This poem is dedicated to the victims of Anfal chemical attacks. Anfal was a genocide that killed between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds as well as a couple of thousand Assyrians in Iraq (1986-88).
April my friend, my spirit, my sweet season, my love, my joy and my shiny attire
April my nightmare, my scream, my reflection, my tears, and my blue sapphire
My remedy and my healing poison, my praying beads and my martyrs' mountain
King of my grief, my mirror in shattered pieces, and carrier of my spattered leaves
I hate flash backs, I resist to grief, I cover my scars, I don’t want to bleed
I own my kingdom, but I can’t reach the ground or go back to my motherland
I can't go back to the bombing planes! Thousands of souls disappeared on a March day
Those who survived they were scarred and misshapen, looked alive but their souls were divinely embalmed
Anfal and Halabja are calling on me, thousand souls choked to death, or buried alive, when chemicals arrived
Young women were enslaved and sold, children the elderly and young men caged, homes confiscated
Homes turned to graveyards, people turned to ghosts, dead or alive no difference, no one there to hear
Years came and went and I’m still standing here, telling you stories and adding my fear from today
My heartbeat is racing, my eyes are dull, my body’s here, my soul is pulling me towards home
Dancing and shouting “My heart Beats! My Silhouette Souls“ Where are you all gone?
Am I a coat which has been hanging in the wardrobe for years? Hoping for your highness to knock and wipe away my tears?
You know me very well, I’m proudly standing strong, telling you my glorious “Gone with the Wind” tales
April please come to me, sing for me your lovely lullaby, stories of love and Ever-Green life
You and I have seen good days and bad days, we’ve loved, we’ve cried but never given up
I can hear the birds singing above the vine leaves over the tree, praying for the buds to sprout
Parween, my angel mother said to me once; Homeland was heaven when I was born
My father built us a small house by the mountain, we had a farm a spring slides and swings
He was good at jokes, he was good at poems, our house was filled with friends and songs
Our town was small, but our hearts were huge, we lived a jolly life and shared our crops
We sang “Ay-Raqib”, and we felt resilient, we made a circle and danced the Dove dance
Can you remember one year when I came home after living away for a while on my own?
Missing my family, my home, I couldn’t wait to see my angel my mother again
Shocked by a stranger who waited near the bus, telling me to be quiet, cause everyone was dead!
Men, women, children, animals, trees, all turned yellow and fallen like autumn leaves
Adults were working and children were at schools, out of nowhere planes shrieked and zoomed
They dropped mustard bombs, the whole town was poisoned, and my heaven was doomed
Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, neighbours and even passengers
Houses, schools, mosques, shops, birds, flowers, trees and gardens, they all faded
April my best friend, take my hand again, lift my soul up high, lend me your wide wings
Free me from my fears, hold me close to bear, wipe my tears and comb my tangled hair
I want to get rid of my black clothes and wear my shiny dress, all will be OK, I don’t want to despair
Same as every year, I learn from you to rise, to smell the flowers and listen to the birds
In my heart are yesterday’s today’s and tomorrow’s pains, all engraved into my soul
I swear by your beauty, I swear by your presence, I have no regrets knowing you then or now
I will always love you, will always thank you, for being with me and for being by my side
As you will remain evergreen and cheerful, promising the desperate to find your delight
Is this a crazy survival or even a game? Am I living inside a muddled maze and can’t see the end?
A holocaust-like my life story has been! Still, if God wills, I wish and intend to make it bright
April king of the seasons, my love, my friend, my joy and my blue Sapphire
You are my blossom, my destined desire, my strength, my perfumed narcissus and my Nowruz Empire.
Time is passing so quickly in lockdown. Every morning I receive text messages and phone calls from friends to check if I am doing ok. I tell them I am ok, I send pictures of the food I have cooked or funny videos I receive on Whatsapp to cheer them up. But I can't lie, most of the time I feel anxious about the future.
Living in quarantine is pretty much like living as an asylum seeker. The difference is you don’t have money to indulge yourself in different cooking styles and you can’t watch TV simply because you can’t afford the licence. You have only £35 per week to survive. Tens of thousands of people live on canned food donated by charities and sleep in the basement of a friend’s house or in a garage/ under a bridge. I am surprised to have realised that thousands of English people are homeless and they sleep in shop doorways, on park benches and friends’ sofas. Maybe I am lucky to have a roof over my head, and an Android phone that connects me with the world for one or two hours a day?
Let me tell you about my daily routine:
9 AM : waking up:
10 AM: having a lie-in, procrastination.
11 AM: checking on social media to see what friends have been up to, and if they are doing all right. Sometimes writing a post on my Facebook or share something. Recently I wrote a dystopian story about European people seeking asylum in Africa and the Middle East because many countries will have gone under water due to global warming.
11.30 AM: making breakfast and meeting other ladies in the kitchen! I live in a Serco's shared house.
12:00: watching cooking channels on YouTube and choosing a cheap recipe for dinner. If I need ingredients, I go to the corner shop and if I can’t find them I just improvise. I can’t walk around looking for spices and veg and risk spreading the virus because I am too selfish to have a plain dinner. Adding chilli sauce will do the job.
2 PM: making phone calls to my family back home to check if they are ok. The virus is spreading across the world and it seems that governments are worried about the economy than about people getting sick. There is nothing I can do except ask them to take care of themselves.
3 PM: going for a quick walk in my local park
5 PM: having supper
6 PM: reading magazines, learning English, watching news to find out how close scientists are to a vaccine or a cure. Thinking and worrying. Speculating about the future. Thinking about the damage we have done to animals and our planet earth. We have messed up. Maybe this is a wake-up alarm. There is much to learn from a microscopic virus.
12 PM: praying and wishing for a better world after the crisis is over.
I'm Maddie Wakeling and I am an actor and theatre maker living in Manchester. I work as the Arts and Community lead at RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research) facilitating theatre workshops with a group of people seeking asylum. This work has come to a halt due to the current situation and I am now working within RAPAR and MRRC (Manchester Refugee Rights Collective) to coordinate support for people with no recourse to public funds in Greater Manchester. I am also using the time to focus on future projects for Kahlo Theatre - we have one play in development and are having regular phone calls to try to write and create remotely. We have also written a short piece of film in response to the current situation and are working to produce this soon. It's not easy working in separate homes - so much of the magic of theatre making happens in the space and can't just be thought up. I have, so far, found more time for writing though and am grateful for that.
Kahlo Theatre was formed by myself and Gerogina Russell when we graduated from the Manchester School of Theatre in the summer of 2018. We left drama school desperate to make work, work that was rooted in the exploration of a political or social issue. We wanted to play with form, tired of the conventional plays favoured by drama schools. So we created Kahlo Theatre. Our work blends movement and text. We use music from the beginning - finding and creating songs that move us from the inside.
Kahlo Theatre were due to bring a reworking of our debut play ‘Life Between Yes and No’ to the Kings Arms in Salford on the 2nd and 3rd of April.
Those dates have passed us by and we were far from performing on stage. We were instead isolated in our separate homes, both on hold as we tried to get through to the DWP along with the one million others also left unemployed by the Covid-19 crisis.
I had expected to be on the other side of the line, our play - Life Between Yes and No - is all about the DWP. It was specifically about Anna, a woman working on the front line of austerity cuts in a Department of Work and Pensions call centre, working for minimum wage, answering phone calls and following a strict script. They have to get the form filled and the person off the line in the allotted time, or they’re at risk of losing their job. As callers argue, shout or even cry down the phone, the workers’ job still remains: to get through all the questions before their time is up.
I did try to smile at the irony, instead of playing a DWP call handler I was desperately waiting for one to answer my call.
In Life Between Yes and No the voice of the caller is played by different instruments which reflect their character. Personally, I'm not sure quite what I'd be - in the play there's a violin, trumpet, piano, guitar and drums. We did this, in part, to explore the dehumanisation that happens in our welfare system. Where all our personal problems are funnelled in tick box answers.
Our welfare system, along with our asylum and immigration system, is designed to fail those who need it most. In February this year a government watchdog found 69 suicides could have been linked to problems with benefit claims over the last six years. In 2015, 3 people were dying every day after being found ‘fit for work’ when they clearly weren’t.
Around this time last year I read an article in the Guardian written by a DWP call handler which became the inspiration for our play.
“When you cry down the phone I feel like crying too, but if I speak to you for longer than 23 minutes and go off-script I risk losing my job”
Austerity is a choice, it's poverty created by policy. Our Tory government has presided over 10 years of cuts and closures to vital services. But our ministers don't spend hours listening to the cries of those that have been the worst affected.
It made us think about this huge disconnect. The decisions made from within the bubble of Westminster which day after day destroy the lives of people up and down the country - and who's manning the complaint lines? A person earning minimum wage with next to no employment rights. We become each other's soundboards so often in the world of work. It's encouraged and the systems are designed so our rage only reaches the ears of a neighbour.
As the corona virus escalates our politicians encourage us to blame each other - the people in the park, the woman on the bench, the teens hanging out on our street. At times like these it's vital we remember who got us here - who cheered at blocking a pay rise for the nurses they now applaud? Who has been shrinking the budget for social care year on year? Who maintains a system where our essential workers are paid £8.72 an hour, on zero hours contracts, while their bosses sit at home on salaries?
Lets keep hold of our anger and aim it higher.
Watch the trailer of the show on the link below: