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Through a Different Lens: Introducing Hafsa

Originally uploaded: 4th March 2019

I’m really excited to introduce this new series that I’m going to be doing over the course of the year. I believe God’s introduced some pretty amazing people with amazing stories that are just waiting to be told so why not share them.

Hafsa is a light, she is radiant and beautiful inside and outside. I’ve tried with this interview to keep her story strictly to Hafsa’s words and voice. So through the highs and the lows I want to introduce you to my friend Hafsa.


Hafsa: My name is Hafsa and I’m twenty one. I’m a sister, an auntie, a friend, a people lover and a dreamer.

Eventually I’d love to be a model, being seen on the screens or even, I’d love to do acting… Well I’d love to… Well… There are so many. Those are further dreams, future dreams but for now – I’m starting college – so I’d like to finish college, go to uni, get my hat and walk away a graduate. Definitely help my family, help my brothers get into good schools and my sister, make sure my mum has a good house. So I don’t know, I have so many.

Sarah: Speaking of family, how is your relationship with your mum, your brothers, your sister?

H: It’s way stronger than it was before. I speak to them more often than I used to. They live in Kenya, my five brothers, my sister, my mum and my step dad; so I’m here, on my own, in England. But I call them on Facebook – thank God for technology – I can call them and FaceTime with them so we speak more often than we used to; it’s nice. My eldest brother is eighteen now and he wants to become a doctor and my other brother wants to be an engineer so they all have big dreams that they want to achieve.

I really look up to my mum, at first, she was a single mum when she had me, she had to look after me and we had no food and no money yet she still managed in the refugee camp. When I was 2 she met my step dad, I’m grateful to him as well, he helped my mum move from Mombasa to Nairobi and that’s when our lives properly began and my brothers were born. Life just changed for us.

S: Do you have any memories of the refugee camp?

H: Not memories but when I’m shown a picture, I can vaguely remember. It was mainly like – we lived in a hut. It was just me and my mum and the people that she knew there. There was something bad going on in Somalia and that’s why so many people moved to the refugee camp in Kenya. I just remember lots of togetherness, lots of community, looking after each other, the children playing together, food being shared.

It was a simple life but I appreciate it.

S: How did you get from Kenya to England?

H: Oh, um…

When I was nine years old my dad called me and said he wanted me to come live with him in England.

S: Was there any culture shock?

H: It was a massive change!

First time in a plane and I was by myself, it was scary but it was so cool. I remember watching Nemo, that was the first film I’d ever seen in English – I knew English but not a lot. [Hafsa’s first language is Somali] I remember coming here and the roads were clean and there was parks for children to play in. There were parks everywhere, right across the street and they had swings and all these things. There was fast food, my dad took me to McDonalds when I first got here and I had, I remember I had a McChicken sandwich and yeah it was mad.

S: What was it like being around you dad?

H: Oh mad (she whispers). It was so weird because I’d never lived with the man. Like when I was three months old he left us and then he called us again when I was nine. There’s a massive gap there; between that time there were no phone calls, nothing, he never spoke to us, he never really asked about me, there was nothing. And all of a sudden he wanted me. And I guess because I was going through some issues at home with mum – she met her man and she was having kids with him; it was like her family was complete. I was starting to feel like the odd one out. When my dad called it was like ‘oh I’ve got somebody else that wants me now’.

But when I came… it was a massive shock, I’ve never lived with a stranger like that. I’ve always known my mum’s house. And even then I didn’t live with him straight away, he put me into two different homes. I came to live with an auntie in Coventry, first; she was so nice, she had a son and she lived in her own house. I came 9th June 2007 to live with her but she left around September when her mum got sick.

In September, he came to pack my things and moved me to Birmingham to live with his niece. His niece was a grown woman, she had children of her own and I lived with her from September till January. It was weird but alright, I knew how to adapt. Knowing they were family I just knew that I was safe.

There was a girl who used to pick on the younger ones. One day she bullied one of the younger cousins and I just got so mad at her that I said: ‘you know what guys, let’s get our wooden spoons and after Mosque we’ll get her’. (Laughs nervously) After Mosque, we cornered her and hit her so badly that she ended up in hospital.

And that was it, my auntie didn’t want me anymore.

I think I was just acting up because my dad bought me here and then he’s dropping me off in different families. Back then I was so young, so confused, I didn’t understand that I just wanted my dad.

I lived with him from January 2008 to September 2008. He was a weirdo. I don’t know, I don’t regret coming here but I regret leaving my auntie because I would have been better off where I was. He didn’t like to cook because of his addictions. He didn’t know how to look after himself so it was hard for him to look after another person. Even when I came to live with him he dropped me off at other people’s houses to get fed. After school or on the weekends he’d drop me off at someone else’s house while doing God knows what. He’d pick me up in the evenings to sleep and the next day the routine continued. I became so used to being sent around. We didn’t get to know each other at all.

S: When you say addictions, what do you mean?

H: He just used to eat leaves. Something called Khat and he’d chew that all day and all night. When I was younger I didn’t know what it was but now I know that it makes you see things and causes paranoia. It makes sense in the way that he used to react because the side effects match the way he was. He would isolate himself in the house and he didn’t want me to see him like that so I guess that’s why he dropped me off to different people. To get me away from that.

But one day it got really bad and he knew that he couldn’t look after me anymore. And I remember, 17th September 2008, I got dressed after school to go to my auntie’s because it was Ramadan and I was starving. He told me ‘you’re not going there anymore’ and I asked ‘why’ and he said ‘that’s it I just need to find a way to get rid of you’. I said ‘what do you mean’ and he kicked off.

He got really abusive that night.

Before I went to school, the next day, he said he would never do that again but I didn’t believe him. At 3pm, as school was finishing, I realised I needed to tell someone. In the end one of my nice teachers said to me ‘you don’t seem like yourself today Hafsa, what’s wrong?’ And I burst out crying. I told her what happened and then the police got involved, social workers got involved.

I remember seeing my dad get arrested in front of me.

S: What was it like going from that environment with your dad to going into the foster care system?

H: It ruined my relationship with men firstly, it destroyed it completely. I didn’t trust men especially grown men. I didn’t trust my foster dad. I never wanted to be alone with him. If I was in the sitting room with my foster sister he would have to get out because I didn’t want him to be there. I had no trust in men. I never took off my hijab for the first six months of being with my foster family. I was still a practising Muslim because that’s something my mum instilled in me and I didn’t want that to be taken away from me.

But it was so different being in a home where I was loved, where I was fed, where it was warm, shelter and a bed. I’d never felt that since living with my mum. I’d never been loved like that while living with strangers.

I started going to church and all the kids programs with my foster family but I was just there. I didn’t want to listen to what they had to say, I was a Muslim I didn’t have to listen. My foster mum never forced me to go but she wanted me to go so that I could interact with other children my age, to be more social, to not fear. But then I heard that God came and He died for us and it hit me.

When I was younger, I was lost. I used to fight at Mosque, I used to fight at school, I just had all this hurt and pain and I wanted to die. I remember making a promise to Allah when I was seven years old. This was after 9/11 and the news was saying that George Bush was spreading and encouraging Islamophobia.  And as a seven year old watching that I said to Allah ‘if I’m going to die, I’m going to die for you.’

As a child I was trying to die for Allah but the bible said that God has already done that. God already came and He died for me and He paid the debt for my sins. I was saved and I was safe. He gave Himself as the biggest sacrifice. That’s when my journey began with Christianity. I got more involved in church, I was saved and in 2012 I was baptised.

S: Because of your involvement at church from such an early age, did you ever feel pressure to perform?

H: Definitely. What we ask of God, it really does come true. I asked Him to know how He felt and to feel what He feels and know what is going on in the world. And when God gives you a glimpse of that, people want advice and they want prayer and they want you to go through it with them, while you’re already going through your own stuff. I found myself becoming confused, God was giving me what I wanted but I didn’t know how to handle it. I was becoming empathic. I could feel people’s feelings, I could sense it. I was so young, I couldn’t separate what was my feelings and those of others. But no one nurtured me in that and I didn’t ask for help either.

There was this pressure to perform. Everyone thinks that Christians are perfect but we’re not. But I wish that, as young people, someone would have told us that, spoke to us about that and then we wouldn’t feel the need to hide from ourselves. I thought it was impossible to ask for help because of the way people thought I was perfect. I couldn’t come forward and talk about it, I have to be perfect, to stay perfect, to be a Christian is to be perfect. But it’s not about that, it being broken and being allowed to be broken and still be welcomed.

S: How did you go from living with your family to living in The Foyer? [The Foyer is a housing provided for homeless young people.]

H: Oh, Oh, oh… That one. That one is because of the pressure.

Things were going well, God was coming through for me but that year I started smoking. One puff here and one puff there. I eventually got into this creative arts school, BOA, and because I wasn’t watched as much I could do what I wanted. I could smoke a cigarette. It was strict at home and I used to lie and tell my foster mum I had after school activities but really I was smoking with my friends.

One day I had a gut feeling that I was going to get caught. That day I smoked the fag my friend gave me, hid the lighter in my bra and walked in seeing my foster mum going crazy. ‘You’re leaving,’ she said, ‘that’s it we are done with you, how dare you lie to us blah blah blah’. Seeing that I was going to be moved to the next home I thought, ‘I’m so used to being dropped in other’s people’s homes’. But, no, I’m 17 I’m not being sent to another family where they can love me or whatever. It’s not happening. I waited until everyone was asleep at midnight, I jumped out of the window and I ran.

I ended up going back and I was lectured about going to hell and all of this. We went to church on Sunday and I was told to repent for my sins. I washed the dishes and then I went upstairs – didn’t even wait for people to fall asleep this time – I just jumped out of the window and ran. But this time I told my foster mum where I was and that I was never coming home. A week later I collected my stuff in a black bin bag. She tried to give me money but I said ‘keep it one day I’ll make it without you’. And that was it. And, ever since, rekindling has been hard but they’ve moved on.

I thought I knew things.

At first I had to sofa surf for six weeks and I lived with a woman called Mary, she was so nice but she was very blunt. She taught me how to toughen up a little bit. I’d lost my fire, I was timid and soft and I had no way of expressing myself. She said ‘if you want something, you have to speak up’. So when I went to the Foyer – young people running everywhere, drugs everywhere, people bashing everywhere – I was like wow.

The first night the police came because people were selling drugs and people were getting arrested in front of me. I remember crying myself to sleep that night because people were screaming and shouting. I thought ‘God is this the place you brought me to or did I bring myself here?’ And God said ‘keep yourself to yourself’.

I didn't listen to God. Walked around like I knew it all. Lost all respect for myself. I had this anger and I was ready to fight anyone. I dropped out of BOA, dropped out of sixth form, dropped out of an employability course; not because my boyfriend [or other people] told me to but because my boyfriend [at the time] didn't think I was good enough to finish it. He picked on my insecurities and instead of trying to go down the right path I decided to follow him.

I used to be the smiley person but I lost that.

Cath, this woman from church, started writing me letters and my friends started speaking to me and the next thing you know people weren’t scared of me, they wanted to be around me. I spoke to Prince’s Trust and that was the first thing I’d picked up that I finished. [Prince’s Trust is a charity to help vulnerable young people get their lives on track.]That lady never gave up on me. Started it in June 2016 and finished it by September 2016. Then I got the flat, then I got my job at the hotel and it felt that life was picking itself back up. I wasn’t on my own anymore.

S: How is your relationship with God now after that?

H: When I left home – because of the pressure – I ran away from God and everyone associated with Him. I didn’t want anything to do with them because I thought ‘He doesn’t care, He doesn’t love me’. People in church would say all the things I was doing was bad; going out, drinking, smoking. But I thought ‘fuck it.’

But God is so good.

In my first relationship I was going through a bad time and that’s when I heard His voice the most. At that time it was so dark I was living in the hostel and I didn’t talk to people because my ex convinced me that nobody cared about me. He convinced me that I was alone.

But in that, God came through and I heard God say little things like ‘you’re strong, you can do this, it’s alright you can leave him’. It was strength inside of me that was letting me know if I leave him I won’t be on my own. And if I’m on my own, it’s going to be alright. You have to walk on your own sometimes. But I learnt that love comes from within. You can’t search for love when you’re not right with yourself. When I turned 20, I started walking closer with God and when I lost my job at the hotel I’ve never felt him hold me even tighter. I had to learn to stop

blaming things on myself and other people and just take responsibility because how you react matters more.

S: As you look back, what would you tell nine year old Hafsa?

H:Don’t trust everyone. Embrace the good and the bad. I’d love to smile more, smile more, definitely. And to love more and to allow myself to be loved, though it all. I’d tell myself I’m not bad, I’m okay. It’s not about how the world treats you, sometimes it’s about how I treat myself.


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