‘You can see their eyes open wide because we say such insulting things to each other’
Yann Lovelock, 73, is a Buddhist from Birmingham, England. He has formerly been a teacher, lecturer, poet and translator. He is currently Senior Advisor to the Network of Buddhist Organisations and is involved with many local and national interfaith projects. He tells us here about his Muslim friend, Hassan.
Hassan lives eight doors down. We first met at a Neighbourhood Forum meeting about fifteen years ago. We‘re from completely different backgrounds but we’re both senior citizens. He was born in India but got caught up in Partition and moved to Pakistan, then on to Kenya before coming here. He brought up his family here and kept himself very much to himself until his wife died suddenly. I think I’m probably his first white friend.
In his culture, the custom when your wife dies is to sit in the front room, for everyone to come in and for you to pour your heart out to them. So my wife, Ann, and I went down there. She already knew his daughter because she applied for a job at the hospital where Ann was the chief pharmacist. She didn’t get the job so there was a slight hiccup in the friendship there! But she came up to me and said: my dad’s by himself now. There are a lot of us in the family and we all keep in touch with him, but you’re just down the road. Will you get him interested in things and get him out of the house?
First of all I found out what his politics were. They were the same as mine and we signed him up to the party but it didn’t exactly form a spiritual bond. Then I was asked to join the steering group of the Faith Encounter Programme, which has a project giving guides to faith buildings both professional and interfaith training. We needed a treasurer, so I asked if he’d like to do it and he said yes - and that he’d really like to talk to people of other faiths. Well, that’s the first I knew of it! He loves being around people of other faiths now so we decided to take our own training course together.
We both share an odd a sense of humour. If I go round to his place, he’ll send a son to the door to say ‘He’s not in,’ or ‘Have you got an appointment?’ or ‘No heathens in here!’ They’re just getting used to us on our course. You can see their eyes open wide because we say such insulting things to each other, especially the younger ones. The penny has dropped now that we’re a couple of funny men, but the course co-ordinator had a difficult time explaining us at first. We’re not serious; we laugh about our religion. Well, I don’t laugh about Islam but we both laugh about Buddhism a lot, which is something that Hassan likes. Just lately we’ve learned a lot from helping each other with the course work too.
You can read more of Yann’s story here.