The identity conundrum
Every time I travel, I am always caught in the other person’s dilemma of cultural identity and their expectations based on assumption or stereotype.
Telling them who I am usually does not align with who they expect me to be, some might express polite surprise whilst others will indignantly expect me to fit into some preconceived pigeonhole to satisfy their inability to understand the concept of third culture kids.
The number of times I have had to argue the idea of where I am originally from on this trip to South Africa has tested my patience, much as I tried to offer an educational context to the matter of cultural identity.
All that I am
I am an Englishman, born of Nigerian parents in England, for what is essentially my outlook to life based of cultural influences of affiliation and residence, I am generally European with a strong Nigerian heritage I cannot repudiate, neither do I intend to repudiate all the cultural inputs that make up who I am.
Yet, I know that for all the time I did live in Nigeria, I was treated as an outsider, given much liberty to either ignore or be excused from traditions those originally Nigerian were expected to observe and adhere to. That does not mean I have not been in the deep recesses of certain ritualistic activities that are impossible to narrate to any logical mind.
Then, I am expected to be married with children, it appears to be the norm, yet, I don’t do norms, I have rarely ever done norms and so to the question of family, I always respond, I have a large family of one.
The gleam and shine
So, when on Friday, I passed through the domestic terminal of the O. R. Tambo International Airport and after the security checks I was accosted by a number of good-looking young men in black waistcoats, I soon realised they were offering to shine my shoes for 30 Rand.
I was persuaded to take up the offer and I sat on one of the high chairs to have my shoes, cleaned, buffed and shined. After the application of the polishing wax, I noticed the shining process also involved dipping the buffing cloth in water to bring out the shine, bringing out a gleam that lasted days after the job.
I soon learnt they were all on commission, hired by some gang master who probably creamed off their tips too, the young man who shined my shoes had studied electrical engineering.
Such amazing craftsmanship
He could not stop commenting on the quality of the workmanship of my shoes, and I could say, he had seen a good few shoes. I proudly told him they were made in England, I bought them online from Samuel Windsor whose workmanship in shoes, suits, shorts, ties and trousers, I cannot fault. They are only let down by the courier agents they use for delivering the orders.
In the end, so a good job was done that it was easy to part with multiples of the cost of shining my shoes in gratitude and pride.
It was one of those mornings where you just felt so proud to be an Englishman with the realisation that some elements of exquisite craftsmanship have not be lost to our isles.