Thursday, September 17, 2009

Travelling the tube reflections, new mosque in Brent

Today as I headed once again into the bowels of lower London it occurred to me that in terms of evolution, humankind has progressed remarkably towards our fellow insects – the ant.
Organised in long lines that generally head in a distinct direction – with little groups forming to check and then resume – we have become experts at tunnelling underground. Just like our fellow ants we have lines that move at different speeds, individual humans who rest and share information in a tete a tete with their fellow ant/human, and move through complicated intersecting tunnels according to our different destinations. Aah, evolution! Isn’t it wonderful. I wonder if some ants have devised a better escalator system?
Two particular ants cum humans caught my attention this afternoon. One appeared to be Swiss, according to the embossed handle on her expensive travelling gear. She wore the most beautiful sandals, cleverly crossed and studded – appearing both comfortable and extremely classy. Next to her sat a dour businessman, complete in his suit with his head adorned by a metal pyramid structure. He sat calmly with the square side of his simple wire structure pulled firmly over his forehead, like the outline of an invisible hat. As with all correctly behaving tube passengers, no one looked surprised, commented or even bothered to care.
In the evening I finally managed to attend the new – and still unfinished - Central Mosque of Brent, an imposing mosque which is still attracting parishioners as it was less than a quarter full when I attended. In the rear of the expansive ladies section upstairs I was surprised to see sheet structures – like large changing areas in a ladies salon. I realised that the community here was enacting the practice of the Prophet for I’tikaf – or virtually camping in the mosque for the last ten days of Ramadan. There must have been at least 12 of these sheet partitions running down on each side of the still uncarpeted and unfinished upstairs section.
After the Isha prayer there was a long speech by the Urdu Imam which many of the sisters had no hope of understanding. Like them I struck up a quiet conversation with the Somali sister sitting next to me. She had arrived in London over 8 years ago as a refugee from the Somali war and was a careworker, trained practically but still struggling with written English. She described how her father and her mother with the surviving twelve siblings (four of her mother’s sixteen children had passed away!) had moved to London. Finding the social environment less supportive of parental authority, her parents with eight of the still unmarried children were now living and studying in Cairo where she sent her meagre savings to assist them. Amazingly, her mother had been injured during the war and only had use of her right arm – still managing to raise another 4 babies after her injury! In this close community apparently there were always sufficient relatives to ensure that minimal work was done by her mother, who focussed on the care of the babies while others cleaned and washed around her. My own contribution to the next generation immediately paled into insignificance!

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