‘Peter do not come home!’That was all Charlotte’s message read. An utterly confusing piece of information that left Peter fuming. He slowed down the huge engine of the Mercedes Benz 4matic to reread the message. Do not come home? ‘What’s she on about now!’ He snapped to himself his finger pointing on the delete button as the car crawled towards his house which he could now see. As much as he liked Charlotte, her youthfulness and prettiness sometimes overtook her reason. She was so naive and yet emotionally volatile at times , prone to letting off a stream of phone calls beckoning him to come to her at odd and random times of the day. Despite this, he adored Charlotte and of that he was sure. Convinced by her youthful allegiance to what she thought was love, she was caring and understanding, and it was to her that he had only gone after his first appointment with the oncologist at Russells Hall hospital. They had cried and they wiped each others tears dry and then after they grew determinedly strong together, attending each appointment, resolved to fight the cancer. He didn’t mention anything to his wife about the prostate cancer and hid all the hospital letters from her.
Peter’s car slowly edged towards his home as he moved his finger from the delete button and strongly contemplated calling Charlotte after all about the weird message. He picked his phone up to dial and that is when he noticed Charlotte’s distinguishable yellow car on his drive. He immediately slammed on the brakes causing his body to thrust forward spilling the contents on the passenger seat on to the floor of the car. He quickly rammed the gears onto reverse and the car hummed,quietly weaving through the parked cars onto the end of the road where he flipped it around and sped away wit a dazed head.
Was Charlotte warning him not to come to his own home, he thought curiously. He was more than certain that was Charlotte’s car. The pink fluffy cubed air fresheners dangling on the rear view mirror were too easy to identify. But what was the car doing in his drive? An incredible fear gripped him. What of his wife and Panashe’s issue at school? He fetched his phone from the floor of the car where it had been flung by the force of the breaking car. Instead of ringing his wife he was going to ring Charlotte.
In the house all 6 women huddled in the kitchen in quiet anticipation. At exactly 19:30 Rejoice hushed everyone and moved to sit on her own in the lounge. The ticking sound of the bronze African clock reverberated in the quiet lounge. Its huge elephant task ticked past 7 on the clock and Rejoice instinctively checked her phone. Peter was late and he hadn’t called. In the kitchen Charlotte’s phone rang causing everyone to jump. It was Peter.
‘I cant talk right now. I’m at my friends on Crimson drive!’ She whispered quickly before Peter could get a word in. The women waited in silence while Rejoice peered through the blinds to check for Peter’s car. She had been subconsciously doing this more often lately. Sitting by the window facing towards the drive and periodically parting the blinds to see what was outside. She knew exactly what she was doing but still refused to admit for a long time that there had been a strange pattern to Peter’s work schedule for a long time. Once, she mentioned to Kudzai at work that Peter was coming home late all the time and Kudzai had bowled out laughing.
‘He’s got a small house shamwari’, she laughed assuredly. ‘You better find that bitch out before she destroys your marriage!’ Rejoice had ignored Kudzai’s warnings as her usual mad ramblings but the seed of doubt had been planted and it grew each time she parted those blinds to check for Peter’s car.
She peered through the blinds and checked her phone once more, growing marginally restless.
‘Hello!’ A voice from the kitchen shouted. Rejoice knew the women would be fretful now and keeping them committed onto her plan would be challenging with every minute that passed without Peter.
I wonder what this day meant for immigrants in the UK as voting for the European Parliament took place. As an African immigrant too I have watched and listened to the squabbles between the main political parties in the UK with UKIP gaining notoriety as the party of racists and people intolerant of immigrants. The last few weeks UKIP has been marred with scandal after scandal. Swearing candidates, party members defecting and spilling all the hidden agendas of UKIP to the public, Farage hiring immigrants yet denouncing their influx in UK. We’ve seen it and read it all. The newspapers and television media seemed on a warpath, carrying a story of another UKIP scandal everyday and for a moment I was almost fooled to think that wow, all the other parties and main newspapers have suddenly become friends of ‘Eastern European’ and ‘African’ immigrants! They are fighting for us. They are exposing the true colours of UKIP . Then I delved back into memory, hmm. Which party has kept thousands of asylum seekers in limbo for decades without a resolution on their cases, forcing them to live in squalid houses without means of survival except handouts from charities?
Which newspapers carry a scaremongering propaganda about immigrants? I didn’t need to go far back in memory to remember all the parties and press groups that have persecuted immigrants.
Instead of UK being a haven of democracy and safety for thousands of asylum seekers fleeing persecution from their countries, the UK has persecuted them arguably more times over than their native countries by telling them sit there and stay there. Live with a group of people you don’t know while we decide your case ( to determine whether you’re telling the truth about your persecution or not). You can’t work. You’re not supposed to even sneeze without telling us. Britain has become a dream crusher for many young people with great potential because their asylum cases were just chucked onto a huge heap of documents that everybody deliberately ignored. That was the labour government. Later on the Coalition government began tasteless campaigns for immigrants to ‘go home’ on the London vans triggering a huge protest by people around the UK. While the political parties may hope that our memories are short and we will see them as far better than UKIP, we are not easily fooled and we remember very well. We remember because our brothers and sisters are still wallowing in detention centres treated worse than criminals as they wait for decisions from the UK Border Agency. We remember because everyday we are reminded that the immigration issue has become a political pivotal point for parties who want to gain votes.
Britain is divided already and ridiculous adverts from UKIP being fronted as a party’s slogan will only widen the gap between the indigenous and immigrant populations. As we await the results of the European parliamentary elections, let’s not be fooled to think UKIP is worse than all parties. They are all the same.
AN AFRICAN SEEKS UNDERSTANDING AND REFUGE IN ISRAEL
By KATE LINTHICUM
MARCH 26, 2014, 3:00 AM | REPORTING FROM TEL AVIV
This evening, like most recently, a crowd had massed in Tel Aviv’s Lewinsky Park. Huddled under blankets, hundreds of immigrants milled across worn-down grass as speakers passed around a microphone, discussing upcoming demonstrations. It was the second night of a “sleep-in” protest against the Israeli government’s decision to issue detention orders to more than 4,000 African immigrants who have crossed illegally into Israel over the last several years. Mutasim Ali, tall, with thin shoulders and a cellphone pressed to his ear, made his way throughthe park slowly. Every few steps, another person tapped his shoulder, shook his hand and asked for help.
One man wanted to know whether Ali could assist him in getting his detention summons delayed. Another had a question about how to file for refugee status. Ali’s phone rang; it was a board member of the nonprofit group he leads. Another ring; this time it was a journalist. Handsome, provocative and fluent in Hebrew, which he learned after fleeing Sudan four years
ago, Ali is the public face of an estimated 55,000-strong population that some in Israel wish would quietly disappear. That, he figures, is why he was one of the first people issued a detention order.
But Ali, 27, is not one to go quietly. While other students were studying for their final exams in college, he was reading up on Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and serving time in a Sudanese prison for protesting the government-backed genocide in Darfur. More recently, he has led headline-grabbing strikes in which tens of thousands of immigrants walked off their jobs to demand recognition as refugees in Israel. Last month, Ali and several nonprofits filed a lawsuit arguing that every detention order dealt to African asylum-seekers should be dismissed because the orders were issued without hearings. As he waited for the court’s decision, he found himself in a familiar state of limbo.
The stress of fronting a social movement — of organizing people and communicating their message to the outside world — was beginning to take a toll as he took a seat in a bright cafe on the edge of the park.
“The pressure is enormous,” Ali said, rubbing his eyes. A banana-avocado shake sat mostly untouched on the table in front of him.
The recent wave of protests erupted after last year’s passage of an amendment to Israel’s Prevention of Infiltration Law, which allows migrants in Israel without permission to be held indefinitely at Holot, an immigrant detention center in the middle of the Negev desert. Officials call Holot an “open” facility because it is not locked during the day, although detainees are required to check in with guards throughout the day and sleep there at night. The center has drawn criticism from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which issued a statement urging Israel not to hold the immigrants in indefinite detention.
Immigrants from Africa started crossing into Israel from Egypt in large numbers about eight years ago. Mostly young men from Sudan and Eritrea, they say they’re refugees fleeing conflict and repressive governments. But Israel’s leaders, who have come under pressure to act amid escalating tension between the Africans and some of their Israeli neighbours, believe most are economic migrants who should leave.
“These are not refugees but people who are breaking the law and whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this year. “Protests will not help. Strikes will not help.” Israel, which offers citizenship to anyone who can prove Jewish heritage, has never considered
itself “open to immigration on a broader scale,” said Daniel Solomon, legal advisor to Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority. But Israel can’t just send immigrants back to conflict-ridden Sudan or other nations because
international law forbids the deportation of people fearing for their safety at home. Israel’s new detention policy, coupled with $3,500 payments to those who agree to leave, is part of a strategy to persuade the Africans to go back on their own, Solomon said. “I think they’re getting the feeling,” he said, “that Israel does not intend for them to stay in the long run.”
Ali says he once thought Israel was the one place where he could find protection.
He was born to teachers in western Sudan’s Darfur region. In 2006, while he was away at college in Khartoum, the capital, his village was overrun by militants known as janjaweed. A third of the villagers were killed, he said, although his parents and siblings escaped to a refugee camp.
He tried to join them, but his mother insisted that he complete his studies so that he could one day bring change on a larger scale. “We invested in you,” she told him. He hasn’t seen her or the rest of his family in more than 10 years.
Ali joined a student protest against the government, which supported the janjaweed’s violence against non-Arabs and political rivals in Darfur. He was imprisoned three times for his participation and tortured repeatedly, he said. As soon as he passed his final exams, he left to study law in Egypt.
Once there, he said, he was watched by Sudanese spies. He worried that the same thing would happen in other Arab countries, so he decided to enter Israel because it had no diplomatic ties to Sudan and was itself founded by refugees.
“I believed if I made my way to Israel, they would understand me and give me the protection I need,” Ali said. “The Jewish people are the only ones who understand this history I have experienced.”
He paid smugglers to help him make the risky journey across the Sinai Desert. At the border, he was picked up by Israeli soldiers, who gave him hummus, a shower and fresh change of clothes. Then they took him to a detention center.
After he organized a hunger strike there, he was released and handed one-way bus tickets to South Tel Aviv. That first night, Ali was preparing to sleep in Lewinsky Park when a Sudanese stranger invited him to stay in the one-room apartment he shared with six others.
Eventually Ali found a job at a hotel, taught himself Hebrew and emerged as a spokesman for the immigrant community, telling his story over and over to diplomats, community groups and journalists.
He arrived at a tense time in the run-down southern part of the city. Longtime residents — many of them legal Jewish immigrants from Arab countries who felt marginalized themselves—were unsettled by the sudden arrival of tens of thousands of Africans.
Residents complained about an increase in crime and the scores of unemployed immigrants stretched out in the park each day. After three Eritrean migrants were arrested on suspicion of raping an Israeli woman, mobs rioted, smashing store windows and attacking the homes of some immigrants with firebombs. Several lawmakers stoked the anger, with lawmaker Miri Regev calling African immigrants a “cancer” on Israel.
Ali has become close friends with some Israeli activists, but said he feels mostly disdain when he walks down a street. “People look at you with eyes of hatred,” he said. “You feel like a stranger.”
So he tries to put himself in the minds of Israelis. He believes they are traumatized by the long-running conflict with the Palestinians, but he quickly adds that does not excuse the nation’s leaders.
“The Israeli government failed completely to protect us,” he said, and the government’s slow work in processing refugee claims is “not about whether or not we have a case; it’s about the color of our skin.”
He believes the government’s strategy is working. At this point, more than 2,000 people have accepted stipends.
“People are fed up,” he said. “They’re leaving.”
As he waited for the court’s ruling on his detention order this month, Ali kept busy, leading protests outside Holot and launching an effort to bring volunteers from Tel Aviv University toteach free classes at the detention center. He also dreamed of a future outside Israel.
He met with embassy officials from several countries to inquire about political asylum. He recently took the LSAT and applied to law school in New York. On Tuesday, he put on a suit and went to court. A judge ruled against him. He was given one month to report to Holot.
The abduction of teenage girls from a boarding school in Nigeria has proved an absurd mystery as much as the international community’s peek-a-boo blindness to the other on-going mass slaughter of the people in the same Nigeria by the same notorious Islamic group-BOKO HARAM. Many weeks have passed without any action from either the Nigerian government or the international community to try and recover the 200 girls abducted by the terrorist group and as each day passes it will prove more difficult to trace the girl’s location.
Just recently, not until after an international outcry by the distraught families of the abducted teenage girls, have the governments of the USA, UK and China pledged to send special operatives to try and help the Nigerian government in locating the girls.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful”, has fought a five-year insurgency against the Nigerian government and hopes to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.They have been carrying out these mass murders and abductions for a long time without even a raise of an eyebrow by the international community. They are responsible for hundreds of people bombed in bus stations, busy markets, hundreds of children killed en-mass in schools while they slept and still nothing has been done to confront the group.
As of today up to 300 people are reported to have been killed in the latest attack blamed on the same Islamic group that abducted the Nigerian schoolgirls.
Whatever is the fundamental view point of this Islamic militant group, it surely sends shivers to many Nigerians and Africans as a whole and convinces them not to want to live under this evil and malignant way of life in an Islamic state. People are free to chose which way of life they want to live. Are those not the fundamental principles on which Human Rights were born? The group must be stopped and the children returned. Join the #BringBackOurGirls campaign like the many celebrities.
Many of you may not know what else I do on a day to day basis. I work with adults suffering from mental illness. It is a challenging job but very rewarding in many ways. It’s always a good feeling when you see people’s mental health improve when you work with them. It’s those golden moments when you see the little glimmer of hope creep back into a young depressed mother’s life after you’ve spoken to them. When you reassure a distressed father that their life is still worth living and they don’t need to take a bunch of tablets so they could sleep forever. But not all cases are hopeful and successful, I’ve found in my job, and that’s a painful realisation for many mental health practitioners. Not every depressed person gets well and certainly some suicidal people succeed in ending their lives and that’s the part that is challenging to us. The mental illness that we seem to be dealing with more now originates from social, financial and relationship problems such as family issues, housing and occupational issues, debt and drink and drugs. There is an even stronger correlation between mental illness and poverty since the credit crunch. All these problems cause stress which may lead to hopelessness, feelings of failure, guilt, domestic disputes, depression and even psychosis.
As an African working in mental health services what I’ve realised too is, contrary to the general belief among African immigrants that we ‘Africans’ are stronger and made of sterner stuff and we do not succumb to these European diseases of the mind, that a lot of African immigrants are slowly seeking help from mental health services. The socio-economic factors affect us equally. It is well known that in Africa people do not really seek help for such ‘minor’ problems and I myself hardly knew of depression whilst in Africa and all suicides I heard of were successful suicides. It is also well known that in Africa people still enjoy that communally protective social structure where families help their own. A strong family structure that supposedly cushions life stressors and eventualities as depression, bereavement and loss and even poverty. Despite the numerous problems in Africa it is very common to meet jovial, chatty, extremely hopeful and spiritual people everyday.
The danger therefore that is faced by African immigrants in the first world countries is to still carry that belief that family is always around to cushion the life stressors like ‘back home’.We clearly know that is not the case in the diaspora. Some travelled alone from Africa and are desperately isolated and lonely. Some travelled with families of course but the pressures of work, education and their own lives means they have no time for people bringing their own problems. Is it not true that we are more distant from each other as family in the diaspora than we were in Africa? That we see more of our work colleagues than our brothers and aunties? That we have learnt to talk about stress and depression too as the indigenous population? Could it not therefore be said we are now equally susceptible to the stressors of life as they are? We will suffer depression and we will feel suicidal. At worst we will even induce psychosis through our lifestyle choices. This could explain the increasing number of Africans that are requiring help from mental health services. What it means more importantly is as we assimilate into a different world and environment we should be aware that we will soon be affected by that environment and we should be prepared. Let us also remove the stigma around mental illness and seek help sooner rather than later.
Seemingly rallied and buoyed by the spirited advice from her colleagues at work on how to deal with her philandering husband, Rejoice marched up Simpson crescent to her home with a fool-proof plan. Or at least she thought it so. She balanced a head full of a deviously canny scheme to once and for all curtail her husband’s harlotting ways. A scheme so forth-rightly brutal she couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she fished out her keys from her huge brown hand bag to open her front door. Inside the house she knew she would find Panashe watching TV as usual instead of doing his homework and Precious on the iPad chatting to her friends on Facebook. They would say daddy went out. Panashe would say daddy went back to work but Precious would just snigger and call Panashe stupid. At ten Precious thought she knew it all. She had heard the arguments between her mother and father and she had begun to laugh sometimes when her father dropped her off at home and said he was going back to work around five pm. No lecturer works after five in the evening. Does he think she’s stupid. Does he think she doesn’t know he is going to meet one of his many white girlfriends? The real reason why he is never at home and they hardly do anything together as a family anymore. On one occasion she sarcastically asked her mother why daddy always had lectures after five pm.”Even university students finish around five. Certainly not until 11pm”. Her mother did not know how to respond to this and she shouted at Precious to keep quiet and go to bed.
When Rejoice opened the door Panashe was sitting on the sofa munching on a packet of crisps. Two empty packets lay immediately below him on the floor. Precious was not on her usual seat by the computer. She must be upstairs, Rejoice thought. Perhaps finally doing her homework without prompting.
“Hi mum!” Panashe shouted without moving his fixed gaze from the TV. Rejoice was used to this now. Just a casual recognition of her presence by her family. Peter her husband was the worse of them. He was just an absent. An effigy of a husband and when he was around, which was very rare lately. He never looked at her with those loving longing eyes the way he used to do when they were at university. He would call her “sugar munch”, look at her in his puffy befuddled eyes before he drew her closer to kiss her. They would spend many nights lying awake staring at the ceiling in his nurse’s hostel on his creaky single bed. She loved the way they would cross their legs over each other and pull each other even closer to squeeze their frames on the small bed. Now he slept on the far end of their queen bed, with a distance as large as the Sahara desert between them. If they ever touched in bed it would only be by accident when he turned and threw his arms across the bed fast asleep. She still longed for his touch though. But today she was going to stop all this once and for all. Rejoice went upstairs and knocked on Precious’ door. The huge signs on the door “Keep Out”, “Enter at your own peril” and ” Knock before you enter” just reminded her how quickly things were changing around the house. Her daughter becoming a prepubescent recluse, always preferring her own company or that of her friends on social network. Her son fast becoming an obese sloth. A lot had changed and Rejoice wondered if Peter had even noticed any change at all in this family. Behind the fortified door Precious was sitting on her bed listening to music on her iPod whilst chatting on the iPad and phone. When Rejoice finally got her attention, she slowly and deliberately paused her music, flipped her iPad over and put her phone away.
“Are you going to see your friend Sally later?, Rejoiced asked without any greeting. She had learnt to get straight to the point with Precious now.
“Why?” Precious rolled her eyes and picked her phone up again.
“I’m just asking?”
“Okay then!” Rejoice left the room with a slight grin. This would work perfectly for her plan.
In her room she retrieved her phone from her bag and a diary from the wardrobe and sat on the bed. Her first message was to Sam. Sam was the first person to raise Rejoice suspicions about her Peters’ cheating. Sam would text or call at odd times. At first she thought Sam was one of Peter’s male university friends. But when one day she saw a text message reading’I miss you’ her world was shuttered. She started suspecting that Sam may not be just a university friend. In fact he may not even be male as she had assumed. When she sneaked her husbands’ phone into the toilet again to make sure she had read the correct message from Sam, the message was gone. So she noted Sam’s number and transcribed it on her diary. From then she started monitoring all the other phone calls and messages from even male names and through this she was convinced about six males on her husbands’ phone book were not really male friends. There was Vincent, Jordan, Tindo, lizwe and Ray.
The message she was going to send was long and just straight to the point.
Hello, my name is Rejoice Makande. I am Peter’s wife and have been for the last 10 years. We have two beautiful children together. I know it is very likely that you were not aware that Peter was a married man. Well, he is! He has lied to you and his family. As a woman like you I would not stand for this. I therefore invite you to my house at 7 pm so we can resolve this just the two of us. I should not need to stress how bad this will appear to your family and work colleagues to know that you were involved in an affair with a married man. So I shall see you later. Mai T. She then included her address. The message was forwarded to all six women. She then sent a message to her husband saying that Panashe ‘ s school had some grave concerns about his behaviour such that the headmaster and someone from social services were coming to the house at 19:30. She knew he would be there. He would do anything for Panashe. Proudly satisfied with what she had done she lay down on her bed struggling to wipe a naughty smile on her face.
To be continued.
The lounge is a good size. Not too big and not too small either. Two brown settees are forming an L shape in the open space and about five armchairs are dotted randomly throughout the room. The man with a thin ponytail showing off his tattoos on his arms is sitting on the back of one of the settees with one leg swinging free. The girl peppered in pimples across her face is admiring the tattoos from afar. She’s feigning interest.
“This one is snakes in flowers, right. When I ripple my muscles yeah, you see the snakes move about, you know warra mean?” The pony-tailed man says as he lightly brushes his left arm without rippling his muscles. I can only make out a mosaic of green and orange ink on his arm from where I’m sitting . His tattoo climbs up from his wrist to his arm and disappears under a black T-shirt.
The man has thin graying hair and a balding patch on the top of his head shines through the strips of hair that he has somehow managed to tie in a note at the base of his head.
“Wow, thatf naith. I wouldn’t get a tattoo though, I’m too scared!” The young girl has lisp. It’s strange as I’ve not come across a person with lisp for a long time. I try not to let my mind be drawn to her mouth as she speaks.
“On this side”, the man continues, “ It’s a dragon in water!” I can’t see him show his arm to the girl as I am shielded by his body.
“Where do you go for your tattooth?” The girl hisses as she studies the art on his arm. My mind wanders at this point as I’m not really interested in the conversation. I can still hear the girl hissing far away from my mind as she questions the tattooed man.
“See on my back I got this one right” the man fumbles through his trouser pocket and pulls out a couple of pictures. Somehow I’m relieved he’s not pulled off his T-shirt to show his tattoo.
“You know the film the Grudge?” I know that scary film, I think.
“Oh yeah thath like the girl in it.” The girl inspects the picture with the tattoo.
“Yeah so if you spend a night with me, that’s what you’ll wake up to. He he he.” Wow, how did that slip so easily into the conversation, i’m shocked? The girl laughs it off and continues hissing about something else. Now she’s talking about her stiff neck and how on holiday in Tenerife only the sea relaxed and massaged her neck.
“I’m always juth thtiff around my neck. And I think thath what givth me a headache?”
“Are you sure it’s not like sexual tension?” Mr Ponytail laughs awkwardly.
“No no no, theriouthly, feel here, here”, the girl moves backwards to Mr Ponytail, stretches her neck and leans to the right to expose her shoulder for him to touch.
“Feel how tenth I am.”
“I’m not sure you’ll want me to do that!” Laughs Mr Ponytail as he swings his leg frantically from where he is sitting. He feels for the tension quietly. I’m studying his face now as I’m beginning to raise an eyebrow here. His hands linger a bit longer than necessary and when he finally lets go he just nods his head. I’m not sure if he is nodding because he agrees with what the girl is saying or due to some other reason. Another man walks into the lounge as I ponder over Mr Ponytail’s sexually deviant mannerisms. This man is wearing a smart sky blue shirt underneath a dark blue jumper. He has a uniform golden stubble that runs from one cheek, all over his head and to the other cheek. He gingerly greets everyone in the lounge. He talks fast, a nervous but forceful talk. His voice and words rush out of his mouth as if they are fleeing an apparition. Both his hands are buried deep into his trouser pockets He spots me sitting on the armchair and rushes straight to me.
“Hi how you doing? Are you new here? I’m Steve!” He digs out a hand from the grap of his pocket and throws it in front of me.
“I’m new, nice to meet you!” I shake his soft clammy hand and then surreptitiously wipe it on my trouser as I shift about in the chair.
“Did you have to come from far? I ask as he is now standing there towering over me with a static smile and without a word.
“Actually I live not far from here. Newton. Do you know it?” I tell him I don’t know where the place is and that I had to drive from Wolverhampton, an hour away and that I was not pleased. I have to say this. You’re almost expected to complain about everything in this country as I’ve learned. You can’t just say “Oh yeah, I drove from Wolverhampton, I know it’s an hour away but I’m fine with it really.” You can’t say that. Besides you kill the conversation. You have to complain. If you cannot complain about the weather find something else to complain about. So I tell him how displeased I am to have driven this far for work. But he used to live in Wolverhampton and so as we exchange our common knowledge of places in Wolverhampton, he Instantly makes me his best friend and finally takes one hand out of his pocket and relaxes.
A black girl walks in soon after. She is late and she smiles at everyone. Anyone. She mouths “Hello” to anyone. I’m trying to guess which African country she comes from. Yes I’ve been doing this a lot lately. If It’s women, the hair, the clothes and sometimes the make up always gives this away. With the men, it’s slightly complicated without listening out for the accent. Sometimes a closer inspection of the size and shape of the head may help. She’s from Nigeria.
“My ex wife used to annoy me. Each time we bought a car she would insist on choosing the colour. And she names the cars too. The last one was called Kevin. Fuckin weird woman!” Mr Ponytail is saying, still talking to the lips girl.
Mr Pockets has left me now and moved to the corner of the room as quickly as he had approached me. I’m tired of sitting now and I decide to stand. It’s time to be cordial and make conversation. Sometimes this is the most difficult part for an African immigrant. So I naturally gravitate towards the Nigerian woman.
“Hi, are you Nigerian?” I get straight to the point. There’s no need for pleasantries here. She’s African. She understands. I’m smiling because I know I’m right. She looks slightly startled by my bluntness, but she confirms anyway.
“Okay, which part?”
“Which part do you know?” She turns now with an I-dare-you-name-one-place look. Instantly, I regret trying to show off my knowledge.
“Are you Hausa or Igbo?” That’s all I know about Nigeria.
“I’m Igbo!” I paddle out of that one.
“Where do you live here?” She is direct too.
“I live in Birmingham myself. So I go with you to Wolverhampton train station!” I’m not sure if this is a request or a command. Has a random Nigerian woman I’ve just met told me that I am to take her all the way to Wolverhampton train station?
“So I go with you.” She repeats. “Aaah but I bought ticket for twenty six pound.” She stops and considered. I stop and consider this.
“No! I go with you!” She has concluded. Within five minutes of meeting this Igbo woman she has assumed and concluded that I will take her to the train station. Never mind what I thought. All she is bothered about was the money she was going to lose (now that I’m taking her to the train station.
‘Oh that’s an unusual name! Umm Ka hoo li. How do you say that?’ Asked the burly nurse peering over his glasses as he traced my name on the paper with his pen.
‘It’s Ummcooloolee. Or just call me Ummcoo‘, I smiled as I fumbled for my ID badge from my bag which I pressed hard on the table in front of him.
‘I’m gonna struggle with this…don’t you have a christian name? How about if we call you Mark, for today?’
‘How about if I called you Susan for today sir?’ He dropped his pen and his jaw, looked up at me and adjusted his spectacles quietly. My point. That was exactly my point. Needless to say the man did not attempt to pronounce, let alone remember my name for the rest of the shift that day. Any communication between the two of us was conveyed through a third party. But the work got done regardless.
What I meant by ‘exactly my point’ is, no one wants their name to be changed to suit the caller. Your name is your identity. It is you. You cannot exist without your name but your name can exist without you. So when you’re dead and gone the mention of your name will conjure up beautiful memories of you, or the contrary for that matter. Therefore your name is sacred as it becomes intertwined and interwoven with your personality. In fact, some of our names can even shape people’s personalities. For instance how many Netsai’s (Trouble) do you know that do not live up to the meaning of their name? I sincerely apologose to all the good and genteel Netsai’s of this world. It’s just that you may be outnumbered by the true Netsai’s. Many African names that I know not only have meaning but they usually tell a story about what was happening or in the thoughts of the parents around the time of birth. My name (Mkhululi, incase you didn’t know) and it means the liberator. I was born during the months when the whole of now Zimbabwe was pregnant with the expectation of independence. The freedom fighters were battling the occupiers in the jungle while our African leaders were conducting serious talks with the same occupiers to try and gain our independence . Independence was gained for Zimbabweans eventually. So I brought liberation. Of course explaining to many of my white friends that my name means that I brought liberation to my people may sound patriotic, even heroic, but it’s not cool. It’s not sexy. So I’ve been telling people my name means I bring liberation to women…yeah baby! Alas, never really works.
On a serious note though. I’m sure many of us with the complicated, tongue-twisting, mouth-drying, teeth-breaking unChristian names full of consonants have had one or two names suggested for us. Some of us may have even forgotten our real names as we adopted the given name. I’ve heard of some African gentleman that actually legally changed his name because his African name was not only too complicated to pronounce but was just even embarrassing to say within his African community. Sometimes we really do blame our parents that take upon the English language as flies on shit. Only because the English word rolls nicely on the tongue. Yes, it sounds educated. No wonder some children were named Xenophobia in South Africa during the Xenophobic attacks. Some were named Talkmore, because it sounds good. It’s English.
An adopted name is difficult to adjust to. It takes constant conscious effort not only to remember it but to associated yourself with it and answer to it. However it is well known that many African immigrants have to undertake conscious constant effort just to survive in foreign lands and therefore a simple name change is only but a fart in a storm.
Sometime ago I learned of two young boys direct from kwaZvimba in Zimbabwe who found themselves spewed onto the streets of London by Air Zimbabwe courtesy of a sponsoring generous distant uncle. In the 90s it was possible to land in the UK in the morning for the first time after a ten and a half hour flight from Zimbabwe and go straight to work on a night shift. Of course. Why not? Who do you think was going to support all those you left behind in Zimbabwe?
Well such was the case of the Zvimba boys. Even though they could not make the night shift, they were quickly dispatched to work the following morning by their very eager uncle.
‘Youuuuu! You name is now Nixon, and that’s your NI number! And youuu your name is now Nathan and this is your NI number’. Uncle Nobert barked as he stuffed crumpled pieces of paper with scribbled NI numbers in Guvaratsva and Zendemu’s pockets.
‘Don’t forget them!’ With that he shoved them into the agency office and departed. So Nathan and Nixon entered a replete full office as completely new people. New names, new identities, new clothes and new steel-toe capped shoes. They will be called as work came along and dispatched accordingly. In the meantime they were to sit and wait for their names to be called. After sitting quiet for over an hour they couldn’t contain it any longer. They needed to share with each other the experiences they’ve had of England so far. They needed to pinch each other.
‘ I can’t believe this is us!’ Nathan started.
‘ I know shaaa!’ Replied Nixon looking around, suddenly feeling free.
‘ Shaa, would you say it was us that were swimming in the dam naked only the other day? Exclaimed Nathan as they both tried to stifle a giggle.
‘Did you see all the new cars…?’
‘Nathan and Nixon!’The receptionist was calling as the two quickly immersed themselves into a game of ‘Did you see that’
It was after several minutes of shouting Nathan and Nixon and still only after someone physically shook the Zvimba boys that they realised it was them that was being called. They had forgotten their new names. As the Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo aptly puts it in the title of her novel ‘We need new names’, maybe we really do need new names to survive in foreign lands. From now on call me Mark.
Okay so I wasn’t going to write about this but the more I related the story of this woman’s experiences to my friends, seeing the lack of shock in their faces, the more I realised it was such a regular and common issue that still required to be explored and discussed at length. As first generation immigrants in foreign lands how do we deal with our wayward teenage children? On one of my nocturnal work duties I happened to be working with 2 middle-aged Zimbabwean women. One stern and concrete as a park attendant, the other, ditzy and frazzled as a deer caught in headlights. Such fun. Mrs Concrete appeared terribly troubled by something. She repeatedly snuck off into a secluded corner to make phone calls to someone who didn’t seem to want to answer her calls. We therefore ventured asking what seemed to be getting her knickers in a twist (shouldn’t really be saying this to elders, especially Mrs Concrete). Alas, it was her 25 year old son living in the city of Johannesburg who had not thought it wise to be within the safety of the family home on a Friday night. Such a wayward ‘child’. When we carefully laughed off Mrs Concrete’s ludicrous concern over her 25-year-old hot-blooded son out on a Friday night in Johannesburg, she sternly warned us of the dangers of the city of Johannesburg.
‘Don’t you know that in Jo’burg, Thursday, Friday and Saturday people get paid, and on the same days a lot of people get killed? He needs to be home, sleeping!’
Well, true to the fact as that may have been, those that have lived in Jo’burg know that ones’ life is equally in danger in the safety of their bed even on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
‘When my daughter was 7…’ Mrs Concrete continued with an even sterner no nonsense look. Anyway, one day her daughter brought home a piece of paper with a phone number of the children social services from school. The teacher had told them to ring the number if they were ‘abused’ by their parents. It so happened that Mrs Concrete required her daughter to clean the dishes in the kitchen one afternoon. By the way this is a normal chore required of children in certain cultures. When the imp, now equipped with the social services lifeline in cases of abuse, declined and told the mother she will never clean dishes again as that was tantamount to child abuse. Now those of us who grew up in the times of abundant vegetation in Africa know very well where such kind of talk would lend you. Your mother would just reach out and de-branch a nearby tree and with the other hand hanging you up-side-down by your leg, lay upon your backside so severely such that for the following few days you would forget how it felt like to sit on one’s backside.
Fortunately for young imp, Britain is mostly a concrete jungle with an abundance of slippers. One stray slipper was therefore grabbed by Mrs Concrete and a quick successive ‘Pa Pa Pa!’delivered on the poor child’s bottom. Now she wailed of true abuse of the severest kind and wanted to ring social services immediately. The mother quietly furnished her with a home phone ( free to phone all UK numbers remember) and demanded she phoned social services immediately. When the child could not phone social services another Pa Pa Pa was delivered, just for dishing out empty threats.
Now many people could see Mrs Concrete’s actions as abusive and unloving. Many would want the child to be removed from her home and her jailed. Others would pat Mrs Concrete on the back for trying to instil discipline and respect on the child, while they themselves would not do it.
But how do we deal with our children that are straying away from cultural values of respect , humility and love.
Many of us have heard of stories of African parents that have been to jail for smacking their children. Or that have lost their children to social services altogether because they hit them. Some parents have given up and their children run the streets like marauding homeless thugs. Some parents have even gone to the extent of duping their children into visiting, uncles, aunties and grand parents in Africa only to dump them there within well vegetated areas .
One woman who from the fear of social services kept a detailed diary of the occasions her daughter was rude to her, challenged her and swore at her,visited an uncle in Zimbabwe with the daughter. You can guess what happened with the branches of the trees in the homestead.
‘Now call social services!’ She said.
Many children return disciplined and full of respect. But not all can be corrected by a few lashings especially by a grandmother. Three young sons that had terrorised a poor single mother in London, were sent away to Nigeria for ‘correction’. From what I heard the village begged the mother to come and get her sons as they wrecked havoc in the village.
A complete culture shock is what many African immigrants experience when they travel to first world countries. Suddenly they are not allowed to ‘discipline’ their children by hitting them. Suddenly, they have to escort their children to school. Fathers have to actually remember their children’s date of births and also what size clothes they wore. Yes, suddenly they have to care . Suddenly law is not something that only lawyers and judges dealt with. Breaking the law could actually lend you in prison. In mental health they term it adjustment disorder and many African fathers suffer from it. They say culture is ever dynamic. Are people not adjusting quick enough to other cultures? What are the consequences of adjusting to other cultures and losing our old values? Is the law the new culture, because if it is we will be filing peace orders against our children within the household.
I suspect there will be a sudden proliferation of dubious witch-doctors, n’angas and suspicious prophets all stepping in to cater for the many illegal immigrants in the UK that will soon be denied healthcare because of the new immigration bill. Among other hostile laws to be introduced by the bill, banks, landlords, GP’s will be required to check and verify their clients’ right to live in the UK. Well, it’s not easy to say I saw it coming without sounding like a reflective prophet. But I saw it coming and it’s here. What? You ask! The slow, calculated instilling of division among impressionable people ultimately creating a hostile environment for immigrants in the UK.
That the coalition government has been busy tightening the nuts and screws was known by everyone, but this! This, is too much. Do you remember the , offensive and irresponsible “go home” vans in London a few months ago? How they were reminiscent of racist slogans by racist groups in the past. Well I believe what is going to follow after this bill is passed will be widespread panic from not just the illegal immigrants, but the lawful immigrants as well as the Indigenous people. We know UK is an experienced expert in the art of panic. Draconian policies such as these do not help but fuel the already tempestuous anti-Islamic , anti-immigrant sentiments in the UK.
At Birmingham airport the other day the immigration officer asked me what was the initial reason I had moved to UK so many years ago?
What! This is even before he looked through my passport. I bit my tongue so hard. I know he was doing his job but if the job has already been done what is the point of doing it all over again, unnecessarily? This bill will make your quiet and docile landlord turn into a ferocious immigration officer, your GP (Health Provider) into a sanguineous biased immigration officer, and your banker, well, you will simply not see your money.
Where we need to start from is to explore what an illegal immigrant is. So what drives a human being to sell his house, his goats and chickens. To borrow money from a sworn enemy, bid farewell to a pregnant wife, a five-year-old child and dying parents knowing there was a likelihood he may not see them again? What drives a human being to agree to to be stuffed into a rickety, sieved boat across oceans with no food, no water and having parted with thousands of dollars and pounds to get to the ‘promised land’?