Tag Archives: childhood

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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Eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

“Kem, do you want to take a break?” My best friend said, gently urging me to back away from my dinner plate. We were dining at a friend’s house and I was clearly struggling to finish my second helping. She approached slightly tentatively as if she were negotiating in a hostage situation, expecting to receive a hostile reception.

“Break? No that’s for sissies – this mountain of food will not defeat me – I will be victorious, muahaha! I am going to eat this food – no waste.”

“OK, no one is disagreeing with you re. Wasting the food, but Kem- just take a little rest then come back to it.”

To be honest, she had a point; I was eating as if I was at an ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet with a two hour time limit. But with a natural propensity towards stubbornness and greed, I ploughed on.

“Um sorry that is NOT how I work; if I stop eating then I won’t come back to it.” ***(Returns to food)***

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This is not the first time I have been told to slow down whilst eating….either by my best friend or by an acquaintance!

I have come to a realisation that I need to eat like a lady and not like a man. This is a) partly due to how I appear to others b) the little discomfort I get after eating too quickly or eating too much or both c) my increasingly slow metabolism; they weren’t joking when they said it changes at 30 d) I am significantly decreasing my chances of marriage (no joke).

Book needs to get rewritten!

Book needs to be rewritten!

Before I continue, I want to set the record straight – I don’t always eat like this. Oddly enough there are many occasions when I am the last person to finish a meal even when eating at a fairly rapid speed. However something happens when I’m in the presence of copious amounts of food; especially when the environment is super relaxing with ‘no restrictions’.

So what makes a young lady eat in such an eager manner? There are several thought processes governing this behaviour – here are just three of them:

The ‘scarcity’ mindset– I.e. “this food is going to run out and if I don’t get to it it will be gone.” ( totally illogical food FOMO.)
Weirdly ironic, reverse gluttony / ‘hate waste’ mindset – I.e. “there’s so much food we can’t let it go to waste (as if fridges and freezers don’t exist), better get stuck in and finish it, even if my belly hurts.” (Again, ludicrous behaviour)
‘All by myself’ mindset I.e. ‘I’m so use to living on my own, I eat not for enjoyment but out of necessity, therefore I eat quickly. I forget this is not acceptable when in social settings.’ (Potentially pardonable)

My relationship with food is strongly linked to childhood. There was a zero tolerance food waste policy in our household and my mum was the main enforcer. One of her favourite mantras was to constantly remind us that there are ‘starving children across the world’ and that we have ‘no right not to finish our dinner’; A complete and utter guilt trip which I often wanted to counter with “so why don’t we airmail it to them then?” (But for obvious firmly remained as thoughts in my head).

Her request sounded very reasonable and one which my siblings and I largely acknowledged. However bear in mind that we were almost given the same portions as our dad, how on earth could we finish all that food? And to make matters worse, it was usually robust meals like eba and stew, rice and stew or pasta and guess what? stew. These sorts of meals should be restricted to those exerting a lot of energy (like doing hard labour or running a marathon).

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Most times, I didn’t have a problem finishing dinner ( I love my food) but I would often eat beyond the the point of contentment; I ate until my belly ached just to avoid my mum moaning! This behaviour became the norm; ‘if my stomach isn’t hurting then I am not finished’. I now believe this was and is a weird and unhealthy place to be.

The reason my mum was so insistent on overfeeding us was because, as with many ethnic households, food = love. Feeding (over feeding) is a clear demonstration of love and care; it’s just sometimes taken to extremes!

So what do I plan to do now? Having been in a few social situations recently where I have been the recipient of odd glances whilst scoffing down my food, I am now on a mission to ‘hold it down’ (aka maintain some decorum). This will entail: only eating to the point of contentment and not beyond; taking my time and enjoying the process of eating leisurely and making sure if I am invited somewhere to eat, not to go on an empty stomach! I have got to keep it classy -at all times- and eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

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Good rule to dine by!

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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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12 items you will find in an old school Afropolitan Living Room

It’s the end of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and for many, undoubtedly a time of numerous visits to extended family. And if you are lucky enough, you might just have that one old school relative whose household is literally frozen in time circa 1980’s / early 1990’s. So in honour of these folk and for the sake of taking a trip down memory lane, here are some of things you might find in an ‘old school’ Afropolitan living room (I think everyone will be able to relate) but especially if a) you were were born / raised in the 1980’s and b) West African or Caribbean heritage.

1. The display cabinet filled with ridiculous amount of ornaments– I remember my dad having a collection from his various travels including mini porcelain figurines of random things like animals.

2. The net curtain– We like our privacy and they also look pretty.

Net curtains: This standard in an Afropolitan home.

Net curtains: This standard in an Afropolitan home.

3. The faux brick wallpaper- This was the pinnacle of interior design amongst London based Nigerians in the 1980’s I kid you not. My dad was a trendsetter but also painter / decorator and was one of the first in his friendship circle to rock this. Shortly afterwards a number of his friends began to follow suit.

Brick wallpaper: Love it or hate it this was very popular back in the day.

Brick wallpaper: Love it or hate it this was very popular back in the day.

4. The mini bar– A strictly ‘no go’ area for children because of all the pretty crystal, but I have fond memories of my parents entertaining their guests ‘behind the bar’.

5. The pot plants or fake flowers There is always some sort of foliage (real or fake) usually with a slight tropical twist in the living room.

The pot plant: this is standard in an Afropolitan home.

The pot plant: this is standard in an Afropolitan home.

6. The beaded curtains– This is one of the abiding memories I had of visiting my best friend’s house (she is of Caribbean descent) and the authentic brown beaded curtains in the hallway (a touch of ‘back home’.)

Old school: Brown beaded curtains

Old school: Brown beaded curtains.

7. Religious iconography– If you grew up in a culturally ‘Christian’ household there will almost certainly be some item conveying this. We had the image of a ‘White’ Jesus, the serenity prayer carved in wood and the rosary hanging near the front door.

8. African wood carvings-beautiful (sometimes not actually-a few could be downright scary), hand-crafted, mahogany carvings and statutes like this one were everywhere in our living room.

African wood carvings: courtesy of Positive Arts

African wood carvings: courtesy of Positive Arts.

9. A sound system with the gigantic speakers – ( i.e. A record player or  CD/cassette player combo)- A true Afropolitan would have at least one of these in their music selection. A) Country music: Jim Reeves for Christmas B) Motown classics: Stevie, Four Tops, Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye C) Reggae: Bob Marley/ Dennis Brown D) Original Afrobeat: Fela / King Sunny Ade / Ebenezer Obey /Dr  Orlando Owoh E) Soul: Luther Vandross/ Barry White / Alexander O’Neal F) Pop: Bobby Brown / Madonna (yes Marge think ‘Into the Groove’ ) UK: Aswad / Soul to Soul.

Christmas:  A serious Afropolitan household will be playing this during the festive season.

Christmas: A serious Afropolitan household will be playing this during the festive season.

10. Mirrors- Growing up we had mirrors in EVERY room except the kitchen.

11. Family photos- whether they be on the wall, on the mantle piece or in photos albums, there is always a family photo collection containing, but not limited to; the dreadful standard school photo (with mum always quibbling about the price but paying it anyway ); the cheesy pose I.e. Your parents looking into the distance, hand on hips or leg hitched on a raised platform or better still donning the trends of the day – think Shoulder pads, Jherri Curls and Afros.

Old school: Me in the late 80's

Old school: Me in the late 80’s.

12. The ‘pregnant’ TV– the bigger the better (those born after 1997 won’t understand the struggle).

Pregnant: The old school TV

Pregnant: The old school TV.

What do you remember from your childhood? Is there anything I have missed?

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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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‘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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