Rania, I remember seeing you and your fellow artists in the very first performance of Bukjeh at the Immigration Museum. I understand that the show has been developed since and performed at various venues and festivals. A ‘bukjeh’ is a bag or sack that a refugee carries throughout their journey, containing all of their belongings that can be carried. What was in your bukjeh?
My memories mostly. I was an 11-year-old at the time that I arrived in Australia. I couldn’t bring my cabbage patch doll, but I would have loved to. I brought as many of the objects and treasured possessions that inhabited my 11-year-old world as I could.
What was it like for you at that age, arriving in a new place?
It was a shock! I was astonished at how quiet it was here. Back then, all the stores closed at 5pm and on weekends. In Egypt, everything was open until midnight, so you would hear cars beeping late into the night and constant human activity. Most people lived in flats and you could hear the sounds and conversations of your neighbours. If you opened the window, you could hear a couple’s argument. I would open the window the next day to hear the sequel to the argument from the day before.
Like watching a soap opera or a radio play?
I used to call it Streets FM – you learn a lot!
What did you see and hear and learn?
I often heard women manipulating their men, actually! Egyptian women are very smart about getting what they want. I used to say that I was never going to get married.
What were your first impression of the new language and the landscape you found yourself in?
It was greener. The shapes of the leaves were different. Here the leaves were long, not wide. In Egypt we had a lot of palm trees, mulberry and fruit trees. It really was desert and the trees were largely not native. Many of the tree trunks in Australia were smooth and grey, not brown with thick bark. I had never see
Through the magic of technology and electronic communication, I was honoured to delve into the thoughts of Natalie Jeffreys.
Natalie is a singer-songwriter, composer, and spoken word poet based in Melbourne. Her music and poetry explores the intersection of faith, beauty, mental health, playful storytelling, and comedy. She is the creative mind behind Puddledog Productions, a business where she creates customized songs as personalized gifts
There are poets and then there are people that are a poem in human form and Natalie is one of the latter.
Firstly I just need to say when I heard you had won the 2018 MSW prize, my heart was full of such warmth and joy. How did winning that esteemed accolade make you feel?
Thank you so much! I felt overwhelmed by imposters syndrome. When you are asked to compete against 29 other poets, let alone 29 of the best poets in Melbourne, winning feels like an incredible honour, but also arbitrary. I kept thinking, and actually explaining to those who congratulated me, that if it was any other night, it could have gone any other way. My beautiful friend, and one of my favourite poets, Farah Beaini was extremely ill that night, and performed regardless. I still think that if she didn’t have to focus on staying vertical as she performed, she could have put me to shame. However, I did win, and it forced me to acknowledge that there may be worth to my words (she says through clenched teeth).
The piece that won you that prize – The Purity of Sadness – is a such a beautifully raw and genuine piece. Did you write it specifically for the prize?
It had been brewing for a while. I had been struggling with the connection between my anxiety disorder and PMS for a while and it felt like I couldn’t catch a break in terms of actually validating my emotions. If I was sad, my first thought is “where am I in my cycle”, and then “it’s just