I was in a London area called Camden Town recently. If there was no Covid-19, Camden Town would have been buzzing. Tourists, street musicians, cafes and restaurants with meals from all over the planet. Plus market stalls displaying colourful clothes. Oh Camden, is exciting.
Imagine a smaller Kariakoo or Darajani in Zanzibar. You get the picture. Camden has amazing music halls, such as the Jazz Cafe, close to the underground rail station. Banks. Shops. Beauty and tattoo shops. Add drug dealers and, well, let’s pause. The smell of weed, or bangi, is normal in London, anyway. And in Camden Town, well, you heard me. The sellers are everywhere – hidden and in the open.
Camden is also a residential area.
But, now, the place is half dead.
Its rare attraction is an eccentric man feeding pigeons, talking to them like his adopted children.
Covid-19 has turned Camden into a ghost village. People walk about, but the vibrancy is a big yawn. This is January 2021, and out of the blue, a chap called Trevor is shouting my name. Not Trevor Noah, the South African comedian, although they kind of resemble, both being of mixed race. I have not seen the young fella for about ten years.
“Big man, Trev, I can’t even recognise you! If you had not called me, I would have just passed on!”
Our dialogue is laboured and typical 2020/2021. People have to keep repeating sentences. Masks stifle and muffle words, syllables and clarity.
Masks! Our accepted global fashion costumes.
We are in Tier 4 of Lockdown Three. You are only legally allowed to do essential activities like shopping, key work (drivers, hospital personnel, social carers, police) or exercise, e.g. jogging.
Since he was three, Trevor has never seen his dad, a black brother who vanished. Trevor was raised by his mzungu mother.
“I don’t know my paternal side,” he admits in a heavy London (Cockney) accent. “I have only seen photos of places they hail from. I tried searching them online, and gave up. I don’t think this man has ever used a computer. He evaporated into thin air.”
Now the tension of his missing ancestry gets to him. He fumbles in his small rucksack. Scoops out two bananas. Offers me one. The fruits are green, slightly yellow.
I am flabbergasted : “The bananas are raw, Trev!”
He is busy masticating.
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Why do you say that? “
For the next five minutes I try explaining how only ripe fruits should be eaten.
Nodding with a genuine sense of compassion, he declares:
“Nobody ever told me what you are saying, uncle!”
As we speak, the obvious unravels. Trevor’s father, originally from the tropics, would have handed his son information regarding plants, natural resources not found in London and the Western world, but he vanished. Subsequently, Trevor was raised by a parent who offered stability, school, unconditional love. With a master’s of science degree in engineering, Trevor can work anywhere in the world – construct bridges, roads , buildings, etc. Eating semi-raw bananas might not be such a big problem, yet partly, reflects what a child missed.
Compare this tale to something a good English friend told me two years ago. And ironically, in the same Camden Town area.
During summer of 2019, there was no Covid-19. Pubs and restaurants were packed, and life was normal.
Richard was dating an African woman. They were about to get married, and so the conversation roved around racism.
“I never see colours,” he confessed. “People are all the same to me. You know why? My grandfather was a painter. One day he took me to visit this African woman, from Ghana. She hugged me in her huge arms and welcomed us inside. Then my granddad painted her. Then painted her child. My granddad said to me. This boy is beautiful. He is your friend too. He gave me the painting. Somehow that info stuck with me. One day, I think I was eight or nine, there was this black boy. He had just started school. It was the 1970s. The white kids would taunt and make fun of him because he could not speak English properly. He kept jumping up and down. They found that funny! They did it again and again. I used to hate break time because it was when the bullying happened.
One day I could not take it any more I took him out of the circle of the bullies then sat with him and hugged him. He sobbed and smiled at me. We became friends but he soon left the school. Now do you see where I’m coming from?”
Two stories of childhood education.
Names and location changed to stimulate your curiosity.
Life starts at Sunrise...