So here I am sitting in the City Chambers cafeteria enjoying a bowl of minestrone with two Tigers and a Monkey. It’s been an odd week.
Two job applications rejected in two days just as two more possibilities of unpaid work open up. Why, oh why, is the best work always unpaid? My voluntary involvement in multicultural work is now the most fulfilling part of the week. That’s why I am back at the City Chambers for a meeting with two councillors and a friend who is exploring the potential for turning his Arts Council funded project into a charitable foundation which will create new bridges between Chinese and Scottish communities in Edinburgh.
One of the councillors spots that 2007 is the Year of the Pig so we learn that there are two Tigers and a Monkey round the table. For no good reason, I think I am either a Rat or a Pig and I am impressed to discover that these two fairly hard-bitten city councillors know their Chinese horoscopes so well.
At the same time they paint a fairly depressing picture of a city where communities (of all creeds and colours) too often find it hard to connect with one another. Kimho is not interested in creating yet another self-contained ethnic minority group. He prefers to use the term intercultural instead of the politically loaded multicultural. He wants to reach out and make creative communication between young people in both Chinese and Scottish communities, using music and artistic performances of all kinds to open minds and stimulate meaningful conversations between people who otherwise never meet. And wouldn’t that be good?
This is the most heart-warming aspect of the multicultural work I have been engaged in for the last year. Why I am doing it? I often wonder. A year ago I blundered into a world of uncertain boundaries as part of a team exploring how we could bring people from different cultures together. I know nothing of the etiquette of approaching organisations run by minority communities. Sometimes I feel I am intruding awkwardly into a private world. At other times the welcome is extraordinary and heart warming. At last year’s winter party run by the Edinburgh Refugee Council I danced the Gay Gordons with my friend Nick among a wonderfully warm group of people from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Usually I hate Ceilidhs (so bloody jolly in a serious kind of way) but this one had the feeling of pioneers sharing food and drink in a frontier town.
Perhaps newcomers at their most vulnerable find comfort in joining others in the same position, regardless of where they have come from. Some of the older communities seem to feel safer living behind their own cultural barrier. It takes a fairly determined effort to find the doors through such barriers and I am discovering that ethnic minority communities are often just as divided by jealousies and internal politics as every other community. What a surprise!
Why am I so interested in all this? I sometimes wonder if it is the result of being raised in a gloriously dysfunctional family – half Irish, half Scots – where my quest for a quiet life depended on helping people to stop fighting. I hope that’s not my only reason, it sounds hellish grandiose. But a quick Google finds me a site that tells me I am a Pig and ‘Pigs do not like discord and will do whatever it takes to maintain a peaceful homestead.’
Enough of this. I have a new idea for my blog as I confided the other night in Tommy who set up my website and patiently advises me what to do when I mess it up by inadvertently changing the whole of the Home Page to italics. I tell him at some length about my plan for creating a new section of the site. He shakes his head sadly, ‘I created a monster.’ He’s joking of course. But then he is a Monkey – according to the Chinese horoscope they make you laugh even when you want to cry.