Wednesday, 7 March 2007
Fresh Fish, Phones and Vegetables
Alex Horne – 7th March 2007
Once Nathan and I had got to know each other (an account of which I’ll be able to write up fully once we’ve done it for a second time) we decided to hit the town. Keen to help and eager to show me round his neighbourhood we set off in his car and drove to his Netto (back then in March, Nathan was manager of the Netto supermarket in Peckham Rye. I would have explained this in the Ghana entry if I hadn’t lost my notepad, but unfortunately I have, and I’m fairly sure he’s now got a new job, the nature of which I will definitely reveal as and when we meet again). Unfortunately I was slightly distracted at this point as I’d just received a call saying my burglar alarm had gone off and even though I was 90% sure it was a false alarm, part of me thought it was perhaps more important to check on my marital home than wander the streets of Peckham in search of foreigners.
In the end we decided to compromise by racing round a few of his usual haunts and pencil in a return date in the near future to pick up the nationalities we missed. I relaxed a little.
To an outsider (i.e. me) nearly all the shops in Peckham look identical. They sell everything a greengrocers-butchers-cornershop-combination would offer, feature an international phone card stall in one corner and are full of noisy customers whose number doesn’t seem to be affected by the fact that so many outlets seem to do exactly the same thing. The Fresh Fish and Vegetables, Afro-Caribbean Food shop not far from Nathan’s biggest rival Lidl was no exception.
Nathan, I should say, seemed to know every other person in the area. He was greeted with smiles and back-slapping wherever we went and I grew more and more confident in his shadow, proud to be associated with such a respected figure. It was in this capacity that he introduced me to the phone-card salesman in the shop with the protracted title mentioned above, a gruff but friendly man called Rain from Afghanistan.
Rain left his home eight years ago and is now more than happy to call Peckham his home. ‘I’m safe here’, he says, ‘I had to escape and I now have a new life in London’. Nathan buys his mobile phones for trips to Ghana from him. Most of Rain’s family still live in Afghanistan, ‘but I get to talk to them all the time’, he smiles, pointing at his overseas communication stall – a perk of the job, we laugh. Unfortunately, before I get to ask any more pertinent questions about what made him leave, Nathan reminds me that I may have been burgled and he has more people for me to meet so we move on to a more traditional market stall under a railway bridge on Rye Street.
Here I am presented to a fruit seller from Kurdistan called Rebaz, from whom Nathan buys his Ghanaian yams every week. ‘You know Kurdistan?’ he asks doubtfully. ‘Oh yeah’, I say, without conviction but fairly sure it was one of those fifteen former Soviet Union countries I listed a month or two ago.
I was, of course, wrong. Kurdistan doesn’t actually qualify for a country according to our and the UN’s strict rules. But looking back I was extremely glad I didn’t have to tell Rebaz that actually, no, according to my notes, Kurdistan isn’t a country at all. He fled his town (technically part of Iraq) and the threat of Saddam five years ago and is now grateful for a better, safer life.
He asks me how old I think he is (a common request so far). I say 40. He’s 21. He left home for England when he was just 16. ‘I was a kick-boxing champion back in Kurdistan so I look older than I am. I lost only once.’ Like I say, I’m extremely glad I didn’t have to deny the authenticity of Rebaz’ country to his face.
By now, my phone was ringing almost non-stop as the other nominated key-holders to my house called me to say that they’d also been called to say that I may have been burgled, so I decided that enough was enough, it was time to go home. Nathan very kindly dropped me at Elephant and Castle tube so I could get the Bakerloo Line straight up to Kensal Green where, thankfully, everything was ok. And now, with the loss of that notepad, I’m more anxious than ever to get back down to Peckham and spend more time with my Ghanaian friend.