162 – Friendlessness

She’s not at all an unpleasant woman.  Not as far as I’ve seen, and nor does anyone mention they’ve found her difficult.  A bit grumpy at times, but then this is not the life she had imagined.  Perhaps a bit judgemental, not really willing or able to see that nobody else wanted to be there either.  Doesn’t participate in group activities, seems to sneer slightly at the art and craft workshops.  But pleasant enough, a nice smile, easy to chat to.

So how can it be?  How can someone reach their sixties, and be completely alone in the world?  My innocent question as to whether she uses Facebook (as so many homeless people do), later seemed at best unthinking, at worst a tad callous.  Facebook, fundamentally is all about friends.  Keeping in touch, sharing photos, describing good days and bad days, communicating with friends.  I wanted to bite back the question, but it was 162-facebook-logotoo late.  Later, as we got to know each other a bit better, it slipped out – she has no friends.  Not one.  Not in the UK (she is British) nor in Spain, where she has lived for twenty years in a town not far from Málaga.  So no, she doesn’t use Facebook.  Facebook is not about you, it is about your friends and your networks and keeping in touch.

We walked seven kilometres together that day.  From the city homelessness shelter, in to the centre to visit a branch of her bank.  She hadn’t been there for years.  Not to her own branch, not to any branch.  The absence of any ID documents stalled us.  The bank could do nothing without a passport.  I bought her a bacon roll and a coffee and we planned the 162-british-consulatenext steps.   Clearly she needed to go to the British Consulate to organise a passport.  She looked a bit worried.  She seems a capable woman – up to a point.  I glanced at my watch.  “Shall we go now?” I offered.  We drained our coffee and set off back across to the other side of Málaga’s dry river.  The sat nav on my phone guided us there, until up on the first floor I had to hand it in nervously to security before we could go in.

Whether staff, like the wonderful team at RAÍS Fundación, working at the day centre beside the city-run shelter, or volunteers like me, the one thing we know is that there will always be things we don’t know.  There is a 162-raisentrada-principal_malagasort of reason she doesn’t have a passport.  Just as there is a sort of reason why she was on the streets.  There’s a sort of reason she never went to her bank.  There’s a sort of reason why she has not one single bit of official identification.  And, I suppose, there’s a sort of reason why she has no friends.  Some of the pieces of the jigsaw may become clearer, may fit into place.  But I suspect, like that jigsaw you buy at a charity shop, there will always be a couple of pieces missing, and the picture will never be complete.

So we do the bits we can, and we lean on the social workers at the shelter to do the bits for which they are responsible.  More importantly, we try to help the people in the shelter and the people on the street who come into the day centre, to see the bits that THEY can do, the parts of their lives that THEY can take charge of and be in the driving seat.  And most importantly of all, mostly, we do nothing more than be there, and listen, respectfully, giving dignity to people often treated as though they were less worthy of respect.

But we can’t truly give friendship.  Our role is different.  Friendship is one of the greatest gifts there is, because it is given freely, usually reciprocated, and provides a connection, a network, a safety, a comfort.  So many things.

So we nudge a few things forward, a couple of steps towards sorting her passport, which in turn should unblock the bank, which in turn should unlock her future.  I gave her a bar of soap, just a little hotel freebie, because she had said she didn’t have any.  She thanked me for being her friend.  I smiled but said nothing.  I’m not her friend, I’m her volunteer.  She has no friends, not anywhere.

Back at home I turn the phone back on.  It erupts with the usual hundred messages, WhatsApps and notifications that came in while it was turned off.  A friend arranges a cinema trip.  Another suggests lunch.  Then, in the street, a neighbour knocks with fresh eggs from her chicken.  Another shouts to me that she has just made coffee and asks me to go round.  Things we take for granted.

Homelessness.  Friendlessness.  Loneliness.  For most of us, it’s impossible to imagine.










©  Tamara  Essex  2016                              http://www.twocampos.com




3 thoughts on “162 – Friendlessness

  1. Wherever you go, whichever city you’re in. They’re always there, maybe just one assist away from getting back on their feet, maybe been there a lifetime. Different experiences in different cities, depending on the services available, and what you want and need. But the primary experience is the same. You end up on the streets because your friends and family have run out.

  2. Yes, it is easy not to have friends. If one is not gregarious and enjoys solitude and solitary occupations/hobbies, one doesn’t acquire friends. There will be the odd acquaintance, a person one encounters occasionally in, say, the paper shop, on the train, at the bus stop, but they are not friends. If you moved away, those “acquaintances” might remark at some point in the future that they hadn’t seen much of you lately but, on reflection, realise that it was at least a couple of years or even longer since you had last crossed each other’s paths.

    When we lived in UK, I was one of those friendless people. I have perhaps one acquaintance who used to work at the same place as I did but our only connection otherwise was that we were both born in the same year, 2 months and 22 days apart. When we moved to Spain, I was determined that was going to change. I set out with the determination that every time I walked up the street I would greet everybody I met “Hola, bueno día” (they speak Castillero here not Castellano.) That is what I did. I had very limited Spanish so was unable to make much of a conversation other than “Sí” or “Nó” when asked a question depending on the question tag.

    After we had been here a couple of years, I ended up in hospital with a mild heart attack and Alejandra was amazed at the number of people (most of whom she did not know) who came up to he to ask how I was, people whom, at some point, I had greeted and with whom I had tried to make conversation. Are they acquaintances or friends? I like to think they are the latter and that is the way I treat them. Now at the age of 75, I feel that, for the first time in my life, I actually have friends.

  3. Tamara, what a sad but heart warming letter. We do take friendship for granted sometimes.
    Life is short and we don’t come back a second time. You are a lovely person for trying. God bless you.

    Jan & Gary❤️

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