Category Archives: Africa

Random Afropolitan Childhood memories

Sometimes I am random and to celebrate this I would like to share a silly selection of childhood Afropolitan memories:

  1. Rice stored in the margarine container in the fridge rather than tupperware.
  2. School pack lunch placed in an ice cream tub, much to your embarrassment, whilst all your other friends had nice, child friendly tupperware.  To be fair, this only lasted for a short period of time (thanks Dad for the intervention).
  3. Sandwich fillings – when your mum decides to make your packed lunch for a school trip and  includes sardines, mackerel, boiled eggs- basically the smelliest fillings she can find deliberately designed to embarrass you. Meanwhile all your friends are eating Dairylea and cheese and ham.
  4. Old clothes used as floor rags.
  5. Always had a tin of ‘African milk’- condensed milk in the cupboard just in case.
  6. Old tights being used as a bedtime scarf.
  7. Mum styled your hair in threads because it grows your hair quickly but really it’s just an invitation for ridicule.
  8. Parents generous with their wisdom and their backhands too.
  9. You had to ask before you could help yourself to a snack at home.
  10. Saturday morning was spent food shopping and the dreaded visit to the market.
  11. You remember using the ‘broom’ even though you had a Hoover that worked perfectly fine.
  12. Having to do chores on Saturday before going out to play and feeling like you are missing out even though eventually the parents would let you- FREEDOM!
  13. Child of the 80’s living in London, I guarantee your front room had one of the following; brick wall paper, beaded curtains or a random cocktail bar.
  14. Visiting that one relative on the weekend when you really didn’t want to but had no choice. Felt like temporary imprisonment /punishment when all your friends were out playing and you were made to go against your will. Worst of all that person’s home was so BORING- nothing remotely child friendly about that environment but you had to suck it up!
  15. The ice cream van in the summer- 50p- screwballs/ Feast or the 99 – ice cream with the strawberry sauce and chocolate flake – brought many a smile to my face as a child!

What random childhood memories do you have? Would love to hear them x

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Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Nigerian party gifts

We Nigerians are a generous bunch; whether it is a wedding or a funeral, we enjoy giving gifts to our guests. Our generosity is legendary simply because the range of commemorative goodies given at parties range from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous.

My uncle and I recently spoke about the most memorable random gifts we have received, some of which are featured in the list below. So in this vein, welcome to the weird, wonderful and sometimes, extravagant world of Nigerian party favours! How many items on the list have you been given?

Commemorative Tupperware– I have countless childhood memories of stumbling across new Tupperware in the kitchen. It usually had the face of some random Aunty or Uncle emblazoned on it along with a message ‘In loving memory of ‘ or ‘Happy 50th Birthday’. These gifts are usually given to be practical- you can take food away with you from a party, but are also useful much later on.

A mug– complete with a mug-shot (get it) of the celebrant.
A Calendar– As much as I love people, I can’t help thinking – ‘why would I want to stare at your face, everyday, for the whole year?!’
A keyring– cheap, cheerful and useful- #YesPlease.
A watch– this is more likely to be given at an  ‘upmarket affair’. I once went to a party where I was accidentally given this, but had to be returned unfortunately as it was gift for the men.
A bubble bath set– this was a gift for all the women at the same party. Some might call it sexist / gender stereotyping but I quite liked it. #smellinglikeroses
A box of salt– I know, I know but on the plus side salt has many uses like cooking, cleaning, preserving etc.
A bottle of washing up liquid– Again, don’t judge this is a very practical gift and probably one appreciated by the older women- my grandma included.
A mini clothes rack complete with pegs– again, interesting choice of gift, wrong demographic (another one for the aunties methinks).
A pen– this has to be one of my favourite gifts. Why? Because the last time I received this as a present (which was a few years ago), it was no ordinary pen; it was a GIANT one which I still use! Practical, cool and quirky, this has to be one of my favs.
Packets of noodles– You hit the jackpot if you got Indomie.
A tray– this is one of the most common and traditional gifts you will receive- again very useful.
A bottle opener– practical for popping open those bottles of Supermalt or Nigerian Guinness.
A Fridge magnet– everyone loves a fridge magnet right?
Perfume –Oh yes please.

It is customary for families and friends of the celebrant to donate gifts and put their name on it where possible. Some might consider this egotistical – (why couldn’t it have been anonymously?) but that is not how Nigerians work. We want you to know, in no uncertain terms, who is responsible for this public gesture of generosity.

What has been the most ridiculous gift you have ever received?

 

 

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Thrifty Afropolitan meets… Angela ‘Baruch’ Knowles

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing the passionate, driven and highly talented Angela Knowles, a British based fashion designer with roots in Ghana. Her beautiful blend of African print and Scandinavian design, has seen her work featured in Look magazine and on the Stylist magazine’s Emerald Street. More recently Ms Knowles’ Baruch boutique ( Baruch which means blessed in Hebrew) was short listed for the Time Out magazine’s Love London Awards.

Q: Angela this is so exciting. Your store is awesome, you work for yourself, making clothes and doing things you love. Would you say you’re living ‘the dream’?

Not at all! I didn’t set out to inspire people or to ‘live the dream’; I set out to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and to really enjoy what it is I am going to do and doing. I try not to call this work as my perceptions of the word are pretty negative. In my mind, this is not work, this is fun and anything else which comes from it is an added bonus.

Q: Tell me a bit about your journey – did you always know that you would be working in the fashion industry?

When I was eleven, I knew at that point that my career would revolve around making things. I didn’t know who, what, where, why or when. All I knew is that I wanted to have a shop and sew. Some of my earliest memories are of being a small child, with my little sewing machine and sewing scraps of material alongside my mum. I didn’t have a clue about fashion although my mum was a seamstress; I only knew as much as she sewed. I learnt more about fashion over the years.

Whilst at 6th form, I decided I wanted to attend London College of Fashion but was discouraged by one of my tutors. As a black person it was assumed I would become a seamstress or a cleaner, there was a lack of aspiration. Fortunately I had another tutor who said that I was better than that. In the end, I decided to do something ‘sensible’ and took up sciences at A Level. I liked babies so figured why not be a midwife?! I failed biology and soon realised that wasn’t going to work!

I ended up studying Business Studies at Surrey University after going through clearing. Looking back it was definitely the right decision because it gave me all the tools I needed to do what I am doing now.

Welcome! Owner and designer at Baruch boutique

Welcome! Owner and designer at Baruch boutique

Q: You have worked for a number of very established brands, what did you learn from working with them?

I have worked for brands like Fenn Wright Manson, Whistles and Jaeger all of which were great in different ways. Working at Fenn Wright Manson taught me about quality; I loved their clothing and had favourite pieces which I would share with the customers. I was so passionate about the brand and that is what helped me to sell. Jaeger was probably the best retail experience as I was tasked with turning around one of their poor performing stores and given the freedom to get on with it. It was great to work with a store that was so well established. I left to go Whistles to run a bigger store and was given a similar mission to improve one of their poorer performing stores which eventually became a store of excellence. It was a really exciting time to work with the brand because it was evolving. I loved Whistles and thrived working there; I stayed for three years.

Q: Given your successful retail management career, which you appeared to have enjoyed, why did you decide to launch the Baruch boutique?

Motherhood. I was on maternity leave and felt anxious about returning to work but suppressed it. I realised that I hadn’t got everything I needed to from the working world so went back to the same company but in a different store and managing a different team. There was a lot of work to do as they hadn’t had a manager for 6-7 months. I received very little support upon returning; the company didn’t do any ‘keep in touch’ days and I had no training to help me settle back in despite having almost a year off. I was Grade 9 – the highest level of managers and was a senior of those; I think the assumption was ‘you’re the boss get on with it’. I was still quite emotional and enjoyed being at home and doing a little bit of sewing on the side, even though it didn’t pay me. Looking back, all I needed was emotional support. I returned to work and the store quickly improved moving from 6/7th place in performance tables to to 2nd within four weeks. I maintained this up until the point I left.

I realised being a mum was the most important thing to me and needed to be in a space which would allow this to happen. I remember one busy Saturday at work and I was holding a baby for a customer, a mother trying on clothes, and it hit me; why am I holding someone else’s child? My child should come first. All I wanted was to be a happy mum. I just thought I will no longer stress myself to make someone else’s dream and bank account bigger and sacrifice my own happiness in the process. That’s when I decided to focus on Baruch full time.

Afro-Skandi: Unique blend

Afro-Skandi: Baruch’s unique blend

Q: So you decide to start Baruch full time. How did you fund your journey?

I applied for a start up loan through the Greater London Enterprise (GLE). I didn’t know if it was the right approach but applying for the loan was the only feasible way I would be able to buy stock and afford a deposit for a space. I just had a baby, my husband wasn’t working and I was on the verge of leaving my job…it was a make or break situation and I knew I had to make it work.

I remember putting all the paper work together for the application process and saying to my husband, if I get it then that’s a green light. If not then I will have to save and do it over a longer period of time. The whole process took approximately three months from beginning to end. My advisor was really supportive and thought my business idea was amazing which helped.

As part of the process I attended a panel meeting similar to the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme. In fact one of the guys who interviewed me resembled Theo Paphitis! I came really well prepared. They were very rigorous in their interview process especially when they asked me what I planned to do with the money. After the process I cried in front of them! I just thought this is it, I don’t want to go back to what I am doing.

The feedback from the panel was very positive- they liked the business idea, thought the plan was well put together and could tell I was passionate about it. They had a few things to discuss but would get back to me fairly soon.

By the time I got home from the interview the email was in my inbox! I handed in my notice on my birthday. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but it was going to work.The moment I handed in my notice, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Q: What were some of the practical things you did to get started?

I had a list of things to do which simply boiled down to; find brands I love, create stock, confirm a space and make it happen.

I went on to Gumtree to look for a shop space and didn’t find anything available in South London but was told about a possible space in East London. My husband and I went to visit the space which was at a back of a cafe. We visited six times and at different times of the day just to see what it was like. It was on a quiet street but it didn’t phase me as I was use to working in quiet areas. All I thought was if I have one customer a day who would buy something, then it will grow in its own time. You have to come to it with minimal expectations. I have since moved from the cafe into my own store, which was a huge move.

I set up the business in a short period of time, just over a year ago and the response has just blown me away. It has been non-stop. I am in my second year of business which is no small feat. I remember My GLE mentor saying don’t even expect to break even, more likely make a loss especially given the current financial climate. But do you know in my first year of business, I have never paid bills or rates late and have always had stock in. It’s growing slowly but surely. Everyday I come into work not expecting to have a customer – but they come and I am so grateful.

Showcasing one of her fab designs

Showcasing one of her fab designs

Q: I love your style- it’s very eclectic and fuses lots of different elements. Even your store layout oozes style. Where do you draw your inspiration from? How would you define Baruch?

In terms of the clothes it’s my wardrobe – a little bit rock chic, African, minimal and Scandinavian.
As a child I remember going to church with coordinating clothing and accessories I.e. Matching shoes and handbags which I learnt from my mum. I have incorporated this ‘coordinated’ approach into the Baruch range – ensuring I make pieces that match – which my customers appreciate. Similarly all the brands I have worked for, I have appreciated the high quality and excellence and this is something I am naturally drawn to and bring to my own range. Everything is thoughtfully considered and crafted even down to the African prints I use, it is not randomly selected; everything has a meaning and tells a story.

As well as my love of African print, I am also very inspired by Scandinavian design. I love their minimal approach. I remember going to Norway with my church as a young adult and being drawn to their style. This has since led me to coin the term Afro-Skandi; when I first shared this with my website provider – they didn’t have a clue what it meant but absolutely loved it!

Everything in here (the store) from the decor to the clothing, is what I would have in my own home. Everything I do, I have to love it, own it or want to own it.

Q: What are your future plans?

To keep doing what I love. I have no grand plans to expand but the natural progression would be to share the load with someone.

The number three keeps coming to me so maybe I will have several stores in the future- who knows? Over the summer I was commissioned to make three wedding dresses so I am looking to develop a Baruch bridal range.

Check out Baruch boutique in East London

Check out Baruch boutique in East London

Q : What’s the one piece of advice you would give to any budding entrepreneur?

Do what you love. Do it because you love it and if something comes out of it then that’s great. I am not doing it to be a millionaire or to be on the catwalks of London Fashion Week. I like sewing, I like fashion and I like mixing it together. For me, the whole point of the journey is that I have fallen in love; with the shop, with the pieces I buy, with the pieces I make… As corny as it sounds I just want to to be happy. I have worked in environments when my state of mind has been compromised. I have realised that it is so important to be healthy; if I can wake up every morning smiling and the whole world is my friend, then it’s all good.

To find out more about Baruch visit Baruchboutique.com 

Review: ’42’ photography exhibition

42 is the name of an exhibition featuring photographs of women from Sierra Leone by British photographer Lee Karen Stow currently being exhibited at the Horniman Museum, South London.

The exhibition features women in a range of everyday settings but behind each image is a powerful and extraordinary story. 42 was originally exhibited in 2007, when Stow sought to document the brilliance and resilience of women from this previously war torn nation.

Having recovered from a civil war, the Ebola virus and now flooding, Sierra Leone (which means Lion Mountain in Portuguese), is unsurprisingly one of the poorest countries in the world but ironically one of the richest countries in terms of its natural resources. A decision to re-exhibit the collection, could not have come at a more opportune moment, serving as a reminder of the incredible strength and courage of Sierra Leonean people.

The exhibition’s title is a powerful and poignant statement because 42 was the average life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone when the photos were originally taken. Despite modest improvements, the average life expectancy is still extremely low, making it one of the worst in the world.

The exhibition features a broad spectrum of Sierra Leonian womanhood all within their ‘natural’ habitat: women boxers in action, fashion models striking a pose, agricultural workers tilling the land, faith filled women crying out to God, mothers and children in a variety of settings, nurses caring for those in need, brigadiers exuding power and disrupting traditionally masculine spheres, human rights activists -dignified, powerful and poised- the list is endless. It also managed to feature the First Lady of Sierra Leone – Sia Nyama Koroma.

At first glance, these seem like pretty ordinary images, but what Stow has done is to cleverly encapsulate an extraordinary breadth of women related issues, anchored by the accompanying blurbs. High infant mortality and maternal deaths rates, Female Genital Mutilation, girls education and gender equality, single parent households, women in work, women operating in traditionally male fields (I.e. boxing and the Army),faith as an anchor in everyday life, women pursuing their dreams despite the adversity – all of this and more is brought to life in 42. The photos also subtly promote some of the initiatives providing innovative solutions to these issues whilst also building solidarity and empowering the women.

Strength, perseverance, character, beauty and determination permeate these beautifully vivid and bold images of Sierra Leonean women. What gives this exhibition added poignancy is that a few of the subjects, are now deceased including one of the children photographed as a result of poor health care. Despite some of the grim subject matters covered, 42’s dominant narrative is hope.

The only criticism I have is of the location of 42 within the museum. Even though it is ideally placed on the upper floor (along the main balcony area of the museum) the area is dimly lit and in my view, limits the viewer’s experience. Similarly the exhibition is broken up by the museum’s permanent Romanian heritage collection which is slightly disorientating and disruptive.

42 is running until Sept 27th at the Hornimans Museum in Forest Hill, South London. The exhibition is free.

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SIR MIX A PLOT (Sorry I just LOVE books!)

‘I love my books and I cannot lie- my mother got it oh so right’… Yes I remixed the song and I am not ashamed. I can’t help it. I love books.  As a child, there was no greater pleasure than losing myself in stories or filling my mind with facts.

Recently my mum was clearing out her home and getting rid of lots of old things including books. We had so many- literally suitcases full to dispose of, of all genres.

My bibliophilia is inherited- (it comes from my mum) as she was and is still a voracious reader who read to me often as infant. I have early memories of my mum taking me to the local library, which is now a posh set of flats (the joys of gentrification) and even at that young age I just adored the variety, the smell and comfort of being surrounded by books.

In my teens, the library continued to be my favourite place to be and on almost a weekly basis, without fail, I would take out the maximum number of books -eagerly walking home to begin my reading marathon. Such was my love, that when I misbehaved my mum would threaten to take my library card away as punishment! I even dreamed of being a Librarian when I grew up (yes, it is a cool profession- didn’t cha know?)

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My two loves: music and a good book.

During the clearout I found many old books, some to keep and some to give away. Books from my youth, time at university and perhaps my favourite- gems from my childhood. Amongst the goodies were the Beatrix Potter collection, Disney Classics and my all-time favourite children’s book ‘Bimwli and the Zimwi’. Even though it is threadbare, fallen apart and with no front cover, twenty odd years later this Swahili inspired tale still makes me smile. It is the story of a little black girl called Bimwli who is left behind by her two older sisters whilst at the beach. Due to her beautiful singing, Bimwli attracts the attention of a magician called Zimwi who kidnaps her and places her in his big drum. He then travels around the local villages tricking the locals into thinking he has a ‘singing’ drum but is soon caught! It sounds sinister but it is incredibly funny and entertaining.

Being naturally sentimental I have decided to keep hold of some of these books to pass on to my own children (when I have them!) who I hope will inherit the same love of books as I do.

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All time favourite: Swahili inspired tale, Bimwli and the Zimwi.

I also kept several boxes of books I’d planned to donate overseas to create a mobile library ‘back home’ or in another country where I felt ‘led’. And it is still pretty much something I definitely intend to do in the future.  However as God would have it, my eldest sister was over from Nigeria and just so happens to be the head teacher of her own primary school. She told me how expensive it is purchase books out there and was absolutely delighted to take them back to her school- Result!

Box of goodies: childhood gems, now residing in Nigeria!

It feels so good to know that they will be going to a ‘good home’ where they will be well used and loved. What hidden treasures have you got lying around that could be a blessing to somebody?

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The Perfect Blend

A friend of mine posted something a few months ago which had me chuckling- she is from a Guyanese background. Her mother is a great cook who is particular about food so my friend was naturally wary about cooking for her. However on this occasion her mother loved the food so much that she requested it two days in a row! In her words ‘I have graduated’ #wipestear.

How you feel when your parents approve of your traditional culinary skills.

How you feel when your parents approve of your traditional culinary skills.

I had a similar experience when my dad approved of a traditional African dish I made for him- red stew with Tilapia. I went to the market- bought all the ingredient and made it for him just as he liked. I won’t lie to you- I have never tried so hard to remember the preparation method and timings for this particular dish and it’s not because I can’t cook; I can BUT when it comes to  cooking for my dad or anyone who I know is a master of Nigerian cuisine it’s pretty intimidating. His palate was exquisite ( he trained to be a chef) so I couldn’t afford to mess up.

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With baited breath I watched him take a forkful of rice and my stew ….Looking intently I waited for his response and he gave me a genuine thumbs up. ***Sigh of relief and wipes sweat from brow***. One thing about my parents- Nigerians- we are straight talking. No beating around the bush- if you are not great- you are not great, if its good its good- we tell it as it is.

It has been a while since I have cooked traditional Nigerian food for anyone other than myself.  At University, I made the biggest faux pax; my friends and I regularly had cook ups and most of my friends in that group were of African Caribbean backgrounds. Eager as a beaver to demonstrate my newly acquired Nigerian culinary skills I volunteered to prepare jollof rice for the occasion knowing full well that there were several Nigerians in the mix. However what I ended up with was orange mush which I tried to redeem by including bay leaves for that truly authentic touch. Barely anyone touched it (I couldn’t blame them) and since then I have been reticent to cook Nigerian cuisine for anyone else.

Epic fail: My 'so called Jollof rice'

Epic fail: My ‘so called Jollof rice’

It was satisfying cooking that meal for my parents- seeing their positive responses. But it was even more so knowing that for under £10 I could cook a fresh, nutritious and tasty meal for 6-8 people #win.

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Thrifty Afropolitan Meets… The Molo Street Children Project

Street children are some of the most vulnerable in the world- a silent majority of almost 100 million, populating the streets of developed and underdeveloped nations. They are often stigmatised – labelled as petty criminals and considered a nuisance to the establishment and mainstream society. Street children are often not orphans but victims of extreme poverty (where their families can no longer provide for them) or of (physical, sexual or emotional) abuse. And despite the obvious perils, the streets are the only place they can go- finding a sense of belonging, ‘security’ and a source of much needed extra income to support their families- often entailing great risk.

This year's theme: The International Day for Street Children started in 2011

This year’s theme: The International Day for Street Children launched in 2011.

To coincide with the International Day of Street Children, I wanted to interview an inspirational couple who, for the past 12 years, have given hope to some of Kenya’s most deprived children in the Molo district of Kenya.

Meet Chris and Sonia Donnan, founders of the Molo Street Children’s project.

Q: What is the Molo Street Children Project all about?

Molo Street Children Project (MSCP) is a Christian, community based, not-for-profit organisation working with street children and poor families in the Molo area of Kenya. Our aim is to rehabilitate former street children into productive members of the community and to support families to look after children at home, to prevent them from going on the street. We do this in three ways:

  • Education: We provide school uniforms, pay for school fees so children can go to school, with additional follow up support. We also offer vocational training and informal schooling for children and adults.
  • Family support and guidance including access to basic healthcare, spiritual nourishment and counselling.
  • Employment – We provide income generating opportunities and casual work for some families.
In the beginning: The Donnan family in the early stages of MSCP.

In the beginning: The Donnan family in the early stages of MSCP.

Q: How did MSCP begin?

My wife and I, along with our three children, went to Kenya in August 2002 so that I could take up a teaching post at a local secondary school. My wife, Sonia was also working part-time at the same school and so had the opportunity to make friends out in the community.  Sonia became increasingly aware that although primary education was free following a change of Government, many children were still on the streets during term time. Upon investigation she realised that the children were often on the streets in order to get food as they came from households with little income. But she also realised that the children weren’t at school because their families couldn’t afford to pay for their school uniforms which was compulsory.   We began to provide uniforms and equipment for children to attend school and soon after founded MSCP, almost a year later.

Q: What is happening with the project at the moment?

We currently support approximately 160 children and young people, including over 100 children in primary school, 34 in secondary and 11 in University, with another 2 due to start this September. 30 of the children in primary schools are sponsored; the remainder are supported to varying degrees, according to the needs of the family such as provision of school uniforms, exam fees or with meals.

Q: You have supported over 300 families and countless numbers of individuals during the past 12 years. What is your favourite story of transformation?

Kirio dropped out of school during Year 6 and started coming to the project after being on the streets for about 8 months. He has dwarfism and is about 4ft tall. His mother was around earlier in his life, but has turned to extreme drinking and left Kirio and his two sisters to fend for themselves.

Kirio decided he wanted to go back to school, so we tutored him and he re-joined Year 7 after a two year hiatus. He achieved excellent results in the Primary exam at the end of Year 8 and a sponsor was obtained for his secondary education. He did very well, despite some difficulties. He is now in his third year at University studying Actuarial Sciences. During the holidays he supports the project by doing various tasks and also encourages the younger children, who may have experienced emotional trauma.

Q: What are your plans for the future? 

Our desire is that the project will be run and fully financed by the Kenyan people in the long term.  We are actively working to increase the amount of money generated within Kenya- working with individuals, businesses and developing income generating projects to sustain the future work of MSCP. Ultimately, our hope is that MSCP will continue to care for vulnerable children and families, advocating their cause to the educational establishment and the Government. We strongly believe that only persistent pressure, prayer and dialogue will change the plight of these children and their families.

Beautiful children: Here are some of the children that have been supported by MSCP.

Beautiful children: Some of the children that have been supported by MSCP.

Q:How can people support your work?

You can support the project in a number of ways. Through volunteering; regular giving; child sponsorship or hosting a one off fundraising event. We would also love for people to spread the word about MSCP, sign up to our newsletter for regular updates and to pray- we believe in the power of prayer!

To find out more about the Marvellous Molo Street Children’s project visit http://www.molostreetchildren.org.uk 

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Saturday mornings in an ‘old school’ Afropolitan household

Saturday mornings as a child were not what I considered ‘fun’ although looking back it wasn’t mean to be! Yes we had cereal and watched cartoons but I mainly remember the obligatory Saturday morning routine of cleaning, polishing and going food shopping with my parents.

Captain Planet: 'By the Powers combined...'

Captain Planet: ‘By the Powers combined…’

I remember one Saturday morning – that I didn’t want to participate in the normal routine- I wanted to ‘sleep in’. Now to be clear, in our household on Saturday morning everyone knows the deal. My dad was a soldier in the Nigerian Army and ran our household on a fairly tight schedule; you get up, eat breakfast and relax for a short while then you better go and strip the bedding and get assigned your duties for the day. Washing up, polishing, hovering take your pick but everyone has to fall into line. However, on this occasion I continued to ‘sleep’ even though I could hear full well the loud conversations and various activities happening around me and boy did I get a rude awakening!

After our chores, followed by getting washed and dressed, we (my siblings and I) would then have to go food shopping with my mum. The journey was a twenty minute walk to the local shopping area, complete with the shopping trolley and market (aka Ghana must go) bags in tow.

Going shopping with my mum was an experience- entertaining, frustrating and very educational. My mum is a BARGAIN shopper- thrifty Afropolitan defined. She will literally go from shop to shop, stall to stall checking for the best price for items. An item may vary by 10p between two shops within a ten minute walking distance but know that my mum will walk back to the shop where the item is cheapest because – in her own words- ‘It’s the principle’. Similarly don’t ever try to short change my mum- if an item is £1.99- you’d better give her back that penny do not ‘assume’ you don’t have to because she will ask you ‘out of principle’. It’s only a penny- adds up over time!

Ghana Must Go: The original shopping bag

Ghana Must Go: The original shopping bag

First stop was the market- to the fruit and veg stall, to the man selling fresh eggs and then to the African Caribbean shops to buy what my Caribbean friends would call ‘hard food’; the yams, sack of rice, Gari (ground Cassava) and plantain (who remember the days of when you could buy five or even six for a £1?).

For the occasional treat we might pop into the local clothes shop. But woe to any store that gets into my mum’s bad books! I recall on one occasion, she bought an item of clothing which ended up being faulty when she got home. But because of the returns policy they wouldn’t acknowledge this nor exchange the item despite her loyal custom. So my mum the campaigner (her mantra-‘know your rights’), stands outside the shop- on a busy Saturday- telling people to boycott the shop (so embarrassing!). Shortly afterwards, they call her inside and settle the matter. The next week everything returns to normal as if nothing has happened- best friends again!

My mum's favourite mantra: Ingrained from an early age

My mum’s favourite mantra: Ingrained from an early age

Next stop was the Butchers, which I am not a fan of for obvious reasons (body parts and the stench of blood not for me), but found it fascinating because of the banter, the haggling along with the percussive sounds of meat being manually and mechanically chopped.

The Look: No it's not one of love it's the 'have you lost your mind' look

The Look: No it’s not one of love it’s the ‘I am going to count to ten, you better take that out of the basket before I do something’ look

The trip always ended at the big supermarket. And if you were lucky enough to be selected to accompany mum to push the trolley – thumbs up. But to be clear- you are literally just pushing the trolley. Don’t ever for one second think this entitles you to select items from the shelf to put to into the trolley because you will be greeted with the speechless stare communicating the  ‘have you lost your mind’ message;  the lecture- ‘So you have money?’ ‘You go to work?’ ‘Whose paying for this?’ (Word to the wise, it’s a rhetorical question DO NOT ANSWER!) ’. Or worse still- the lecture PLUS the walk of shame where you are made to take the item back to the exact place where you took it from. My mum has a shopping list and best believe we are not veering off course. She has accounted for every single penny and nothing over what she has put on that piece of paper is going into the trolley unless she authorises it.

If you weren’t lucky enough to be selected for the supermarket sweep it felt like an eternity of waiting at the set of chairs by the tills lumbered with the market shopping. Why? Because you know approaching early afternoon- it’s prime time for playing out with friends and you are ‘missing out’ (whatever that means). What seems like hours later but probably no more than one, mum would finally emerge at one of the checkouts.

But before you start getting excited, you are not home and dry yet because now comes the ‘packing’ issue. If your mum is anything like mine it’s never just straightforward packing- there is a strategy. My default position is to always help with packing because if you don’t you get in trouble, but as soon as you help for every bag you have arranged my mum is there rearranging- so why bother!?

Waiting for mum: How I felt when lumbered with the shopping

Waiting for mum: How I felt when lumbered with the shopping.

More often not, we would get a cab home or dad would come and collect us. But if my mum is feeling particularly thrifty and she doesn’t ‘think’ there is much to carry be prepared to walk it!
How many of you can relate? What is your favourite childhood memories of Saturday morning shopping with the family?

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Thrifty Afropolitan meets…Hortense Julienne

Earlier this year I visited one of the most amazing women I know and the very definition of a thrifty Afropolitan! Hortense Julienne was born in Cameroon, West Africa; raised in France and is currently living in London. By day she is an event’s organiser but by night (and on weekends) she is a food blogger, activist and chef extraordinaire.

The hostess with the mostest.

The hostess with the mostest.

This particular time of year is very significant for Hortense; less than three years ago she embarked upon a Daniel Fast for Lent; (A vegan based diet on the fast conducted by the prophet Daniel in the Bible.)

Hortense decided to start an online food diary (blog) to document this journey whilst also using it as an opportunity to promote the virtues of vegan cuisine  combating the stubborn stereotypes that it is often boring, bland and tasteless. Little did she know what God had in store for her on this 40 day journey.

Fast forward three years on and Hortense is now a prolific food blogger with several websites dedicated to her love of food and has had her work featured in the Times Newspaper, New African Woman Magazine, Premier Christian Radio and most recently the Voice Newspaper.

I went to visit Hortense at home and was blown away by her hospitality and all round thriftiness. I have known her for a while now and never cease to be amazed by her resourcefulness and the effortlessly stylish way with which she does it (must be that French Je ne sais quoi!). This visit didn’t disappoint. Hortense made lunch which consisted of several courses- all beautifully presented and tasting every bit as good as it looked:

Drinks: sweet, delicious tasting non-alcoholic wine with pomegranate seeds.

Drinks: sweet, delicious tasting non-alcoholic wine with pomegranate seeds.

 

Say cheese: Hortense's very own homemade cheese!

Say cheese: Hortense’s very own homemade cheese!

 

Canapés: Camembert and olives, smoked oyster, pate on a variety of savoury biscuits

Canapés: Camembert and olives, smoked oyster, pate on a variety of savoury biscuits.

And her thriftiness is not just reserved to cooking, this approach also comes to home décor too. Just look at this tea light candle holder (further below) which she made from a piece of wood taken from an old bed, covered in foil.

Similarly, in the past, Hortense has been known to recycle old greetings cards and bits of material, transforming them into lovely pieces of art which adorn the walls of her flat.

Broken bed part covered in foil.

Broken bed part covered in foil.

After: Transformed into a tea light holder!

After: Transformed into a tea light holder!

And if that’s not enough, she is also a big fan of charity shop hunting and showed me some of the amazing spoils she has found – which I will share for another post!

One of the most recent and exciting developments in Hortense’s journey to date has been the creation of her first booklet called the ‘Bank Cook’. The recipe book utilises ingredients from food bank packages- transforming them into sumptuous, nutritious meals offering both variety and dignity to food bank users. Hortense’s passion for food justice issues- namely seeing people on very low incomes eat well- is nothing short of inspirational and extends far beyond creating cute recipes; when she is not busy events organising, taking over the culinary world or using her thrifty ways to transform her home, Hortense volunteers at her local homeless shelter and has done so for almost 10 years.

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So what motivates her to do what she does? Hortense cites her Christian faith as a huge motivating force and unsurprisingly her favourite Bible passage is Proverbs 31- a Godly woman who is both resourceful and enterprising.

Five minutes of wisdom with Ms Julienne:

On general thriftiness:  “I like create to stuff from things people will happily throw away.”

On Food Banks: “Foodbank users are a section of society that the media often bash around- seeing all the cooks on TV I have not seen any reference to people on low incomes/ food bank users. God inspired me to do it.”

On her favourite shop: “My number one shop is charity shops. You can find the most original pieces and you can find designer pieces for less than £10. Tip: Don’t just go to one, go to a few and see what is out there.”

On her home: “My house is full of recycled items – I just love how things can be transformed.”

On being ‘skint’: “If you are skint all the time- don’t be afraid to use charity shops. If you are embarrassed then don’t tell anyone. You can find original pieces-  you just need to learn how to put them together.”

On enterprise: “You have your own path- just go for it as long as you don’t put your rent money in it!”

On getting creative in the kitchen: “Just try and be creative- if it turns out good then great but if it doesn’t then you don’t have to do it again.”

To find out more about Ms Julienne’s work visit:

  • TheBankCook.com to download the Foodbank recipe booklet
  • All-Vegan.Blogspot.co.uk to view the exciting range of animal free  dishes
  • HortenseJulienne.com for all future developments of this rising star.
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‘Where the party at?’ Why I love African parties!

It’s the aftermath of Valentines weekend and as predicted, I have seen a number of happy couples announce their engagements on social media. Similarly this year will see an unprecedented number of my close friends getting married, (who happen to have West African connections) and I am delighted for obvious reasons but also because this can only mean one thing;  there will be some serious times of partying ahead all with an Afropolitan twist! Here are just a few things I love about West African parties- whether it is a celebration of life or death- we know how to have a good time and honour those in our midst.

The Native attire– I love seeing the variety of outfits made of beautiful bold colours, intricate patterns and lovely fabrics. I particularly love the variation of geles (head ties), the matching shoes and hand bags, and bold jewellery worn by the ladies.  Similarly I love seeing men wearing agbadas- looking all regal and stylish; here comes the chief!

Regal: I absolutely love seeing traditional Nigerian outfits. Everything about it  communicates infinite swag!

King & Queen: I absolutely love seeing traditional Nigerian outfits. Everything about it communicates infinite swag!

The Tunes – Alongside modern Afrobeat (think Whizzkid or Davido), no party would be complete without hearing traditional, family friendly Afrobeat. At least one of these artists must be played Orlando Owoh, Sir Shina Peters, Ebenezer Obey or King Sunny Ade, without fail.  Unfortunately Fela-the rebel’s favourite is too rude to play at most family functions.) Check out this extremely popular track from the 70’s /80’s by Sir Shina Peters – big tune!  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fag5ItyoYp0]

The (atrocious) Time keeping- This is a contentious one as some will dislike this generalisation, but almost all the African parties I have attended do not start on time nor do they make any attempt to. It is a well- known secret that if an African party is supposed to start at 7pm- most people will not arrive until at least 9 pm.

Nigerians on arriving 'fashionably' late!

Nigerians on arriving ‘fashionably’ late!

The Live band – This is one of my favourite parts of a proper traditional party. The band usually consisting of a singer, drummer, percussionist, guitarists and key board player-will ride melodies and sing songs of blessings in the native tongue ( i.e. Yoruba) heavily incorporating improvisation. If you pay them they might even give you a musical shout out by including your name into a song! A lot of the time the keyboards / melodies are frenetic and the rhythms varied and unpredictable but they always make you dance. (See video above for live band in action).

The Dancing- As a child I always remembered two distinct phases of dancing. Phase 1- everyone is able to dance- particularly the young people, as the DJ plays the popular tunes of the day, followed by phase 2- what I call ‘Big People Time.’ The Aunties would emerge, rotund, robust and agile ready to get down to the Native music selection- showing the younger generation how it is done! Check out this fantastic impression of an Aunty cutting some serious shapes! [/www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oACcj6Y8qA]

The Money changers– they will exchange your pounds into dollars (US) or Naira so that you can spray the wedding party for example. Money changers are easily identifiable because they are usually men with stacks of cash at the door.

money changers

Show me the money!

The Gifts- I love the range of commemorative goodies / favours you get from the parties; random Tupperware with someone’s face emblazoned on it that you don’t know, calendars, key rings, pens, trays, box of salt, washing pegs, mugs, packets of noodles, toiletries, watches- you name it- I have seen it make an appearance in a ‘party’ bag. No product is off limits.

Generosity: The goodies you might receive from an Afropolitan party.

Generosity: The goodies you might receive at an Afropolitan party.

The ‘Characters’– There are no shortage of characters at Nigerian functions i.e. the big mama aunty, the ‘chief’, little children, elders commanding respect and ordering you around to get yet another can of drink – even if you don’t know them etc. Random strays no one knows but you can’t turn away-you know the one- a friend, of a friend, of a friend who always seems to be ready to eat.

The Cuisine– I love party rices. Yes it sounds stupid but what is normally standard jollof or fried rice, is given extra special treatment by caterers. Another treat is moin moin (bean cakes)- a rare commodity that always seems to be scarce at parties- reserved for adults only. Other standard dishes you are likely to see are coleslaw, endless trays of meats, fried fish, stew and plantain etc., Infinite buckets of canned soft drinks and super malt will also be on offer.

For adults only: Moin Moin (bean cakes) it seemed was the only food reserved for adults! This is essentially a vegetarian dish but is sometimes made with bits of fish, egg or corned beef included.

For adults only: Moin Moin (bean cakes) it seemed was reserved for adults only! This is essentially a vegetarian dish but is sometimes made with bits of fish, egg or corned beef included.

The Prayers- praying is an essential part of our parties whether it’s at weddings, a celebration of life (celebrating the newly deceased) or a naming ceremony giving thanks for new life, The prayers are typically said in both English and in the native tongue of the celebrant (s) and are normally led by the elders.

 The Spraying This is one of my favourite traditions in Nigerian culture. For example, at a wedding reception the bride and groom are ‘sprayed ‘during their first dance (when guests place money on the couple- usually on the forehead). This generous act of public giving is a way for family and friends to openly bless the couple and give them a good financial head start as they begin married life together. This can be very lucrative as I know of several couples that have literally made thousands of pounds from this; it can also be a nice little money earner for children- if this is permitted. As a child, (I was a bridesmaid for my aunty’s wedding aged 10) my cousins and I were assigned the glamorous task of collecting money which had fallen on the floor during the spraying session. We picked up the seemingly never ending flow of notes and decided to ‘reward’ our efforts by pinching a tenner at the end (no we didn’t ask permission). We got caught by some aunty and needless to say we got ‘taught’!

Spraying: The act of publicly bestowing money upon the celebrant (s. This can be for any occasion, not just weddings.

Spraying: The act of publicly bestowing money upon the celebrant (s). This can be for any occasion, not just weddings.

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