Sunday 30 August 2015

courage is a muscle

The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a unique phenomenon. 
Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home.


Last week I was working in Berlin, I was asked to narrate a film. It was a two-hour feature documentary on the bravery and courage of the women in Central Africa Republic. The atrocities they endured, the sacrifices, the war crimes and rape as a weapon of war. The film is titled Cahier Africain and is directed by award-winning German director Heidi Specogna. It was a rich and inspiring experience for me and it was a wake up call. The narrative of this film follows the story of a group of women who collected all their testimonies in an ordinary school exercise book (pictured above) These women miraculously got this book into The Haig and now seek trial and justice. Heidi is amazing and I learned so much, it was an honour to meet her and to be part of this film. Heidi told me the women have a saying: Courage is a muscle and now I cannot get this phrase out of my head. How much braver we could all be, how circumstance forces a person to survive, to be bold, to speak out and stand up for protection, for peace, for justice, for this world and our home. I was in an audio booth reading the script whilst watching harrowing images, breath-taking, beautiful cinematography, devastating details of human survival and migration. The reality of war and corruption and displacement unfolding on the screen. The pictures telling the refugee stories inside this story were heart inspiring and heart breaking at once. The film will premiere at Sundance Film Festival. The German film narration is by actress Eva Mattes, you might know her name from films by Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Heidi Specogna, Cahier Africain, Berlin 2015

Salena Godden, Cahier Africain, Berlin 2015
And so it is because of my time in Berlin, this work and this film, that when I returned to London I was wide awake. Suddenly this week these stories were not in some documentary, these war stories were banging on our doors and shores, not something happening far away and nothing to be done, nothing to be done, Estragon scratching his head in Waiting For Godot, but something to be done, something must be done. And there has to more we can all do than wait and share disturbing images of dead babies washed up on the beaches. The truth is, the more everybody shares these harrowing images, the more we must admit we can see this. We cannot un-see this, we all see everything, the world is watching... maybe we should make a rule that if you post a dead body on your social media, out of respect, you should also pay for it and donate to the refugees, here's one link: 

Posts comparing this refugee crisis with the second world war and Nazi concentration camps with illegal immigrant slash refugee camps resonate and are in my timeline daily now. But this isn't the 1930's - we are not permitted to ignore it, we cannot wring our hands and claim ignorance. Every single one of us has a device to world news in our pockets. We are living in the future, here and now, with all these sophisticated ways to share the truth and communicate now more than ever. I trust us, I trust we will somehow find peaceful solutions. We have to, we have to have hope, you have to believe you can help, that your voice matters. If we lose hope we lose everything. I know I am a ranting idealist, but I do have hope and I believe in the good in people, the power of people power. Only last night I was up in the middle of the night watching footage live from from Malaysia, aerial shots of the streets pouring with yellow, millions of people marching, unified, speaking out and standing up for truth and a right to a fair government.

If life was a movie, Meryl Streep would play a nun who goes to Calais and hides refugees in boxes of bibles to smuggle people to safety, and we'd give this movie a Oscar and weep at her bravery and courage. But it isn't a movie. It's happening now.

I am appalled at the news, the treatment of refugees, the exploitation of desperate people running from war to only meet death, drowning at the hands of traffickers happy to cash in on their vulnerability. Pregnant women and children....I've been listening to the news on the radio and hearing horrific accounts. I heard one refugee in a camp in Greece telling a BBC reporter "we are human beings, we are not animals, we are human beings..." As though we needed to see him as a man, as a human, not as a problem or burden.

Then this was followed by another report of refugees paying to breathe, they here hidden and locked up, suffocating, in transit, and only those refugees with money on them could share use of the breathing hole. Picture that. It's the worst of human nature, the vultures circle to make profit and take money from desperate people, they are escaping torture and murder to only be tortured and murdered. Meanwhile I see pictures of our prime minister surfing in Cornwall, that's our man there, in the same sea, the same water that people are drowning in at his hands.

I loathe the language that is used, the deserving and undeserving, the illegal immigrants, migrants v's refugees, debating which deserves more of our time and energy, our sympathy and charity. Many are children, all have been left with nothing because of war and corruption. You've got radios and televisions and Internet, I'm preaching to the converted, I have intelligent and kind friends and I know I am not the only one shaking my head in disgust, you must be hearing these horrible stories too, it's horrendous.

I know it is cause and effect, the root cause of the displacement is the big issue. The war and war crimes. The greed, the gold and the oil, the famine and poverty, climate change and the whole sorry bloody mess. Fuck all the wars. Fuck the governments for ignoring climate change too.

Writing this feels like putting a plaster on a bullet hole, putting your thumb over a leaking dam - but there has to be a way to ensure the refugees are safe and treated with dignity and there had to be some way we can unite and help. So, I am filling some bags and boxes with books, warm clothes and blankets to send off, it's getting cold at night and its gonna get colder. It feels trivial and small, but it is a start. 

Lots of my friends do all the festivals, you might have tents and camping stuff you don't need anymore, these could be shelters. When I was at Green Gathering I was told that tents that were left at Glastonbury were donated to the refugees in Calais. Lots of festival party people bought brand new tents just for Glastonbury weekend, and when volunteers cleared them up on Monday morning, they were left in the field, barely used, with the price tags still on, here's some links to aid, I'll add more as I find them...

 Please follow CalAid for information and collection points
Refugee crowd fund:

To find good people in your area, join this active group on Facebook: 

poetry, coming up next:

The Drones Are Coming: I'm poet-in-residence on BBC Click on BBC World Service this Tuesday, September 1st, on air, 7pm. The programme will be recorded live at BBC Radio Theatre.  THE DRONES ARE COMING! Hosted by the brilliant Gareth Mitchell-BBC and Bill Thompson. Get yourself a ticket and be part of the BBC audience! We can see you! Click here for a ticket. 

Festival No.6: September 4th-6th, I'm at Festival No.6 in Portmerion,Wales and then that's ALL my UK festival gigs for the summer done. Thank you for every cider and whiskey soaked wild time, for every hay bale bundle and sunshine filled joyous sunrise, what an epic summer 2015 has been.... Next stop...who knows....


Kate Tempest, Iona Lee and me, Edinburgh 2015

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