I first moved to Greenwich as an asylum seeker five years ago. At that time I was very lonely and lived in terrible accommodation which was damp and dirty. I counted the days and weeks, desperate to move somewhere else...
I spent most of the time outdoors, leaving my small room, cold and full of mice, to walk with empty pockets around Greenwich, an extraordinary place, full of colour and diversity. Inside, I lay in bed, silent, isolated, thinking of the past, but outside it was all noisy, greenness, crowds everywhere, and I could just look around me and forget the pain. In my room the roof was, grey, but in Greenwich the sky was clear and blue.
A gentle breeze brought the smell of flowers towards me but the smoke of war blocked my nose and choked me.
It was late spring. I was a new arrival. An Iraqi-Kurd asylum seeker with dark memories facing the people of Greenwich. My dim and narrow vision versus a bright and wide space. I remember I went out in the early morning before the sun kissed the lip of Greenwich Hill. I watched as the light fog moved slowly from Trafalgar Road into Greenwich Park. It settled among the trees, then disappeared and fell on the grass to become dew. The breeze took the dew from the grass and sprinkled it on my parched face until I was drenched, but my heart was still boiling, away in my wild, desert land. A gentle breeze brought the smell of flowers towards me but the smoke of war blocked my nose and choked me. I remember how the sun rose and hid behind the Canary Wharf tower for a while, then it embraced the whole of Greenwich like a mother kissing her children. People were very happy when the sun shone on their own kind.
I was the only one, like an orphan, walking the street alone. The sun didn't twinkle on my dark soul because I was not yet part of this mass, part of the puzzle. I was aimless, walking nowhere, just trying to kill time. The people around me had jobs to do, places to stay, places to go, to meet, to eat breakfast, talk, make appointments, take calls. Even the children had school to go to. Everyone was inside this special circle of time, except for me, the outsider, doing nothing, belonging nowhere, related to no-one. I felt like a shadow, because I had nothing to do or to make. None of my acts related to one another. I was just running from a silent room.
I am outside and can see a lot of things. Everywhere, from east to west Greenwich, every part of the town, everything is linked. The planes in the sky drift through white clouds. The cars, the kids in school uniform, the Royal Observatory, the red, double-decker buses, the DLR and the Southeast train, the advertisements and announcements, the ferry and the ships, the waves of the River Thames and the seagulls. Everything is in motion and has a purpose and a reason. I stand alone, I do not communicate. I have no relation with anything or anyone.
Everyone was inside this special circle of time, except for me, the outsider, doing nothing, belonging nowhere, related to no-one.
I remember once I walked from Greenwich High Street to St Alfege Church then on to Greenwich market which was a like whole world in one place; so many people, different faces, different languages, rushing around, waiting in line, running for buses, I just walked around and looked at them, unable to fill in the gaps.
I could see the beauty all around, but it was difficult to feel it. I went down to the Cutty Sark, an amazing old ship on the edge of the River Thames. I felt a desperate desire to enter the Gate Clock restaurant and bar and order a pint and a portion of fish and chips, but I didn't have the money. I just looked at the menus from outside. As an asylum seeker I was given vouchers which I could only spend in certain supermarkets. Many times I sat on the river bank and thought about myself, my past, the present, the beautiful and ugly places - and my tummy was always rumbling with hunger.
In the evening, the sun leaves the city, a cool wind arrives and Greenwich town starts to empty. A place of beauty but one I can't be part of, yet. Finally I move on with my empty stomach and tired legs. I return to my room, the world of waiting, lie down and try to rest my exhausted mind.
One great thing about London is that throughout history, strangers have come here and ended up rebuilding their lives to become 'happy Londoners'. I moved from being an asylum seeker to becoming a Londoner.
Now I live with my family in the same part of Greenwich, but it has a different place in my heart. Every morning, before the last star disappears, I wake up and watch the skyline from my window. I hold my child's hand and then take her to school. I see the same things as before (the museum, the park, the restaurants, etc...) nothing has changed. Greenwich is still the same. But I am different. I now feel part of this place, part of the crowd, and connected with others. I am no longer alone. One great thing about London is that throughout history, strangers have come here and ended up rebuilding their lives to become 'happy Londoners'. I moved from being an asylum seeker to becoming a Londoner. I still think about the asylum seekers around here, walking with empty pockets, feeling strange, feeling cold, looking around. Walking without smiling, wondering where they have come from and where they are going...
Write to Life is the creative writing and performance group of Freedom from Torture. Established in 1997, it is the longest-running refugee-writing group in Britain, and the only one specifically for survivors of torture.