In 2007 Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell spent three months travelling around Britain in a low-carbon way. We're home now but still like to travel, and blog about it. This post is by Nicola.
Part of the year I teach feature writing to university students. this is a real pleasure and has enabled me to meet many very lovely, bright and ambitious young men and women on the cusp of their careers. It's a kind of virtual travelling as I get to meet people from places I doubt I'll go to. For all of us it's about realising everyone has different norms.
When students do a feature assignment for class I always say "write what you know". This year I'm regretting it. Many of my students have interviewed friends/ family/ acquaintances who have harrowing stories about family life around the world.
Life changing journeys
From Nepal there's the misery caused by students lured to the UK enrolled into fake colleges, or Visa Factories, who then end up in debt and with no chance of getting the promised degree.
From Nigeria there's examples of the causual violence inflicted on girlfriends and wives because it's OK for men to be seen to be the boss.
From Bangladesh there is the problem of arranged marriages leaving young women, new-to-Britain (often with no friends and no English language skills) trapped with violent husbands and consentingly mean mother-in-laws. If these women manage to leave these husbands and divorce they are shamed and shunned by their own family, destroying their lives if they even can get a ticket home. They are also stuck if this happens within the first two years of their marriage/visa as the UK rules mean they cannot get any support from the state. Any unfortunate woman with a baby would be in a horrific situation.
There's the Albanian girl who knows her life will be mapped out for her. She may be a student know but you get married before you're 24 or that's it, no man will want you.
Or in India, the semi-Royal-behaving family who was so angry with their daughter's choice of boyfriend that they packed her off to the UK and then faked her death in a car-crash. This is a particularly harsh story as the girl was treated like a princess right until the moment her family realised she had been a friend of a Moslem man. Clearly she didn't realise she was living in a gilded cage and had misjudged the love her family had for her. Daddy loved her but only if she did what they wanted, which isn't love at all is it?
And there's another story from India recalling the clashes in 2002 which left 1000s dead in a city on the "other side of the bridge". For the Moslem teenager on that side the experience was scarring enough to bring on post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet his contemporary, a Hindu girl, remembers the three months of curfew on her "other side of the bridge" as a happy time with far more leisure and indoor activities that she almost misses now the troubles are over.
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
It's a right set of misery pieces, all written so well. And I so hope my students can take these ideas and shake them up and make an effort to change things. At the very least I think we all deserve safe homes, and yet for so many women this is painfully not the case. My students' writing show the world as cruel and unfair - and yet their own generosity, happy spirits and kindnesses demonstrate another path.
Here's a good luck message to anyone baffled by the things going wrong - the lost housing deposits, the fake colleges with dud courses, the family or cherised boyfriend/partner turning against you. I hope things will get better for you, and that you have the skills to share your stories. I've never read about the stuff my students chart in my favourite newspapers, but I cannot tell you how many times I've read about how to reuse a plastic water bottle, what film to watch or summer festival fashion tips - useless, simplistic journalese.
I guess the message of this piece is that when you travel - anywhere, even out of your door - try to see if your friendship can ever help people too proud, or confused to admit to the pain their nearest and dearest are giving them.