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Emi Mahmoud – Slam poet
Performing at the 2016 Nansen Refugee Award ceremony
I met a woman, her mother and her son all under the subtle shade of a tent.
Three generations held together in one morsel of time.
The life of a refugee is counted in moments.
In this moment we were bird watching on Lesvos Island.
The sun melting clouds across our vision, as the first birds spiralled brilliantly toward the Aegean shore.
To go from bird watching to boat watching in Greece is to witness the world unfurl.
I was told of days when the birds came in hordes, broken-winged and heaving, spilling forth fifty to eighty hatchlings at a time each broken shell another person seeking rest.
Floating rubber albatrosses, box-figured crows hug the horizon in the bitter cold.
When an island becomes a door, who will answer?
If enough eyes see a body in the water and no hands reach out to rescue her, did she really die?
This time, when the world left infants to take their first steps at the edge of humanity; when the seams broke and the threads lay society bare; the eyes came and the helping hands followed.
Imagine rivers full of people carrying people on their backs.
Imagine shores covered in footprints and wheelchair tracks, the passion it takes to swallow the wind, kiss the October sea and meet the boats.
I’ve seen how paperwork can divide families, separating mother and father with the stroke of a pen.
How firm handshakes can unravel entire nations when the stage is big enough.
If I had the power, I would have paper mâchéd those contracts; I would have lined the walls with paper cup lights; I would have painted the ceiling cerulean so even the smallest of palms could reach for the sky.
I would have lined entire rooms with books and kitchens with the warmest pies.
I would have carpeted camps with chalk, to build a home, to make a refuge, to bring the dignity back into a concrete oasis.
I would have built a camp that is a call to prayer where a man who is carried in can leave walking.
This is what I saw on Lesvos island.
Because, when a child is born in the context of war, this is how you unravel the world to them.
How you unveil music to their ears.
I’ve stood on both sides now and I can say that on Lesvos the cats are white with brown spots because a child’s painting showed me so.
I can say that life-jacket bags are in style because a boy named Suhaib told me so.
And I can say that a village can stand all together because a woman willed it so.
Safe passage begins with asking the questions no one will dare to utter, and becoming the answer no one could possibly imagine.
Bird Watching on Lesvos Island, by Emi Mahmoud
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