Monday, 27 April 2009


On a traffic free journey from Opebi to Maryland, it’s easy to loose count of the roadside beggars as their heads plunge relentlessly through your car window. Being a typical Lagosian accompanied with my invisible placard that screams “Hustle is my trade” I can’t even describe how easy it is to become increasingly desensitised from the world in front of you. Simultaneously, life as a Londoner is not very much of a departure. I can recount how many times my friends and I have dismissed most homeless people to being mere “piss heads” and “scag heads” alike.(alcoholics and heroine addicts).

This Christmas I decided to volunteer at a Crisis center where they care for homeless people during the holiday season. My first job was to work the floor otherwise known as speaking with the guests. It wasn’t an easy task. Some were still quite high, some withdrawn and some just didn’t want to talk. But then I met Robert. He was 60 years old, decked up in his Ecko hoodie and Arab scarf. Robert was an alcoholic and had been coming to the crisis center for over 10years. He had two children Maria and Benjamin from his previous marriages. He hadn’t seen them in a very long time. Actually he didn’t know where they were .He told me he was a Mod(Modernist) back in the day and took part in the Brighton riots between the Mods and Rockers. He still had his purple vesper but most of all he was in love with Bob Marley’s music.

Then there was Drummer. He had curly hair and olive skin. He asked me where I was from and I said I was Nigerian. Then he spoke to me in Yoruba “Do you understand Yoruba” I replied yes. We started conversing in both our adopted tongues from then on. (he is Itsekiri and im Ibibio) He then proceeded to ask me with a lot of sarcasm in his tone “Are you doing work experience because Nigerians don’t usually do this type of things”. I told him it wasn’t work experience and it was something I wanted to do. He eventually started praying for me and thanked me for all my help. Drummer had the demeanor of an “Alaye boy”, he was cheeky, funny and everyone in the center knew who he was. He showed me his prized possession. She was a recorder called Philomena. During my shifts I got to know more about Drummer. He lived in Surulere and studied Art and Design at Yaba Tech. He looked like he was almost forty. He came to Britain in the 1983 on a six months visa and now he was sleeping in a car park in Shepards Bush. He told me his mother and siblings lived in Hays and they had severed ties with him due to his debilitating alcohol problem.
I met Karl an Italian bloke who once used to be a lawyer. There were people who used to be bankers and had lost everything due to the credit crunch. They only had enough money to cover their mortgages for about four months and they were on the streets afterwards. There were kids who were transitioning from foster care to adult hood. There were too old to be in foster care but were not able to care for themselves either. There were a lot of Polish men and women who came to Britain when the labour market was on the rise. The recession had caused a rapid decline in their field of work, and now they were left with nowhere to go
At the center offered them a hot bath, a haircut and a hot meal with lots of tea and coffee. There was even a voluntary masseuse on deck. Most importantly we kept them company over the holidays. At the end of the night we found some guests spaces in rough sleepers centers but others had to go back to the street. The interesting thing was that they were all immensely grateful and some made cards and thanked the volunteers individually.
I cried after every shift. I cried when Drummer played amazing grace on with Philomena (his recorder) and I cried when a skinhead, tattoo clad guest came over gushing thanks and praise to me and a couple of other volunteers. Most of all I cried because I realised I still had a long way in mastering this art they call humanity.

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