Michael talks about his Survivors for Peace experience
August 9, 2014 | Nick Taylor
Survivors for Peace (dialogue group pictured left) brings together people from many different backgrounds all with one thing in common that their lives have been impacted by violent conflict. Here is one story from an army veteran and how a simple meeting we facilitated has changed his life and perceptions.
THIS IS AN EXTRACT FROM OPIR FORTHCOMING SURVIVORS NEWSLETTER – if you want a copy please get in touch through the contact us page.
“I am Michael, aged sixty five, married to Maureen with one daughter Samantha. Way back in 1967 after joining the Army as a boy soldier and completing my training at Troon in Scotland, I graduated with a driving licence and I was classed a Driver Mechanic. I was seventeen and a half when I joined my parent Regiment at Fullwood Barracks Preston, where I completed my basic infantry training before being posted to Aden on active service. I arrived in Aden where I joined the M.T. section of my regiment. I hated being there and also hated the people for the way that they dressed and behaved towards me whilst in uniform. They were trying to kill me. I formed a negative opinion about the people and the place. This was because I only saw the posting from a Military point of view. This bigoted opinion has stayed with me ever since. That’s some forty eight years.
Ever since then I could not look at anyone wearing a Burkha or any thing remotely Arab looking. This had profound effects on me and my family, especially in light of the influx of different cultures to England. I was totally unable to cope when confronted by any one or any hint of Arabia.
Whilst attending The Tim Parry Jonathan Ball centre for peace at Warrington, Ann decided that I might benefit from meeting somebody from that part of the world, but, in a safe environment for both of us. She also asked Mo Norton to come along because she had lived in Aden as a child. Her father was serving in the RAF there. Ann knew that Mo had a completely different view of Aden than myself. She loved it, and when we talked about Aden it was fantastic to hear how Mo had gone to school, swam in the pool at the recreation centre, and enjoyed all the things that I had never done. It was hard for me to understand that we were talking about the same place.
As kindly arranged by Ann, I arrived at the centre and met up with Ann and Mo. With Ann was a woman of striking beauty. She looked at me with the most kind look, and a great big smile. Her name was Eman. She wore a less traditional Arab dress, in the form of a head covering, and it was not as intimidating as a full burkha had been. We sat around and all four of us talked away about Aden and our different experiences. Eman informed Mo and myself that nearly all the shops that we remembered had now gone. The military leaving in 1967 meant a lot of their trade had gone so they were forced to close up and leave. Eman said that Aden was now completely different and that our memories of Aden would be very different today.
This meeting with Eman was beyond belief. I’ve no idea what happened. Here was a person whom I should have hated. Unbelievably, all that I could do was admire her immensely. The more we talked the more my hatred vanished. For the first time in all these years I had suddenly a greater understanding that these people were just like me! I came to realize that in both races there are good and bad people who are not nice. Who know’s, there may be more good people like Eman than the bad I remembered from Aden. During our lunch break we carried on talking and sharing our meal, this again was a first for me. I never dreamed that I would ever eat a meal with an Arab in my life! After lunch, we returned to our little room and carried on developing trust, admiration and understanding of one another. The time went all too quickly, and before we knew it, it was time for Eman to return to her family. I would never have believed that I did not want to stop talking with Eman. What a difference talking to this remarkable woman on a personal level made to me.
Thankfully, she has said she would like to meet with us once again and even offered to cook the four of us a meal so that we can break bread together again and develop our greater understanding of each others beliefs. In closing, you may ask what was so great about this meeting? Unless you know me and know how much hatred I had held towards all Arabs, their life style etc. you may well ask. This long held hatred vanished during that day, and was undeniably replaced by a greater understanding of Arabs.
I will never know to this day how this simple meeting made such an impact on me! I left our meeting very drained mentally. I was so sad that what I had believed about a few people, whilst in a conflict situation, had been allowed to destroy my life. It was a light bulb moment, and altered my feelings towards Arabs so much for the better.
Maureen and I have booked a cruise starting at Dubai and travelling around the Arab states for seven days. This would never have been even contemplated if I had not met Eman. My family have missed out on such a lot because of my hatred and we owe her so much for changing my views. My life is so much better and happier for having met Eman and I am so looking forward to our next meeting.
Colin Parry had a very brave vision, I believe, after losing his son through conflict. He hoped that some good would come out of a devastating event. I understand it a little bit now. If more people talked more, the world would be a better place to live in. Conflict resolution is the most important thing in the world. It has certainly been a revelation for me.
The best is yet to come. Thanks to all at the Peace Centre for the continuing work to help all victims of conflict.”