Marjorie Lotfi Gill is a founder of The Belonging Project, a series of readings and workshops reflecting on the flight, journey and assimilation of refugees. She was Poet in Residence at Jupiter Artland from 2014 until 2016 and the 2015 Writer in Residence for Spring Fling and the Wigtown Book Festival. Marjorie was both Runner Up and Highly Commended in the 2016 Wigtown Poetry Competition and her poems have won other competitions, been published in a variety of journals and anthologies in the UK and US (including Acumen, Ambit, Gutter, Magma, Mslexia, The North, The Reader, Rattle and The Rialto) and been performed on BBC Radio 4.
A dangerous woman is one who questions the status quo, someone who unpicks our assumptions by either asking questions about them, or lives out those questions by not behaving in ways we expect.
I helped to found The Belonging Project (a series of workshops in schools, community projects, prisons and for the public) to question the assumption that we each have a unique set of experiences that sets us apart from others. As a part of The Belonging Project, participants write about and discuss their own experiences of journey, assimilation/starting anew and what they think it means to belong to a place or a group of people. Alongside this work, participants consider the stories and experiences of migrants and refugees, and what those experiences might have in common with their own.
School children in Dumfries, some of whom have never left the area, write about the journey of losing a grandparent or anticipate leaving home for the first time. Prison inmate learners reflect on how they’ve had to begin again when they arrived, with one learner adding that he isn’t considered a villager in the village where he was born because seven of eight of his great-grandparents aren’t buried in the cemetery. Other women participating in the project from Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, China, Thailand, Morocco and Libya have more traditional journey stories to tell, and similar questions about where it is (and when) they and their children will belong.
The stories that come out of these workshops often intersect: even if participants haven’t left Scotland, each has a story of journey, of beginning again, and questions about where she belongs. Through the project, participants realise how much they have in common with those they might have previously assumed were wholly different from themselves.
My Iranian paternal grandmother (pictured left) was also a quietly dangerous woman. When my father arrived back in Tehran in the 1970’s after spending years in the USA for work and education, he brought a wife and two small children with him. It would have been understandable if my devoutly Muslim grandmother had raised objections, particularly to the arrival of my blonde, American and Christian mother. Instead, she gave my mother a crucifix, saying “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something” (words I’ve used in my poem “Gift”); dangerous words from a quietly dangerous woman.
– my Muslim grandmother’s words when giving a crucifix to my Methodist mother in Tehran
It doesn’t matter that she’s blonde,
doesn’t know a single word of Farsi,
or how to taarof, always refuse first,
before accepting a gift.
what you believe is your own trouble;
not one of us understands all the words
of our mother tongue. Look at the eye,
my father told me, watch it speak.
as long as you are here, I will be shelter.
believe in something: your hands pressed
together, palm to palm, are my body folded
into the namaz; each of us maps ourselves
in the mirror, measures what we already know.