‘These people are impressive and their enthusiasm for the cause is palpable but aren’t they preaching to the converted?,’ I whisper into Peirene’s ear.
The Nymph and I are attending the Refugee Week Conference. We have been invited by Counterpoints Arts as their in-house bloggers. We are sitting in the front row in the main auditorium of the Amnesty International Human Rights Action centre. The room is packed. Delegates from across the UK are outlining what they have done to help the integration of refugees in the last year and what awareness raising events they are planning to stage during the nationwide Refugee week in June. Refugee Week has been going for 17 years but this year’s promises to be the largest yet.
‘And I fear that the grassroots movement is not as widespread as all that,’ I continue hissing into the Nymph’s ear. ‘Because the government couldn’t get away with its anti-refugee policies if it didn’t have the backing of the general public.’
Peirene ignores me until the break.
‘Meike, sometimes it’s important to be analytical, but sometimes you have to respond with passion. This comes naturally to Greek nymphs – it’s our Mediterranean temperament. If you’re not in the right mood, you can go home,’ she snaps as we are queuing for coffee and water.
I’m a bit shocked about her reaction. ‘I want to be here. This is all very interesting. And truth to tell I am impressed by the number of initiatives in this country aiming to help refugees. Simple Acts and Talking Syria and the National Refugee Welcome Board and many more.’
‘Then why were you a nuisance just now?’ Peirene empties her water in one go. I can tell what she’s intending to do. She wants to head back as quickly as possible into the auditorium to find a seat far away from me.
‘I was just thinking aloud,’ I justify myself in a hurt voice. ‘You and I know how hard it is to persuade readers to pick up a book of foreign literature. So to convince people that an open policy towards refugees will not mean a loss of identity must be a near impossible task. That’s all I wanted to point out.’
I feel the Nymph softening towards me. But before she can say anything, I continue: ‘And just for the record: I believe that personal initiatives are often so much more effective than anything a big organization can do. Take for example the man who organized a fair with food cooked by refugees on his village green. He’s probably planted the seeds for a change of attitude in a number of his fellow villagers that day. And that’s what counts.’
I turn on my heel and walk back into the hall. After all, I’m a grown up woman and don’t need a Nymph to hold my hand. As soon as I sit down she appears next to me.
‘I thought you didn’t want to be associated with me today.’ I throw her a defiant glance.
‘Well,’ Peirene smiles apologetically. ‘Your heart is in the right place. You deserve the company of an ancient Greek Nymph.’
For a moment I try to hide my delight. Then I, too, smile.
By Meike Ziervogel
Image by Gilles Larrain.
This blog was originally published as part of Peirene Press‘s series Things Syntactical. The Pain and Passion of a Small Publisher on 22 February 2016.