Last night I attended an event called London Stories Made by Migrants; True Stories, Told by the People who Lived Them at Battersea Arts Centre. Six different people invited me to hear their stories about connections to England and other parts of the world, about their struggles and the quirkiness of life. It was very special.
I can hardly do justice to the connection evoked in sitting directly opposite people telling such diverse and emotive lived experiences. But I hope in sharing brief parts of the stories I heard, that you can imagine these people and recognise a shared sense of humanity. This is especially important in combating fear and hate of the ‘unknown’ that is driving many interactions currently.
I learned from a Syrian man who travelled to Italy by boat, and then to England by truck. He is proudly training to be a dentist, and has found making friends and settling into London easy but he often worries about his family who are still in Syria.
I learned from a South Londoner whose grandfather travelled from Nigeria to England and trained as a solicitor, but had to return to take up his duties as Oba of his area. His father subsequently travelled to London where he settled and raised his children, but now also has to consider his responsibilities in Nigeria.
I learned from a woman whose father came from Pakistan and dedicated years of his life to working in a shoe factory in England to provide for his family, who hoards ‘useless’ objects but chooses not to hoard items that represent different stages in his life, except for his own father’s obituary.
I learned from a Ugandan woman who survived the brutal killings of her entire family, who later traveled to England where she once burnt the cassava she was cooking, and thought ‘that’s ok, I’m alive’ and went for a big mac.
I learned from a Hungarian holocaust survivor, who retained her mother’s gold charm necklace by hiding it in her shoe and later in a piece of bread she had been given to eat. She wears the necklace every day.
I learned from a British-Iraqi woman, born in England but when her parents separated she moved back to Iraq with her grandparents. She had no official documents of her birth from Iraq, and her grandparents forged themselves as her parents onto documents so that she could live with them. She has now returned to England and works as an artist.
Want to feel more connected to the humans around you? I challenge you to:
Hold the gaze of a stranger on the tube for 5 seconds, or hold the gaze of someone you are close to for 30 seconds ; visit a gallery/show/pub alone and don’t spend the whole time looking at your phone but just observe the buzz around you and be open to whatever connections might come of it ; give a family member or a good friend a phone call to check in ; search for charities/local groups who address a cause you care about and get involved ; get into a conversation with someone and actually listen to hear them, don’t just wait for your turn to speak.
Any other good ideas? Comment below.