FRIDAY was International Day of Peace. Here, Alison Phipps reflects about the day her foster daughter, a refugee, gave birth and how hospitals are a place of refuge in an often hostile world.

‘ARE you the interpreter?” asks the anaesthetist. It’s one of those in-between days when it seems as though the whole world is made of symbols. I dressed this morning in her grandmother’s scarf. Red, black, gold, white.

It’s 23 years to the day since we packed up our first home, of 18 months, my husband gave up a permanent, secure job and we headed north for the promise of a one-year temporary contract as a lecturer at the University of Glasgow.

I was the first generation of the precariously contracted in higher education. Now it’s a shockingly high percentage, and of course the majority are women and ethnic minorities. “Nothing will change if men just hold on to their securities and make women fit their hopes for work and life around them,” Robert had said.

The two surgeons arrive. “Are you the interpreter?”

“No,” I laugh, “I’m the mum.”

“You are too young!” they reply, quick as a flash and not a blink of hesitation.

I am so grateful. And not for the compliment, but for the lack of a flinch.

They have the widest of smiles. I am in a European minority of one to three Africans, and it is such a relief.

The nurse tells me to go off for a walk if I like. I go into town. High Street has the air of the usual dour, back-end forgottenness straining at hope it has been since I first arrived in the city. A few swanky buildings, a tourist-infilled precinct round the cathedral, but it’s the mural of St Mungo with his robin that brings me warmth and speaks of the refuge I too feel at times in this complicated, flourishing, suffering city.

Today is the autumn equinox. It’s the day when the light of the summer gives way to the light of the winter to come, and day and night are in equal measure. From the hospital ward the skies to the east as dawn broke filled me up, blue, gleaming grey. There is that soft, familiar, watery dance of sunlight shafting onto the Cathkin Braes spinning into the wind turbines out east along the M8.

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Today is the first time I have been to the necropolis. I wander up amongst the urns and angels, under the spire of the cathedral and the red-berried rowan trees, guardians of life and death. They say that rowan crosses were placed on the lintels of houses in the past as a protection. They say, in Norse legend, that it was from the rowan tree that the first woman was made.

Thaney – with Mungo in arms – looks down from the corner of High Street. A survivor of rape, a name amongst many – Enoch; Taneu, Thenew, Theonia – for a day when names matter and are made anew. I look out from the necropolis towards Lothian, from whence they say she came, cast adrift in a coracle in the Forth having been thrown out of her father’s high house after the rape led to pregnancy.

I walk centre-wards and sit inside the wild Olive Tree Cafe, under Iain Campbell’s extraordinary painting of The Incarnation – screaming raw life in my doubting face.

Inside the stone, stained-glass cathedral house which bears the name of Thaney’s son – Kentigern, Mungo – I light candles to mothers and to fathers, and children. Those born in violence, and those born in peace, those of love, those of indifference, those miscarried and stillborn. The light soothes the strange calm of waiting further. On the flagstones, the equalising light offers up a palette of colours through the glass. Mungo comes always with a robin, a fierce warrior of a bird ardently territorial; defiant at any breach of boundary or territory.

Today is the International Day of Peace. My heart yearns for the easing of border controls which mean that those who should be here, in my place, not being mistaken for an interpreter, might have been granted a visitor visa. But this is the reality of the hostile environment, and the war which relentlessly divides families, friends, loved ones does so most acutely when you stand on the thresholds of life and death. So we make the best of it.

People are kind. Everyone has been promising joy. I have learned over the years of living this way to feel little by way of emotion at times like these. There is a protection, a little like the Robin’s sharp song, which draws my feelings into a tight curl and fits them into a shell. I know that hope means being in this quiet, small, dark, solitary place.

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In George Square I stand by the Poverty Plaque, laid to commemorate all who have died as a result of the war on the poor; preventable deaths, caused entirely by the myth that we do not have enough to go round. As I take money from a cash point the homeless guy sitting on damp cardboard at me feet asks me if I can spare some change.

I kneel to read the wording on the tiny bronze plate by the war memorial. The 40th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tomorrow, it seems, most of my friends will be out at Faslane protesting peacefully outside the nuclear base. Oh let us study war no more; lets us study war no more.

Back up on the ward the waiting continues. I meet the West African surgeon in the lift and we laugh at the earlier misunderstanding “sometimes it happens like that”. The anaesthetist chats to me in German, because mother tongues matter to interpreters, even those who are not. Between the five of us I count around 20 languages which could surface and shape our conversation.

A baby will be born. And its life too will wither like the trees turning on the branches of rowan. Perhaps today, perhaps after the three score years and 10. There is nothing certain in life except death, taxes and, for this generation, hostile border controls.

Many names, many roles, many signs and many symbols make up this shelter house. This refuge, this threshold, this hospital that takes its root name from hospitality. It stands as a place of peace. Full of courage. Medical workers should never, under international laws of protection, be targets of attack; nor should civilians, and this law dates back over a millennium and a half to Adomnan’s Law of the Innocents – Scotland’s extraordinary ancient Celtic Law enshrining the protection of those who do not fight. Hospitality is everything to life: the hospitality of the womb, or the home; of the hospital; of the struggling, tholling wonder that is the NHS; of the mother language; of the boat that carried Thaney and the ones that carry those seeking protection across the Mediterranean.

Many names and many roles are needed in the waging and keeping of peace, for the sustaining of hospitality over the long term, beyond the welcome.

All day I have been an interpreter of the symbols of peace around this hospital, in my home city; the city of my own refuge and sheltering; of my mothering and fostering.

Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam.

“We’re ready” calls the nurse. The day has been long. The surgeons are working late.

Time passes. And passes.

And then there is a miracle in my arms.

“And what are you going to be called?” asks the kind-faced nurse.

“Ade. Grandma. Tsadade. Ade Alison.” The words stumble out like life. Like peace.

Alison Phipps is UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow and an ambassador for the Scottish Refugee Council