For those of you who didn’t get a chance to see it, (or who didn’t bring their glasses for the small print!) I’m posting here the photo and text that has been mounted in the cafe area of the West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of Refugee Week. Many thanks to Matt at City of Sanctuary for making it all happen 🙂
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Anna: How did we meet… Well Christmas, 2012, I decided I wanted to volunteer somewhere and a friend put me in touch with Angel Lodge (a hostel for newly arrived asylum seekers in Wakefield) City of Sanctuary were having a Christmas party at Angel Lodge and so I went down there and, urm, I was hooked really because I felt as if the one thing that was so desperately needed there was the one thing it was so easy for me to give – which was conversation and just talking and smiling and asking people their story. You know – “hi I’m Anna who are you”, just giving people a conversation in the day. It felt really meaningful. I have to be honest, I don’t remember you from the Christmas party but what happened was I wanted to go back. So I put a post on Facebook asking who wants to join me Christmas Eve, I want to go down there, and I filled a car. So 5 of us went down, and I remember seeing this lovely little boy running around and this very determined young woman saying ‘Alex, Alex come back here’ and I thought, “ahhh I want to talk to her”. Then I went back boxing day and you know, it was just, it just felt so natural to go and spend time together and want to spend time there.
Anita: You came back again – after one week I think it was again – she started coming after one week, then after one week she took my phone number after, and she was saying ‘do you need something’ … And it was snow! Oh my god I’ll never forget it – I was inside with Alex and my door locked. I think one week in Leeds, less than one week …
Anna: I just thought, of all the places in Yorkshire and the Humber that Anita could have been relocated to, and she’s relocated not only to Leeds but you know to the same postcode as me …
Anita: I remember she take me to the supermarket … she was taking me somewhere for a coffee – a hot coffee – so everytime it was for me – every time she was coming it was for me something special … And I started to go out just with Anna, and she was taking me these small places, nice coffee, warm – and I want to cry when I remember that because every time when she was taking me in these small places I was feeling so warm when I was around with these people, and she brought others and some new people and after she started taking us to the – every Friday –
Anna: Oh to the play group –
Anita: Yeah the play group with Alex so it was every time for me and Alex, Anna was coming to our door so Alex and me ran together because even though I didn’t know her it was like when I was with her I was feeling warm. I feel warm inside of me; my heart, you know, when I meet her. She was smiling and give me a hug and with my English sometimes I didn’t know how to say to her so I use my hands and after Anna started doing that! Week by week she was using her hands as well and she was using her hands and speaking with me, ur, oh my god it was I don’t know – I cannot explain my feelings, how did I feel.
Anna: And for me the kids taught me a lot because you know … [they] immediately started playing hide and seek with the other kids and that was really a learning for me of … just playing!
Anita: I remember that time you came with all your children and they just started playing playing playing, hide and seek and they really enjoyed it … And they brought a small car for Alex which he still has, the red one. Alex was sleeping with that because he didn’t have any toys so with that toy he was playing and sleeping with this small car – he was very very happy! …
Anna: Well the friendship’s really taken me by surprise … What does it mean to me? I mean I can be myself with Anita, more so than with many other people, which you kind of think is really weird, because if you look at our backgrounds – because I think what Anita’s taught me is that just because you’re different, like, it used to be that you were friends with people who were similar to you. And what Anita has taught me is that’s rubbish. And so, not only have I gained one amazing friend here, but my whole outlook on who I socialise with, who I spend time with, what we do when we’re spending time together, you know gives me that perspective. Urm. Your turn!
Anita: I’m going to cry… When I came here to the UK I did never think even in my life before that I would have a friend and she would be British and she would be Anna, never, I did never imagine that in my life. And I was scared because in the beginning you didn’t know nothing about me, in the beginning when we met, so my scared is that she didn’t know about that. It was like when am I going to tell her the story, how she’s going to act. Because not many people will stay with you if they know your story, you know, so maybe it’s not our fault for what’s happened in the past but when you say to some people you know this is me, and they say oh and run away from you. But it’s very nice when someone stays with you even if they know the truth … she love me and she respect me without judging me and this change inside of me with Anna. Never I thought I would trust again people, and love them so much. Anna for me is Mum, Anna for me is friend, Anna for me is everything in one!
You see! I told you, you need many many many days to talk about our story! So it’s very special … and we spend a lot of time together and in her old kitchen we was, you were making bread, we were crying, I was telling her about my story, sometimes something else happens, but cooking, crying, laughing, everything in the kitchen it was like it was our place, you know, on Fridays it was our place.
Anna: And now we’ve set up our own kitchen!
Anita: ToastLoveCoffee! … For me, every Tuesday and Wednesday, I feel like I wake up very happy because when whatever going on, when I go inside of the door, so how I say.. home sweet home. Last week, when I went inside, I said home sweet home.. Because I feel like my home, you know the place where I know I’m going to make the coffee in the morning, I’m going to put the coffee on, and then after I say coffee anyone, and they say yes, and you spend chatting together with people, more people coming and it’s just amazing, amazing, you feel like it’s not like place I go and do my volunteering job – it’s like I go there I feel safe, confident, for what I’m doing …
Anna: … the idea being that this whole thing that every person is an individual, but when they’re treated like they’re just part of a system it doesn’t bring out the best in them, it doesn’t bring out their individuality, they’re just an asylum seeker, one of the whatever number they want to pluck out of the sky of numbers, these people coming and claiming asylum, you know. What we wanted to create in TLC was a place where it was a safe place where you can be the best version of yourself, and we want that to shine through and for people to leave, you know, with their head a little bit higher, smiling, just ready to take on the world, or whatever it is. And as the project has developed, I think for me, if you were to say to sum TLC up in one word I’d say ‘safe’ – or the most important part of what we’re doing, and I would say it’s this safe space and this idea of welcome.