We had been midway by way of the annual sport of pass-the-orange-under-the-chin once I realised that Christmas was going to be OK. No, not simply OK, higher.
My Dundonian mom is fairly aggressive in terms of our conventional Christmas video games – nobody flips a kipper additional or quicker. But there she was, standing between Mohammed and Ayman and taking considerably longer than typical to retrieve the orange from beneath the chin of one among our Syrian visitors earlier than passing it securely to the subsequent.
“Are you all proper there, Ma?”
“I’m effective, thanks. You are worried about your personal crew.”
My crew managed to move the orange up and down our line of 12 folks with out the usage of fingers and gained. My mom didn’t appear that bothered.
The gathering of clans for our household Christmas is rarely a small affair. Well being and journey preparations permitting, we often quantity 20-plus Haningtons and Scotts, plus in-laws. In 2017 our numbers had been swollen nonetheless additional, because of the addition of Mohammed and Ayman and a few their pals.
I had been anxious about Christmas. We’re not a very spiritual household, however sure issues are non-negotiable. We at all times have to observe the 4 Christmas classics: Scrooged; It’s a Fantastic Life; The Grinch; and House Alone 2. All of us write a letter to Father Christmas, no matter whether or not or not we imagine in him. And all of us go to midnight mass and sing our lungs out, no matter … see earlier.
I nervous about whether or not our visitors, each of whom are Muslim, would slot in. I nervous about whether or not they would wish to.
We had been internet hosting refugees like Mohammed and Ayman for simply shy of a 12 months. We determined to do it as a result of it was one thing we may do. We reside in a giant home in part of London with a park and woodlands, pubs and a good excessive avenue. Briefly, we’re very fortunate, and as soon as it turned clear that each our youngsters had been heading to Glasgow for examine and work, it appeared like time to share a few of that good luck with individuals who had loved little or no.
My spouse took the lead, contacting Refugees at House, a charity that primarily offers a matchmaking service, connecting refugees who want short-term lodging with households or people who’re prepared to host them. The minimal requirement is which you could provide a room in your own home and a shelf within the fridge the place your visitor can retailer their meals. In observe, in fact, you find yourself sharing way more than that. The proof of that got here in lots of varieties that Christmas, together with a pudding-shaped starter made completely of rice-stuffed vine leaves.
Often, everybody takes duty for bringing a few of the meals for our annual get-together. Snacks, starters, a number of important programs, cheeses, booze, puddings and indigestion tablets – everybody brings one thing. This 12 months, Mohammed and Ayman urged we do it otherwise. If all of us donated a couple of quid, they’d ask their buddy Mo Rahimeh, the person behind a pop-up restaurant referred to as Mo’s Eggs, to assist them give the entire event a Syrian flavour.
Mo could make an egg style higher than any egg has a proper to style, however with Ayman and Mohammed’s assist he went additional. Freshly baked flatbread with selfmade hummus and a smoky baba ganoush. Syrian rice with roast rooster, eggs cooked in half a dozen alternative ways together with the “jungle eggs” that he had created when he was within the camp exterior Calais. Plus, in fact, the stuffed vine-leaf creation, which regarded extra like an art work than an entrée.
Bread was damaged and tales had been informed. The younger Syrians talked overtly to relations concerning the ordeals that they had gone by way of in an effort to attain the UK. I had spoken to them, and to different refugees we had met, about their journeys throughout Africa and Europe as a part of the analysis for a e-book I used to be writing and had come to understand that, if something, we underestimate the horror.
In between the tales, everybody took activates Spotify, and the outcome was an attention-grabbing mash-up of Motown, Fairouz, Slade, Sabah Fakhri and Bob Dylan’s Christmas album.
The day and night-long celebration culminated with some extra video games, guitars and harmonica and jokes, a few of which had been simpler to translate than others. Somebody learn an extract from Dickens’ Christmas Carol, another person learn some Dylan Thomas. Lastly, Ayman stood and recited The Damascene Poem by Nizar Qabbani. He spoke in Arabic after which in English.
“I’m a Damascene
In case you dissect me into halves
You should have however grapes and apples
Falling in your path.”
It was a tough act to observe and, correctly, nobody tried. Higher to sit down and acknowledge the numerous presents these younger guys from Damascus had introduced us.
Peter Hanington’s political thriller A Single Supply, set within the coronary heart of the Arab spring, is printed by Two Roads/John Murray