Sunday, 26 August 2012

Respect

When I was nine, or maybe ten, our Irish neighbours moved out, and a family of Ugandan Asians, recently evicted from their homes by Idi Amin, moved in. Not long after they had arrived, the father of the large and extended family, the patriarch, invited us to come and eat a meal with them. My mother and two brothers declined. So I went with my father.

It was strange to go into a house that was the mirror of ours in shape and size, but so different inside. We sat, my father and I, in the dining room, with the men and the boys, as the women dressed in saris brought dishe after dish in and served the food to the men. The women didn't speak to us at all, just to each other, in their own languge. The father spoke a few words of English, and he and my father, with his polished but accented English, learnt on his arrival in 1947, held what conversation they could.

I tried the food, but it was too hot for me, raised on Polish food and angel delight. So I watched, as the men talked, and the women bustled in their bright saris. When the men had finished, we moved to the living room, and the women sat down to eat the remnants of the meal. I could see them relax, as I peeked backwards down the hall.

These images came to mind as I listened to a radio programme this morning about the events of 1972 and the arrival of the thousands and thousands of displaced Ugandan Asians in the UK that year. And I was seized by a sense of how honourable both men were with each other. Such differences in culture, background and experience, their only bond the shared experience of arriving in this country to start a new life, although twenty five years apart My father in his forties, his Siberian exile behind him, a businessman, a father. Our new neighbour, guiding his family through their arrival in a strange new land, a very different land with different customs. Accepting me in my shorts, a bare legged girl, sitting down to eat with the men.

Mostly, they treated each other with deep respect. They were never friends, but for all the years we lived in Ivor Road, if my father arrived home, and our neighbour was sitting, as he often was, in the small concrete paved front yard, they would stand and talk for a few minutes. I imagine their conversation remained limited, their worlds very different. But they recognised each other. With respect.

1 comment:

  1. A fantastic story Krysia and a great message. 'Respect' is such a powerful expression, I have recently started to use it as a personal mantra before communicating with anyone I meet but especially in difficult situations. The careless driver who wants to cut you up, the referee or opposition supporter, the beggar on the street. Respect leads to humility and then to enlightenment. Good story thanks Krysia.

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