I come from Returning

Natoka Kurudi

أنا قادم من العودة

Cover Illustration by Mosab Zkaria
Layout and Design by Ender

Editor’s Note

“I come from dirt & to dirt. I shall return. Which is to say, every step i take is an ode to a finite feeling, a reminder to humble my spine & memorize the way back. The universe does not owe us anything not even an answer to where I come from.

I come from every possible crack I manage to call home.

I come from returning.

I come from a people first before I ever come from a country.” – Daad Sharfi

Sharfi’s words are an apt reflection of Sawti’s work in 2019. In working with artists in Khartoum (Sudan), Dar es Salaam/Zanzibar (Tanzania) and London (UK) we navigated conversations resembling the above. Focusing less on the typical and complex question of ‘Where are you from?’ to ‘Who/What do you return to?’. We used Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Series in our workshops to explore and share memories of who or what exists when sharing a meal or sharing conflict or comfort? Despite the many languages we operated in these workshops (Kiswahili, Arabic or English) memory transcended through references of a familiar sound or smell. Be it Haboaba’s voice, or the renowned chipsi mayai, or a sea horn signalling a ship approaching, or the adhan or a gang of them simultaneously going off at different speeds. The question of ‘Who do we return to when visiting a ‘home’?’ often coupled with ‘Who do we leave behind when creating one elsewhere?’. Re-location, not solely in the context of the diaspora but also from rural to urban, from where your language/dialect is a majority to forming new bonds with new vocabulary that often still feels insufficient – these are the voices we champion.

What does it mean to always find yourself returning to and chasing a feeling? In workshopping Mwana Kupona’s advice to her daughter, we thought about the وصية

/legacy/urithi we’d like to leave behind for the people we come from. This zine is a culmination of poems, illustrations, letters and photographs that delve into this in different ways. One in particular is the Dear Azza series created by Khalda El Jack online. Khalda shares that Dear Azza was created “during the 2018/2019 Sudanese Uprising to offer a platform to document our/his[her] story in all our languages, not only through a recorded timeline of events, but as a timeline of emotions. A timeline of words felt but not spoken.”

Throughout this zine, you will find poems in Kiswahili, Arabic and English, some originating from our workshops in the Summer of 2019, others from our online open call to illustrators, writers and photographers on the continent and in the diaspora. It also includes the winning and judges’ poems from Sawti’s multi-lingual Poetry Prize. In addition to Dear Azza, poems from the esteemed Haji Gora Haji, as well as an interview with the well versed and inspiring writer and founder of Asmara-Addis literary festival in Exile festival, Sulaiman Addonia.

This zine is a culmination of the first year of this project, so do visit our website to experience online exclusives to the digital zine such as some of the above in audio!

“To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing.”

– Linda Gregg, The Art of Finding

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Sumia Jaama is a Dutch born Somali poet raised in London. Educator and winner of FourHubs’ 2018 Poetry Prize she is the founder and programmer of SAWTI (an East African literature project). She is also a Barbican Young Poet Alumni, member of Octavia Poetry Collective and a recent graduate of the Creative Writing and Education MA at Goldsmith, University of London. She often writes about movement and the constant process of leaving. Her work has most recently been published in Filigree: Contemporary Black British Poetry and has been commissioned by Royal Academy of Arts and Keats House Museum.

sawti poetry prize winning poems

by Ngollo
self portrait as a lost language
by Alycia
نحنُ و صورةُ الطاغية
by Basheer



Self Portrait as a Lost Language – Alycia Pirmohamed
أمنيةٌ أخيرة لمـغـنٍّ حزين Basheer Abusin/ب.أبوسن
Bahari – Ngollo Mlengeya
Taarab – Sabra Ali Amrani
Sauti Yangu – Neema Komba

All Content


We have a lot of people to thank in supporting Sawti thus far. Thank you to our founder Sumia who persisted and fought for the project to get this far. To our funders at the British Council, particularly the East Africa Art’s team, Millicent, Aziza, Mohamed and Matt for all your support. To Amaal for joining our founder in Tanzania to facilitate the workshops and capturing beautiful shots. To Rehema and Sofiya for all their support in maintaining the life of this project with Sumia. To Mugi and Rehema for creating all our visuals including designing this zine and our beautiful online home (website). Thank you to our partners who hosted our workshops and events, Roundhouse, SOMA, NAFASI, DARCH, DCMA, Bush Theatre, British Council’s Sudan office, Autograph ABP, the muse.sd and all the amazing bodies there! Thank you to Amina for inviting us to co-programme ‘DUR DUR + special guest’ night during Somailinimo’s run at Roundhouse and to all those who came out to celebrate that. To each and every artist that supported and shared their work with us. From those who came out to our workshops, submitted to the Poetry Prize or responded to our call-out. To our friends, Amina, Ola, Lee, Nimat, Jacob, Faduma for keeping the faith. Thank you to all of you who engaged with us online or in person. Thank you to every artist in this zine for entrusting us with your work, may you be proud. Above all, gratitude to the Most-High for making this possible, for the strength and power to see this through. Here’s to all the artists and elders that came before us and inspired this.

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