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Dancing in the street - an unexpected friendship in the age of Corona

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by Ruth Steinberg

Like me, you might have seen a clip on Look North few weeks ago: it was two women, one in her 80s and one in her 30s, leading the street in socially distant line-dancing. They were both dressed splendidly in cowboy hats and boots. The pair had the whole street dancing as part of the Thursday night Clap for Carers (and other Key Workers). I decided to find out more about the two women.
 
Julie and Foluke (pronounced Fol-oo-kay) live together in Kirkstall. They have become very good friends. Foluke aged 30, has been a lodger in 83 year old Julie’s house since March 2020, just before the first lock down. Foluke was looking for somewhere to live and Julie had a spare room. Foluke is from Nigeria and aged 14 she was trafficked to the UK. She managed to escape slavery and claim asylum. She now has right to remain and work in this country. Foluke was working in a care home and studying computer programming when she moved in with Julie.

Ruth: Tell us about the line dancing.

Julie: They all laugh about me in the street. I’m 83 and have just qualified again to dance in the European championships. My next-door neighbour Clare said, “Do you want to do a bit of dancing for the Thursday clapping the NHS.” I said, “OK, I’ll give it a go.” I had a loud hailer. So there you are.

Ruth: What is it like having a friend of a very different age?

Foluke: The fact that Julie cares has made a difference. I was very lonely and sad. I’m an introvert but tried to make people like me. When I am wobbly in my head I think, “if you knew what I was really like you wouldn’t like me”. Sometimes I go to my room and don’t come out. But Julie comes and asks if I am ok.
I realized someone else is there, who cares.

Fouljke.jpg

Julie and Foluke isolating together

Julie: Foluke reminds me of me when I was young. I lived in London and when I was 4, the Battle of Britain started. There were planes going over. My mum said “Don’t worry darling they’re just practicing”, and then Boom! I was sent off on a train, off to the Forest of Dean. I was evacuated to relatives. I felt so lonely, I thought “Please God don’t let a bomb drop on my mum.”

One place I stayed was a cottage with no running water, no electric light. I saw chickens having their heads cut off and running until they died. The cottage had a long garden and we had to walk to the bottom of the garden to go to the toilet. I was taught a rude song to sing on the way. One day my dad came to visit. I sang him the song and he was mortified. I remember the milk. We evacuees had to stir the milk round and round with a fork until it turned to butter. What a chore! I remember the siren practices. More frightening was the siren that went off at the mines and the women would run down to the pit to get news of who had been hurt or killed in the latest accident. I remember gas masks. We all had to have a buddy who was older and if the siren went off we lay down in the kerb with our buddy and waited for the all clear. That all went on until I was 9 and by then I was a nervous wreck. So I understand Foluke’s loneliness.


Ruth: How does life here compare with Nigeria?

Foluke: I have good memories of my early life. Everyone knew each other in our street. They borrowed things from each other. When I came back from school I would go straight out and play football, and when it rained it became even more fun. We weren’t rich with stuff but had people who cared about you. There wasn’t any electricity and at night the stars in the sky were so bright, and the moon so so big. I remember my dad telling us scary stories at night about people who had eyes at the back of their heads and on their knees. I was 8 when my dad died and then everything fell apart. At 14 I was sent to the UK, supposedly to stay with relatives. At 14 I thought the world was awesome and I thought I was going to a better place. When I arrived I was amazed. I couldn’t stop staring at people.

Julie: I remember when I was 8 coming back from evacuation. I got off the train at Paddington station and I saw a black man for the first time. “Look, he’s covered in soot,” I said to my dad. He told me to stop staring.
 
Ruth: You are out of the nightmare now.
 
Foluke: Since I came to Leeds I have made routines for myself. I went to college, I played sports, I ate and slept and so on. Since the Coronavirus lockdown I didn’t realize how important these routines were for my mental health.
 
When the lockdown was announced it was clear that Julie was in a vulnerable category and it wasn’t safe
for Foluke to live with her and keep working at the care home.
 
Julie: I thought, “Oh no they are going to take away my little gift from heaven.”
 
Foluke: I didn’t want to go.
 
They found a solution: Foluke would stop going out and would go into lockdown with Julie.
 
Ruth: How do you stay hopeful for the future?
 
Julie: Well we got through two world wars. It’s sad so many people have to die. I wouldn’t want to be in charge of the country having to make decisions about people’s health and being a poorer country. I don’t fancy my last few years being locked in.
 
Foluke: I can see differences since the lock down. The air is clearer. The earth is repairing itself. People care more now. They are smiling at each other. We are thinking about what we need rather than what we want. I hope that will continue and spread.
 
Julie: My son came to the door - he didn’t come in, of course. But he said, “I want to thank Foluke for looking after you”.
 
Foluke: This time next year I’m going to be a graduate. I want to work in a space station, that’s my dream.

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