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Prose in Plight, an evening at Poetry Café

by Hasani Hasani

Writers Abol Froushan and Mogib Hassan presenting at the Exiled Lit Cafe. Photo by Álvaro Moliner.

“Apartheid is the period I grew up in and it is the reason I came to the UK,” said Shereen Pandit an exiled writer from South Africa as she took to the microphone at a recent “Exiled Lit” event in London.

Held at the Poetry Café in Betterton Street in London’s Covent Garden each month, the Exiled Lit event, organised by Exiled Writers Ink, has, for the past twelve years, been offering a platform to writers like Shereen to share their experiences through reading poetry and prose.

Founded by Jennifer Langer, the child of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Exiled Writers Ink has become the destination of choice for international writers who face persecution in their home countries because of their writing.

Every first Monday of the month (except bank holidays when it is on the second Monday of the month), the basement of Poetry Café on 22 Betterton Street WC2H 9BX hosts exiled writers from different countries, whether living in the UK or just passing through, to read their work.

At the most recent event, four writers: Shereen Pandit (South Africa), Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian (both from Iran) and Mogib Hassan (Yemen) shared the stage. The evening offered prose writers a chance to share their work – a change from other events.

“In the past, our events have focused on poetry, so writers of short stories and novels may have felt excluded over the years. We felt it was high time to give prose writers the chance to share their work, as well as poets,” said Abol Froushan, chairperson of Exiled Writers Ink.

Shereen read from her first novel ‘Burnt Child’, which chronicles the life of a South African exile in London. A lawyer by profession, Shereen came to the UK with her husband in 1987 and has won the Booktrust London Award among other short story prizes. Back in South Africa during the Apartheid era she was political activist; this put her life in danger of the governing regime and she sought sanctuary in the UK.   “I wanted to struggle for our freedom like other young people were doing,” she said.

Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian read two short stories, ‘Family Problems’, and ‘Anxiety’ respectively. The massive censorship by the notorious Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran meant half of Navid’s work could not be published. In Iran, a ‘best-seller’ can only hope to sell between 3,000 to 5,000 copies despite a population of 70million, said Navid.

Mogib Hassan was attacked and detained last year in Yemen at the height of the Arab Spring. Born in Yemen and now a citizen of the Netherlands, Mogib came face to face with state brutality when he went back to his home country. “You cannot help to be an activist when you go back, because everything is possible”, said Mogib.

To find out more about Exiled Writers Ink and similar events go to www.exiledwriters.co.uk or email Jennifer@exiledwriters.fsnet.co.uk

 

A Ukrainian Easter in London

By Christina Senechyn

Photo by Amanda Schutz

The spirit of Ukrainian Easter remains strong and essential within the Ukrainian community in the UK. This is the major religious holiday in Ukraine. In the UK, the Ukrainian community still follows the tradition of going to church in the morning and coming home to spend time with family over the traditional supper at the table.

Ukrainian families abroad keep a piece of their traditions in their everyday lives. Easter, in particular, is an important Orthodox holiday in Ukraine. Traditionally, it is important to fast before Easter, a time to cleanse your soul (giving up eggs, meat, and dancing, among other things). A week before Easter, you have Palm Sunday or as the Ukrainians call it, “Pussy Willow” Sunday.

The preparation for Easter is done over the last week of the Lent. The house is cleaned, the traditional food is ready to go in a basket to take to the church in the morning and the family is ready to spend a weekend together after a long week.

The Easter basket should include the following: sausage (a small ring), a root of horseradish, sweet cheese, butter, salt, hard boiled and peeled eggs, dyed eggs, pysanky (traditional Easter eggs), and last but not least Paska, a sweet bread with a candle beside it to be lit when the priest begins the blessing ceremony.

The Easter traditions within the Ukrainian community in the UK have remained stronger within the elder population. Many young Ukrainians also very much respect the Ukrainian culture and traditions away from their home country, although not as passionately as their parents.

“I respect my culture and traditions, I remember them and enjoy celebrating them, although for me it has faded slightly throughout the years, feeling that the time is moving so fast in the city that I simply forget it as years go by”, says British-Ukrainian Katherine. 

Katherine adds that if it wasn’t for her parents she may have slipped away from her Ukrainian culture when coming to live in London. Her parents have kept up with the Ukrainian traditions in London yet not as much as they would have back in their homeland.