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The Rife Team

Every city I go to feels like a home: a photo essay

Laili’s rich, beautiful photos show her perspective as a refugee living in Bristol 

I was 14 when I came to the UK. Now I’m 18. My family tries to go back to Iran once a year. My grandmother, aunties and cousins still live there. It was sometimes hard growing up there because the Iranian government made it hard for us to fit into society. They don’t like refugees coming. They are better now, but when I arrived, it was really hard.

A good memory I have is traveling to a smaller city in the south where my auntie was living. The people were nice, there wasn’t so much pollution. I miss the atmosphere there, and using my own language. 

The biggest differences between Bristol and Iran are the language, food and culture – people are more open here. They aren’t as accepting in Iran. Here no one cares about what you wear, what you’re doing. In Iran everyone cares, there’s more judgement.

When I moved to Bristol, at first it was difficult because I didn’t know the language. But the people were so nice and calm. I didn’t feel like a foreigner here. I feel like Bristol is my city and, as I have learned from my family, I have to be happy for all little and big things that happen here and take initiative from them.

I take my photos on my phone, and sometimes on a Canon camera. I take inspiration for my photos from colours, the way things look when they are together. I feel like I am connecting with my culture. I like to show the contrast between Iran and Bristol. The way I view the city, all the things in it. I want to share my way of looking at things. The reflection of sunlight gives me hope of a bright and clear life.

When I was in Iran I wanted to be an actress, and now I want to be a filmmaker. I’ve had lots of experiences that I want to show. If I give my stories to another director, it wouldn’t be the same. You can relate to film – it’s the full package. You can see what I really want to show, what I’ve experienced. You can travel with me.

I’ve included a photo of an alleyway in the city I was born. Whenever I step into the alleys, it reminds me the poetry of Maulana, which my grandmother used to read us in our childhood.

“Blessed is the moment when we sit in the garden you and I. Two forms, two faces, but a single soul you and I.”

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