…is what my very gorgeous daughter and I were called today by an elderly patient at the doctor’s surgery. Were we not white enough, our language not English enough? Maybe our accent wasn’t English enough? Our hair maybe too curly? Skin too brown? I was reminding my daughter in German, not to go where I can’t see her. Was it a BO (body odor) issue? No, it can’t have been because I made a special effort in getting ready this morning. Freshly out of the shower, moisturised, my hair all nice and curled up, I even defined my eyebrows AND wore lipstick…me! I usually find that lip balm or gloss does the job but who knows, maybe something in me was preparing to be insulted and so I figured that I might as well be looking good while receiving the insult. What does the statement “bloody foreigners” even mean? I wonder what prompted her to say that? The least she could have done is completed the sentence. Ok, so how exactly had my ‘foreignness’ offended her in that situation? And by the way, I had also made space for her to sit next to me. Why did I even bother?
“Bloody foreigners” that statement, a fact to her, hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s actually the second time this has happened to me. The first time was during last year’s elections just outside Sainsbury’s. An elderly man also called me a “bloody foreigner” as I passed him pushing Sunshine in her buggy. Around that time, I remember once taking the kids to a stay and play session in an area where the windows on the houses of one particular road were decorated with ‘VOTE BNP’. I say no more.
Anyway, please just allow me to vent. Have you ever been insulted by something you can’t do anything about? Like the colour of your skin or the place you are from? It is sort of like witnessing someone projectile vomit on you: it’s so intensely shocking and sort of infectious that you start to feel your stomach turning at an alarming rate. So much so that you feel the need to evacuate immediately, lest you succumb to the same need to vomit. I did not want to allow this woman’s negativity and skewed perspective of life to infect me. Why should I become like her, or worse yet despise her for the way she is. I’m sure she has her reasons. People are usually the product of their environment. My mind was crowded with thoughts. My priority was to protect my daughter. Thank God my young lady was in a blissful place, completely unaware of what was happening. I was at a loss for words. Her her words hit me like lightning and I felt hot and cold at once all over my body. What would an appropriate response have been? The adrenalin from the flight or fight mode set in, and I quickly scanned the room to see if I heard correctly. I looked at the faces of two other moms in the waiting room (both “foreign-looking”) and their facial expression told me that I heard correctly.
I turned to this elderly woman (I can’t even call her a lady) and asked ”Excuse me, what did you just say? Did I hear correctly?” I wasn’t witty enough to come up with something like: “Oh, are you referring to the book ‘Bloody Foreigners’ by R. Winder? I haven’t read it. What are your thoughts on it?” Maybe I could have asked her what she thought of what Daniel Defoe wrote in 1700:
“A true-born Englishman’s a Contradiction. In speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction.”
I would like to think that the health care both she and I receive at this GP is a result of all the contributions of both foreigners (including mine) and Britons alike. What were her thoughts on colonial history? I could have maybe directed her to the ongoing discussions about reparations. I’m a very docile individual. I’m not a fighter. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that I am a crier. It is ridiculous, I know, and truth be told, the tears were nigh. So getting her attention was as fierce as I could get.
She looked up from her tabloid newspaper (the Sun, I think it was), and replied by stating that she was just saying something to herself. Gosh, I felt the fire in my soul. The doctor came out right in the nick of time. I told him immediately what happened and found great comfort in knowing that he (Dr. Ribeiro), who was also about to treat grandma, is also a fellow “foreigner”, as are the rest of the doctors at the surgery! If Dr. Ribeiro refused to see her, maybe she could kindly ask Dr. Singh to see her? ☺Dr. Ribeiro curbed my rising cortisol levels by stating how ridiculous her statement was considering that this economy is supported by “foreign” workers. It’s good to see a good doctor. He healed me even though I was not the patient.
What really bothered me most about it all, is the fact that my family and I don’t really have a “place” in this world (so to speak). We are sort of like nomads. I’m neither European nor am I African. I speak a few languages, I’ve lived in a few countries. If you listen closely, you will notice that my accent is considered ‘foreign’ to the native speakers of the languages I speak. There are places in this world where I feel like I fit in. In those places the people look like me (or I look like them). These places are usually located somewhere around the equator. Nevertheless, we do enjoy living in the UK (not so much the weather and and the sarcasm). The UK has adopted us (well not so much the “bloody racists”, but the rest have been good to us). I’ve been here more than a decade, contributing to the economy, finding love and life, friends and a certain kind of spice (a subtle one). So, if I’m being a good citizen, contributing to the economy, abiding by the customs and enjoying the culture, what must I/ we do not to be called a “bloody foreigner”? What about my children? Will someone also insult them like that? And what will I tell them is a suitable response?
After my daughter was diagnosed with chickenpox, I told the receptionist on my way out that one of their patients insulted me (and all “foreigners”) by calling us “bloody foreigners”. The receptionist, a wonderful, English, black woman with a gorgeous British accent, whom I will always be grateful to, promptly stood up and had a word with the woman.
What a way to live the latter years of your life! What legacy would such an old lady leave behind? What legacy was left to her? As for me, I thank God and I go to bed each night feeling nothing short of grateful. Grateful that although I am different, I can say that I’m neither inferior nor superior. This knowledge is an empowering blessing to me because it means that I also have the right to live here. I honour and value the cornerstones that all of our forefathers have laid so that we can live in a place like this. A place where it is unacceptable to undermine another human being without there being some sort of consequence. It is unfortunate that race is still an issue, in this day and age. Nevertheless, for me (a brown girl with a funny accent) to be able to receive support from the people in in a British establishment, on a matter like this, is significant progress. I’m blessed and grateful. The sun has kissed me from both sides — I am blessed to love and to be loved at the same time. I’m surrounded by wonderful people. The locals are awesome! They have accepted us as a family and individuals, celebrating and exchanging our differences. I often discuss the topic of identity with my friend (who is also my neighbour, lucky me). She shared the book “Ghana must go” by Taiye Selasi with me. She was moved by the essay in the back of the book called “Afropolitan” or Bye Bye Babar and thought I may find it interesting as well. I did. It is such a refreshing concept. If you’re a TCK (Third Culture Kid), you too, may love it.
I love living next to this wonderful family! I enjoy visiting them, the kids love playing with each other and I love catching up over cups of tea and scanning their newspaper while I’m there. By the way, there is a fantastic baking section in the Guardian called ‘Ruby bakes’. We recently baked the following Blueberry Yogurt Cake together and it was a great success.
So, here’s to you my dear Londoners! I know that racist woman at the GP surgery (and the man who shops at Sainsbury’s) does not represent the majority of you! Whenever, I’m in central London, especially with my little princess, stranded at the top of a set of callous stairs with the buggy, I have always received a helping hand. I was once in London Bridge at the end of my nerves (I took the wrong exit), and there was no ramp. I stood helplessly with a sleeping baby in the buggy. An Englishman (rushing to work, mind you) actually stopped and helped me all the way down the stairs. It must have made him late for work and yet he kept telling me I should take my time. That day Mr. London, you were a hero. I’ve never forgotten your kindness and the kindness that all you Londoners and fellow foreigners have bestowed upon me, since I’ve been here. May God bless you lots. You’ve been good, you’ve been kind and for that you get a sticker and much love!!