Earlier in the year I left the cosy comfort and familiarity of a world and culture I understood to reach out for something higher. As a creative, it does not take the wave of a wand for one to know that the West is where it all happens; that the West is the world’s capital of most things creative. It is home to the best institutions, the funds, the patrons, and largely the consumers. Owing to this, politics and bias aside, it is only natural for a voice that wishes to be heard to gravitate towards there.
So, in February of this year, under the auspices of the James Currey Society, I accepted an invitation to Oxford University, under the African Studies Department, from the founder of the society, Dr Onyeka Nwelue, to participate in a literary writing workshop and residency. It was four weeks of learning, re-learning, and the exchanging of ideas and views on literature, publishing, and the business of writing.
By March we were done.
Now, I had through books, read and understood the dynamics of race relations, so being the minority in a horde of Caucasians did not require a huge mental adjustment. I was however not prepared for two things.
- The cold in Oxford.
- The expensiveness of the city.
In preparing for my journey, I had bulked up my savings. Called all my debtors and kindly told them the time was now. Got every short-term writing and editing gig possible. And when what I felt I had enough, or so I thought, I set out for Oxford, England.
As soon as I arrived, immigration at Heathrow started in about how this was my first time outside my country. Fresh passport, first visa, and on account of that they wouldn’t let me in. The official said he knew I was a brilliant man and that all this was just a ploy to enter the UK and never leave. This was news to me as it was frightening.
In my panic, I reached out to Dr Onyeka Nwelue to explain things to him. The immigration officer was not yielding, and then as if a light bulb came on in his head, he asked to see my letter of invitation. Once I had handed it to him, he called the African Studies Department to verify if truly, I was a participant of the residency. They not only answered in the affirmative, but put the call through to Dr Nwelue who explained the arrangement to him: other writers and creatives were already on ground, I was the only person left.
The officer still did not budge.
It was when Dr Nwelue said he would have to speak with his superiors that the immigration officer stamped me in. Once in, my friend Jide was at the other side waiting for me. After brief moments together where he handed me a sim and showed me where to get a bus to Oxford, we parted ways. He to his home in Fulham and me to Oxford. I was shocked to find that the trip would cost me twenty three pounds. It was the most I had ever paid for a bus fare. It felt serious, as if money had been stolen from me in some kind of legitimate way. This was the dawning of my understanding that the UK was a truly expensive country. I grudgingly paid and got seated and the bus moved. After about an hour I was in Gloucester Green in Oxford, and then I took a red cab to Cowley where I was to stay.
In the meantime, Jide had already acquainted me with how affordable Primark was. It was the best place to shop as a new comer in the UK, he said. And that I took to heart. So, when I began frequenting Primark at the city centre and eating out, it did not take long for what I thought was a fat purse to start looking seriously deficient. The exchange rate between my home currency and the British pounds was another factor.
So, after my humbling realization that if I do not step on the breaks of my visit to Primark and eating out, then I might just find myself without extra money to spend save the one I was provided with by the James Currey Society.
Nothing humbles a person like not having enough.
In the end, after barely three months, I left the UK. My sojourn to other parts the world will follow in the next issues.
I have to also extend heartfelt apologies for the hiatus. Travelling, and demanding familial responsibilities had me quite time-constrained. I love reading wonderful stories, I love editing; making wonderful stories even more wonderful. But sometimes a call to duty prevails over matters of our heart.
But I am back now and better.
In this issue, we have poetry from Sharon Bolton, Sydney Mallard, John Reed, Heather Bourbeau, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis; a brilliant piece of fiction from Olalekan Lalude, and a narrative non-fiction piece in praise of Oxford University by Onyeka Nwelue.
Again, I apologize for the abrupt hiatus, and all I can kindly ask of you is that you do not give up on us. We hope to continue to deliver amazing pieces of literature that will perhaps help us extend the frontiers of thought and possibilities in the dealing with the human condition.
Dearest readers, issue thirty-four.