Pause for Thought on 'Surprising Encounters' - BBC Radio 2, Jan 2016
If you’d pulled up alongside a particular London minicab at a particular red light last Sunday evening, you may have seen the driver and the passenger engaged in what might have looked like an argument, arms flailing, mouths animated. But if you rolled down your window and listened, you would have heard that they were in fact singing, dueting passionately.
I was taking a cab home from the community centre where I sometimes work. The driver who picked me up asked what this place was. ‘It’s a Jewish cultural centre’ I said. ‘Well, Jew-ish. It’s for everyone really’. ‘Oh’ he said. And then went very quiet. After a considerable pause he suddenly broke out in song ‘Sunrise! Sunset! Sunrise! Sunset!’ He told me he’d left his home in Kabul ten years ago, escaping war and uncertainty. He had moved into a room in London where the previous occupant had left behind one DVD -‘Fiddler on The Roof’. He had used it to learn English and now could recite the whole thing off by heart, and sing all of the parts in all of the songs. We talked about the music and culture in Afghanistan, the Afghan sense of humour and then we got down to the nitty-gritty – what was the best number in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’.
It is encounters like this that give me hope for human connection, and blow myassumptions about difference getting in the way of our relationships well and truly out of the water. A small Jewish woman and an Afghan man crossing a city, singing songs about a family escaping conflict, both he and I brought to this moment by our own acts of fleeing (his journey to the UK, my grandparents’ journeys generations before.) As the lights changed and we belted out ‘Tradition’, the sadness at the cycles of war that displace us were eclipsed by the joy of this surprising affinity.