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What If It Was You? My Friendship With a Somali Refugee

13/05/2013 14:27 BST | Updated 10/07/2013 10:12 BST

They say every face tells a story. Over 20,000 people seek refuge in the UK each year, leaving behind their homes, their jobs, their families and friends as they flee persecution and try to build a new life for themselves.

Glasgow, the city in which I grew up, has the largest amount of refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland. Although mostly pushed to the periphery, this new wave of Glaswegians are quietly weaving themselves in to the fabric of the city - and none more so than my friend Farida.

We first met through our husbands, who, in turn, met through the Scottish Refugee Council. Being a writer is about imagining yourself into the heads of your characters , positioning yourself behind their eyes, so you're looking out at their world, not your own. In a way, each of the books I've written has been about identity - the person behind the uniform; who you are and what others see of you - and they've been about social issues too, about outsiders. Being exposed to the work of the SRC, hearing stories about people who live in limbo for years and years - either in desert camps or damp, gloomy blocks, who only want a place where they can be safe and put down roots again - made me want to push myself further. Could I inhabit the skin of a Somali refugee? Could I see my city through their eyes? Glasgow has loads of beautiful museums and galleries for example - and most of them are free. But they are grand, Victorian edifices. They are imposing. If you didn't know you were 'allowed', would you even make your way up their steps?

I could imagine what being in an alien city, in an alien culture I knew nothing about might be like, but I didn't know. And how do you live in a place you never planned to? Do you focus on the future, or are you always looking back at what you left behind? Our friends kindly agreed to help me try to understand, and invited us into their home. Knowing I'm vegetarian, Farida prepared a meal of plantains and rice, and we spent the afternoon chatting and playing with her beautiful kids. The story I subsequently wrote is entirely fictional, but the truth of it - I hope - is in the details. What struck me most were the tiny, vital things: how the moon is much bigger at home than it is here, or how you feel the blood in your fingertips is hurting you when you've never experienced a winter - and have never possessed a pair of gloves.

I've been lucky to keep in touch with Farida. In just a few years, this bright, brave woman has attained a university place and is studying for a degree. She's let me read her essays: they are smart and sparky, like she is. I'm in awe of anyone that can write university level work in a language that's not their own - while making a home for your family and raising two kids. Both my friend and her husband are studying hard because they want to give something back to the community that gave them a chance. Her kids are right wee Glaswegians. Her son, like many refugee children, is frequently top of his class. He loves to go to football; my husband took him and his dad to their first 'Old Firm' match. Farida's daughter will go to school soon, in Glasgow, the only place she has ever known as home. This family, their achievements, aren't mine, but they make me proud. As does the place that welcomed them. I'm grateful we live in a country that still does that. I hope, if I lost almost everything and everyone I loved, my face would fit somewhere else too. So my story could carry on.

This Is Where I Am by Karen Campbell is published by Bloomsbury in trade paperback, £12.99