Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Old Man and The Sea

Das Boot. Pen and ink drawing, by Ali. Spandau, 2016

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across borders and boundaries. 

Karim is an old man, it's how he describes himself, and how he's described by everyone else at the asylum seekers' centre in Spandau. The Old Man. His eyes are not good and he runs out of puff easily. But he has great dignity and a big measure of courtesy too, both of which are maintained at all times. 

Because Karim speaks both English and Arabic, he is a good connector between myself and everyone else, so I've been directed to his room. We have conversations about his life, particularly puzzling through recent events. He is now in Germany, having fled his homeland for fear of his life. To uproot and shift not just your home, but your culture, your society, your language, your everything is hard at any age. When you are into your later years, it can be overwhelming. For The Old Man, some days are exhausting. When we talk in his room, people pop in and out with food, text messages appear on his phone, arrangements are made. 

He is interested in making a poem. And he tells me about his journey to get here from Iraq. And the first time he ever saw the sea.

The illustration is by Ali, one of the artworks made by children at the Centre during my ongoing workshops.

Karim and the sea

“We passed that way by night,” they said. “If someone
for whom you pine be there, the wayfarer has no knowledge.” 
(Abu Sakhr al-Hudhali)

I am sorry to travel across the sea
From my country. Very difficulties
Suchlike: cross sea, spend moneys.
But we arrive and these difficulties 
We hope they will be losses, we hope
I and two daughters and
Many neighbours, 43 persons in same boat
In same small boat.

When we reach this little boat 
I think: how can we cross this sea?
43 persons we reach to the island
Samos the island which we reach
We spend eight hours from Türkei 
The sea was quiet, dark
Weather not in winter.

You know when you spend eight hours
It is very long at sea. 
We have smell benzene from motors
From the motors
And we have make sick every time 
The motor not good.

In Turkey every time they say
"You and your family today shall travel."
They promise and don't do
They take money also, throw luggage in sea
Anything in sea.

We make some signal to the coastguard 
They come make big rope, pull us from the sea.
This was the first time I saw the sea
Sea is very big. 

Maybe we will speak of it again.
Maybe we will make more things
Or vanish another thing.

Riad Karim Al Naeemi

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