….not yet gone! But nearly. The last three weeks have passed very quickly, with sooo many things to do in Totnes and Cardiff in preparation for our departure.
Emma had a leak in the roof, so I took her to down to Devon and visited Terry Hackwith at his workshop, for a day of scraping the sealant off the roof and resealing it. Having navigated across remote places in Spain and Portugal, the road down to Terry’s workshop still tops all others for narrowness. Emma slipped down it like a finger into a glove!
Terry and I spent a day together on Emma’s roof, working in the sun, catching up with news and once that was done, we did some other little things, like repairing locks, adding an interior light and finding a nice way of storing our beautiful fire-wok.
Frank has worked like a man possessed for three weeks, repairing things in his house, getting a new carpet laid and transforming his garden from the jungle it had become in our absence into the beautiful haven of peace that it is now.
While Frank had his hands in the earth, my head was crunching figures, getting both our tax returns ready.
We snatched a couple of breaks from work, precious hours to meet friends and share a meal, or go for a walk. We also drove up to Birmingham to see Sylvie Guillem, the extraordinary classical and modern dancer on her farewell tour. My god-daughter Maya came to Cardiff to visit me for a few days and we went to the Gower with Emma, enjoying the last of the summer days and going on a day-long horse ride. On one of my weekends in Devon, I joined Wendy at her fundraising event in support of Room to Heal, a healing community for refugees and asylum seekers who have survived torture and other forms of organised violence.
Wendy asked me to contribute a couple of songs to the evening. This got me thinking. What personal experience do I have of refugees? I don’t remember ever seeing a refugee in my childhood. Wait, yes I did. Two of my parent’s best friends were Czech, having arrived in Germany just with the clothes they were standing in. Also, when I was 12, a young Afghan engineer moved in upstairs on a student exchange. Then the Russians invaded Afghanistan and he couldn’t return. I clearly remember the drama, the uncertainty about his family, the longing for his homeland and culture. Every night when he couldn’t sleep, I listened to him playing the Robab, an Afghan lute. I often went upstairs to listen more intensely to the mesmeric music. His flat was decked in carpets hanging from the ceiling, and he was sitting as if in a tribal tent, longing for home, playing the most haunting music. Slowly, one by one, his family arrived, having walked from Afghanistan to Germany! The younger ones learnt German in record time and went on to study or work. But when his parents came over, they could not acclimatise. I remember his mother, holding a bag of grains, which she had carried across the mountains, saying a prayer over each grain. She wanted to make bread from it, to share with her children before returning to Afghanistan. The parents could not imagine living in the West, despite the uncertainty and war in their own country. Or maybe their asylum was not granted – I don’t know. In fact, although I knew about their terrible plight, none of these people registered as Refugees with me, I saw them and interacted with them as people, and I was curious about their culture and felt their sadness. They seemed a very noble family.
What happens to us when we become adults, that we start thinking of a human being as a category – refugee, black, homeless, handicapped etc. – and lose our original openness and curiosity? Why do we close down? Do we feel threatened and if so, what do we feel threatened by?
During the fundraising evening at Sandwell Manor, three members of Room to Heal shared their personal stories about the process of applying for asylum – in one case being in limbo for 18 years and still not having been granted asylum. Having no right to work and living side by side with hunger and homelessness – the dehumanising and painfully slow process of it all. All three impressed on us that the journey did by no means end when they arrived in the UK and they were unanimous in their praise of ‘Room to Heal’, which gave them a safe haven, a place where they could go and be welcome, where they could experience the peace of a garden and meet other people. Working in the garden helps them to heal slowly, to connect once more with life and beauty after the very traumatic experiences that have driven them from their homes.
What really struck me in Mark Fish’s talk (the director of Room to Heal) was the realisation of the importance of creating a Community to help heal the trauma that these people had experienced in their lives.
The next day, we went to the sea in two cars. It was good to spend the day together – connecting, chatting, enjoying the sun and the sea breeze together, then piling in the car once more to go and have tea at Hazelwood House. What a contrast this must be to their daily lives back in London, so full of uncertainties.
Room to Heal is looking for donations to support their work. Do check out their web site!
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