Tag Archives: Souvenirs

Souvenirs

Who doesn’t have one or two things that they keep to remind themselves of something in the past: a photograph, a pebble, an item of clothing? Those of us fortunate enough not to have a disrupted life are able to hold onto our souvenirs. For those, forced through fear of violence to flee their country, the souvenirs may be lost or less easy to understand. Tracy, a refugee and a victim of torture, said

What happened to me, the marks on my body, the memories, they are going to be my souvenirs.

FFT On My WayTracy had contributed these lines to the play Souvenirs. Living with one’s past can be unbearable, and that’s where the work of Freedom from Torture is so valuable. A group within that charity assists refugees through writing: The Write to Life group. I had a small connection with them before I left London. This is a revision of the post I wrote after I had been to see a production of their play: Souvenirs.

Souvenirs

Writing takes one to some surprising places and to meet some amazing people. Writing as therapy may sound dry and self-indulgent, but the Freedom From Torture’s Write to Life Group are lively, thoughtful and funny. They were also very welcoming when I joined them at one of their meetings. The group was established in 1997 and is co-ordinated by Sheila Hayman, assisted by a team of mentors. It supports torture survivors through writing, a therapeutic process.

254 souvenirs-frontcover

Souvenirs was based on the words of five of the group’s participants whoworked with two theatre companies: iceandfire and Tamasha Theatre Company. The writers played themselves.

Tracy said: What happened to me, the marks on my body, the memories, they are going to be my souvenirs. …I want to show people how I feel. In my struggle I did not have a voice and I want the world to know the truth. Talking, acting, writing about it, it’s another way to free myself.

‘The woman sitting in front of you…’ Jade, sitting centre stage, inescapable, speaks the first line. We, the audience, cannot escape. Her words, perhaps first spoken to Christine Bacon, the scriptwriter, are repeated several times in the short production. Jade sitting on the stage, is speaking to me, to you, to the other members of the cast.

The writer-actors tell us what we would rather not hear:

  • This country, my country, refuses asylum to some victims of torture
  • My country does not allow asylum seekers to work
  • My country treats people as if their needs for food, shelter, comfort, transport, communication with home, are irrelevant
  • Children in other countries are forced to become soldiers
  • Children can and do kill people
  • Parents leave behind their children and partners
  • Parents don’t know when or if they will see their children again
  • Refugees fear memories of torture but they are made to repeat details when they claim asylum
  • Individual acts of small kindnesses are treasured
  • Suffering does not stop when they reach the UK, and can be made worse by experiences here
  • Suffering and healing are all around us
  • Witnesses are sitting in front of us, on the stage.

Tracy says to the audience that she tells other sufferers of torture to speak out. This is part of the healing process. Another participant in the Write to Life group said, ‘talking, acting, writing about it, it’s another way to free myself.’ An audience is like a mirror in front of her, after all the horror and degradation, she is still powerfully and triumphantly alive. This is the mending power of words.

After a previous performance of Souvenirs at the Bath Literature Festival, Mohamed said:

When I saw the audience, I found myself saying it to them with my whole heart. Saying that script – it took me right back. … I want to change people’s perspective of asylum seekers – this is a kind of advocacy for people who are voiceless, which is invaluable. (from the Freedom From Torture blog)

Performing the play was an emotional experience for the participants. And also for the audience. The applause was prolonged.

Words bear witness to these things we don’t want to know. But we cannot now unknow them. We are the people in front of whom stood Jade, Mohammed, Tracy, ‘Uganda’, Hasani, and, in the revised script of the play, Conteh. Words allow us to know and to share, to change. Words lead to action. Now we know, what will we do?

‘Uganda’ said: This is the only way to speak out. It is a way to let the world know what is happening – we are alerting people to get things done.

Postscript

Rescue off the Canaries, November 15th 2006. Noborder Network via WikiCommons.

Rescue off the Canaries, November 15th 2006. Noborder Network via WikiCommons.

We tend to think that the crossing of the Mediterranean is the worst of the refugees’ journey to freedom. But what happens when they land, when they apply for asylum, these things can be as damaging as anything experienced up to that point. I am still ashamed now, more ashamed even, of how my country treats refugees. I continue to support Freedom from Torture.

The text of Souvenirs is available to buy from Freedom from Torture at £5.

254 FFTlogoThe original post, Souvenirs and Writing Home, was published in April 2013.

 

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Dear Jade

To Jade Amoli-Jackson, author of Moving a Country.

Dear Jade,

Congratulations on the publication of your collection of poems called Moving a Country. I want to encourage lots of people to buy it (click on the link to go to Amazon!)

51 Moving Country

Your poetry (and your involvement in your play Souvenirs) demonstrate the power of words. The power of words to help heal and the power of words to tell other people about other lives. I looked at video clips of you and other members of the Freedom from Torture Write to Life group here speaking about the value of writing – ‘I would have run mad,’ you say, without the writing.

No one leaves her home unless she is running away from something or someone has driven her away. I am telling you. I have first hand experience of that. (pxi)

With these words you begin your introduction, My Painful Journey, to your collection, Moving a Country. You write about your childhood, family and life in Uganda. Your good life, with your husband and three children changed with a new government in 1985. First he was taken and killed, then your father and twin sister both died, your children were abducted and finally you too were taken.

It is wise to be good to people even if they are not related to you; that’s why I am still alive. (pxiii)

Your were helped to escape and came to London, were given leave to remain and have since become a UK citizen. You were assisted by the Medical Foundation, and now in turn you volunteer at the Refugee Council.

In the first section in Moving a Country you look back affectionately to lives connected to your past in Uganda. The second section looks at your flight and troubled times in Uganda. I found this section very dark, hard to read. I can’t imagine the pain associated with the poem Gone within a Second, a cry in darkness for your missing children. Others refer to the everyday losses: food, drink, clothes, transport, language. The title poem is eloquent about the loss that you experienced on moving country and about the memories that persist. The first verse is …

Moving a Country

Move the evergreen trees
Meandering rivers
Lakes and seas
Wild and domestic animals
Birds of all sizes
Pack them all up
Place in the suitcase of my brain

In this poem I like the way you present some of the things that go to make a country, the impossibility of transporting them, and then you shift suddenly to tell us you have them in your head. The following verses become more powerful and more moving as they refer to your life and people you loved in your country. In the remaining sections your poems reveal how fragile a person’s survival can be and how torture undermines self-respect as well as inflicting physical damage. Yet you are generous, even when you had so little, and readily acknowledge the assistance you received from organisations and individuals, such as your writing mentor and editor Lucy Popescu.

You have written that story-telling helps heal and rebuild lives. For readers, your writing helps us understand a life that has been very different to our own. I have been moved by your poems. And amused by some. I laughed out loud at the poem English Ladies, and the one you read in the Tate – Marriage proposal with a shaky start.

I said in my last post that I don’t blog about poetry and then in the very next posting the subject is poetry. But it is important that people write poetry. And important that they read and know the things of which you write, to understand that people are being treated in despicable ways. And this knowing brings an obligation to do something. In my case, I support Freedom from Torture and I write about your writing to encourage others to read it. Your voice should be heard.

Whenever I have met you, Jade, you have greeted me with friendliness and warmth and I have seen you laughing and smiling with your friends. This post is a tribute to your spirit and is written with very best wishes for your future in writing, and in your life.

Caroline.

This post is about a collection called Moving a Country by Jade Amoli-Jackson. She is a member of Freedom from Torture’s Write to Life Group and performed in the group’s play, Souvenirs. Catriona Troth blogged about the launch in June of Moving a Country here.

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Souvenirs and Writing Home

Writing takes one to some surprising places and to meet some amazing people. Writing as therapy may sound dry and self-indulgent, but the Freedom From Torture’s Write to Life Group are lively, thoughtful and funny. They were also very welcoming when I joined them at one of their meetings. The group was established in 1997 and is currently co-ordinated by Sheila Hayman, assisted by a team of mentors. It supports twenty torture survivors through writing, a therapeutic process.

The evening I was present, one of the mentors led a workshop on place and home, starting with a discussion that explored English words for home (abode, mansion, accommodation) and then moved on to consider the concept of home in different countries and languages. We wrote for 20 minutes about home and listened as some were read aloud. We heard nostalgia, memories, homesickness, connections with the people of childhood and of the people still at home. And some poignant details about people and places left behind.

FFT On My Way

This was not my first meeting with members of the group. During Refugee Week last summer I went to their performance at Tate Britain, Where are you from? The Tate was showing the exhibition Migrations and writers from the group had chosen artworks from the exhibition or the permanent collection that resonated with them in some way, and responded in writing. Two in particular stood out: Hasani reading his poem The Land, in front of Turner’s etching: Hedging and Ditching. And Yamikani reading I’d never seen the sea in front of Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot. And the group as a whole supported, encouraged and applauded each other and welcomed strangers to hear and talk about their writing.

Souvenirs, based on the words of five of the group’s participants and on which they worked with two theatre companies: iceandfire and Tamasha Theatre Company is being performed at Jackson’s Lane this week. The writers played themselves.

Tracy said: What happened to me, the marks on my body, the memories, they are going to be my souvenirs. …I want to show people how I feel. In my struggle I did not have a voice and I want the world to know the truth. Talking, acting, writing about it, it’s another way to free myself.

‘The woman sitting in front of you…’ Jade, sitting centre stage, inescapable, speaks the first line. We, the audience, cannot escape. Her words, perhaps first spoken to Christine Bacon, the scriptwriter, are repeated several times in the short production. Jade sitting on the stage, is speaking to me, to you, to the other members of the cast.

The writer-actors tell us what we would rather not hear:

  • This country, my country, refuses asylum to some victims of torture
  • My country does not allow asylum seekers to work
  • My country treats people as if their needs for food, shelter, comfort, transport, communication with home, are irrelevant
  • Children in other countries are forced to become soldiers
  • Children can and do kill people
  • Parents leave behind their children and partners
  • Parents don’t know when they will see their children again
  • Refugees fear memories of torture and are made to repeat details in claiming asylum
  • Individual acts of small kindnesses are treasured
  • Suffering does not stop when they reach the UK, and can be made worse by treatment here
  • Suffering and healing are all around us
  • Witnesses are sitting in front of us, on the stage.

Tracy says to a member of the audience that she tells other sufferers of torture to speak out. This is part of the healing process. Another participant in the Write to Life group said, ‘talking, acting, writing about it, it’s another way to free myself.’ An audience is like a mirror in front of her, after all the horror and degradation, she is still powerfully and triumphantly alive. This is the mending power of words.

After a previous performance of Souvenirs at the Bath Literature Festival, Mohamed said:

When I saw the audience, I found myself saying it to them with my whole heart. Saying that script – it took me right back. … I want to change people’s perspective of asylum seekers – this is a kind of advocacy for people who are voiceless, which is invaluable. (from the Freedom From Torture blog)

I knew from the participants that this was an emotional experience for them. And so it was for the audience. The applause was emotional and prolonged.

Words bear witness to these things we don’t want to know. But we cannot now unknow them. We are the people in front of whom stood Jade, Mohammed, Tracy, ‘Uganda’ and Hasani. Words allow us to know and share, to change. Words lead to action. Now we know, what will we do?

‘Uganda’ said: This is the only way to speak out. It is a way to let the world know what is happening – we are alerting people to get things done.

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