Hi all! Meet Barney, he is my flatmate and lives two rooms away from mine. Barney is British and literarily sticks a dynamite into most of my myths about the British and blows it up.
He is not a snub. Outgoing type-A personality who came to knock on my door the first day he arrived and asked if there were other occupants in the remaining 4 rooms on our floor of 5. I did not even know ‘cos I never bothered to ask. He was also the first to think about pooling money to buy kitchenware that we needed. I never thought about that too. Lets just say unofficially Barney is our flat coordinator. I will vote for him if ever we came down to the polls.
Real name Ed Barnfield, Barney lives in a cottage in Bristol and it surprised me that a lot of his ideas seemed to be unBritish. This I assume to be because of his rural upbringing as a local boy but that is merely an assumption. He is an undergrad studying music at the music school and he majors in the trumpet – for jazz. First time he had a jam session in his room, Barney came to tell me and asked if the music/noise won’t bother me. I was a tad surprised he obliged me a courtesy call at all. But as I was to find out, Barney is just like the typical respectful Nigerian boy. I not only thanked Barney for coming to tell me in the first place, I paid him and his friend Leo (a student, jazz guitarist) a visit and simply listened as they had their session. It was a marvel watching Barney’s eyes widen and shut, while he tipped sideways or forward depending on where the notes took him. I watched his warped reflection dance in the gold plated brass shaft of the trumpet and I saw a boy who simply loved what he did. Leo was no less a-mused as he played riff upon riff of pure jazz to my amazement. Barney had been playing since he was 12 and Leo had only started a few years back.
When they asked me what I was studying and I said Real Estate Development, they only played on. It was obvious we were not in the same planet so I had to do some explaining. It felt odd, it seemed Barney and Leo belonged to a group of people who did things because they simply wanted to and really cared less about those social factors that mattered so much to people like me. Like when Barney told me he took a one year break after high school o visit India on a charity trip to an orphanage. He told me of meeting Kenyan missionaries and told me about African food. His friend Leo also told me the meaning of my name and when I asked how he knew, he said he had Nigerian friends and one bore the same name as mine. I could not think of myself asking my parents to go on a trip after school simply because I wanted to. There was something Liberal in the education of both Leo and Barney. Something that gave them a huge amount of exposure; even though, paradoxically they knew little about Real Estate Development as a course, they knew more about Georgraphy and travel more than I did and most exciting was that at such a young age, they had the power to decide what they wanted out of life and not what either society or parents wanted for them. It felt good talking to them during the breaks in their jam sessions.
Barney is the only boy and his father is a piano salesman and Barney worked for his father before resuming the University, as in his words “it gave me an opportunity to help the ol’ man out when he needed someone to work for him …” and it also helped him sell music and make money. I had not imagined a British boy simply wishing to help his dad. I thought it was solely me-ism here but I guess I am thoroughly mistaken. Some of Barney’s other views that impressed me came up later when we were in our lounge watching TV together and a sensationalist news of Justin Beiber kissing a girl in the back of his car came up. He thought it was too American and lamented at how the British culture was fast giving way to influences from the WEST. “He is even too young to have a girlfriend!” Barney lamented. Oops! till now I had thought the ‘West’ referred to America, Britian and all of Europe but from Barney’s point of view I must be wrong.
Another issue was a suicide case where a girl met a man on a ‘suicide website’ and urged him to die with her as she had all the ‘ingredients’ [her words] but did not have the nerve to do it alone. So they met somewhere for the first time and gassed themselves to death in a car. Barney grieved the same way I did and felt bad for the father of the man who kept crying on TV wondering how his son could do such a thing when the son barely had any suicidal history. When the news reported that the government was thinking of banning suicide sites and chat rooms, Barney simply laughed and said he wondered why the government was always making reactive policies. In his opinion, parenting and social behaviour should be the issue to be addressed and not suicide chat rooms.
I respected his opinions. Barney is certainly someone I feel comfortable relating with. When I told him I liked the way the British were always reading and that it was a good habit as it reflected that they were knowledgeable people, he said he thought it was a guise to avoiding social contact. I pondered on this till I came across a publication as part of my coursework that gave one of the reasons for reading to be ‘so that no one will talk to you’.
Much said about Barney my flat mate, I got the chance of meeting Jason another flatmate who is Chinese
Jason, a Chinese, a Muslim and an only child stumbled on me in the kitchen while he was preparing one of his favourite Chinese meals so he invites me over, gives me a pair of chopsticks and begins to pick tofu, mushrooms and beef slices from a steaming wok-like pan he had on the fire. Open to trying new things I settled down with him as we chatted in strained English and he spoke about China and his dislike for McDonalds and junkfood. He knew South Africa because of the world cup but did not know Nigeria and said if I knew the Chinese name for Nigeria he was certain he would. I did not, so we kept it at that. But we talked extensively about our backgrounds and our interests.
Like Barney, Jason is also a music student, studying for his Msc in singing. Singing? That was my first time of hearing that someone would be studying for an Msc in singing – Tu Face did not even have to go to the university. It is with this same amazement that Jason asked me what Real Estate was (just like Barney) and I had to give him another lecture. We all belonged to different worlds as far as careers were concerned. He was a classical musician in China and longed to further his passion along that line. Need I say that my block, interestingly is full of music students and only for good architectural design, I would have been frustrated with trombones and clarinets playing the night
away. Jason is an only child because the Chinese state only allows families to have one. He says it is very lonely being an only child and he wished that he had brothers like me. ‘Being an only child makes it difficult for you to work with others’ he said, but he finds consolation in the fact that because of the now shrivelling generation, the Chinese state has given his generation an opportunity to have two children as opposed to one. Such was the power of the Chinese state that I simply listened in awe as he spoke of what the state can or cannot do. As a matter of fact, there was almost nothing the state could not do. Now that is something for my Nigerian mind to grapple with.
When I asked him if he could marry a British girl, he simply said ‘no’ and upon asking why, he proceeded to explain how the core values of the Chinese differs and vary widely from that of the western world and that that was critical in the choice of a partner. For instance, he said, ‘I will be responsible for taking care of my parents till they go to the grave’ and he is not optimistic an English girl will buy into that. Jason thinks western civilisation is not having as much impact on the Chinese culture as it is in all other parts of the world. I agree with him. Why won’t I? After I have had a bowl of steaming tofu and noodles and the richness of the mushrooms made me feel I have now earned the right to live to 150 years of age.
We sit all alone in the lounge well into the night talking about many things but one thing I kept seeing looking at the thin slits Jason had for eyes was someone whose culture meant a great deal to him.