I’d definitely miscalculated how many asylum-seeking ladies I could squeeze into my little hatchback. The four ladies eyed the backseat of my car with some scepticism as I explained it would be fine as long as they didn’t mind a bit of a squish. There was another gentle sigh of resistance when I insisted everyone had to wear a seatbelt.
My task was to ferry these ladies from their hotel to a free hair salon that Care4Calais had organised at a nearby church hall. One of the women – a trained hairdresser herself – was coming to help out, while the others were in search of a little pampering. The outward journey was quiet – everyone was from a different country, and being forced to sit thigh-to-thigh in the backseat was a bit uncomfortable, but the ladies were polite, if a bit reserved.
Soon, however, our pop-up salon worked its magic. A decent haircut and nice blow-dry can do wonders to restore the mood and put smiles back on everyone’s faces. One of my passengers, an older lady from Sudan, was delighted. ‘My happiest evening,’ she told me, her face wreathed in smiles as she patted her smooth hair. She even video-called her husband back home to show off her new hair-do. I was pulled into the camera frame to say hello and take some of the credit, though I’d done little more than make tea and hand out pizza.
I’m always struck by how warm and friendly asylum seekers are, in spite of the horrors they’ve endured. I think there’s something about their culture and kinship that we’ve lost sight of during our busy, urban lives. They call us volunteers “sister” or “angel” and are eager to share what little they have to show their gratitude – be it a homemade Iranian delicacy, a bar of chocolate or a banana.
On the return journey to the hotel, my little car was rocking with chatter and laughter. These ladies, strangers only a few hours ago, had become friends, bonded over hair straighteners and pizza. Now they were swapping numbers and hatching plans to do Zumba in each other’s rooms.
Watching them though my rear-view mirror, I felt my own bubble of happiness. This, I realised, is why we help. To share a smile, to become part of their wider family – and to show that we care.
Emma volunteer from Reading