1 September 2015.
Global share prices tumble as visa checks are waived and bodies are washed up on a continent’s beaches. Dead. The stations and sports halls are full of refugees. We are learning new names and new vocabulary. There was no vocabulary for this. Old words are not sufficient. Very old words might just be. The images pile across front pages, television screens and media streams. They are not past or future, they are now. We are history and horror. A corner is turned. We plead for hope. Barbed wire barricades are to come.
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I was told that water has memory. I can believe it. I think of how a drop – the cold moisture of a cloud, somewhere a continent away – might precipitate itself upon an azure sea. That it might get pulled this way and that, become submerged, forgotten, embroiled in the waves and the churn of marine life; that it might be lifted and fall again, that it might enter rivers, cross countries; that it might finally be taken along by a tide, that it might beach itself on closer shores, that it might pour from our taps, with its memory intact.
It is boat season and migrating humans attempt more perilous journeys across the Mediterranean. Europe is a dream but not always a destiny. Paper-sketched holding centres are a plan for refugees: some sand-blown pop-ups in north Africa and the Middle East – not a solution, just a siesta for peace. News from the front line is of a colossal catastrophe. Humanitarianism becomes hubris in the mouths of the powerful. Razor-wire fences don’t stop the desperate. Riot police have bulldozed camps in Calais. There is nowhere to go. In London, I hear the sound of duelling koras seeking harmony in the night.
His thesis, written in the 1960s, argued that any embodiment of the word ‘refugee’ struck terror into human hearts and minds. Whether a refugee fled persecution on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion did not matter. To understand the predicament, examples of geography could be avoided: in fact, any person who sought refuge in any ‘other’ presented a conundrum for humans who liked to keep things in their place. Refugees from ideology, food groups or popular culture, for example, also aroused suspicion. Soon, he too sought refuge – from academia – and his thesis was buried until he had died.