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A poem that migrates through tongues | Femi Nylander | TEDxSkoll

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs Reviewer: Peter van de Ven
I write from the safety of a nation built on slavery
and this poem will migrate through tongues
The wrongs of our forefathers
place us in a world our fathers would escape
The movement of my father through [the sea]
set me here with the children of fathers who believed they were best
My father was allowed through their barriers
because he was educated and did medicine
so came from the dark continent to the West,
so a boy was born
Many are not so lucky, they cannot speak to you,
they don’t grow up surrounded by words you’d understand
My tongue is like a weapon in my hand, I manipulate it, I make noise,
I try to make you understand
The world extends beyond your borders, the mind extends beyond your words,
your lives, your sons, your daughters, are one in a billion it’s true
but the remaining 999 million are just as beautiful
I speak to you (Arabic) but not only to you
Yes, the children of Syria, also one in a million
Barred from your land, blocked from your language
I want to talk to you through your language, yes, your language
Maybe my words appear on the beaches, and drowned
Maybe they appear on the sun
After all, (English) the sun deals in words and in fear
(Arabic) Easy visa for us
(English) We do not (Arabic: wait) to enter there
But you flee from war or the (Arabic: crisis) we created
and you cannot enter here
(Spanish) A language that is in the fault line of colonizer and colonized
Spanish, today the language of immigrants the gardener,
but once the language of the conqueror
Apparently all of South America is Mexican
There is no internal immigration to the continent
Knowledge lost
When in English you Google migration in South America
the first result, it’s South American immigration in … United States
Really, it’s almost a joke.
(English) Guatemala? Is that a type of cheese?
Bro man?
(Spanish) Assimilate, learn the language But the name of your country?
(English) Too much to know man, you’re a Mexican
Show us some respect again because we’re American!
We’ll build a wall to keep you out and then deport the rest of them
(Spanish) Do you think we care if you run away from cartels and war?
Or that it’s natural to move across the earth?
No, we do not care; (English) We do not care
The world ends in Texas (English) and we are the best
(Spanish) And although I went to Brazil for the Olympics,
and did not think of those displaced so I could
(English) Through this the Englishman is chilling, the American is grinning
(French) The Parisian is that, strong are their passports
And the weak are their consciences Men who demonize the other,
who give their support to Theresa May and Marine le Pen
Messengers of hate
We are here because you were there You never had a visa
The Arab, the Asian, the Black
We who represent the damned of the earth in the words of Fanon
The (Arabic: blood) of the earth, (Arabic: blood) in Arabic
It represents the blood of the earth, the blood on the earth
(English) And blood on the water
And it was written young men detained and sent to Jamaica
When you spent your whole life in Britain
Defaced by the state, allegations of sexual assault, no media debate
Campsfield is minutes away from the Sheldonian,
migration, detention, disgrace
The waves cannot be ruled
The waves they wash away and start anew
The graves remain, one cannot wash a tomb
The ways we whitewash history cannot stop the waves from breaking
The waves of colour grew The floodgates of Calais cannot remain
We pave another route to you
You paved railroad so you can take our loot and use them as excuse
We watch you act unwise in little England setting ground for your demise
You doing an economic block then act as though you’re colonised
Your fear betrays you We cannot now allay your fears
You set the table of your fate and now the plate is almost here
You fed and feed upon our states until our plates were empty
yet we were and are always here
Like the language in this song our news is skewed
We only hear of refugees we fear may break our borders soon
26% of refugees in Africa Sub-Sahara
(Swahili) They don’t speak Swahili in Cameroon, Africa is not a country
Those in Lagos look down on the villager
Those in the land of the white man lose their language
(Yoruba) If I try to speak Yoruba my mum teaches me small small
but (English) English rolls of my tongue
(French) French rolls across the Sahara
Uranium from Niger power for the Eiffel Tower
(Hausa) For the Hausa people no water or electricity, (French) it’s not Regal
(English) Of African refugees 3% in Europe
Maybe a man just wants to find a way to safety
Europe is a cultural creation,
separated from the other peninsula of the Asian continent we know
Nothing geographical to separate, not large outside Mercator
No plate like the subcontinent of India though
Africa is a geographical entity, meant to be huge,
mostly water on each side with 3,000 languages,
more linguistic diversity than 30 Europes
Languages die or are they murdered?
Displaced words like bodies displaced,
migrate, immigrate, immigrant, dirty, negro native,
‘Go back to the colonies’, the princess says.
So there we go.
Where to start and where to end?
(Arabic, Chinese) Lebanon to Bejing, all night they are tired
(Chinese) No Rohinga, No Kachin
This side, that side, (English) Partition, partition the stage
(Hindi) Who’s Raj? Who’s rage? Hindu Muslim move to today
A different time, today’s issues
The word loot was stolen from Hindi
The word ‘aryan’ came from Sanskrit, Brahmin and white
(English) Foundation of fear and
(Hindi) both built on lies and
(English) Kashmir tears
and Bangladesh boundary taut (Hindi) line of fire,
Felani Khatun’s (Hindi) death
Alan Kurdi’s (Arabic) death
(English) Peter Sallaby, dead
Others can live if the boundaries will die
Let’s start again
(Poem ends)
The British passport gets you into 157 countries in this world.
The American passport gets you into 157 countries in this world.
The French passport gets you into 157 countries in this world.
The Somali passport gets you into 31 countries in this world.
And the Afghan passport gets you into 25.
This is the legacy of colonialism.
Now, when I was composing this poem, it was actually very difficult.
You see, I have actually got
a fairly decent level of comprehension in a lot of these languages.
But the distinction between passive and active vocabulary –
a passive vocabulary is where you understand when it comes,
but you don’t really have the ability to bring it to your head yourself.
Active is when you can write, and you can do everything like that.
Now, why do I say that?
Because obviously it made a difference in writing the poem.
But also because for me, words like ‘visa’ and ‘migration’, etc.,
when you have countries in the world which can go and cause refugees
through their aggressive, war-like policies,
or have economic migration
because of a history of economic exploitation,
where people from poor parts of the world come to places in rich parts of the world,
and the national dialogue around visas and migration is so skewed,
I don’t believe these words even lie in the passive vocabularies
of some people in the so-called developed world.
And so what we find
is that people don’t even know the true meaning of a word like ‘visa’,
queuing up for hours, just to be rejected,
or a word like ‘migrant’ in their own language,
as they traverse the world,
carefree, famously, at least in the British case,
refusing, despite their golden ticket, their passport, to learn any other,
and so I hope this poem at least makes you think about some of that today.
Thank you.
(Cheers) (Applause)
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