Thursday, 18 March 2010

How a friendship shaped my life

At the eleventh hour, I am writing and submitting this post to Josie's writing workshop because I like the discipline of writing on a specific theme and also I feel that due to the amount of work I am doing at the moment, my blog has been neglected of late so here goes.
There is a person that I think of from time to time, less often now that it is over 20 years ago but what happened had a major impact on me at the time. This is our story so to speak.
When I was 19 I spent a year living in London. Every girl's dream perhaps, and it would have been if I had had the money to indulge my passions in particular the theatre. For one reason and another I ended up living in Maria Assumpta, a hostel run by nuns! The fabulous bit was that it was tucked away in a square just behind Kensington! All those shops which I could not afford.
The amazing thing about that year was that I met a very eclectic group of people, many of whom were also residents of the hostel and I want to tell you about one of them. She was a very special person called Yolanda. Her parents were part of the Windrush era and I recall that her Mum was the cook for the Nuns. Yolanda had a real love of life and I can remember a reunion shortly after that time when we met up in a restaurant and we were having such a laugh that the waiter came over to say that some of the other diners had complained and could we keep the noise down! She also had a real gift and that was her voice, which was a delight to hear. She was training to be an opera singer at the Royal College of Music.
At the end of the year, I went off to University and we kept in touch by meeting up occasionally and writing. In my third year at University I went off to Spain and that's when stuff began to unravel. I recall getting a letter from her about a new Church that she was attending. She had always been a committed Christian so I thought nothing of it. When I came over for a visit I went with her to the Church. I did think it was quite odd that when we went for a coffee afterwards, she was chaperoned by 1 or 2 members of the Church. That was the last time I saw her.
When there was no answer to my letters, I contacted her family but they had not heard from her either in some time. I then read up about the Church and found out that it was a cult which was known for brainwashing people into becoming members by encouraging them to stay in the Church's accommodation and subjecting them to sleep deprivation. The members then withdrew from real life and took up activities to promote the Church on a full-time basis. When we met that last time, I had no idea of any this. I just assumed it was an Evangelical church. Some stuff seemed a little unusual but I never probed further in part because I was aware that the members of the Church were listening and evaluating everything I said.
In reflection I regret now that I did not do more at the time but my friend had always seemed so stable. What happens fills me with sadness not the loss of the friendship so much, really the waste of her gift to the world. I hope and pray that one day she woke up to what was happening and got out but it is unlikely that I will ever find out. It also makes me realise that the bond of friendship amongst young people is often much stronger than those formed later on in life. It may in part be the reason that I have always had an affinity for BME issues and why I currently do a lot of work around under-representation and have supported Diversity for such a long time. It certainly goes a long way to explaining my suspicion of fundamentalist views particularly religious ones. So how about you do you have any similar examples that you would like to share?


  1. the bond of friendship amongst young people is often much stronger than those formed later on in life
    Yes! I agree. Why are the early friendships so strong and seem to be burned into my brain? Thanks for this - yes and what a waste of a Yolanda's life. I hope she eventually got out of the cult. I wrote about an old friend too today and how friendships unravelled in those days and no one knew why really.

  2. Not sure if my comment got through - wow! what a powerful post. I really hope Yolanda got out of the cult too. I wrote about an old friend today too.

  3. Hi Emma two comments for the price of one. Thanks and I will be going to take a look at your blog later when back from the girls' swimming lesson.

  4. What an interesting life you are leading! Lovely to hear about a slice of your past.

    So sad for your friend. I wonder what became of her? You must think about I imagine. I hope she is safe and loved wherever she is x

  5. Thanks Josie. Yes I am lucky in terms of all the things I am involved in. Thank you for reminding me of that. I am always wanting to do more...

    Yes it is sad to think about Yolanda and I concur with your sentiments about her. Ironically I have been reunited with a friend I made at the age of 16 tonight ;-)