Stories of Home with the Scottish Refugee Council: 'Tomato'

Image by Media Mike Hazard from Flickr Creative Commons
Category: Writing

For Book Week Scotland 2014, we've collaborated with the Scottish Refugee Council for a very special project. We invited three of our previous New Writers Awardees to work with women from Iraq, Syria and Palestine to create unique stories of home. The project will be celebrated at an event on Sunday 30 November, introduced by Jackie Kay. This week, we'll be sharing each of the pieces created on the blog. Today's piece is 'Tomato' by Krystelle Bamford and Saffanna Aljbawi.



A child’s heart looks roughly like a tomato—plum,

longish, the size of its fist.  Back home, whole

fields left to blight on the vine (and here,

atria of frost and stickered, pale fruit).  It’s beautiful

here and beautiful there.  Now


the children build houses in the corners of rooms,

planting forests in winter around the TV,

but خافت, hushed—the lady next door

listens and crouches, a crow on a wire

flexing black wings. They say:


here is the Uni, the station, the square

(plant, clear and burn, dismantle, repair).  I say,

where is my oven, my asters, the cat?  Where

are the bowls for your soup and my soup

and all our best shoes?  I won’t say


bundled and left like neat sheaves of grain

on the floor of the barn of some long-

buried farmer, in the state

of Before, in the district of Where.  Or

fluttering out from the weight


of the razed breezeblock wall (wire,

tarpaulin, hair).  Or located neither

north nor south but deep

in the cleft, the length of the tear.  I

tap on their chests, then


tap on my chest: there, there, there


Most recently, Krystelle Bamford’s poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review and The Kenyon Review. In 2010, she was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and was shortlisted for the 2011 Bridport Prize. She is currently working on her first full collection.

Saffanna Aljbawi has been in Scotland for close to a year and a half with her four children and husband.  She and her family fled from Daraa, on the southern Syrian-Jordanian border, where both she and her husband had lived for their entire lives.  She was an Arabic teacher (in a secondary school, I believe) and her husband was a lawyer.  Her husband was forced to flee first because he had been part of a voluntary Red Cross-like organisation which handed out food and medical supplies to victims of the conflict and the government disliked the fact that help was given regardless of the victims’ affiliation.  Saffanna and her four children followed because she had known the government to arrest a family’s eldest son in order to entice the father to turn himself in.  A neighbour drove them to the Jordanian border where Saffanna hired a car. She and her children stayed in a one-room flat for 6-7 months before they got the call from the Red Cross saying that they would be reunited with Saffanna’s husband in Scotland.  Her eight sisters and three brothers are still in Daraa.