Celebrating UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day: “Mother tongue – our emotional DNA”

by Beverley Costa

This blog post was updated on the 25th February 2015 to include links to the White Paper on linguistic and cultural heritage in child protection work, which was published today by Mothertongue and the Victoria Climbié Foundation UK. The White Paper can be accessed here.

International Mother Language Day is  celebrated on the 21st February 2015 and takes the theme of “Inclusion in and through education: Language counts”

Over the last year, GRAMNet has been delighted to develop a working relationship with the multi-ethnic counselling organisation Mothertongue. This first came about when Mothertongue were conducting some research and many of us responded to their excellent questionnaire on the experience of using different languages in therapeutic settings (thanks to all who took part after that call went out on our e-bulletin) We then began working conversations around the GRAMNet projects on Ethical Interpreting in Health Care Settings and the Large AHRC funded project: Researching Multilingually at the borders of language, the body, law and the state. Latterly, Mothertongue and Victoria Climbié Foundation UK invited some of us from Scotland to join them in a cross-party round-table on multilingualism in looked after children, held in the House of Commons last October. So it seemed entirely fitting, as a celebration of International Mother Language Day that we should invite Dr Beverley Costa of Mothertongue to share some of her work, research and professional experience with us – looking ahead to the publication of a White Paper in the Spring. There is much important practice here for the Scottish context and also for policy making in this area.


I grew up in a family where three languages were spoken, but not by everyone. My sister and I were the only two monolingual members of the family and not understanding what people were saying was our norm. I quickly got used to speaking English to people for whom English wasn’t their first language. The languages that we all spoke at home were an emotional currency – an indicator of who was in, who was out and essentially of who we were. And yes, we had a fourth language as well – a compound hybrid of English and bits of the other languages. This language only made sense within the four walls of our family home. So I suppose that fourth language was my mother tongue: the emotional DNA of our family.

Later in life I trained as a psychotherapist. In all of my training , I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction that the models of therapy presented failed to take into account people’s different worldviews and migration experiences and tended to pathologise non individual-centred ways of thinking and behaving. In my own therapy I realised that I couldn’t speak in my mother tongue. Who would understand it?

I set up Mothertongue multi-ethnic counselling service in 2000 to provide culturally and linguistically sensitive counselling for people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities in their preferred languages. Some BME communities in the UK are over represented nationally in secondary services for mental health care and underrepresented in primary mental health services.


Photo: Beverley Costa for Mothertongue

Photo: Beverley Costa for Mothertongue


Mothertongue was established in order to attempt to address this gap. All Mothertongue’s professional qualified counsellors and psychotherapists are multilingual and we have a trained Mental Health Interpreting Service so that we are able to provide therapy in as many languages as possible. We know how important it is for people to be able to express their early emotional experiences in the languages in which they were experienced – to show and to share their emotional DNA.

At Mothertongue we try to give people a range of services and experiences which can meet their needs. These include 1:1 counselling, relationship counselling, groups like a knitting circle and ESOL classes and opportunities to volunteer with us. We are a BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited service. We provide training, supervision and consultation to professionals and we are committed to increasing the body of knowledge in this area by research and widespread dissemination of learning.

As a therapy service we also feel we have a responsibility to promote social justice by helping clients, many of whom experience a deep sense of powerlessness in their lives, to rediscover and use their internal sense of authority in order to engage fully in, participate and contribute to their lives. For many, this means addressing issues of social justice and inequality of power outside the therapy room.


Photo: Beverley Costa for Mothertongue

Photo: Beverley Costa for Mothertongue


Through its client work Mothertongue has seen how families, with children in care, can be disempowered when their cultural and linguistic heritages are not considered. In order to raise awareness of these issues Mothertongue worked in partnership with the Victoria Climbié Foundation UK to co-host a Round Table event at the Houses of Parliament on October 14th 2014 which considered the question: Are we effectively considering the relevance of cultural and linguistic heritage within child protection work when making decisions in the best interest of the child? A White Paper on this issue is being published on February 25th 2015.

My profession of psychotherapy is known as the “talking cure” so how curious that multilingualism has been paid such scant attention in the world of counselling and psychotherapy!

Admittedly, recently there has been increasing interest in the role of language in therapy for multilingual patients and for multilingual therapists but it has attracted relatively little investigation. A therapist’s or a client’s bilingualism can both promote and/or adversely affect the therapeutic process. Mainstream psychotherapy tends to ignore these experiences, with adverse effects.

We therefore have conducted research across the disciplines of Applied Linguistics and Psychotherapy with Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele of Birkbeck College, University of London. This research aims to open up the discussion about multilingualism and therapy; to listen to and to convey the voice of the multilingual client; and to compare and contrast the views of multilingual clients with the views of multilingual therapists.

The themes of authentic and inauthentic identity have emerged strongly from our research with multilingual clients. Sujata Bhatt, in her poem (1997) ‘Search for My Tongue’, refers to the competing identities of her different languages and the way her mother tongue ‘ties the other tongue in knots’. Clients who participated in our research had similar experiences to share:

‘I feel like a huge part of me just doesn’t go to therapy with me. I have different personas with each language I speak so only speaking in English in therapy isn’t helpful… If I have to translate into English… it just isn’t the same for me.’

For Bhatt, her mother tongue – which for her represents both language and identity – is irrepressible, despite her attempts to suppress or ‘lose’ it:

‘Every time I think I’ve forgotten,
I think I’ve lost the mother tongue
It blossoms out of my mouth.’

One of our research participants conveys that same sense of the irrepressible:

“If in one of the languages I speak there is an expression like that, it does come to my lips whether I want it, or not. Then it’s up to me to let the lips share it, which I usually do.”

For the following participant, she could not even imagine an authentic communication with her mother in anything other than her mother tongue:

‘It [speaking in her mother tongue] was very beneficial for my getting in touch with how I feel and felt in the past about my mother with whom I only spoke my mother tongue, and so I needed to “speak” with her (in my mind) in that language. I could not begin to really feel what I would “say” to her unless I imagined the words in my native tongue.’


Photo: Beverley Costa for Mothertongue

Photo: Beverley Costa for Mothertongue


Our mother tongues hold so much information about who we are, how we feel, how we behave and how we think. That is why it is imperative that we attend to this in the “talking cure” of psychotherapeutic work. At Mothertongue multi-ethnic counselling service, we attempt to promote the importance of attending to clients’ mother tongues in the therapeutic encounter.

For International Mother Language Day on Saturday I am going to think about people’s mother tongues in all my encounters. It is a celebration of the richness that our different tongues contribute to the picture of who we are and the make –up of our unique individual identities that you can’t pick up from a fingerprint or a DNA swab.



Costa, B. & Dewaele, J.M. (2012) Psychotherapy across Languages: beliefs, attitudes and practices of monolingual and multilingual therapists with their multilingual patients, Language and Psychoanalysis: Available here.

Dewaele, J-M., Costa, B. (2013) Multilingual Clients’ Experience of Psychotherapy Language and Psychoanalysis, 2013, 2 (2), 31-50 : Available here.

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Film Series: Papusza (2013)

This month is World Day of Social Justice, and to mark this event, we are very excited to introduce the award winning film PAPUSZA.


This stunning film by Joanna Kos-Krauze & Krzysztof Krauze will be screened mostly in Roma language, with English subtitles, at the CCA on Wednesday 18th February at 6pm.

Papusza is based on the true story of the Roma poet Bronisława Wajs (1908-1987). The film follows Papusza’s life from birth to old age: arranged marriage as a small girl, her life in a gypsy tabor before, during and after second world war, then forced settlement in communist Poland and urban life in poverty. Her meeting with the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski, who discovered her great talent for poetry and published her works led to a tragic paradox: a famous poet was living in poverty, rejected by the Roma community for betraying their secrets.

With beautiful monochrome photography, the film gives insight into the Roma way of life, soon to be swept away by WWII and the following communist regime. Speaking mostly in Roma language, the ensemble of actors includes mostly non-professionals from Roma families.

Check out the trailer…

Papusza by Joanna Kos-Krauze & Krzysztof Krauze from New Europe Film Sales on Vimeo.

To watch Joanna Kos-Krauze talking about the development of the film go here.

The critics have said:

‘Polish husband-and-wife duo transform the troubled life of a celebrated Gypsy poet into a ravishing visual poem’.

– Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter

‘Some of the most spectacular black and white camera work in recent years’.

– Dan Fainaru, Screen International


Doors open at 5.30pm. Screenings start at 6.00pm.

As usual, screenings are free and welcome to all (age restrictions apply) To guarantee a seat, tickets can be booked by visiting the CCA website or by calling +44 (0)141 352 4900.

Tickets must be collected from the CCA Box Office by 5.45pm, otherwise they will be released back into the system.

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Pimp my holiday, bourgeois navel-gazing edition*

by Benjamin Thomas White†


If ever a piece of writing were going to turn me into a thoroughgoing cultural Marxist, Pico Iyer’s article about ‘slow travel’ in today’s Guardian is it.

Travel and mobility have always been a crucial part of political and economic life. Serfs and peasants unable to leave their masters’ domains; chattel slaves shipped across the Atlantic, or bonded labourers transported around the Indian Ocean or Pacific rim: systems of economic exploitation clearly have an interest in the mobility or immobility of human bodies. For almost everyone who now enjoys it, and plenty of people still don’t, the right to move—or rather, to control your own movement—has been hard won. It’s still a privilege as much as a right: in the last two centuries, the liberal principle of free movement of labour has been offset by states’ increasing monopolization of the ‘legitimate means of movement’, through border controls and immigration legislation. If you want to gauge your place in global hierarchies of wealth and power, with all their gendered and racialized complexity, just try crossing a border into a rich industrialized country.


‘Slow travel’ for some, no travel for others

‘Slow travel’ for some, no travel for others


So it’s not surprising that travel and tourism have also been crucial to cultural processes of class formation. The grand tour was part of the education of the eighteenth-century British aristocrat: a chance to acquire the cultural knowledge and aesthetic tastes, as well as the objets d’art and other material trappings, that marked upper class belonging. The nineteenth-century Parisian bourgeoisie understood France and their place in it through travel, guidebooks, and postcards, learning to see their country and its inhabitants—their rural compatriots and the urban poor alike, not to mention the French empire and its colonized peoples—as a collection of ‘scenes’ and ‘types’. Actual and mental travel of this kind was part of what it meant to be a bourgeois. Cultural historians have shown the role that travel and tourism have played, in all sorts of times and places, in the formation of various kinds of ‘subject’: gendered and raced, imperial or national, aristocratic, bourgeois, or proletarian. Where you go, and what you do there, is who you are. (Not many aristocrats buying saucy postcards on Blackpool beach.)

The subheading of Iyer’s article says it ‘extolls the virtues of mindful travel’. It doesn’t, of course: it catalogues instances of privilege, in the author’s life and those of his friends. What it describes—desert trekking in Namibia, skiing trips in Kashmir, ‘digital detox’ packages in five-star hotels; ‘westerners walking to Mount Kailash, or a film producer going to the Seychelles just to read books with his daughter’—is not mindful travelling, but the self-indulgent tourism of a globalized elite. Anyone travelling mindfully would notice all the forms of labour exploitation and resource extraction that make this kind tourism possible. ‘Mindfulness’ wouldn’t make it any easier for a Namibian to go trekking in the Yosemite national park, or a Tibetan to walk the Camino de Santiago. (I won’t even start on the appalling conflation implicit in the words ‘The essence of holidays, and therefore travel…’.)

This is late industrial capitalism’s commodification of the very solitude and quiet that it destroys. Iyer’s piece is a celebration of that commodification, and a contribution to it.

‘Emptiness and silence are the new luxuries’, indeed.


If you are there, then what you are there for has already been destroyed

If you are there, then what you are there for has already been destroyed




* This article was first published on the 17th January 2015, on Benjamin’s blog Singular Things.

† Benjamin Thomas White is a Lecturer in History at the University of Glasgow. His contact details can be found here, or tweet him @rain_later .

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Film Series: Shimon’s Returns (2014)

A collector of memories and a seeker of good will, Shimon takes us on a journey through Poland and Ukraine, uncovering the brighter sides of dark times.

Shimon's Return
This year is 70 years since the end of the Nazi Holocaust.

This month is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

To mark this occasion, on Wednesday 28th January, GRAMNet brings you SHIMON’S RETURNS.

The documentary shot in Poland, Ukraine and Israel tells the story of Shimon Redlich, a Holocaust survivor who returns to places from his childhood as well as different hiding places in his struggle to survive. A collector of memories and a seeker of good will, Shimon takes us on a journey through Poland and Ukraine, uncovering the brighter sides of dark times. The film also employs archival footage from the 1948 Yiddish film “Unzere Kinder”, where Shimon had a role as a child actor.

Dr Mia Spiro lecturer in Jewish Studies will join us to give a response to the film, and be part of our post-show discussion.

We are also happy to announce that Shimon, the protagonist of the film, along with director Slawomir Grünberg, will be joining us on Skype to answer questions from the audience.

Check out the trailer:

Directors biographies:

Slawomir Grünberg  is an Emmy award-winning documentary producer, director and cinematographer. A graduate of the Polish Film School in Lodz, he emigrated from Poland to the US in 1981, and has since directed and produced over 40 television documentaries. “School Prayer: A Community at War” premiered on PBS in the 1999 POV season, received a National Emmy Award, and won awards at many film festivals around the world. Grünberg’s DOP credits include: “Legacy” (Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature in 2001), and “Sister Rose’s Passion”, which won best short doc at Tribeca Film Festival in 2004 and received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary short in 2005.

Katka Reszke is a writer, documentary filmmaker, photographer and researcher in Jewish history, culture, and identity. She holds a Doctorate in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a recipient of fellowships from the Mandel Foundation and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. Author of “Return Of The Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland”, she lectures on different aspects of the Polish-Jewish experience at educational and cultural institutions across North America and Europe. Her documentary film titles include: “Coming Out Polish Style”, “Magda” and “Shimon’s Returns”

Doors open at 5.30pm. Screenings start at 6.00pm.

As usual, screenings are free and welcome to all (age restrictions apply) To guarantee a seat, tickets can be booked by visiting the CCA website or by calling +44 (0)141 352 4900.

Tickets must be collected from the CCA Box Office by 5.45pm, otherwise they will be released back into the system.

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Transnational Biographies


by Karin Friedrich


Christmas was not far off. We knew that the date so close to the holidays, when everyone was busy on last shopping trips, was not ideal for scheduling a workshop on “Transnational Biographies”. This second meeting, which was part of a series of public outreach events, ‘Linking Northern Communities’, followed a successful roundtable in Aberdeen, a month earlier (see the GramNet blog of 4 December 2014 ). In the localities of the funding body, the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, based on Strathclyde University’s campus in the Collins Building at 22 Richmond Street, Glasgow, an interested audience gathered after all: small enough to get to know each other during the following two hours of presentations, conversation and discussion, and still large enough to bring together a wealth of experience and differing views. Biographical and family stories took us from sixteenth-century Cracow, via seventeenth-century Slovenia, Bohemia and Croatia and early modern Aberdeenshire, to mid-twentieth-century Clydebank, contemporary Lithuania, Russia and back again to Scotland today. Almost everyone in this round of story-tellers and listeners embraced multiple identities themselves, often with a background of being born abroad, with an ancestry in another country, having made a journey to a new existence and having crossed political, national, linguistic and religious borders. The decision to stay and start belonging to something that was ‘foreign’ before is ‘transnational biography’ in the making.

As during the roundtable in Aberdeen, a photographic exhibition created the visual backdrop of the workshop: Blażej Marczak’s ten images of ‘The Neighbours’, a series of portraits of individuals or family groups of migrants to Scotland, in his words, serves to “remind ourselves of the significance of the cultural mosaic we are living in.” The idea for this outreach event was to explore the long-term impact of history on individual identity-formation. When one’s memory of origin melts into the experience of a new environment, it can cause conflicting identities and heightened consciousness of one’s own heritage. These were some of the initial questions for discussion: How and when does multi-culturalism become second nature and part of someone’s biography and inherent identity? Moreover, at which point does someone stop being a migrant, but still be unable, however, to become a ‘native’ of their new home? What role does historical memory and tradition play in the construction of the new self? And to what extent is acceptance into the new ‘other’ nation or community a necessary precondition for the successful creation of a ‘transnational’ existence?


‘Mohammed’, Blazej Marczak ‘The Neighbours’ (source: http://bmarczak.com/)

‘Mohammed’, Blazej Marczak ‘The Neighbours’ (source: http://bmarczak.com/)


Prof. Waldemar Kowalski from the Jan Kochanowski University at Kielce in Poland began this series of presentations on transnational biographies by reminding us of a significant historical wave of migration, one that had considerable impact on Scottish and Polish landed and urban society in the sixteenth century: the large-scale movement of Scots – usually younger sons without hope of inheritance – to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The claim by the traveller William Lithgow that “thirty thousand Scots families” were living in Poland in the early 1700s was not far off the mark, as examples of Scots with successful (and less successful) careers in what then was Europe’s largest state abound. While the speaker focused on the fate of the Cracow Scots, whose Kirk (the Brog) in 1572 was destroyed in the city by Jesuit pupils in an increasingly pressurised anti-protestant atmosphere, families of Scottish extraction, such as the Chalmers and Kalajs continued to be part of Cracovian urban politics and economy, through kinship, in guilds and religious congregations. Better known in his homeland than these Cracovian families, not least through the recent publication of his personal diaries, is Patrick Gordon of Auchleuchries (1635-1699), who, like the majority of Scots in Poland, was native to Scotland’s North-East. Not all Scots, however, gained either his fame or good reputation, and in times of war their loyalty to the Polish king and kingdom was not always beyond doubt or reproach.

Dr David Worthington (University of the Highlands and Islands) continued the theme by examining the fate of the Catholic Scottish Leslie family in Slovenia, Bohemia and Croatia, whose most famous member, Count Walter (1607-67), Imperial Field Marshal, was one of the plotters who in 1634 assassinated the Thirty Year’s most famous military leader, Albrecht of Wallenstein. Intermarried with Europe’s aristocracy, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic, the Leslies prospered in Habsburg service as citizens of the Baroque era, owners of multiple properties and a life of luxury. The degree of their assimilation to European aristocratic culture can hardly be overestimated, which makes them a rare exception among the majority of lower noble, commercial and mercenary migrants from Scotland at the time. Even more intriguing is it therefore to find out to what extent they retained any identification with their land of origin which they still cultivated through diplomatic embassies.


'Magda, Nicola and Cat', Blazej Marczak ‘The Neighbours’ (source: http://bmarczak.com/)

‘Magda, Nicola and Cat’,
Blazej Marczak ‘The Neighbours’ (source: http://bmarczak.com/)


Another heritage link between Poland and Scotland was the topic of Prof. Andrew Blaikie from the University of Aberdeen. His interest in the photo journalism of the Picture Post (published 1938-1957) led him also to fascinating film footage from the Imperial War museum which he shared with the audience: the film Strangers of 1942, sponsored by the Polish Ministry of Information, sympathetically showed Polish soldiers fighting against the Germans alongside the British in 1942, guarding Scotland’s beaches and engaged in harvest work, swapping traditional dances at local ceilidhs and chatting up local women. The large numbers of Polish soldiers remaining in Britain after the war to avoid returning to the Soviet occupation of their homeland raised important questions: many got married to local girls in Edinburgh and Clydebank, yet cultivated their identity and history, reflected in numerous Polish servicemen clubs. 22,000 Poles decided to stay in Scotland after 945. The Picture Post captured many human interest stories among this group. Their children had British passports but continued to identify with being at least partly Polish. It is this second generation that transcended a once clearly defined national identity, so strong among the pre-war Poles, who had only regained independent statehood in 1918, after almost 200 years of their country under the partitioning powers. The cold war made their integration a necessity, a fact that is stressed by the 1950s captions on Picture Post photographs – captions which often differed in meaning from what people expressed in interviews at the time. Transnational identities thus served political purposes, as mirrored in Picture Post journalism.

Vitalija Stepušaitytė (Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh), in contrast, stressed the biographical in a lyrical contemplation of the life of a mother, who after 30 years of a finally broken marriage leaves her native Lithuania for Scotland, where she comes to work and creates a new home away from home. The speaker reminded her audience of the fact that ‘transnational’ was an adjective among many others, describing the transient nature of an ever changing life situation, wide open to interpretation. The slow cessation of parcels and presents exchanged between Scotland and Lithuania served as a metaphor for the growing integration in the new environment. Not only did this very intimate view of integration detail how transition into a new biography away from home was possible despite many obstacles (bad housing, hard work, times of solitude, etc.), but it also showed the changes by which such a process changes the meaning of home itself, introducing an alienation from the past and from one’s earlier identities.


‘Gurinder and Harpreet with kids Brahmjot, Siaana and mother-in-law Balbir’ Blazej Marczak ‘The Neighbours’ (source: http://bmarczak.com/)

‘Gurinder and Harpreet with kids Brahmjot, Siaana and mother-in-law Balbir’ Blazej Marczak ‘The Neighbours’ (source: http://bmarczak.com/)


Finally, Nicolas Le Bigre, from the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen, introduced the audience to research on immigrant-experience narratives, and the creation of dynamic concepts of home(s), whether as memory, place, people, possessions in an alien environment. His interviews with migrants from Japan, Ireland and Russia, played in fascinating extracts to the audience, touched both on matters of external physicality as well as internal mentality when the interviewees are asked to talk about their lives in their new Scottish homes. All of them became ‘expert storytellers of their biographies’, allowing them to anchor their lives through time and space to past, current, and future home(s).

This array of historical, visual, sociological and ethnographic-anthropological approaches to memory and identity is an important dimension for anyone who works on the topic of migration and with migrants. Following transnational biographies, where heritage and tradition often serves as the only stable element to remind a person of his/her former identity, creates an awareness of dilemmas and confusion which some individuals overcome more easily than others after crossing borders into new life situations and cultural contexts. The next step will be to apply this awareness to a wider group of East European migrants (including but also beyond Poland and Lithuania). As a next step we will be looking at the practical implications of their journeys, professionally, practically and in a local context, and try to forge instruments of communication and self-help for those who need it (see Magda Czarnecka’s report on suicide rates among migrants during our first roundtable, see the previous blog), and to produce discussion documents for policy-makers.


The next event – Newcomers and hometowns: Linking local and migrant communities in Scotland (programme available here – will be held on 16 February from 4 pm in the same rooms of the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, Strathclyde Campus, Collins Building, 22 Richmond Street, Glasgow G1 1XQ, Email: info@scottishinsight.ac.uk, Tel: 0141 548 4051/5930. Please register here.

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100s of Days – Gaza is Still Waiting*

By Alison Phipps and Nazmi Al-Masri.

50 days ago Nazmi –Al Masri and I wrote a piece about the 50 days of the war on Gaza this summer. The piece reproduced below was published in The Herald. Today Nazmi wrote to me to let me know that despite our best endeavours to arrange for him to join us at our project symposia and also for GRAMNet and AHRC project events he is unlikely to be able to leave Gaza. He wrote that in the last 50 days not a single person from Gaza has been able to leave the strip. 50 days of 1.9million people held captive with no freedom of movement.

As the Detention Inquiry continues its work and the twitter tour of detention [hashtag #Unlocked] continues, the parallels between people suffering in detention and people besieged in Gaza are palpable. Gaza is not Dungavel; is not Yarl’s Wood but its securitisation by Israel belongs in the hands of many of the same companies who profit from running detention centres in the UK and who have tested their security measures through the Occupation and on the people of Palestine.

100 days added to the 1,000s of days lost waiting, hoping, detained, besieged, hoping beyond hope. It is through international solidarity in the face of the humanitarian disaster that is occupation and detention that relationships and trust may one day be rebuilt. The university is the place which may ‘train us’, says Tim Radcliffe, in the ‘delicate art of learning to talk to strangers.’ Through the research project ‘Researching Multilingually at the Borders of the Body, Language, Law and the State’ we are engaged in language learning across borders and through conflicts where this art is urgently needed but also has to take positions – difficult ones; ones which I learned to my cost when publishing this piece with my colleague in the press, will not draw agreement, will draw sanction. Such is the nature of a war fought abroad, when it comes home. Part of the ‘delicate art’ involves naming delicate and difficult truths.”

Final words on Gaza mini series – this mini series on Gaza developed from our relationships in GRAMNet to colleagues suffering during the aggression in the Summer but continues as the aftermath is felt and the ripples of the conflict take new forms for the people in Palestine and for those who strive with them for an end to their suffering and isolation.

grey line


It’s been almost 50 days now, and every day I check my emails for signs of life from colleagues and friends.

When nothing comes, I tell myself it is because there is next to no electricity at all. What else can I tell myself? Anything else is the end of hope.

Each message, which is a welcome sign of life, also tells of more destruction.

The building at the Islamic University of Gaza, from which the project we work on together is co-ordinated, has been bombed and severely damaged.

It was a beautiful building. In it all departments of the Faculty of Arts, including the English language department, were completely destroyed.

No offices, no computers, no files, no documents; all vanished. It also housed the assistive teaching centre for visually impaired students. When in the Gaza Strip two years ago, this was one of the centres we visited.

Each time a message arrives it is courteous, courageous and compassionate.

Nazmi and I are working together to develop intercultural language education for teachers of Arabic. We wanted to do it in Gaza. We cannot. We wanted to do it in Egypt, but our colleagues cannot travel beyond the blockade. We wanted to do it online, but the power plant has been bombed and there is no power.

But what we do know, and what my experience of working with Gazan academics has shown me beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that a way will be found. My colleagues in Gaza are experts at managing complicated crises and finding innovative ways to overcome shocking challenges.

Of course, it’s hard to comprehend how this is possible. How can teachers be trained when there are no buildings, no scope for travel, no homes for the students, for staff?

In Gaza my colleagues are working away in the darkness, working away amidst shards of glass, of shrapnel, working away to the constant sound of drones and shelling day in day out. They evacuate, take shelter, and then tentatively return. One friend, Ahmed, an eye doctor , sent me a picture of his garden after heavy shelling. One dusty white rose survives. It is his sign of hope. The slightest truce or momentary return of electricity and they are immediately back at work.

Normality, such as it is, resumes and is relished. It is so easy to destroy; to press a button and wipe out life. It takes years to create something of beauty, like a garden, or a university, to learn a language or become an eye doctor.

I don’t know what I would do in such a situation. Would I find a way to be courteous, courageous, compassionate?

Each time a message arrives it is full of gratitude that we are here, in Scotland, to act upon the news; gratitude too for the steps taken thus far by the Scottish Government in calling for an arms embargo and issuing advice on divestment from illegal settlements.

I wonder: would I be like this? Would you?

What is my opinion on Gaza? I am beyond having anything like an opinion. A rich-world country has locked 1.8 million people in a massive open-air prison for seven years, in one of the most densely populated places on earth, where 25 per cent of the population are children, and it is raining terror.

There is nowhere to run to and this is not an opinion. I have been there when shelling occurred, I know that there is no escape. And the UK Government cannot even utter the words “disproportionate” or cease its murderous trade in arms.

I have no energy left for opinions on Gaza. Opinions are for peace time. Opinions are luxuries, not means of survival. I will continue to boycott and demonstrate and work for peace until those suffering ask me to desist.

And I will not be daunted by the work. After all, my Gazan colleagues are not.

Where others have opinions, I insist on having hope.


*Originally published on the 11th of September by The Herald.

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a guide to the traveller

by Tawona Sithole*

the traveller is a fascinating creature
noticeable by distinct marks and markings
noticeable by distinct noises and sounds
behaviours and oddities
traits and qualities
adaptable to different conditions and habitats
able not only to survive but thrive
the traveller is a remarkable creature

depending on conditions
the traveller will
amble or rumble
scramble or gamble
gallop or gather
climb or claw
depending on conditions
the traveller will
fly or defy
spoil or recoil
leap or sleep
lead or stampede
depending on conditions
the traveller
follows or is followed

depending on conditions
it’s a matter of
hiding or deciding
wading or waiting
depending on conditions
it’s a matter of
a clear path or clear the path

along the life long journey
there are many places the traveller will reach before arriving
depending on conditions
can be common middle or battle ground
depending on conditions
can be a breeze squeeze or freeze

there is time for the sublime
but it also brings a curse
there is time for the sunshine
but it also brings thirst

depending on conditions
the traveller is
prepared or scared
alone or among
ngongoni mbizi nekacheche

depending on no conditions
in the making of the journey
mapping of the journey
marking of the journey
the heart leaves distinct footprints


*Tawona Sithole is GRAMNet’s Poet in Residence and is also part of the Creative Arts and Translating Cultures Hub, within the AHRC funded project ‘Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State’. As part of a project called ‘Migration Museum’ - and in collaboration with Showman Media – ‘a guide to the traveller’ was made into a short film, which can be viewed below. Tawona’s reflections on this project have been published on the Researching Multilingually project blog, which can be found here.



Notes and Shona translations

A guide to the traveller
muganhu – point between two places
zambuko – crossing point on a river
ngongoni mbizi nekacheche – wildebeest zebra and the young one
gurusvusvu – large herd on the move

Shona song – with herd (playful, while lost)
shiri – bird
sango – forest

Shona poem – with herd (describing the landscape to soothe a crying baby)
shiri – bird
mhiri kwamungezi – across the river
achema – someone is crying
tsviyo goko (said at the very end, high pitch call gives a sense of return or relief)

Shona poem in crate (a call for people to light the fire so we can see where we are going)
kuzungaira – being lost
tungidzai mwenje – light a fire
mukwidza/makata – uphill
nzira – path
kunze kwavira – the sun is setting
sango – forest

‘behind the cage’ shot in pod 5
kukurukura hunge wapostwa – telling the tale is the survivor’s privilege


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Film Series: Yurik (2010)

We are happy to announce that Yurik (2010), directed by Tim Langford and Andy Lee will be the next screening in the GRAMNet Film Series to take place Wednesday 17th December to coincide with International Migrants Day (18th Dec).




Yurik is an intimate portrait of an Armenian doctor and his young family who fled their homeland after he witnessed the assassination of the president in 1999. He and his family became separated as they desperately sought an escape route. He arrived in England, destitute and seeking asylum. His wife, Zara, and two young boys ended up in Barcelona, Spain. Yurik’s story was profi led in a feature article about the plight of asylum seekers, written by Mark Haddon, published in The Observer Magazine in 2008. The current film tells their story from his point of view through interviews, home movie footage filmed by his wife in Spain and the filming of an eventual reunion, after six years, with his wife in London. His life (and hers) is further complicated by his long-term illness, a deteriorating condition of the liver, Hepatitis C. He has been on a waiting list for a liver transplant for almost two years. The film ends at the point at which she departs for Spain. But the climax to the story leaves many unanswered questions…

Filmmaker Andy Lee will be joining us to answer questions after the film.  Although Yurik was going to join us at the screening, unfortunately due to sickness he will not be able to join us.

You can find more about Yurik’s life here

Doors open at 5.30pm. Screenings start at 6.00pm.

As usual, screenings are free and welcome to all (age restrictions apply) To guarantee a seat, tickets can be booked by visiting the CCA website or by calling +44 (0)141 352 4900.

Tickets must be collected from the CCA Box Office by 5.45pm, otherwise they will be released back into the system.

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The Townhouse Gallery – Cairo*

by Keith Hammond

Video still "Bleached Lips Live!" Chrishanta Chetty, 2014

Video still “Bleached Lips Live!” Chrishanta Chetty, 2014


This is a gem of a space in Downtown Cairo. The gallery and several workshops feels very much part of busy central Cairo but the atmosphere is totally international. It would be difficult to imagine anyone from any part of the world not feeling at home in the Townhouse. Art should be a place that welcomes and brings people together as in this cluster of gallery and workshop spaces.

This is the outside of the Townhouse. It sort of hits you as you walk along …


The Townhouse Gallery

The Townhouse Gallery


The Townhouse springs up just when you least expect to find something. It is in Downtown Cairo and very central. Next to the exhibition space are bookshops and a shop of handmade things. Music and gifts are not expensive and the whole area feels extremely integrated. People like to talk about what they make and so there is a lot of good conversation.

Below is a very complex looking diagram but it gives an idea of the relationships involved in the enterprise. It is really a cluster of spaces where relationships with the ‘Other’ give a quality that is the defining characteristic of the place. There are absolutely no preconditions tied to Otherness. It is not difficult to see why this is a really important place for refugees and artists that come to the arts with all sorts of histories. This wee gem of a place gives new meaning to the terms ‘knowledge exchange’ …



The above shows how learning relationships converge on art-making activities. Learning is not just about ‘education’.  What hit me most on visiting the shop and gallery was the way the space feels social.  It feels shared, showing a shared place as a place of possibilities.  Different presences come out in the expression of sharing.  The venue was put together in 1988 as an independent, non-profit art space with a goal of making contemporary art and culture accessible to all without compromising creative practice. It has done that and much more.  Below is a still from a program of contemporary dance held in the gallery recently …




The Townhouse now supports artistic work in a wide range of media through exhibitions, residencies for artists, curators and writers, educational initiatives and outreach programmes which offer workshops for adults and children, with participants coming from all over Cairo.  This means it is very much a venue for the exchange of ideas, including the ideas of people with special needs and those from marginalized communities.

Since first set up the Townhouse has strived to make the arts accessible to different groups of society, whilst never compromising the quality of art making in social integration and understanding.


900km Nile City", installation view at the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo

“900km Nile City”, installation view at the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo


The gallery’s Outreach Programme thus offers a number of workshops for adults and children, through which the center is able to broaden activities to involve people from all over Cairo, including those with physical difficulties.




The SAWA Workshops for the Visual Arts take place every Saturday at the Townhouse Factory space.  Attending are those from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. SAWA (meaning “together” in Arabic) originally started as a small workshop for refugees but has now expanded to become one of the gallery’s core outreach programmes, involving hundreds of individuals a year in a communal, creative process regardless of race, gender of class.  The programme shows how workshops break down obstacles to communication and understanding.


Cairo: "Celebrating Diversity" Event

Cairo: “Celebrating Diversity” Event


Past Outreach programs of Townhouse have included the Friday Workshops for Working Children, which was later transformed into the SAWA Saturday workshops. These provided a creative space where child laborers could express their individuality, build peer relationships and develop their communication skills, bringing them a confidence and self-esteem that could be applied to their daily lives. The workshops encompassed instruction in different fields – visual arts, animation, theatre – and included day trips to places outside of the children’s immediate locale as well as literacy classes and topics relating to the rights of children.

Recently, SAWA’s programmes have included photography workshops, oil painting instruction by renowned Egyptian artist Ibrahim El Tanbouli and a six-month fashion school project from September 2014 – March 2015.

Townhouse collaborates with institutions and arts professionals both regionally and internationally to create exhibitions, share resources, and facilitate artist exchanges.  We hope to introduce the Townhouse SAWA project to Glasgow in collaborations with different projects around the city.  Further blogs to follow.

Townhouse is on Facebook and can be contacted online.






*The Townhouse Gallery can be found at: 10 Nabrawy Street – Off Champellion Street – Downtown Cairo + Tel: 2 (0) 127 371 4371

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Poles Apart? A model for Polish community integration in Scotland

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.00.33










 by Rebecca Kay

On a dark and rainy November night, the ‘Einstein Room’ in Aberdeen’s Satrosphere Science centre was packed out with about 100 people: Polish migrants, students, academics and members of the public with a general interest in Poland. We had come together for the first in a series of Public Engagement events, ‘Linking Northern Communities’ exploring connections between Central Eastern Europe and Scotland and between the peoples of Central Eastern Europe and Scotland both in the contemporary period and historically.

This night’s event ‘Poles Apart? A model for Polish community integration in Scotland’ was particularly interested in the practical experiences of Polish migrants to Scotland, their historical, cultural, economic and social connections and contexts and how these might help or hinder integration. It was pointed out at the start by Prof. Karin Friedrich, convenor of the series, that the North East of Scotland benefits greatly from Migration and that migrants make an important contribution to the arts and culture as well as the economy, but that Scotland also needs to think carefully about how migrants are treated and received. In recognition of these cultural and arts-based contributions the event was organised to include photography, poetry and music.

The space was framed by a photo exhibition produced by a young Polish photographer Blazej Marczak, called ‘The Neighbours’, which he describes as ‘creating a portrait of contemporary and multicultural Scotland’ it shows pictures of different people, individuals and family groups in domestic settings, mainly sitting in their own living rooms, so that when hung side by side you get the impression of looking into the windows of adjoining houses or flats. Several are Polish migrants from different periods of migration and Scottish born children/grandchildren of those who came in earlier periods, but also their ‘neighbours’ from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Scotland, etc.

The short presentations described in more detail below were interspersed with poetry readings by Scottish/Polish poets and poets of mixed heritage. The first of these from Martin Stepek’s collection ‘For there is Hope’ was entitled ‘the Clearances’ and mirrored his father’s experiences of deportation from Poland to eastern Siberia in the 1940s with those of the forced migration from highland to lowland Scotland during the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th Centuries. The echoing refrains between the stanzas of the poems pick up on experiences of separation from family and friends, fears for loved ones left behind, or sent ahead and uncertainties of an unknown future. The final stanza linked these experiences to the present day with reference to Darfur and the Middle East.

At the end of the event there was a concert by the local Polish-Scottish Choir who meet twice a month to sing together and have found that there are many similarities between Polish and Scottish folk songs: ‘We both lost a lot of battles, everything starts in A minor and sea shanties from Peterhead merge seamlessly with songs about whaling from Poland’

Prof Anne White gave the opening presentation about Polish migration and integration. A big question surrounding the most recent migration from Poland to the UK is that of settlement. The post-War Polish diaspora had no way back and had to settle. As a result they assimilated to such a degree that Sword (1996) predicted the disappearance of Polish community organisations and activities. The migration from Poland since 2004 has had very different characteristics with many migrants characterised as ‘young adventure seekers’ and seeking ‘intentional unpredictability’ as part of their migration process. Another interesting (and unusual) characteristic of the recent migration is that it is from all regions of Poland to all parts of the UK and webs or nets of relationship spanning Poland and the UK facilitate returns both to Poland, and back again to the UK. In both cases research suggests that emotional attachments are a key factor: people return to Poland because they ‘miss it’ but when they get there find they ‘miss’ the people/places/lifestyles they had in the UK and so come back. The arrival of families also tends to lead to more permanent settlement, so that even when parents might want to return to Poland, they stay for the sake of their children who have found friends and are often better integrated than the adults.

Jean Urquhart (MSP Highlands and Islands and Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party group on Poland) spoke of the importance of seeing Poles not ‘apart’ as in the title of the event, but as a part of Scotland and Scottish communities, saying that this had been her motivation in establishing the CPG. The purpose of the CPG was to explore integration, and Jean pointed out that there are Poles in every part of her Highlands and Islands constituency (which covers 42% of the Scottish landmass). This migration can be set in historical context of 60,000 Scots emigrating to Poland in the 1800s, so ‘now it is just the Poles turn to come here’. ‘Scots have emigrated to all parts of the world. So why would we be surprised when people come here?’ The issue of negative media representations needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, she pointed out.

There are subgroups of the CPG working on Education, Culture and Business and one key area of their work at the moment is getting Polish language qualifications recognised and integrated into the Scottish education system. This is about promoting a two-way model of integration with opportunities for Scottish children to learn Polish as well as vice versa. In the Polish Saturday schools which seek to preserve Polish culture and language there are also linkages with groups seeking to preserve Scottish culture through dance and music. As families are settling or staying longer, work on/with Polish children in schools is beginning to raise the question ‘who is Polish’, given that there are children born into Scottish-Polish families; children born here to Polish parents; children whose families may have spent time here, then gone back to Poland, then come back again.

Dr Paulina Trevena spoke about Poles and the Scottish Independence referendum, which provoked a marked increase in interest in and engagement with politics amongst the Polish diaspora, despite its tradition of political disengagement. About 85% declared their intention to vote in pre-referendum surveys, with those who didn’t intend to vote often citing a feeling that they had no right to interfere in Scottish history in this way.

Freedom and independence are political issues that resonate strongly with Polish people and Poland’s experiences and were linked to decisions about voting both yes and no. Those who stated their intentions to vote ‘yes’ often referred to a shared longing for freedom between both Poles and Scots; a confidence in Scotland’s natural resources and its potential for independent economic success; a conviction that local democracy is better than more centralised systems; a wish to be more distanced from the negative discourses on migration in the South and to be ‘safe from Cameron trying to kick us out’. On the other hand those planning to vote ‘no’ referred to the uncertainties of independence and fears about economic instability; the risk of an independent Scotland not being an automatic member of the EU and what that might mean for the status of EU migrants; the potential for a domino effect within Europe with Scotland being followed by the Basque country, Catalonia and – in the Polish case – even Silesia; the risks involved in becoming a small, peripheral and potentially internationally insignificant country. Most said that regardless of the outcome of the referendum they intended to stay in Scotland, although some feared this might not be possible. The referendum seems to have revealed a political potential within the Polish diaspora and reaching out to and activating this could be a way of overcoming isolation within that community, especially amongst the most disenfranchised.

Martin Stepek gave a short, but impassioned speech about Polish business and SME development in Scotland. He emphasised that going into business does not have to be about greed or being a ‘nasty big capitalist’ and that 99% of businesses in Scotland have less than 60 employees. For migrants setting up a business is about a way of ensuring survival through a strong work ethic and a bit of luck. He pointed out that not everyone who works hard will succeed, and that starting a business is also a big risk. 95% of business start ups fail in the first 5 years. But if you are successful then business can bring you a kind of independence and freedom that is hard to find elsewhere. And family businesses can create a kind of community within a community within the workplace. This is very valuable as it offers warmth and camaraderie, however, SMEs are often forms of fairly precarious self-employment with business owners earning the minimum wage or just above.

Magda Czarnecka introduced us to Feniks Support Services and its work. Established in 2007, Feniks (meaning Phoenix in Polish) provides psychological support and services to Polish migrants in Scotland, mostly in Edinburgh. As well as professional counselling services they offer a range of community-based services for example mother and toddler groups and a language café.

Barriers to integration experienced by Polish migrants include language and difficulties learning English, self-stigma and an inferiority complex linked to ‘being a migrant’, social isolation which magnifies social and psychological problems such as depression, addictions, domestic violence, suicide etc. (Suicide rates in Scotland generally are 15/100,000, in Poland 17.5/100,000 amongst Polish migrants in Scotland 20/100,000). Feniks is working to try and improve the ability of support services to respond to the needs of migrants. They are offering training to Scottish mainstream services and professionals on how better to respond to the needs of Polish/CEE migrants. They are trying to develop community champions, through a programme to train those in key community roles (shop keepers, hairdressers etc) in suicide prevention techniques

Marta Trzebiatowska spoke about her research on ‘Easyjet priests’ and the relationship between Polish migrants and the Catholic Church in Aberdeen. This was part of a wider project on ‘Polish parishioners and Polish priests in the UK and Ireland: Identifying Problems and Possibilities’, which found that Polish migration was a ‘mixed blessing’ for the Catholic Church in Britain. On the one hand it promised to ‘import’ a ready-made congregation to revitalise parishes. On the other hand there were fears of a take-over and clashes between ways of practicing Catholicism.

The presentations were followed by a lively question and answer session, followed by the singing of the Polish-Scottish choir.

The next event in the series, which will be held in the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, Glasgow, on 18 December at 5pm, will look at the topic of Transnational Biographies. Follow this link to register.

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