CREATIVE Hannah Garrard

NWR Issue 112

No Situation is Permanent

1. Those Who Live in Such Harmony Must Be Happy

Buduburam Refugee Camp, Ghana, 2006

Buduburam returns to me in a series of images, scents and sounds: the one- storey buildings as daubs of colour in varying states of decay; the Liberian women in fishtail skirts showing off high heels that kick up red dust as they walk. Tailors selling cloth on the market folded into bright wads piled high on their heads. I loved their audacious prints and pleasing geometric patterns. A twist of spirals turned out to be desk fans when you looked closely, and what I thought were commas were the eyes of clothes pegs.

The open sewers on Buduburam released a hot, sweet stench that was both foul and familiar. The fufu – a steaming dough – smelled earthy and sour. The man who sold groundnut oil swung past my front door each morning and called out, ‘Reeeeeeed oil!’ in a long, nasal greeting. When the electricity cut, a thousand voices booed in unison across the camp, and cheered when the generator kicked in and the lights restored. Behind the mosquito gauze on the windows, families made silhouettes in front of the TV, everyone fixated on some African soap opera or a football match. I watched them watching, on my night walks through the camp.

Ten years after Jean Genet stayed in a Palestinian refugee camp – Baqa, in Jordan – he wrote Prisoner of Love. It is in part a collage of images that hardened in his mind over the decade between leaving the camp and writing about it. His book tells the story of the Palestinian revolt. Its narrative is loose and unwieldy, the narrator hard to pin down. At the beginning, Genet talks about a place, both foreign and perilous, having a surface that seduces the outsider:

The fact that the tents were of many colours, because of the patches, made them pleasing to look at, especially to a Western observer. If they looked at them from far enough away on a misty day, people thought the camps must be happy places because of the way the colours seemed to match: those who lived in such harmony must be happy.

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Hannah Garrard grew up in Suffolk and now lives in Norwich, where she studied for a BA in Literature in 2005. She has worked as a teacher in West Africa and South Korea, returning to UEA in 2013 to study for an MA in Biography and Creative Nonfiction. She currently works for a young persons’ charity and writes for journals, anthologies and news sites. Her writing has been published online and in print in places such as Newfound, Going Down Swinging and Words and Women. In 2015 Hannah won the Flipside New Writing Prize for an essay about dementia and our connections to the places we live. This summer, Hannah’s long-form essay, ‘No Situation is Permanent’, from which this is an extract, was highly commended in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2016 University of South Wales Prize for Travel Writing, run by ourselves. Our ten-minute showcase of highly commended entries, featuring 'No Situation is Permanent', with author presentation and reading, can be viewed at Multimedia.


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