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Hand Washing Story of a Refugee Family by Salimah Valiani

Salimah Valiani | Mar 29th, 2020 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Poem

Hand Washing Story of a Refugee Family

what happens when you go
to your maami* dying
in a faraway hospital?

you learn the 7 steps
of washing hands:

rinse to lift
the dirt inlaid
(the wrong you did her
not visiting when she was healthy)

lather on soap
soak up the guilt

rub the fingers between each other
palm-to-palm
(reconnect with long lost cousin brothers and sisters
your maami’s daughter and sons)

flip one hand over
rub fingers through fingers again
palm to back of hand
(meet your nieces and nephews
maami’s children’s children)

circle each palm
with fingertips of other hand
(ask your maami questions
that can undo historic tensions)

rub each thumb
inside wrapped fingers
of the other hand

think of how not to repeat this

rinse and dry
say goodbye
fly away
So long/Wereba.**

*Gujarati and Kachhi word meaning wife of mother’s brother.
**Goodbye in Luganda.

Poet Bio

Salimah Valiani is a poet, activist and researcher based in Johannesburg. She has published four collections of poetry: breathing for breadth (TSAR, 2005); Letter Out: Letter In (Inanna, 2009); land of the sky (Inanna, 2016); Cradles (Daraja, 2017).

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