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Hay Festival Blog 2019

Thursday May 24th. Started to pack things that will be needed for the stall on Brecon road. The Teddies arrived with Janet. Virginia handed over some money bags and has tidied up the collection buckets.  Tickets picked up for the stewards and Jonathan who is coming to help mentor them. The bucket collection after a talk by Stacey Dooley raised £1032.47p! buckets were looked after  by Sean, Ron, Philip, Neil,  Lynne, Virginia and Ailsa all wearing our new tabards. Evening spent counting money, sorting out tickets and printing leaflets.

Friday May 25th car packed with all the things for the stall and picked up the gazebo from Susan. She kindly says that if the gazebo is damaged or broken that it won’t matter- ‘It doesn’t owe us anything!’ Made Flapjacks and Brownies for energy for the weekend and to give to the Box office staff who have arranged complimentary tickets for people seeking sanctuary. Attended a talk by Michael Rosen that had everyone roaring with laughter but also reflecting on the impact of racism,  the rise of Nationalism and the second world war. A collection after this for Hay Library was well supported.

Then we attended a talk  with Mazen Maarouf , Dina Nayeri and Oliver Bullough. Both are refugees and spoke movingly but lightly  about their experiences. Maarouf is an award-winning Palestinian-Icelandic writer and journalist whose short story collections are Jokes for the Gunmen and The Rats that Lick a Karate Champion’s Ears.  He was born in Lebanon to Palestinian parents [ Thus born a refugee] and grew up in Beirut in the 80’s. He said that he was the first person in his family to ever have a passport and he minimises the wonder of travel when he talks to his parents as  they have never  been  able to do so. He spoke warmly about Iceland where he says everyone is a writer and many people with degrees are working  in jobs that don’t require much expertise but since everyone does this no one seems to mind. He told of working in Lebanon where many jobs were forbidden to Palestinians and so when he worked he had to be mindful that he was doing so illegally. For example he has a masters degree in Chemistry and was teaching in a school , which is not permitted to Palestinians. When inspectors came to the school he had to leave for a few hours and  he’d find himself chatting with the children who were playing truant!

Dina Nayeri  was eight  when she fled from Iran  with her mother and brother as her mother had become Christian. They lived  for some months in the crumbling shell of an Italian hotel-turned-refugee-camp. She described how her mother saw so many people bored, waiting, anxious and unoccupied. So she arranged for her children to go to school and took them on trips around Italy using cheap fares and saving up the food that they were given in the hotel. They  were granted asylum in America about eighteen months after leaving Iran. Now living in London she has written  her own vivid story with those of other asylum seekers in recent years, bringing us inside their daily lives and taking us through the stages of their journeys, from escape to asylum to resettlement, in her book The Ungrateful Refugee. She talked about the importance of giving people dignity and choice and how even the interpreters accent can have a detrimental effect upon the outcome of asylum applications. She suggested that Interpreters with British or American Accents seemed to be believed more than foreign sounding ones. She talked about how impressed she was with a shop run in refugee camps that gave people the chance to choose for themselves what clothing or food they wanted based upon a virtual payment. She said what was needed was to give people love, allow them to help you or share their food and to believe them. She also spoke of how her father had not sought asylum with them and she believed he would not have coped with the loss of status and the familiarity of home. She said women seemed to be able to adapt and work in different ways but many men just wanted to resume their previous careers in a new place.

Saturday May 26th

Set up the stall at Richard’s house next to Blood Bikers. Adil and Sue arrived early and Lawrence went to re- organise the charity collection buckets. The streets were busy but many people stopped to talk , to take a leaflet or to take a ‘Sanctuary seeking teddy’. All the children seemed happy to offer a home and friendship to a toy that had been forced to leave their own home  and parents seemed pleased to to discuss where the countries are and why the toys might not have been safe. Our magnificent team of Adil, Sue, Stuart, Claire, Mike, Brenda and Penny gave out about 80 teddies and over 200 leaflets and some pencils! We ended up tidying things away before 4 as we had run out of leaflets and teddies. It was interesting wandering around the festival site and spotting occasional teddies bonding with new friends!

And so to a Bucket collection with Neil, Ron, Penny, Nansi, Lawrence and Ailsa. Sadly there was not an announcement but people still gave generously and we raised nearly £200. We assisted with a couple of other collections and spent the rest of the evening counting money….and printing leaflets….

A lovely quote from Mary Robinson ex President of Ireland. that she attributed to Archbishop Tutu. Apparently when he was asked why he was so optimistic he replied ‘I’m not an optimist – just a prisoner of hope.”

Sunday 27th May. Stall set up by Richard, Adil and Janet in the rain. Ailsa and Lawrence delivered 400 Leaflets and left soon after to take some Chocolate Brownies to the box office and on to a family wedding. Meanwhile the magnificent team of Adil, Janet, Barbara , Reg, Hilary, Tim, Val and Claire gave out 400 leaflets and raised over £400….this is a record for a street stall of ours! Lots of interesting conversations and apparently possibly new members.

Monday 28th May. Stall set up by Richard, Lynne , Philip and Trevor and another 250 leaflets delivered. Todays team of Trevor, Lynne, Philip,Barbara, Reg, Val, Tim and Ellen raised over £80. Again many people were interested in our group and some people from York who are doing similar welcoming activities. Lawrence and Ailsa helped with Bucket collections for Parkinson’s and for Love Zimbabwe. It was lovely to see Martha and Dave and we may have other opportunities to work alongside them. Checked Eugene’s books in the Hay Festival bookshop – No sales so far.

WE spent the evening counting money and preparing for the arrival of volunteer stewards tomorrow.

Tuesday 29th May.Even the rain didn’t deter our volunteer Sanctuary seeking stewards from coming to Hay. Despite downpours in Swansea 6 people caught the bus with the help of Jonathan who then set off himself with Mahdi to come over. Adil and Ailsa met the bus in brilliant sunshine and took the group first round Morrisons to collect some foods that they might like and then to their accommodation. Adil had 4 women to help shop which took a while and after statutory photos and purchase of a large amount of food [Mary had already bought quite a bit] they went to drop off baggage and select their rooms. They were very enthusiastic about the house and the views. The two men bought very little and apart from remarking upon the narrowness of the roads were stunned into silence by the scenery [ or was it the driving?] on their journey to Sarah and Chris’s home. A suggested that he had arrived in paradise.

We arrived at the Festival site and as we signed in the message came that Peter Florence was keen to see Otis. Otis was very keen to see Peter and a very moving reunion took place. Otis wanted to thank Peter for his help with the campaign to be released from detention and so did all Otis’s friends. Peter commented that it was a magical moment and I think a number of us felt a lump in our throats. The friendly, helpful Otis being imprisoned and threatened with deportation to almost certain death seemed almost impossible to credit as having happened.

Peter and Ailsa with some of the sanctuary seeking stewards

When the 5 new stewards went to their induction training, Mahdi and Otis went to start their shift. So many of the stewards remembered Otis and remarked upon how much his English had improved and also how glad they were to see them both.

Meanwhile Philip, Lynne, Reg, Barbara, Ailsa and Lawrence went to hear Lord Alf Dubs,Renate Collins, Josie Naughton and Barbara Winton. Lord Dubs and Renate Collins were two of 669 Czech-resident, mainly Jewish children saved from the Nazis by the British stockbroker Nicholas Winton and others on the Kindertransport. Hay Festival  marked the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport with Nicholas Winton’s daughter, Barbara, and survivors of the original operation, and discussed the opportunities today to help children fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in Britain. Josie Naughton is co-founder and CEO of Help Refugees a charity helping people seeking refuge across Europe and the Middle East. Several people referred to the lack of hope they often saw in peoples eyes in Refugee camps and how important it was to give people hope, dignity and love. A comment that struck me was that in the 1930’s the press was still hostile to taking people needing sanctuary and that at the time taking the children was really to try to give them a better life, schooling  and hope as no one really thought their families would be exterminated.

Josie Naughton talked about how ‘Help Refugees’ started in 2015 when she and friends distressed by scenes on TV asked on Social media for money and tents and stuff to send to the camps. Within a week they had over £52,000 and so many tents and sleeping bags etc from  Amazon orders that they had to request help to pack it. She described her first visit  to Calais as unbearable with at that time 5000 people living in a field knee deep in mud. She met a 13 year old Syrian boy there whose only remaining relative was an uncle in London. They offered to try to get this young boy any thing he wanted . He only wanted his mum and as she was dead, his uncle. She mentioned how she’d been inspired by this encounter to try to help give people shelter, safety,  schooling and above all love. Her Charity now helps both abroad and in the UK to help people come to terms with the trauma they have suffered as well as campaigning for better laws and quotas. Help Refugees works through other groups and charities- 90 in 13 countries.

The group were asked what could be done to help now. It was suggested writing and talking to councillors,/MPs to ask to take more people here and to improve the immigration laws, to use social media to help promote the causes and to recognise that compassion is contagious. Importantly to  believe we all have the power to make a difference.

Nothing at all to do with HBTSR! But it was good to meet the ex Wales Captain.

After returning people to their accommodation, spent the evening counting yet more money. £1300 raised from the collection after the Alf Dubs’ talk which  was more than £1 a person. It was certainly an almost silent collection as many people gave notes.

Wednesday and Thursday. Sue and Ailsa took it in turns to pick up and drop off the women stewards whilst Jonathan drove the men in. All seem to be enjoying the festival and the experience. Dr A is enjoying having  the chance to listen to super lectures and attended one on Malaria [ ‘delivered by a genius’]. Otis is in a video about stewarding at Hay Festival. Mahdi is pleased to see old friends. The women are starting to feel tired- It’s a long day listening and speaking English and standing especially if observing Ramadan.  We’ve decided to come in later tomorrow as we have a few things in the evening to go to.

Friday 31st May. The men decided not to have a lie in so started at 9.30 as usual whilst the rest of us enjoyed some extra beauty sleep. Sue kindly brought the women in for 12.30. They say they’ve really enjoyed the BBC tent and I watched them showing people to places in the queue and answering questions and thought they looked very professional. B was thrilled to be on microphone duty for questions. A says he could hardly believe the amount of talks and found it hard to choose what to listen to. He says he hopes he can come again next year and spend the whole 10 days here – depending upon work commitments. He’s also sure that he is speaking better English having spent 3 days just talking and listening all the time. Lawrence and I went to a few talks. One by Albert Woodfox who was imprisoned in solitary confinement in America for 40 years for a crime he didn’t commit was memorable for me for a crime he did commit- ‘driving whilst being black!’

Billy Bragg told us he was trying to make sense of the world . We all see the same stars but just join them up differently and he was trying to do so in an interesting way. He said he wasn’t going to preach to the choir but  instead give out spears. He talked about the need to be accountable, accept responsibility and treat people fairly. He felt the  recent problems are due to people feeling that they have no say and the polarisation into far left and right was because people wanted to make their voices heard. He suggested that a way forward with Brexit might be to have a peoples assembly where all voices could be heard respectfully and attempt to achieve a consensus. he suggested that maybe Remain in EU but bring in EU citizens returning home if they don’t find work within 3 months as is the case in some other countries.

We all met up to see Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds in concert. Going in I was apprehensive about how a 60 year old dyslexic poet from Birmingham would appeal to our young Stewards. I shouldn’t have worried – we all liked Reggae, it wasn’t too loud, Otis and others started dancing at the front and those of us who wanted could sit  and clap or tap…And B Z had messages that were very relevant. The finale saw us all chanting ‘One Tribe, One people’. The drive back at nearly midnight was enlivened by some discussion about how much fun we’d all had. Adil and Mary welcomed us back.

Saturday 1st June .  Lawrence picked up Otis and A from Sarah and Chris and said goodbye to Jonathan and Mahdi. I picked up the 4 women and we met at the bus station in Brecon so they could make their way back. They all said what a great time they had enjoyed. Such beautiful countryside, friendly people, being part of a team [ No -a family!] interesting talks, feeling on an equal footing and having a role. ‘ L jokes she’ll come back if the  rich husband she intends to find will let her!  The others just hope that they can return.

A collection for HBTSR after a talk by Jared Diamond  interviewed by Phillipe Sands who gave a good prompt to people to give us money. The talk on Crisis Management in countries was interesting, relevant and had clearly attracted a generous audience as the collection counted by Brenda raised £1130. Our collectors Nansi, Brenda, Virginia, Barbara, Lawrence and Ailsa helped to sort out the buckets and they [ the buckets!] have now been put away till next year.

We met our friend Sian from Llanishen High school and had a brief chat about Project Get together and  thought about holidays and the magic of Hay Festival and how Michael Rosen  told us that  30 plus years ago he had thought Peter Florence was slightly foolish when there was talk  about having a festival about books in a small town on the Welsh border! He was glad to have been proved wrong- And so were we! A week of successful fundraising, meeting lots of interesting sympathetic people and spending time with volunteer stewards and hearing fascinating talks….nothing to beat it!

Sunday 2nd June.. May be a day off? Buckets collected up and some additional donations counted. Thanked Jan Pitman who is our lovely contact to place stewards and was able to tell her what a lovely time everyone had and thank her for her part in making it happen and for being so welcoming. Thanked Penny for her hard work and kindness and photography skills when the stewards arrived. And heard Anita Anand talking about her book ‘The Patient Assasin’ , which is not about Harold Shipman but about the massacre in Amritsar in 1919 and the aftermath. A tour de force lecture managing to present the protagonists as humans with backgrounds that explained their subsequent actions. And now we have to wait another year…..Oh and the Gazebo did return unscathed.