Today on Ujima: Flash Fiction, Autism, Somalia

Today’s show didn’t have a lot of me in it, and may well have been better for it as I was very tired and could have done better. Fortunately the biggest contribution I had was like falling off a log.

I started out by talking about a petition to save The Fleece, a very fine live music venue in Bristol, which is threatened with closure because some offices across the street are being converted into flats. If you are wondering what has gone wrong with Bristol’s planning laws, local MP Kerry McCarthy explains. Even if you don’t live in Bristol, this campaign is well worth supporting because something similar could affect any music venue in the UK.

The first guest was Bristol’s Mr. Flash Fiction, Kevlin Henney. It was fortuitous timing as Kevlin had recently won the Crimefest flash fiction contest, with a story riffing off The Bridge, which he read for us. We talked about all of the things we talked about at the BristolCon Fringe flash event, and Kevlin announced a couple of events that will be happening in Bristol for National Flash Fiction day on June 21st. Further details are available on the Bristol Flash Facebook page. He also read a second story, which was just beautiful.

The music for Kevlin was “Scorpio” by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five (not my favorite of theirs but I had trouble finding a track that was under 7 minutes and not full of banned words); plus “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix, which is about as short as a rock song gets without invoking Wire.

The second half hour was taken up with Jackie talking to some guests about mental health services in Bristol. I didn’t catch all of it, but it sounded really good. I left Jackie with “Within” by Daft Punk, which seemed appropriate. (Ingrid, Valentine, it is on the album Random Access Memories — glad you liked it.)

You can listen to the first hour here.

Next up we had Judeline talking to Ian and Matt, two fabulous guys who campaign for services for adults on the autism spectrum in Bristol. I had been quite nervous when Judeline suggested this as a topic because I know several autistic people, mainly online, and I know how much crap they get from the NHS and cure peddlers. I’m delighted to say that I was absolutely blown away by our two guests. Ian and Matt are not only devoting their lives to helping autistic people, they also have a huge amount of respect for the people they work with. Matt’s job is in part to go out and talk to businesses around the city, telling them what good employees autistic people make, and how easy it is to adjust your practices to help them fit in. (The rest of his job is less happy, and involves going to places like prisons teaching them how to treat autistic people fairly and respectfully.)

I must admit to feeling a bit frustrated and jealous listening to Ian and Matt talk. At around 1%, the proportion of autistic spectrum people in the general population is about the same as the proportion of gender variant people. Here we had two NHS people talking confidently about how autism is just a natural form of human variation that does not need “curing”, and indeed can’t be cured. Ian also mentioned how improved knowledge is allowing medical practitioners to spot symptoms early on in childhood, resulting in much better lives for autistic spectrum people. In contrast, what treatment there is for gender-variant people still tends to treat us as dangerous freaks who are not really deserving of help. While were are getting much better and spotting symptoms in kids, the national media campaigns actively against providing them with treatment.

Still, I understand that Bristol is well ahead of most of the country in its services for autistic spectrum people. I’m very happy about that. I hope what Ian and Matt do spreads to other parts of the country.

For music I did a bit of research on autism forums looking for songs that autistic people said spoke to them, rather than the more common songs by neurotypical people about autistic folks. The songs I picked were “Pi” by Kate Bush, which is all about a man obsessed with numbers, and “I am a Rock” by Simon & Garfunkel. My apologies if those were inappropriate in some way.

We had originally planned to have Ian & Matt on for an hour. However, we bumped them from the final 15 minutes because tomorrow we have a really high profile guest due in and we wanted to preview that.

Tomorrow at the Silai Centre there will be screenings of Through the Fire, a film about three remarkable women from Somalia. Hawa Abdi and Edna Adan Ismail are both doctors who have done a huge amount to bring good quality medical services and training to the war-torn region. Hawa has been a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, while Edna has received France’s Legion d’honneur. The third woman featured in the film is Ilwad Elman who campaigns to rescue and rehabilitate child soldiers.

The film is currently on tour, and will be in Cardiff on Friday. Edna Ismail is touring with it, and I’m delighted that she’ll be on Ujima tomorrow lunchtime to talk about the film and her work. Today I interviewed Tove Samzelius from The Silai Centre, where the film is being shown. The afternoon screening is apparently sold out, but they are arranging to show it again in the evening.

It is worth noting that Edna Ismail is not only a doctor and peace campaigner, she’s also a high profile politician. She’s a former First Lady of Somalia, and a former Foreign Minister of Somaliland. If that’s confusing, don’t worry, I had no idea either. The region of Africa inhabited primarily by Somali people stretches all around the coast of the Horn of Africa. The southern part, bordering on the Indian Ocean, still calls itself Somalia. It is also the primary venue of the civil war, and where most of the pirates are based. The northern part declared independence 21 years ago, though it has yet to receive international recognition. (Wales is one of the few places to have acknowledged it — there are a lot of Somalis in Cardiff.) That country calls itself Somaliland.

At this point you are probably wondering if there’s a colonial aspect to this, and yes, of course there is. The region that calls itself Somaliland was formerly the British Somaliland Protectorate, while the rest of the region was under Italian control. Almost every mess in Africa can be traced back to colonial powers stirring up trouble.

I know next to nothing about Somali politics (though thanks to Sofia Samatar for patiently talking to me this morning to make sure I didn’t make a total arse of myself), and I’m not going to dabble. The point of the film is not to take sides, but to provide help, support and much-needed medical care to the people caught up in the wars. My sole contribution to the politics was to invoke Mr. Eddy Grant who has some simple words of advice for his brothers in Africa.

Unless you live somewhere with a big Somali population, the film probably won’t get shown anywhere near you. However, you can watch the trailer. Content warning for grief-stricken people.

While I’m not going to say any more about the situation inside Somalia & Somaliland, I did promise Sofia that I’d raise awareness of the plight of Somali refugees in Kenya. Here’s Amnesty International to explain.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.