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Stabroek News

Black Britain speaks - 'Dear Jamaica, wi homesick!'
published: Sunday | June 10, 2007

Robert Lalah, Assistant Editor-Features

On one side of a red-brick roadway, in a place called Lewisham on the south-east side of London, England, is a small, colourful food shop. A yellow and black sign above the front door says 'Honey's Caribbean Take Away Bakery'.

Inside, the walls are painted yellow and there is a 2007 Super Plus Supermarket calendar hanging from a nail behind the cash register. There are about five glass showcases in the shop. The two on the left are filled with Grace fruit juices and herbal concoctions with labels that claim that drinking the beverages will help enhance sexual potency.

All the other showcases are filled with plates full of food such as callalloo, fried chicken, fried plantains and boiled dumplings. There are several shelves on the walls and they are packed with bags of bread and bulla. There is a poster on the front window advertising an upcoming Third World and Bunny Wailer performance in London.

A chubby young woman, with skin the colour of caramel, wiped the countertops vigorously with a dishcloth. She was wearing a green apron and couldn't have been more than 25 years old.

Hominy porridge

A tall, dark-skinned man, wearing a grey business suit and black loafers, walked in. He said nothing at first, staring up at the menu on the wall with a blank look on his face. "Excuse me, what kind of porridge do you have?" he finally asked with a thick London accent.

"Hominy," the woman responded dryly without looking up.

"What kind?" said the man, looking confused.

"Mi seh hominy! What happen? You deaf?" the woman quipped.

"All right, sell mi one deh," the man replied, now with a deep rural Jamaican accent. He started to fiddle around in his pockets.

"Weh Marcia deh? A longtime mi fi check har you know, but true di work and ting mi nuh get fi do it. Tell har nuh mind, though. Mi will link har next week," he said. The woman behind the counter handed him his porridge, took some money from him and went back to wiping the counter.

The man walked out of the shop, sipping the porridge.

Just then, a short woman with chocolate skin entered through a back room that seemed to be the kitchen. She was carrying two plates. One was filled with cabbage and the other had boiled ackees. She put them into the showcase and then stood up and sighed. "Di ackee dem tek long fi boil you see man," she whispered.

Meet Marcia. She is 45 years old and is originally from Woodside, in St. Mary. She owns the restaurant and has been living in London for the past 10 years.

"It was a hard decision fi really leave Jamaica and come here. But times was tough and mi have mi two daughter fi think about. If is never fi dem, mi wouldn't did leave but you know how it go still," Marcia said while untying her apron and placing it on to the back of a chair.

"Mi come here in 1997 and it was really hard fi adjust at first. Everything did different, plus the cold! Lord Jesus, di cold! Mi never feel nothing like dat inna mi life and mi bawl whole night the first time it get really cold. Mi call mi madda at home and tell har dat mi nah go survive it. At first too, mi realise that because I am a Jamaican, some people try treat mi a way. Some people up here just don't like Jamaicans and dem nuh fraid fi tell you. Dem call you all kinda name and make you feel uncomfortable. But after a time, like anything, you get used to it and just ignore di bad-mind people dem," she said.

A tall, muscular man with dreadlocks walked into the shop, capturing Marcia's attention. He was wearing a neon green vest and heavy black boots. They were similar clothes to those being worn by some men doing road repairs just outside. "Hello Babylove," the man said with a deep voice. "Line mi up wid a chicken foot soup deh," he said and Marcia wentinto the back room. The man was staring intently at a piece of paper in his hand. "Is what dat you reading?" Marcia shouted from the kitchen.

"Is some tax-rebate business dem send come give me. Mi not even understand it," he said, making a sucking sound with his mouth. The man gave his name as Leroy and said he was from St. Ann's Bay, in Jamaica.

"Mi come live up here full time around two or three year now, still. Is just the money still, because di life out here is not like what it is back inna di bush deh. Mi used to do a likkle bit a farming and some selling inna Jamaica, but times did tough man. Is like all you a work you can't see anything. Mi did have two baby madda and three youth so mi get a likkle opportunity and mi just tek it. Mi really miss yard though. Mi miss di food and the hot sun, bwoy," Leroy said.

Miss home

Marcia walked out with the soup in a paper cup and handed it to Leroy. She joined in the conversation. "Dat is what people don't realise. Dem think that once you come here you just happy and everything is all right. Dem nuh know what it feel like fi miss home. Every day you wake up you feel like you inna smaddy else country. Even when you turn citizen, you don't feel right. You still feel out a place. When you at home inna Jamaica, you go anywhere and you know seh is your place dat and you comfortable," she said.

Leroy was nodding his head as he listened to Marcia speak.

"Right now, mi woulda love fi deh out a bush and gwaan do some work. When mi done now, me and di dawta go in go wrap up inna bed," his eyes drifted and it seemed like his mind had travelled far away.

"Life in England (is) very difficult, but you learn to adjust to it after a while. When you just come you frighten because you realise seh you haffi go change you life. But after a while, you get used to it and just fall in," Marcia said. "It nuh make sense fi really stress yourself because you done make the decision and thing, so you just work hard and make as much money as you can so that you can live comfortable," said she. "I see plenty Jamaican people every day because this is where they come for breakfast and lunch. Dem get di real Jamaican food right here," she added.

"Leroy spoke up again. "You haffi try find every bit a Jamaica that you can because you miss it so much. Mi haffi listen di music too. Mi have one likkle radio dat mi friend give mi and everywhere mi go, mi carry mi Alton Ellis and Dennis Brown! Heh! Heh!" Leroy chuckled.

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