LONDON DIGEST: OL BOY, THIS IS LONDON, MEHN!

This phrase, will be so familiar with almost everyone coming to the London for the first time and also a phrase they will hear endlessly at least for the first 6 months or so of being in the country. It is a phrase that Nigerians who have been in the UK for a while use on their JJC mates or family who are newbies in town.

I have a catalogue of JJC stories that when I think of the today, I blush furiously with shame and embarrassment and then laugh loudly for hours. My consolation however, is that each of us in one way or another have been there and done that.

Just imagine coming from Naija, a country where you are required to take empty bottles with you when going to buy your minerals or beer from the shop down the road; or where you sleep on your bed covers/blanket and cover yourself with an ankara wrapper; or run after a bus that has moved away from the bus stop – unlike back home, none of these are necessary here but yes, I am ashamed to say that in my early days back in the UK, I did all those. I even unfortunately hand washed my clothes for weeks before I was told of the laundrette and I slept half frozen to death every night before I realised the duvet was to cover myself with!

I know of a friend who drank mouth wash instead of rinsing his mouth with it – and a sister once called to ask where to get her pepper blended!!

My ex’s mother almost killed me on her first visit to London when she proceeded to greet all the neighbours in the street – and not even with “Good morning”. Iya Suna decided to shout “e kaa ro o, Assalam alaikun o!!! to all our Oyinbo neighbours through their windows and doors before her son mercifully pulled her inside the house – just before my public mortification became life threatening!!!!!

The culture shock that many newcomers experience in some cases can be traumatic especially in the workplace. How many big Naija uncles have been faced with tiny 18 year old Britons who call them “Ade” or “Bisi” like there was no 20 odd years gap between them. Imagine your grandchild’s age mate, ordering you to go empty that bin – because it is your job?

I got another manifestation of culture shock through my brother when he first visited London many many years ago, I noticed that he kept going to the deep freezer. He would open it, look inside, shake his head before shutting it. When I finally managed to ask him his reason for his puzzling behaviour, he told me – seeing a freezer with so much ice was a strange thing to him. In Nigeria, even with constant electricity for a week, you would hardly see a properly frozen and iced over freezer!

Many parents of “oyinbo children” are gradually getting used to the shocking difference between the way we were brought up and our kids upbringing. No matter how much Nigerianism we try to impose on them, our kids have their own ideas. Remember as a Naija child you will have to disappear whenever visitors came to the house, because in our days, kids were seen but not heard and you didn’t dare speak unless you were first spoken to. Well, our kids will stay fixed in their seats in front on the telly and only the threat of grievous bodily harm will make them leave the vicinity and that will be after they have interrupted your conversation with your visitor and even spoken out to say ”But mum, that’s not what happened!

In London, you cant send “igbati oloyi” to your kid of give them “loud iko” like we “enjoyed” growing up in Nigeria. Back home it is proper upbringing and discipline. Here, its child abuse and you can actually go to jail for it. Nevertheless, some of us have our ways of controlling them – like threatning to send them to grandma in the village where there is no electricity, no one spoke English and where they have to trek 5 miles to the river every morning to get water before school before they can have a wash (never mind that I never saw a river in my life) but it always worked – at lest when they were younger and easier to fool.

I once resorted to telling my kids over and over so they don’t ever forget – I AM NOT A WHITE WOMAN!!! This is because many kids if left unchecked try to copy the behaviours of their white mates such as talking back or shouting at their parents, refusal to greet adults appropriately, and generally refusing to obey instructions. Unfortunately, many parents especially those that are “illegal”are afraid of being reported to the authorities for child abuse, so they leave their kids run riot and become unruly and unmanageable.

Many Naijas arrive in London and quickly forget their culture. I have a few friends who have told me point blank “my kid will not kneel down for anybody!” (REALLY!)

Another friend still cooks, cleans, dusts and tidies her entire house even though she has 2 grown up kids who simply lie on the sofa and play games while she bends down and picks up after them. This same friend called me a child abuser when I told her that my kids all have house keeping tasks ranging from sweeping, doing the dishes to cleaning the bathroom & toilets.

I have a 19 year old son and I often catch myself looking at him with overflowing pride while he lovingly prepares his Pasta and Bolognese sauce or fries Dodo and eggs. At the moment, he’s learning how to prepare Jollof Rice and Beans. He also knows to change his beddings and tidy up his room without being told or reminded.

I know he will not go hungry or run out of clean clothes when he goes off to Uni in September!

Sometimes, my eyes fill with tears when I see folks the age of my late grandparents (ok, maybe younger – but quite advanced in age nevertheless) struggling to cope with life in London. I see many older folks going shopping and struggling with their bags from Tesco, bent over and all dressed up albeit ridiculously in ankara iro and buba and scarf, thick roll-neck jumper, trainers, socks, legging, tights – and I say to myself REALLY!!?? I once saw an very elderly man who attended my church coming out of a store. Daddy Victor had all these bags and he walked with very obvious pain – taking 2 steps in 3 minutes. I couldn’t help thinking – if Daddy victor lived in Lagos – he probably wouldn’t know where the store was or how stuff got into the house. Only that things were available when he needed them and food was on his table when it was mealtime because they most likely will be people around him to take care of him (and maybe not). I might not fully understand daddy Victor’s situation but I still ask – doesn’t daddy Victor have kids or family. Of course, many of our elderly parents are becoming more and more independent and with daily breakthrough in healthcare plus healthy living, many folks in the Western world are living longer and are less dependent on others. But still – is a place like London the best place for older African people – especially in winter??

I ask this question because unlike back home, living in London can be a very solitary and lonely experience indeed.

Before the mobile phone and Facebook, which must have saved a lot of lives of depressed and painfully lonely folks, many people lived in complete isolation – especially the unmarried ones. Aside the people you work with, your entire existence revolves around cooking for 1 and passing out in front of the telly – every night without speaking to a single soul before going into work the next day. Come weekends, moving away from your land line phone even for a second, was a great risk – cos that could be the time the only call for the entire weekend will come in. We didn’t even have the nuisance of cold callers selling insurance or PPI – at least those would have been welcome voices at the end of an otherwise very silent phone line.

But today, people do not live solitary lives any more. And London is like a mini Nigerian nation with a thriving vibrant community. In fact, if you are self employed in London today, you probably wont see a white face all week except on the telly or if you have to make a trip to Tesco or Morrisons. The culture shock that many of us experienced in the 80s and early 90s is not so intense any more. Offices serve jollof rice in staff canteens’. Tesco stocks Yam, Elubo, Gaari and Ewa Oloyin on their shelves and you will even find the odd 1 or 2 halal butcher that will converse with you in Yoruba.

The Nigerian culture is surely and gradually making its way into the mainstream fabric of London society. Afterall, our very own Ayan the First, is being regularly invited to perform at top level events by top British politicians and even Prince Charles.

More proof is the increased number of traditional engagement ceremonies that take place in the city. It is a sight to behold when a groom turns up with half his mates being white and they ALL eagerly and happily get into the spirit of the occasion – all dressed in Naija attire, all taking part in the “dobale-ing” (prostrating for in-laws) dancing and even the ever so ridiculous drills by the Alagas!

The icing on the cake is when White groom (which is quite a common thing nowadays) and his entire family all dress up in Nigerian outfit – complete with gele, beads and fila – and every one of them. Not so long ago, many parents would have fainted, woke up and fainted again at the thought of their daughters dating – talk less of marrying a white guy. Nowadays, 3 out of every 10 Nigerian weddings that take place in the city are between Nigerian girls and White boys. And unlike those days when Nigerian men had to pay and marry white British girls with just 1 or 2 witnesses at the registry office or enter into half-hearted insincere relationships with British Nigerian girls for immigration papers, people actually enter into real and genuine inter-racial relationships with the involvement of friends and family at the nuptials.

London today is a much happier and more involving place to live. Our community is now more engaging and people do not feel so much isolated largely due to the evolved social lifestyle of Nigerians in the UK with the hundreds of Community projects, initiatives, networking events and of course parties – to which many folks from other British, Asian and African Communities are invited, there has been an evolvement of cultural exchange and intergration that people do not feel so much like they are living in a strange country any more.

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