From The City To The Suburbs: ‘Where’s The Plantain?’

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Moving is hard for anyone, but going from the city to the suburbs is tough. Grace reflects on her family’s move years ago and how it changed their lives.

The conversation where my parents explained we’d be moving from the city to suburbs wasn’t a pleasant one. I was only seven, but I distinctly remember going to the bathroom to wipe my snotty nose and face. My sister, ten years old and about to enter her last year in primary school, didn’t want to go. She led the resistance, but ultimately it failed.

We missed people – ethnic minorities and otherwise – who had an understanding of different cultures and traditions without need for explanation.

Apart from one Ghanaian girl at our school, (if you’re reading this, hi) we were the only people who looked and sounded like us. This meant every comfort we were used to was now non-existent.

City life meant being able to go to the local shop and buy African food.  Our new suburban landscape didn’t have a plantain in sight. It was so unfriendly that my mum would have to make her hairstyles last longer because if the long car journey was necessary, having meat in the freezer was more important than hair. We missed people – ethnic minorities and otherwise – who had an understanding of different cultures and traditions without need for explanation. Somewhere that didn’t have eager hands reaching into our braids. Looking back, I realise our longing wasn’t specific – it could have been a city anywhere. We just wanted be in anywhere that could give us comfort when we needed it the most.

The suburbs did as much as the suburbs could. Most people – aside from the few micro-aggressors and racists – were kind to us. In all honesty, the lack of similar faces wasn’t the main problem. The lack of anything was. Our cousins called it ‘the desert’. The school we joined was nearing closure because there weren’t enough kids. What’s now a thriving garden village of townhouses, health clubs and an extensive business park was the ghostly expanse of a former airfield. Family and friends didn’t understand why we left. ‘[They] made fun of me’, my mum explains. ‘They felt that it was too remote. That I shouldn’t have moved there.’ And yet my parents moved for reasons anyone would have: us.

Their choice to leave a place of security to make way for our future opportunities was a brave move.

Moving meant space to run around, having our own house, escaping the neighbours who were harassing us (not even cities are perfect folks), and good schools; especially good schools. It’s every immigrant parent’s dream that their kids have a better life than they did, which is why they’re all so insistent that we ‘focus on our books’. The academic first-generation Brit is very much a real stereotype. You can do anything in this world, but don’t get in the way of our education. Unfortunately, the tendency for our non-academic dreams to be smothered by the love of our over-zealous immigrant parents is even more real, but if I can get through it, anyone can. In any case, their choice to leave a place of security to make way for our future opportunities was a brave move. And although it was a hard time, what we didn’t know is that they were ahead of the game.

Fifteen years later, the town affectionately known as ‘the desert’ is kind of a big deal. As city life spits people out with the extortionate cost of living, families, students and people from overseas find themselves in our town. Most of them are just like the people who laughed at my parents. Some of them literally are the people who laughed at my parents. The official numbers confirm it, but the landscape gives it away much quicker. Hair shops, restaurants, mini markets, ethnic minority food stores, the surprisingly good line-ups at the only club in town; it has become exactly what we wanted all those years ago. I’m only a little reluctant to admit it, but it’s why I’m who I wanted to be all those years ago too.

Have you had a life changing move, or perhaps  lived in the same area for your whole life? Share your story and tweet us – @rifemag

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