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Cultural beheading
Monday, 26 June 2017 17:15

Cultural beheading: art from Syrian refugees

Published in Visual Arts

Since the start of war in Syria, politics has taken over discussion whenever the country’s name is mentioned. However, the Hikayetna project concentrates on the human side of the issue, focusing on the refugee crisis and victims' experiences and journeys to escape the conflict. This is an apolitical and independent project striving to aid Syrian communities.

I stress “communities” as a collective term due to Syria’s social mosaic richness, and the project has a pluralistic approach. For example, Arab Sunnis, Arab Alawites, Kurd-Sunnis, Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Arab Druze, Arab Ismaeli, Turkmen, Circassian, Jewish and many other minorities are all part of the colourful mosaic of Syrian society.

The project aims to eradicate the stereotypes of Syria and Syrian people which are generated by certain sections of the media. This is challenged by promoting cultural activities, from arts and music to writing and painting. In the process, Hikayetna raises the profile of Syrian underground artists in the UK and creates a platform to connect Syrians from around the world. A Damascene girl who writes a story in Ghana can easily find a photograph taken by a young Syrian boy in Berlin to accompany her story. Suliman Osman, a Syrian journalist who leads the project says,

The aim of the project is to give refugees a chance to participate. I have refugees who can hardly write properly, yet they write their stories and send them to me.

Stories come from Sweden, Germany, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many other areas where Syrians arrive to escape war zones. That way, the young are encouraged to spread and share their stories, with the help of training and editing from Hikayetna’s volunteers.

As a large bulk of Syrian society flees the war, the project searches for artists amongst the displaced. When they are discovered, the intention is to reach out and bring them to light, whether they are painters, musicians, writers or other artists. Artists like Esam Hamzah may find a platform to express, show & connect with other artists by an exhibition set up by Hikayetna.

An advantage that the project members have is their awareness of life in the UK and Syria. Therefore it is easier to understand the process of amalgamation and bring communities together to examine issues of integration for Syrians in the UK.

Lastly, and importantly, is the most powerful feature of the project –the aim to empower Syrian women. Nowadays, Syrian women are viewed by the public as refugees, victims of rape or child brides. Hikayetna makes a serious attempt to foreground another image of them. It does not discriminate, as Syrian women from all ethnic backgrounds are targeted. They are encouraged and empowered to bring change, express their voice and enhance their self-esteem.

Like Culture Matters, the project survives on contributions from volunteers: writers, translators, interpreters and editors work together to keep the project going.
Below is a poem for Culture Matters, and the illustration too. To see more please visit our site: https://hikayetna.com/author/hikayetna/

 

Alone
By Haqi Omar

At first he hated solitude while food became tasteless
Felt no taste for morning coffee
Fairouz songs became a routine.

No longer life is like before
But with time, solitude became beautiful
Solitude of special taste.

Leaves morning time with zeal to come back home, to solitude.
Zeal to drink coffee alone
To watch the news alone.

Does not know how to make friendships, as old friendships are sweeter.
Does not know how to love, as old love is sweeter
Does not want to be in new place, somewhere does not look like him.

Embraces solitude, living between old and new
Cannot go back to the old, nor wants the new
Yes friends, it is a solitude where we find refuge, from which

we cannot depart.

Haqi Omar is a Syrian pharmacist based in Denmark.

Neptune's Staff
Monday, 26 June 2017 17:15

Neptune's Staff

Published in Poetry

Many-headed monster
encased in thick dark metal
as it sails the silent seas
its existence an outrage
a deep immorality
fathomless in ignorance
and the thought of replacing
this monster with another
more gruesome than ever
as the oceans rise
and refugees flee
and hungry children cry out
seems to stink to high heaven
that can only rebuke us
and say it may cost us
the earth.

 

            Stop Trident March and Rally 12 noon, Saturday 27 February, London, see www.cnduk.org

Aylan Kurdi
Monday, 26 June 2017 17:15

Two Poems for Aylan Kurdi

Published in Poetry

You'd Only Have To Do It Once

by Chris Amos

"You'd only have to do it once.

One burst of rapid fire - BRRRAAAPPP!
And stop the scum right then and there
And put Great Britain back on track.
They did it in Tiananamen Square - it worked for them.
'Course, they were Commie bastards mind,
But all the same it shut 'em up - fair's fair.
Dish out a similar kind of treatment here
And problem solved, mate!
You'd only have to do it once!"
So there he is - sat at the bar;
The voice of middle aged and Middle England
Spitting bile and half-chewed crisps out into empty air,
His words a red top tabloid blare that echo near and far.
His denims strain to hold his bloated beer gut in,
His Live Aid tee-shirt wearing thin,
His hairdo ageing Status Quo
And knowing all he needs to know
To judge on life and death.
And I'm sat thinking "Christ, shut up!"
But matey-boy's just warming up.

"How come his kids are dead and he's alive?
Eh? Eh?
If they was my kids I would DIE before I let 'em come to harm!
I'd keep 'em safe at home
Among the bombs, among the drones, among the bodies and the rats
And just a hint of mustard gas upon the burning air,
I am a caring parent more than he would ever be!
If that was me, them kids would be alive back home in Migrant Land-Istan!"
And so he talks, and so I hear,
His words a horde, a stinging swarm about my ears.
I've known his kind these thirty years and never liked them.
What he calls common sense I call obscene,
A Katie Hopkins hard wet-dream.
"You're fired - BRRRAAAPPP!"
The bull bars on his four-by-four for ramming shut that open door.
It's always Nineteen Eighty-Four for him;
The generation given everything give something back?
Why?
Back's for wimps!
Unless it's "Back to where you come from, Gunga Din!"
And on the screen
The little child lies cold,
Carried shoreward in the gentle fold of waves that make no judgements.
He can't talk.
Yet he tells more truth in one still, silent image than you'd ever hear
From those slurred, snarling lips fuelled by wilful ignorance and beer.
Be still.
Be silent.
Turn your gaze upon the revelation in those waves
And find the compassion your hatred stunts.
LOOK AT THE PICTURE.
YOU'D ONLY HAVE TO VIEW IT ONCE, I'D HOPE.
And "God?" I think; "We've talked before.
I'm not the best of men, but surely we can do a deal here?
Grant me, O Lord, by Thy great might a one-way helicopter flight
That I might shove him out the door into the Syrian Desert night
Abandoned, frightened, all alone and tell him;
"Make your own way home."
I'd only have to do it once and then I'd be a saint, I swear."
But God's not there.
Or if He is, He's keeping shtum.
The talk subsides.
And meanwhile with the waiting tides more children come.
And more.
And more.
But we're not looking anymore - the footy's on.
The child is gone.

 

Beachcombing

by Jim Aitken

1.
Mackay Brown once combed the beaches
of Orkney. Once he found a boot
of salty leather, throwing it
back into the white foaming waves.

And once, like Hamlet before him,
he brooded on a seaman’s skull
with sand rather than earth dripping
from the base. He threw that back too.

Usually it was just seaweed
strewn over the shore like mulched leaves
but he would always return here
to raise the profile of his place.

2.
Once we called it Mare Nostrum
and it was where the real action
took place. It was there, we were told,
that civilisation started.

And now the Greek beachcombers
would welcome salty leather boots
that had danced the waves from Orkney
rather than real human jetsam.

More troubling still than traffickers
are the voices further in land
proclaiming their Christian values
by telling them to go away.

3.
The universal brotherhood
of brine understands no borders
and would crash through all razor wire
smashing down all fences and walls.

For fragile is what we all are,
vulnerable our condition.
And what should flow, should surge from this
is nothing less than compassion.

We are all at sea, all at sea
in the same sea that soaks us all
and only by us reaching out
can we hope to keep our boots on.

Monday, 26 June 2017 17:15

Short Story: Ark of Salvation

Published in Fiction

In my old smelly socks, I place personal papers and some money notes wrapped in remnants of plastic bag to avoid its destruction from seawater. The night gets dark when the smuggler informs us that the trafficking ark is near the shore and that tonight we have to be careful as lifeguards are nearby.

We are individuals of different background, individuals with a sole dream: salvation.
We do not know the smugglers’ names. They use nicknames. They drive us like cattle to the unknown. A few minutes pass, we are there. It is an old wet rusty fishing ark, but the crew assures us that it is the best way to cross the Mediterranean Sea. We head to its heart in the middle where caught fish are usually kept.A pervasive stench blocks our nostrils.

There were groups before us who had already taken their share of space in that miserable place.
We cram in so everyone fits. Bodies stitch to bodies like those in sardine tins from the above view. We are just that: sardine tins ready to export.

Our number is complete and ready for a trip of salvation. As the ark cuts waves, those on board vomit. They are mostly women and children who ride the sea for the first time. There is a hole to allow the air in near the ceiling of the room. The door is well-locked from outside so lifeguards do not spot us if they stop and search the ark. We feel the tightness of the place. Now and again, a crew member opens the door so we can breathe. Other times he throws water bottles at us. The journey is expected to take two days if things go well.

There is some enjoyment at first. Everyone is full of hope that soon we will get to the ankles of the elderly continent and that humanitarian organisations await us at the shore.
But boredom arrives. The disposal of rubbish and body waste has now become a challenge for some as there is an only toilet (mainly for the crew use) with a long queue. Some direct their cocks towards the sea to piss. Others shit in bags and then fling them into water. That is what we do at night.

Daytime. The human traffickers forbid anyone out on the board. They are fearful of sky guards recognising the ark as not a usual “fishing ship”. Silence falls on the room. Everyone shuts up with no more life tales when the sound of a helicopter echoes in the space. A human trafficker orders to halt all noise and motions. I stop eating the last biscuit I have so they don’t catch us because of the grazing sound. The noisy helicopter gets closer and closer. Heart beats fasten as the sound loudens.

We are an easy catch for lifeguards in the open sea while the sun sharpens above. The helicopter drifts away and we sigh with relief. Some recite prayers and verses. Others pray for Virgin Mary. We all ask for Sky’s mercy. Everyone returns back to conversation as the crew assures us that tomorrow we will arrive to the seaside. Joy.

We do not see anything apart from glimpses we have via a small hole where Canary fetches news vividly with the use of ringing expressions to describe the plane’s closeness. He comforts us, “Everything’s going to be alright”. Canary has three disorderly teeth in his mouth. He gets the nickname as he is the only source of information that flies around us with breaking news sometimes, full analysis other times and ends with a hysterical laugh when his inner organs are visible through/in his mouth.

Each person has a different story than the others. There is a man who has sold everything to pay for the trip. A woman has borrowed from all relatives. Everyone promised to pay debts. Each person has an own reason to leave, but all share a single goal: salvation. A new start for some, perhaps a dream for others.

Suddenly, footsteps of crewmembers quicken above our heads. They seem to run in different directions as we stay in the darkness below – we do not know what is happening above.
The sound disappears. No footsteps. Nothingness.

“They are running away, they are running away!” shouts Canary. All at once we reply, “Who is running away?”
“Crew members… those bastards are getting away in inflatable boats!”

We shout loudly, we hope to bring the crew members back. The door is locked from outside, no one can leave. Women and children scream. We look deeply at each other. Is it possible that we have been left on the open sea, alone with no crew and captain? Who will sail the ark, and where will it go? Men try to control the atmosphere and put women at ease with the assertion that lifeguards will find us with their satellite systems, sophisticated radars and variety of laser sensitivity equipment and that there is still hope for things not to go worse.

The ark rattles in the sea and the sole hope is that tiny hole. A single eye gazes from that hole to the horizon, behind it we wait for the moment that a rescue boat, lifeguards or helicopter will steal us from agony. Our location is only known to the human traffickers who have left us to face the unknown. No captain, no compass, no anchor. Nothing.

Hopelessness oozes its way into all people in the room. There are only waves around us as we take turns to observe the world outside from that small hole. Air becomes rare while rife stench suffocates us. A mixture of vomit, shit, body odour, fish, old walls and the smelly socks I wear. We take turns to watch from the hole. That is our only world now.


our home
is but one country
truly, the whole earth
is there for them to settle
tell us if you can, where else
shall we go when they have come?
they do not belong in our homeland
you should blush when you say to us
we must turn our vision up-side down

we must turn our vision up-side down
you should blush when you say to us
they do not belong in our homeland
shall we go when they have come?
tell us if you can, where else
is there for them to settle
truly, the whole earth
is but one country
our home


No longer do we desire the elderly continent. No longer do we seek humanitarian organisations. All we want is to see the sky and touch the shore anew. Any shore, it does not matter where anymore. Waves play with the ark, left, right and centre. Darkness arrives, and the sound of nothingness but waves that make love to the ark’s body. The sea is a scary creature in darkness. There is not enough light in the room. Mobile phone lights fade away gradually. Hopelessness.

All at once we look to the sky and ask… where is the salvation? “You in the sky: Why doesn’t the ark sink and snatch us from this slow death!” Exhaustion takes charge. Eyes surrender to sleep. The ark rocks me like a newborn baby in the cradle. Images invade my head. My childhood and allies. Hallucination. Faces I have met in my life become clearer and clearer with fish masks on. The fish that a few minutes from now will taste its worst meal ever eaten between their jaws when they eat me. Perhaps the fish here are used to immigrants’ meat. For we are not the first, nor the last they eat.

I hold myself together not to cry and search for a piece of paper to put down my last moments. The last life confession. It must be the most beautiful and truthful thing I write. It must be with heart. I find a single expression: Sorry. Sorry for things I leave hanging in the air. Sorry, my country. Sorry, mama. Sorry, baba. Sorry, siblings.

And thank you, salty Mediterranean, for your warm welcome, even though we don’t have passports and visas. Thank you for shells at the bottom. Thank you for seaweed that will catch between teeth, cover nostrils and eye sockets when we are corpses in your deep blue belly.
We will be more beautiful as our carcasses float, reach the shore where tourists push them back to water just as they do with whales that accidently land on coast.

As I hallucinate, the ark rocks violently. It hits something. Everyone is in deep sleep, or at least that is what I imagine. We hear footsteps above on the board and a language I do not understand. A group of guys among us move towards the shut door. Crazily we start to hit the door with our bare hands and shout in all languages, “Help us, help, we are here. Help.”
Someone tries to open the door. We scream. A few hits on the lock, it breaks. The door opens – the light bursts into the room. For a few moments we see nothing.

Then things clear up. We see those outside better when eyes adjust from darkness to the light. As if they were aliens at first. They speak a language we do not understand. They try various languages. They start to speak in English, “Where are you from?”

I answer instinctively, “We are from Earth”. I sense their astonishment by the answer. They ask nothing thereafter. Hands pull us out like babies dragged from wombs. A new birth after the painful journey. Eyes still cannot stay open. They refuse the light. They like darkness. They are used to it. The ark is hauled to the shore like a man sentenced to hang and pulling the rope behind himself to death spot. When my foot touches the shore, a loud cry leaves my chest to echo in the world. I kneel to smell and kiss the sand of the beach. I act instinctively. I sit to watch the ark as they take corps one after another: children, women and elderly, all put in blue plastic bags. Each body has enough space now, to stretch. No more gatherings, tightness and squeeze. They are free now.

I feel desire for revenge. I only find that wicked ark in front of me. I stand up. Speed up. Shout loudly and throw stones at its wrecked body. All stones go to that small tiny hole we used for seeing the outside world. It swallows all stones one by one. Others join. They scream and throw stones. The ark continues to swallow stones from the small hole. That nasty hole eats the entire universe.

Eventually the ark sinks. We hear it screaming on the way down. We look at each other. We are empty, with all possessions in that ark where the dark room is, where that tiny hole is.
The hole resembles Jesus’s body. We run towards it to erase sins. That hole is our presence. It is everything we have. Apart from that, nothing is worthy.

translated by Amir Darwish. Embedded poem by Rod Duncan

Monday, 26 June 2017 17:15

Hosts

Published in Poetry

‘Australia’s hosting refugees’, I heard the newsman say,
and I wondered just how many are received the proper way.
For hosting is a practice where some social rules hold sway,
and a host has obligations to behave a certain way:
all guests should feel they’re welcome (so a guest should never pay)
and if they’re tired and hungry having come from far away,
each guest might well expect to have at least one canapé,
a drink or two and a decent meal. And, for a long-term stay,
a comfy bed, some private space, and things to do each day.
They need to know just where they are in case they go astray -
they’ll need an introduction to the shops and the café,
to the people round about them , to the customs of the day –
you do not want your guests to feel all lost and in dismay.
You do of course expect that there are rules they will obey
but it isn’t right to say that you will meet your guest halfway
for hosting isn’t like that. It’s up to you to say
you’ll do anything you can to help. You can’t say “Go away!”
and if their need is urgent you can’t quibble or delay…

(nor should you hand them over to some quickly hired valet.)