Tag Archives: London

#10 ~ Being beautifully rooted in the Diaspora


I have a friend who’s from my mothers home state in south eastern Nigeria. I think he finds me intriguing in a you’re-interesting-but-kinda-weird-way. Sometimes when we’re talking , I can tell that he humours me, he doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ me, but he listens and he finds it interesting. Sometimes I imagine that in his eyes I look like a lost sheep, slightly homeless and befuddled, but fuelled with a sense of directionless purpose. I feel this most often when i talk about my identity, my sense of belonging. He speaks Igbo, lived (if only for a short while) in Nigeria and knows the point at which he migrated to the UK. It was something he was contextually conscious of. He tells me if I went back i’d be welcomed home as a returnee daughter. Sure, for a period i’d be called oyinbo  or ‘just-come’, but in time I would settle, I would be accepted. He doesn’t, I feel, quite understand that diasporics never fully settle in already established homelands. He is rooted in a context, I, as I see it now, am rooted in rootlessness. 

My sister has never had an issue with this. Growing up my Dad’s pet name for her was ‘the Rock’, because she was solid. Some of this had to do with her physical build, which my Mum gave my Dad an earful about, but I think a lot of it had to do with her character. T is solid. When she sets her feet on something, it’s because she’s sure, and when she’s sure she stands her ground. She weighs her words carefully and speaks sparingly, often the quiet one in conversations. I used to think it was because she was shy, or didn’t always ‘get’ what was going on. Time told me it was because most of the time she had already worked out the answer, and found all us babbling self-proclaimed young ‘intellectuals’ wallowing in our existential crises at best irritating, at worst stupid and self indulgent. T is a firm foundation. She is rooted. And I think she’s rooted, because she is secure in what she is, and she’s made peace with that. In that sense we make a perfect team. I used to be called feet-on-the-ground-head-in-the-clouds and my mother’s nickname for me was spitfire, because I would flare and burn and run full steam ahead before burning out, sometimes with the job, passion or vision left unfinished.

These are crass and simplistic distinctions, but for a generalistic musing they’ll work for now. Whereas I pined for ‘home’, T was comfortable from the get-go with being British and Nigerian, being a Londoner and  from Anambra and from Ilesha – it wasn’t really a thing, it was just her, whereas I flitted from British, to English, to Nigerian, to British Nigerian, to Nigerian British, to Igbo, Yourba and Bristolian – I was very lost, and frustrated by this perceived loss.

I think part of it was to do with a strong racial conception of self from a very young age. I might regret saying this, but then Piaf had a more messed up life and managed to declare she had no regrets, so hey-ho. Growing up my mum was very fair. She’s never seen herself as anything less than Nigerian, never thought of herself as white but as the whole biracial discourse became more politically correct, when pushed she’ll say she’s mixed raced, but she was always secure in her Nigerianness,as though English was an historical technicality but had little cultural or even personal bearing. Yet when I looked around I was very aware that Mummy looked like the other parents, and the other parents were ‘right’. I was embarrassed by what the connotations of being black were, and growing up around non-Nigerians I didn’t quite get Caribbean culture, because that wasn’t home-life, and the Nigerian culture I saw was foreign (I’ve later realised that class has a lot to do with culture in the UK and ethnicity, but that’s for a later post). So, to be like Mum was to be better. If T was the chocolate baby, I was the yellow baby. But T had ‘fine features’ and I had the ‘African nose’ the ‘thick lips’, the things that made me more ‘Nigerian’ than her, the ‘coarse’ features.

Firstly I want to call Bullshit on such a distinction. That’s right, I call BULL-SHIT on the whole fine/coarse features thing. What it implies is that there is something refined and noble about caucasian features and something rough and ungainly about ‘traditional’ African features (read Aphra Behn’s Oronooko to see what I mean). Basically it means white pretty black ugly. So even though I had lighter skin I was still more ‘African’ than my sister – and people remarked on that shit. Ah Kehinde you have such coarse/strong/striking/Nigerian features. Ah Taiwo, you have such fine/european/english/pretty features. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t told I was beautiful, but it was a different type of beauty – so I went to find that type. I went to discover where that beauty came from. I wanted to go ‘home’ to an imaginary Africa, an imaginary Nigeria where my features were the norm.

Now the issue with such a distinction is that it creates a contrast. What if caucasian features were classed as ‘undefined, less-defined’ in stead of ‘fine’,as though they were delicate, fragile, precious. Think about it, if generic african features ( which really are generic, because if you look at the variety in African features from the Fulani to Ethiopians, Khoisan to the Sudanese you’d realise African features encompass ALL types of facial features, but, I digress) if things such as wide noses, thick lips, strong jaw-lines, big thighs etc etc were the norm, then anything other would be less, right? But I grew up in the UK, so it wasn’t the norm, and it sent me looking for it, it sent me towards this idyllic fairyland called the ‘home’ of black-consciousness and self-worth, it sent me back to ‘Mother Africa’.

A Diaspora is a ‘scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, or a movement of people from their homeland’. It implies that there is a ‘real’ place that you ‘truly’ come from, but for some reason or other you are not there.

And it’s  definitely true. There are plenty of diaspora’s the world over. Some of them have settled and are no longer viewed as diasporas (white people in America), others are less stable (Jewish diaspora, Turks in Germany), but they exist. The issue I have with diaspora as a definition is that I think it belongs to 1st generation migrants. The one’s that have ‘just-come’, the ‘freshies’. I think it applies to second-gen migrants who go back to that country of ‘ethnic origin’ regularly, speak the language, can flit easily between the two.

But for many children of African migrants who don’t go back, who have settled in e.g. the UK but still exist within their parents culture, we have another homeland emerging. See, I’m beginning to see things like my sister, to realise there isn’t one place that I ‘truly’ come from, or rather there is, it just isn’t a recognised nation-state. See, I come from the diaspora. I am a child of the diaspora, born and raised. I speak the language, I understand the culture, I breathe the history. I have that beautiful ability to morph regularly, to be at ease with Nigerians, with Africans in general, with whites, with Indians, with Far East Asians. I speak slang, I speak Received, and not just in English. When I go abroad I know how to adapt my body language, how to blend in and stick out at the same time. I understand cultural symbols, I understand how to act with elders, even if its elders from another culture. My straight up immigrant friends don’t know how to deal with that drunk roommate, or the friend who calls their aunts by their first name. The kids who tell their parents to fuck off in the supermarket cause they can’t get a Fanta and they’re not even in year 2! They think – He dey craze oooh. My homegrown friends don’t understand to call their ‘immigrant’ friends parents Aunty and Uncle, not Femi and Gbemisola, or Raj and Amina. But I do, because I am a child of the diaspora.

That doesn’t mean i’m totally secure in me (me is a fluid thing constantly evolving), but it means I am not diagramme_de_vennhomeless. I have a home. I’m not a global citizen (that phrase is so daft, cause we all know citizenship rights are NOT accorded to how many passports you have, citizenship is more than legalities), I am a disaporic national – and that can be ok. My home can be like a ven-diagram with Nigeria and the UK as the far circles that overlap to make ‘My Home’ in the middle. I can be rooted in that, and in being rooted in it, I can find a freedom that other people before haven’t had.

I can also begin to understand that human history is one of migration. Even those who’ve ‘been here for generations’ aren’t people of the soil. As one of my best supervisors once said (at least in regards to recent World History but it certainly goes back to the beginning of time)

Indigenous people were just the people who were there when the Europeans (read any kind of coloniser/invader) turned up. 

So yeah, i’m beginning to find my home -and i think i might just like it.

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#1 ~ For Colored Girls London

Image by Rosa Johan Uddoh

Image by Rosa Johan Uddoh

November 2012. 11pm. Cambridge. An audience of 50 people, predominantly made up of student journalists and hard-core late night theatre-goers sat in the Fitzpatrick Hall of Queen’s College and waited as an arpeggio in A minor played out to setting blue lights. My production of Ntozake Shange’s ‘For Colored Girls [who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf]’, had landed. Directing, co-producing and acting in the show had many challenges. Yet, when the four and five-star reviews rained in, and the seats filled up to maximum capacity, I could only smile and get ready for three more nights of incredible action as we made theatrical history.

The first time an all black all female cast had ever graced a Cambridge stage, the play follows the lives of seven women identified solely by the colour of their clothing. A combination of spoken word poetry, physical theatre, music and dance ‘For Colored Girls’ is an evocative social critique that gives a piercingly authentic look at urban life through the brash lens of beautifully unrefined poetry. Tackling experiences of rape, domestic violence, infidelity and sisterhood ‘For Colored Girls’  takes its characters and audience on a liberating journey to the end of their rainbows, all the while coloured by a saucy wink of humour and sass, powerful music, dance and that ephemeral attribute referred to as ‘soul’.

So, with all that underway and with people asking for more, I crazily got the idea to take the show to London, my home city. Why not go for gold? Sadly, though I am a creative at heart, a production requires more than just an artistic eye – it requires financing and budgeting. Teaming up with one of the actress, Ifeyinwa Frederick, we sat up till 4am one  night in March and planned this next step in the story – For Colored Girls…London.

For over 6 months we have been planning, contacting, hustling, designing, straining our eyes at computer screens, sending rapid fire emails, lamenting over Nokia 100 phones that don’t have MultiMedia Messaging, all to bring us to this point: the promotional Launch date of For Colored Girls London.

I know I’ve been quiet for a few months since ending the 365 blog, but today, i’d like to invite you to journey with me once again as I direct, act and co-produce in Ntozake Shange’s phenomenal piece of theatre. It’s going to be raw, bloody, exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring – but we’ve done it before.

So welcome to the Death of the Writer, the Death of the Director, Co-Producer and Actress and the Birth of…For Colored Girls London 2013.

Get Excited.

Follow us on:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FCGLondon

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/FCGLondon

Or : http://www.twitter.com/Justina_Kehinde

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#277 ~ Marcus

One of the interesting differences between, i’ll term it London culture and KZN culture, is public awareness. In London, and perhaps in most mega cities where development and a population influx of migrants and members of various social strata mean a) time is money and b) communication can be a laboured and to a degree difficult process, is that lack of public awareness. Sure, people are on high-alert in terms of being street wise; are there potential muggers about, is this a red-light district, am I lost and making my self vulnerable, but public awareness doesn’t, in my opinion, feature. We rarely notice or considered the emotional visage of the hordes that walk alongside us, sit next to us, or even drive us. One man’s frown is another man’s impassive forehead.

Yet in the KwazuluNatal Region of South Africa, in my experience of it as a rural area, it was filled with public awareness. With the constant, and at times tedious, exchange of greetings to every Tom, Dick and Harry, (or rather Sizwe, Thembeka and Ntokoza) around, one was forced to be aware of the extras in the film of My Life.

Today, as i treaded on worn heals over poorly lit cobbled streets, I drew alongside and began to overtake a woman in a turquoise coat. Simultaneously we stepped into a pool of light that was leaking from of a shop window,and I saw her shoulders heave. My hand gently touched the small of her back as I asked – “Are you ok?”

The question took her by surprise, and as she turned inside the leaking spool of light, I saw tears and a trembling mouth distorting her face. “Yes,” she offered hesitantly, before explaining  that a month ago her friend had died, she had come from the memorial service and was just starting to deal with it.

After enquiring after her health and offering to pray, we hugged it out and amicably parted ways. I hung back to give her space, yet I was reeling from the dull impact of her revelation.

Supposing I had never asked, but walked briskly home, head tilted towards the heavens, or grovelling at the ground? The relief that painted her white-washed features, the relief that someone cared, a stranger, who was touched by her pain and concerned enough to ask, seemed a premature catalyst to the healing process that she will need to undergo. Herself and her friends family.

Public awareness. So different from being street smart, but even more vital if we are to express compassion, love and basic humanity.

Rest Well Marcus.

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#231 ~ One Nation

When one enters a country such as South Africa, a country whose recent history has been so unceremoniously marred with racial prejudice, it is difficult to ensure one doesn’t impose their own expectations of racial discrimination onto individuals. Growing up in London I have always been aware of my race, and there have been times when I, along with my short hair, have been mistakenly ‘racially profiled’ by the police as a young black boy who may ‘potentially be carrying a knife.’ The officers who asked to search me and walk me through a metal detector at my local train station were evidently surprised and embarrassed when they realized I was a young girl, who had passed through the station earlier that day from school, was on my way to a music lesson and also happened to be carrying a Christian book. Awkward silence ensued.
Yet within London, the city of my birth, I have always felt a part of it, a member of the ‘multi-racial melting pot’ which made it such an attractive Olympic venue, and foreign refuge.

Any progressive country that has undergone some form of colonization will today, more than likely, still embody the remnants of its colonial history in a racially stratified class system. London has one and so does Durban. Although countries such as America, the UK and South Africa are all, to varying degrees, implementing programs of positive affirmation towards ‘ethnic minorities’ (although in some cases, such as South Africa, the dispossessed minorities are in fact the majority), one cannot escape financially racialised areas.

Spending my opening weekend in the beauty of Durban’s Marina Beach where the sea doesn’t roar, but growls, its howling voice overlapping and clawing at the sand, just as the roiling mass of Indian Ocean waves clamber over one another to the weather beaten rocks that dot its low tide shore, it was evident that I was a fish drowning in an eroded rock pool. The only other black people I saw were workers at the beach restaurant, and though to some I may appear to look like a Zulu, I knew I wasn’t even from this geographical area, and so did they.

It’s not to say that those who inhabited the area were racist, but rather, it was a snap shot moment for me, from the initially unguarded mildly hostile stares of strangers, that I was out of place. It felt, and I use that term emphatically, because it was a wholly subjective appraisal; it was my emotional radar that, combined with my little understanding of the country’s turbulent recent history, led me to quickly assume that race was still a challenging issue, it felt as though the question on everyone’s lips was – why and how is she here, mixing with them (an incredible family of white South African’s whom I’m friends with.)

It was the second time this year when the question of identity and assimilation crawled through my mind. Meeting other ‘real’ Nigerians at University made me realize how ‘un’ Nigerian, by virtue of my birth place and mother tongue, I was. How, as someone almost put it, un ‘African’, I was. Yet, surrounded by friends who are British, I was conscious of how those nationalistic prejudices were also prevalent. How ‘un’ British I was.

In a country that is striving to become one nation of rainbow people, whilst simultaneously desiring to preserve individual ethnic identities, the tensions between race, nationality, ethnicity and social harmony could barely contain themselves under the surface of the cresting heads of a foaming sea.

It will be interesting to see how the Zulu people of Mpumuza view me, when it becomes evident I am not ‘one of them’, hailing, even, from another part of Africa. Will there also be the mild hint of hostile reproach, will I also be classed as a ‘non’ Africa and rather a western European, or in fact, are these personal fears and questions that I am projecting onto perfectly carefree non discriminatory individuals who just happen to live in a rainbow nation?

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#118 ~ The Elision of Terrorism

What is the definition of terrorism? An act that inspires terror in people’s hearts – or is it a violent act underpinned by religious convictions? It would seem to me the term ‘terrorism’ has been appropriated in recent times to signify the latter definition. It not only signifies a religiously inspired attack of violence which incites fear and pain, but it is closely associated with members of the Muslim faith (or if it occurs within Ireland, then either Catholics or Protestants.) Yet in general, excluding Ireland, I would argue that terrorism has not only obtained religio-cultural connotations, but also racial ones.

That is why it surprised me tonight when reading that a white male adult walked into an office block on Tottenham Court Road, a major road in the heart of the London, with gas canisters strapped to his body threatening to blow himself up – because he had nothing to live for, and they made explicit that they were not  treating this as a ‘terrorist case’. As of now they aren’t sure what the personal circumstances were that drove him to this point – yet let’s, for a moment, theorise. Perhaps in the recession he has lost his job, perhaps his wife/partner has left him. He may have experienced the deaths of those close to him. Whatever his personal circumstance were which drove him to a place of such abject despair, his desire to potentially murder innocent people and throw a whole city in disarray was selfishly constructed. And I use the term selfishly very specifically. Because yes, all acts of terrorism are, to a degree, selfish. They, by definition, violate the rights of all the people subjected to the act of terror because of a personal ideal. But this is where the religious terrorism we are so distressed by, and abject depression, go their separate ways. One has an ideal. An ideology which in their minds – whether we believe them to be screwed up or not – elicits a purpose. They have a telos, a focused objective which they firmly believe can be achieved through an act that those who are subjected to, define as terror. The other has no object, except to inflict pain on others because of, what I feel, is a cowardly desire to not suffer alone in silence.

This may be a controversial way of thinking, yet I do believe that both are acts of terrorism. They may be insane individuals, brainwashed individuals, psychologically unstable, but they have committed to enacting a violent form on an unknowing and generally innocent public (barring personal views on the guilt of ‘the public’). When we elide the concept of terror and place it firmly within religious boundaries, and more than that, within racial and cultural boundaries, primarily identifying Muslims from the Middle East, Southern Asia, and North/Western Africa, then we create the space for other acts of terrorism to comfortably exist within our sociopolitical conceptions, we damn religious and ethnic groups to a vilified identity of ‘terrorists,’ and we, in the end, endanger ourselves to a wider variety of external acts of violence – which we unwittingly condone.

We bring the beast into our society and say ‘Welcome.’

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#117 ~ Student Living – Hard Times

When you trade in Alpro soya milk for Sainsbury’s Basic Value Unsweetened Soya that comes in a recyclable carton, is not refrigerated and costs 57p, you can either lie and tell yourself you are being economically suave, or simply ‘you is broke’.

I worked hard in the summer. Beating up the pavements with my above-board superwoman-esque Charity-Fundraising-Dialogue techniques, i incurred the wrath of the apathetic and charity-harrangued public for six hard weeks after my A-levels. My first day someone told me that all the people in Africa should be gathered together and nuked. I had been threatened, in Clapham Junction, with a snake-hissing charity-hater. I had been called a chugger – an insulting and degrading term of ‘charity mugger’ which we endeavoured to re-appropriate into charity hugger. I had shaken scaly unwashed hands, I had been ‘chirpsed’, I had been abused by hail and rain, smoke and pain  –  lots of pain. Yes, I worked hard, I prayed hard, kept up a smile and was successful.

For a first job, i would not recommend charity fundraising. It can be soul destroying. When my normally nonchalant brother called to check on me after my first day, I collapsed, in tears on our front steps. I tasted my mucus, it was salty, and stank of the streets. I remember getting actual panic attacks in the morning. Asthma attacks even, at the fearful thought of going out in public to become a victim to ‘busy’ London. But I survived.

Paying for all of this upfront took that beautiful, luxurious word ‘savings’ straight out my mouth, like a man in Wembley expertly spitting quat. 

I was proud that my hard work had paid off, and not only could I afford to pay for my sister and I to go away for a week to the incredible Christian youth event  Momentum, but I could also afford to survive in Uni. Yes. For once, I had positive credit to my name in the style of a CASH ISA. That’s right – I had savings. Such a delectable word. Say it again, as the Hyenas call in the Lion King, except instead of the name Mufasa it is Savings. Savings, savings, ssssavings.

*Drops back down to frugal reality. It hurts.*

I am a student. Student = student living  = hard times.

  • When you get to the point where you are mixing last night’s burnt rice with undercooked, unwashed lentils, raw curry powder, shito pepper and Red Leicester cheese, lying to yourself that it’s a meal, you are on the way to rock bottom.
  • When that is after an exam, you are having problems.
  • When you trade in Alpro soya milk for Sainsbury’s Basic Value Unsweetened Soya that comes in a recyclable carton, is not refrigerated and costs 57p, you can either lie and tell yourself you are being economically suave, or simply ‘you is broke’.
  • When you have run out of hair oil and have to use coca butter to prevent dandruff attaching itself to your afro – cocoa butter (yes, not even vaseline as if you could afford that?!), that’s when you need to join Kanye’s Broke-phi-Broke fraternity.
  • When you do not have a phone because you cannot afford to buy one, and if someone bought one for you, you could not top it up, then, well then it really is the beginning of the end.

In the space of 10 days I have achieved all the above. Yes, all the above.

I do eat my cereal with a teaspoon to pretend that the dust particles of Basics Muesli really do count as a meal,

And it’s not because I’m a squanderer, no, not at all. It’s because

  1. My University works on an arrears payment system,
  2.  I recently decided to work for 5 weeks in South Africa,
  3. I am required to buy at least 3 Shakespeare plays a week to complete my weekly essays – and they have to be Arden.

Paying for all of this upfront took that beautiful, luxurious word ‘savings’ straight out my mouth, like a man in Wembley expertly spitting quat.

Yet, even if I do eat my cereal with a teaspoon to pretend that the dust particles of Basics Muesli really do count as a meal, I am reassured that I am ok. It is a journey and I have people who will pick me up when I fall and help me on my way. It is also an initiation into the life that people have half-heartedly joked art students inevitably wander into. I have lovingly started naming the baked beans in my, obviously, Sainsbury’s Basics can. When we get down to Bill, Bob and Ben…well that’s a sad day.

Yet, I am blessed. Blessed to be able to laugh and share and reminisce in it, because I have two beautiful people who remind me that  it is the learning curve into maturity and adulthood. It’s also the time when we are humbled in our beliefs that wealth, economic prowess, savings – they can be stripped away in an instant. And it makes you question  – are you humble enough to admit an economic weakness, receive support and grow again, or does your worth and pride consume you and prevent an honest, humble acknowledgement that you can’t afford your ride?

Student living. It’s hard times but it is well worth getting on this ride of experience.

(Also, learn how to make soup. I have some parsnips and a leek in my fridge. I have recently learnt that I only need those 2 ingredients to make…parsnip soup! Jame Oliver, eat your heart out.).

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