Tag Archives: Afropolitan

Mind the Gap: “You want to take a what?”

“Dad…I’m going to take a gap year.”  “You want to take a what?” He replied, his perpetually smiling face instantly morphed into a frown. “A gap year.” I said rather boldly (have I lost my mind?!) “OK…OK…OK” he said repeatedly as I became increasingly unnerved with each utterance, then it stopped. Silence. What seemed like an eternity passed. “So you are not going to go to university?” he said. Oh dear I could see where this was headed. “Yes dad I will be, just not this year but definitely next.””OK…OK…OK… So what does that mean?” His words mingled with sadness and restrained anger.  This conversation went round in circles for quite a while and as you probably guessed, it didn’t end well.

Dad's expression: "You want to take a what?"

Dad’s expression: “You want to take a what?”

My dad was one of the most liberal, free-spirited people on the planet whose abiding mantra was ‘live and let live’. I could have told him I was a lesbian, entering a nunnery, joining the circus or any other random scenario and he would have been perfectly fine with it as long as it ‘made me happy’. However the concept of a gap year didn’t compute.

To be honest, I was fairly surprised by his response because our household was not especially traditional. However looking back there were elements – no matter how liberal – which will always remain such as respect for your elders and reverence for education.

I should have known no matter how ‘open minded’ dad was, in an Afropolitan household – especially a Nigerian household – gap years are as elusive as unicorns. Things may have changed now (though I doubt it) but over ten years ago, it wasn’t very common amongst the British based West Africans I knew. Gap year for what? For who? What have you experienced in life which warrants a ‘break’? What are you going to do? All these questions would be swirling round in a Nigerian parent’s mind in response to such a ridiculous proposition.

Getting a good education was and still is of the upmost importance because it equates to securing a good future for you and your family. Go to school, go university, study something sensible (Law, Accountancy, Medicine), get a good job, buy a nice home, start a family, take care of your parents in old age – the usual trajectory in any traditional BME household which highly prizes education as the route of all self betterment.

I could now see that my poor dad thought his super academic daughter was ‘going off the rails’ and with it all his hopes and dreams for me. What was he going to tell his friends and family? How could he explain this decision to them? I felt like such a failure in his eyes which I had never experienced before. My dad and I were extremely close, in fact he delivered me at birth and our bond had been apparent ever since. But this was one of the very few times in my life where I had disappointed him, almost to the point of disgust. He would not talk to me for weeks afterwards and refused to give me eye contact – he was that upset.

Daddy's girl lol

Daddy’s girl lol

Dad didn’t even particularly care what I studied as long as he could say I went to university. He himself didn’t go to university so was not so focused on what I studied as long as I went. I planned to study English and History (which is an entirely different conversation altogether and something which still confuses my maternal grandmother until this day) but in his mind, at least it meant a move towards progress. He wanted a better life for me than he had for himself and education was the key to securing this. Why would I make such a selfish decision as to delay it?

I didn’t take a gap year because I had grand plans to travel the world. I did it out of embarrassment and because, in my eyes, I had no choice. I received my A Level results and though I got an ABB, unfortunately it was not the right grades to allow me to study on my preferred course at a prestigious Red Brick institution. I remember results day like it happened last week – I didn’t realise how arrogant I was or how much my identity was bound up in my intellect until the day of the ‘rude awakening.’

After realising I got the wrong ABB (the A was neither in English Literature or History) I instantly ran to the careers service to see what could be done to ensure I could go to my first choice placement. I managed to meet the main careers advisor, who had a horrific reputation for being brutally honesty and in a nutshell, crushed any hopes I had. “Well judging by how competitive the course and institution is you won’t get in this year. If you are lucky they may offer you another course which you can take and hope someone drops out mid way on your preferred course so you can change over but it’s not guaranteed and quite unlikely.” All I could hear was bla bla bla and at one point I said to her: “But how can I not be going to university? I mean it’s me! I got all A’s last year.” My pride was completely crushed as a cloak of shame covered me, how could I explain to my friends and family that clever kem kem was not so clever after all?

My response to not going to university that year.

My response to not going to university that year.

In retrospect taking a gap year was the best decision of my life. I developed a strong work ethic – working two retail jobs, six days a week including one at GAP – (yes you couldn’t make it up); took up another A level because I always wanted to study that particular subject (super geek), took up singing in a choir, met some amazing people including session singers and actors who had to do retail when their craft couldn’t pay the bills, found my faith (in fact it was the first time I truly spoke to a God and He answered!) … It was nothing like I expected it to be but I grew so much during this time and saved quite a bit of money towards University too! And when I did eventually go to University the following year, God provided the right group of friends, the right course and I had such an incredible experience as a result.

Gap year employment: You couldn't make it up if you tried!

Gap year employment: You couldn’t make it up if you tried!

There are untold benefits to a gap year but one in particular, is that you realise more than ever whether university is for you or not. For some people taking the time out allows them to come to the realisation that they are ready to enter the world of work rather than accrue debt which might or might not lead them to their dream job. For others, myself included, I realised that I wanted to go to university, but for the right reasons this time (not just to party and be promiscuous as popular culture loves to remind us.) I didn’t want a life of low paid work to make ends meet – university was my route out of poverty and I was going to grasp it with both hands.

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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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Happy New Year! Plans for 2015- Coming soon!

***HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE*** 

May 2015 be your year to aspire to greatness and the fulfilment of your heart’s desires!

I am very excited about the New Year for a number of reasons one of which includes this blog! There are some wonderful things happening this year at the Thrifty Afropolitan and here is just a little glimpse into the goodies I have in store for you.

Clothes Swap event– Stop press! If you are having a good old new year’s clear out and donating clothes to charity please consider keeping hold of a few choice items for a clothes swapping happening in London in the next few months in conjunction with the Style Closet! Good, quality clothes and shoes will be accepted with no more than five items per person. More information to follow soon.

Say cheese! And bring your top quality items to our event this Spring in 2015 please!

Clothes Swap: Say cheese! And bring your top quality items to our event this Spring in 2015 please.

Meet the Thrifty Afropolitan series…. I will be interviewing a number of inspiring and creative people over the course of the year who are real life thrifty Afropolitans. (Definition of a Thrifty Afropolitan: Roots ‘back home’, raised in ‘the West’ and living in a resourceful and creative way, all whilst making the world a better place in the process. Phew- not much to ask there then!) What are your plans for 2015? Would love to hear from you! x

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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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5 things I love about Nigerians (in honour of Nigerian ‘Independence’)

Nigeria is no stranger to negative publicity; from the corruption in Government, a reputation for fraud (419), the on-going oil crisis in the Delta Region, Boko Haram’s merciless slaying of Christians to the unresolved abduction of the 200+ Muslim girls, the list is endless. However I want to celebrate some of the fantastic things about the nation affectionately dubbed the ‘Sleeping Giant of West Africa’; so to celebrate 54 years of ‘independence’ I want to share with you five reasons why I am proud to be an Afropolitan of Nigerian descent.  (Disclaimer:  Nigeria is a culturally diverse nation with a rich heritage and numerous languages and ethnic groups so excuse the generalisation as I know not all Nigerians are the same! However this is based on my observation as a Nigerian from two tribal groups with Sierra Leonean heritage.)

  1. The Hustle- Entrepreneurialism is in our DNA. My younger brother who has never stepped foot on Nigerian soil, was selling the latest gadgets to his peers in school from day dot- it’s as if he possessed an innate ability to sniff out where the money was and find a way to go get it! From London to Lagos, we are passionate about business whether it is our main area of work or our side hustle. When I visited Nigeria almost every street corner was occupied by someone selling something and likewise in the UK every other Nigerian I know is setting up a new venture, often alongside their full time employment.  Industrious, ambitious and driven – Nigerians entrepreneurial spirit is a cut above the rest.

    The Hustle: Not just a programme on the BBC- its in Nigeria's DNA.

    The Hustle: Not just a programme on the BBC- its in Nigeria’s DNA.

  2. Our bold, fearless nature– Nigeria is known as the ‘Sleeping Giant of West Africa’ but that couldn’t be more far from the truth- I think it is well and truly awake! My dad always use to say ‘fear no man but your maker’ and this to me sums up Nigerians- we are not afraid to express ourselves and make our presence known wherever we are. I mean Nigerians are the only Black people I know that will go to places like Russia and Poland to live because they see potential to make money- often in the face of racism and hostility.

    Fearless and bold: How I see Nigerians- perhaps I am bit bias?

    Fearless and bold: How I see Nigerians- perhaps I am bit bias?

  3. Our vibrant faith– Nigeria is known for its vibrant Christian faith and  according to research has the highest population of Christians in Africa. Similarly,irrespective of whether we believe in Jesus or Allah or in the Yoruba deities – our faith is deep rooted and is an integral part of our lives. I will never forget when I visited Nigeria being awoken by the early morning prayers of an Imam at 5am or being impacted by the commitment and passion of Christians attending an epic church service which seemed to go on for the best part of the day!

    Nigerian christianity

    Our faith: Whatever it is we believe, our faith is a deeply important part of our daily lives.

  4. Our love of education and personal advancement– ‘Education, education, education’ is something that is of upmost importance to Nigerians. I will never forget when I told my dad that I was planning to take a ‘Gap Year’- (which was almost unheard of from a person of African descent 10 years ago); I just remember my dad- who is one of the most liberal, loving, open-minded people on the planet -repeatedly saying ‘so you are not going to University?’ He couldn’t take it in and I think it took him at least a month for him to speak to me without complete disdain. For Nigerians, as for many, education is seen as the key way to advancing yourself and your family.

    Gap Year? This is not in an African parents vocabulary! You better go and read your books my friend!

    Gap Year? This is not in an African parents vocabulary- you better go and find yourself at University!

  5. Our hospitality– If you have never been to a Nigerian party I urge you to take yourself to one! Whether its a wedding, a funeral, christening or an anniversary we know how to throw a good party. We love to be extravagant often leading to excessive amounts of food (Jollof rice, coleslaw fried fish, moi moi etc) and drinks (Supermalt and Nigerian Guinness are standard) being on offer. Not only that, depending on the party, you might even find yourself taking away some goodies like Tupperware, a commemorative calendar or salt (that’s another blog post altogether), We know how to have a good time and make almost anyone feel welcome and this isn’t just limited to big occasions!
Nigerian party time

Nigerian party time: We know how to have a good time- Go Grandma!!

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Even if you live in the West, an Afropolitan’s African roots will never cease. I was born in London as was my mother but there is no denying our heritage even down to the smallest household items. There are just certain things you will find in every West African home irrespective of social class. These are ten timeless items you will find in any Afropolitan’s bathroom.  And even if you don’t have African roots I am sure you would be familiar with some of these products if you ever visited an Afropolitan’s home! Do you have any of these lying around? What else should have made the list?

Rubb

1. Robb-Forget Vicks, every person of West African descent would have had Robb in their bathroom cabinet. Cheaper and more effective, this multi-purpose bad boy is great for colds, flus and is also useful for massaging into achy limbs.image

2. Bucket- Everyone with roots in Africa or the Caribbean knows about the bucket bath. And it seems even though we have no need for the bucket (thank you power shower)- we still seem to have a bucket lurking around in the house somewhere.

3. ‘Blue Magic’ hair cream– More like blue gunk- yet no black person’s hair collection would be complete without this classic hair grease. Its questionable as to how effective it is as a hair cream as it doesn’t really moisturise or do much good (who knows about the clogged up hair follicles?) but it does give  hair a nice and shiny appearance, especially in the hair partings after freshly cornrowed hair.image

4. African mesh wash cloth– It may look dubious, but the mesh wash cloth is a fantastic cleanser and is also kind on the skin.  Its also very inexpensive.

5. Astral– Not an obvious choice, but this has had to make it on to the list. One of the fondest memories I have is of visiting my grandmother’s house a child and just seeing huge tubs of it in her bedroom and bathroom. I use to confuse it with Nivea because of its wonderful smell, rich moisturising texture and blue coloured tub. I actually think it’s better than Nivea and it’s also marginally cheaper too.

image6. Black soap– Dudu Osun is probably one of the most famous brands, but this is a classic soap that every West African would have had in their bathroom at some point.

7. A tub of Vaseline/ petroleum jelly– The official cure for ashy elbows and knee caps-  everyone had a mammoth sized tub of this multipurpose grease in their home- yes EVERYONE.vaseline

8. Dettol- Every household I remember visiting as child seemed to have big sized bottle of Dettol. For laundry, for household cleaning or as an antiseptic- this is an essential product.

9. Afro pick comb– Fear and dread use to fill me every Sunday evening when mum would take that comb and hair grease and plait my hair for the week. That comb and I were not friends but it is an essential item in every Afropolitan household.

cocoa butter 10. Cocoa Butter– No African Caribbean household would be complete without it. I have fond memories of leaving the house, just before I am about to go to school, and my mum enthusiastically rubbing cocoa butter on my face making it look like a round, shiny, chocolate button. Funnily enough my dad was once the cocoa butter kid for an advertising campaign in the 1960s back in Nigeria!

Ten items you will find in an Afropolitan’s bathroom!

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