Last weekend families in and around Skipton welcomed 22 refugees and asylum seekers into their homes.
Organised in partnership with Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, the Bradford Immigration & Asylum Support & Advice Network (BIASAN), the Craven Refugee Support Network and various churches in Skipton, the weekend included an action packed programme: a climb up Holy Trinity tower where the bell ringers demonstrated their art, a trip on a canal barge and an African dance and drumming workshop. The Saturday evening was filled with laughter as we danced to the Batty Moss Ceilidh band which about 80 people enjoyed, and Sunday morning saw many of our visitors share in worship in various churches throughout the town.
As food is a big part of any holiday, meals were prepared and shared together, in and by various churches, helping to form new friendships and understanding. The generosity of the people of Skipton was enormous.
Paul Martin Emery was one of the hosts, and he has written this moving account of the weekend, which he’s kindly allowed us to share with you below…
The Visitor, a sharing by Paul Martin Emery
This last weekend Ruth and I had the opportunity to open our home to a special visitor. Like many others our home became an open place of welcome for a refugee from a war torn country. In this case Syria and more pointedly, the city of Aleppo. At one time a beautiful city, the most populous in Syria, which served as the capital of the Aleppo Governorate.
A city now in ruins. Its heart and soul literally torn apart by the war. Its streets a maze of rubble with what counts for daily life being conducted underground.
What a glaring contrast with a simple little back bedroom, in a village called Silsden resting by the shadow of the far side of Ilkley Moor. The only rubble here being the repairing of the roadside walls after the floods of 2015. No bombs in the morning just the sweet sound of the birdsong greeting the coming day.
This visit was a learning curve in so many ways. As Friday arrival day dawned I busied myself preparing the room. Small touches. A face cloth and towels neatly arranged on a chair. Books about England and the countryside and seasons, on the bookcase. But an awareness also in myself of both anticipation, nervousness and emotion. What will this be like? How will it go? Will he feel welcome? The answer to that was his smiling response when I bid him Welcome in his native Arabic as he came up the steps to the front door.
“Ahlaan bik” Welcome…His smile reassuring…and a simple thank you in response and as he settled into the lounge a gracious “you have a beautiful home”. A simple compliment but filled with the sense to me that at one time he had such a home. We responded by bidding him welcome again and inviting him to be at home and all we had was his too.
We sat up until midnight, our eyes heavy after such emotion of the day, talking and sharing his war experience and his journey. His voice not angry or bitter. More one of recognition that this is how it was, this is how it is. Later it struck me as I lay in bed that one hears the words of such an experience but the imagination takes much longer to register just what it was that brought this young man half way round the world to that simple little back bedroom of ours.
In truth the imagination can not recreate that all too personal experience of bombs and destruction and a boat on the high seas with water up to the knees. Nor can it do justice to the feeling that once you feel you have reached safety you find yourself in a caged compound grateful for any bit of half clean cardboard you can make a bed out off..
One simply can not put yourself in their place or fully appreciate that level of suffering or displacement. You do what you can do…you are here and you are welcome.
There were lighter moments to. Ones of simple domesticity. The choice of cereal at breakfast. The choice of jam etc on the toast. That quiet coming together over the first meal of the day. Later in the day as we sat in my recording studio, as promised a small selection of guitar tracks. What would you like me to play…The theme from the Lion King and Hotel California by the Eagles…Played with a sense of care and love. Appreciation from someone who clearly loves music and a moment of connection… Later his request that I record a music programme for him…
A simple request that spoke to me of someone feeling at home…Again an act of normal life…
Our home suddenly feeling empty after we said our goodbyes and he had left… A sense of tender sadness as I tidied away the books from his room and looked backed at the perfectly made bed. Not just a bed but a resting place in every sense of the word….
A tender and humbling experience. A weekend that touched both Ruth and I. A weekend of sharing and joy and yes at times, sadness and near tears. But more than that this was a weekend of giving and sharing from his side as much as ours. Two worlds, very different, two cultures and faiths coming together in a profound act of trust.
My thoughts in the quiet after his leaving…..
The way we open our doors, hearts and minds to the refugee is a measure of our humanity. To close the door, our hearts and our minds is to diminish ourselves and our humanity as we deny to ourselves that richness of cultural experience and opportunity of learning and sharing that the simple act of saying ….you are welcome brings into all our lives..
We sent our visitor off with a book on our landscapes and wildlife…we inscribed the inside cover with the following..
Lord…Allah…there is a terrible war in Syria and many are suffering. Please grant peace in that place. We ask you this in love and humanity…
For our brother in humanity…
May love be your guide and peace be at your side…
His eyes moved and again that simple phrase. “Thank you”
We wish him well and as he said an Angel by his side…
Thank you to him for enriching our lives and thank you friends.
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