The first meal Simba Bianchi ate with his mother and three siblings after they left direct provision was pounded yam and okra soup. He still remembers it, eating Nigerian food together in their mobile home for the first time since arriving in Ireland “It was beautiful,” he says.
The first time Sharon Mpofu saw snow, she went out at midnight to make a snowman with her daughter. She sent photographs home to show people what it was like.
“I don’t need to tell you stories about the war or anything else,” Kinda Nassli, a former Syrian television host, says, her voice shaking. “There are a few simple things I miss. The Arabic songs in the morning when I walk in the streets – I can’t hear it any more. To get into a bookshop and find the name of your favourite poet.”
Bianchi, Mpofu and Nassli reveal these intimate details of their lives in Ireland in conversation with well-known Irish people – Brendan Courtney, the DJ Tara Kumar and the comedian Killian Sundermann – for the new podcast Small World, a collaboration between the sustainability-focused Useless Project and UNHCR and spearheaded by the podcast producer Taz Kelleher.
Kelleher provides the scaffolding in the form of intro and outro but lets the conversations do the rest: pleasingly unstructured chats about life as a refugee in Ireland with those who have come through the direct-provision system. Production-wise, Small World has a homespun feel: it’s clear the interviews are conducted remotely, and the audio pays for that in places. There’s no broadcasting behemoth behind this scrappy endeavour, and it lacks the audio and scripting polish you might find elsewhere. But it does showcase genuine, warm interactions, introductions between people who share interests but differ in how they came to be Irish.
The interviews so far – we’re on episode three at time of writing – are less David Frost in style and more about having the chats: that’s how we learn about Mpofu’s comedic tastes, or what 50 Cent means to Bianchi, or why Nassli describes her master’s degree as her “high heels”. The conversations are as ranging as those participating will allow, and the result is as varied as the voices in Small World.
The first episode dropped in mid-November and five more were in the pipeline when we checked, the bulk timed to coincide with the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva from December 13th to 25th. And, yes, there’s an advocacy piece here: listeners are asked to support the cause by signing a global petition in support of refugees on UNHCR Ireland’s website.
But the biggest advocacy piece is hearing people talk about their experiences in Ireland, the skills they bring, and the humanity they share. Rather than mine the traumas each one was escaping in coming here, Small World focuses on their lives once they arrive. They forge careers, raise families, educate themselves. They share one hotel room with their entire family for months, they battle depression and racism, they feel lonely and despairing and also grateful. They find joy.
“When we start a conversation, after a few minutes, you will discover how close we are to each other, how similar we are,” says Nassli, who in her address to Irish listeners also manages to neatly articulate the purpose of this podcast and where its success lies. “The things we share are much, much more than the things that are different.”