Kirese Narinesingh discusses the process of adopting London as a surrogate home.
If you have come from a small island, as I have, nothing could have prepared you for the shock of arriving in London for the first time.
Inevitably there are similarities because Trinidad and Tobago, my home country, was previously a British colony. We speak the same language, although our variety of English is significantly different, with its own grammatical structure and expressions that puzzle any outsider. We share the same love of the frustratingly addictive game of cricket, which unites our nations on a cultural level. However, our similarities are few and obscure: I thank God for the fact that we both drive on the left side of the road, or else I would have already been knocked down whilst walking the streets of London in wary awe.
The fascination that struck me upon my arrival in this strange land has not yet given up its hold on me. The brick buildings, stretching as far as the eye can see, surround me like a dome, blocking the view of the sky. At first, this sensation of being smothered overwhelmed me, due to the contrast with the breezy open air, vast landscapes and orange-gold sunsets of my home. It is easy to succumb to nostalgia and the uneasy feeling of homesickness when you travel amidst a crowd of strangers. In the busy streets of London, I realise my own solitude.
Yet as the days pass, and despite the increasingly cold weather, I find myself outside, exploring, visiting museums, and meeting new people from across the globe: Nigeria, Singapore, France, India, Belize and Mexico, to name a few. I have come to realise that they are just as claustrophobic and nostalgic as I am. We learn from one another, developing mutual understanding and respect for where we each come from. My roommate and I even speak in French from time to time, despite my frequent mistakes.
Everything is different, yet we are all the same. We (and I speak for all international students) are all struggling to adjust to the foreign climate, culture, and even cuisine. I might argue, (due to my own bias), that we West Indians find it particularly hard to adapt to the food, which is so unlike the spicy melting pot of delicacies served at home. I miss the singsong sound of the Trinidadian accent, and the English creole dialect, distinctive for its warm and friendly manner, (unless you’re being cussed, of course).
Yet, we will persevere, blend in and adapt, whilst retaining our origins, our memories, and our own cultures. London welcomes us, unfriendly as it may first appear, as a surrogate home: but, it will never be our homeland. The Barbadian poet, Edward Kamau Braithwaite, reminds us of this: “We who are born of the ocean can never seek solace in rivers”. But we will persevere, because we have come with a purpose, and we will integrate, nonetheless, keeping our identities, and blending the old with the new.
I carry with me my last memory of Trinidad, of the mist seeping in and floating above the trees on the mountains, as the plane takes off into the unknown. Concurrently, I carry my first memory of England: a cold sunrise seen for the first time from the sky, and a descent into the rugged, green fields of a familiar yet inherently distinct world.