I had read stories about London long before imagining myself visiting, let alone studying in London. My earliest encounter with “fictional London” was in the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and later on other novels, films and accounts from relatives and friends who were either living in England or happened to have visited.
My mum had said to me upon coming back from holiday in London, “the streets are so clean and everything is orderly” and my dad said “it’s horribly cold! Not going back there”. When I checked this with my brother he said, “the streets are not as clean as she has led you to believe. Almost everywhere is littered with filthy pigeons’ dropping, and the cost of living is unbelievable!” I was more inclined to believe my brother, as he came to London at quite a young age, had adopted a British accent, and lived in London consistently for a long period of time. But still, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that the London of my dreams, where international celebrities live and where the BRITs awards are held could be that mundane. I couldn’t wait to see for myself.
When I stepped out of the airport, I was expecting squeaky-clean streets, to which I was let down. But London was also not as ordinary as my brother had led me to believe either, I must add. My take on London at first was two-fold; the vast difference in architecture, and the alienated and self occupied ambience almost everyone participated in. I was hit with the overwhelming impression that everyone was in a rush and trying their best to ignore the existence of others, which is totally opposite to the way people communicate in my hometown.
Everyone there knows and speaks to everyone else. It is even considered a great grievance if a neighbour walks by without saying “hello” and being in a hurry is also seen as a very rude thing. There is a saying in my country that goes; “though a mother gives birth to a child, it takes a community to raise the child”. I recall that as a child, news about my wrongdoings while away from home always got home faster than I did! So, after spending a couple of months in London, I learned not to be offended when my neighbour walked past without a “hello”, and though at first I thought it unruly and embarrassing to run after a bus, I learned pretty fast that it was just the way of things, and sometimes very necessary!
Also, as it was my first trip outside of my country and continent, I wasn’t prepared for the blow of the reputation it has garnered in the foreign world. Far be it from me to say that Africa is perfect, but I wasn’t prepared for the level of extreme poverty and fraud that it, especially Nigeria, is known for. It has led me to believe that either I have been living in a bubble all my life, or these views have been exaggerated.
London is a fast-paced community of individualised people. It is a diverse city that provides a great deal of opportunities on an international scale. My favourite thing about London is that it houses every race, colour, ethnicity and religion in the world. It is very different from my hometown.