Refugee poet’s work lives on
Maryam Daryos’ poems are a poignant rendering of the profound and contradictory senses of loss and hope that are at the heart of the refugee experience.
Her work is even more poignant in that it was published as the prize-winning entry of an international poetry competition after her death – which came shortly after she gave birth to her first child.
Maryam’s poems live on as a legacy for her family and also as a reminder of the growing refugee and human displacement crisis across the globe; and they present an intensely human and microcosmic representation of war, displacement and physical and emotional trauma.
Her book ‘Souls Covered With Ash’ contains 22 poems that viscerally describe the experience of seeing one’s family, friends and homeland ripped apart by conflict. But the poems also convey hope and a sense of resilience that transcends the dire news reports and statistics that have characterised the recent wars in Iraq and other parts of the globe.
Maryam’s husband Waad Japrita and son Toma arrived in Australia in January 2020. The family fled their home in Mosul in 2016 when ISIS invaded the area in northern Iraq.
As Christians they faced being targeted not just by ISIS but also by newly emboldened Islamic militant groups.
As ISIS swept through northern Iraq, they killed or kidnapped Christians, forcing them to convert to Islam. Villages and churches were burned down.
In the face of this, the family fled to Jordan and applied to come to Australia as refugees.
Life become more difficult and untenable in Jordan as they were unable to work and had little support so reluctantly they returned to Iraq in 2018.
Maryam became pregnant with Toma. The pregnancy and birth put pressure on her already weak heart, which had a hole in it.
After the birth, Maryam’s heart condition continued to deteriorate. Ten months after Toma’s birth she went into surgery and died 12 hours later.
Waad was devastated but had to carry on for the sake of his new-born son.
He was finally granted a visa to come to Australia in 2020 and was settled in WA, coming to Melbourne three months ago to be with his mother, who had arrived in Australia earlier.
Waad said that his wife worked as an English teacher in Iraq.
“She studied a Diploma of Education in English and did other English courses because of her passion for the language and poetry,” Waad said.
“She took part in many competitions and she won first prize in a competition run by a Swedish aid organisation with her book. Part of the prize was to have her book published but sadly, it was not published until after she passed away.
“My wife’s dream was to leave behind the problems in Iraq and come to an English-speaking country like Australia to continue with her passion for English and poetry and to give her son a better life.
“I am trying to live her dream for her and to give Toma a better life just like she dreamed,” he said.
Waad also has an artistic background. He completed a Diploma in Art in 2009 and worked as an actor, performer and photographer in Iraq.
He is now studying English and caring for Toma while living with his mother in Melbourne’s north.
“I hope to be able to resume my artistic life here in Australia and work in the arts,” he said.
But life is good here for us. We are grateful to Australia. We are safe and Toma has a bright future ahead of him. He can do anything he wants. That would not be possible in Iraq,” Waad said.
But Waad said that one day he hoped to take Toma back to Iraq so he could see his mother’s last resting place.
“When it is safe, I will take Toma back to his mother,” he said.
In the preface of Maryam’s book, she wrote:
“Thank you for picking up this book. Let me just start with a fair warning: reading it may cause you some discomfort.
Life is not always easy for a Christian in Iraq. For me poetry is a way to let these sorrows escape my heart. Writing helps me to sort things out, to prevent anxiety and stress from taking the upper hand. Formulating my troubled feelings gives me hope.
My name is Maryam Daryos. I teach English and Art and picked up writing poems in 2009 when I studied to be a teacher in Mosul, the city I grew up in. I used to have my own room for writing. I’d light candles to create the perfect creative atmosphere.
In 2014, IS came, and like all Christians, we had to run for our lives. We lost a lot, but I kept writing. My poems have become more sombre since then. I try to remain hopeful, but hopelessness is always just around the corner.
However, when I look up to the sky I always know there is hope because then I think about Jesus, who has been there for me and has given me His grace all the way.
As I’m writing this, I’m pregnant. My husband and I are expecting our firstborn child. Where will this child grow up?
Will there be a future for us in Iraq? New hope is growing within me and at the same time new uncertainty is added to our lives. That’s how life is when living in Iraq.
My wish is that these poems will give you an insight into the suffering of Iraqi Christians. I hope they will help make the world aware of those who have no voice. And that, by sharing my sorrows and hope, I can be an example for the hopeless—don’t give up, keep loving, and when in doubt, look up to the sky!
I would like to thank God for enabling me to serve Him with my pen, my wonderful husband for believing in me and giving me the strength to carry on, and my family and friends for their love and support.
Among her poems are:
‘No place for me I see
No home to be
Lost every heart beat inside
Even my fake smile has died
Trying to cry
Finding a reason to know why
Oh misery won’t you leave me
No hope before my eyes I see
Running around the road of life
To gain some time to stay alive
Wishing a thing from all your heart
Keeps your dreams from being apart.’
Sadness no more…
In this life
People laugh & cry
They never stop asking why
Wishing always to die
Looking for love
Looking for hope
In a world filled with misery
Tears oh tears
How can I fight you
Happiness tell me where are you
I don’t want to cry anymore
I just want to find a shore
Sadness no more, sadness no more.
See a video of Maryam here: Open Doors Sverige – Påsken i Irak: Ensamhet | Facebook