volunteering with refugees at the We Are One women's centre


Rahele's story: the haunting sound of poetry from Iran

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Rahele is a refugee volunteer at the We Are One centre where I've been working on Samos. When she heard I was a writer she wanted to share her poetry with me. This is poetry that has struggled to be heard - she says that although she wrote two novels in Iran, her poetry could not be published there because its themes were not Islamic.

I ask if I can see one of her poems, and she shows me an English translation written by a fellow refugee; biro scrawl on the rough paper of an exercise book. I struggle to read some of the spelling and she looks at me in irritation,

'Pah, this is not good!' Through a Kuwaiti woman who is at the centre today and who speaks great English she explains her frustration.

'In Farsi, this poem is beautiful. It rhymes!'

It seems that this is the final indignity - that fleeing for safety strips you not only of your home and possessions, but even your most lovely words; the ones that you worked at until they rhymed; even these are now stripped of their cadence and you are reduced to biro scribble.

'Can I say it to you in Farsi?'

Of course she can, and I prepare myself to hear sounds I cannot understand, but to listen with careful attention to catch rhythm, matching cadences; to make Rahele feel better about the translation she is going through.

I am certainly not prepared for the haunting singing that she embarks on. I don't need to understand the words and I don't need to try - she is right that this is beautiful.

'I hope that with this poem I will give a voice to all refugees,' she says. The poem's translation is as follows

I am so nervous to follow love.

If I get your help I can return my whole body to you.

I passed the river of different bloods;

Take my hand; I can’t do it any more.

Hey man, you can be better than a hundred others.

Please take my hand because jealousy makes me sad.

I am injured; hold the balm in your hand and put it on my wound.

Don’t push me away and don’t give me sadness, because I have plenty of that

and my body will cry with sadness and jealousy.

Don’t wound me; I am already wounded by everyone.

I was wondering what was waiting for me

but I didn’t know that it was a dark desert.

I am so nervous to follow love.

Please God give me that strength

because I cannot wait any more.

God give me that power

because I can't do anything here.

Elizabeth Gowing is a storyteller for those making positive change in the world. A writer and presenter who shares her stories on BBC Radio 4, she also offers training and consultancy. Use the contact form if you know stories that need to be told and want her help in telling them.

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