Introduction for Zola and Deb

Deb lives in Kaduna, Nigeria. Zola lives in Jozi, South Africa. I live in Mumbai, India.

The similarity of our story transcends the differences in our names, our identities, our cities.

This is the story that was supposed to define us, our lives, our destinies.

The similarity of the stories we choose to tell with our lives are a different kind, though.

You will know.

As you journey with Deb and Zola into the spaces that they occupy in the cities that they have come to live in, you will know the difference between what they were meant to be and do and dream, and what they choose to be and do and dream.

Our childhoods shape us. This cannot be understood like maths. Two plus two isn’t always four.

The human spirit defies mathematical principles.

We do not create new homes where we go. We carry our homes with us. Not on our backs, but in our hearts. We restructure that home as we grow. As women. We shed our skins. We shed fear. We shed scepticism. We embrace risk. We embrace this city with its narrow lanes and strange, loud folk. We embrace it, but also call it out. When it’s callous and unfair. Our voices aren’t gentle then, our eyes not timid.

We learn, unlearn, relearn. To have fun. To be strong. To have hope.

As we restructure our home, we also reshape ourselves. Our bodies—not invisible anymore, our eyes—not downcast anymore, our minds—not fearful, but curious.

We embrace this city with its risks and dangers and trauma and its history—and make it our own. Not the way we were supposed to, but the way we choose to.

And then we share.

Because what’s home without people, right?

In this city, there are three things you will surely notice.

  1. the dust that refuses to be ignored, Carrying with it bursts of hot air, dried sweat and native tongues screaming ‘ complex, ‘sabo ’ kawo’.”
  2. The night, here we go to sleep and the night comes alive.

There are spirits in the air.

Urging you to trade money for one more stick of suya

Look for roasted corn or invest heavily in fura de Nono, Ankara is a shared language.

  1. Our very bi-polar weather.

You’ll leave the house sunny and dry and come back drenched in heavens tears.

It’ll happen so many times you can almost swear

you’re being targeted.

You’re not, but this city like its people doesn’t know how to bend to rules.

Strong willed.

Welcome to my city.

Now, if you look closely, tucked into the shadows you will notice something else.


It is a chameleon blending in perfectly with our smiles and good cheer.

We pretend it does not exist but we have given up tales by moonlight for day time terrors.

Traded dreams for waking nightmares.

Our girls are offered sacrifices in exchange for peace

Yet peace is a slippery eel in our grasp

My body is in a constant state of alert, my gender a white flag of surrender, predators don’t have to chase you before you know you are prey.

My hands are trained soldiers, shooting up at attention to cover my ears from the Chaos, cover my eyes from the carnage or apply pressure to a neighbour’s wound.

This city is mourning.

This city is bleeding.

This city Is reeking of sulphur and blood

the air is heavy with bated breath waiting for the other shoe to drop

Wondering if YOU are the other shoe.

This city is tired,

But still, look at how it thrives.

Look at how WE thrive.

we stitch the wounds together with one more poem.

One more tale.

Reminding us who we are


We are the literal rose blooming in the midst of thorns.

Each petal chock full of readers, writers, thinkers

People who turn the sound of rifles into music for bedtime stories.

Gunpowder into ink for writing

Rearrange bullets to form less piercing words bull- lets. Let us, let, us. US

We are magical.

And yes, we no longer sit under the moonlight

We now share tales in halls and libraries, acting portals that take us back to when this city was for people who spoke in unknown tongues and held creativity at their fingertips.


 In Japan when a bowl breaks it is put back together with gold.

In the north, we fill up our broken parts with art, imagination and wonder.

It if can shatter, it can make something new.

Every time we are gathered there is a healing, a special type of gold lining us back together.

Welcome to kaduna

The spirit of the artist has travelled far.

‘Maraba de zuwa gida’

‘Welcome home.’

Allow yourself be made whole.


In the north of Nigeria, in Kaduna, we have been ravaged by insecurity, banditry and kidnappings. This piece reminds me that that is not the only narrative we are doomed to. That is not all we are.

I see it more often: the world is full of dark times. I think it is important to remember who we are at the core of the darkness—light for each other.)

Deborah Johnson

I am a spoken word poet, and I think my work is relevant to narrative change because spoken word poetry thrives on depicting emotions, feelings, situations and then recreating them.


Spoken word poetry can shed light on important matters and awaken your humanity and consciousness to ills in a society but it can also bring hope.


It is in some way an orator’s double-edged sword.


I believe it is art that will change the world because In order to change a people, you must first change their thinking.