By Thiyam Ningol, Dr. Nalini, Africa
Philip Rweyemamu was 23 yrs old when he went to London to study international law. He hailed from a chiefdom in a remote village. He came to London with high hopes, future dreams and challenge of becoming a famous, rich lawyer, even a judge one day.
He excelled in his studies. He completed his first degree with flying colors. He managed to get his scholarship extended for masters’ degree.
While he was pursuing his master’s degree, he befriended a Caucasian girl. Before he completed his course, they got a son. He explained to his girl friend, Megan that his son had to have a name, a family name. According to his tradition, he should have the father’s name. Megan was not ready for any commitment. But Philip was serious. After a long tussle, Megan accepted the idea but settled for the name Philip, not Rweyemamu- Andrew Philip.
The first few months went smoothly. Philip was not introduced publicly to his in laws, but he was accepted as the father of Andrew. He was his first child and that too a son. Philip could not agree to stay without legitimizing his son. He proposed Megan to marry him. He was waiting for a positive answer from her.
But to his dismay, Megan and Philip were sent away to America by her parents with the pretext that she got a better paying job. No forwarding address given. Megan called him twice or thrice from a paying booth. Later Philip was compelled to agree with the irony of life- a desperate father longing for the bastard son; out of sight, out of mind.
After the completion of his master’s degree course, Philip managed to get a job, a 2 years contract.
He did excellent in his job. The law farm that hired him dealt with illegal immigrants. His contract was extended for 5 more years again.
It was over 10 years now he was in the United Kingdom. He slowly got adapted to the life style of London; busy from early morning till late evening, sometimes up to late night. The days he came home early, he felt home sick,; nobody to talk to. He often remembered his childhood days:
-early mornings he and his cousin brothers took out their family’s herds of animals, cows and goats to the field for grazing; after securely tying them with the long ropes for them to be able to access a wider grazing area, they hurriedly come home to prepare themselves to go to the school, never walking at a comfortable pace but running, running like sprinters, competing among themselves who would reach first to the school gate. No school bags. All the small note books and text books and pencil were tightly held with bare hands. Most of them did not have belts to tighten their oversized shorts. While running, trying to reach the school first, somebody or the other would drop the books or the pencil; even somebody’s shorts itself dropping down up to the ankle; followed by laughter from the others- such sweet, hearty, amusing laughters. In the evenings before twilight, they used to go again to collect back the herds of animals. While coming back, they brought along twigs or logs of wood to burn while listening to the elders of their clan about the famous folk tales and stories of the heroic deeds of their ancestors; un- recorded but memorized, accurate to the comas and dots of the words passed on verbally from generations to generations. The memories made him feel good and sad at the same time.
The days were gone. The freedom yet togetherness of the loving ones, the discipline and respect naturally acquired by watching the elders, the love shared, the hatred nullified by the rules laid down by the elders- all seemed to be so valuable at that time.
Sometimes he wondered whether he was gaining anything by staying in London.
As he had been dealing with the immigrants, he was quite acquainted with all the loopholes of acquiring immigrant status. Sometimes thoughts of inviting his parents had crossed his mind but looking back, he did not have much to offer. So he decided to postpone till he himself got settled.
Philip got his British citizenship when he was 40 yrs old-17 yrs after staying in London. All those years he had never even visited his relatives. No doubt he remembered them frequently but he was carried away with all his personal problems. On top of that, he felt uncomfortable to tell people about his relationship with Megan and the fact that they had ran away from him made him feel not manly enough, not acceptable in the society where he grew up. He still had a slim hope that one day they might come back to unite with him.
As he was not regular letter writer to his relatives and friends, they had stopped writing also to him. He did not even remember how many cousins he left behind. If everybody was alive and well, by now the whole street must have been filled with his clan only. But he had not completely lost hope, he was sure one day he would go to visit all of them.
He remembered when he was very small the British offered his parents British citizenship for something which they did during the colonial days. Somehow it did not materialize and was all forgotten.
He wanted to revive it again, if they were still willing to come and stay with him, he would love to have them with him.
It was not easy. Many formalities. While he was trying for the paper work of his parents, he acquainted with a Jamaican lady, Lucy. She was a single parent of a10 years old boy. In the beginning, he did not have any intention of having a relationship. But after meeting with the boy, his memories of Andrew came back. Unknowingly, he had established a close relationship with David, Lucy’s son. He proposed her. Seeing the closeness between Philip and David, without any hesitation, Lucy agreed to the proposal.
They had a quite, civil marriage. Instead of staying in two small, separate apartments, they opted for a bigger single apartment. After exactly one year, they got a baby girl. Philip named her Tausi, after his grand mother.
At that time, the application for his parents’ immigration approved. They were coming to join him. It was too late to tell them that things had changed. His father had disposed off most of their properties. The immovable properties had been allocated to his brothers’ names. They thought they would not need them anymore.
Two years after their arrival, things started moving in the direction, which Philip did not anticipate. Lucy started complaining; only two people cannot feed 6 mouths. Her parents were also old but self-dependant; why should his parents be parasite on them. Philip tried to explain the difference:- her parents came to UK while they were young, they got adapted easily and they had old age benefits from the social security system. Lucy did not like to understand.
David was growing up also-a teenage boy. His demands were increasing as well. On top of all these, he was having intolerable teenage tantrums. When Philips’s parents tried to discipline him the way people do back at home, in their society, David reacted ill mannerly, insulted the elderly people.
-If you love and respect your culture, your customs so much why did you come to Britain, to be a nuisance to our family? Either you go out or we go out, but we can’t stay together.
Things were getting from bad to worst. Some days, David would not come back home and Lucy blamed Phillip for that. One time he was arrested for having joy ride with a stolen car.
During those few years, his father had brushed up his English. He understood the mistakes he and his wife made by coming to stay with their son. But they couldn’t go back home. Nothing was left for them and their age would not be favorable to start a new life.
They had to leave behind the pride and prejudice. Silently without letting Phillip know, he started looking for job. He was in his early 70’s but he could still do moderate physical activities. He met some east African immigrants; one of them owned a pub in the nearby area. He approached him and luckily he was hired as a helper to do cleaning job. He was warned that it might be a bit tedious as the pubs close late especially on weekends. He was more than happy to do anything.
When the arrangement of the job was confirmed, he disclosed it to his son. Phillip was not delighted with the news. Again, he felt a failure and irresponsible. But he was helpless; he too had to swallow the pride.
Philip’s mother was a taken for granted, unpaid baby sitter. She did the entire domestic, household duties too. But not really appreciated. She was still regarded as an extra mouth to be fed.
Despite all the efforts, there was no peace in the house. David had done another mischief. He was one among the group of youngsters rounded up by the police for smoking marijuana. In the court Phillip was accused as the irresponsible stepfather. Lucy had given him an ultimatum to decide whether to stay with her or with his parents. Phillip opted for the later.
They moved out to a smaller flat. They were independent but Phillip had to work harder, longer hours to earn more money.
He could not tolerate to see his father walking long distances at nights of chilling winter. He requested him to stop working. But the old man would not listen. He was adamant.
One February night, while returning home, he was run over by a drunken driver. He died at the spot.
When the news was broken to them, his mother collapsed with shock.
Phillip buried his parents, his sorrows, and his frustrations. He remembered his father’s advice:
-Dear son, when me and your mother are gone, do not hesitate to go back home, to our motherland where you belong. Start a new life there, which we could not do. You still have a future waiting for you.
After 35 years of staying abroad, Phillip finally decided to come back home.
He found dramatic changes in the attitude of people, especially among the younger generation. The innocent behavior had been masked by the artificial, showy nature, the borrowed nature. He felt like a stranger among his own people. But his elders warmly welcomed him. The warm feeling of belonging inspired him to give himself a chance. His long standing fear that he would be isolated, laughed at by the friends and relatives who had managed to progress was disappearing. Slowly his long lost identity was coming back. He started enjoying the company of elders. He learnt more about the changes that took place in his absence. He was ready to move on.
He contacted few friends. Some were retired civil servants. They all agreed that the younger generation did not know their country, their ancestral history, their rich culture. They need to be told.
Phillip founded a club in a locality where mostly retirees reside. Most of the members of the club had in their life worked as responsible, government civil servants. In order to reach the stage where they were, almost everybody had to cross hurdles of life time. Each one’s story was unique, unknown to the others yet the similarity of the strong influence of culture and tradition was vivid. He had to find a way to entertain themselves; keep occupied and at the same time to reach the younger generation, to narrow the generation gap.
He had a visitor from London, an old colleague who was in the country on an official visit. Phillip invited him to his club. His visitor was thrilled with the stories he heard on that single day.
After few weeks, he received a letter from that visitor requesting him to allow his son to come and visit the club. The young scholar was looking for materials for his study on African Socialism.
The scholar came, listened to the stories and gone.
Soon he started receiving more letters from different students requesting for the same. A new idea struck in Philip’s mind.
He invited local students from the university to be there along with the foreign scholars. All of them learnt more than they had read. Slowly, the club started flourishing. All the club members became equally enthusiastic. They shared the responsibility of looking for the gifted persons from the village to come and tell them about the legends and traditions of different tribes and societies. The retirees became lively and active again.
Soon, it became necessary to open internet facility for better and reliable communications. Phillip opened a web site “African legends”. He updated the website daily with the new story of the day. He learnt later the web site had become very popular in Europe and America. He started receiving endless mails, some informing about the publications of articles, some receiving PhD through his club’s information and efforts.
He included one chapter in his website: any person who’s either parent is an east African origin and /or any east African who happens to have been separated from their children in abroad under unavoidable circumstances can get help in tracing their loved ones through their club. He included a personal request to all the African legend readers to help him get through Andrew Philip, supposedly in USA or UK.
Indeed, the article did wonders. Within a year’s time, a couple of young people from different corners of the world had visited them and succeeded in uniting with their lost relatives. Phillip hoped one day it would be his turn to see Andrew in his club.
Four years passed no sign of Andrew. Philip had not lost hope yet but his obsession had become lesser and lesser. His busy schedule made it possible to drift away from the obsession as well.
One December evening, just one week exactly before Christmas, Philip was trying to edit the update of his web site. Someone opened his door without knocking. He looked at the door and noticed a young, slim, figure with two traveling bags in each hand, slowly appeared at the doorstep. Phillip was by then used to see such, young, mixed appearing people standing at his doorstep. But this particular young man walked in like a dream walker, no hello, no Hi, just walking. Phillip stood up with a strange feeling. The young man dropped his bags, stretched out his hands and embraced Phillip, holding him tighter and tighter. When their bodies came closer to each other, Phillip felt his heart beating inside the chest of the young man, his blood flowing in the cheeks of the young man. They did not even look at each other. Each had forgotten any language to greet; no words to express but remained tightly embracing each other. Their silence had spoken everything. Tears rolled down wetting the back of their shirts.
Slowly, the broken, muttering, whispering sounds came out “ I am so proud of you, Dad”.
Philip was rewarded with the most precious Christmas gift-his long lost son. The father and son from two extreme generations shared one common feeling-feeling of belonging.
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