When they said London has all kind of people, they’re right. Go inside a tube and you’ll see people of all skin and hair colours. You might even see people without pants. But most of the time, you stare at them (only a bit, of course, as staring is considered impolite here) – and move on with your life. You don’t know their story, you fail to learn what makes them who they are.
I happened to meet these three people in three different events and I got the chance to have deep conversations with them.
The first one is a girl from Syria. She moved to the UK with a scholarship to study her master, and was given a permit to stay here because her home was a conflict area. My first thought was, Oh, lucky you, you don’t have to go through the tough Tier 2 visa application process. But what do I know?
Her brother is in the US. She can’t visit him because of Trump’s travel ban. Her parents is in Syria. She can’t go home because she might not be able to go back. The only way she can see her parents is by agreeing to meet in Libya, which she already did once. The problem is, their meeting in Libya was arranged by the assistance from an organisation that’s considered a terror organisation in Europe. Obviously she can’t risk being associated with this organisation and that’s why she only did it once since she moved to UK 3.5 years ago.
I told her, “You made my problem looks so small.”
She asked, not unkindly, “What’s your problem?”
“Uh, nothing, really. My family is in Indonesia, my parents are getting older, every time I wake up in the morning I’ll open WhatsApp frantically, fearing a bad news about them.”
She smiled, “You have 7-8 hours time difference with them, mine is only 4 hours, at least I can talk to my parents more often.”
She’s still able to find a positive side about her situation.
The second one is an old British lady. Probably she’s about 80. We met in a life-writing event, where you write down your life prompted by a question. The question for us was “In 2018, I said goodbye to…”
After few minutes of writing we were asked to share to each other. I said goodbye to a job I love, I said goodbye to my friends in Dublin… You know, my usual whine.
This old British lady said goodbye to her friends who passed away. Every now and then now, she said, it’s expected to hear news that one of your friends has died. She’s embracing hers too.
I lost my words.
The third one was a man in his 60s. I met him in a speed-friending Meetup. You’d expect to see people in their 20s or 30s, most likely from outside London, joining the event to make new friends.
He has a kind smile and genuinity. He asked my what I did for a living. I said, I’d rather not talk about it as I drew little satisfaction from my job at the moment. He pivoted his questions towards hobby, gardening, and life meaning.
He advised me to go traveling if I feel stuck at my current situation. Traveling to India and Thailand have been eye-opening for him, he said. No, you don’t understand, I said. I’m from Indonesia. Moving to UK is already my big adventure. Yet I’m still not happy.
He’s also not happy at his job. He’s a teacher.
I learned that I could still be unhappy when I’m 60. It scares me.
I told him I’m not happy at my job but I can’t move because my visa is tied to the company. I told him I’ve never had a gap in my life, because I’ve always had mortgage to pay.
He asked me what would I do if money and visa is not an issue.
I want to be a teacher, I said.