Illustration by Adam Q

Displaced life: What friends are for

I have had some great times over my seven years here in the UK, but the dark cloud of uncertainty over my status has hindered me from having a long-term relationship
March 3, 2022

Leaving my native land and seeking asylum in the UK has meant starting a social life anew. The reset button is activated, and you are a baby in an extremely large jungle. Fortunately I can adapt quickly—I love people and interacting with them. Whether good or bad, there’s always a lot to learn in these moments.

In Doncaster the social scene is like The Archers, which I used to listen to on the radio as a kid back in Trinidad. I’ve been blessed to have an eccentric lot of friends who I call my family. Some were born and raised right here in Doncaster and others are from Latvia, Poland, Romania, Italy, Hungary and the eastern Caribbean.

My neighbour Dimitri is a 72-year-old man who came to Britain 30 years ago from Poland. He worked as a builder in Doncaster for 24 years. He got married, had two children and now lives with his eldest son. Every Monday we meet up for a pint, a laugh and a chat. It’s amazing how meeting one good-natured person can cancel out so many bad ones. We talk about anything and everything—from how things have changed so much in the UK and Doncaster, to our love of rugby and vodka. We get very rowdy at the pub when chatting: he’s a rugby league fan, while I like rugby union. Add politics, religion and the sexual evolution of the new generation and there’s a lot to talk about. His son always says we are two peas in a pod of trouble!

I can talk to Dimitri about anything—he tells it to me straight and direct. I respect him for that. He gives great advice, especially about the issues I have with the Home Office on my asylum claim. He always tells me: Jason, “no one here is gonna save you, so you have to save yourself.” This is one of many life mottos that I’ve learnt from him. I love eating out when I can afford it. However, Dimitri is a creature of habit, so I have been bullying him into trying new things. Last Friday we had dinner and drinks at an eatery that’s recently opened called Jazz Cafe Bar & Restaurant. Man did we have a great time! Live music, great cask ales and the food was stellar. We drank like fishes, and when there is great music my feet literally can’t contain themselves. Moments like these are so precious and so blessed.

Friendship is so important to me, because when it comes to romantic relationships, it’s complicated. Before coming to the UK I was in a relationship for eight years in Trinidad. It was a struggle as I lived openly as gay while he hid his sexuality. That was a choice I fully respected. No one should be forced or peer pressured into revealing themselves to the world—you choose when the time is right for you. I think having to see the discrimination I went through on a daily basis put him off making that choice, which he hasn’t made to this very day. We remain great friends and that’s what matters most.

When you share your life with someone, you aren’t guaranteed a happy ending. I have had some great times over my seven years here in the UK, but the dark cloud of uncertainty over my status has hindered me from having a long-term relationship. I don’t know how long I can be here or if I will ever be able to settle down. If I met the right guy, I would also want to be given the chance to earn my way, to be an equal partner in love.

But my friends keep me going. Going out with them, sharing my ups and downs—the good and the bad—is therapy for my mind, body and soul. They can’t even imagine the many ways that they have saved me. My friend Carrie took me on a Saturday night fiesta where tequila rained from the heavens. Dear goodness, I hope my GP doesn’t read this column!

I do wish I had my own space, a home, where I could invite everyone back for a proper southern Caribbean meal. Living in limbo isn’t great, but you must make the best of what you have. I try a little every day to make myself happy with what I’ve got and the people I am around. Whatever happens in my asylum claim, if I get to stay in the UK or not, I’ll carry with me these great people I’ve met along the way. They are the joy of my life. Every moment I have the chance to spend with them, I take.