It was on one of those dreary Cardiff Monday mornings that I first met her in the damp building where our charity was based. She came with a friend to join an IT course and I had recently started to work there. Erblina was her name, though everyone called her by the typical shorter version 'Ana'.
She did not speak a lot of English but she understood most of what we said. Ana was quiet, but there was something of a sparkle in her eye when she grasped a joke during breaks in which exuberant laughter dominated the room.
The more I got to know her, the more I realised how much we were alike. Not just our slim figures and skin colour, but also our characters and values. Extraverted introverts, we found we were both keen on reading and teaching, fascinated by different cultures, languages and psychology.
We both had a two-year-old daughter, and shared our parental joys and frustrations (such as the Peppa Pig Syndrome and potty plagues).
Erblina was a fast learner and soon started to teach IT skills to others. Her English improved hugely, and when she signed up for classes, I was disappointed they put her in A1 (beginners), just because "that's where everyone starts". She did not protest. As a refugee, you learn how to lose your pride while keeping your dignity. She effortlessly passed her exams.
I realised it felt like she was my sister. My soul sister. There was this bond between us that was hard to describe. We could comfortably spend time together in silence - there was an understanding. We sensed what the other felt. Like the many times we phoned each other simultaneously at a pick-me-up moment.
Intuitively I knew of the ordeals she had been through, and when she told me bits and pieces, it turned out my guts had been telling the truth. Our friendship grew stronger and I was no longer at a professional distance. The layers of self-protection began to crumble for both of us.
Beyond the outward numbness, there was a deep fear that filled her up. Added to that, a massive feeling of insecurity; bouts of panic, depression, apathy and distrust. I would feel every inch of her body shake in my arms. Every time I hugged her she seemed bonier, thinner, tighter.
I felt egoistic when after an hour or two of seeing her I used to come up with lame excuses about work that was waiting. In truth I needed time to crash, to cry to god about the cruelty of life, to numb my pain with builders tea and Cadbury.
The contrasts between our lives were stark, and this only intensified when I moved abroad for work. I just packed my bags and passport and left because I craved a new adventure.
She is stuck in a country that is not her own, hoping and praying every second to be granted asylum.
By now, she has reported to the Home Office every other week for four years, but still does not know anything about her status. She has not been allowed to travel, study or work (even voluntary). My worst fear is that she will be deported, as her home country is "safe" (to Home Office standards). Deportation is equal to a death sentence, as she has disgraced her family by having a child whilst not married.
The men who trafficked and abused her are still in their filthy business which is why she always looks over her shoulder wherever she goes.
Of course we stay in touch as much as possible. We rely on wifi which she does not have in the house she shares with seven other asylum seekers. We send long e-mails, countless messages and I try and visit as much as I can.
Last time I saw her she had just heard she needed to move again, to another area she didn't know, 45 minutes away from her daughter's school. She told me she could not do it anymore. There was no strength left. I was not surprised, I would have given up long ago. I knew she would have ended her life years back if it would not have been for the little girl who now strokes her face gently saying: 'Don't be sad mummy, I'm here with you.'
I carry some of her pain with me, wherever I go. I will always be proud of her, whatever happens. I will always admire her resilience, patience, self-sacrifice and kindness. My hopes have grown weaker but the little braveness that is left says that one day we will share the same privileges and she will finally be allowed to hit the play-button of her own life.