“My native land sae far awa”

Published: 28 January 2021

Alison Phipps addresses distinguished guests at the Glasgow Afghan United Annual Burns & Rumi Night on 19 January 2021.

Below is a version of the address given by Prof Alison Phipps at the Glasgow Afghan United Annual Burns & Rumi Night on 19 January 2021.

You can also see the whole event on the Glasgow Afghan United Facebook page.  Alison's address begins at 34:37. 


Your Excellencies, First Minister, Lord Provost, Distinguished Guests, Friends, Colleagues, Kinsfolk….and Stewart with his bad jokes, A selam a lekkum

Thank you for this invitation to address you today as you as New Scots Celebrate Burns, and as you think of your native land sae far awa.

This time last year I was invited to give the first Reply frae the Lassies of 2020, in Otopti/ Dunedin, in Aotearora New Zealand, the first country to cross over into the time zone that brought Burns Night 2020 to the world. The theme I was given was Burns and Brexit. Who knew at that point, as the fireworks also went up outside celebrating the Chinese New Year simultaneously down in Dunedin Harbour, what 2020 would bring.

My native land was sae far awa.

I was, at that point, as far away from home as it was possible to be, but also very much at home, among scots ancestry and in the very Scottish colonial city that is Dunedin. This is a city where Scots went to be New. There is a statue of the Burns in the town square. Brexit was about to happen, and I was beginning to take my leave of the friends and colleagues who had been home to me as a visitor, and UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration, over the last 8 months, sharing the lessons of New Scots like yourselves, with refugee-background communities in New Zealand.

And I was aching to hug my 16 months old Scots-Eritrean granddaughter.

The sweetest hours that e'er I spend,

Are spent amang the lassies, O.

Or with that lassie in particular.

Rumi, like Burns, knew how to write of sweetness and the things that endure when home is transient and love is fleeting.

“Whatever makes the corners of your mouth turn upwards, he said, trust that.”

She still giggles at me over the phone, my granddaughter, as she did back then, after all the months of Lockdown, touching the screen with a tenderness I can hardly bare.

But gie me a cannie hour at e'en , My arms about my dearie, O; An' war'ly cares, an' war'ly men, May a' gae tapsalteerie, O!

You know this too well as New Scots, tapsalteerie – a world upside down – scrabbling for data to call loved ones ‘back home’ – and having your own children here and giving them a new home. Making loved ones safe. You know the years of agonised separation that Burns and Rumi wrote of in the most fleeting of poetic phrases.

You also embody the hope we all feel right now – in the words of Rumi, as Dr Abdullah Abdhullah has already reminded us – that somewhere the other side of right and wrong …. Somewhere the other side of the pandemic - there is a garden … maybe with a BBQ or a football match– and I’ll meet you there.

Burns brought poetry, not reason to the world, especially when loved ones are sae far awa. So very far away.

Love for the world, love for the wee one who would be in my arm, in other times. 



For the love of the world, may a gae tapsalteerie, O.

Meantime, as we wait we have Rumi and Burns - Thank you for making the corners of our mouths turn upwards.

Glasgow Afghan United

First published: 28 January 2021