In this beautiful essay, Noreen Masud, a University of Bristol lecturer and the author of the book Flat Place, reflects on landscapes: the nature and wildlife of the flatlands and wetlands of the UK. But there’s a deeper introspection here as Masud recalls a painful childhood in Pakistan and her experiences of trauma and cPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). Masud’s words are haunting, and her gorgeous voice carries you through to the piece’s strong end.
My life in Pakistan, full of painful nothing, had left a flat landscape inside my head. Not a bleak, dead one. That would almost have been easier. This flat landscape seared with painful livingness. It wouldn’t let me look away: kept me mesmerised by its agonised, intense emptiness. And it seemed more real than any of the strange world around me. Even in safe cosy Britain, where there were consequences for hurting your children and education was free, I sensed something sinister under the gleaming surface. Something stark and painful, and utterly relentless that refused to know how much its wealth and serenity was built on the pain of others, stripped for parts by white colonisers and taught to hate themselves.
From those flat places, drained and bare and empty, and which hid nothing – which, like me, couldn’t stop showing their damage – there rose up stories of more migrants from Asia and Africa. Not birds, this time, but cockle-pickers, farm-workers, a human zoo, a labour battalion. Migrants whom Britain does not know how to see; whom it prefers not to see. I wrote about these walks in my book, A Flat Place (2023). I put the flat place inside me on to paper, made it into a solid flat rectangle bound between boards, so that it didn’t need to surge up under my eyes any longer. I could show it to friends who loved me.