Posted March 27, 2013 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

imgresThe landlord never got round to fixing my heating and hot water and so a group of my friends  paid for someone to come round. He took one look in my kitchen and said that rats had eaten through the wires which go into the boiler. He said that there were rat droppings behind the kitchen cabinets and that it was one of the worst infestations he had ever seen. He said that rats spread disease and he didn’t even want to spend half an hour in the flat and told me that he felt that the kids would get really sick if they stayed.

I thought that we had mice but I was very upset that he told me it was rats. He told me to block any holes that I saw and I tore up an old shirt that I had and used newspaper as well to try to do this.  I got so worried about the rats that I brought all the children into my bed because I didn’t like the thought of them coming near the children at night. I also started thinking that I could hear them gnawing and find it hard to sleep at all now.

We are using plug-in heaters that my friends lent me and having to go and wash and wash the children’s clothes at my best friends house. The children all have terrible coughs because it is so freezing for this time of year. We are cold and I have the extra worry of the rats. I have phoned the landlord and the letting agency and although the girls on the phone at the agency are always very sympathetic and their voices sound very kind  they never actually do anything.

Two weeks without heating or hot water

Posted February 20, 2013 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

Two weeks ago I woke up in the night and smelt burning. I went to the kitchen and could see smoke coming from the boiler and sparks flying out. I was frightened that it would start a fire and wondered where I could run to with my kids but it made a popping sound and then stopped sparking. The boiler stopped working and when I phoned the landlord he said that he wanted all the tenants in our house to move somewhere else anyway and so he wasn’t in any hurry to fix it. I explained that I have three small children and that they have breathing problems and that it is very very cold at night. He put the phone down on me.

I am very anxious that we should not be moved out of the area because my eldest son is now settled at his nursery after we were moved from another borough of London. You see we are supposed to go whereever we are placed and we have no say in where we go. His development is behind and so it is really really important that we stay at least until September. That is why I don’t want to complain to the council about the landlord not doing anything to fix the problem. I will almost put up with anything to keep my son at school and I think the landlord knows this. The man who lives upstairs always fixes his own flat rather than calling on the landlord because he doesn’t want to be thrown out because he works near by. He tells me that the landlord is paid good rent by the council and that he is happy about everything going wrong as he wants us out of the flats so he can do them up and rent them privately.

I am so worried about my children’s health. My friends have lent me a heater but they make the air so dry and so they cough and get ill. I have been washing the children’s clothes in the bath and boiling up kettles so I can wash them. I am trying as hard as I can to keep my children warm and clean.

Snow Days

Posted January 24, 2013 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

That first day it snowed very heavily, my eldest son was at nursery. When the time came to pick him up the snow was quite thick and I started trying to push the buggy through it, but gave up and just carried my baby daughter in my arms and made my middle son walk. My eldest son was so surprised at how much the outside had changed since we walked to school in the morning, he couldn’tImage believe it. They kept on asking me, “What is this?” and I kept telling them “It’s snow. This stuff is called snow. Don’t you remember?”

We can’t afford to buy new clothes for the cold weather, but luckily my friend had given me two pairs of wellies for the boys and they love wearing them. They were very pleased to wear the wellies and to march through the snow. They loved it and were so excited that almost as soon as they came in they wanted to go out into the street. So I put as many clothes on them as I could and went out and we started to go crazy and throw snow balls at each other and make snowmen. People who passed laughed and smiled at us becuase we were being so silly and laughing so loudly. I couldn’t let my eldest stay out too long because he needs an inhaler and his breathing gets much worse in the cold. I wondered how I would get him to hospital in the snow because when his breathing gets really bad I have to take him to A&E. I have tried to make sure that he is as warm and cosy as I can, but he just wants to go out and keeps looking out of the window.

Alone in the city

Posted January 7, 2013 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

The most difficult thing about coming to this country was the terrible, aching loneliness I felt. Before I came here, I had never even slept in a room on my own. I was so used to having my sisters sleep with me, and eat with me and even wash with me and suddenly I was completely alone, abandoned in London by the person who brought me to safety in the UK. I can’t remember ever feeling lonely before.

Photo by Aliya Mirza

Photo by Aliya Mirza

In fact, sometimes in my own country I used to dream about having some privacy. Our house was full of women who we considered ‘aunties’ but who sometimes were distantly related or not even related, just close friends of my mother’s. This meant that domestic life was often fun and full of laughter and jokes and the days passed by quickly with a lot of lightness and joy. Coming here it was one extreme to another. I suddenly had no-one to discuss anything with and had to make every decision alone, which is something I found particularly hard.

In London, I have noticed that a lot of people feel isolated, and are fighting these feelings by drinking or by taking drugs or desperately seeking out company. Perhaps that is because it is the capital city and a lot of people move here who don’t have anyone else, I don’t know.  I know that it is not just people seeking asylum who feel this pain of loneliness. But I do think that it is particularly hard to be alone if you are used to a big family, and bustling family life.  I quickly made friends which has helped with these feelings, but I still do feel very lonely sometimes.

Helen’s Christmas

Posted December 13, 2012 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

For the last five years a group of us has spent Christmas all together, travelling to my friend’s house on Christmas Eve and staying the night in North London with all the children. It is such a fun day and the children run around and are so excited. On Christmas day we cook together and make coffee for the Ethiopian traditional coffee ritual in which the unprocessed green beans are roasted, and then hand ground and served with beautiful flowers all around. It is a very important part of our tradition and even more so at Christmas and the whole thing can take two to three hours. We all sit on cushions on the floor and talk and chat and presents are given out.  The adults all receive one present each but the children receive presents from everyone. We have traditional Ethiopian chicken dishes, but also we have English minced pies and mulled wine.

miince piesMy four year old has just started to understand what Christmas means because yesterday when we came out of the tube when I was collecting my allowance in Hammersmith there was a great big Christmas tree and he wanted to just stand and look at the beautiful lights for ages. It made him feel excited for the thing that was coming and he has been talking about it ever since. Sometimes I feel sad because my friends are always so generous to me and the children and I have so little money that either I can’t give them anything or I have to find very cheap presents from the pound shop. And Christmas also makes me sad because it reminds me that another year has passed and I am still unsettled and I have been waiting for leave to remain in the UK for nine years.





Posted December 6, 2012 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

We were moved from West to North London six months ago and so my eldest son, who is four, had to move from the nursery school that he loved and start again at this new one.  Although the teachers are really good and very kind I think it is very hard for them because there are only two of them and they are extremely busy trying to take care of eighteen children.   My son was very premature and so is behind in his developmental milestones, and that includes going to the toilet. He seems to hang on when he needs to do a pee and then it is too late and he just has to go then and there and he gets very embarrassed and ashamed when he wets himself. It is fine at home because I recognise when he wants to go because he starts jumping around on the spot and I know that he has to be reminded. I have started to get very concerned about it. I always give them a change of clothes, but I am worried that the teachers will get fed up of him and me. I have asked them if they could remind him and to look out for the signs that he needs to go, but of course they don’t have the time when they are attending to so many children.  I did speak to another mother who reassured me that many boys seem to put off going to the toilet and that it can take them more time to be completely dry than girls.  I was happy that she spoke to me about this. It helps when other mothers tell you about their experiences and lives.

I also have to make special pureed food for his packed lunch because he suffers from reflux and cannot yet digest solid food. ImageSo I get up at six each day to make his pureed packed lunch and I pride myself on always being on time for everything and so it is very important to me to get to school each day ten minutes early. This means getting the packed lunch ready and getting the other two children up and dressed.  When it is especially cold and I don’t want to take the baby out there is a lovely Ethiopian women who lives opposite who will take my baby daughter for the half  hour it takes to get to school and back. I am very grateful to her. It is this kind of help from other women that makes it possible to keep going.

Pennies, pounds and pasta

Posted November 28, 2012 by 4refugeewomen
Categories: Uncategorized

We get £60 a week to live on, for all four of us. Buying food must come first. I go to the cheapest supermarkets and buy huge bags of pasta and tins of tomatoes. There is an Italian influence on Ethiopian food because the Italians were in Ethiopia and so pasta and pizza are part of our diet. We have meat occasionally and then I go out with the kids to a butcher in Seven Sisters Road. It is very cheap and lots of people queue up for the bargains.  I try and get fresh fruit and vegetables from the stalls that sell bowls for a pound and luckily there are quite a few of those stalls around here. I mix up traditional Ethiopian food with English food. I have to be careful about what I buy and cook, because two of my children have reflux and there are certain foods that they can tolerate less than others.

What I find really hard is that travel really eats up the allowance of £60 a week I get for all of us. If a friend who lives across London asks if I can visit her I cannot always do it – it costs us too much. It’s so expensive to get anywhere in London, if you take two buses it costs you £2.70. I am lucky in that my friends always give me the clothes that their children have grown out of and so far I have not had to buy many clothes for them.

I do dream of getting leave to remain here, so I can work. Then I think  I won’t have to worry so much and will be able to have a feeling of pride about myself. I remember that as a young woman I used to laugh and laugh in a very free way and although I know my face is very sunny and bright I don’t laugh in the same free way I used to. I don’t hear myself laughing like that anymore. It does feel as if I am stuck somewhere, which is neither one place nor another, and not able to progress in the way an adult woman or a mother should. I have been waiting 9 years now for leave to remain. I so want to give a good example and work ethic to my kids. If I get leave to remain I think I will feel less heavy and depressed and full of regret.