Omar Masri, Birmingham
Omar Masri is a human. His grandparents left Palestine in the 1940s and arrived in Syria as refugees. Omar was born in Syria and developed a successful career in IT. In August 2014 he and his family fled from Syria and arrived in Turkey. Here he got separated from his family. They went on a boat towards Italy that drowned, but luckily they survived and were held in the country for months. Meanwhile Omar tried to go to Cyprus, failed, and spent 3 months trying to get to England. He described the experience as feeling like they were treated like cattle, coming into contact with numerous human traffickers, ‘despatched’ from one place to another. Omar finally arrived in England on Christmas day in 2014 and has been settled in Birmingham since July. He thinks life for migrants is easier in Northern European countries, life in England is harder, but he wants to work hard to build a life here. He likes Birmingham for its diversity, and warm friendly people. Omar will be reunited with his wife and two young children next week, they have been apart for 8 months.
Talisha, Jenede and Tianna, Birmingham
Sisters Talisha 18, Jenade 17 and Tianna aged 10 all grew up and live in Balsall Heath. They warn me never to walk through Calthorpe Park alone in the evening, as it’s the place where many local young people go to fight each other. According to Talisha, at night this part of Birmingham is a “no go” area full of weirdos, paedophiles and there’s a chance you’ll be attacked depending on what you’re wearing. They warn me not to let my kids play out there. I tell them I don’t have kids. Damn. Maybe I do actually look my age these days..
Dee Hawley, Birmingham
79 year old Dee Hawley born in Sheffield moved to Birmingham in 2012 and changed her name last year. She came out 10 years ago, has three children and broke up with her wife she used to live with in Oxfordshire. She’s had a successful career in social work, raised 3 children and travelled the world following retirement. She was happy as a man but only in recent years felt a need to change. Dee tells me we can do anything in life if we really want it, and should not live by societies rules and expectations. People hide behind fixed labels and identities to avoid taking risks. Dee now lives in Moseley and says the last 3 years have been the happiest of her life.
Amira Saleh, Birmingham
Member of Beatfreeks team in Birmingham, an organisation that supports young creative talent in the city. Amira is also a poet.
Rajkumari and Manharba, Rishikesh
Saw this pair of Silver Sisters whilst walking by Lakshman Jhula and couldn’t resist a chat. Rajkumari and Manharba are from Gujarat and visiting Rishikesh with their family. Rajkumari (blue sari) got married at age 14 and left her husband who was 6 years older, after just one year as he was ‘not a good man’. She pursued education and worked for many years as a teacher, choosing not to re-marry. Manharba is happily married with grandchildren, and according to her sister the prettier and more photogenic of the two. Rajkumari eventually and rather begrudgingly agrees to Manharba’s request to appear in the photograph. They don’t share the same facial features, characteristics or lives, but they both have long, beautifully plaited silver hair.
Bhagwati Prasad Uniyal, Rishikesh
Bhagwati Prasad Uniyal was a scientist for 36 years, and learned Sanskrit from his father in his youth. He was born and brought up in Rishikesh. Since 2005 he has been an astrologer. He tells me about the importance of balance between the body and soul, the 7 chakras, and cosmic energy. There are 12 star signs and 9 planets, so I should acquire a mala with 108 beads. The key to inner peace and happiness is mantra meditation.
Sushil Awasthi, Rishikesh
Sushil Awasthi lives in Rishikesh with his wife, son and daughter and loves it. He runs a little general store that I pass by each day. He is from the hills, Truginarayan village in Rudrpayag but never wants to return there. Both his brothers died in 2013 during heavy rains and floods, there is much conflict within the family, and no shaanti at ‘home’, this makes him feel very unhappy. He misses his parents who both died many years ago. When he is not serving customers he writes to God repeating his name and prayers, as instructed by his Guru, asking for peace. He is about to start a new book and is aiming to reach 21,000 words soon.
Angie is from Karnataka and 33 years old. I was sitting next to the Ganga and our eyes met. Angie has been backpacking for over 3.5 years, not staying in one place more than a month. She used to have her own business, money and material possessions, but then realized she is here for something else, something bigger and more profound beyond the physical world. Her family is disappointed and cried the last time she went ‘home’.
Banoo and Omahi, Mumbai
I stopped sisters Banoo and Omahi to ask them why they were scolding a young beggar in the street. “We are from here this is our home, we know these people, they make a thousand rupees a day, yes! One of their gang has 11 wives and 33 children! But we still love our country.” I took some photos of them whilst they both laughed and sang “We love our shit shit shit Bombay!”
Prianka Patel, Mumbai
Met lovely 18 year old Priyanka Patel in the street. We walked around the city all afternoon talking about the severe lack of women’s equality in India, her dream to visit Canada and Switzerland, electronic dance music, and life being a single girl in a City (I say world) full of so many dodgy guys!