Celebrating Friendship is our new series for Refugee Week 2021 showcasing bonds formed across borders, generations and cultures.
Welcome to part two of Celebrating Friendship, where we tell the stories of friendships between people who’re seeking safety in the UK, and those who’ve welcomed them.
It was inspired by this year’s Refugee Week theme, We Cannot Walk Alone, a line from Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech referencing how we must continue to fight for each other’s freedoms.
From Nick and Mo, who bonded over each other’s cuisines (a Sunday roast with North African influences? Sounds delicious!), to Peter and Mohand who now have their own theatre show, these friendships cross cultures and borders.
Peter and Mohand
Peter, from Newcastle, met Mohand, who is originally from Sudan, when they were a part of a theatre production where refugees and asylum seekers were a significant part of the cast. They became good friends and now, the two friends even have their own show called Mohand and Peter.
‘In 2016, I had just come back from volunteering in Lesbos in the camps there. I got involved as a performer in Borderline, a play where half of the cast were refugees and asylum seekers, and half were European. And I met Mohand through doing that show.
‘It’s a long time ago now, but I have very strong memories of Mohand from that first show. I’d just come out of drama school and I’d been through all this training, and that is how I was going into it – everything had to be done professionally.
‘And I remember on the opening night, we were just about to go on stage and I was trying to get everyone ready, and Mohand was just opening the drapes and being like “whoa look how many people are there” and then he was on Instagram and taking a photo, and I was freaking out saying “put that stuff away.” But in hindsight, he was living life and I was full of anxiety because of my ego.
‘It was humbling the meeting of these two worlds, when you are struck by the fact ‘my problems aren’t problems at all’. You can sit back and enjoy the good things. All these beautiful moments drew me and Mohand together.
‘We have fun. That’s what our relationship has always been. We took that and pushed it to its limits in our new play, Mohand and Peter. While working on it, we spent a lot of time talking about our families and upbringing – it was really eye opening. I grew up in Newcastle as a family of four, didn’t even talk to my neighbours that much. But for Mohand, everything is about being together in a huge family.
‘The reality, though, is, I can go home to see my family at any point, and Mohand can’t. So in our play, Mohand takes me home to Sudan and introduces me to everyone.’
‘The first time I met Peter was in 2016. We did some drama workshops in the summer, and after that we started creating Borderline.
‘For me, it was the first time being on stage. It’s not easy when there are so many people. If I looked relaxed, it was just on the outside!
‘During the second play we did, Welcome To The UK, we had a part together, me and Peter. All the audience loved it. The idea came when Peter and I were doing that part in the play and after that we started to create Mohand and Peter.
‘I had to explain a lot of things to Peter because he just knew a little bit about Sudan. If I could take him there, I’d take him to my home, to see my family and my village. In the show, we have a lot of names, so he already knows all the names of my family. I went to Newcastle in 2018 and his parents came to the show.
‘Now, everyone knows Peter. I got him to record Sudanese songs with his British accent. At that time everyone from Sudan was singing those songs, because of the protests, and everyone loved him doing it.
‘When we created the show, Peter shared a lot of things about his life, about his family, I didn’t know that before and I feel I’m closer to him now. I want him to come to London and we can go to the park, drink coffee. It’s a long time since I’ve seen him in person.’
Nick and Mo
Nick and Mo met through the West End Refugee Service (WERS) Befriending scheme in Newcastle. Matched up just before the first lockdown in March 2020, their friendship grew as they relied on each other for companionship, bonding over food and football.
‘Mo and I were put in contact right at the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown. This was an isolating time for everyone and my calls with Mo gave me something to look forward to. It was such a great opportunity to get to meet someone new, especially when other options to be social had been limited. I got to meet other people from Sudan during football games Mo organised and we found that our connection was pretty good on the pitch too!
‘Mo and I got along really well and spent a lot of time talking about our favourite subject… food!
‘Mo spoke of his love of the North African dish Asida and I raved about Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. We planned to cook for each other as soon as we could legally go into each other’s houses but didn’t expect it to be a year until this was allowed.
‘During that year a lot happened in both our lives. Family bereavements, Mo’s marriage and my partner and my decision to emigrate to New Zealand. It was great to share this with someone during regular walks, football games and phone calls.
‘When restrictions finally eased, Mo and his new wife Salma were finally able to come over for the long overdue meal before we left the country… I can’t recommend enough the fusion of Asida and a Sunday roast!’
Elena and Salma
Elena and Salma met via Newcastle charity the West End Refugee Service (WERS) and their Befriending scheme, which offers emotional support for refugees and asylum seekers. Both originally from Syria, they bonded over their love of Syrian food and memories of their homeland.
‘I am a volunteer at the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle. I was matched with my Befriendee to support her to get to know the area, help her settle in the city and also to support her with interpreting.
‘What we have in common is we both like Syrian food.
‘My befriender and her family are the closest I get to home – Syria. Even though we are both from different parts of Syria; one from the north and the other from the south.
‘My children like my Befriender; they love spending time in her garden and we all enjoy going on outings with her and getting to know the city.’