Tuesday, 27 July 2010

31) Cornerstone Day Centre 4

Thursday 22nd July

Soraya and I arrived at the day centre at lunch time. I feel more confident walking in now, I know where to go, I recognise a few faces and generally feel less intimidated. I got a bowl of soup and a man offered me a free seat. During the walk there Soraya had got me thinking about why exactly I was doing this project and how I wanted the audience to react and respond after receiving the message.

We concluded the conversation with agreeing that I needed to meet with the client again to clear up a few loose ends.

The man from the previous visit, who pulled off his finger nails, called us over to his table. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to photograph his hands, however, once again he left before I had the chance. It's a difficult thing to bring into a natural flowing conversation.

He's explaining to me about British history and politics and I'm smiling, nodding along thinking, "how can I link this conversation with, can I take a photograph of your hand?"

I love watching people at the food counter. A man asked for a few slices of cucumber and a tray bake to be put in a little bag for ten pence. Watching him take the time to count out 10p from the money in his pocket was so touching. I can't remember the last time I bought something for 10p, it made me appreciate the value of money.

To me 10p is just loose change that makes my purse heavy, to that man 10p is worth a few slices of cucumber and a tray bake.

I forgot to mention on a previous soup run that a man gave me a marble. I was serving food and one man said, "Are you going to smile properly?" I looked up and he was smiling at me. I think he was trying to be nice. I took it as a compliment, rather than, 'what's wrong with your face?' Then the next guy in the queue gave me a white marble that he had found earlier. He didn't really say anything, he just gave me it. I know a marble isn't worth much, but the sentiment of someone offering me a small token meant a lot. I'll keep that marble.

Back at the day centre I got a cup of tea and sat at a table with an African man named Ali. I asked if I could sit down, he nodded, Ali seemed quiet shy. I am very wary meeting new people in the day centre, as you just don't know how people are going react towards you. I find myself speaking as I would to a child. Very slowly, clearly and asking basic questions. What is your name? Have you had your lunch yet? Was it nice? It gives people a chance to suss me out and get to know me. I notice when people are feeling a little uncomfortable they rarely sit still. They go to the bathroom, they go and get a drink, they go and get food, they are always on the move. I back off.

Ali eventually settled down. He saw me speaking to others which gave him more confidence. His friends seem to make fun of his memory. Saying, "Ali what's my name?" He says, "He is my friend but i cannot remember his name." His friends ask him what day it is? Ali guesses and says "Monday," it was Thursday. Everyone laughed, including Ali. I told him about my project, he seemed interested, but not enough to be involved. I decided to show him the photographs I had already taken of other people's hands and asked him what he thought. He began to understand the concept. I showed him the stories of other people I had collected and he was interested in how the stories matched the hands.

I asked again if I could photograph his hands. He said yes. I asked Ali what he thought his photograph said about himself. He didn't know. I explained that I could see he was hard working. He agreed. That he was a kind and honest man. He agreed. And I told him he was a good listener. He agreed.

Ali is from Somalia and wants to go home to see his mother. He came over and studied at university however he says he has somehow lost all of his ambition.

“ I think I am open minded and always willing to learn.”

We talk about living in England and I ask if he likes the weather, he simply says, “Not really… I get wet.”

I ask Ali about his plans for the future and if he sees himself getting home to his mother. He says,

“I am waiting for something to happen” he pauses “Some people make things happen” he looks at me and smiles, “Maybe I should make something happen.”

I smile and nod.

There was something very simple and charming about Ali. He then went and got me a cup of tea and a biscuit. Later that afternoon Ali taught me the basics of Arabic.

We both learnt something that day.

There is a guy with special needs called Darren. He sat beside me. Someone told me Darren likes girls in skirts. I was wearing a skirt. I asked Darren about the ring he was wearing. He told me his girlfriend gave it to him. I asked him what his girlfriend was like? He said, "She's lovely."

As I was speaking to Darren I overheard Ali talking to someone else, he referred to me as a journalist.

Sitting outside with Soraya, who was in deep conversation with someone about the Mustard Tree Charity, I noticed a man stumble over to the table I was sitting at. He was obviously on something. He turned round and asked me where I was from. I didn't really want to talk to him so I briefly said, Northern Ireland. His friends called him, encouraging him not to speak to me. When he turned to walk away I saw he had half an ear. There was one large bite mark. I couldn't believe it. Soraya was in too deep a conversation to interrupt.

I was ready and waiting to go, when I heard an argument start. A foreign man in crutches was arguing with a woman, possibly his girlfriend, and the manager of Cornerstones. I didn't quite understand the issues but they were yelling about heroine abuse, money, lying and the man was being asked to leave and told to sort himself out. It was very awkward as everyone sitting outside went quiet. I didn't know where to look, so I just watched a pigeon hop down some steps.

I passed the man in the street a few days later, he was on his own.

My parents came to visit me at the weekend. I had told them all about the work I was doing for my final major project. I explained to them that it is a very interesting topic and that I am being very clever. They leave me to get on with it.

One day returning to my flat, there is a homeless man sitting outside the entrance with his face in his hands. I know the person and I have in fact taken a photograph of his hands before. It's Billy, the first person I photographed, the person who got a free meal for speaking to me. I ask him if he is ok? He says yes, he is just tired. He asks if any of us smoke. We say no. He wishes us a nice day.

I reassure my parents by saying, "I feel safer knowing the people on the streets, I know that they won't hurt me." My mum says, "yes, but now he knows where you live."

A good point.

Later I see 9 people sitting with Billy. They say, "Hiya love, take care" They all seem hyped up about something, something has happened.

10 minutes later they are moved on by security.

1 comment:

  1. As always Nicola its a great read - you need to put more of these up!!

    You have to include them in the book somehow?