By Michiel Drost (Medianet)
As a young journalist critical of corrupt governments in his home country Cameroon and Ghana, Simon Mol, now 33, ended up in jail twice and was tortured. He refused to stop although he could. As a political refugee in Poland he has been fighting discrimination and for refugee rights. Now, the one-man-institution who inspires thousands is on the verge of giving up.
He is the co founder and secretary general of the Polish Association of Exiles, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Voice of Exile magazine, a play writer and director. But above all, Simon Mol is a poet: “Poetry is my religion”, he says. All this work doesn’t benefit his personal life though, “I don’t even have my own accommodation or money to eat tonight.”
Imprisoned, interrogated and on the run
While researching corrupt politicians Simon was first imprisoned in 1995, when he was only 22 years old. After weeks of violent interrogation his family and friends managed to get him out. He fled over sea in a canoe to Equatorial Guinea and lived in a Pygmies village in the forest for months. “Emotionally devastated”, he arrived in Nigeria more than a year later but refused to give up journalism in exchange for asylum.
Simon talks fast but is very aware and convinced of every word he chooses. “Language is the soul of everything.” He even calls it a very powerful religion, dictated by the media and politicians onto a mass unaware of its impact. “A poet speaks honestly and directly.”
He fled on to Ghana where he could stay thanks to the help of other journalists. Here he again had to flee because he refused to stop writing critical articles about corruption in both the Ghanees and the Cameroonian governments. He was caught and once more tortured for six weeks in an overcrowded prison.
Spiritual, not religious
In these horrific circumstances Simon wrote many poems. He stopped to worry and resigned to faith. “Faith in God gives a lot of courage no man can destroy. I’m not religious though, religions fight, it doesn’t make sense. I’m spiritual.” This means he reads the books of all religions but refuses to follow any of their dogmas. Buddhism is one of his favourites: “Especially the teaching of non-attachment. I lost everything but I’m not sad because I don’t attach, I can take things as they come.”
His friends at the Ghana Journalist Association got him out of prison under the condition that he'd stop journalism. This time he finally agreed, in theory. Soon Simon started writing once again, “compassion is my main drive to keep going”, and was straight away sought by the government. He was saved by the International Poets, Essayists and Novelists club and brought to Poland. At that point, Simon was only 26.
Although Simon has been here for more than six years he can’t call Poland his home, “even though I want to make it my home.” Skinheads have beaten him up twice since he’s here. He doesn’t try to hide his anger when he talks loud about the discrimination he experiences. His mood quickly seems to change when an unknown Chechen refugee enters the classroom. “Come in my friend”, Simon calls, “come in, come in, where are you from?”
Theatre with a message
We are in the classroom of a secondary school that Simon’s Migrator Theatre-group uses a few times a week to practice their new “radical” play. This is the fifth play of the eleven refugees from eight different African and European countries. The plays are meant to raise more awareness of life as a refugee and discrimination and in this case of the oppression of Africa. The media enjoyed it.
They still need a lot of practice, especially to synchronize the dances but they laugh a lot about their mistakes. Simon knows exactly how it should be and doesn’t settle for anything less. When he once again says ‘no, no, no’ and uses his whole body to explain how it should be like, the actors exchange looks meaning ‘there he goes again’. Never really disapproving of him though, they just think it’s funny. Simon knows how to keep a positive atmosphere.
“Africa O! Africa. Africa O! Africa”, they repeatedly sing. “When will you rise from slumber to shake down dusts from your eyes, Africa?”
Theatre is Simon newest passion. “It has incredible possibilities because it combines entertainment with a powerful message, you can create a whole different reality on stage.”
Broken by discrimination
This new focus is not only due to its possibilities but also to disappointment with the more official ways to improve life of refugees in Poland. “The Association of Exiles is suffering horrible administrative discrimination.” Simon gets emotional again. “We’re the only organization by refugees but we get no funding, we have debts, just like the refugee magazine. The effects of our work are visible. Then why don’t we even have an office?”
He grabs out a recent newspaper. “Look”, he almost shouts now. “Authorities treat refugees as statistics not human beings.” He reads out a quote from a high official in the Department for Migration and Refugees in Poland: “It’s a brutal fact, but refugees are useless for the Polish economy.” Simon comments: “So what kind of help can we expect from that? Not long ago Poles were refugees themselves.” He sighs: “People forget so fast.”
Simon says he can’t take it much longer: “I fight and fight but nothing helps. Soon my priorities will change.” His friends tell him he has to take better care of himself. “I try to contribute, inspire, but if nobody picks it up... I would like to raise a family, but without even accommodation... At least people will remember what I did.”
Poet for the powerless
Besides theatre, Simon’s main focus will remain poetry. “A poet is a one-man-institution. Independent and standing by his convictions.” His separation from Africa, oppression and mass ignorance are just a few examples of returning issues in his works. “A poet fights for the powerless. He reacts instead of acts. He cries for people he doesn’t even know.”
Making plans for the future is something Simon learned not to do anymore. “I used to have plans...”, he explains simply. Despite everything, the fighter for justice, or call it journalist, poet or all, stands strong in this young man. “In Cameroon I criticized, in Ghana I criticized, in Poland I criticize. And if I stand in front of God, I will ask him questions as well!”