All the Gaffes I've Made Since Arriving in the UK
I'd never been to a big shopping centre before. How was I supposed to know you're not allowed to take your trousers off?
Mohamed holding no 14. Photo by Liam Duffy
Mohammed is 19, originally from Somalia and lives in London.
When I lived in Somalia, some days after school I would go to a friend's house and watch American films. There wasn't a cinema where I lived, and he was the only kid in the neighbourhood whose parents owned a TV. Since I didn't speak any English back then, I couldn't know what the plot was and I don't remember any movie titles. I used to just focus all my attention on the actors' movements and reactions, instead. What I do remember is that most were horror films, filled with murders and fake-looking corpses. I was never scared though, because my real life was scary enough.
My town did not have a theatre either. I think there's one in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, but I've never been. So that was the only acting I'd seen until I got to the UK. I had only been in the country for two weeks when my support worker Kate made me attend a drama workshop that was taking place in the house I share with a few other young refugees. Kate didn't really give me a choice, she said that the workshop was mandatory. Later, I found out that this wasn't exactly the case – Kate just wanted me to make friends with the other boys in my house.
The first few attempts I made at acting were quite difficult – I barely spoke the language so it was hard to follow instructions, and I also felt self-conscious and shy. But that changed over time and my confidence began to grow.
After three months of drama classes, we put together a play called Dear Home Office, which is about our real experiences as unaccompanied refugee children in the UK. Our first performance took place at the Southbank Centre in London. I remember standing backstage and being able to hear the audience settling in their seats. I was very nervous but once the time came, I made it to stage as if on autopilot. Of course I mixed up my lines a few times – I still do, but I'm getting better with every performance, I think.
At the end of the summer, we were invited to take part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. To get to Edinburgh from London, we had to take an 11-hour coach journey. Having been told this was a huge deal, I turned up at the bus stop in London wearing a suit and bow tie – and everyone laughed at me for the duration of the trip. How was I supposed to know? I wanted to look fresh for the Scottish people!
Jokes aside, the Fringe was an incredible experience. As much for us as for our audience, I think, since everyone seemed really interested in hearing our stories. But one of my favourite moments was when we went to a traditional Scottish dance – a ceilidh. One of my friends and co-stars is from Afghanistan, and in the middle of the Scottish dancing he put on music from his country, and started doing a traditional Afghan dance. Everyone in the room joined in, it was amazing.
Since coming to the UK, I've made a few funny gaffes – some of which I re-enact in Dear Home Office. There's a bit in the play about the time we went to Primark and I was stressing out because I had to buy too many things like pants, vests – boy stuff. In my panic, I picked up a pair of enormous jeans. Kate told me to try them on first, so I started to take my trousers off in the middle of the shop. I'd never been to a big shopping centre like Primark or JD Sports before, so how was I supposed to know the rules? I felt embarrassed because I didn't even know Kate, but I told myself I had no choice but to trust her. I felt very vulnerable when that happened, but when I perform the scene the audience laughs with me, and I feel powerful.
It's good for me to remember what I've done and how far I've come. There are many people in the world, and maybe some don't really understand what's going on with refugees. I think it's my job to tell them. I'm pleased that as a refugee, I can let our audience know that we're human beings. We deserve rights. We need girlfriends and boyfriends and friends like everyone else. An education, good jobs and bright futures like everyone else. No one is illegal.
I don't know what will happen with me, in the future. When I lived in Somalia I wanted to be a sports journalist. Now, I want to be an actor too.
Sign the UNHCR petition urging governments to ensure a safe future for all refugees here.
Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending is on at The Bunker Theatre, Southwark, Sunday the 3rd of December at 8PM and Monday the 4th of December at 8PM. Buy tickets here.