I met Baraka when we were in sixth form. She was brilliant and warm and humble. She was liked and respected by teachers and peers alike. I liked her especially for the way that she treated each person equally and would greet everyone with that amazing big smile. We all knew that she was destined for greatness even at such a young age.
I don’t think I realised just how strong and brave Baraka was until after her diagnosis. She told me about it on the phone but soon after we decided to meet for dinner. I was scared to see her; worried that I wouldn’t know what to say and terrified about what the future held for her. She greeted me with a big smile and hug. Despite her whole world having changed she was calm, full of faith and also acceptance. It was so remarkable given how recently she had been diagnosed. We decided to go to a restaurant nearby which we could get to by bus. I saw the bus starting to pull in to the stop ahead further down the road. I looked at Baraka and she smiled mischievously at me. We ran for the bus and caught it. I remember thinking how incredible it was that Baraka was able to sprint like that, knowing that her lung cancer was already advanced and that most people would be limited in what they were able to do by that point. It made me feel better and I thought that if she was still so strong maybe everything would be okay. We laughed breathlessly on the bus and Baraka asked me not to tell Somi that she had run for it. (Sorry Bkay!)
I can think of countless instances of bravery and strength that Baraka showed in the two and a half years after that, both physical and mental. The following Spring we rode bicycles around her neighbourhood on a beautiful bright day, she kept going all the way up the hill near her house. Later that year she fought through a long spell in hospital, one which the doctors said she may not recover from. Packing up her belongings when she was discharged and leaving that hospital room is one of my happiest memories. I am still so proud of the way that she got through that and went on to spend almost a year and a half out of hospital, strong and living life with more serenity, gratitude and faith than I had ever seen her before.
I feel so lucky to have been her friend and she taught me so much. She was the best of us all.