Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Moving a Country

by Catriona Troth

I went to a book launch last night. It wasn’t exactly your typical book launch.  But then Jade Amoli-Jackson is not your typical author either.

Jade, signing copies of her book at the launch.
Jade is a refugee.  She came to Britain from Uganda in 2001 as an asylum seeker, was granted indefinite leave to stay and is now a British citizen.  She is also a long-standing member of Freedom from Torture's Write to Life group.  Her book, Moving a Country, has been put together with the support of the Refugee Council and Platforma, a network that brings together artists whose work examines the experiences of refugees both before and after they settled in their host country.

This is not the first time Jade has been published.  In 2007, her story ‘My Painful Journey’ appeared in the Penguin anthology, From There to Here – one of sixteen stories about immigration chosen by a panel of judges led by Kate Mosse.  But this book, compiled with the support of her mentor at Write to Life, Lucy Popescu, is all her own work – a collection of poetry and prose that charts her journey from her happy childhood in Uganda, through appalling violence as her country disintegrated, her flight to Britain, her painful readjustment to life as a refugee, and finally to the shaping of a new home and a new family.

I first met Jade during Refugee Week two years ago.  I heard her perform at the Celebrating Sanctuary event on London’s South Bank. That day, she read her poem, ‘Moving a Country,’ from which the book takes its title.  Three lines have stayed with me ever since:

I ran out of the house
Without packing anything
Even my sanity

Since then, I have met Jade many times at Write to Life events.  She has a beautiful beaming smile and always welcomes you with a hug.  She can also be very very funny.  So it is no surprise that some of the poems in the book make you laugh out loud. But the story that lies behind that smile is heartbreaking.
Jade comes from what she describes as the ‘forgotten country’ of northeast Uganda. It is an area that has been riven with conflict and neglect for decades. Jade lost first her husband, then her father and sister and finally her children.  She herself was abducted, raped, starved and beaten.

“It is wise to be good to people, even if they are not related to you,” she writes.  “That is why I am still alive.”

Through the families of those she had previously helped to escape from Uganda, she herself made her way to Britain. By that time she had come to believe she deserved all the terrible things that had happened to her. It took the combined kindness of many people – from the Refugee Council, from Freedom from Torture and elsewhere – to change her mind about that.

But Jade is tough.  Have no doubt about that. For the last eight years, she has volunteered with the Refugee Council.  And she has been an active member of Write to Life for almost as long, using poetry and prose as a way of working through her pain.

“Writing makes me feel alive again.  Let me say, it makes me feel human again.  All those people who did whatever they wanted to finish all of us off – we have risen above what they did.  We are fighters.”

Jade does not know what became of her children. The Red Cross are still looking for them.  And she fears for those that remain in the Forgotten Country she once called home.

“No white man lives there
To let the world know there is great suffering.
No electricity, who cares?
There are still only footpaths, who cares?
Who cares whether children go to school or are clothed and fed?”

Maybe Jade’s brave voice will begin to change that.  The world needs to listen.

You can buy a copy of Moving a Country here.