The Diary Of A Freshman in the UK, by Morak Babajide-Alabi
Blog, Newspaper Column

The Diary Of A Freshman in the UK

by Morak Babajide-Alabi

A continuation of the series published on May 19, 2019, titled: With Love From Homeland To A New Home.

The aircraft taxied to a stop at the well-lit Kotoka International Airport. The brightness of the light in this airport was a contrast to what I experienced at the Lagos International Airport. I was almost blinded by the intensity of the lights and it was with a strong restraint that I did not bring out my dark coloured sun shade.  The officials at the airport were very efficient and courteous as they checked our travelling papers and boarding passes.

As the aircraft lifted into the air, I looked out of the window and watched the city slowly disappeared. The skyscrapers, the tall buildings retreated as I wondered what was going on inside these buildings at that particular time. I imagined myself with mystical powers and could penetrate through the roofs and see the atrocities, hates, loves and unspeakable things people do behind closed doors. Sometimes, we need to get a good grip of our minds to prevent them from running wild.

Apparently, because of the bad experience of travelling through an international airport that was in total darkness, I indulged myself in the luxury of mind roaming and wondering.  There is no harm in playing god, I thought as I positioned my head on the window and stared down. The good people and the baddies of this world were all hidden under these roofs. Down there, I said to myself, someone was being murdered, another was possibly raped, and a husband beat a wife, while a married man was getting down with his neighbour’s wife. Some people  were turning and tossing in bed without any sleep in sight. Not for anything but being troubled for the atrocities they had committed in the daytime. Some African leaders were scheming how to steal from the commonwealth.

As we gained altitude I became religious, and imagined God in his position above the earth, watching all of us doing our “things”. I pictured him as He sits above the clouds and watching the happenings below including the thoughts of our minds. My heart skipped a beat as cold sweat ran down my spine.  Despite the awareness that nothing is hidden from God, we still indulge in secretive things thinking we are smart. God is indeed patient.

Various thoughts ran riots in my mind without restraints and I couldn’t advance any reason for this. Could it be the high altitude that messed with my mind?  Could it be the excitement of the final destination? Or could it had been the uncertainty in the certainty of a journey that was meant to change my life? Whatever it was, at that point in my journey I cared less. I didn’t take my eyes off the dark space below where the earlier bubbling city had disappeared into a dark void. The shining lights had retreated and, where available, were like candle lights flicking at the mercy of the wind. Is this how we are at the hand of our maker?

It was dark. Very dark, just like the minds of some African leaders. And why is the colour black associated with bad things? Oh, slow down, I said to myself. I had to get my mind back to the present. I looked away from the window and looked around the cabin. I realised everyone was deep in their thoughts. Some of them were on a mind trip as I was, while I asked myself, maybe some of these were silently praying for God’s forgiveness (for whatever reason). As I settled back in my seat, I couldn’t but notice that my seat partner had become a bit restless. He had something else on his mind. He looked at me, smiled and said in a deep Nigerian accent “when are they going to start serving food?”

I suppressed the smile that welled up inside of me as I looked into the window again. I thought to myself, “food, sex, wine are some of the problems of this world.” I sank deeper into my seat, drew the window blind and drifted into sleep. I had a dream. It was of me flying in the sky. Funny? Not long after, I was nudged back to life by my hungry “neighbour”. I opened my eyes slowly and he was smiling at me while pointing to the tray the air hostess held to me.

I managed a nice sleep after the meal and downing three mini-bottles of red wine. I had been advised to drink as much red wine as I could grab to relieve me of any nasty air sickness. By the time the plane landed in Zurich, I was bursting for a toilet. As a “freshman”, I couldn’t manage a “number two” in the “tiny” toilet of the plane, so I suppressed it till I got off.

The journey from Zurich to London was very uneventful. It was a smaller aircraft. The passengers were less jovial. They had hidden their faces behind broadsheets of newspapers, and by all means, avoided eye contact.

The touch down at Heathrow Airport, London was smooth and within minutes I was out. (Read – With Love From Homeland To A New Home). I had to find my way to the Holiday Inn Express at Dockland where my wife had stayed the night for onward journey to the destination – Edinburgh city. This freshman did not arrange for any pick up from the airport, I had thought I would be able to make my way; thinking if I could master the act of jumping on molues (rickety buses used for transportation in Lagos) I would survive anywhere.

I walked to a forex shop and changed my dollars to pound sterling. I moved in circles, “studied” the various transport signs but I could not make any meaning of them. How do I get on the famed underground tube? I was lost.  Sensing my confusion, a few African brothers walked up to me to ask if I needed transport. I dismissed them out of pride, and shock. At this point, I located a pay phone and spoke with a friend who advised that I should walk towards the car park and I might be lucky to get a “kabu kabu” (a Nigerian word for cheap unregistered taxis coined from “cab” but pronounced twice). He reckoned the underground tube would be too tough for me to navigate as a “freshman”.

As I walked towards the car park, I ran into one of the guys who had solicited my business earlier on. There was no telling him I was lost. He introduced himself as Kojo, a “Ghanaian-British”, he said, for reassurance.  I was very impressed with his polished London accent, and at that moment, I allowed a thought of how long would it take a freshman like me to “acquire” same. Not that my Nigerian accent is that deep beyond comprehension. We agreed on a “reasonable” price which I later got to know was more or the same as getting on a black London cab. The life of a freshman in the city of London.

To compensate for the high price, he took me on a freshman (tourist) tour of central London. We travelled through Westminster to Trafalgar Square and many other historic places all in a bid to justify his high price. Kojo was a very chatty man in his late thirties. He told me he emigrated from Ghana to the UK in 1994 after his first degree in Accountancy from a university in Ghana. His trip was facilitated by his sister who had married a white man and got her citizenship within a “reasonable time”.

He had resorted to operating “kabu kabu” when he started struggling to make ends meet after getting on the property ladder. He warned me to be wary of the good things the country presents as some of them are traps and if care is not taken could lead individuals on the path of destruction. No doubt, Kojo had experienced the rough side of the country.

I waved Kojo bye and got reunited with my wife and children. And together we started our journey into the hinterland of the UK. A family friend, Tope, dropped us off at Kings Cross for a train ride to Edinburgh. This is the final lap of a journey that started thousands of miles away, with just me the freshman. It is now a team.

Read how we managed and the people we met along the way next week.

As written for the Diaspora Matters column of the Sunday Vanguard, June 2, 2019.






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