Refuge - Background to audio case story
This case story is based upon an interview with a Ghanaian refugee, 'Ibrahim'. It is about how social pain can be expressed in plans for death and burial. You can download the text of Refuge here that also includes a tutor guide. These can be used as handouts for group discussions.
Ibrahim is a 45-year-old refugee from Ghana with advanced cancer of the kidney that had spread to his bones. Ibrahim migrated to the UK in the 1980s as a part of a cohort of Ghanaians escaping political persecution. As he put it “I was in trouble with the authorities. I knew if I didn't move out of the country I would either lose my peace or my life altogether.” Life had not been easy for Ibrahim in the UK. He used to work long hours in a shop that he ran with his partner. He lost the business when he became ill. Ibrahim worried about the future of his partner and 16-month old baby and how his extended family and two children in Ghana would survive after his death without his regular remittances.
Refuge can be used to think about the complicated meanings of home for refugees as well as the practical, cultural and emotional circumstances and constraints that are often a part of end of life wishes and plans.
You can use this story to:
- think about and discuss experiences of social pain for refugees
- encourage students/participants to think beyond literal interpretations of end of life plans and to consider how the pain of social exclusion can be expressed in last wishes
- explore Ibrahim’s ambivalent feelings of exile from and belonging to Ghana and how he tries to resolve these feelings in his burial plan
- talk about the emotional impact for professionals of witnessing social pain and unfulfilled end of life plans
Working in pairs or in a small group, ask participants the following questions:
Can you identify and describe how pain and loss are expressed in the story?
What are the different ways in which we can interpret Ibrahim’s plan to be buried in Ghana?
In what ways might being a refugee affect the plan?
Who do you think the narrator is? What emotions is the narrator feeling? How might s/he be supported?
Ibrahim’s story includes different types of social pain with different causes and histories. For example:
- his experience of diagnosis and feeling unable to question his doctors because he is a ‘foreigner’
- his poverty, worries about money and the future financial security of his family
- his anxiety that his son will have no sense of his Ghanaian identity if he remains in the UK after
There are a number of ways of interpreting Ibrahim’s wish to be buried in Ghana. It could be a part of Ibrahim’s need to establish posthumous ‘continuing bonds’ between father and son and of trying to ensure a future connection to Ghana for his baby.
We could also see Ibrahim’s wishes anthropologically, as shaped by cultural death rituals.
Might Ibrahim’s fear that his son could ‘melt away’ in the UK be related to Ibrahim’s difficult emotions and
experiences of Ghana as a home? As a political refugee whose life was threatened in Ghana, Ibrahim was
not able to visit the country. Might his burial plan be an expression of ‘cultural bereavement’?
Shakti - Background to the case story
The narrator of 'Shakti' is Gita, a 40-year-old woman of Guajarati descent. Her mother, Mrs Balani, a devout Hindu, is also a part of the story, as Gita recounts her father’s descent into illness. Mr Balani had diabetes, then a stroke and was diagnosed with dementia. He is unable to speak and cannot walk without help. The word ‘shakti’ is derived from Sanskrit and means power. In Hinduism shakti can be a divine feminine energy/power.
You can download the text of Shakti here that also includes a tutor guide. These can be used as handouts for group discussions.
A central theme to discuss and explore in this story are the relationships between cultural, gender and generational differences and how these affect relationships and needs for care and support within the family.