London: A clash of cultures, tastes

IT’S Saturday afternoon again in North London, Ponders End, and I am still trapped in my flat. It is already past 1pm and it’s getting late for a date with my mates for the first 2013 Barclays Premier League match. But I can’t possibly leave now — the lady next door is still there.

Report by with Mthulisi Mathuthu

She and her many kids usually troop out around this time every Saturday, but today they, for some reason, are still here. I feel like bursting out of my flat and budging into her house to drive them away. Twice, I have been to my door to check if her car is still there and twice I have seen it there in her usual parking lot. Clearly, she is still there, even the TV is still on. I can hear the noise.

For the third time I angrily and aimlessly swing the door open. Lo and behold Stanley Sigauke, my other mate from across the street is right by my door. He has called my number more than 10 times, he says. Worried about me, he has driven down here to check if everything is alright with me. I am alright, I say, only that I have been too stressed and anxious to check my phone which is up there in my bedroom. But what could possibly be stressing me? Stanley wants to know. The lady next door, I say. I want to eat and she is still here. How can a woman next door be a hindrance to my eating? He wonders.

I want to boil goat tripe (amalusu) and I can’t do it when she is there. As my kitchen steam extraction system emits into the open outside between my and my neighbour’s front windows, the smell of my food is easily blown into her house. So, the last time I boiled the tripe I caused a storm throughout the neighbourhood. Infuriated with the smell, I tell Stanley, my next door neighbour — a lady of Bangladesh origin — called the police and reported that some African mad man next door needed help for he was cooking cow dung!

The smell was so pungent that even an air-freshener was of no use, she had said to the police. Worried, the police responded and knocked on my door. On opening they asked if I was alright and I said yes I was. Why then, they asked, was I was cooking cow dung? By this time, and much to my embarrassment, just about everybody in the entire neighbourhood — alerted by the Bangladesh lady — was already out craning their necks to see this mad man who eats cow dung. The kids, amused as they were perplexed, giggled as they looked at me as though to examine if I was not an animal.

Hahahaha! goes Stanley collapsing with a bellyful of laughter. If it is the goat tripe I want, could we go to some place — an African sports bar in Seven Sisters where they serve well-prepared stuff, he suggests. Really! Both of us ready and still laughing, set off. As we drive out skirting right round Ponders End, Edmonton Green and Tottenham, right up to Seven Sisters, Stanley hasn’t gotten over the cow dung story.

The Ogogoro — for that’s what the sports pub is called — is sizzling. Not only is Stanley known here, but he is also very popular, for as an electrician, they rely on him for their electrical needs. The owner, a large Ghanaian man helped by his young wife and sons, serves all kinds of African food and herbal drinks, including the ogogoro from which the pub takes its name. A popular West African alcoholic drink, ogogoro also known as akpeteshie in Ghana, is of both cultural and economic significance used in many religious and social ceremonies like the Burutu and weddings. Finally, we are served with a bowl full of pepper soup and another one of amalusu. I cannot hide my excitement and Stanley’s friends can see it. As we eat, he has them in stiches with the story of the cow dung. In no time the story of a Zimbabwean man who eats cow dung does rounds within the Ogogoro much to everybody’s amusement. Even snooker players stop to share in the amusement. Commiserating with me and much to my comfort, one fellow insists that my case is not isolated.

In 1999 in Croydon, he had a more or less similar experience, he says. Thereafter, we hear story after another — tales that define London — a hotchpotch of cultures. There is one tale which has me in both laughter and disgust.

One day as a student at Southampton University, some chap tells us, he had a shock of his lifetime. It was in a house he was sharing with a mix of other students from Asia and Africa.

On entering the kitchen after taking a bath upstairs, he found an Indian housemate squatting over her bucket washing her back passage after using the ground floor toilet.

For your information, some Asians hardly use tissue to wipe their back passage after using the toilet. Undeterred and on completing her performance, the lady stood up, pulled her pants back, discarded her used water through the kitchen sink, washed her hands and carried her bucket away.

This is London which brings together people of varying backgrounds, varying faiths and characters.

On its day, it can be so busy so as to resemble many African and Asian flea markets put together. Take for example this street, West Green Road, along which my new-found pub is situated, there are all kinds of people, activities and movements. One can see people are doing something, but one cannot tell what they are doing exactly. Here some chap is carrying some small bag and is clearly busy at work, but as to what they are doing nobody knows. Up there the same goes on. Only those who live here know what is going on.

Meanwhile, the Ogogoro is getting busier. To the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, we wash down our lunch waiting for the match. Right here in Seven Sisters, the home of the Yid Army, as they call Tottenham Hotspur FC.

 Mthulisi Mathuthu is a London-based Filabusi-born journalist and researcher. His recreations include jazz, books and travelling

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