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Dancing at St James' Church

by Paul FitzPatrick

More than 50 people enjoyed a musical evening at St James’ Church on Saturday 25th February, 2023. The dancers were made up of roughly the same number of people seeking asylum and DCC volunteers and others interested in supporting people. This created a wonderful atmosphere of equality and of joining together purely for the purpose of having a good time.

Pierrot’s excellent music and caller ensured that as many people were encouraged to be on their feet as possible throughout the evening. There were a number of energetic dances which put some older volunteers through their paces, especially when paired with a young person seeking asylum.

At any one time you could observe perhaps thirty-five or more dancers arranged in parallel lines, groups of four, pairs in formation or in one big circle, holding hands. One arrangement that particularly caused hilarity was the single spiral that involved all dancers on the floor. There was a lot of laughter as inevitably people got into tangles but that was definitely part of the fun.

Experienced dancers interspersed with those for whom this was their first ceilidh, helped it all to work out. The caller’s patience and good humour usually paid off with each dancer more or less ending up in the right position as the last bar of the tune was played.

There was a break just over halfway through for food, provided by DCC volunteers. Tables were laid out along one side of the church hall and during the first half of the evening, were gradually filled as kitchen volunteers navigated swirling dancers and the tantalising rhythms of the music, with arms of plates, cutlery, water jugs, then the cold dishes before finally bringing out hot food just as people were thinking about starting a hungry queue, having worked up a good appetite from their exertions.

Syrian refugee journalist, Hanan Al Habach, with Syrian asylum-seekers at St James' Church

The buffet was varied: the aim was to offer dishes that people seeking asylum would recognise and hopefully enjoy. Because it was expected that a number of Sudanese people would be at the event, for example, there were a few dishes that might remind them of home, or as far as an amateur attempt using the internet for information could muster. The tamiya (Sudanese falafel) was a surprise for some. There was also ful medames, and many other dishes including mujadara, garlic and ginger rice, aubergine and red peppers in a lime and peanut butter sauce, curried chicken and rice, spicy lamb, samosas, spring rolls, hummus, salad (despite the national shortage, a cucumber and some tomatoes managed to feature in the mix), spiced roast vegetables with chickpeas, pastry pies with beans or cheese, delicious flat bread, tasty Iranian bread and a small pot of chopped red chillies in case the ful wasn’t hot enough.

Volunteers were conscious that the date was a very important one in the Orthodox Christian calendar, with people present from Ethiopia and Eritrea observing fasting, which meant there would be an increased requirement for vegan food.

The pudding table was laden with sweet delights: apple crumble made with apples from the baker’s orchard, lemon drizzle and other tray bakes, a fruit flan, cheesecakes, and prepared fruit artistically arranged on platters.

Behind the scenes, many of the people seeking asylum joined in with the washing and wiping and putting away of items in the kitchen. It was a great team effort. An ongoing process to ensure that there was no clutter and that fresh glasses were always ready for thirst and jugs replenished with water and fruit cordial, was achieved thanks to the team. The kitchen facilities were second to none and the amount of space accommodated quite a few helpers at the same time, again, a practicality that helped the evening’s catering run smoothly.

Last but not least, DCC wishes to acknowledge the support given to the event by Jean, church warden at St James’. She gave a very warm welcome to volunteers, and generously provided time, help and guidance. The offer to wash tea towels had to be the cherry on the cake…especially as in their enthusiasm, volunteers used up all of the clean supplies!

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