Working in retail while pursuing my masters has been one of the most revealing and eye opening experiences of my life. I started working in retail (even if I swore never to after a dreadful experience in my second year at uni) during the winter of 2014 November. First I only did it to earn a little on the side and after seven months I realised it was just a safety net, but that is a story for another time. Anyway, about a month ago (this being June) I was working a hard day; which consists of an 8 hour shift standing around and keeping a watchful eye on rails of clothing and making sure they do not grow legs and run away. As I tried my best to smile at customers and engage in conversation both with the customers and stuff (side note: I have to admit isn’t all that bad sometimes lol) I came across a little girl who looked about 10 years old and her mother. As a ritual we are meant to ask if the customer needs any help but in that very moment it was nothing at all to do with ritual. When I asked the mother and daughter duo if they needed any help, it was sincerely from the bottom of my heart. What I did not expect was the girl to turn around and speak to her mother in a language I did not understand. At first I thought it was another one of the ‘mind your business aura’ that all retailers get but I was surprised when the girl turned back to me and asked me if I could help her find a jacket for her mother in a beige colour. Given that I work in the concession section, I am not allowed to leave my department unattended so I was to only direct the mother and daughter duo to the main store departments which I did. I watched them for a little over six minutes trying to consult with the actual store stuff and they all seemed to finger point direct them (as I know how busy it gets). Anyway being the person that I am, I could not help seeing a sweet looking 10 year old and her mother walk around in circles so I stepped in. I took my time to walk the duo through what was available and the mother who I later on found out spoke and understood a little English finally got what she wanted. After all of this I directed her and her daughter to the tile point of sale (tile point) which turned out to have no stuff behind it, so yet again I was forced or rather willingly went behind the tile and proceeded to make the transaction. However, as I operated the machine the little girl said something under her breath and me being the person that I am asked her to repeat what she said thinking she was yet again speaking for her mother. The mother then turned to me with the brightest smile on her face and said to me in the best English that she could make out, “she says your kind“. In that moment I did not care about the swollen feet that literally had their own heartbeat; my heart melted. I then looked at the 10 year old and she said to me, “your the kindest lady I have ever met, thank you”. In that moment I could not help but shed a little tear, we engaged in small talk with the little girl and her mother. Turns out her mother was originally from Pakistan and she moved right before the little girl was born but never really learnt English but only the little that her daughter taught her when they were going through the assigned home work the daughter got. I learnt so much more that evening, about heartache, pain, love, joy, sacrifice, empowerment, feminism, compassion and empathy. This was all after a 20 minutes conversation between two original immigrants and a 10 year old smart kid. Right before they left, the little girl turned to me and said, “bye, I shall miss you” this very statement could have easily bought me to tears.
I have been wanting to blog about this life changing interaction for a while now but didn’t get the time to. I am only blogging about this because I experienced the complete opposite yesterday. As I worked a hard 9 to 6 yesterday, I came across a sweet poised man looking for a dress for his wife; and as I engaged in conversation with him, he seemed to be well educated and owned a business of his own. Sadly as we talked about university, travel and possibly selling me a car; we accidentally fell upon the subject of nationality. Being the proud Ugandan that I am, I told him where I was born and raised and asked him if he knew where that was on the map. I do not know if he was dodging the geographical question I laid upon him but all he told me was his experience with a Ugandanfamily; this being his neighbors back in the 70’s. I tried to avoid the conversation by talking about my venture into the unknown after uni, so we talked about life after graduation and he gave me the prospect cities I should look into while applying for jobs. However, when I bought up London he was very apprehensive and I would have understood as he was a man in his mid sixties but what he said next stopped me in my tracks. He went on to explain that the last time he was in London, he hated it. According to him, London seemed like a foreign city as it had too many different cultures and people of different race. I did not go on to tell him that that was the very reason I loved the city; for it had vibrant souls from all different parts of the world and it felt like being all around the world without actually travelling. Anyway, he went on to tell me about his last experience in London. The last time he was in the city, he came across a couple who were looking for the nearest church and were looking for a Vatican because they wanted to get married. He went to on to say that the couple spoke little to no English and that the woman had a pair of golden teeth to match her non-speaking English ways (as if that was a way of identifying her nationality). He then later said he had no hostility to (and I quote) “people like that” and did not understand what they were doing in an English speaking country. He then went on to say that his “don’t get me wrong, my great grandparents were born in India” and continued to describe their features. He then went on to say (and I quote again) ” I am one of you lot” (as if him saying that was a consolation prize) but what surprised me was how he refereed to me; an African as an Asian considering am part of the “lot“. Anyway he went on about how he did not understand why there were people in England who did not speak or understand a word of English. This kind of ignorance made me question his intelligence and if he knew anything about the journey different people have of experienced over the years. I mean what is a man who is stuck in his ways and knew little of migration, slavery or the simple fact that is ‘immigrates becoming citizens’. These two different experiences made me think about how minimal interactions can make such a ripple effect on ones life. I came to a realisation that even with the struggles I face day to day, there are always bigger issues in life like the fight against any type of discrimination. And even after years of slavery, war, discrimination, inequality and utter inhumanity, men of the 21st century are still living like uneducated cave men justifying their manhood with hair, bones and all round noise for a cause that isn’t all the way humane. I mean what gives someone the right to claim land that isn’t theirs to claim? I was reminded that the war against any form of discrimination is still going on; we have not even won the battle yet.