migrantvoice
Speaking for Ourselves

Amna, a cosmopolitan poet

Amna, a cosmopolitan poet

Anna Marsden

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Amna, a cosmopolitan poet

Amna Mahmoud, a cosmopolitan woman who was born in Sudan, wrote in her book: “I am concerned that the culture in some parts of the world were undermined until they were re-discovered by the influential nations, then the same practices become highly appreciated, fashionable, glorified and accepted as the norm.”

Amna studied medicine and specialized while in Russia. She lived in different countries and worked in many places including international organisations, before moving to the UK more than twenty years ago.

Here she worked as a policy officer in regional government, managed a charity centre in London and was then appointed as an assistant service manager across two of the city’s boroughs. She also worked as a coordinator for a charity that supports migrants and refugees.

Amna was a writer and a poet since she was a schoolgirl but never published her work. Five years ago she decided to join a writers’ group and in 2017 she published her first book in English, “The Roots that Gave Birth to Magical Blossoms” (TSL Publications).

Initially she just wanted to test her ability to write in English and did not think about writing a book, but she was encouraged by the group.

“I felt valorised by these people,” she says. “They gave me the confidence, the perseverance to go on. Without this group my book would not be here. For twenty years or more I didn’t write anything, now I have this!

“Initially I was terrified and when we did exercises in the group, writing on some assigned topic, I was so surprised I was able to do it. I did so many changes to the book to make sure it is relevant. My friends and my publisher also strongly supported me.”

Amna’s book is a collection of short stories, or “reflections” as she prefers to call them, on “human suffering in the global world”. All of them are inspired by real people, but only one refers to a specific person: Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, Amna’s aunt.

It is just one short page that commemorates this great Sudanese feminist and political activist, who was the first woman to be elected as a member of parliament in Sudan (in 1965) after participating in a democratic movement that removed military rule.

Fatima co-founded, and later became the president, of the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU), successfully fought for women rights (on education, the right to vote and to work in any field with equal pay, maternity leave, pensions, etc.), was persecuted and imprisoned several times but never stopped standing up for her beliefs.

In 1990 she sought asylum in the UK, where she started a London branch of the SWU, and was elected president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation. In 1993 she received a UN award for outstanding achievements in the field of human rights, and the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2006.

Amna also reminds us about Fatima’s husband, the trade union leader Al-Shafi Ahmed al-Sheikh, who was tortured and executed in 1971, and says of Fatima that her “great legacy for the women of the world and vulnerable people of the earth” will be carried on by her children and grandchildren “like the magical blossoms that keep the roots alive”.

Her book is part of this commitment. All her stories are about adversities, injustice and prejudices that people face in their lives somewhere in the world. Most of the stories are not located in a specific country – Amna avoids mentioning where her characters are, or uses expressions such as “a small village in the heart of Africa” or “a village somewhere in the bleeding heart of the world.” And when her characters move to Europe to escape from war the reader does not know which country they have fled to.

Amna thinks that the place is not important. She takes everything from a global point of view, believing that problems are the same everywhere but present themselves in different ways. Women, and everybody who is “different”, face discrimination all over the world, and fighting for equality and justice has always been a mission for Amna’s transnational family.

“All the members of my family, who are spread over many different countries have always stood against injustice since they were very young,” says Amna. “What unites us is our humanity, principles, selflessness, courage, honesty and passion. Everybody deserves to be happy, to live, to learn, have freedom of religion. For me it is all about humanity, peace and helping one another.”

She believes that “it is your responsibility as an individual to help people. For example, if somebody needs help and support, we will provide it if we can, because this is how we grew up, this is what our religion, Islam, is about.”

One of the things that Amna most likes in the UK is the charity sector as it is very strong and helps people in many different ways. She worked and volunteered for a long time in the sector.

Nowadays she carries on her humanitarian mission through writing and invites others to tell their stories.

“People need opportunities and one of these is writing what you think without fear,” she says. “I really appreciate Migrant Voice because they are telling people’s stories. It’s all about people and their stories.”

Amna is currently preparing a new book that will be published in a few months’ time. It will be a second collection of short stories/reflections with the aim of showcasing different cultures and bringing them into the global arena.