History evaporated…are we ashamed of it?

Many of my contemporaries will probably hate me for saying this but I miss the socials, marches, chronicles and all of those forced or ‘semi-forced’ gatherings that socialist state posed on us when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s. I have recently posted a blog about Moldova’s region of Leova that I had fallen in love with whilst researching for my PhD. Its horizons, stretching along the river Prut, have bewitched me and gained even more significance when I found out my grandfather fought the Second World War somewhere along the borders of Bessarabia. I adore its cultivated as well as ‘primitive’ vineyards. I love the fruit orchards, juices from which used to be famous all over Soviet Union. You can still see the rows of peaches, apricots, grapes and watermelons today although the market they used to saturate has long disappeared.

But I am even more intrigued by Leova’s region history of lavender, rose, sage and tobacco growing. The Soviet essential oils industry, largely forgotten today has woven its own story in the Leova region History Archives I had visited earlier this year.

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The picture documents the ‘lavender gang’ – the men in charge of lavender harvest that required a swift collection and action!

Most socialist towns used to keep a local chronical looked after by the named ‘chronicler’, someone with an eye for aesthetic and ‘some’ calligraphy skills. Pictures and reports document how the socialist state sought to create an image of the close knit community that celebrated with anticipation every newborn, every house move and every factory performance target reached. It documents the world that is largely forgotten today and that, for some reason, I nostalgically miss, living in the anonymous big metropolis that Birmingham UK is today. Is this kind of nostalgia justified? Would my friends say I only experience it because I had immigrated? I don’t know.

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A modern wedding at a local registry office – elaborate hat, celebrity like shot?

My friend and artist Teresa Buskova spoke of similar nostalgia before screening her brilliant Clipping the Church happening in Erdington Birmingham. “I miss the groups, the clubs, the socialising of mothers, children and neighbours that were so common during the times when I grew up in the communist Czechoslovakia“, Buskova said.  And I wholly empathise with her. She said out loud something that I & my emigre friends have felt, though subdued, for a while.

So here I would like to offer you a glimpse into a regional/disctrict/local life in the Leova region as selected by me from the archives – a sort of a cure for my nostalgia of late:

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Leova region celebrates a child being born into a family of a successful tractorist worker. Below is the local Women’s Group meeting  captured in the photo. On the right, the village marks the occasion of planting trees for future generations to enjoy.
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Every village and town had a person working in a local council committee whose job  it was to chronicle major events. This usually consisted of gluing photos into a sturdy photo book and handwriting (often using calligraphy) or typing a little explanation of what the photos represented. Here we have a page demonstrating how a family moved from the ‘darkness into light’ by turning their backs onto this ‘backward dwelling’ and moving into a more modern house. (the picture here only shows their old dwelling).
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A new clothes store has just open in the village!
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Children are reciting a poem and singing marking the occasion of 30 years of ‘kolchoz’ – existence of the socialist cooperative in the region.
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Another wedding, another story about to be unfolded…many of these lives continue in immigration…

Clipping the Church has its own WordPress blog https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/104015456/posts/632

Up the Hope Street – Part 2

Not a migrant

“We live above a fish and chip shop. I am told it is a traditional British food but this one is owned by an Afghani. My day consists of walking my little brothers to school, peeling some potatoes, then picking them up again. I share a room with my little brothers too but I do not get much sleep. Instead, I watch people on a little square they call Caldmore Village exchanging odd job offers, eyeing up women or just getting drunk. I haven’t been to school for 12 months but that does not mean I do not get any ‘education’. I get plenty of it at our ‘meet ups’ at Palrey Park” .

These are words of Mario, not an imaginary person, but one of many teen boys you may spot in Palry Park any hour of day, locally referred to as ‘East European boy gangs’. What he did not tell…

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Up the Hope Street – Part 2

“We live above a fish and chip shop. I am told it is a traditional British food but this one is owned by an Afghani. My day consists of walking my little brothers to school, peeling some potatoes, then picking them up again. I share a room with my little brothers too but I do not get much sleep. Instead, I watch people on a little square they call Caldmore Village exchanging odd job offers, eyeing up women or just getting drunk. I haven’t been to school for 12 months but that does not mean I do not get any ‘education’. I get plenty of it at our ‘meet ups’ at Palrey Park” .

These are words of Mario, not an imaginary person, but one of many teen boys you may spot in Palry Park any hour of day, locally referred to as ‘East European boy gangs’. What he did not tell you is that his parents are shift workers which leaves childcare, homework and mashing potatoes entirely to him. The family lives near the Hope Street I had posted about last week – an area with some ‘sunny moments’ amidst huge complex social problems.

His mother had tried to get him enrolled to a local secondary school but as mid-term admissions go she had been sent from school to school painstainkingly waiting for his name to be put on waiting lists. Half the time the teachers misspell it but that was the least of her problems. The truth is, most schools have already filled their ‘hard to place’ vacations. Yes, you read that correctly: ‘hard to place’ is a euphemistic term not only for behaviourally difficult children but also for those who require language support. Every school can only cope with a few of those or so they say even if they do, theoretically, have spaces.

Buying in English as Additional Language support is expensive and more ‘progressive’ programmes of hiring bilingual teachers or sharing them with other schools remain largely unexplored. School champions or advocates for migrant children so common in Scandinavian countries sound like words from science fiction to our local schools. And this causes a massive ‘perception problem’ that has recently surfaced in the Brexit campaign. Politicians like Gisela Stuart quote tens of thousands of school places missing when all that is needed is a bit of ‘lateral thinking’ about shared language support and drawing on expertise from very capable and qualified voluntary sector. Self-funded supplementary schools for migrant communities are mushrooming all over West Midlands. Parents started to feel a massive void caused by unwelcoming educational system yet there’s very little funding from local government for such projects.

Pressure on schools to perform highly in the subject of English is another structural problem excluding particularly older children. Even with the long established EU strategy to support multilingualism Britain has somehow managed to ignore it. The ESF funding flowing to local authorities to compensate for any impact of the ‘freedom of movement’ has very rarely reached migrants in practical ways. Qualified teachers from Poland and other countries find it very difficult to persuade schools of the value of degrees from their home countries. And, there’s a very slim chance Britain will see a benefit of such a transnational way of thinking after Brexit.

So where does this leave Mario?  The school that would take him was too far away with no easy bus connections. Even if he was willing to spend most of his free time travelling, there would be no one to look after his siblings. Unlike in Derby, there is no alternative ‘Bridge education’ to fill the gap. (Derby’s school improvement team is helping kids without school places to catch up whilst negotiating with schools on their admissions).

Only last week, Mario was interviewed by a Welfare Officer for not attending school. His mother came home crying as the landlord mentioned something about social services. And what do migrant families do when they hear of social  services?  They are most likely to disappear to another location, disrupting their children education even further.

So next time you hear about ‘pressure on public services’ think about not only the fact that migrant families pay their taxes and should therefore be entitled to decent education. Think about all the talent and energy that communities themselves have to offer if only we could think a bit more creatively about how our schools are run. At the end of the day –  these children are our future playing out in the Hope Street and many other streets like it across the UK.

 

 

Up the Hope Street – Part 1

A week ago, both me and my colleague walked up the Hope Street through a little alley way sandwiched between the Caldmore Village School and Caldmore Community Garden. The sun was high, the weather was warm and the alleyway was busy with parents and kids holding hands on the last school run of the week. My colleague made a walk at 2.50pm and I followed the same trail at approximately 3pm.

We then both attended an Area Meeting about street drinkers during which we could not quite establish a nationality of the drinkers, neither whether they understood local customs or rubbish collection times. We thought they probably lived in certain multi occupied households and found comfort in outdoor socialising but we could not tell that with certainty either. In the end we agreed that some mediation in relevant community languages won’t go amiss. No rocket science, you may say, but pretty groundbreaking for seeing the benefits of mediation in times of austerity.

We then met (on a very rainy day) and coincidentally, the conversation turned to that Friday. Apart from the great weather I recalled that everyone was smiling. There were at least as many Asian kids as Slovakian, Roma and Polish. The alleyway is very narrow and kids were turning their heads eyeing up their mates, hoping to stay behind a bit longer and play outside the gates. I wondered: “Do they ever get invited to each other houses? Have they tried each other’s food? How beautifully has the Garden been restored in the hands of the Polish born Anna. What an impressive attendance at the May Polish picnic organised by the European Welfare Association documented in the refurbished Garden Hall.

My colleague, who has a well known, self-deprecating cynical streak smiled at my ‘naivety’ and described the walk as a series of examples of a ‘dysfunctional area’. Nothing more than a hotspot for fly tipping, drug paraphernalia and discarded cans of East European beverages. Simply a place where street workers in tight jeans and thick mascara get their ‘breakfast’ pint of milk at around 3.30pm.

Are our views ‘professionally distorted’ or do we hold two perspectives that need to find a common ground? Only time will tell if the neighbourhood mediation approach help us start ‘fixing the area’. We know that similar mediation projects are increasingly used by London boroughs and UK CEE Mediation Consultancy is one of the agencies specialising in neighbourhood conflict. There are Midlands organisations, such as Nash Dom, who have done similar work in Stoke on Trent as well as supplementary schools, for example, the Slovak/Czech Club in Birmingham and European Welfare Association in Walsall that support families.  If you have any experience in this area please comment and recommend.

 

 

Post-Brexit Blues

 

Emotional, desperate blog that one day I will surely delete…but today, I have an urge to post.

Suddenly, my inspiration has gone, I no longer know what to write. I am 42 years old and confused. What’s more, I have two children that I am expected to give direction. I could pretend everything is all right and hide away the fact that the carpet was pulled from under our feet.

Big events are nothing new. I remember my parents very well in 1989 watching their entire political system fall, a regime change on a scale unimaginable. Brexit feels a bit like that only that the change does not bring hope, only fear.

I have always been a realist, never afraid of serious work. I looked after terminally ill, holding their hands before death. I sold doughnuts on Brighton pier whilst everyone else was enjoying a Friday night. I studied hard for my degrees and I have hardly ever missed a day’s work. I raised my kids on home made meals amidst the nation that prefers a quick fix of chips and beans. I thought of myself as efficient, intelligent and cute, now I feel discarded, fooled and used. As aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders said when looking at a grand portrait of herself:”It was all a lie. I was too sure of myself.”

But for now, here is a poem I have written about my place in the world.

The world that I know is disappearing
I am knocked down on my hands and knees
Underneath someone is cutting up my map
My book of places, hopes and seas.

He has a dirty nail, that I can see…
that slivers bits of densely populated lines,
strips all the valleys and the good life,
throws mountains and rivers apart.

My socialist childhood is now only a scrap underneath his knuckle
The scholarship turns out to be an error path.
Every job I ever held is just an invisible dead end.
Even the ratio scale no longer match.

My own limbs are stretched at the Dirty Fingernail’s whim
So much so that my lips are now completely stretched
I am not be able to speak beyond this point.

Where is my consciousness in all this?
Only a faint shuffle is heard as on a plastic table cloth.
My life – a pile of random strips, shreds, paper waste.

If only I could put myself back again
Well known connections, rivers that feed the seas
Mountains that help the rivers running
And a legend that help me read.

I will make a collage!
Of all that I used to be but with shoddy edges,
Does not matter how they fit in
As long as they sprout into a new life.