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Jola Olafimihan

Mangoes, dragonflies, trees and Clay. Those are my earliest memories of nature. Although I grew up in cities, I have always been surrounded by nature both merciful and torrential. As a young girl growing up in Nigeria in the 90’s, living surrounded by butterflies, birds and trees, gave me the release I needed in times of stress and worry. It still does today. Eating traditional sweets and catching falling mangoes from our garden and just having a blast outside is something that reminds me of the richness I was surrounded by.

Living in the UK really changed my exposure to nature. Cities are less green, gardens smaller, I rarely saw butterflies. I waited 10 years to see my first wild hedgehog. Access to wild unrestricted nature was far and expensive. It became even more difficult to deal with mental fatigue and stress. Then I moved to Durham. Durham, an old small city with such beauty, it made more sense to choose this place for my future studies. I walked around more, day and night, bathing in the shadows of trees, chasing the local rabbits, reconnecting with the soil and just getting lost in nature. Taking the longer more scenic route to university, made me feel lighter and less blehhh.

My first time writing about Nature was brought on pollution. The pollution of land, river, air and ocean, brought about by human activity in Nigeria. Seeing the effect oil spills had on our environment birthed my first publicly shared poem. When I was much younger, I’d create imaginery creatures that worked at night, replenishing nature whilst we slept and would then sleep in the day time, whilst we worked. However, this poem was different, it hurt. That pain I now use to fuel my writing, activities and creations.

At age 22, I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. My life was thrown into a spin. My life now included journies between the hospital and my home. I was weak, exhausted and sick but I longed for Green and sea. My first trip out with friends whilst on chemotherapy was physically exhausting. However, mentally I was fired up. At the end of my chemotherapy cycles, I was invitend to a week long trip to the Lake District by Climbing Out. It was an amazing experience. I conquered my fear of bottomless water and jumped off a bridge, twice. It felt amazing to be surrounded by friends from the hospital and made some new memories.

After that, another lull, until Sheree. I met this amazing being who loved earth and beamed that love to others. She brought access to nature to black women like myself, who felt disconnected because of our lives and experiences. I became stronger with each new walk, with each journey, I started to reconnect. My senses where returning. Enjoying the texture of soil and plant, creating a new bond and friendships, and writing again.

I was beyond excited to be invited as a Writer in residence. Plus with an organisation in a place that made me love and bond with British nature, the Durham Wildlife Trust. There is much I have to learn but I can’t wait to see myself evolve as a writer. Even though Covid-19 has slowed things down a bit, it’s allowed me to discover new ways to reconnect. Through this residency, I hope to show the bond we have with the earth, mentally, physically and emotionally. I also hope it inspires more to reconnect and heal through exposure to the Green, Blue, Red and colour diversity of nature.

Black Nature in Residence

The project:

identity on tyne in partnership with Northumberland National Park, Harehope Quarry Project, Durham Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Wildlife Trust are offering the opportunity for four writers of colour to be in residence in the North East countryside.

This in a writers in residence project which will focus on people of colour’s relationship with the natural world; to look beyond the beauty of places to discover the hidden histories within.

Over a period of 20 days, each writer with engage with the specific natural heritage sites as well as the visitors, staff and volunteers, exploring the area’s industrial and social heritage, and how people’s actions and events have helped shape the landscape. Collecting stories and information and experiences.

With additional individual writing time, each writer will produce a piece of written work of any genre of approximately 2000 words to be shared at a public event at their given site as well as a regional cultural gathering with Black British Nature writers.

The aims of the project:

* to provide professional opportunities for emerging and established writers of colour in the region to develop their expertise as well as raise their profile
* to promote the development of a relationship with regional natural heritage by people of colour
* to remove some of the barriers which prevent people of colour from venturing into the British countryside
* to develop a language and share our stories of experiences with nature
* to promote the protection and stewardship of the land amongst diverse groups of people

Introducing Sheree

Sheree Mack’s practice manifests through poetry, storytelling, image and the unfolding histories of Black people. Sheree engages audiences around black women’s voices and bodies, Black feminism, ecology and memory . She facilitates national and international creative workshops and retreats in the landscape, encouraging and supporting women on their journey of remembrance back to their authentic selves. She is currently writing a mixed-genre memoir around a Black woman’s body with/in Nature. She’s a podcast host of the newly launched podcast, The Earth Sea Love Podcast, which explores women of colour and their relationship with the natural world. This is created in relation to a much bigger project founded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wayfinding: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Great Outdoors.

Sheree will be taking up residence in Northumberland National Park in 2021.