Memories, nostalgia and acculturation in Marricke’s Afro-London Wahala: Chronicles of an African Londoner
Marricke Kofi Gane. 2017. Afro-London Wahala: Chronicles of an African Londoner. Published by Marrickegane Publishing.
Settling in a foreign land is often not pleasant at first. However, migrants adapt to new realities, including new norms, values, and foods, while, at the same time, feeling nostalgia for their home. These individuals often indulge in the consumption of artefacts (food, media, novels, clothes, etc.) from their homeland in response to that nostalgia. Marricke Kofi Gane is a Ghanaian author and politician. He was born in Keta, Volta Region, in Ghana. He completed his elementary and high school education in Ghana before moving to the University of Greenwich, London in 2001 to further his education. His book, Afro-London Wahala: Chronicles of an African Londoner (published by Marrickegane Publishing in 2017) captures how African migrants experience both nostalgia and acculturation in a foreign land.
He found it very difficult to adapt to his new environment, particularly because of nostalgia. He was continually overwhelmed by fond memories of home, which often made him yearn to return, but also made him determined to survive in his host community. The decision to adapt and adopt new ways of being helped him in London. Marricke’s story in Afro-London Wahala depicts the travails of many African migrants who just moved to the West. They are in a constant struggle, torn between their homeland and their host communities. This struggle arises both as a result of the memories of their homeland and because of the challenges they face in the host communities. Marricke wrote, ‘Here is to our recollection of the light-hearted hustle, the disorientations, the culture shocks and everything else that made our migrant experiences worth remembering, worth sharing.’
Survival, the basis for acculturation
Regardless of the environment they find themselves in, migrants want to live and sustain their livelihoods. However, nostalgia frequently gets in the way of many migrants. Nostalgia is not only an outcome of migration and the related pains of integrating into a frequently hostile, resisting culture, but also plays a major role in the way immigrants adapt to the host culture. Hence, many migrants who travel with their culture to a foreign land often adapt to the new culture to help them settle down. For instance, Marricke had brought salted dried tilapia fish with him from Ghana when he left for London, as a means to remember Ghanaian dishes in London. However, he became used to British meals and entirely stopped taking Ghanaian food, because of an embarrassing moment at Heathrow Airport when he first arrived in the UK. He wrote:
‘I had picked up my luggage and was trying to read the directions I had been given… As for the first words the huge redhead policeman spoke, not even a medical procedure could erase that from my memory. “Sir! Do you mind stepping over here with your luggage for a minute? Our dog here may have picked up a scent from your luggage and we need to check your bags”... I pulled out a black polythene bag that had been duct-taped several times over. With barely disguised looks of disgust they prodded the package in my hands, asking ‘What is that?’ ‘It is dry and salted tilapia fish sir.’ Of course they made me unwrap it. The stench overwhelmed us and as if remotely choreographed, all the officers stepped back… ‘Serves you right’, I said to myself. ‘What the bloody heck is that’ one of the officers spluttered, still holding his nose.’
From the reaction of the policemen, he realised that he would have to change the way he ate in order to survive in London.
He adjusted to several things, including the cultural staples of the British. These included food, weather, courtesy, as well as societal norms, values and expectations. From this first encounter, Marricke started experiencing acculturation. He narrated:
‘As I went into the arrival terminal, I remembered what my friend Amu advised when he last spoke to me at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport – “it’s easy to feel out of place at first but just watch everybody else and do what they do” and that’s exactly what I did all the way through immigration. I observed what others were doing and followed suit’.
According to Marricke, adapting to the new environment was the beginning of his survival in the United Kingdom. Acculturation is a process of social, psychological, and cultural change that stems from balancing two cultures while adapting to the prevailing culture of the society of residence. It is a process through which an individual adjusts to a new cultural environment and adopts its practices and values.
Memory, a tether of human existence
Memory is at the core of human sensibility, and a necessary condition of a person’s identity. Memory is what tethers the identity of the exile to the homeland. Marricke depicts identity in the novel through memory: his remembrance of childhood and homeland helped him to better understand his identity in a foreign land. Marricke’s memory was reignited when he was on a bus with an African lady who had salted dried tilapia. He narrated:
‘… the stench from the semi-dried salted fish was getting to them, wafted through the bus by a persistent dawn breeze, the staunched was very pronounced. I knew I wasn’t guilty – so it must be my pretty black sister. You made it too, sister! I smiled to myself – I was in your shoes some years back’.
The smell reminded Marricke of his own arrival in London and of his homeland. He felt a connection with the lady’s experience that reaffirmed his identity. This also revealed how much he had changed since his encounter at the airport some years back: he now felt like he had moved past ‘being new’.
Marricke’s meeting with Ade, a fellow African, offered an explicit lesson about home and identity. Ade, who was fifty-seven, had lost hope of returning to Africa because he had not been in contact with his family and friends at home after his parents died in a motor accident. Ade warned Marricke not to forget his home, because if he did, he may not have anyone to go back to. Marricke realized that he had to seek a balance between his Ghanaian identity and his desire to survive in the UK, between nostalgia and acculturation, but he was never able to find it. Hence, he decided to return to Ghana to contest the presidential election.
This is the central tension of the book: how much should a migrant have to change in order to survive? How much can one really change? In the midst of all these processes, migrants evoke memories from home and create others in their new environment. As Marricke foresees in his Afro-London Wahala: Chronicles of an African Londoner, ‘… these experiences will continue to garnish the memories of everyone who travelled this road – past, present and future’.
Oluwasegun Ajetunmobi is a graduate student of Diaspora and Transnational Studies of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a Research Fellow at the Institute of French Research in Africa. His works transcend Labour Migration, Traditional African Medicine, Memory, Border and Border crossing in Africa. He previously held a Writing Fellowship at African Liberty, an Agora Fellowship at Young Voices and tweets via @segzyaj.