Reva Klein uncovers a challenging collection of refugee writers' work
Utter the word "refugee" and you're likely to meet negative stereotypes. The political climate in Europe , inflamed by the tabloid press, has created the image of refugees as either scroungers or victims. Either way, they are anonymous, shabby people caught up in circumstances out of their control. Not like us.
The reality is very different. The Bend in the Road: Refugees Writing, edited by Jennifer Langer, is a small collection of refugee writers' poems and short stories on the reality of exile. This selection of contemporary writing from other cultures is a reminder that refugees are individuals with diverse experiences and ways of expressing them.
Some have been tortured, others have lived through bombings, have lost their families, their homes, everything. They feel pain and loneliness, alienation and confusion, a hatred of oppression and a yearning for freedom.
The contributors from Zaire, Bosnia, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Somalia and Angola write of their feelings of homesickness, of losing their identities,of being unable to communicate because of language difficulties. And of being unwanted. "A refugee," writes Ahmad Ebrahimi, chair of Iranian PEN in Exile, "is not welcome anywhere. A person without a homeland is redundant everywhere."
There are some horrific descriptions. A Kurdish woman gives birth in a crowded Turkish cattle truck in Munzur Gem's "Child of Exile". An excited crowd watches preparations for a public hanging in Iranian Ghazi Rabihavi's "White Rock". But there are also some lighter touches. In "Lone, Lorn London" Angolan writer Sousa Jamba writes about the difficulties of finding a girlfriend when you don't know the rules of the game.
The breadth of the material is impressive. Jennifer Langer, who has spent years working in refugee education support services, wanted to show as wide a range of experiences and styles as possible. "The writing gives us more in-depth insight into refugees as individuals. With so many different histories and cultures, we can more clearly see the dangers of stereotyping."
Langer has developed a teaching pack for use with the book. Designed to be used at further education level as well as for GCSE English, second language learners and continuing education students, it offers discussion points and activities for each selection. It includes background notes on each country's political, historical and cultural profile, as well as teaching points for most of the texts.
Like the book, it is divided into themes: resistance, memories, women's experiences, in exile, fleeing, prison and torture and war in the home country. "It was done this way," explains Jennifer Langer, "to help the reader understand the issues affecting refugee writers."
The teaching packs focus on the national curriculum requirement that texts from other cultures and traditions must be read "that represent their distinct voices and forms, and offer varied perspectives and subject matter". The pack is suited to both oral work - collaboratively exploring the texts, explaining ideas and feelings and performing - as well as to a broad range of written work, including an annotated reading diary recording responses to a range of texts and investigations on the written source material.
`The Bend in the Road: Refugees Writing', edited by Jennifer Langer,is published by Five Leaves, 8.95. Teaching pack 5. Both available from Five Leaves Publications, P O Box 81, Nottingham NG5 4ER. Tel:0115 960 3355