When asked how he and wife Amira felt when they arrived in Northern Ireland in September 2019, Rashed simply says: “We felt safe.” The couple and their daughters were welcomed to Whitehead by the Small World Community Sponsorship Group. Here they share their memories of the first few days.
Were you excited about moving to the UK?
Amira: We had lessons about Great Britain before we came. I knew that the place here was going to be beautiful. We even got to know Jeni and the group before we came here. We saw them in the picture and we saw the house too. And there was a video where two local families said the neighbours are nice.
What was it like arriving at the airport?
Rashed: We did not know that the group was going to be in the airport when we arrived. They had coats and jackets with them because we came with our summer clothes. The temperature in Jordan was 45 degrees but when we came here it was around 10 degrees. It was the worst weather we had ever experienced. I am always cold here!
What did you think the first time you saw your house?
Amira: We thought we would go to the hotel first, then move onto the house so we did not expect to see our house straight away. When we arrived there was a birthday cake for my daughter. Because of how excited I was that we were flying to a new country I forgot it was my daughter’s birthday but Jeni knew. They had also prepared snacks and an Arabic meal.
How did you feel after such a welcome?
Rashed: We felt safe! We were welcomed so warmly at the airport and the house too. We had a neighbour that gave us a piece of paper that said on it “Welcome to Whitehead.” We were also very tired because we had started travelling a whole day before we arrived.
“I love Whitehead, I won’t leave Whitehead.”
What happened in those few days after you had caught up on your sleep?
Rashed: The group helped us with our papers, they arranged all the necessary things like our health cards, the GP, helped us with the jobs and benefits office and they registered our kids at school. They took us to shops as well, for example the Spar shop and we went and got vegetables. We also went to the big supermarket and to the sea. Our neighbours brought us uniforms for our kids at school.
What were the main differences you noticed straight away?
Amira: Shopping here differs. Here people buy in small portions but we buy with kilos or whole boxes and packages. Basically larger portions. And barbers and hairdressers here are different from back home too. There, one place specialises in almost everything but here everything has its own place. Like when a bride comes in to get ready for her wedding, one shop will do everything for her whereas here there’s a place for hair, then one for nails and one for makeup and such and such.
Did you find anything difficult when you first arrived?
Amira: There was a bit of difficulty as there wasn’t anyone Arab around us. We liked the group but I was always anxious that someone might try to speak to me and I wouldn’t know what to say. It was new here for people to see hijabs and Arab people, we were one of the few in this area. When I would go out they would look at me. They wouldn’t say anything nasty but they would stare. It took some time but now I go out and about and people smile and say hello.
Did anything surprise you about the area?
Amira: When we first came the area was very quiet. I would always joke with my husband that we’re probably the only people in this neighbourhood because when it strikes 7pm there would be no one out in the streets. It’s not like where we come from where we always had good weather so people would love to go outside.
Rashed: And even when it is cold people are always walking in shorts and tank tops. They even swim in the sea in the winter!
What is your favourite thing about Whitehead?
Amira: The sea! I love to walk by the sea and you always see people to say hello because it is such a small place. If I go to Carrickfergus or Belfast I can’t wait to get back. There is a friend of mine who tells me to come live with them because they have more shopping places and fun stuff to do but I tell her ‘No no, I love Whitehead, I won’t leave Whitehead.’