Archiving British-Somali Heritage

I’ve been chosen as one of the Mentors for a fantastic new project by Numbi Arts titled: “Coming Here, Being Here” which provides training to volunteers from Tower Hamlets to learn how to archive British-Somali Presence and Heritage in East London (particularly Tower Hamlets). Below is a photo from their opening event in which I was asked to talk about a series of photos that I took of my grandmother and how I used photography to archive her story. This project runs until February 2018 – more details to come.

New poem published in ‘For Harriet’

My new poem There’s an entire village that lives on my head was recently published in For Harriet – a community dedicated to celebrating the fullness of Black womanhood.

There’s an entire village that lives on top of my head
At night, they gather in the wide-open space of my forehead
The elderly resting on each eyebrow, toddlers hiding behind my earlobes
They’re all waiting for me to fail
Waiting for me to unbecome the person that we all agreed that I should be
(Prettier, quieter, less of myself)
They gather for a close-up of mistakes
Things like: falling in love with the wrong man or
Disappointing my parents or
Waiting for my parents to disappoint me or
Forgetting who I really am, where I’m really from, over there and not here
I hear them sucking their teeth inside my mind, mixing languages and
Causing confusion by yelling over one another
The elders demanding respect
Whilst the young bachelors sneak in a few looks
They’re all trying to out-do each other’s high notes
Sometimes I stay quiet for days, eavesdropping on the little women
The ones that enjoy tangling my hair and making art out of my weight
There’s an entire village that lives on top of my head
I can’t drown them out in the bath
I shaved my head one summer and it only made it easier for the children to run
Sometimes I hold my breath just to see if they lose oxygen
Bleeding makes no difference either, just more scars to count
So, I learn to behave, to speak when I am spoken to and
Only eat when I am hungry and not in between the pain
And to keep my body so clean that there is nothing to gossip about
If you see me mumbling, it’s only tell them to be quiet because I am a good girl
It took a village to drag my sins out into the open
On the top of my nose where a bonfire was set and little girls ran circles around the shame
At night, the ashes were used to mark all the places that still hurt
In the morning, this is a map of how far we’ve come
Me and the village that lives on top of my head

London Short Story Prize

It finally happened! The Anthology Launch for The London Short Story Prize 2016 organised by Spread The Word took place in gorgeous St Paul’s Cathedral and it was such a surreal experience. Not only was it my first time reading my own work in front of people but it was also incredible to receive such amazing feedback from people there. This event (and being short listed) along with seeing my story in that official font has really spurred me on to keep writing realise that others might actually enjoy the absurd things in my mind that I sometimes write about.

If you’re interested in purchasing the anthology to read my story, alongside 5 other incredible tales, you can do so here.

Drought (A poem for Somalia)

this is where hurt lives
buried beneath the cracks of dry soil
and dispersing into the folds of a body whose
hunger has taught it that pain resides at the bottom
of your belly, in that corner of your gut that differentiates
between your children and knows who to feed first and who
can cope another night on saliva and prayer alone
the exact moment a mother’s heart breaks is like the sound
of a wound when it is opening for the first time, bursting with fury
it shatters so loud that you can feel the hairs on the back of your neck
stand at attention, a moment of silence, three thousand miles away
‘You were not created to suffer’, she says, to this body
whose stretched limbs has returned to its birth weight
three years and a hundred meals less later
this child, whose swollen belly is a cruel reminder that humans can be
both full and empty at once, carries the dreams of his parents with every gasp of breath, imagine a love so strong that it can keep your child alive
here, in the land that refuses to weep loss in form of rainfall
are human beings starving for a chance to grow beyond their birth weight
and to know more than where hurt resides
humans whose visible rib cages are a stark reminder that both the body and the land possess a selfish thirst that feasts on tears and sweat
and even then, our hunger will only serve as proof that we are still alive
and that we will not wilt and perish
but instead grow taller towards the sun

Please consider donating to Caawiwalaal to help make a huge difference to the catastrophic famine and drought in Somalia. Any spare change is life changing. This is a great organisation that you can also follow via Twitter Thank you.

Published in Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine

My poem Diasporic Dreams was recently published in a Dutch literary magazine -see link here: Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine or read below:

Diasporic Dreams

I do not know how to change the future, but
My pregnant heart carries the past like an
Overdue pressure of a life I’m still leading
On the inside, kicking with silent murmured
Rage that will not die and refuses to be born
Until I speak of the lives I lead across waters

I do not know how to change the future, but
My crouching back is the bridge on which
Your breath once followed its own trace back
Home to my nose that towers over my face like
A place of worship that breathes out life for us
And pauses in order to inhale simultaneously

I do not know how to change the future, but
My past glides in and out of memory to the faint
Sound of folklore told through oud as my mind
Blacks out from recollecting black faces that
Stand firm on my mother tongue like child soldiers
Lining up for quiet approval and recognition

I do not know how to change the future, but
My curled lips are a constant reminder that we
Come from a long line of warriors whose pounding
Words and exotic eyelashes have been silenced (shhh)
Into blinking children my womb has made room for
So that I will believe I once had a life, in me