I went back to my country by Enoh Meyomesse

I could not ask the Cameroonian poet and historian, Enoh Meyomesse for permission to publish his poem “I Went Back to My Country”, because he is in jail in Cameroon. But I know he would have said yes.

Today, I saw a tweet from the African Poetry Book fund saying to read Enoh’s collection Jail Poems, which have just been translated into English and published by English PEN. You can download the book here, and donate your chosen amount (recommended is £5); all proceeds will go to English PEN’s work in supporting Enoh Meyomesse and other writers at risk around the world. They have said that the collection “has a collective commons license, and dissemination of the poems is actively encouraged.”

free-enohAs the poem shows, many refugees or those forced to leave their country for whatever reason, want to go back home, and Enoh was no different. “I went back to my country/with my soul/hosting a thousand/dreams of freedom.” So Enoh left France, despite “the warnings/of thousands //stay-here /you’re-no-longer-from-there /your tongue-has-not-tasted/the-dishes-from-there-for-years.” But the warnings were prescient and he was arrested. The poem is a plea to the Kamerun (the nationalist fighters and now rulers of the country). “When then will you cease/to crush without mercy/your most devoted children/is this the fruit of the fight for independence/that our ancestors tore from the hands of the Whites/is this the freedom that independence/carried in its gut.” He has been betrayed like the people of his country, of which he is hugely proud. “I went back to you/oh Kamerun/burning with desire/to see you tall/stronger than all.”

English PEN explains Enoh’s current situation:

english pen“Arrested in  November 2011, Enoh Meyomesse was detained for over a year before being  sentenced to seven years in prison for supposed complicity in the theft and  illegal sale of gold. These ongoing delays mean that Meyomesse has now been  behind bars for more than two years on what are widely believed to be trumped-up  charges. As a result of the numerous postponements and additional months in  prison, funds to cover Meyomesse’s legal fees and daily needs – including food,  medicine, family visits, and writing materials – are now  dwindling.”

Enoh Meyomesse, 57, is a writer, blogger, historian and political activist who has published more than 15 books of poetry, prose, essays, and works on political and cultural themes and is a founding member and president of the Cameroon Writers Association. His first book was a collection of poems. In 2010, he published Le massacre de Messa en 1955 (The Massacre of Messa in 1955) and the tract Discours sur le tribalisme (A Discussion on Tribalism), in which he discusses the destructive effects of tribalism in Africa politics.

 

I Went Back To My Country

I went back to my country
with my soul
hosting a thousand
dreams of freedom

I went back to you
oh Kamerun
burning with desire
to see you tall
stronger than all

I went back to your banks
braving the warnings
of thousands

stay-here
you’re-no-longer-from-there
your tongue-has-not-tasted
the-dishes-from-there-for-years
you-built-a-life-here
you-built-your-life-here
stay-here
you’re-no-longer-from-there
oh! blah-blah-blah-blah

I went back to your shores
oh beloved land

And
HERE I AM

when then will you cease
to crush without mercy
your most devoted children

heavy of spirit
heavy of heart
I left Paris
I left Rouen
I left Lyon
I left Strasbourg
my beloved town
where I became a man

French
you’re right to say French
my darling
like you
oh! not for a moment
does Kamerun need me

I went back to your shores
oh beloved country
cursing it all

when then will you cease
to crush without mercy
your most devoted children

is this the fruit of the fight for independence
that our ancestors tore from the hands of the Whites
is this the freedom that independence
carried in its gut
is this the dignity that independence
was supposed to return to your people
oh Kamerun

when then will you cease
to crush without mercy
your most valiant children

I went back to my country
with my soul
hosting a thousand
dreams of freedom

I went back to you
oh Kamerun
burning with desire
to see you tall
stronger than all

Translated by Katerina Thomas

Translator’s note: The spelling ‘Kamerun’, employed by the poet in the original French, is now rarely used when referring to the country – spelled ‘Cameroon’ in English or ‘Cameroun’ in French. In Meyomesse’s writing, the word ‘Kamerun’ refers to the nationalists who waged a lost war of independence between 1945 and 1971 to free the country from French colonialism. It is at the advice of the leader of the UPC, the nationalist party Ruben Um Nyobe, that Cameroonians from the Left write ‘Kamerun’. It stands for a Cameroon that goes beyond its limitations and definitions by the French.

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