An evening of poetry music and song in aid of Europe’s Refugees
Lewes is blessed with a Mayor who supports the arts – Cllr Susan Murray opened the evening in Lewes Town Hall to the haunting sound of the oud melting away in the background, played by Brian Tewson.
Mebrak Ghebreweldi shared her experiences as a child solder and life as a refugee. Her family fled her hometown in Africa, her mother and father grabbing the closest things to them in their rush to get to the mountains to hide until the fighting stopped. Days, weeks, months went by. Eventually they gave up hope of ever going back home, and Mebrak joined the army as a child soldier. She spoke with the heart and strength of a woman who has had to fight for peace in her life.
The poets and musicians who gave their time freely delivered their work with similar passion on themes of love, war, and displacement from one’s home.
John Agard’s poem ‘Little Green Man’ started with the arrival of a little green man at Heathrow Airport bemused with what box he should tick for ethnicity: white, black, but no green. Although he had the audience in stiches, it is a reminder of how daunting British immigration must be.
Pam Hewitt led members of the Russian Choir with anthems of emigrants who fled Nazi and Russian invasions. Norman Baker and his band, The Reform Club sung ‘Give War a Chance’ from their new album, a satirical take on war sung in the voice of a war-mongering British politician who cannot be named (but was quite obviously Cameron). The audience were in hysterics at the lyrics – he’s not entirely left politics.
Grace Nichols, Catherine Smith, and Elsa Hewitt read poems on the theme of love – in addition to a steamy sex scene of martial sex in a Kings Cross hotel.
Miriam Moss read from her novel, Girl on a Plane, a fictional account of her ordeal on a plane hijacked in the Jordanian desert in the 70s. She recounts the moment when Anne, the 15 year old narrator of the story, loses it with one of the young hi-jackers. He asks her to imagine his life as a refugee, forced off land that had been in his family for centuries. The extract drove home the complexities of war. Here’s a great blog post and interview with Miriam: http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/cwig-conference-dianne-hofmeyr-girl-on.html
Dirk and Adam Campbell and Paul Johnson played the ‘Pleasure of Giving’ on the flute, kora and kalamangoni. And Adrienne Thomas rounded off the evening with an Afghan Phasto Lullaby and Blowing in the Wind. Listen here: IMG_9041
All the performances were from delivered with passion, but the delivery that cut to the heart of why were there, and stayed with me long after the evening had ended, was from a woman from Lewes Action for Refugees raising money for Doctors of the World and the International Rescue Committee. She told us about her direct experiences of the conditions in the ‘Jungle’, so called by the thousands of refugees who are encamped in Calais, as it is not fit for humans to live in. Her and her daughter visit to help pick up rubbish and give support to the women in the camp, many of them who throw themselves on to trains, desperate to get through the tunnel to the UK. She spoke of the hideous, toxic conditions and the rising tension in the previous landfill site that only has 6 showers for the growing thousands of refugees who arrive everyday. I spoke with her afterwards. She is not a public speaker and hoped her delivery was clear. It was more than clear – it cut through the politics to the everyday challenges faced by refugees whose lives have been torn apart by war and climate change. The atmosphere in the Town Hall was thick with the horror and compassion, and a will to do what one could to support the cause.
Half way through the evening, £2400 had been raised. Lewes Actions for Refugees needs volunteers to help with anything from counting the donations in the buckets to trips to the Jungle in Calais to help pick up rubbish. Please contact Lewes Actions for Refugees on Facebook.