Send me

26 10 2008

My bicycle fitter considers me his friend. He thought my name was Elhoi* until recently and still thinks I’m from Holland despite being repeatedly told I’m English but still believes the relationship is strong enough for me to lend him the money to fly to my country (wherever that is). Each time I go to get yet another puncture fixed we have the same conversation:

Bicycle repairman (BR): “Elhoi, are there bicycle fitters in Holland?”
Me: “Yes, I think so but I’m not from Holland”
BR: “”Oh, where are you from?”
Me “England”
BR: “So do they have bicycle fitters in England”
Me: “Yes”
BR: “Are they black or white?”
Me: “Both”
BR: “Can you send me there when you go home?”
Me: “By post or in my suitcase?”
BR: “No, can you lend me the money”
Me: “Sorry, I can’t”
BR: “Aren’t I your friend? Wouldn’t you like me to visit you when you’re back home?
Me: “You’re all my friends, but I can’t afford to lend you the money, and anyway you’d need a visa to let you work”
BR: “But you could help me get the visa, and I’d pay you back from my job in England”
Me: “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any influence with my government”

I have this conversation pretty much every time I go there and am starting to get irritated by it. I know I shouldn’t and that he is simply dreaming of a better life, but I don’t know how to explain to him that he’ll never get a work permit (the one time I tried he angrily pointed out that Ghana had granted me one), nor that on a bicycle repairers wage even in the UK he’d take years to pay me back even if he managed to find a job.

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*The guys who hang out on the corner of my road have named my Abukari, which they call out cheerfully with a wave every time I cycle past

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3 responses

26 10 2008
The Evangelist

Hi there!

There are so many who are desperate…just completely desperate to leave the country where they feel that they will never have their dreams fulfilled because of the lack of opportunities in their country…

So many just fantasize about being in another country just to make it more bearable to eke out an existence in the country where they are…

Very few realize how much discrimination exists towards African immigrants in other countries because the people they hear about who have left their country do not tell the “real story” about how Africans in general are being portrayed throughout the world…

Africans who leave their home country often share these “fantasy’ experiences with people back home so that they will be idolized intensely…

I can understand your frustration about this guy’s insistence but you can use it as an opportunity to educate him about the experiences of African immigrants in England…that there IS discrimination against people of color in English in the employment market and that the standard of living for the work he does may not even allow him to live any differently than he does right now. If anything THAT will change the repetitive conversation this guy seems to want to have.

As an American, I often do not understand the extreme idolatry of America that many Africans I meet have internalized….

28 10 2008
An African in London

If the situation was reversed I am sure you would be having the same conversation with him.
It is human nature to want a better life and it is human nature to want to protect what you have. Hence the desire to go to England where many Africans believe they will have a better life and the discrimination against them by the English who see their lifestyle under threat.
It is unfortunate that the Africans leaving their country for a better future are misinformed. It is a better future if you are degree educated and can get good employment. For a bicycle repair man he would still be scratching out an existence. He would however be a long way from his family in a cold wet country with a foreign culture. This is not a better life!
The real shame is that some of these people who find themselves in a desperate situation are taken advantage of and dragged into a life of crime by unscrupulous people. Those in a position to inform should inform however quite often the people who need to be informed do not want to hear.

28 10 2008
Tim Little

Thanks for both the comments.

I’m certain I’d be having the same conversation. I completely understand and sympathise with the desire for a better life. My frustration/irritation is having an identical conversation every time. I do try to explain, but (as “An African in London” puts it) I’m not sure he wants to hear. I also suspect he thinks I’m lying either to make him feel better or as an excuse for not helping him.

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