Diversity. I realize what a meaningless word it is every day I live in London.
It is so normal to be frequently in settings in which every person has a richly different background from everyone else in the room, from skin color to cultural backdrop to academic interests, to professional pursuits, sexual preferences and what have you! And the beauty always is in how no one gives a hoot and it is extremely natural to connect deeply with everyone.
How unnatural it is that fashion has just started taking baby steps in this direction!
Today, I am going to introduce you to three awesome women I met a month ago. You can see their faces in the photo above. Their obvious diverse-ness only becomes apparent to me later as I sit down to write this four post series!
These lovely people came together to accomplish something GIGANTIC a couple of months ago. I’m going to savor that story for Part 4!
In this post here, I want to invite you to join in as I speak to the lovely Amy Johnson.
Amy Johnson is a fully pregnant Scottish, English and Irish lass (all in one), who is back in the UK for a short period. She has lived in the conflict areas in the Middle East for a really long time working with NGOs and UN organizations in peace-building efforts especially helping resolve the gigantic issues around human trafficking. She makes beautifully singular looking jewellery in her free time.
Me: So Amy, tell me about your parents and how they influenced you..
When I was growing up, my father didn’t have a set career. He was a jack of all trades. Then he became a music teacher for a wee while. My mom was a brain scientist- Someone who researched brain metabolism with respect to mental health specifically. She passed away.
It was really interesting having them as parents, because on one side, my father did a bunch of different things and my mom was like- Let me go cut up some brains. They were never married. So I got a really good understanding of a relationship between two people who weren’t really traditional. I have my mom’s last name and that wasn’t a problem. Women’s rights were all assumed in the family and never really discussed.
Me: Can you tell me a bit more about the relationship between your parents? The romantic in me wants to know.
Amy: They both really did a lot of their own thing. Dad would say- I am going to go do this. And Mom would say- Cool, I’m going to do this other thing whatever it was… They always seemed very happy.
Me: Did that give you a lot of freedom, to choose your own path in life?
Amy: Yes. My parents were very accepting of what I did. My father was a single parent for a long time. He didn’t have a university qualification or anything. So he said- If you decide to go to university, you have to be first in class. Else it is a waste of your time. So yeah there was a bit of pressure. (Laughs)
But as long as I explained why I wanted to do something, he was very supportive. I am very grateful for how much he has always been and continues to be there for me.
Me: Tell me a bit about your education and how that influenced you.
Amy: I studied philosophy and politics in university. I was really frustrated with how the West operated in the world. Intervention is the mentality.
I didn’t really have a long term career plan at the time. Just always wanted to learn more about the world…
I did my Masters in Post War Recovery Studies. The people who came to do the Masters were in the humanities sector. There were Afghans, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistanis… and literally from all over the world. So it was really great learning from people who had literally lived everywhere.
Post my masters, I was interested in women’s role in peace building and response to conflict- I knew that without female engagement, peace building wouldn’t work. I worked in data analyst roles for consultancies that worked with UN agencies that worked with women and girls and later the UN itself. This took me to Egypt, Sudan and later Jordan and Iraq. That was very different. I ended up working in the human trafficking sector which is now what I want to be working with for the rest of my life.
Me: How did this transition happen?
Amy: Well, in Jordan, when I started off working as a data analyst, the Program Director asked me which of the six elements of work I was interested in and the counter human trafficking element seemed the most interesting.
Later, when one of the counter trafficking staff members started taking time off, I slowly and surely got recruited into that role. Which is what I continue to work on even in the time I am in UK.
Me: Was it scary and unsafe, being in these conflict areas?
Amy: My dad is happy to have me back in the UK for now. I guess it is natural to want your child nearby. But honestly, the western media tend to make things much scarier than they are. When you come here and read the newspapers, they portray the entire place as terrible. But there are parts of Iraq that are very secure where the Kurdish people are settled.
Me: Tell us about human trafficking. It is modern slavery. Is it very difficult emotionally to be dealing with what you deal with?
Amy: It is still very very difficult but I am a bit more desensitized now than I used to be. All the work in this area- there is a tendency to see stories as numbers.
There were X many cases of this at this time. Everyday we get sent emails.. about how many displaced people are in certain regions… We deal with direct systems. We deal with people who have been trafficked.
What is the most difficult is the cases you cant help. Which there are probably more of than the ones you can help.
They come to you and tell you they are going through a situation. You provide solutions, but they won’t accept help because of fear for the family or fear around issues about shame/stigma.
In these roles, sometimes people tend to forget their own positions of comfort. That we are there only for awhile and we get paid for the work. They forget that we can leave at any time- there’s that huge inequality and gap between us and the people we help. You are there to get your job done and not take on the feeling. But it is hard not to.
Me: How do you see yourself continue to work in counter human trafficking?
Amy: I want to help spread awareness around it as awareness helps prevention. Human trafficking is a global issue and it happens as much here in Europe as it does anywhere else.
I would like to learn how the counter trafficking is done in the UK for awhile. They have a very structured system here. I only know how it works in the Middle East.
Me: Are you married?
Amy: No, I am not married. But I do have a boyfriend who was born in Cairo and who grew up in Jordan. He has German and Swiss parents and he speaks Arabic well. He moved to the UK for the first time with me. He is studying in Scotland and working at a Kurdish Iraqi restaurant.
Me: What book are you reading currently?
Amy: I am reading the book called Man on the High Castle. It is pretty eclectic. Before that, I read The Prophet.
Me: Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
Amy: I am an atheist. But sometimes I get creeped out. On our first night in Beirut, we shared ghost stories! (Laughs)
I would like to believe in a God. But without religion. There are lots of religions. So they cant all be all right or wrong. I’d rather believe in people. And animals.
With that, we turned around to Dina Ariss, a lovely Syrian from the city of Aleppo who moved to UK when she was 22, learnt how to speak in English, went to university, missed out on the chance to marry the Prince (William).
Jokes apart, she shared her fascinating journey with us, just as she shared her experiences around the heartbreaking situation in Syria and what she hopes to do to help the situation.
We also spoke to Maryam Amstrad, our third woman in the group. She spent her early years in Pakistan, a Karachi very different from the one it is today, she tells us. The rest of her growing up happened (and continues to happen) in the UK. She went to law school here, enjoyed it despite herself, has three very interesting tattoos, does professional photography in her spare time just as she does some very high impact work with Chayn in her other spare time. (Did I mention she also has a full-time job!)
But ofcourse, we’ll be reading about all of that in the upcoming sequels here. 😀