Refugee Boy – A Review

March 26, 2014


Refugee Boy By Alpha Abebe

As I stood in line ready to enter the Oxford Playhouse, I overheard the conversation between the staff person collecting tickets and a father and daughter who stood before me in the line. She warned the father that she was advising all guests with children that the play included strong language and difficult situations. Undeterred by the warning, the man smiled politely, lovingly put his hand on the shoulder of his adolescent daughter and proudly proclaimed, “That’s alright, she read the book. And she’s lived in Africa before, she’s seen real refugees”.

Refugee Boy is a theatre production based on the teen novel written by Benjamin Zephaniah and adapted for the stage by Lemn Sissay. The story follows Alem Kelo, a fourteen-year-old boy of Ethiopian and Eritrean descent who is seeking asylum in England. Before coming to England, Alem and his parents were forced to move…

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An event to explore and display the role of the arts in understanding, expressing and experiencing diaspora

I am part of team at Oxford Diasporas Programme organizing an event exploring diasporas through the arts. Please note that we are accepting artist submissions until July 31, 2014, and the event will be held at The Old Fire Station in Oxford on November 1, 2014.

The arts have served as a platform for the creation, expression, and negotiation of diasporic experiences across generations and geographies. The term ‘diaspora’ emerges from the literary world, and many of the key thinkers in diaspora studies have looked to the arts as a source of inspiration, insight and information. In fact, artistic mediums of expression are often flexible enough to engage with and articulate the complexity and fluidity of diasporic experiences.

Exploring Diaspora through the Arts, supported by the Oxford Diasporas Programme and hosted by The Old Fire Station, aims to bring together artists, scholars, students and the general public to explore aesthetic manifestations and representations of diasporas, and reflect on what the arts contribute to diaspora studies.

Call for Artists
Submissions are sought which shed light on a range of perspectives on, and diverse experiences of, diasporas across the globe. Read the rest of this entry »

“To live ‘elsewhere’ means to continually find yourself involved in a conversation in which different identities are recognized, exchanged, and mixed, but do not vanish. […] Our sense of belonging, our language, and the myths we carry in us remain, but no longer as ‘origins’ or signs of ‘authenticity’ capable of guaranteeing the sense of our lives. They now linger on as traces, voices, and memories that are mixed in with the other encounters, histories, episodes, experiences.” 

— Ian Chambers (1994) Migrancy, Culture, Identity.

My graduate studies have been dedicated to the deconstruction of cultural identity and the understanding of its mechanics. Nations are ‘imagined communities’, borders are a political construct, identities a product of socialisation. I know these things. But I also know that my life has been organised and shaped by my connection to and relationships with Ethiopia, despite the fact that I’ve only ever vacationed there. It’s the quintessential diasporic story.

This photo essay includes a selection of images I took in Ethiopia while travelling there for my doctoral fieldwork in 2013. This was not part of any data collection, but rather, the moments and encounters in between. They were the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes I knew I would want to remember when I left.

This photo essay is published on the Oxford Diasporas Programme website. To view it, please click here.

Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall, 1998

Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall, 1998

Stuart Hall was my mentor. He just never knew it, because I never had the privilege of meeting him. However, I don’t think its hyperbole to suggest that I am on my particular career path because I encountered his ideas. I remember my first time reading one of Hall’s essays – a wide-eyed undergraduate student frantically highlighting what must have been every other sentence. Hall had a way of plucking all of my strings at once. He was witty, honest, edgy, and compassionate. He was brilliant. Now, my opinion on the matter means very little, countless people far more accomplished and relevant than I have made this same observation. But today, after hearing of Stuart Hall’s passing, I feel compelled to join others in paying tribute to one of the greatest thinkers of our time.

I have tried on several occasions to ‘serendipitously’ be in the same room as Hall. When I was a Master’s student in Toronto, I sent a fruitless email to a professor who knew him, asking if he would introduce me to Hall over email. After moving to the UK for school, I got in the habit of Google-ing his name every few months to see if there was some seminar or event that he was attending where I might casually swing by. I’m not sure what I would have said had I been successful in meeting him. Probably just, ‘thank you’. Hall’s contributions and accomplishments were many (see his obituary here). He essentially founded and incubated the field of Cultural Studies, brilliantly deconstructed British conservative ideology, and pushed the boundaries of contemporary conceptualization of Blackness. I think Professor Jeremy Gilbert put it best in his recent tribute: “Hall seemed to talk literally the least shit of anyone I had ever come across in any medium.”

On a personal level, Hall convinced me that I had ideas worth sharing to the academic community. He taught me that my musings on culture and identity were more than ‘fluff’. He demonstrated how to draw serious social and political conclusions from the experiences of people others couldn’t be bothered to think about, let alone theorize. Read the rest of this entry »


Anger is good. It is often the catalyst and fuel needed for change. Even the Bible says, “In your anger do not sin” (Psalm 4:4), suggesting that it is not anger itself but some byproduct of it which is to be avoided. One might even go as far as to say you need anger at the centre of any social justice effort, lest you find yourself complicity maintaining the status quo.

Many of us are involved in some social change effort – be it through community service, academic pursuit, political initiative, business venture, or philanthropic gesture. Often, it was a disturbing encounter with injustice or inequity which drew us to this cause to begin with; whether we experienced it personally, witnessed it around us, or learned of it on a screen or in a book. For those of us who would aspire to a life dedicated to advocacy and activism, this feeling of distress and resentment can become all too familiar, and if we’re not careful, it can quickly become our default setting. After all, how is one to live happily as if the world were not filled with pain, evil and greed?

I believe there is a point where these feelings become counter-productive in the pursuit of a better world. What is the point of fighting the good fight if we begin to embody the very things we seek to redeem others from? Read the rest of this entry »