IT’S International Women’s Day 10 years ago. My eyes are gritty, the jet-lag kicking in, I badly need a shower, and possibly laying out in such a way as to enable my crunched-up economy-class body to stretch out for a few hours. When the doorbell rings 50 minutes later my hair is wet from a very hasty shower, but the small spare room is ready and the bed made.

On the doorstep is a young girl from Eritrea. Slender. Strong. And very personable, in spite of the fact she has barely any words at all of English, for all her five other languages. She reaches out a hand and shakes mine. The support worker is apologetic at the urgency, but they really do feel we’d be a good, safe place and didn’t want her to have to spend another night in a hostel.

We do the usual paperwork, take her round the house and give her some keys. The letter which accompanies her arrival gives us the usual basic information: her mother tongue is Blin, and there is a number for an interpreter in case we need it. After she is satisfied all was as well as it could be in a country which routinely makes vulnerable people seeking asylum destitute, the support worker leaves.

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The girl was 16 years old. An unaccompanied minor. I don’t remember much about her first few days with us. She settled in, joined us for meals, found her way around the neighbourhood. She had questions, we found ways to answer them.

We spent time with the atlas on our book shelf as she showed us her country. But it was clear to us within a couple of days that the relationship was not the usual one we’d established with previous women who’d stayed. “I think we are fostering,” I said at one point, very early on.

And, essentially, we were. It was only after she’d been taken from us, locked up in Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood Removal Centres (“a place where women cry all the time,” she’d said) and we’d run a huge campaign to ensure her right to claim asylum in the UK, that we drew breath and realised the extent of our relationship.

“You are my mother because you do for me like a mother,” she said early on, in her inimitable matter-of-fact way. It was as simple and complicated as that.

International Women’s Day comes and goes, and it’s always got a defiant energy to it for me. I love the chance to think of all the women who’ve informed my spirit and lifted my spirits and spirited away my gloom.

There is a genealogy of mothers and grandmothers, aunts and neighbours, teachers and voluntary community workers whose relationships with me were significant.

They may or may not have been working for the liberation of women consciously, but in their encounters and relationships with me they were working to liberate lives from harm.

My great-grandma Barnes was a suffragette and apparently chained herself to the railings of Rochdale Town Hall.

Grandma Blackburn made clothes and crafts and offered endless hospitality to many, including refugees from Eastern Europe.

Grandma Mareham fed the village, a butcher’s wife who knew how to make the best pastry and had a wide, comforting knee for tears and tales.

Ordinary women doing ordinary and extraordinary things, laying down a pattern of life from which to pattern my own, or to deviate.

And there I was, 10 years ago, on International Women’s Day, doing an ordinary yet extraordinary thing – looking after a young girl on her own because there was no one else to do so, and her own family were a long, long way away.

The ordinary things continued. The sound of her singing out loud to music on the iPod we bought her which accompanied her tireless exercise.

The negotiations over pocket money; the making of friends, the sleep-overs, her entering college at long last and finding others like herself.

I’d bake and leave cakes cooling on the rack, only to return to the kitchen to find that a corner had disappeared, or the crust on a pie was missing a piece, or that something I was hoping to serve up to visitors had already been started.

There was her first night out on the town when she borrowed my shoes, and I remember waking at 4am and looking at the landing outside her room and seeing them lying in the hallway, cast off and such a reassuring sign of the return of a tired daughter to her bed.

Parts of her life that had been lived before her time with us began to arrive into the house as songs, stories and objects – the Eritrean coffee table which she somehow managed to find a whole entourage of helpful friends and strangers to carry back to Glasgow for her after buying it when on holiday for a few days in London.

And then the making of coffee, perhaps the deepest sign of being at home for an Eritrean; the “kash-kash” sound of the raw beans roasting against the pan; the sorting of them on the mat; the grinding together with ginger and slow cooking on a camping stove before serving sweet in tiny cups.

I LEARNED from her, as I learned a few words of my daughter’s language. “He Ho Hi Ha Hei Hii Ho” we’d chant – and laugh together at how hopeless I was at tonality. The names of those in her family formed our daily litany at table, remembering them, hoping they were safe in the absence of news.

All of these things became beautiful, poignant parts of our lives. Things of a young girl, growing up Scottish-Eritrean and teaching her foster mother how to live in her world, how to make a world with her.

Things now entirely normal to us, habits of life.

International Women’s Day sees my social media feed and news pages filling up with stories of inspirational women.

Don’t get me wrong, I know how badly women need role models in other women and an experience of working their lives out with other women who have navigated the horrors of patriarchy in all its routine brutality; including the routine brutality of an asylum system in the UK.

I can name so many incredible women who have sought refuge and found it against odds which beggar belief; women, and especially young women, who have found a way to make a way when there was no way.

But looking back over 10 years of an extraordinary, ordinary relationship, I remember advice I was given by my friend Simon when I was 16. “Real love is particular. Forget the millions and choose one, turn to one individual and begin there.

“To live is to realise the full awesome totality of another individual – whole, entire, real as I am; and to go on loving them is to discover just how strange another person is – and the strangeness seems to grow, the deeper the love.”

To mark International Women’s Day 10 years after becoming a strange kind of ordinary mother, after turning to one particular individual and beginning there, I took time out to just be, to be with this one amazing young woman, to delight in the patterns and deviations of our lives. To just love.

Alison Phipps is Unesco chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts