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FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

A Collection of Poems, Thoughts and Reflections from Brighter Futures

ENGLISH PEN READERS AND WRITERS / VOLUME THREE

First published in Great Britain in 2011 by English PEN, Free Word, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Collection copyright English PEN, 2011 The moral right of the authors has been asserted. The views expressed in this book are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editors, publishers or English PEN. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of the book. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-0-9564806-2-0 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Aldgate Press, Units 5&6, Gunthorpe Street Workshops, 3 Gunthorpe Street, London E1 7RQ www.aldgatepress.co.uk Designed by Brett Biedscheid, www.statetostate.co.uk

CONTENTS
4 INTRODUCTION 6 This Book Is Testimony Malika Booker 8 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF LONDON anonymous 9 I COME FROM anonymous 11 WHERE I AM FROM Babatunde Tairou and Shaheen Hashmat 12 WHERE I AM FROM AZAH MOHAMMED AHMED 14 I remember Jacqueline K. L. Wanzo 16 Prayers Jacqueline K. L. Wanzo 20 Prayers for the Forgotten Zaneta Denny 22 Where I Am From Jacqueline K. L. Wanzo and Hamda Hashi Muse 24 There is a place Huguette Makamu 27 Tribute for the fiftieth Huguette Makamu and Zainab Sesay 30 I Come From Huguette Makamu and Zainab Sesay 33 I remember Sindi Tepdza 35 My Journey Sindi Tepdza 36 My Journey Shaheen Hashmat 40 I am Unity Zaneta Denny and Rubina Ahmed 42 The World For Me Zaneta Denny

English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

INTRODUCTION
Brighter Futures London present: Flowers that grow from concrete views of young asylum seekers and refugees living in London

Brighter Futures London is a self-advocacy group of active young asylum seekers and refugees with roots in a variety of countries and continents; including West, Central and East Africa from Togo to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, to countries in South Central Asia such as Kurdistan and Afghanistan, and finally the Americas, including members from Latin American and Caribbean backgrounds. As a group we try to get direct access to the Government to get our voices heard. We challenge the media and we also have fun!

We have a wealth of experience some of us have been here as little as two years and others have been here for most of our lives. A significant number of us are independent young adults, living without our families as we have been forced to leave our homes when civil war and political strife broke out in our countries.

FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

This anthology of poetry is the product of the Young Voices project delivered by Praxis Community Projects, Kazzum and Queen Mary University of London and the Readers & Writers project led by English PEN. Flowers That Grow From Concrete is a varied body of work that expresses the trials, journeys and aspirations of young people forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in the UK whilst withstanding the daily struggles they face to survive. These poems highlight the groups richness and the colourful cultural ancestry of their homelands as they make sense of their place in this world.

Flowers That Grow From Concrete is part of a wider exhibition which empowers young asylum seekers and refugees to have a voice and participate in issues that affect their lives. The Brighter Futures London members are young leaders and trailblazers committed to improving the quality of life for their peers through positive changes to policies and practices that young refugees identify as having the most impact on their lives.

English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

Malika Booker

This Book Is Testimony


English PEN worked with Praxis to commission Malika Booker, author of Breadfruit, to create a programme of creative writing workshops for the Brighter Futures group At my first session as a writing tutor at Praxis I was told that the students had brainstormed a list of topics and themes that they wanted us to explore during the course. The themes revealed a lot about the group. They wanted to explore diversity, culture, hope, isolation, fair treatment, family stories, beliefs, personal identity, community and discrimination. This was a tall order but we managed to narrow it all down to Journeys as we came to the understanding that this would enable us to explore the key themes of identity, family and home. As English was not everyones first language, we decided to even the playing field so we would start by swapping oral stories around a theme or by drawing a map of a place that we missed or making a list of images of a place that we loved or things that could represent our identity, and use these as the basis for writing poems. The students were wonderful in their honesty. They were supportive of each other and produced some good work. There were also wonderful moments when one of the students who claimed not to know how to write and not to understand poetry heard another student read her work and realised that her work had worth and that she had in fact written a poem. There was the student who could talk
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very poetically about his home and childhood but could not write it down, so another student transcribed his words and his joy when he heard his words read back to him. Or the student who wants to be a poet and would bring in poems full of delightful imagery and unique writing due to the way she would phrase her words as English is her second language or the time that two of the girls brought a group of Somali friends to the class and helped them to write their identity poems even though they were from a different part of Africa. It was humbling and educational for me to watch the process of translation and coaching taking place. My most memorable session is the one where we created identity list poems and the students had to create single poems in pairs. They had to discuss and explain their foods, customs, beliefs to each other and in the process there was cultural dialogue and understanding. Some of the list poems are in this book. This book is testimony; to the resilience of the human spirit, to the courage it takes to place your self in a writing class when you are just learning English, to the enthusiasm, honesty, vulnerability and willingness displayed by the students, and most importantly to the hard work of PEN, Praxis and Kazzum. It was a pleasure working with this group and being able to facilitate such beautiful writing.

English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

anonymous

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF LONDON


When I came to London the first thing I noticed was the London buses and the people because you can see people from different countries. I remember when I arrived in Victoria station and it was so busy and I had no one and didnt know anyone. I was tired and hungry and didnt know what to do but to introduce myself to the police as I walked out onto the street.

FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

I COME FROM
anonymous
I come from Ethiopia which is east Africa I come from doro wet, sega wet, Alecha wet1. I come from a tasty food, drink and trades I come from the sound of Kerar, sound of kebero2, masinko, washent3 I come from a sunny country that has water, trees, mountains. I come from beautiful sea and restful waves I come from beautiful boy and girl I come from one sister and brother I come from a separated country I come from a religious country I come from Muslim and Christian I come from a place that loves each other I come from hagerlebs4 I come frome eskista5, Antsokia6 Zewdie

1 Ethiopian dishes 2 Ethiopian National Drum 3 Musical instrument 4 National Dress 5 Ethiopian dance 6 Valley in Ethiopia

Today I feel like mixed paint that was Dark purple like the Rain and the wind pulling elastic Today I feel like Thunder an abandoned child wrapped in mouve with Broken Glass

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WHERE I AM FROM
Fruit that nourishes our spirit The spirit of our ancestors.

Babatunde Tairou and Shaheen Hashmat


We are from the land where everybody loves fruit;

I am from the land of Chalte Chalte1 and Amazing Grace. I am from the branch of the mango tree where I learn my books. The branch where the smell of Papaya and mango and banana ease my spirit I travel onwards from where the writer can go no further. I am from have you no Shame and dry your eyes doll!! the carvery of Partition and the pride of a thistle stamped nation I am from the land where instinct conquers fear; The same instinct that keeps the aicuzoban in my hand and the anger of grandfather away. I am the shameless highland belly dancer I am from the land where it all began.

1 Bollywood film

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

WHERE I AM FROM
AZAH MOHAMMED AHMED
I came from a place where they dont give freedom to women. Where they get married and have children. I left because it was chaos. It was loud like guns and bombs and the sound of people screaming.

I arrived to a place I didnt know who I am and what to do? I dream of being free, To escape from my own skin. Where no one can tell me, you cannot and also you must.

I am a dancer, a model on the cover of the magazine. I drive a shining black hummer, I wear a chic black classic dress with red 3 inch heels. And I am going to the office today, I will be happy and independent, and I am still waiting.

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

Jacqueline K. L. Wanzo
I remember way back at my primary school We used to have break time. During this time everyone played football or Stood to converse. We did different things.

I remember

There was a time when we would go and find things to eat and at this time my friend and I decide to go and buy some pancakes.

There was a place, off the school playground, where an old man sold pancakes and different kinds of mangos at his house, In those times, that would be a kiosk.

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I remember as we went to this kiosk, my brother came along. We brought the pancakes, and on our way back we saw the goat joined by rope to a pole. The pole was fixed so firmly in the ground that the goat could not get loose. When my brother saw it he got a branch of Casava leaves to feed this goat. He got fed up and started whipping it.

I remember when the goat could not run, it cried and the old man came to its rescue. I remember after that incident, he reported the case to the school Headmaster. As we were lined up to check who whipped the goat they could not catch my brother because he mixed with people playing football

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Prayers

inspired by a poem by Roger Robinson


Jacqueline K. L. Wanzo
Prayers for the saints whose lives are to revive a nation. Prayers for men and women loitering on streets but see the fruit of their labour in vain. Prayers for youths struggling to live, but end up in jail. Prayers for little girls making noise but are shut out of the last midnight train. Prayers for drunkards sipping their wasted lives to death. Prayers for children who lack but end up on streets like homeless dogs.

Saints revive lives without ceasing Men and women work harder like you just begun All young people revive their lives, watching your morals. All people Humble yourselves, for life is good and meaningful if you tolerate one another

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I cOme from a sunny country that has water, trees, mountains. I cOme from beautiful sea and restful waves I cOme from beautiful boy and girl I cOme from one sister and brother I cOme from a separated country We are from the land where everybody loves fruit; fruit that nourishes our spirit The spirit of our ancestors.
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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

inspired by a poem by Roger Robinson


Zaneta Denny
Prayers for the wandering souls on the streets o London, lost, cold. Too familiar. Prayers for the people left behind, ignored, left to the wayside. Prayers for those whose minds have been lost along lifes way, no money, or a place to stay. Prayers for those whove given up their worth, lost their faith. Prayers for those labelled insignificant, by this fast, infantile world.

Prayers for the Forgotten

Problem people so they say, the fallen, now shameless, My Brother, Sister, dont dwell on the past, its draining, irretrievable. Your life, your soul, its amazing! Old men, Old women, you are the legs that complete the cycle of life. Keep your head held high, draw near to Him and He will keep you right.

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Tell me your life story. Release this to me, I did not help you when you were down. Too consumed, too self-seeking. Hold my hand and forgive me. We can tie up those loose ends, only together can we see, The bright future on the horizon, for you, and for me.

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

Jacqueline K. L. Wanzo and Hamda Hashi Muse

Where I Am From

I am from Casava Roots grounded to look like Ashes of Powder; Twisted and mingled in hot boiling water, unseen by human eyes. Bundu the Casava Bread eaten with bounded Casava leaves to make a sweet taste that resembles a cocktail of some sort. I am from thirst-quenching drinks that fizz and bubble on my tongue. I am from the brown and white beans pasted to make the Maize Meal complete. I am from the succulent chicken breast in between two pieces of bread. I am from the mangos, a place where children stone the green and yellow mangos from their majestic trees, which fall on wet ground like heavy rain drops. I am from the blazing, unforgiving Sun which beats down on the ground mercilessly.

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I am from the passion fruit that twines in vines like the Amazon Rainforest. I am from overcast skies and rain that permeates your shoes, soaking your socks until your feet are numb. I am from an orchestra of flutes, xylophones and heavy drum beat with ululations that are played occasionally on Hen nights, weddings and funerals to make a community roar to an agreed volume I come from wheat roasted to be grounded between the stone that grinds intensively like the teeth of a regurgitating goat. Thats where I am from.

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

Huguette Makamu

There is a place
There is a place where you can start life where your first best friend makes you laugh for the first time. There is a place where blue and white are the only colours around you. There is a room where you first read your first book. There is a bench where you make your first dream about your future. There is a hall where every Saturday you had a thought of your faith, and worshipping God. And a finger was broken by a ball while you first learned how to play Basketball. and noisy classes, fighting boys, and screaming girls surrounding the break times. I will never forget my high school time.

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I am from the land of Chalte Chalte and Amazing Grace. I am from the branch of the mango tree where I learn my books. The branch where the smell of Papaya and mango and banana eaSe my spirit I travel onwards from where the writer can go no further.
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All people Humble yourselves, for life is good and meaningful if you tolerate one another

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FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

Tribute for the fiftieth


Huguette Makamu and Zainab Sesay
Prayers for the baby who was born by the freedom pulled off with blood price Prayers for the school boy who has been greeted by the red wind and acclaimed by the star-spangled. Prayers for the young man who said Im rich, Ive prospered, and I need nothing not realizing that he is wretched and poor and blind and naked Prayers for the fiftieth. Fifty years and he still cries, he still bleeds as the baby he was but nobody wants to feed him.

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

I Come From

Huguette Makamu and Zainab Sesay


I come from diamonds, copper and coltans Jungles, bushes, where okapi, baboons live I come from Kassava leaves, gel of rice, pondu spiced, a tasty mangoustan, a juicy pineapple.

I come from the sound of drums, from the cadence of feet, sounds of guns, blades, Boum, bang another child cries, another woman pains. I come from mosquitos bites. I come from bins, wrapped by umbilical cord and blood circumcised, excised without my will I come from beautiful sunset, blood sea and restful river

I come from polio, malaria and sickle cells I come from blood, pains, cries I come from sisters and one boy I come from a lovely man and woman that find a way to survive in this world.

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There is a place where you can start life where your first best friend makes you laugh for the first time... There is a bench where you make your first dream about your future.

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Prayers for the baby who WAS born by the freedom pulled off with blood price... Prayers for the young man who said Im rich, Ive prospered, and I need nothing not realizing that he is wretched and poor and blind and naked

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FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

I remember
Sindi Tepdza
I remember the pink Barney and friends tracksuit that you sewed me because you could not afford to buy me one. Everytime I wore it I felt I was transferred to a fairy land where Barney lived.

I remember the bath you gave me that morning and you got me ready for pre school. You were so patient with me in regards to the fact that I was fooling around while you were getting me ready.

Looking back, I now know that you loved me dearly and all you wanted was the best for me. You did your best to give me what I asked for and I am forever grateful that you gave me your best.

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I come from the sound of drums, from the cadence of feet, sounds of guns, blades, Boum, bang... I come from beautiful sunset, blood sea and restful river... I come from polio, malaria and sickle cells I come from blood, pains, cries I come from sisters and one boy I come from a lovely man and woman that find a way to survive in this world.
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FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

My Journey
Sindi Tepdza
Winter you have come, You have made walking from the house to outside feel like walking into a butchers freezer. You have made tissue to be an essential when leaving the house because noses stream of snorts. You have made people cover up from head to toe. Im glad that youre here because everybody will limit being out in the cold. Therefore more time is spent at home with families.

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

Shaheen Hashmat

My Journey
I remember the old sikh man with the longest beard Ive ever seen. The old man who kept looking over my shoulder at the book I was reading. I remember the voice saying this country is a fu**ing disgrace. I remember the life that ended just over an hour ago the pregnant lady for whom I gave my seat I remember the doors opening and closing, opening and closing.

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I remember the life that ended just over an hour ago the pregnant lady for whom I gave my seat I remember the doors opening and closing, opening and closing.

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FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

Zaneta Denny and Rubina Ahmed


I am a woman from the womb of many, Continents, cultures, Continents who thought theyd never meet, Nelly Furtado and the Tabla beat, March in union to dancing feet, Scoffing Tiramisu and licking ludoo, Spoiling the spread, before dad comes... gee I should stop. I am from the land of Fish and Chips, Fish that comes from the lips of Great Rivers And Fish that swim alongside christened ships. Royal Bengal ruled the waters, Roar of the river Lee, tandoori, biryani and roti, To locals delight. My mothers land, strengthening our hands, With love, laughter, following Allahs command. Comforted by prayer and bed time stories. I am from the land of rice and peas And Ackee and Saltfish. My grandmother, a child of St Anns, A young arrival to a new land;

I am Unity

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Carrying with her, her Caribbean brand, but no Bob Marley here, Instead, holy hymns, shining tropical light on the British grimraindrops falling from high heaven. London never sleeps, hard on this new city-girl. Her city-grand-babe, now, snug in the duvet, journeys in the night. Journeying in the night, with a torch for the light. From Giraffe the Pelly and Me, to sister chat till the early hours. (City grand-babes) I yearn for spirituality, Tied to a land of nationality. I do have some loyalty. I am from a city, whose history contains the world, Where differences are the norm, Cultures reborn, in children, in the land of cockney rhyming slang. New voices emerging, new communities arise, But the world is oblivious to this GB, Preferring to be transfixed by half truths about royal weddings and 1D (one dimensional) British IDs. Ignoring the rebirth of a new, rainbow Britannia. Complex. Poised to revolutionize the world.

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English PEN Readers & Writers / Volume Three

The World For Me


Zaneta Denny
There was a place where times stood still. I mean, I had to have my table, Sesame Street at three, locked on, Elmo, granny, aunty philly and me. I remember my every need was met. There was a small garden in the back for fresh air, always a bed to rest. Depending on my mood, listened to: Janet, Michael, Marvin. Grannys house seemed to be a treasure trove of culture. Life. Maybe I should start again. I thought there was a place where I thought time stood still. The uncut hedge, no more Sunday rice and peas. Peter Pan was alive no more. No, none of us could enter. Granny had left this world for the hereafter. Left to navigate this world alone, I remember crying on the edge of my chair at home. My sisters voice ringing I need you now... Lord, I really do.

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I am a woman from the womb of many, Continents, cultures, Continents who thought theyd never meet, Nelly Furtado and the Tabla beat, March in union to dancing feet... New voices emerging, new communities arise, But the world is oblivious to this GB, Preferring to be transfixed by half truths about royal weddings and 1D (one dimensional) British IDs. Ignoring the rebirth of a new, rainbow Britannia. Complex. Poised to revolutionize the world.
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FLOWERS THAT GROW FROM CONCRETE

I am from the land of Fish and Chips Fish that comes from the lips of Great Rivers And fish that swim alongside christened ships

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Today I feel like a light bulb

Shining brightly and giving

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Flowers That Grow From Concrete From Readers & Writers the literature education programme of English PEN Edited by the writers, Praxis, Kazzum and Philip Cowell, Readers & Writers Programme Manager The English Centre of PEN International the worldwide association of writers exists to uphold the values of literature, literacy and freedom of expression. The first PEN club was founded in London in 1921 to promote intellectual co-operation and understanding among writers, to create a world community of writers that would emphasise the central role of literature in the development of world culture, and to defend literature against the modern worlds threats to its survival. Readers & Writers is English PENs literature education programme which brings these international values back home to London in the form of creative writing workshops for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. The programme of workshops that led to this book was supported by the Big Lottery Fund, A B Charitable Trust, Scotshill Trust, the Pack Foundation, the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Trust and the Arts Council England.

This book would have been impossible to make without the generosity and hard work of the Brighter Futures group, Malika Booker, Alex Sutton, Erika Oe, Rubina Ahmed, Daryl Beeton, Louise Madsen and Shaheen Hashmat. Thank you for helping flowers grow from concrete.