Zindgi Sakhta/Life is hard

Every Monday, I visit the Petit-Château. With ukulele in hand, I walk through every kind of weather to get there. We stand outside for two hours, writing poetry and turning poetry into music. By the end, my body is freezing, but my heart is warm.

Each time I visit the château, I wonder if I will be able to compose a song from the words and phrases shared by the refugees who live there. They are full of hope and sadness. I wonder if they might prefer a better musician or one who can play a wider genre of music. I tend toward folk and blues, and sometimes I think they would enjoy hip-hop and rap far more.


Despite my own insecurities, I look for patterns in their words that I can craft into verses and a chorus. I ask them to sing and find melodies and chord structures to play. We sing, we laugh, and I am inspired by their stories. Sometimes, people stay only for the poetry portion and disappear as soon as we begin talking about singing. I hope that I can help them see that singing together does not have to be a scary prospect.

The past two Monday of music have drawn more haunting words and melodies. The sun even came out for a little while.


The first Monday song began with lines from T.S. Eliot: What life have you if you have not life together?


Goodbye my good days, hello my hard life

This will pass, so never mind


Palestine is alive, Iraq is alive

We are alive, side by side


Do not love people you do not know

Because afterwards they will go


Iran is alive, Syria is alive

We are alive, side by side


The song became a chant that we repeated over and over over, adding different countries to the refrain each time I we sang it. I wasn’t sure if they liked the song, but still they sang with us.

The following Monday’s song also began with a line from T.S. Eliot: You shall not deny the stranger.


I watch writing fill the page with languages I do not recognize. Participants share in the process of translation and interpretation. For this song, I feel a desire to sing a mix of languages, to bring in the one Dari and Farsi word that I have begun to recognize because it tends to appear each week. Zindgi. Life.


Zindgi sakhta, Zindgi sakhta

Nobody can take my destiny from me

Zindgi sakhta, Zindgi sakhta

Life is hard


I wonder if the second line might have too many lyrics strung together too quickly for many people to sing comfortably. English is their second, third, fourth, or who knows how many languages removed. They have to choose one language to learn for the classes they are offered by the asylum center. Many speak bits and pieces of several European languages. It seems French is often stronger than English, so many times we sing the same lines translated from English to French and several other languages as we go.

Sometimes, I can feel the energy shift in the voices and spirits around me as we shift from a language that is less familiar to one where there is the comfort of knowing. Low energy from several weeks earlier as we sang the refrain in English:


We are all immigrants in this world

There is a field

I’ll meet you there


Energy instantly rises when we sing the same words in French. Many more voices join together, and I am no longer singing alone.


On es tous des immigrés dans ce monde

Il y a un champ

Je te vois là ba


I try to remind myself that my own discomfort is less important than the act of creating itself. Each week, I see faces that have become familiar. I am greeted by hugs, handshakes, and smiles. Every Monday is an opportunity to open hearts and let out light that can perhaps transcend some of the inky blackness that seems to creep out from so many corners of the world.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. You write that you wonder if they deserve a better musician…you are their musician Marieke. That is what makes you the best. You are providing what they need in the present. You are making a difference, don’t doubt that.

    1. marieke says:

      Thank you so much for these incredible words of support! ❤

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