Alex Horne – 7th March 2007
Now then, it was because of Nathan initially that Debbie (see Lithuania and Sudan) thought of contacting us. She told me that she did then start to think of all the other nationalities she might know and between her and her extended family she certainly knew more than most. But it was Nathan’s story that I really wanted to hear. And having been warmly welcomed into their house and given a very nice cup of tea, he told me everything.
Unfortunately, I am an idiot and on a trip to Ireland following our meeting I managed to misplace the notebook into which I’d scribbled Nathan’s life.
It’s fine though. We’re going to meet up again soon and he says he’s happy to tell it all over again. It is a great story. In the meantime, here’s a taster:
Nathan is from Kumasi in the middle of Ghana. He’s the tenth of eleven children and the only one to have ever left Africa. He’s always been independent. ‘When I was at secondary school I asked lots of questions about travel’, he began in a measured tone but with an expression almost of disbelief that his story would end with him in his new home here in South London. ‘Back in 1997 I had a friend who’d been in Germany for ten years and who offered to help me go to Europe. I discussed the idea with my family but one of my six sisters didn’t like it at all. “If you travel you might be deported back home – that’s very expensive. If Dad invested £1000 and you get sent home, that money will be gone”, she said. Dad agreed. I got very upset and burnt my passport’.
Two years later, however, the seed began to grow again. Nathan applied for a new passport without telling his family, confiding only in one friend who helped him prepare for an emigration interview at the embassy.
And that’s your lot for now. Sorry about this. We’re going to meet up in the next couple of weeks. I genuinely can’t wait.
24th May 2007
Right then. On the day of our Nearly Half Way Party, I finally got down to Peckham again and have this time managed to keep hold of my notes.
It was great to see Becky and A.J. again. He’s walking now and today was his dad's last day at the supermarket. The first time we all met, Debbie (Nathan’s sister-in-law, Becky’s sister, A.J.’s aunt) had made cup-cakes with the map of the world iced on the top, we did an atlas-style jigsaw and ate traditional Ghanian food washed down with supermalt in their lovely house. It was one of the most heart-warming moments of my year, only slightly marred by the fact that halfway through I had a phone call to say my burglar alarm had gone off in Kensal Green (see Afghanistan).
This time round, Becky, A.J. and I had a walk through the town and over to Bellenden Primary School (see Guyana) before meeting Nathan in the church where they got married. He told me not to worry about losing my first load of notes but I still felt a bit guilty. So this time, I’m sticking them straight into the blog – I can’t help thinking they’re more powerful alone than with any of the flowery faff I’d attempt to adorn them with. So bullet points it is:
- Nathan lives in Peckham Rye with his wife Becky, and their one year old son, AJ. AJ is the one person we’ve met so far who doesn’t have a passport at all.
- Nathan has ten brothers and sisters. He was the only one to leave Ghana.
- At the age of 18 he suggested coming to England but was told not to by his family. Nathan was very upset and burnt his passport.
- He’s always been independent. He’s never stayed at home for long. Like most people in Ghana he went to a boarding house where he learnt to live by himself. ‘Your mother’s not always going to be there’, he told me.
- Three years later, with the help of a friend, he headed to Accra and without the knowledge of his family, gained a visa to come to England. He’d applied for a new passport 12 months previously. To get the visa he had to answer 45 questions. To pass the last one he had to convince his interviewer that he’d definitely come back to Ghana. Nathan did his best. When he’d finished, the interviewer said, ‘well done. I’ll take your word for it.’ The High Commission was worried people would come to England and become lost in the system instead of returning to renew their visas.
- He didn’t tell his family he was in London until he’d been here for two weeks. His father still didn’t believe him.
- When he arrived at Victoria Station another Ghanian man, a cleaner, said he’d look after him. He had to wait in the station all night as the cleaner was on the night shift, but eventually they made their way back to Mitcham where he stayed for his first month. During the day Nathan would walk and walk and walk, again not telling anyone where he was going. He walked from Mitcham to Brixton, to Elephant and Castle, to Camberwell, and gradually learnt about the streets, the shops, the people.
- Through his new friend, he eventually got a job, also as a cleaner, at Waterloo station. He worked there for a year and managed to get his visa renewed.
- Next week he starts his new job as Personal Banking Assistant for Abbey National.
- In between he worked at the Co-op, Lidl, Aldi, Costcutter and Netto, starting at the bottom rung of one, he worked every available hour, for free at the weekends, and within a few years was the manager of the last. I worked in Budgens when I was 18 (deputy head of dairy), I can’t imagine putting in those sorts of hours, sometimes without even being paid.
- He met his wife, Becky, in the Lidl on Old Kent Road.
- We met, for the second time, in the Church where they got married. AJ was now walking. When I left, Nathan was putting together some shelves from Ikea, so that the kids’ toys would have somewhere to live.
- Whilst working his way up the supermarket ladder, Nathan was also going to school and doing several other jobs including working for a security firm at the Millennium Dome (‘it was good actually – I took my family to see Craig David’).
- He’s lived in Kennington, Clapham, Camberwell and Peckham. Does he like it here? I asked him. ‘I’m used to it’ he replied.
- When he showed me around Peckham, I was amazed by how many people he knew and how many people knew him. Everyone said hello. ‘There are lots of African people here’, he said, ‘so they know how to respond to my jokes’. He barters with the market traders. ‘They know how it works. If they say £9 for plantains, I’ll say £7. I’ll then buy them for £7.50’.
- In 2003 Nathan was able to buy his own plot of land back home in Kumasi. He showed me the picture of the house he is having built there. It should be finished by the end of 2007. It will have fifteen bedrooms. When it’s ready he plans to rent it out as a guesthouse then maybe live there, with his family, in four or five years time.
- He would like his own son to study in Ghana till he’s 16, then finish his education in the UK.
He wants to have two or four kids himself. Not three, he smiles. Two or four is fine.
- His mum came to visit for the first time in February. She was surprised by everything. She was upset by their babyseat. She couldn’t understand why you couldn’t just hold your baby on your lap in the car. She also found it strange that the baby didn’t sleep in the same room as his parents.
- Nathan had his citizenship ceremony in 2005.