Chawada Matiwala came to the UK from Zimbabwe in 2009, when she and her mother felt threatened by the political situation. She lives in a hostel in Stockton-on-Tees.
I am so excited about spending time away from Stockton at Christmas because my baby daughter and I live in a cramped hostel with 32 women and 38 children. I know that there are many women here who will be spending Christmas in their tiny rooms, trying to contain their young kids. Just on our floor there are nine other children and as there is no communal space the only place they can play and stretch their legs is in the narrow corridor. As there is no stairgate I worry that my daughter will fall down the stairs because she has just started to crawl and pull herself up to try and walk. I feel that I just can’t let her out of our little room.
All the children are different ages and the sound of the older children playing can keep the young children awake, which makes the mothers feel very stressed and tense with each other. Some women never engage with each other, while others keep their doors open so that they can chat to each other and try and make life more bearable. If one of the children is ill, the infection spreads very quickly because we all live in such close proximity, and each week an ambulance comes to take one of the children to hospital. My one year old daughter has just been very ill and was vomiting and had diarrhea and it seemed to spread very quickly through the hostel.
But I will be lucky to be celebrating Christmas in Newcastle with some friends from my county. They are a family I met over here through my Church, a brother and three sisters. I get on with them like a house on fire. Zimbabweans celebrate Christmas in a British way with turkey and all the trimmings and Christmas tree and lights. This year we have decided to have a hot chocolate pudding rather than a traditional Christmas pudding. There will be seven children all together at Christmas which will be great. We will do Secret Santa for the children and all buy a gift for ten pounds so that it is equal and one child will not get more than another and it will be fair and fun.
This New Year I am trying to be optimistic and hope for good things. I would so much like a decision on my asylum claim and to get my papers. Not having leave to remain has such a profound effect on your mental state. It keeps you in a box, and stops you getting out and about in the world and makes you feel like a number rather than a person with experiences to offer. I so want to break free from the constraints of this indecision. I feel like I am a force to be reckoned with and that I could do good if I was allowed to. I want to work not only for asylum seekers but for all those who are suffering from poverty in this country. I see so much poverty in the North East of England and children whose chances are so limited because they are not given the support to escape the box they have been born into.
The situation in Cha’s hostel, which is run by a private landlord, Jomast, has been covered in the Guardian, Open Democracy and the Independent. Cha was speaking to Sophie Radice, Communications Executive of WRW.