Choman Hardi

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Choman Hardi  was born in Southern Kurdistan (Iraq) just before her family fled to Iran. She returned to her hometown at the age of five and lived there until she was fourteen. When the Iraqi government used chemical weapons on the Kurds in 1988 her family fled to Iran again. She has lived in Iraq, Iran and Turkey before coming to England in 1993. 

Choman studied philosophy and psychology at Queen's College, Oxford and has an MA in philosophy from University College London. Currently she is a PhD candidate at the University of Kent in Canterbury, researching about the mental health of Kurdish women refugees between the clash of cultures.

She has published two collections of poetry in Kurdish: 'Return with no memory' (Denmark, 1996) and 'Light of the shadows' (Sweden, 1998). Bloodaxe will publish her first collection of poetry in English in 2004.

Choman was nominated for the Arts Foundation scholarship 2002 and has won the 2003 Jerwood-Arvon Young Poet’s Apprenticeship. She was commissioned by the South Bank and Apples and Snakes to take part in the ‘Poetry International Festival’ Festival 2002, the Royal Festival Hall.

She has facilitated creative writing workshops for the British Council (UK, Belgium, Czech Republic and India) as well as many other organizations. Also an artist, Choman has contributed to a number of joint exhibitions in Britain and across Europe.

She is the chair of Exiled Writers' Ink! which is an organization consisting of established refugee writers who write in another language as well as English. The organization aims to represent those writers whose voice has not been represented in the main stream British media.

Her father Ahmad Hardi, who also lives in London, is a very well-known and much respected Kurdish poet: “poetry started with my father, his regular recital of poetry at moments of anger, sadness, and laughter has had the greatest effect on me”.

My mother’s kitchen

I will inherit my mother’s kitchen, her glasses, some tall and lean others short and fat her plates, an ugly collection from various sets, cups bought in a rush on different occasions rusty pots she doesn’t throw away. “Don’t buy anything just yet”, she says, “soon all of this will be yours”.

My mother is planning another escape for the first time home is her destination, the rebuilt house which she will furnish. At 69 she is excited about starting from a scratch. It is her ninth time.

She never talks about her lost furniture when she kept leaving her homes behind. She never feels regret for things only her vine in the front garden which spread over the trellis on the porch. She used to sing for the grapes to ripen, sew cotton bags to protect them from the bees. I will never inherit my mother’s trees.

Qleeshayawa *

‘Qleeshayawa’, they would say, and start running. The old, the young, men and women ‘Qleeshayawa’, they would say.

The young men joked about it between themselves It’s our marathon, it keeps us healthy.

They ran indefinitely. Sometimes with no expression on their faces, other-times covered with the sweat of fear    running, looking back, running and looking back, or with humour.

Sometimes it was triggered by a gunshot or the sight of vicious soldiers    jumping out from their tank into a square. Other-times, accidentally, if somebody ran, they all followed.

Sometimes they would be surrounded by tanks    with nowhere to run to -  and forced to stand like a flock of sheep, witness the execution of a friend, and to clap and shout:       Long live justice!

(* Qleeshayawa means cracking open. It is used to refer to the land or pomegranates; in the 1980s this word was used to describe the above situation.)

At the border 

“It is your last check-in point in this country!” We grabbed a drink.  Soon everything would taste different.

The land under our feet continued, divided by a thick iron chain.

My sister put her leg across it. “Look over here”, she said to us, “my right leg is in this country and my left leg in the other”. The border guards told her off.

My mother told me: We are going home. She said that the roads are much cleaner, the landscape is more beautiful, and people are much kinder.

Dozens of families waited in the rain. “I can inhale home”, somebody said. Now our mothers were crying. I was five years old, standing by the check-in point, comparing both sides of the border.

The autumn soil continued on the other side, the same colour, the same texture. It rained on both sides of the chain.

We waited while our papers were checked, our faces thoroughly inspected. Then the chain was removed to let us through. A man bent down and kissed his muddy homeland. The same chain of mountains encompassed all of us.

What I want 

My father never had what he wanted and we still don’t have what he taught us to love. For many years he told us off  if he became aware of our loud earrings if we dressed in red or perfumed our hair.

He spoke of the neighbours who were mourning the death of their sons, of the poisoned and soulless villages, of the spring of 1988 which was full of death. He spoke of the end of the bigger war which meant further energy for destroying us.

Father cried  when he smelt the first daffodils of each spring, when he saw images of the happy children who weren’t aware of what was happening.

In his despair he kept saying: Like the American Indians our struggle will become a topic for films.

And I imagine what it would be like to have what my father struggled for and I imagine the neighbours not visiting the graveyard in despair.

I imagine humane soldiers soldiers who would never say:  “We will take you to a place where you will eat your own flesh”. And I imagine what it would be like to have what my father struggled for.

The Haunting 

The same images haunted my mother every night -  hung by his wrists which were tied behind him when the fat flies that he hated drank from his young blood. Their buzzing made her furious.

He was back, swollen, with blue finger-nails, and an open wound on his left temple.

Although he’d never be the same as before, he was back, many of them never actually made it.

My children 

I can hear them talking, my children, fluent English and broken Kurdish.

And whenever I disagree with them, they will comfort each other by saying: Don’t worry about mum, she’s Kurdish.

Will I be the foreigner in my own home? 

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