration to writers and activists everywhere who seek change.
She reads her poems:
- ‘In The Camps’
- ‘You Can Stay Silent’
- ‘We Were In Distress’
- ‘Every Night Before Sleep’
- ‘We Are Burning’
- ‘I Swear I Will Never Stay Silent’.
Available wherever you get your podcasts:
Delighted to bring you this second episode of Wander from Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, with poet, musician and community activist Tresor Mpauni.
We talk about his early influences growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – including African folk tales and music – how he joined a boyband, discovered French rap music, and started writing his own music and poetry.
He tells me about why he had to leave the DRC, even though he had a promising career there – about arriving in Dzaleka camp – and the poetry club in Lilongwe.
Tresor set up the first arts festival inside a refugee camp – Tumaini Festival – which has grown to become the largest festival in Malawi. A particularly remarkable feat considering the restrictions placed on refugees in Malawi.
Wander – ep 3 – Saharawi Poetry
Poetry from the camps of Western Sahara, with my guest Sam Berkson, who together with Saharawi artist and translator Mohamed Suleiman collected translations of these poems in ‘Settled Wanderers’ (published by Influx Press).
It’s the first collection in English of poets such as Beyibouh Al Haj, Mahmoud Khadri, Badi and Al Khadra, and gives us a unique insight into the political situation for the Saharawi people; their rich culture, history of oppression, and continuing resistance.
Sam Berkson also wrote a series of poems while in the refugee camps over the border in Algeria – where half the population of the formerly nomadic people live in exile. He initially went to the Western Sahara with Olive Branch Arts – an organisation in London working for years with various Saharawi arts and community initiatives. We’re really lucky to have original recordings of two of the poets (Badi and Al Khadra) who Berkson recorded – and who recite in the Hassaniya dialect of Arabic.
‘Settled Wanderers’ contains biographies of the poets Berkson met – like Hossein Mo’ulud who told him that ‘poetry is a means to carry on the struggle’. And Nadgem Said Oala who was born in Aossard camp and is writing a Saharawi Illiad with each section 40 lines long – one line for each year of the struggle.
He also met Hadjutu Aliat who’s written about women activists, and who had to leave the Occupied Zone where she was born, and move to Aossard camp because of poems she’d written about political prisoners interned in Morocco.
And of course, one the best known Saharawi poets, Al Khadra, who reads her poem, ‘The Army’, and the late Badi who reads ‘Tishwash’ (roughly translated as the pleasure of remembering the past). We also hear the translated poems of Mahmoud Khadri, Bashir Ali, and other Saharawi poetry which, as Berkson notes, ‘sometimes have more in common with the poetics of Chuck D than with Seamus Heaney.’
Huge thanks to Sam Berkson and Mohamed Suleiman who have brought us this book – the only translation into English of this poetry.
Episode 4 – From Zataari & Istanbul
Two Syrian artists with very different stories, both creating poetry in exile in Jordan and Istanbul.
This episode is a special one with two parts. The first part comes from Zataari refugee camp in Jordan, with a poet called Nour al Hariri. Nour writes poetry and rap about human rights issues that are close to her heart – especially around women’s rights to education, the issue of child labour and of course, she writes about life in Zataari camp, where people have been living for up to nearly ten years now, with little chance of either returning or moving on to start their lives again. Noor reads two of her poems in Arabic (thanks to Ali for translating), including ‘We Walked To Build Our Dreams’, and then she talks us through why it’s so important for artists to document their own lived experience of forced migration.
The second part of the programme is with a poet, illustrator, and playwright originally from Syria, but now living in Turkey. He shares with us what it’s like a gay man seeking refuge – and it’s really great to get to talk to him, and hear his perspective. All refugees face discrimination, and systems of hostility – and are criminalised just for being refugees. But LGBT refugees have to put up with a little extra discrimination. And a particular lack of visibility.
We talk about what it’s like at the moment in Turkey as a refugee, about the LGBT scene there, whether it’s getting any easier for people to come out in the Middle East – and Omar reads two of his poems. One of which is in memory of his ex-boyfriend who was killed by ISIS, and who Omar credits with inspiring him to become an artist.
I wish I could share his details with you, but he prefers to stay under the radar just for now, until his situation stabilises a bit more. But if you’re interested in supporting or finding out more about LGBT refugees in Turkey, there’s a great project called the De-Otherize Dialogue Project: de-otherize.org
Also a big thanks to Mohammad Khalf for helping set up the interview with Nour – Mohammad is a photographer himself (@Mohammad.Khalf) and there’s quite a few artists – writers, photographers and film makers in Zaatari camp – one really beautiful short film by @younisalharaki just up on here on Instagram
If you can help amplify the voices of any of the poets featured in this series do get in contact with them – or drop me an email. And of course please do share this podcast with your friends or your social media networks. It really does mean a lot, and helps get the word out.
Thank you for all your support so far.
And especially thanks to the Arts Council of Ireland for funding this podcast.