I chose to use the assignment prompt “worlds apart” for this piece. Consider the different ways in which one can be worlds apart: different countries, languages, cultures, and even different generations.
My mother grew up in Mombasa, Kenya, and immigrated to the UK a month before her 13th birthday. She had difficulty adapting at first, finding the cultural differences disorienting; and she couldn’t bear the transition from warmth to dreary, soggy, and grey. Later on, when she met and married my father, she moved to Geneva. She found this change much more pleasant, and welcomed the new cultures into her life.
Her experiences feel like they are worlds apart from mine; I can’t imagine growing up as an East African Asian, with mounting political tensions (Idi had Amin chased Asian families that had settled into Uganda, causing further pressures in neighbouring countries). I began by interviewing my mother and creating a cluster/mind map, from which I developed phrases through 15-20 minutes of free writing.
I trialled a few options before deciding to write the story of my mother’s early life in a poetic form. I didn’t want to have a running narrative, nor a full picture; a snapshot here, a sensation there, as well as a basic timeline would suffice. I didn’t want to delve deeply into the political aspects, as my mum had only been 12 at the time, and didn’t know or understand the full picture. What she did know was that her mother’s family had moved out of Uganda to London, and that her father was considering following their friends and family to the UK. She also knew that she had to sell the majority of her toys, books, and other belongings; only the useful and necessary items were taken with them.
I decided to write three poems – or one poem in three parts – to address each location. I began by trying to write with a third person perspective, but felt that the individual’s sensations and memories of the experiences would be lost, so switched to first person. I feel that this way, the reader can more easily relate and vividly imagine the flashes of sensation. Through all poems, I used some of the exact wording my mother did, to bring authenticity and reminders of her memories within the text.
The first poem, Mombasa, focuses on the colours and smells and liveliness that my mother had experienced in her childhood. The second, by contrast, has the air of greyness, dampness – both physically and emotionally – that the move over to London meant to my mother. The last shows the process of transition from London to Geneva, in short, matter of fact phrases, which then lead to a sense of relief.
As always, the hardest part is editing. As I chose to have a more ‘free verse’ structure (loosely rhythmic, but not accurately metered) that rhymed, I had some freedom in changing words to my liking. However, I also wanted to make sure each poem was different enough, so I modified the style. For this, I added unrhymed, prosaic sections to the London poem – so that it was starker, more factual. The Geneva poem was shorter and more swiftly paced, as the transition was not as traumatic an event – and in a sense, is ongoing, as my parents are still currently situated in Geneva.