All posts by Ros Martin

I moved to the Uk in 1999

I moved to the Uk in 1999


I moved to the Uk in 1999

“I moved to the UK in 1999 I did not speak any English at the time. I found English classes but they were either mixed or the teacher was a male, so I gave up and stayed home.


A friend told me about Heba, and I joined in Entry Level 2 for English in 2008. A few months later I started sewing class, I was surprised how much I had learned – I was able to discuss my work with other ladies in English! That gave me more confidence and I started travelling to Heba on my own, and booking my appointments over the phone.  Now I am taking part in E3 and a reading and listening club to practice and improve my English. I am now happy to visit the doctor by myself without the need of a translator. I do not have to wait for my husband to call the housing officer to solve any problems because I can do it.” 

Migratory narrative from woman at Heba Oct 2013

I didn't go to school

I didn’t go to school back home

I didn't go to school

I didn’t go to school back home; for my generation it was normal and we were very poor. I came to London when I got married and never learned English till I heard about Heba from my neighbours. I enrolled in October 2011. It was my first time in a classroom. Since then, my English has improved immensely. I know road names, food names, spice names; now I can do the shopping on my own. I know the day of the week and the time in English, too.

I enjoy the social side of Heba, the parties and trips. I’ve been on three excursions with Heba, and this is how I learned to use the bus. I can take the D3 from near my house to Whitechapel or Bethnal Green, on my own.

I learnt English for myself and to help others who can’t speak English, like I couldn’t. In the future I would like to work. For now, I’m happy to volunteer at Heba with general house-keeping and tidying.



Migratory narratives from Heba Oct 2013



No money to learn English

No money to learn English

No money to learn English In my country I was a teacher. When I married my husband he said we would move to UK. I thought I would have a better life here; it’s what everyone in my country dreams of, but I was wrong. My husband sends all his money to his family. I didn’t have any money to get a bus to go to English class and I didn’t have any chance of getting a job to get money because I didn’t know English.

Finally I found out about free English classes at London Muslim Centre from one of my neighbours. It was far from my house but I could get on the back of the bendy bus without paying. And there I studied English up to Entry 3 level. After completing ESOL Entry3, I was looking for a place where I could do Level 1. By now I needed a place with childcare facilities because I had a baby and I could not afford to pay for my childcare. I desperately needed to improve my English. A friend of mine told me about Heba. It was exactly what I had been looking for.

I did ESOL level 1, Level 2 and ICT. I also had conversation class and joined in the book club, which have significantly improved my speaking, listening, reading and writing. All these have given me the confidence to look for work.

When I was ready to start job hunting, I got help with building my CV, writing letters to employers, and looking for work online. The staff at Heba knew what I was looking for and forwarded job vacancies to me. Then, when I managed to secure an interview, I had some advice about possible job interview questions.

I was successful in the interview and I am so happy to be working, meeting people and having an income of my own.

Next, I’d like do GCSE maths and English and one day go on to do a PGCE, so I can be a teacher, like I was in my country. I hope Heba will help me.

I love Heba

Migratory narrative from women at Heba Oct 2013

London Plane

London Plane

London Plane
London Plane

 Sycamore, Poplar, Oak; it has taken me weeks to remember their names but I can now.  London Plane is the tree I like best with its spiky round brown nuts dangling from its branches; it reminds me where I am and who I am.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.  They refuse to understand.  But I have no choice.  The questions they ask me.  I look at their faces and though they think I can’t see; I can.  How many times?  I can’t count.  England; I thought it would be different here, but just like Karachi; always the same look; they don’t believe me.

The first week I was in London, I only went out to the shop to buy milk, dhal, rice and bananas.  When I came home, I sat by the window, looking out at the small park, surrounded by tall trees with emerald green grass in the centre and watched the rain and cried; how I cried.

I don’t know why and how that morning, in my second week, I was able to walk out the door and instead of turning left, I went right, and right again into the park.  There was no call to pray; just birds singing.  Perhaps that helped me.  When I got into the park there was no one there.  I walked past the trees: strong, thick, brown, red, grey almost black; chopped branches; knotted, chipped, flaking bark; jade green leaves and tiny flowers at their bases: white, yellow, purple.  As I looked across I became frightened.  Someone was walking towards me.  But then I saw it was an English woman with two small dogs, fluffy and white as though they had just had a bath.

‘Good morning,’ she said and before I could open my mouth she and her dogs were gone.

The next morning I wasn’t sure; all I could see were heavy, grey clouds raining down; by seven o’clock I decided it was too late; there would be too many people.

On the third morning the sky reminded me of the bright blue dupattas Razia and I wore at St Joseph’s before Senior Fikree confiscated them.  Thinking of those crazy times in Karachi I smiled, as I walked out of the house.  When I entered the park it was light but earlier than before so the woman and her dogs hadn’t come yet.  There was no one there so I walked slowly round the park looking at the trees, tapping them as though I knew them which I didn’t then.  As soon as I saw someone enter the park I walked quickly home.

On my fourth day the singing was joyful, as though the birds were teasing me.  That was how I learnt to go out.  I kept my head down if there were any men there but I didn’t mind to say good morning to the women.

By my third week I was less frightened and sleeping better.  My new friends woke me at six and they welcomed me like the St Patrick’s Cathedral choir.

Every day I see women’s faces: old, young, brown, red, dark, light just like the barks of the trees; English, Chinese, Turkish, African.

One morning a young woman stopped me and said, ‘isn’t this just wonderful.’

I didn’t understand why she stopped me.  But it was true for seven days it had been raining.


Migratory narrative from women at Heba Oct 2013


When the swallows and swift go…… Black History month follows

What is that picture about?

Stills Underground Railroad
Stills Underground Railroad

I have been asked. It is on A WING A PREY A SONG face book page, Well, it is a 19th century unknown artist’s drawing from an engraving by John Osler, depicting the privation and exposure to the elements of fugitive slaves making their bid for freedom via the Underground Railroad. It is from African American abolitionist, William Stills, famous Underground Railroad book. The fugitives leave behind, lives of bondage, fear, persecution, insecurity in the Southern states of America.


Note the swallows have gone and the swifts both migratory birds familiar to our shores, are flying making their long journeys to Africa, anticipating food aplenty to survive without privation, insecurity, want…and as they go, Black History month arrives…

 I am a daughter of first generation migrants. My late Father was from Lagos, Nigeria. His people were captured, enslaved and transported from Lagos to Bahia, Brazil. In the latter part of 19th century were returnees to Lagos. My mother is from the Caribbean island of St Lucia. I often imagine the lives of both my maternal and grandparents, both born in mid 19th centuries.   

Each migrant’s story is a migration of the heart, it’s yearnings and, dreams of freedom. Isn’t this what we all want? To be free? To fulfill our own dreams?

And so migrants arrive in boats, by plane, in trucks, stowaways much like an Uncle of mine at the turn of the last century.

Having survived a perilous crossing, migrants often find European humanitarian corridor closed, what now, is one’s fate?…….










Thanking Mr Walcott by Maggie Harris

The man I live with is full with the love of birds
Although he no longer considers me one.
I have advised him to read Jean Rhys
The Wide Sargasso Sea

And re-acquaint himself with Mr Rochester
Who almost lost himself in the love
Of a Caribbean woman. We are a breed apart
And sometimes people can’t take too much of us

Like curry. It’s something seeing a young bird
Trilling in the wild, quite another to bring it inside
Give it a home in the front room. It’s another thing
To turn your room into a hide, watch the blue tits

And magpies vie for the titbits outside
And pin them down with your binoculars
And the desire to be able to fly. The thing
About flying is: you need wings

And to grow them you need to become
Another creature entirely. That’s when the whole
Business gets crazy.

At least we have Mr Walcott who has compared us
To swifts, we sleep on the wing
Exist on this astral plane: it’s called being a migrant.

Maggie Harris

Meditation by Maggie Harris

That bird singing outside that window
early bird, late bird
bird dreaming of fandango
late night soirees on some veranda

he is remembering St Lucia, the Antilles
a fisherwoman’s ballad of the sea
light is streaming through her net
net full of singing sardines
and a hot mouth conch thinking

he’s the business but who
later that day becomes lambi
for 60 EC dollars down by the waterfront
where the cruise ships slip easy into blue

Maggie Harris

‘Immigrant, suspected resident’ by Maggie Harris

(After a Facebook post by Mick North on the Hummingbird Hawk Moth)

Yes and Mister I can talk English
Better than you eheh
I can quote you Shakeyspeare
Particularly that music being the food of love
And giving me excess of it um hmm

I was Titania let me tell you
And I know the whole of Hecate’s speech
From Macbeth for true true
That was a waste of time
The stupid teacher cut my soliloquy
For someone sounding more English than me.

Proverbs I can recount you
Proverbs: truisms clothed in the garment
Of silk, a bird in the hand...
The vowels of my country sing
In the back of my throat;

For that you are responsible
You offered me this language
And left me beads, the feathers
Had all gone by then
Gone to clothe the heads of dancing girls

And don’t let’s mention the parrots
Their mothers stoned to the ground
Whilst you nestled that trembling birdette
Close to your mistresses’ chest.

Yes mister, I can speak English
But not in the form you know,
And these clothes?
Oh you don’t know the half of it.

Farewell sweet Prince.

Maggie Harris

Wrong place Wrong time….

Press TV BP Deep Horizon oil spill
Magnificent, beautiful creatures aren’t we?
Press TV BP Deep Horizon oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico

Lament to a dead cockerel by Maggie Harris

You posed for our photographs like tourists
Your brother in your wake, heads high
Combs outlined against the ginger lilies

I knelt to centre you within the lens
Red cockscombs on blue St Lucian skies
White whips of wild clouds spinning

Cacti spines cut across your horizon
Flesh fat against the paling fence
Your head, cocked to one side, filling the frame

You escorted us like ushers, up the steps
Past terracotta pots, guava and banana trees
Conch shells cemented into the concrete

In the early mornings you cut into our sleep
With your cacophonous chorus, early risings
With the sun over Rodney Bay

And we linger on the balcony, watching
The yachts on the marina, the hummingbird
Busy in the ivy in the mid-morning sun

Then you again, but this time an angry squawking
You, gripped tight in a fist, disappearing
Through the doors of the restaurant

In the photograph you fill the frame
Head cocked to one side, red cockscomb on blue
St Lucian skies; wild whips of white clouds, spinning.

Maggie Harris

Parakeets by Maggie Harris

(for Chloe)

They haven’t lost their accents – not like me –
Their piercing cries ricochet off Joss Bay Road
Through bark and leaf, beech, elm

Not for the first time, my heart
Flies to meet them, escapees
Celebrating their freedom through procreation

We lift you over the puddles, you’ve got your
School-shoes on: we didn’t expect to see you today
It’s been so long

Your hands grip the dog’s lead tightly, she slows
Knowing it isn’t one of us whom she can drag,
Yank, dash at the slightest scent into undergrowth.

We walk through the farm, up to the lighthouse.
‘I came here once’, you say, ‘with school’.
Four schools ago, and you’re only seven.

But we don’t ask questions, just point out
The rows of cabbages, the horses,
And the sea bright in the winter sun.

You pick a cabbage leaf to show your new teacher,
Find a feather, two; you hand them over
‘Put them in the jar at yours’, you say, ‘with the others’.

On the way back we gather sticks, which Grandad snaps
And places in the carrier for the wood-burner.
Your keen eyes scan the ground.

The parakeets are still there. We rest
On a bench and watch their brilliant lime-green
Plumage zing

Later, I realise
I never told you the story about those home-birds.
In fact, I never mentioned Guyana once.

From Berbice to Broadstairs by Maggie Harris