Listening into people's conversation on the bus or tram , a guilty pleasure, but it lets one into the daily struggle of the migrant. Issues of immigration become even more pertinent during election years because it is one of those that appeal to the sentiments of some of the white majority. In London, and for that matter Europe there are the Black African and Caribbean, Asian, and the Eastern European communities which are the major ethnic minority migrant population. The words 'papers' and 'red book' which are used loosely to refer to the British passport, are those you will be sure to hear when you go to church, baby christening , funerals, or barbeques which are the best places of socialisation for the Black African migrants. People over-dress for such occasions because I
guess that is the only opportunity to showcase their expensive dresses which are almost losing their sparkle having been kept in the wardrobe for far too long. The variety of dressing styles particularly of the ladies at funerals, sometimes gives one a clue as to who are the oldest shamo. The gigantic head scarf, the dark glasses and the high stilettos and the elaborate colour of their funeral print are almost enough to tell one that they have been around for long.
Woolwich, Plumstead, Harlesden, Brixton, Peckham, Camberwell, and Stratford is where one is sure to see at least 6 blacks in every 10 people, one would think for a brief moment they are in a suburb of Lagos or Accra. The African shops and restaurants with a random mixture of the Caribbean counterparts line the streets in that haphazard manner: Kotoko, Kenkey factory, Blessing, Gold coast, Tasty, Mama Cass are examples of names of shops you are likely to find. These places themselves sometimes become a hub of mini politics where people meet or barge into each other, forming ephemeral unusual friendships because their problems are similar, they happen to go to the same church, come from the same country or work for the same company and therefore have found common grounds to gossip and moan about the unfairness and partiality of the system. They will talk about how the government is planning to scrap child benefit, increase working hours, intimidating illegal migrants by driving cars around with inscriptions 'if you are illegal call this number or if caught you will be prosecuted'. It is sometimes the captivating gestures, facial expressions and the usual shouts that forms part of these conversations. I will always be thrilled by the political interest of my barber in Harlesden who sometimes talks about politics in Ghana very naively and subjectively, but notwithstanding his almost always unflinching enthusiasm about the politics of Ghana. Sometimes these argument ranging from the Tagore to Wayome and to Victoria Hammah, the most recent, can be very heated. Interestingly, this makes me sense a deeper yearning of these guys. These lamentations are borne out of how out of place they feel about London sometimes and other times how lucky they feel about having the opportunity to come to London. This almost incessant quest to assure themselves that they are not part of the lost generation of Africa because after all they are still in touch with the daily politics.
Being on the bus or train or taking a stroll in my community, Woolwich, can be one of the interesting things to do to while sometime away. The reality would not fit at all with the paradise or heavenly images from British sitcoms or soaps one would have had watched home before making what I term the 'pilgrimage'. I call it like that because after sometime the experiences cleanse you, renews your mind and creates in you a strong yearning to change Africa in a day, a religious one as such. You will see street preachers in front of the Woolwich Train station preaching , the homeless sitting by the road side holding out the hands, that women wandering the street repeating the same story that she has lost her bus-pass so needs some help, forgetting that people may have noticed her ploy and the overwhelming army of police who troops the town centre every afternoon to sniff out the recalcitrant youth whose blood are oozing hot. One of such experiences was when a guy hopped on the bus I was travelling in and preaching almost aggressively but the irony was that he had no bus-pass and therefore had to be ushered out when the ticket inspectors come around. The bus can be an interesting place to hear capricious shouts of words from all walks of life and sometimes feel there is an evolution of a new language. The words ranging from: E'karo , Bawo, E'kale, Etesen , Me ho ye , Charlie, wha gwan. The Yoruba boy with his comically contrived British accent trying to woo a girl, talking about all the plush he wistfully can only dream of and the lady who has clearly bleached her skin which is very obvious from her temple and chin, telling possibly, her husband about how the issues about her nkrataa- British book is going . She code switches and uses the words efikese-home office and bankye dua - fake passport a lot in her conversation. I have always wondered why the Ghanaian community refers to the home office as efikese which means an edifice or castle with its imposing and intimidating features. Yes, it decides whether you deserves to stay in U.K or not but I do not believe it deserves to be feared and revered in that manner.
These many experiences makes one cherish the words of the song by Nana Acheampong and Daddy Lumba , Ye yaa ka kwantuom- we are getting stuck on a foreign land and the sentence from A.B. Crenstil's song Shamo ko wo kuromu- go home or else you will die of cold. I now understand why my uncle who came here during Thatcher's era keeps playing and replaying this song till date.
By David Mensah
C.E.O Adwempa Charity