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Refugee Walk Poem

Love On The Walk 

Began with tea at Café Reykjavik

And BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour talk

Roll call, informing of Refugee walk

From Kent Canterbury to London Westminster

To reflect on Refugees perilous flee to peace

And end indefinite immigration detention

Faffing, booking, caught last flight out.

 

Scatty, breathless, finally arrived

Onyx smiling reassuring eyes

Took my bags, gave me water

A lovely surprise and welcome

To the Chaucer-inspired Refugee Tales walk.

 

Waiting around, learning names

“Tut-tut” sound was

No where to be found

Only patience abound; water bottles

Sturdy boots, sun cream and reliable feet.

 

Watt Tyler Hall to Forum call

Sun aiding our sunny passions

Single file on country lanes

Listening, laughing, telling tales

While camera lady Sarah snapped away

 

Budding Nepalese poet, aka ex Refugee

Shared his tale, educating

Pointing out country’s main export

Not oil and gas, like mine

But dedicated Ghurkhas soldiers

Fighting for mankind.

 

Besieged optimistic Forum faces

Of many races eager to buy Refugee Tales book of

Painstaking account of tellers and writer’s encounter

Modern day snapshot of our dire immigration laws

Ben Okri and patron Ali Smith, heading the talk

Dishing wisdom and encouraging words

Discussing Refugee shenanigans

To make some noise and make a change.

 

Following morn two strong men loading van

Cooks reinforcing with packed lunches

Like school children expedition

Distinguished by their Refugee blue uniform

Divided in groups of slow and fast

With or without walking sticks

Enthusiastically to Faversham we marched.

 

Eager to explore the Garden of England

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales pilgrim route

Reversed from Kent to central London

Guided by yellow-bibbed watchful volunteer eyes

We rested our bottoms at Blean Common with

Woodland, wildlife and ancient Salt Way history.

 

Traipsing through hop gardens

Fields of cows and horses galore

Beautiful orchards of apples and berries

Gorging juicy strawberries along the way

Ignoring pesticides and washing advise

Enjoying the views of the Swale estuary

Rural, picturesque Kent swept us away.

 

Long day walk, making friends, hearing tales

Scoffing scones and cakes at a quaint tea garden

Tired feet, glazed eyes conspiring to drift to sleep

Instead, the treat began after the dinner feast

At the Faversham Assembly Rooms

Linking Chaucer Canterbury Tales to Refugee Tales

With captivating Hindi music from River Ganges

Set an unexpected entertainment precedent.

 

Refugee Tales patchwork quilt hung imposingly with

Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group sewn across

Forming a symbolic backdrop to the talk

To depict journeys and Hand of Friendship to

Sanctuary seekers in the UK

Each picture stitched a dream

Of planes, birds, kites, boats and blue skies

Of suffering, sacrifice, freedom, hope and love

The true meaning behind the entertainment.

 

Sleeping in church floors, finding your space

Avoiding the pulpit or nestling under the cross

Unearthed some sacred and profane beliefs

Avoiding snorers, bathing and a good night kip

Was not guaranteed in this scout like trip

As time went by, we learnt to survive

Thanks to experienced hands leading the way

Thanks to church and village halls lending a hand.

 

Dickens country next on the map

Transport update for day three meant

Train to Rochester; crossing river Medway

Walking through rural country side via Strood

Chaucer would’ve approved

But not the insufferable plight of Refugees

Indefinitely detained without relief

Dignified hidden fears, they smiled

Walked, talked, remained proud and always kind.

 

Looking out for each other was the order of the day

As well as for nettles, wading birds and wildlife

Resting at historical St Mary’s Higham

For Immigration Asylum Act 2016 tea talks, including

“Dickens daughter married at this church…and

Great Expectations was based on these Gravesend marshes”

A lover of Dickens and nature I couldn’t compalin

I lapped it all and the Shore Way.

 

From rural Gravesend to Dartford Marshes

Navigating through urban industry, soaking in

The Spectacular Queen Elizabeth 11 Bridge

New faces, new feet joined in hope

Learning about ourselves, each other

And strange coincidences.

 

Reminiscing over their visits to Iceland

It turned out some knew my old school

The elderly ladies from Oxted were

Curious how I knew this remote village

“Blasted Chaucer A’ level English exams

Brought me to Oxted Place.”

 

Never forgot the angry Oxted dog barking

Who dares to trespass his master’s fields

Unlike the graceful Gravesend seal

Who popped up pleased to

Encourage us on our Refugee walk.

 

Walked with a playwright, remembered me not

Though spoke for hours long ago after his Soho show

Discussing divorce with a renowned poet

Suddenly his wife points out

“Look at those beautiful rows of

‘Wedding Special Just Married’ red buses”

Later found our children were birthed same

Hospital, consultant, same time

Even attended same university

How insane?

 

Divine connectives sprouted everywhere

Question: “how did your mother make it out”

Answer: “She didn’t, she died in the church”

Flooded the lake with regrets and tears

Twinning forever these writer’s souls

Hence on the seals were never seen.

 

Debating with an Egyptian Adonis about

Multicultural existence and student finance

Too handsome too young, wondered why he cared

A magazine I read in Iceland had a clever exposé

I wanted to share. But the name escaped

“The magazine is called ‘Idea’. I model for them”

Gobsmacked: I realised I’d seen those eyes before

In the cover page, in Café Reykjavik.

 

Endless coincidences: How could this be?

That the quintessential English lady

I walked with, was Nigeria born like me

Or the Dutch lady’s and my favourite perfume

Was D&C no 3; brought us a smile

Another, a Buddhist, suffered matrimonially

Learning, trading secrets, laughing at our foreign

Past aches were cathartic indeed.

 

Evening entertainment not to be missed of

Hypnotising Ethiopian classical music

A dancer gliding like a water god with more

Refugee Tales readings from acclaimed journalist

Captivating his audience, including the Mayoress.

 

Meanwhile, refugee soldiers busy organising

Vetting venues, sleeping arrangements, meeting

Feeding the troops, packing, cleaning,

Loading, settling disputes including

Accommodating a confused stranger

Pub counselling football sessions with

Medicine, meditation, earplugs, tea, all at hand

Just in case of incasity.

 

With smiles, trust, and abundant gratitude

Expressed in deafening claps for

Our amazing catering team: Ahead of their game

Remembered always to put food away to

Break fast and celebrate Eid with a Muslim Refugee.

 

The inter-faith talk at ASDA Depot were just right

“What does it mean to be welcomed?”

Brought a reflective spiritual air to the walk

Not too long to sermonise

Not too short to trivialise

Moved by the panel of soft interfaith voices and kind eyes

We yearned for more.

 

Still on connectives, resting in Dartford

A detainee suddenly revealed over dinner and a drink

“I remember now: worked for your ex in Tanzania…”

Goose bumps, dried mouth, invasion attack

Thankfully, evening folk music and comedy performances

At Trinity Café eased away the shock and

Prepared us for the following morn.

 

Crayford to Erith for the Green Chain Walk

Through Lesnes Abbey Woods winding through

Oaks trees, sweet chestnuts, and silver birch

Sprawled on the hill, overlooking the ruined Abbey

Picnicking, to hear a talk on

“Slavery and The City of London”

From early Roman times to date.

 

Left no one in doubt of the ill-gotten gains

Foundation of our lauded royal Englishness

Refugees, Detainees hopefully can walk with pride

With knowledge they’ve paid the price

For the right to be on this side of the tide.

 

Passing Poet’s corner on a little allotment turf

Would be a sin not to take note and snap a pose

Enjoy the logic behind the names on route

With literary heavies named on side roads

Milton, Johnson, Dryden, Shakespeare to name a few

Chaucer, The Father of English Literature

Appropriately formed the long main road from which

The others humbly branched and took their cue.

 

From Shooters Hill to Blackheath, reached Greenwich

By foot and bus, pondering what Chaucer would’ve thought

Of cutting edge Cutty Sark, cutting transatlantic deals

Royal Conservatory with its enormous park took our breath away

Too long looking down at the spoils of The City of London

Swanky glittering Shard meant too late for the treat at

St Alfege Greenwich arranged by the priest

Drank water instead and learnt a Saxon Archbishop

Hostage in Canterbury was slaughtered here in 1012.

 

The evening performance a pleasant surprise with

ICE and FIRE theatricals and Saxophone delight

Meeting the gifted Nigerian Scottish Poet “Makar”

Listening to her reading; learning we’re both called

Ufuoma, meaning “Peace

Added to the magic and dinner treat.

 

Refugee T-Shirts gathering at Greenwich station for

Day six last momentous leg to Westminster

Increased walkers, increased pace and enthusiasm

Like Marabouts wandering through historical

Back streets of newly gentrified Deptford like a maze

Referenced “Depeford” in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale

Former Royal Docks, turned unaffordable Docklands

Faces puzzled wondering where the locals now dwelled.

 

Breaking for time and talents in the park

Opposite St. Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe

Where pirates left their grimy marks with its

Thames Tunnel, Scandinavian Baltic trading ties

The scene of the 1620 Mayflower Epic voyage to America.

 

Up the River Thames, pass Tower of London

Holy Southwark Cathedral, iconic Millennium Bridge

Tate Modern, Globe Theatre decorating the Thames

To Christ Church Blackfriars, we strode

For the afternoon event of walker’s tales to

Hear Bishop of Croydon fare-well address and

Enjoy assistant Theo splendid reception spread.

 

Sitting in church to catch a breath

Figuring how to meet artist Jess request to

Capture our thoughts in picturesque

I drew a red square and a blue circle

To represent, “I came a square, leaving a circle!”

 

Recovering from my inartistic flair

A sudden tap from two Chaucerian Conference friends

Met in Iceland two years ago discussing The Blue Lagoon

Confirmed I was having an out of body walk experience

Or the connective gods were at it again.

 

Seeing our tired camera lady shed a tear

Leaving quietly with a heavy heart

Struggling with her weighty camera gear

Brought sadness, as she and the memories

Were so dear.

 

Crossing over Blackfriars Bridge to Queen’s Walk

South Bank Centre for the “pop-up” event

To see Jeremy Irons perform

Shakespeare’s last handwritten play

Imagining Sir Thomas More

Delivering a plea on behalf of the Refugees

To starry-eyed audience was a highlight indeed

Frankly, it couldn’t get better than this.

 

With Royal Festival Hall and London Eye in sight

Like a pied piper in Puss in Boots outfit, a hat and smile

With faithful sun, he led with Ali to Trafalgar Square

Impressed tourist looked on amused

Passed Big Ben, Horse Guards Parade to the ICA Mall

Mingling with the rest of diverse London crowd.

 

Snapping pictures with our “Triple Crown” acting star

Fond memories of past times fluttered in the air

“Do you remember the Bloomsbury Choir?”

Collecting his thoughts, smiled: “Oh yes I do” and

Reminisced about old friends; dead, sick and alive.

 

Arrived to a tumultuous welcome thanks to

Astrid pulling strings, arranging things

Relieved; finally outside the Contemporary Arts Theatre

I noted a lady similar to me, staring

Angry tramp anchored to the ICA entrance corner

Fiercely clutching her worldly plastic bags

Weary, disdainful with something to say.

 

Incensed, rebuked in Queen’s English

“Why do you want to know my name?

You’re all insane, doing nonsense. Take advise

Go back to your country to make a change

Otherwise things will remain exactly the same,”

And dismissed with a hiss.

 

Sad and ashamed, I understood but

Wondered how she ended parked out here

So polished, so shrewd. How bizarre

What tale; what journey did she undertake?

Ironically many did not notice this common tramp or

Forgotten Refugee who knew her place

A blot on the white ICA colonial landscape.

 

Inside a packed ICA listening to passionate

Humanitarians talk the talk and walk the walk

Host Shami Chakrabarti addressing, cameras snapping

Delightful Patience Agbabi, David Herd and Ali Smith reading

Tapping to Billy Brag’s waxing heartfelt lyrics

Scrolling his mobile, the shy Nepalese read

Marvelled us with his poetic flair

And the hidden talents of many humble Refugees.

 

Reflecting on our journey home meant

Triumph for many, grief for our Refugees

Unlike Mandela walking the long freedom road

Our detainees, were returning to detention mode

One with sorrow eyes resolved to stop the fight

And go back voluntarily on a flight

Concluding; better return home a man

Than die here a mouse.

 

Looking into his red eyes to search his heart

Encouraging with desperate hope to

Accept the things we cannot change

Perhaps new regime, new dreams

Perhaps new life in his motherland

And children to father and family to nurture

Leaving stronger, wiser; loved by many, means

All is not lost, as we hugged goodbye.

 

Remembering Portugal in the 80’s

With their Angolan Refugees dumped in Lisbon

Realised been down this road before in my teens

Not knowing anyone, to connecting to everyone

Through love, history, interests, mind and dreams

Inherited a new family of wonderful beings.

 

This project hope of many legs

The brainchild of many caring herding souls

Who know these tales must be told

And template the Refugee Tales walk globally

To create a noble Ubuntu freedom solidarity

And celebrate man’s humanity.

 

Homeward bound, reflecting at the bus stop

Met elegant lady in mother’s favourite azure blue

Frosty, frowning, did not acknowledge my “hello”

Sighting the Refugee Tales tagged case and T-shirt

Suddenly mellowed and asked

“How far have you got with freeing the Refugees?”

 

Invitation to speak continued on the bus

She listened; I spoke about our goals

Revealing, smiling angelically as she got off

“That was me in two thousand and three

A helpless Refugee with three young kids: Continue your work

God will bless you and your group.”

 

This shocking validation from an ex Refugee

Brought joy, encouragement and some peace

Converting from uber to walker in a week

My walking Icelandic family will be pleased

Losing calories, gaining valuable vitamin D

For an affordable fee; not to mention new friends

Exceeded what I expected in the walking deal.

 

Getting back in untold ways

Cannot thank enough the benevolent

Game changers who made it unfold

Especially our Refugees sharing their moving tales

Trusting us to hold them dear in our hearts

And share it in any way we can

As language changer Chaucer did in his Canterbury Tales.

 

I could write more but there’s no more to say

Except, striding with giants with hearts of gold

Going beyond where others are unwilling to go

I found a new carnival family and love on the walk.