Tag Archives: African

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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‘Mum, why would you do that?’ 10 old school Afropolitan hairstyles

During school term times, Sunday nights were synonymous with the torturous experience of getting my hair done for the week; this along with the ritual of shining my shoes and getting the school uniform ready.  I have ‘fond’ memories of sitting down- hair washed and greased- with my mum’s strong hands preparing to make something presentable out of my afro. Looking back I was pretty blessed that my mum was very good with braiding and plaiting hair- saving money and avoiding going to the hairdressers (that’s another post entirely). Here are some of the hairstyles I remember rocking at some point in my childhood.

  1. Threads aka the spider hair-do. Anyone who had the privilege of rocking this style whilst attending an English primary school will know full well that it’s a blatant invitation to be ridiculed. Apparently the hair style helps to straighten hair and assists growth; these benefits seem meaningless when you have to deal with finger pointing and insults from your peers when all you want to do is fit in! As an adult I have begun to appreciate the beauty and creativity of this particular technique; I recently saw some breath-taking vintage photographs of West African women modelling these styles which are nothing short of majestic pieces of art.

    African threaded hair: how can you do this to a 5 yr old?  (C) Richard Wright 1953

    African threaded hair: how can you do this to a 5 yr old?
    (C) Richard Wright 1953

  1. Cornrow– This was the standard weekly hair do. Most of the time it was a relatively simple style such as all the rows going back or the high bun aka the pineapple (see below). However on one occassion my mum decided to get ‘creative’- damn the consequences. I can usually predict what the style is going to be by the direction of travel on my head but this time, unnervingly, I couldn’t make sense of the unfamiliar patterns forming on my scalp. What resulted can only be described as truly hideous; my mum had decided to recreate a Roman emperor/ dome shaped hair-do (see exhibit one below).   It was so horrendous that even my mum gasped on completion. But as her age old adage goes- ‘when the style is complete you have to rock it for the week’ and woe onto me for trying to take it out before then!
    The bun: aka the pineapple- one of my favourite cornrow styles.

    The bun: aka the pineapple- one of my favourite cornrow styles.

    Dome shape aka Julius Caesar: This is the closest thing I can find to the hairstyle my mum decided to do- much to my horror! This might have been OK had I not been a teenager who was already self conscious!

    Dome shape aka Julius Caesar: This is the closest thing I can find to the hairstyle my mum decided to do- much to my horror! This might have been OK had I not been a teenager who was already self conscious!

  1. Single plait extensions– tears would ensue when I was subjected to this ordeal. However more often than not what emerged is a versatile, hair do that will last anything from 6 to 12 weeks and looks pretty nice too.
  1. Those awful beads- Cornrows, single plaits (extensions or natural) accompanied by an assortment of colourful beads. They were never and could never be a good idea- it’s a total assault on the eyes and the ears (they are noisy). Venus and Serena Williams eat your heart out.

    Williams sisters: Champions and truly inspiration but the beads!!

    Williams sisters: Got to love them beads!

  1. The two big cornrows going back– my favourite childhood hair style. This would be the emergency style my mum would resort to on a Monday morning on the rare occasion she hadn’t been able to do my hair the night before.
The two plait hairstyle: the emergency hair do mum use to do on a Monday morning before taking me to school.

The two plait hairstyle: the emergency hair do mum use to do on a Monday morning before taking me to school but it NEVER looked this slick!

  1. Relaxer– that perm box brought happiness to many but it brought misery to me! Tears, torture, stinging scalp, chemical cocktail resulting in my hair nearly falling out- only tried it once when I was 7 and haven’t revisited it since.
Relaxer: Also known as creamy crack because you keep coming back to keep those kinks away!

Relaxer: Also known as creamy crack because you keep coming back to keep those kinks away!

  1. Jheri curl- good old eighties hair do. Sings *** just let your soul glow!***
Favourite film: sings ' just let your soul glow!'

Favourite film: sings ‘ just let your soul glow!’

  1. Twists with pretty clips added – A simple, feminine hair do for parents with limited hair styling abilities. I always wanted this style but my mum refused- ‘why would you want this when I can plait?’
  1. Hair ‘out’– either in a single scrunchy or in two bunches – this was a treat- especially if you were allowed to add a lickle gel (Jam Pudding) for that slick look.

    Afro puff: favourite cute hair do!

    Afro puff: favourite cute hair do!

  1. Hot-combed hair– move over James Brown- bring on the singed, burnt hair smell along with that blue magic grease to ease that hot combing! I always had mixed feelings about the end result- seemingly slick, limp hair which could be easily placed into a ponytail vs. The glorious, bouncy afro crown? Couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated-am I alone?

    Hotcomb: Burnt ears, singed hair, flinching but all for the love of that glossy straight hair for all of 5 minutes!

    The beloved hot comb: Burnt ears, singed hair, flinching but all for the love of that glossy straight hair for all of 5 minutes- the struggle was real!

Did you wear any of these hair styles as child / teenager? What are your memories re. getting your hair done way back when?

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Black Chronicles II: Review of new Black history exhibition

I work in one of the trendiest areas in London bursting full of cultural and creative delights- but rarely do I take advantage of this and explore what’s on offer. However, a few weeks ago I decided to visit Black Chronicles II, a new exhibition exploring the presence of Black and Asian people in early 19th and 20th century Britain, by Autograph ABP at Rivington Place, Shoreditch. I am a huge history buff with a keen interest in the Victorian era and the  Black Minority Ethnic (BME) experience so this exhibition was right up my street.

What I really liked about Black Chronicles II was the use of multimedia to depict the various unseen, marginalised histories of people of BME backgrounds in Victorian England.  This included a short film narrated by one of the curators, featuring some of the photographs on display. Similarly, the script from the film was also written high up on the walls creating a multidimensional feel and a sense of literal immersion.

It was particularly refreshing to see the breadth of the ‘Black’ presence (I know ‘Black’ is a potentially problematic term in this context but will use it anyway) extend to the South Asian community- giving the exhibition, yet again, another dimension. Below is one such example; a wonderful portrait of Major Mussa Bhai, of the Salvation Army taken in 1890:

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(C) Getty Images

The exhibition really brought forth the humanity of its subjects with each portrait being ‘allowed’ to tell its own story as far as possible. Often times Black history can be seen through a narrow, selective, colonial lens but I really felt as though I was beginning to witness the true diversity of the Black experience in Victorian England; in fact many of the photographs in the exhibition have been previously unseen by the public.

Another personal favourite were the individual portraits of members from the African Choir. Beautiful faces of all different hues, shapes and features- full of character, etched with unspoken experiences and accompanied with their full names. I can’t tell you how important it was for me to see the members awarded the dignity of having their own names written alongside their portraits- not nameless entities but marked by their own identities. Below is a portrait of one of the choir members, Eleanor Xiniwe.

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There has been a real resurgence in the popularity of Black Victoriana in recent months. Earlier this year the movie Belle was released (which is from a slightly earlier period) and a recent BBC documentary on Sally Bonetta Forbes,  described as the Black godchild of Queen Victoria reflect the growing interest for content that begins to uncover this rich body of history.

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At this point I should declare that I have a vested interest in these exhibitions because my great, great grandmother – Sally Bonetta Forbes often features in them. Beyond her royal connections, she was renowned for her musical talent, intelligence and beauty but unfortunately met an early death due to consumption at the age of 37. And as expected, a small photograph of her and her husband were included in the exhibition.

As an Afropolitan, born in the West but roots firmly in Africa, Black Chronicles II  filled me with a sense of pride that I was partaking in a shared history of those who have gone before me in this same tradition. The exhibition is by no means perfect; there are still some images that wreak of colonialism and make for uncomfortable viewing; this is unfortunately part of the Black British historic experience. However it comes close to to something that begins to reveal the truth of the varied Black presence in Victorian England.

Black Chronicles II is a must see for anyone interested in the diverse, hidden histories of BME communities in the UK.

The exhibition is free and runs until THIS Saturday 29th November.

For more information visit: autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/black-chronicles-ii

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