Your story matters
Stories are ways in which we remember and honour our ancestors and their legacy. A way of knowing where we came from and to help us have a vision of where we could go.
The first time that I shared one of my own stories on stage, I was terrified. I had signed up for the RE:Definition poetry masterclass organized by Simone Zeefuik. I was nervous throughout the whole trip to the class in Rotterdam, because I didn’t feel ready to push myself out of my comfort zone. But I did, not only did I write but I was asked to share my poem on stage. My poem was about my mom and growing up with Eritrean roots in the diaspora
Afterwards, a woman came up to me to say she recognised herself in my story and thanked me for articulating something she didn’t have the words for. I realised that sharing your story can be a great tool to connect, heal and give people space to be a bit more vulnerable.
The power of storytelling
As I was researching Eritrean Poets, for my story at poetry masterclass, I found Dr Russom Haile. A great poet that wrote Tigrinya in a way I could understand immediately. In the past, understanding Tigrinya poetry was always a big challenge for me. I always needed to call uncles, cousins and parents to get through the texts. So you can imagine how I felt reading Dr. Haile’s work and just getting it! He wrote in a way that was so simple, but at the same time deeply touching. Historically in Eritrean culture we do not document poems by writing. We come from a people with a long history of oral poetry. However, he wrote it down because he wanted those in the diaspora to know who we are as a people. He wanted to share with us what we had lost. Connect us and heal us from the separation that migration caused. I am grateful that he made these poems accessible. Because of him, I am learning about my ancestors and – just like the woman who came up to me at the masterclass – I realise that I don’t stand alone. I come from a country with a rich culture of food, music, literature, design and much more. We actually stand on the shoulders of giants. This is the power of storytelling. And therefore the distortion, or the whitewashing, of this legacy and the history of African countries disturbs me.
‘Our poetry is not something that has left our tongue and lived in the books for a very long time. Our poetry is participatory. When I recite my poetry at home, the people listening to me will say, “add this to that, add this to that.” It is participatory. It’s not something that we put on the wall and say “Oh, this is pretty.”Our traditional poetry form is ad hoc. Someone will just get up and say something to try to capture the spirit of that particular time. And people will add, “why don’t you say so, why don’t you add this, why don’t you extend it.” It is very much part of the tradition. I am putting it on paper because I think it is about time we start storing it for the next generation’ – Dr Russom Haile
Reconstructing our histories and present.
And because I want to know your stories and restore the stories and lies that have been told about African countries, I ask you to share with me your story.
I know sharing a story can be hard. I started writing at the age of 12, as speaking about my emotions was too difficult. I would write just for myself, like writing in a diary. I felt comfortable while writing because I knew that nothing I would say or would do was wrong. It was very comforting. I knew no one would read it. No judgement, no voices except my own. It was just me and my notebook. Sharing my stories was scary because people would have an opinion about it. When I wrote for myself I chose my reality, I decided what happened and what didn’t, what was being said and what was being silenced. It gave me a feeling of being free. But not free to share it with anyone else. My freedom was limited to my own space.
Share your story
Sharing your story with others is empowering. It is liberating for the storyteller and enriching for the audience. Let our voices find a way out and restore the stories and lies that have been told about African countries. I ask you to be part of this movement, share your story on the Afrispectives platform with us, so we can learn, reconstruct, heal and celebrate our histories and present. I look forward to all of your lives and inspirations.
Beylula yosef is a campaigner for Afrispectives, as well as a poet,teacher, applied psychologist, big sister, traveler, food & photography lover. She believes that sharing your story has the ability to heal us and create space for others to share another part of themselves.