Lost in Translation
Marwa Soliman is an Egyptian who works as a translator in Nottingham. Here she discusses the challenges newly arrived migrants face in terms of culture and community.
My husband is studying Mechanical Engineering for a PhD at the University of Nottingham. That’s what brought us to the UK, that and a love of travel and a desire for new experiences. I came over with two children and have given birth to a third while here. We live about 10 minutes bus ride from the University and my children’s school is close, so we are positioned well.
My expectation for Britain was a place of justice and freedom of speech. Coming from Egypt, this is understandable. In 2013 there was the Rabaa massacre which the Human Rights Watch described as ‘one of the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history’. I attended with my daughter because I did not want her to be oppressed in the future. But it was very scary when the shooting started.
At the time, my husband had been in the UK for a few months. I called him and said get me out of here quick or else I will end up in prison or worse. I’ve always been a rebel, and protest peacefully when I believe something is wrong. Unfortunately, even writing something on Facebook could lead to prison at home. So, coming to Britain I expected to be treated equally and to be able to freely express my opinions.
There are lots of challenges facing newly arrived migrants, especially those from the Middle East, and so providing leaflets about the culture and the laws of the country could help avoid problems. For example, Female Genital Mutation (FGM) is normal within the culture of one of my friends. Not for Islamic reasons but more of a pharaonic thing. She was openly discussing this and asking her new friends whether she should do this with her daughter and she was reported to the police. She had to go to court and was so stressed she left the country and did not come back. I am speaking honestly here because it is important to understand she did not know it was a crime. This is the kind of cultural education migrants need to know to avoid causing offence or going to jail.
What I like most about Britain are the gardens and parks. They are everywhere. In our country we don’t have parks, we have clubs, and you have to pay lots of money to go to them. But here it’s free. Unfortunately, the weather is terrible! I don’t like rain, but I have got used to it.
My idea of community is based on an Islamic point of view; we are all parts of a human body where the ‘organs’ work together. If one part hurts, we all hurt. Community is about taking care of each other. Once I had a terrible argument with my husband and in a temper, I cut up my ATM card and threw my phone and stormed out the house. I was very upset and went to the park. An English woman saw I was upset and sat next to me and invited me back with her. She was religious and took me to like a church gathering or something like that. They were very caring and that made me feel very accepted and content and I was able to return home calmer. This is what community means to me.
Voluntary work helps me find community. Back home I used to distribute food to the poor and teach the Quran to young girls in the masjid (mosque). In the UK I’m part of an ambassador programme encouraging people to get involved with local projects and have given talks here and in London. I help out with translations, too, which means I get to meet lots of people while perfecting my English. I love the texture of language. Arabic is a particularly beautiful language.
Recently I got involved with The Bigger Picture project and performed at the Nottingham Contemporary with other volunteers. We formed a community researcher’s group. I volunteered for The Bigger Picture project because I didn’t know anything about art galleries or museums and so I got to visit all of these new places like the Nottingham Contemporary and the National Justice Museum. But the thing that has taught me most about UK culture is my children. They go on school trips and bring home lots of information about things that are happening, and I learn so much and meet new people through the school.
I have been a victim of crime in the UK three times. When I first arrived here a man was trying to break into my neighbour’s home. He was screaming he was going to kill her, and I was petrified he would try and kill me too. I was pregnant at the time and didn’t know what to do or who to call. When the police did arrive, they were very nice and helpful. This is what motivated me to learn more about procedures and who to contact in an emergency.
Another time I was stalked. I told my tutor at the ESOL class and she took me to the police. We reported the incident together. It was very helpful to understand the process and empowering to be able to report it. The final incident happened when I was shopping. I accidentally bumped my trolley against a man, and he started taking pictures of me. I left the store and he followed me out. I felt in real danger and called the police but this time they didn’t really do anything.
Now I teach this information to newly arrived people as it’s important they understand how to contact services. But even then, there are problems, such as with accents. If I get through to someone with a Liverpudlian accent I can’t understand anything they are saying and hang up and call back and hope someone else answers.
Brexit worries me because after the referendum in 2016 hate crime started to rise. ‘Taking back control’ means that anyone who is a foreigner should not be here. Even my daughter has experienced it at school for wearing the Hijab. Her school arranged a trip to the masjid and I went along to see the kids’ perceptions. Some of them hated it, and they said bad words even before going there. But the teacher was awesome, she said if you said anything wrong, if you did anything bad, you would go straight to the Head Teacher. That was reassuring to witness. But the thing that upset me the most was the Imam had to explain to seven-year-old children that Islam is not about terrorism.
It reminded me of the abuse I’ve experienced in the UK, mainly from older men, who say, ‘Fuck off, we don’t want you here, go back to your own country’. I think to myself: I have never seen you before, you have never met me before, probably you will never see me again, why have you chosen me? What have I done to you? I’m paying lots of money to stay here. Just the visa so far is £8000. I’m helping the economy. Why insult me? This is what I wish more people understood. That I’m not an asylum seeker. I’m not a refugee. I’m not on benefits. I pay taxes and I am here through choice while my husband completes his PhD.
The above interview was conducted in May 2019 with James Walker and Amanda Hanson in Hyson Green.
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