“I found my voice through poetry”: Six poems from placement

Anisa Nur volunteered with Restless Development in South Africa on the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme. While on placement she reflected on her experiences through poem and in this post she shares six of her writings with us.

In my time with Restless, I found my voice through writing poetry about my time on placement. It was undeniably difficult to distil three months of challenging and tempestuous experiences into poem. Yet I could not forget that with these eyes I saw, with these hands I did, with my heart I felt.

I knew the trials that the people I helped had to live through and I considered it my responsibility to provide others with an insight into this unreal reality. As part of my personal development I was able to perform my poetry for the first time in front of my peers. I’m glad I did it, and I’m thankful to Restless for giving me a platform to continue this passion of mine.

Click the titles to reveal the full poem and a short explainer of its orgins.

Not My Language
I spoke with the host brother who sent his children away to learn at ‘better’ schools that taught English. This meant they had to move away from home for months at a time. That made me think of how speaking English was more valuable than their mother tongue and the colonial aspects.

English is the currency you need to excel here,

Matter of fact just about anywhere.

You send your children miles away to learn a language that isn’t yours.

Your mother tongue and all its lullabies and idioms will be forgotten soon.

English is the currency you need to navigate here.

It’s the instructions on the condoms

And signs by the roadside.

It’s the textbooks you read and the exams you need.

English is the currency to survive.

It might not be your language,

But it is ours.

This Is The New South Africa
I met with a domestic abuse victim, she stated “This is the new South Africa” as a force for not living in that kind of situation and left the abuser. She was happy I wrote this poem for her.

You cannot put your hands on me

Blood has been spilt for decades

until it soaked in the sand

and the Earth only knew to accept

The bodies we filled it with.

This is the New South Africa

You will not silence my voice

Have you heard of freedom of speech?

My voice calls far above misty mountains and dust stained homes.

My voice rings and it reigns

Carrying the weight of those cries left unheard. We are many here who feel the change

These are times where small men like you are conquered.

This is the New South Africa

We are the people stepped on and defiled.

We are the people you came to rule.

We are coming. This is the n=New South Africa.

Your kind isn’t welcome here.

Black Hair
 This one didn’t affect me directly in South Africa but is a personal problem for me growing up with black hair in England, and so I wanted to write about what Pretoria High School was going through.

I use my hair as a way to beautify myself

I use my hair as a way to represent myself

I use my hair as a weapon

A way to defy eurocentric standards of beauty.

We have our own standards of beauty.

I use my hair as a political stance

My hair has battled policies, rules and guidelines

My hair cost people their livelihoods

The right to take up space and the ability to be heard.

My sisters who wear their lox, afros and bantu knots are regulated.

My sisters are advised to straighten their curls and weave their hair.

My sisters have had enough

Black hair has been policed

Has been joked about and has been stolen from us.

My hair is not a trend.

My hair on those with fairer skin is not more palatable

My hair is from my ancestors and my hair is mine alone.

Black hair has lasted generations who have tried to fit it into their neat colonial boxes.

Today I see little girls wear their hair naturally

Today I see carefree black girls you have tried to mock

My sisters your hair is yours.

Wear it how you want.  

 This is based on Women’s Day in South Africa.  Nayyirah Waheed said it best when she said freedom is more important than their anger.

My freedom is more important than their anger.

Are you listening this time?

Now it’s my turn for the anger, it’s my time to march.

Now is the time to wear my rage like a war cry I never learnt how to yell

But was stolen from me when they wouldn’t let me walk freely in a country that belonged to me.

I have cried more tears in the midst of a battle I won

Between a war I have yet to win.

I made sure I wore the kind of shoes that would never tire in the face of changing the world.

Are you aware?

My truth bares the same scorch marks as Mother Earth

And I Haven’t touched her soft grass

Or cradled her green riches

But you will find me in a watery grave

I can’t swim in.

I’m from the place where the horizon never touches the sky

And sunshine doesn’t reach over the walls you built to keep me out.

Do you know walls are meant to be broken down?

Look to Berlin and they’ll tell you.

No is going to make them angry,

No will make them snide.

No will make them hungry for your blood.

But no is a complete sentence.

So take my hand and cherish your skin colour,

Melanin as dark as the lacquered night sky

With the kind of kisses only the sun can bestow.

Because this is where we decide our fate

And borrow foretelling from God for a few moments.

And ask me again in rain calls if you have a right to be angry because I know you do.

I know we do.    

The Seasons of Abuse
 This is based on Gender Based Violence, which I worked on with young people in my time in South Africa.

The bruises on your skin change colours like the seasons,

Winter was last night for you;

It gave you a black eye, a purple arm and a blue cheek.

Last week was spring, it left you with red marks, a yellow hue covered your ribs.

Next week will be autumn and just like the trees turning red so will the cut on your lip.

Summer is coming in your home soon and so the bruises will fade to green.

Love holds your hand so loosely but your heart in an iron grip.

So clenched you have to ask for permission just to let it beat.

“I’m sorry.” love says when they throw you against the wall.

“I love you.” love says when they scratch and claw at you.

“You made me do this.” love says when they leave you bleeding on the floor.

The flowers they bring you bloom in your hands and soften the blows.

Time passes and flowers wither just like your hope.

Maybe if you cleaned the house better.

Provided more money.

Maybe if you gave them space and lathered your words in honey.

They wouldn’t shout at you, hurt you and humiliate you.

They wouldn’t brand your skin with scars, so deep they crisscross your organs.

There wouldn’t be bruises to show how much they love you.

And they do love you, right?

When you put someone else first you taught them you come second.

When they force you to your knees to beg for your life.

When they beat you

When they rape you

Please know love, real love doesn’t feel like this.

Because that kind of love won’t just bring pain.

That kind of love is hate. That kind of love will take you to your grave.

And every flower they gifted to you

Was in preparation for a funeral.


This was based on the amount of people I came across who had lost innocence or loved ones and turned to religion to cope with their grief.

Have you ever had loss like this?

Has it started from the soles of your feet

To the very end of a strand of hair?

Have you ever felt pain like this?

Does it puncture your lungs because people who know loss don’t breathe.

They gasp instead.

Always swimming away from the suffocating depression.

Have you ached like this?

The unnatural way a mother has to bury her child first,

And then again and again every time they re-live their death.

Have you ever bled like this?

Crossed your legs tightly,

Crossed your arms tighter

And crossed your chest with bowed head to say a silent prayer.

For God knows aches and he knows pain and above all

He knows loss.

This was based on the lack of sexual education and traditional values limiting teenagers.

There were no sex classes here

And so we created our own lessons

About what we thought sex was and all its bloody benefits.

We would shy away from elders

For fear of disrespecting those who clutched our innocence in their traditions.

It is ours only!

Those who held the power cursed the girls more than the boys

And our mothers felt for it.

We tried to remove shackled by educating ourselves

But found ropes- though lighter than chains

Still held us down.

There are no life lessons here

No talk of love lest we fall and take our families honour.

So they lay together unsure of what to do.

We’ve forever shaped and crafted this space; women

Who are they to reshape the shade,

The texture and colours of our rhythm and pace?

We are forced to be meek.

Now is the time to ready your pitch forks

There were no royalty classes here

But we are Queens and Queens conquer.

We reign, fight, and gather

We cry, roar and save.

Queen is how you may greet me.


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“I found my voice through poetry”: Six poems from placement

by wearerestless Reading time: 7 min