If you’re not looking for it, you could miss the network of women all around Nottingham who are working their socks off to bring together refugees and welcome them to our communities. Reading, sharing, laughing, crying and integrating to recognise each other through the key thing that they all have in common, regardless of their backgrounds. They are all women. They have all led very different paths to somehow end up here, in Nottingham. I went along to a beautiful afternoon poetry led by the PAMOJA Women’s Group. It moved me to tears. I’ll do my best to justify what a special afternoon this really was…
The event was held at Natural Justice Museum by group leader Hannah Ziolek and Palewell Press editor Camilla Reeve. It was jam packed with women, children, staff and supporters. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the atmosphere was intimate and safe. The usual pleasantries were exchanged and the PAMOJA women started reading their poems.
Poems about where they came from, their homes, the foods they used to eat, the families they had left behind. The women shared glimpses at their lives before in Zimbabwe, Italy, Gambia, Eritrea, Sudan, Iran, Nigeria and Ethiopia. So much emotion went into their works, it cannot have been easy to be reminded of some of the homes that they weren’t ready to leave. One thing was for certain, PAMOJA had brought these women together and together, they were stronger.
The poems had been crafted by a series of workshops. For one, the women went down to the riverside at Attenborough Nature Reserve. They walked by the river and spoke about how it made them feel. The spoke about this river in comparison to rivers in their past lives. They day was recorded and photographed. We listened to some of the recordings and saw some of the images as the women read out their poems from the experience. Viola’s poem read: “You wash away the war in me. When I walk I feel free.” The water seemed to evoke really powerful memories for some of the women, paying homage to those who died crossing water in search of a better life.
Salani read her words about life being in limbo in the asylum seeking process. She spoke about the fear of even dreaming, how out of control your life was. She compared the process as back and forth, back and forth. Destiny being out of her control. It made me think of the ships crossing the waters during the slave trade.
The second workshop took place at Sneinton Windmill. This one focused on the power of recipes, sharing and cooking foods from their countries. Home can be anywhere if you bring tastes from the past to it. Joy stood up to speak of her love of cooking: making meals is a time of talking, learning, expressing and sharing. She spoke about how it was an artform, and one she used to share with her mother and grandmother. All of them around the table together.
Sometimes we just need love. There is love everywhere at the refugee forum.
The most incredible thing was that the women had initially delegated three of them to read the poems on behalf for them all. But as the day progressed, and with the atmosphere being so safe and kind, more and more women stood up and claimed their own poems. Reading them aloud in front of the whole room. Some apologised for their English, some needed prompts from the others. But that was a completely organic example of the power the women’s group has. How it makes them feel inclusive and celebrated and loved. How it has built their confidence.
The day finished Veronica verifying just how important the Refugee Forum is. She said that after the first time she attended, she was at her lowest. She had nothing left to give; no confidence in herself. An emblem that stuck with her was “still I rise”, and rise she did. She started to give her time by volunteering, building herself back up again. She said: “Sometimes we just need love. There is love everywhere at the refugee forum.” It’s too easy to forget the importance of expressing love, this whole day was simply full of it and I can’t express enough how grateful I was to feel such a part of their progress.
The poems are collectively part of their forthcoming anthology project. For more information and to see when you can get your own copy, head to their website.
Nottingham Refugee Week is also June 15-22. More information here.