9 episodes

Poets with experience of seeking refuge share their writing.
Funded by the Arts Council of Ireland.
Cover art painting by Shukran Shirzad.
Produced by Bairbre Flood.

Wander Bairbre Flood

    • Arts

Poets with experience of seeking refuge share their writing.
Funded by the Arts Council of Ireland.
Cover art painting by Shukran Shirzad.
Produced by Bairbre Flood.

    Njamba Koffi

    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.

    • 35 min
    Mayyu Ali

    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) // @mayyuali

    And check out  this video The Art Garden Rohingya made with their poems. 

    • 18 min
    Aryan Ashory

    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 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.

    Keep an eye out for when she publishes her first collection and follow her on instagram & twitter @aryanashory for more about her art and activism.

    • 18 min
    Dawood Saleh

    Dawood Saleh

    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.

    ‘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.

    Watch The Dawood Show on Youtube - please go and support him, listen, share - whatever you can do.  Some of his newspaper articles are up here.

    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

    • 16 min
    Amir Darwish

    Amir Darwish

    Welcome back to Wander! And the second season with poets from Afghanistan,  the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Yemen. A Rohingya poet, a Yazidi writer, and this episode’s guest, a Syrian British poet of Kurdish origin.

    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’.

    His book, ‘Dear Refugee’  is published by Smokestack Books and if you’re in Ireland you can order from Kenny’s Bookshop, or direct from the publisher.

    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

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    This series is funded by The Arts Council of Ireland and produced by Bairbre Flood.

    • 26 min
    From Zataari & Istanbul

    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 

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    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.

    • 22 min

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