Imagine yourself in the life of a refugee
11 December 2013

Tresor Mpauni Invites us to Imagine.

Beautiful and haunting imagery electrified Trésor Nzengu Mpauni’s poem “Imagine,” during one afternoon performance in Dzaleka refugee camp. The poem, at first serene, gained momentum with such emotion and intensity that the ending was a powerful reminder not only of his struggle, but the struggles of refugees. 

This poem is a message: Trésor invites all people to imagine themselves in the life of a refugee. 

He said the poem came to him as he reflected on an interaction he had with an Malawi citizen in Lilongwe, who referred to Trésor as “maburundi,” a term used to refer to all refugees in Dzaleka who are all considered Burundian. Trésor decided to write “Imagine” in order for people to understand why individuals from all over Africa become refugees, and to change the perceptions others have of them.

“I’m trying to write and perform for change, I’m trying to change how locals perceive refugees”, Trésor said, who is a graduate of the Performing Arts course with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins (JC:HEM).

After graduating, he made contacts in the Lilongwe Poetry Society, eventually receiving the chance to perform French and English poetry at City of Stars, one of Lilongwe’s most significant cultural events.

“I was delighted to perform at (City of Stars), I was very alive, and I felt like I was at home on stage”, he said.

Performing with such energy and enthusiasm, he entices his entire audience as he recites his lines. His hands, his feet, his whole body are a part of his performance; it’s difficult to let one’s mind wander when watching Trésor. 

He feels poetry is meant to inspire change, especially with the perceptions refugees have of themselves. 

“(Poetry) is the power to tell other refugees that being a refugee is not itself a barrier. We can be famous, we can succeed in whatever activities we do, we can be seen.”

Trésor came to Dzaleka from the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to escape conflict and threats that had become common for him. He left his life as a rapper and journalist after writing a poem criticising the government. He started receiving death threats and his fellow journalists began disappearing. When he entered the Dzaleka refugee camp in 2008 -- after traveling 2000 kilometres by public transportation -- his university degree, his press credentials and his life’s achievements were all but worthless. He had to start over. 

Trésor stopped writing poetry when he arrived in Malawi, because he thought no one would listen. 

“I stopped writing and doing anything artistic because there was no motivation. Even if I perform, no one would come. I was very depressed, very traumatised”, he said.

He explained that those are the moments he turns to God, and sometimes faith can be all a refugee has. Faith brings certainty to an uncertain situation. 

“The biggest thing that makes me feel alive in the camp is my faith. It’s like a torch, giving me light wherever I go.”

Whether performing in English or French, Trésor believes God allows his audience to feel the message of his poems. He feels that poetry gives him a voice, as well as a voice for the voiceless, and tries to write poems that reflect what refugees have to say.

 “Sometimes people come to me and said ‘you have changed our way of thinking.’ I am very happy for that,” he said.

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Patrick Keaveny
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