English: The Transformative Power of 'Refugee Tales'

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In early October a group of Bedians visited the Small Wonder Literary festival at Charleston Farmhouse.

We made the short voyage from Bede's for a talk on Refugee Tales, a collection of short stories describing the struggles that many refugees encounter during their journeys to freedom, presented by speakers Anne Pincus, the co-founder of the Refugee Tales project, Patience Agababi, renowned poet and author, and Dragon Todorović, TV director and novelist.

A typically British torrential downpour did not dampen our spirits and we received a warm welcome on arrival – and a large plate of complimentary scones which Mr Sealey in particular seemed to enjoy!

The event started with the Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of the Charleston Festival, introducing the event. As he spoke, the cacophony caused by the torrential rain on the festival tent created an intense atmosphere and disturbing gusts contributed a feeling of movement above and around us.

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The heads of the audience felt unnervingly close to the downward billows of the swathes of the ceiling: apt conditions in which to experience compelling renditions of tales recounted to writers by the survivors of smugglers’ refugee-filled boats!

The event was one of a series about the fascinating Refugee Tales project, the brainchild of Anne Pincus whose background is in working in immigration and who has a particular interest in the plight of the long-term detainee.

The talk began with Ms Pincus outlining the cause and the inspiration for the tales, as well as offering a short description of the immigration charity supporting the project: The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group.

Based on the idea of the tribulations and issues of displacement detailed in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Refugee Tales makes Chaucer’s great work freshly relevant 600 years hence in the light of the Syrian refugee situation.

As part of the project, anecdotal evidence was collected and developed into writing and performance through a series of walks encompassing destinations such as Canterbury and Runnymede, with writers enacting their own pilgrimage-of-sorts in the quest to honour and draw respectful and productive attention to long-term detainees in this country.

A group of acclaimed writes was invited to join each leg of the ‘pilgrimage’, each undertaking interviews with refugees who volunteered their testimonies for the collection.

We were then privileged to listen to a reading by writer and lecturer Dragon Todorovic. He spoke briefly about how he became part of the 'Tales project before reading his inspiring short story about a Syrian emigrant’s journey called The Migrant’s Tale.

His diction influenced by his own non-British accented resonance, Todorovic’s words slipped between renditions of extracts from The Canterbury Tales and transcripts from his interview with a refugee named ‘Aziz.’

Todorovic later revealed that ‘Aziz’ was the translation of his own name into Arabic, which emphasised the extent to which his participation in the project had, in his words, ‘changed him forever’.

Todorovic’s inspirational depiction of a migrant’s struggle captivated the audience, leaving them shocked but enlightened.

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This reading was followed by a performance by writer, poet and performer Patience Agbabi who brought to life her interview with ‘Fatya’ in the form of her contribution to the collection, The Refugee’s Tale.

The story portrayed a successful Christian woman living in a predominantly Muslim society being forced from her home country. The story felt particularly relatable to the audience as the woman's family and their lifestyle was as so similar to that of many in attendance.

Agbabi explored how she strove to capture the idiom and music of the story and person, and as she read the presence of Fatya was almost palpable among us.

Gently rhyming, charming, vulnerable, relatable, in the words of Todorovic, Agbabi created a strong feeling that ‘we are all one move away from being refugees.’

The talk was finished by questions from the audience, and the final question summed up how we were all feeling, thanking the speakers for how inspirational they had been and underlining the transformational nature of the experience.

Simply put, it was amazing to have been a part of it.

In fact, we who attended agree that we feel an enriched understanding and empathy with the very many refugees with whom we share this island. We feel all the more the three ‘Rs’: lack of Resources, different Realities, and Recoil from the horror of torture.

We were all brought together in a moment, and all left forever changed as a result.

 

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