Produced by Bairbre Flood with thanks to the Arts Council of Ireland Project Award.
A new season of Wander, with poets from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Yemen. A Rohingya poet, a Yazidi writer, and the first episode’s guest, a Syrian British poet of Kurdish origin.
Amir Darwish, Dawood Saleh, Aryan Ashory, Mayyu Ali and Njamba Koffi share their poetry, and why it’s important that everyone narrates their own stories, especially those with refugee experience. They talk about the writing process, their experiences and activism, and WORDS WORDS WORDS
ep 1 – Amir Darwish
Amir Darwish has published two collections of poetry – ‘Don’t Forget The Couscous’ and ‘Dear Refugee’, and the first part of his autobiography, ‘From Aleppo Without Love’.
We’ve a great conversation about love and solidarity, the poets Rumi, Saleem Barakat and Adunis, the challenges of writing about trauma and injustice – and what he calls his efforts to humanise attitudes towards refugees.
He also talks about his approach to writing and why he keeps the spirit of Aleppo alive in his poetry.
It’s interesting that Amir came to Britain on the underside of a lorry in 2003 – and his writing about the refugee experience is grounded in a personal awareness, understanding and empathy.
And he’s a beautiful writer – you’ll hear this in the poems he reads. Including: ‘Where I Come From’, ‘We Want To Live’, ‘If I Ever See Love’ and ‘I Feel I Should Speak of The City’.
This, and his other poetry book – ‘Don’t Forget the Couscous’ are beautiful collections which really delve into his experiences, and explore the many different aspects of love, exile and seeking refuge.
The magazine we talk about at the start of the interview – ‘The Other Side of Hope’ (which Amir is the books editor of) is a UK-based literary magazine edited by refugees and immigrants. They also put out regular calls for submissions so follow them @OtherSideofHope
And you can follow Amir at @darwish_amir
Dawood Saleh is the author of ‘Walking Alone’, an account of the Yazidi genocide. He’s a humanitarian activist, a genocide survivor and the host of The Dawood Show on Youtube which focuses on Yazidi stories.
His book ‘Walking Alone’ is a powerful account, based on many interviews Dawood did with survivors of the genocide. And of course, his own personal experience. And he reads several of the poems from this book in this episode.
We talk about how the Yazidi’s have been discriminated against – and killed for their beliefs – for centuries, and with the rise of ISIS, thousands were murdered and thousands more kidnapped and raped. 3,000 people are still missing.
The genocide of the Yazidi people led to half a million refugees who are still living in camps, or who’ve tried to make the hazardous journey to safety in Europe and other parts of the world. But as Dawood points out in the programme, these numbers do not convey the real stories and suffering each person experiences. And each person experiences this as an individual, as a family, as an entire group.
The poems he reads are based on events that happened not only within our lifetime, but just a few years ago.
The magnitude of what’s happened is almost unbearable to think about. But as Dawood says during our talk, this isn’t helpful for the survivors who need to be heard. He tells me about this – and how it doesn’t help survivors when people refuse to listen to their story.
We also discuss his efforts to raise awareness through his writing – and how the West should take responsibility for its citizens who participated in the genocide and who are now back in their own countries trying to evade justice.
Dawood also shares insights into the difficulties of writing about and with trauma. and how hard it was to begin the writing process about events, cruelty and suffering that almost can’t be put into words.
Follow Yazidi organisations – the Free Yezidi Foundation (@Free_Yezidi) and Nadia Murad -who Dawood mentioned – author of ‘The Last Girl’ and founder of the @nadiainitiative and of course Dawood Saleh himself: @Dawoodshow
Photo above from this ‘Remember The Yazidis’ article and painting above is from ‘Walking Alone’ by the Yazidi painter Marwan Barakat who is also from Sinjar Mountain.
ep 3 – Aryan Ashory
Aryan Ashory is a hugely talented and inspiring young Afghan poet, filmmaker and human rights activist. She writes in four languages and her poetry was recently featured on PBS in America.
She reads several of her poems, including ‘Hey Talib a Stain of Shame in Our History , ‘Don’t Kick Us Like a Ball’ and ‘Like a Black Ceiling Dark and Silent’ which explore, among other things, the way women are treated in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control.
She shares her observations about how it’s difficult for people who are not in the situation to understand what it’s like to be a refugee – and she explains why it’s important for her to speak out about the many injustices refugees face within the asylum process.
ep 4 – Mayyu Ali
Mayyu Ali’s poetry book, ‘Exodus – Between Genocide and Me’ describes his experiences and his journey escaping to the relative safety of Coxs Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Around 700,000 Rohingya people fled in 2017, joining about 300,000 Rohingya men, women and children who had arrived after fleeing earlier waves of violence. Mayyu is one of the people who escaped in 2017.
We talk about the importance of poetry in Myanmar’s culture, some of the earliest influences on his writing, and the difficulties of writing about ongoing trauma.
He describes his poetry as ‘replete with the suffering and despair of the Rohingya people in displacement, exile and refugee camps across the world.’ But he also states: ‘It is important that genocide survivors such as myself are not seen as merely victims, dependent only on others to take up our cause on our behalf.’ ‘I am a survivor’, he says, in one of his poems – ‘not a victim. I am a hero, not a virus.’
His poems are deeply unsettling because they’re all based on real events that have happened not just in history, but only a few years ago – and continue to happen.
He reads several of his poems, including ‘Crimes of Humanity’, which is based on an account from a survivor of the Chut Pyin Massacre. (In 2017 the Burmese military completely destroyed the village of Chut Pyin and murdered 358 people.)
Mayyu Ali is very vocal about the fact that another part of the genocide of the Rohinga people involves destroying their language and culture and he’s fought against this by setting up a school in the refugee camp – and a writers group with young people there. The Art Garden Rohingya is the first Rohingya community-led online art website to promote Rohingya art and culture and support Rohingya writers and artists.
He also told me about a teacher who’d been a huge influence on him – Saya Ali Ahmed who’d also been forced to flee to Bangladesh where he continued to teach hundreds of students over the years, in the camp.
He’s also just released with Emilie Lopes, in French, ‘Erasure: A Poet At the Heart of the Rohingya Genocide’ (published by the French publisher, Grasset) @mayyali
And check out this video The Art Garden Rohingya made with their poems.
ep 5 – Njamba Koffi
Njamba Koffi is a talented poet, musician and writer originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When Njamba was 11, he and his family, like millions of others, had to flee the DRC. They stayed briefly in Tanzania, then in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi until finally settling in Eswatini, where Njamba helped set up a youth group in the camp.
His book, ‘Refugee, The Journey Much Desired’ is based on this part of his life and he’s currently working on another part of his autobiography and a book of poetry from his new home in Canada.
He tells us more about these projects in the interview, reads his beautifully crafted poetry (‘Encounter’, ‘Two Waves’, ‘A Flight’, ‘On Life and Death’) and gives his thoughtful analysis on writing, migration and activism – including advice for writers and how the literature industry can be more inclusive of black, refugee and other structurally marginalised voices.
His book Refuge-e: The Journey Much Desired is available online. One of the organisations Njamba is an advisor to – Amala – works with refugee communities to provide education in camps. And another group he works with UBC Africa Awareness Initiative Here’s also a great interview he did with Elie Bahhadi of Jumpstart Refugee Talent.
This is the last episode for now, but we’ll have a special bonus episode in a few weeks. Thank you so much for listening and for all the lovely feedback and messages.
Thanks to everyone who’s shared the episodes, and helped spread the word. And who’s supported the poets we’ve featured – please continue to do so – share these episodes, and follow all the poets we’ve met over the past while. Again, thanks to the Arts Council of Ireland who fund this podcast and to all my guests this season.
WANDER – SEASON 1
Poets living in refugee camps in Greece, Malawi, Western Sahara and Jordan bring us their work, and explore the links between creativity and politics.
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.
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.
ep. 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.