One of the greatest parts of volunteering internationally is the variety of people I meet every day. Last Saturday, Emilie, a fellow volunteer, and I, went to a poetry event to support our friend Merna who read her poems on that evening. Merna kindly agreed to share her heartfelt and touching poem with me to further share it with the readers of Years of Change.
This mosaic of voices weaves together segments of poems written by different participants in the Stories of Arrival: Refugee and Immigrant Youth Voices Poetry Project from the past eight years. Project founder, co-director and teaching poet, Merna Ann Hecht, wanted to create a piece that would speak to our present time of forced migrations, to honor the voices of young refugees and immigrants and to remind people that while every individual story matters, there are shared elements to each person’s migration story–the having to leave home in order to survive–these young voices tell that story.
Merna is a nationally known storyteller, a university teacher, and a teaching artist who brings storytelling and poetry into her teaching, writing and activism for social justice and human rights.
The project takes place at a high school in the USA in the Seattle Washington area. The school is one of the most linguistically diverse schools in the U.S. In short, the mission of the project is to use poetry as a means of storytelling to provide safe space for telling the deeply personal and often harrowing stories that honour the individual and cultural identities of refugee and immigrant youth. Through providing space for the creation of the poems that speak directly to their experiences and bringing their voices to the larger community we answer to the two of the needs on which our project is based—providing an arena for expressions of loss, hope and healing and holding fast to our commitment to bring these youth voices into wide community visibility.
I smell sadness
The shouting for help
Because of no food
No food, and without food,
We are not given peace.
No one helped us because other people had to carry things
Like we carried, we had no shoes and thorns sucked and tore at our feet, the water was on top of my shoulders,
and I felt like my legs were dying.
A person with a dream that leaves war behind him
misses his country, but is relieved
for leaving the place of war,
that person has a broken heart
but still wants to live.
I remember people cooking in the kitchen made out of mud
cooking all kinds of rice, spicy chicken, and potatoes
in their ramshackle houses,
Singing songs at the farm with their smooth voices
like water flowing over the ocean.
The birds give them the music.
Girls carrying water on their head,
The story of their struggle is that they
want freedom and independence,
The government doesn’t want them to have freedom
So we had fighting and killing.
People always losing their life
Sometimes because of the violence
there are people who don’t have parents or houses.
I remember the long leaves that fall from the trees
When the wind flies in Kenya.
I remember the white-washed school
I remember the bus that we used to take
from the Dadaab Refugee Camp
the world’s largest refugee camp,
on the border of Somalia and Kenya.
I miss taking a nap in my house
and being together with my near relatives.
I remember I did not want to leave my beautiful Somali land
I did not want to stop hearing the gurgle of the flowing river.
People are forced to leave
Their own land.
When they arrived it was a sad moment for them
Because they did not know
Anyone in the new country
They were like someone who is deaf and blind,
That is how it is when you do not know
Any one in a new country.
I miss the sound of rooster
Waking me up in the morning
I miss my mountain home.
It all turned black for me
The day I left my country,
The birds could not even fly,
Under the sad skies
Even the trees were sad,
I wish I could return
To my own house.
The guns are shooting like burning fire
People are dreaming for freedom.
Her eyes were hollow as the war
progressed, and her face was like stone.
A man’s voice shouts at my parents,
telling them “if you don’t open the door,
we will shoot it open!”
We have no choice. They run in and take everything.
They tell my mom if she does not give them her rings
they will kill the baby inside of her.
My thoughts are, that I just can’t picture people
doing this to other people.
We barely manage to escape.
Her childhood was a smeared painting
she ran from it, who wouldn’t run from the noise
of gun shots, the feeling of loneliness
and the sight of darkness,
Seeing houses turned into ashes.
When I think of that day
that I could not find my family,
I was tired of screaming
And the shaking of my whole body,
It was getting dark and dark,
still I could not find my family,
I tried to stay, but I could not stay,
I didn’t want to go, but I did go,
The day I left my country, my culture and my mother.
I didn’t want to stay, but I couldn’t go back,
I tried to leave, but there was nowhere to go
It was like jail, but I knew how to live with it,
Because I lived long enough there to survive,
But I missed my mother and my country,
If my mother was here, I wouldn’t need anything,
I just don’t know how to live without my mother.