At the back of 388 Green Lane there’s a small kitchen space where the magic happens. At 10am on a Wednesday… or a little more like 10:15… the ladies of Small Heath and Bordesly Green arrive for their English class. Whilst the room may be chilly, the door propped open to provide air flow, the atmosphere is warm and often intermittent laughter fills the air.
I’m going to level with you, often on Wednesday mornings I find it hard to get moving. Always known as hump day, I truly feel it as I drag myself to the bus, which is most often running late, and stand and wait in the cold. Once on board the ride is filled with some Duo Lingo practice, or zoning out and almost missing my stop. Yet whatever Wednesday morning reluctance or baggage I bring to the class, it is instantly blown away when the women walk through the door.
And so the class begins, 15 minutes late, but in the best of spirits. These women, the same age as my mum, have often lived here for over 20 years with their children and have now decided to learn English. Words that come to mind when I think about these women are inspirational, motivated, committed – though not necessarily on time… brave and patient especially when we are trying to translate between Arabic, Spanish and English! Indeed, this is often not their second language but their third or fourth, something we language learners and those who work with people on the move, can only dream of.
As we journey through the themes of where we live, who’s in our family and discuss their plans for the rest of the day small images of humanity creep through. You see brief glimpses of daily life, of the family network, and the journeys they have come on to get to where they are now. You have a small window, for an hour, into their supportive if humorous children, their love of shopping and good food, and the close knit community in a so often forgotten or misjudged area.
You see, yes they have taken this long to learn English, yes they are beginners at their age, but this means the smallest steps and successes are the biggest to celebrate. They have taught me humility, patience, and make me proud when they can remember the simplest words, or form a sentence. These women, who may be seen by some in the UK as submissive due to their traditional role in the family, discriminated against for the faith and seen as alien invaders for not speaking English, are heroines of their stories.
From their ‘poco a poco’ English lessons (as one of them never fails to repeat at the end of each lesson), to their children heading to university and starting their own families, their strength and resilience to begin again in a foreign land and survive this far, to choose to learn English when most would give up or tell them it’s impossible, these women continue to overcome obstacles in their lives everyday and inspire me to do the best I can not only to accompany them on their journey, but to never give up in my own!