Jalada 06: Diaspora

 

DWF_FINAL COVER

Cover Illustration by Guled Abdulwasi

 

Introduction: DWF x Jalada: Diaspora 


»“We are the Children of Diaspora” by Anisa Nandaula  ·  Distant Relatives” by Anne Moraa ·  “Stranger Kin” by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga ·  “Your Tears Are Hands Trying Not To Shake” by Ahmed Yussuf · “Amani and Upendo” by Mwas Mahugu ·  “Familiarity of the Diaspora Gang” by Adut Wol · “Lines on the Soles of My Feet” by Marziya Mohammedali · “Continental Spaces” by Richard Ali «


Credits

“Lines on the Soles of My Feet” by Marziya Mohammedali

 

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Marziya Mohammedali is a wordsmith, photographer, designer and artist based in Perth, Western Australia. Their practice focuses on narratives of dissent, identity, migration and transition, working for social justice through multidisciplinary creative practice. They are the Arts Editor of Jalada – A pan-African writing collective. Twitter: @kikei. Website: www.kikei.net

“Continental Spaces” by Richard Ali

1.

I want to be African.To be African denotes expansiveness. It also means that when you travel, you feel a kinship with everyone who is dark skinned like you, the sense that—this must be my brother. For Africa is a country the size of a continent and its diaspora goes on to the ends of the earth. An African – which can only come from self-identification – is a seeker of kinship everywhere, in culture, in history, in perspective.

Australia, of all the countries in this world, fascinates me.

Because it is a country the size of a continent.

Because its people are all lovely shades of black, like me.

Because its people, because they are black, were placed on tables and carved into psychological and geographical chunks by greed and a bureaucracy.

Just as my continent and I were, at a conference in Berlin, in 1884.

After which, there was a scramble.

Across the world away, in a place down under, live family with whom I share scope and experience.

2.

There is a scene in the 2008 Baz Luhrmann film Australia where the hero, the boy Nullah, sings stampeding cattle to a stop, himself at the edge of a cliff. It has remained in my mind for many years after. For in that scene is a powerful idea—that music is a universal language that comes from the soul which can affect nature and all in it, that even the powerless, at the precipice of death, can take up agency, do have power.

But the very nature of the medium, film, with its plotlines and creative license, the primacy of the story, makes it equally unreliable. A story is, very often, not the truth. Baz Luhrmann is, of course, not an Aboriginal Australian and can only have tried, honestly perhaps, to mimic Nullah’s existence. Therefore, there is another power involved here—of funding, ideology and the potential to subvert—possessed by Luhrmann, which cannot be denied or downplayed.

Would an Indigenous Australian filmmaker have been able to raise the funds for this same film? In what ways, were this to happen, would this film have been different? And, to your answers to both questions, a third question—why? Do you now see?

3.

Truth arrived in my Opera Mini browser inbox a day ago. The Australian PM, Scott Morrison, was set to deliver an apology to the victims of sexual abuse at various Australian institutions, including schools. The victims are, for the most part, members of the Stolen Generation, Indigenous people who were forcibly taken from their families by the State. Most of these were “half castes”, people like Nullah. The notion of a “half caste” is taken from eugenics, the discredited pseudo-science shared by the Australian State with the Nazis, white supremacists all throughout American history, and the Apartheid South African regime.

The purpose of this policy, which ran until the 70’s – within living memory – was to convert these persons into white citizens. It was alchemy, no less, but done with lives, with the aid of a bureaucracy and the complicity of human beings who should have known better.

In the days after, I have been unable to stop thinking of these people—what they saw, what was done to them, what they endured.

The Prime Minister in parliament gave the apology, yet, I was astonished to see some coverage of it describe it as “rare”. If an apology for a crime is rare, does that not mean it was not a crime, in fact, but rather just a lark gone wrong? Yet, that was simply not the case. A State, mobilizing thousands of civil servants and agents, many of whom are still alive, over decades, perpetrated this pillage of human beings systematically and deliberately. This was not a mania, this was premeditated. And of course, further reading shows that the effects of European meddling in Australia continue even to this day. So what does an apology mean? What does this apology mean?

grandmothers-against-removal-custom-image-data

4.

I’m a traveller and a writer. Lives matter to me – the exploring of geographies and memory, and what Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor asks in her epic novel, Dust, “what endures?”

I was born in a small cosmopolis named Jos in central Nigeria, sitting pretty 4000 feet above sea level. In Jos, there is no modesty about the nature around us; everywhere one looked was impressive, nothing was half done. Perhaps this explains my fascination with the world of Nullah— the Australia of wide-open spaces and dust and water, and people dark skinned like me, slim and secure in their traditions.

Research and news over the years have exploded the previous sentence with the truth of irreparable disruption, the white racial tyranny, and eventually, the madness that is alchemy with lives.

5.

I have a yearning for wide-open spaces, an innate love for travel that, years down the line, continues unabated. And, sometimes, I recognize that I too seek to achieve a sort of alchemy, only my medium is not lives but rather the experiences of others. To place this side by side mine. To make them mine.

I have always desired a more nuanced identity to match a greater sense of self. Which is how I have wound up here at the terminal at Aeroport Charles de Gaulle—an African pondering Australia, while thinking in images about books and films and make believe things. Thinking of language.

6.

Continental spaces can be overwhelming, as can be seen from the tension between specific injury and inclusive identity, a stolen generation, and a need to conform everyone into Australian white.

I have to think of Africa.

7.

 

 

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When I say I am an African, it is a potential thing. No such thing as African, in the way I want it to be, exists. It is not a country though I wish it were, in the way I need it to be. Africa is, in today’s sad reality, a continent of over fifty different countries with just as many complementary local elite, all in tacit cooperation to keep we, the people, apart. There is something about the unity of Black that scares the world, and those who partake of the system of this world, even if they too, in skin, are black. Fanon, in this was prescient.

In trying to find my Africa, I have had recourse to music, to rebel music especially.

A few years ago, I sampled reggae artistes Bob Marley and Luciano along with Fela to make an argument in my essay, “Rebel Music and the African Country” published in Jalada Africa.

“Rebel music remains influential, its prophets stay large than life even in death, because they have provided definitions. Clear. Prescient. Positive.

The absolute poverty of our present intellectual elite is eloquently demonstrated in the Africa-Is-Not-A-Country trend of thought. They have failed, in contrast to the rebel musicians, to tell us what Africa is. What it is not is quite besides the point. It is true that a tiger does not declaim its tigritude, to borrow Wole Soyinka’s famous quip, but neither does it go on long drawn out fits of barking over its non-dogitude, or squawking about its non-chickenitude, or similar concessions drawn on the true roar of a tiger, made in favour and in honour of the deprecations of anyone who says a tiger is a dog or a tiger is a chicken respectively.

To follow the present intellectual elite down to their own kennels and coops, they have failed further to tell us what the countries Nigeria or Algeria or the ethnicities Motswana or Kikuyu mean either. In the supreme snobbishness of negation, in the same breath as the giving up of the very agency of definition, they fail to define anything. It is in this West-centric lockstep that my sympathy with Olatoun William’s character, Oyinda, finds itself firmly ensconced. We have no reason to have a bankrupt intellectual account, no reason to excuse our intellectual elite being merely acadas, yet here they are, not observing and experimenting with ideas, not applying ideas to lives, not inspiring any material culture. For so long as we are reacting to what the West says, for so long as we refuse to DEFINE, we are merely mimics of other people’s voices, moons to suns, adjuncts to predicates.”

So, here is a music break —

8.

Where and how do we find the immense strength to be human?

THE

—Australian State
—the National Socialists
—the Afrikaner Broederbund (and the state they animated)
—the entire gamut of American history
TO WHICH
—we must add the Zionist Israelis in occupation of Palestine
DID NOT BELIEVE that other people were less human than they were but
THEY WERE AND ARE WILLING to act as if this was so,
and they pay the price with their dehumanized lives
and broken societies
their system
TODAY.

Where do we find the strength to be human?

Malcolm-X

 

“But when you get the white man over here in America and he says he’s white, he means something else. You can listen to the sound of his voice – when he says he’s white, he means he’s a boss. That’s right. That’s what “white” means in this language. You know the expression, “free, white, and twenty-one.” He made that up. He’s letting you know all of them mean the same. “White” means free, boss. He’s up there. So that when he says he’s white he has a little different sound in his voice.”

[1965]

 

Jimmy-B

“I have observed that not many of us can say, or sing: hallelujah. Perhaps it is because one first [must] descend into the valley, where one learns to say: Amen. If one can find in oneself the force to say, Amen, it is possible to come to Hallelujah. But Amen is the price. The black experience in the valley of America remains, my friends, America’s only affirmation. We have sung the Lord’s song for a very long time, in a very very strange land […] Perhaps that is why so many like to say that only black people can sing the blues.”

[1973]

“By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a Black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life… In this debasement of and definition of Black people, they debased and defined themselves.”

[1963]

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

[1963]

Ponder on these.

9.

If we are to survive, we must find ways to collaborate that incorporate nuance, blending a curiosity and empathy for the specifics of others with a general need to fit all within a simple humanity. There are no stories to this, there is only truth. And all truth can only be found by getting on the road, real and metaphysical, exploring terrain and memory alike.

At the centre of curiosity must be the idea of the equality of all cultures, the correctness and relevance and truth of communal lived experience passed down. It is the lack of accepting this equality that saw to a generation stolen and abused, and wounded. Needlessly. By the Australian state.

To be human is to refuse to dehumanize ourselves in the ways we treat other human beings, no matter what the benefits are. It is to understand that the price is not worth it. Not the money gotten from the exploitation of migrant labour, not the edifices built with resources extracted from the backs of slaves, not a society that cannot survive without the disenfranchisement of Australia’s Indigenous people.

10.

The task of conscious people is to continue to find ways to put the human being back, in humanist terms, at the centre of this rock we share.

Fractions, categories, where these can be exploited by politics to create Others, must be rejected. The lived experience, especially where this is negative and from which resentment flows, must be acknowledged and amends made. There can be no excuses for doing this. We have to reclaim our agency.

Which leads us back to the essence of a scene in a film made with the limitations of that medium, of a boy on a rock, who sang a universal language even when he was very, very afraid. New ways of understanding and seeing is what is called for. If we dare.


Richard Ali is a Nigerian lawyer, poet and author of City of Memories (Parresia Books 2012). He is a founding member of Nairobi-based Jalada Africa and sits on the board of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation (Uganda). Twitter @richardalijos. Website:  www.richardalijos.wordpress.com

“Familiarity of the Diaspora Gang” by Adut Wol

We hold a gaze of familiarity, something like that one song you remember hearing, you can hear the words and feel the rhythm, but the song never comes out your mouth. A similarity like a mirage in the horizon, something you swear is there. But was it ever there? Or was it the longing for it that you saw?

I was standing at the edge of the field at Afropunk, done with the entire day. I just wanted to isolate myself from people, even if just for a second. I needed that space.

I saw her in the dawn of light and I was hoping she saw me too. I was staring at her, making sure my gaze was gentle enough so that if our eyes should meet, she would feel at ease. She kept getting closer and closer to the point that I had to look away.

What if she had realised I was staring at her and was headed over here to yell at me, what if I had food on my face, what if she’s trying to walk past me to get to where she’s going? All the scenarios played over in my head and by the time I had looked up, she was standing right at my feet.

Tall statue, skin like a glazed donut. I looked up at her and she was smiling down at me. I tilted my head, like you have some audacity to look at me like a garden gnome. Her smile was so gleeful, like she was about to have an outburst of something.

I smiled at her too – we recognised each other. She pointed at me and said, “South Sudanese?” I smiled back at her, nodded and said, “South Sudanese.” We embraced another in a long and tender hug.

“I knew it, I knew you guys were South Sudanese, I just wasn’t sure.”

I introduced her to three of my other mates and she proceeded to hug them and introduce herself. We were all just as happy to meet her as she was to meet us.

She wanted to know where we’ve been, what we’ve been eating, and how long we were staying. She spoke to us like an older sister, who just wanted to take care of her sisters.

We wanted to know how she’s been, how long she’s been here, and how was she surviving.

She came back closer to me and asked if we were going to be in the same spot for a while because she had some people she wanted to introduce us to. Within 10 minutes, she came back with a group of ladies. We all started screaming and pointing at each other. We all hugged who we could, and shouted over one other for introductions. We were South African, South Sudanese, Kenyan and Brooklyn, New York.

She invited us to her favourite restaurant in Harlem – we were so tired of eating bodega food. All we wanted was a home cooked meal that would smell and look familiar.

We arrived at the restaurant, took our seats, and continued to talk over each other about our experiences of being in the diaspora.

I loved listening to her talk about her passion for connecting all the South Sudanese in the diaspora, her struggle to merge cultures, surviving on her own, going to school, having to juggle university debt with a job one has no passion for. I felt that right in my chest.

I was finally grateful to be from Australia, the idea of leaving home to go to a completely different state for school and having to support oneself scared me. Having my parents’ house and Uncle Centrelink gave me the comfort of knowing I had a safe place, and I wouldn’t need to worry about money for now.

Some of us wanted to go to a home we all left when we were too young to remember, but still hold on to the hope of one day returning. Some wanted to make do with what they had. It was their home now. The only home they remember.

Even though she was in a place that was predominantly black people, she still felt different, she still felt like going home.

Something we all felt at some level.

But we recognised the familiarity in our eyes. Our joy was familiar, our laughs, our excitement – it was the Familiarity of the Diaspora.


Adut Wol is a South Sudanese born Australian raised writer slowly coming into my craft. She is just here to write stories and make our lives relatable. She enjoys reading and writing because stories have a way of helping people navigate through life, through written experiences. Twitter:  @KakoyaKaka

“Amani and Upendo” by Mwas Mahugu

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Amani and Upendo

A long time ago in Africa there lived a happy people from a happy village on the hill, where everything was perfect. Villagers lived in utopian harmony, Love reigned supreme, and Peace was the core pillar of Nyambo society. Everything formed one energy, from nature to the galaxies.

Myths and stories from grand elders spoke of medicine men and priests who had explored the galaxies extensively. Planting, marriages, and many rituals were done in perfect alignment with the stars each yearly season.

Annually, a huge golden beam would be shone across the galaxy towards the desired planets to appease the gods, who would in turn respond with blessings and a bountiful harvest the following season.

One particular season, a drunken priest miscalculated, directing the golden beam ray towards the dreaded ringed planet Saturn. The people had explored all the galaxies, but Saturn was a taboo place.

Evil vibrations descended upon the village, bringing with them dark destructive energies. Vibrations of fear invaded the hearts of the villagers.

Confusion took over the people’s normal life, and greed, suspicion, turmoil, and mayhem became the order.

What amazed the villagers is with the change of people internally, there was an energy shift that affected their weather and planting seasons, resulting in angry thunderstorms, intense rains, forest fires, and extreme sun, leading to a devastating famine that lasted for many seasons.

A Priest born on the great day of the Golden Beam Ritual made a discovery — he had a powerful energy that could capture the demon. Later he recognized that all the children born on the same day also had extremely powerful energies that grew stronger when they formed a pair.

The priest from Nyambo and neighboring villages met and decided that all children born at the exact time and day of the Golden Beam Ritual be named Amani if a boy and Upendo if a girl. From birth their sole mission on Earth would be to fight evil and restore the equilibrium in people’s hearts and in nature too. Over many years, hundreds of children carried the name Amani and Upendo.

The priest ordered rituals all over the ridges to be performed to match the male and female energies. All the children were brought together, and lifetime pairs were formed. This was the weapon the demon virus could not face —

their light burned the darkness and chased it away. Each season, the warriors were given a secret mask by the priest of the area. Clans known for their leadership, priestly, and warrior-like traits were chosen for this noble cause. When the time came, each warrior would find their partner with a matching mask and continue combat together.

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Amani was fourteen years old when he saw warriors on the other side of the ridge. Clad in black lobes, an ostrich rider leading, they moved across the millet plantation chanting as they loped past where Amani had hidden himself.

He emerged from the reeds and jumped on their pathway, raising his two hands in surrender.

“My fellow brothers salaam? With all this chanting, where are you going? My name is Amani from Nyambo village. I humbly request you tell me why you have crossed the boundary ridge, have my people wronged your people?”
The leader of the warriors, a young woman, ignored him, passing by without saying a word. Amani saw the luck mask hanging from the young maiden’s heart. Not only did it have a warrior mark that matched his, but she was from a clan that could inter-marry his, she was the one.

Seasons passed and Amani became a strong young warrior.All of a sudden, a beautiful lady emerged from the cool shade of the forest edge, her attire gleaming like the wings of a parrot in the sun.

Amani paused for a moment, accustoming his eyes to the sight of the young woman walking towards him. Suddenly, the blade of a spear flew through the air, but instead of fear, Amani felt a warm sensation as if someone had stroked the inner chord melodies of his heart. Although she was a couple of meters away, he could see her eyes shining bright like a golden blade struck by sunset rays.

Amani saw the warriors behind the beautiful woman; lithe as a leopard, swift as savanna grassland antelopes and surging forward like a stray buffalo.

He stood still and signaled his group of warriors not to emerge. His battalion wore fresh, camouflage green reeds, and the approaching warriors were unaware that they had entered Amani’s trap.

“I command you to lay down your spear, young man,” the woman began. “My name is Upendo, daughter of the supreme chief of Gathundia Chiefdom. I am here on two missions: one, on an order to slay all the people that have sided with the demon from Saturn, and two, to find the other wing of my heart.”

Upendo marched forward towards Amani, followed by her warriors.

“My name is Amani, son of the supreme Chief of Nyambo village. I am on a mission to slay the demon virus that has scattered our people and hid the face of my beloved.
“I am not an enemy,” Amani pleaded, hoping Upendo would see his luck mask.
“Are my eyes deceiving me?” he asked. A teardrop fell to the ground when Upendo saw his matching mask.

The reign of Chief Amani and Upendo began. So great was their reign that they managed to connect all the peace and love soldiers from their village and from distant lands. When all their energies united, the power of the demon virus diminished. The soldiers fought together for many years and finally, the time came.

The Nyambo village dancers swung in unison with the beat of the drums as Chief Amani, accompanied by his wife, Upendo, and an entourage entered the village court. The afternoon sky was radiant.

They took the staircase to the podium. Only the weaver birds swirling above, and some perched on a nearby acacia tree, ignored the grand entry, continuing with their singing.

“My People. The secret of success is being calm and peaceful on the outside, while beneath, paddling fast like a cheetah,” Chief Amani declared to the crowd.

“Our People are scattered. This is not good for our village – we need to be together and connected. Our systems have broken down as a result of the virus that has infiltrated our society. As your Chief, let me say that language creates the world!” he continued.
“The golden ratio has ripple effects. Like the rain that falls on the high mountains, forming hundreds of streams that flow down, eventually connecting together to form a river which flows and replenishes the trees that become homes to the birds. That’s the power of Word my people.”

“The village is facing a turning point: people are fleeing from war and terror and they are being betrayed and pushed away. Where people should move together, they move apart. People no longer see solutions; they always see the problem, and only ever in the other, in the stranger, in the weak. How could it be that villages are led by stupidity, not love and respect? Today we will correct the Priest’s mistake”.

There was silence followed by murmurs and clapping, the sound of a surging sea. Fly whisks were raised in the air as Chief Amani left the podium. The master of ceremony, Miss Imani, took the dais while the sounds of flutes filled the air.

“I greet you in the name of the most high,” she began, “I have a few words before I welcome the one and only Upendo. My name is Imani, the lead faith bearer for our village and beyond, and I must say that the Chief is right. I feel it in my soul each time one of you fails to stand up to fight and whisper the words, all energy is interconnected,” she said. “I, Imani and all my fellow namesakes put all our faith on this material day of the Golden Beam Ritual towards the end of the evil demon”.

A lovely sensation, sweet as nectar, filled the entire meeting as warrior Upendo gracefully took the stage. There were hundreds of insect sized robots, each one equipped for tele presence, broadcasting the ceremony so that all warriors could see what the priests saw and heard.

“The scattering of our people affects the heart’s equilibrium,” said Upendo. “The way to find unity is to take a step towards love to speak the words whispered by our priest in secrecy that wove the fabric of our being. Unity is born when love and peace are our core, connecting all people. We will manifest oneness.”

“May our priest guide my beloved Upendo as we shine the Golden Beam. Today we not only beam the ray, but we fire golden robots into the galaxy,” chief Amani said. “These monitored Golden Beam capsule robots will modernize our galaxy exploration. We will restore the order that the drunk priest caused and we will develop more advanced technology so that the chaos of Saturn will never return,” he finished.

“I Upendo with the love shield, and Chief Amani with his peace shield, powered by all our namesakes and guided by Imani the faith bearer with the blessings of all our Priests and Priestesses present, fiiiiiree kaboom kaboom.”

All the priests and priestess spoke in unison as one being:

“Peace through unity. Unity through trust. Trust through honesty. Honesty through compassion. Compassion through understanding. Understanding through freedom. Freedom guided by Love and Peace.”


Mwas Mahugu is a writer and an Afro -hip hop artist who when not singing, writes, coordinates music events and manages artists.he has been published by kwani literal magazine,a founding member of jalada africa(pan africa writers collective)a pioneer sheng writer (slang language)and written for people daily newspaper. Twitter @gasfyatu Website: www.shengtown.blogspot.com/

“Your Tears Are Hands Trying Not To Shake” by Ahmed Yussuf

1.

 Poet Warsan Shire writes: “No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying – leave.”

The phone is ringing late at night. You ask, Hooyo who was on the phone?

You watch your mother’s eyes water, hearing faint signals across continents.

Her voice is trembling. She is struggling to make words.

She has only ever known mourning from faraway distances. Her father died the day she landed.

2.

You cannot take your eyes off her.

You watch her try to make sense but her lips move like walls closing in on each other.

She tells you your great uncle has died.

You have never experienced a death like this. Your body doesn’t know how to react, except to flood your eyes with saltwater

3.

You are ten years old.

You are walking along the sandy streets of Garissa with him and his wooden walking stick.

You are met with trouble. Ali the biter, or ‘al qaniinyo’, has come to claw at your small frame.

A wooden stick is flung to protect you.

You stay in that memory.

4.

You are back in the village.

You are sitting near him joking about how you miss your mother’s cooking. How all you eat is the bread and butter from the local shop.

5.

Your malaria vaccination pre-travel did not work. You have been infected.

The nets you sleep under have holes in them. Now you have holes in your body.

But you are not without help. You are in and out of hospitals. Your great uncle pays for the best of treatments; money is no object.

The care he gives you warms you, even though your body is deeply cold.

You are woken by the chatter of adults. Men in thobes walk into your room.

You are self-conscious. Your mattress has been reduced to your washroom.

The reading begins. The sheikhs pray and recite with gentle spits of water in your direction.

This act is healing; not just your sickly body, but your faith as well.

6.

Your mother and you have separate memories of this man.

She remembers the cheeky uncle who let her out of her all-girls school early to watch movies.

The bachelor uncle who didn’t have a wife or child until deep into his fifties.

7.

She is on her way to Nairobi airport. Her uncle has come to see her off.

He tells her that her father is getting better. He is out of hospital, and back at home.

She is excited hearing the news. She tells him she doesn’t plan to stay in Australia.

She is coming back.

8.

She has returned with one parent buried, and another on their deathbed.

It has been over a decade since she’s been back.

Her uncle tells her, you don’t know how proud your father was of you.

She is overwhelmed. She has just visited her father’s grave for the first time.

9.

You connect with the grief that fills your hearts with deep sorrow.

You both sit.

She wants to speak but the words are too big for her mouth. They are stuffed with sadness she cannot swallow.

Her eyes are ageing with grief. Staring into her is knowing the cost of migration:

It is second-hand trauma as bodies fall.

All you know is a loss too far away to hold.

10.

You try to piece together the words, from the hurt in her voice. It breaks whenever she mentions his name.

You comfort her with affection. But you both reek of what could have been; delayed trips, lapsed phone calls, and ties broken by the harshness of time and distance.

Now all you are, are faces awash with the weakness of regret.

You are tired. The act of crying is lost on you both.

Your tears are hands trying not to shake.

11.

The call is over.

The last time she saw her uncle she had just buried her mother.

No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying – leave.


Ahmed Yussuf is a writer and journalist, and is co-curating the anthology ‘Growing Up African in Australia’.