Category Archives: poetry

Warsan Shire’s “Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre)” and Refugees

A dear friend gave me a copy of Warsan Shire’s “teaching my mother how to give birth” over the holidays, and I’ve been savoring the book, published in 2011. In fact, I just finished it tonight. Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet who currently resides in London. The poems and essays deal with many topics surrounding women’s lives and experiences. She has powerful things to say about refugees and immigration in Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre.) The first part of this amazing piece is read by Warsan Shire here. It gave me shivers.

I found the last part, not included in the recording, particularly powerful, and potentially useful in my social diversity class:

I hear them say go home. I hear them say fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this ignorant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency, waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side (Shire 27).

Although I teach about immigration in class, I don’t know much about refugees.  According to this piece from the Guardian, the number of people forced to flee their homes has crossed 50 million last year. This is the first time the number has crossed this threshold since World War II. While there are various reasons people are forced to abandon their homes, the solutions need to be political. The solutions also need to address women and children’s needs, as they are at a particular disadvantage as refugees.  Furthermore, human traffickers take advantage of displaced persons for their own ends, and this needs to be addressed. Once people arrive in a new country like the United States or Germany, they face many barriers, as is discussed in this article from the American Sociological Association about refugees in the city of Dayton.

Until we address topics like global inequality, war, and climate change, millions of people will continue to suffer, year after year. As Warsan Shire points out with her line “escaping the mouth of the shark,” refugees escape dire situations only to arrive in places where they don’t fit in and often aren’t welcome.  It’s our jobs both as individuals and collectively to decide how we can help the refugees in our communities. I want to investigate this organization in Raleigh to see if there are opportunities to help in my own city. 

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Filed under poetry, Sociology