Oral History Interview - Ahmed Bockarie Kamara

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Oral History Interview - Ahmed Bockarie Kamara

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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Ahmed Bockarie Kamara, born Sierra Leone, 1979.

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Photographs - Copyright Emma Davies


Summary of interview with Ahmed Bockarie Kamara:

00:00:40 What part of Sierra Leone were you born in?
Born in South Eastern part of Sierra Leone, Moyamba.

00:01:30 Can you tell me a bit about your family background?
My mum is basically from Moyamba, the town I was born in and my dad is from the Northern province…We have about twelve well known tribes but as in most countries we have two dominant ones. Those two tribes are the seat of power. We have got the SLPP…the tribe that my mum comes from and then you have got the APC from the North. My mum is a southerner and my dad is a northerner…my dad is from a different tribe.

00:03:23 Do your Mum and Dad speak different languages?
Yes. We have a dialect…that is broken English that we call Creole. It is like the Jamaican Patwa…which is really a form of broken English…Even if you are from another tribe we can communicate through this particular medium.

00:04:54 My mum and dad split up when I was quite young and I was not old enough to understand it so I was inbetween. My dad lived in the City for most of the time where as my mum lived in the province…my dad was a Police Officer so he worked in the city.

00:05:32 The culture is rich when you go in to the rural areas. When you say the culture what do you mean exactly? We have rites of passage. For women…they will go through female circumcision. It has been frowned upon as people have more knowledge.

00:07:22 I grew up in the city and I would go for holidays in the rural areas…Life there, before the war, we lived in harmony. The war started in the early nineties…and it was mostly the rural areas which were affected. We saw victims of war but did not really understand what it was…we were not really affected by it until 1997 when the rebels were able to gain access to the city.

00:09:07 Talking about childhood and all that stuff, Sierra Leone was the most peaceful place that I have ever found. It was loving and people are very kind and open and willing to do things from all walks of life. As we got older and the war divided most of us, some of those things were lost within society…The city became more and more crowded because people from rural areas were coming in to the city. I was fortunate, my Dad was a Police Officer and I grew up under his watchful eye.

00:10:27 Then it became completely unbearable and then I had to travel to Guinea which is a neighbouring country…as a refugee…The only way you could leave the country was by road and it was quite a risk, it was dangerous.

00:11:09 Because if you had stayed there you would have been killed?
Well you know we had lots of people who stayed who would not killed but it was a gamble. You know you are in harms way. It was indiscriminate the way people were killed. Sometimes you went to bed at night and the next morning you hear that somebody has been killed there. Maybe the rebels went to their house…you would keep yourself to yourself…sometimes it was like a little prison.

00:12:03 Was it frightening?
It was very frightening. You hear gun sounds all over the place. It was continuous stress and you get so used to it that you forget that it is happening around you, you just go out…It was a traumatic experience…Luckily I had the opportunity to leave and I left safely. I went to Guinea for two days and…then I went to Gambia. I settled in Gambia for four years before I moved. I was a political refugee in Gambia and there were thousands of us in Gambia as political refugees. We lived there as if we were at home…We integrated ourselves in to Gambian society.

00:14:05 I believe that lots of us have called Gambia a second home…Lots of people stayed there after the war.

00:15:54 Just around my teenage years was when I left Sierra Leone and as a political refugee I went to Gambia.

00:16:45 Why did you leave Gambia?
My dad was studying in England when the war broke out in the city so he had to seek political asylum here…Actually senior police officers were targets by the rebels…so he couldn’t return home. On year turned in to two, three and four years and then he had to finally settle here. I was with Gambia with my mum and my younger sister and we had the opportunity to come and visit him. We came between 2002 and 2003 for the first time to England and we stayed for a few months and then we went back. Was that in Hackney? No unfortunately not in Hackney, he used to live in Camberwell. I spent a lot of time in Hackney as my Aunt lives on Victoria Park Road.

00:18:05 As my parents split up when I was young she was the one that raised me.

00:18:30 What were your impressions of Hackney when you first came here?
Well my first impression of somebody coming from a Third World Country to a First World Country there was this awe…I loved Hackney when I came.

00:20:07 It was this melting pot of dynamism…From watching period dramas and these things you watch on TV, my expectations were…I really thought I wouldn’t meet as many people from my colour…I mean the diversity I saw.

00:20:50 It was completely different from how I imagined it in terms of the diversity. I did not expect to see so many people who were not…white English people. I was taken a back. I was really surprised.

00:21:16 So did that make you feel more at home?
I felt much more at home…I was able to feel much, much more comfortable…and confident about myself and my prospects.

00:21:49 Did you have any problem with language?
Fortunately Sierra Leone is an English colonized country and in our schools we speak English. I was fond of English, it was one of best subjects in school and my Mum’s younger sister was an English teacher.

00:22:57 So did you find work when you first came here?
I applied as a college student…so I came back and did a course in Brixton. Partner Lyn from Zimbabwe whom he met at college helped to expose Ahmed to English culture. We did a lot of stuff that young people do, go to the cinema, to restaurants…I was a fully integrated Hackney boy basically.

00:24:49 I work as a Healthcare Assistant in mental health institutions.

00:26:52 When Ahmed first arrived in England, he was very intrigued by the dialects. You’ve got that Hackney twang…and then you move across to Tottenham and the twang changes…At first because of the diversity in society I thought that they were as foreign as I was. We used to watch a lot of period dramas. My whole family in Gambia, we used to watch this Mrs Bucket, [Keeping Up Appearances] she speaks the Queens English…I would say that it is much more livelier than the way it was presented [England].

00:29:35 What about Open the Gate? Has that been good for you?
Open the Gate has been fantastic…Before you go in to a place you want to feel acceptance…the diversity of the events they have, it caters for so many people of different backgrounds as well.

00:33:53 Are you proud of being from Sierra Leone?
Being out of my country makes me love it even more…It’s even made me more of a patriot…We have left Sierra Leone and now we appreciate it more.

00:36:02 [Referring to Sierra Leone] The moonlight at night is so bright its almost as if there is a supreme being out there saying ‘these people don’t have an electricity so lets make it so bright that they can still have a night life’…Sometimes you forget you are sitting in the dark because it is so bright you see for miles.

00:41:00 Will you go back to Sierra Leone?
Definitely I will go. I look forward to going back I’ve just been procrastinating…I have a family so it will cost me a few grand just to go. Ahmed has been back to Gambia as his mum and sister are still there. I mean there is no place like home.

00:42:42 So where is home?
I feel at home in England and I really think that Sierra Leone for now is like a second home…you know there is always a place to turn back to. There are so many Sierra Leonians in Hackney and I have so much family in Hackney. Its so funny my friend says that sometimes he forgets that he is not in Sierra Leone…We feel so comfortable that we forget that we are not in Sierra Leone.

00:45:04 The community that holds the majority of Sierra Leonians in London is the South East- Camberwell, Peckham.

00:46:20 I just wanted to ask you about your son? What will you pass on to your son?
He knows where I am from…we do talk about that all the time and he knows where his mum is from. He speaks the Creole, he is picking it up. We have family and friends and when we are together we speak Creole. He picks it up and it sounds a bit funny to him like a game…I will take him to Gambia and other parts of Africa. He will make up his identity as he goes.

00:51:53 I feel integrated but I have my own personality and my own identity…I am proud of saying where I am from.



"Ridley Road market has been important to people of African descent by providing a wide range of ingredients used in various African Cuisines. This makes it one of Hackney’s true cultural centres."

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