Returning back from the warm embrace of Uganda to the cold grey reception of Gatwick airport in March ’86, found me a very irritable 17yr old lady – as most people, I’m not at my best when deprived of sleep. My ticket back to the UK had been an award from a family member who worked as a minister in Education after checking to ensure I was truly a student and resident in the UK. Other than getting my travel itinerary sorted out, I had not looked much further than this although given the state of our relationship with my mum who had now opted to officially state that she was my paternal aunt. It made a pig’s ear of the whole situation and according to rumours that went rife amongst the family members; it almost cost her residence here! As usual, the blame was placed squarely at my feet.
I recall the immigration officials asking me who was meeting me and where I was going to stay. My response that I was going to strike out on my own and rent my own place whilst I finish my A-levels didn’t somehow wash – so I was placed in detention. You see I’d been working Saturdays at Littlewoods since getting my NI card and managed to save up quite a fair sum alongside my baby-sitting jobs. Relations between myself and mom had hit a low so I’d figured, once I had enough for a deposit on a bedsit, I’d move out and finish my studies before applying for a place a university. Contrary to what mom had thought of my teenage rebellion, I really hadn’t gone off the rails; I simply didn’t agree with her perspectives on how I should pursue my life along the culture lines here in London. She had opted to believe my rebellion was a preliquiste for getting myself a boyfriend and basically not respecting her wishes. There had been a lot of external influences from the extended paternal family members on who had long-term issues with my place in mum’s life – namely my paternal grandmother. Over the years, I’d witnessed a fair number of unfair acts that in the end, I’d given up trying to point them out and opted to bite my lip and bid my time instead. As it were, my mum had given in to possible pressure and had opted to follow through advice given her and send me back to Uganda – perhaps to teach me a lesson in humility or reminder of my position in the family hierarchy. Whichever it were, the gods were on my side and truth always triumphs no matter how much one tries to hide it.
So there I was the youngest detainee in a detention place some place in Gatwick or thereabouts. After repeated conversations with various immigration officers, one of them asked me if there was anybody here in the UK who could come and lay claim as my guardian. Going through my little tatty address book making calls to various family friends, relatives – all refusing to come to my rescue, I resigned myself to being returned on the next flight back to Uganda. At least it was warm there and my biological mum had appeared to be so welcoming and loving in addition to my biological siblings. I was missing them already. The poverty and hardships I’d witnessed in my three months stay didn’t sway my love for the country. I’d seen persons who even in the very little they had, being willing and generous in all they shared. But as I was about to hang up, I remembered I’d not called my school friend who’d been in touch with me throughout my short stay in Uganda. I’d not even called her to tell her I’d arrived! So I asked the immigration officer if I could just make one final call just to let her know I’d arrived but would have to return back. This was the turning point. When I called her, she was so overjoyed to hear my voice that we chatted about everything silly that I almost forgot to tell her I’d be returning back! It was the immigration officer who tapped me on the back and reminded me to bid her goodbye that when I did and she asked why that saw my whole situation change. Claudia, my friend, alerted our headmistress, Mrs Martin, who by the crack of dawn was in the detention office like a lieutenant demanding to know why they had kept a minor in an adult detention centre – it was somewhat comical to see were it not serious. What transpired between her and the immigration officers after her arrival I was not privy to, but all I remember was being escorted out and being driven to my friend’s house whilst a permanent solution was reached.
In the three months that followed, I attended school from Claudia’s house to finish my A-levels. Unfortunately, I’d missed some of the critical exams and this meant University entrance was to be postponed. Instead, I opted to attend Croydon College to at least get the grades I needed as advised by my headmistress in order to try and gain entrance to nursing school. I couldn’t stay with Claudia’s family for long, she had decided to elope to marry her school sweetheart and relocate to Hong-Kong. Besides, her family aside from her mother, all spoke Spanish – having been posted here on diplomatic duties from Chile. Whilst I made good use of free Spanish lessons from Claudia’s grandmother, long-term stay was out of the question. I initially stayed at a refuge hostel before acquiring my own bedsit. Throughout this time, I’d attend courses in-between jobs in order to raise the capital I needed to send to back to my biological mother for a proper building to call home. With the help and advice of Mrs Martin again, I attended my first interview at Ealing School of Nursing after finishing a volunteer’s nursing assistant course at Mayday Hospital in December ‘86 and commenced my student general nursing course in March of ‘87. Nursing as Mrs Martin had advised me would provide me with a residential in addition to an earning whilst gaining the training that could help me towards any course later on in life should I opt to not to stay within its’ discipline. She was so right, nursing was my saving grace and an eye opener to a childhood echo of mine when I recall way back at primary answering saying I wanted to work for the Red Cross. Well I’ve not exactly worked for the Red Cross, but I’ve ended up working within the medical profession and learning all there is about the health of the human body.