I remember my first day in England. It was the first time I had worn a coat. A black, oversized, corduroy bomber jacket-styled coat my dad brought when he came to pick me and my three siblings up from the airport.
I was born in Kinshasa but my parents are from Maniema in the east of the country. I spent my last day in Congo in a commune called N’djili in Kinshasa, but a large chunk of my childhood in Congo was spent in Kasa-Vubu - that was my home .I didn’t know what to make of England. I can’t remember how I felt leaving such a lively community, with an almost round-the-clock party atmosphere, for a place which couldn’t be more different from what I knew. Life on Avenue Lukandu - my street in Kasa-Vubu - was never dull. We were a tight-knit street where most families knew each other and the children played together. A couple of months ago, I watched a video of a group of children in inner city Kinshasa dancing to Werrason’s Zenga Luketu. A smile crept up on my face as I watched this little boy whine his waist.
I was one of those children.
When Papa Wemba’s Somo Trop (commonly known as ‘Nkila Mogroso’) came out, we danced to it on repeat. I loved that song then, and I still love it now. That’s my childhood anthem right there.When it rained, we didn’t retreat to our homes. We stayed out and played in the rain. I loved it. It’s incredible how vivid the images in my mind are, like I’m there in mind but not in body.
In England, we settled in the North East, in Newcastle. Coming from a Francophone country, I only knew one ‘word' of ‘English’ - ‘waterclose’, which, according to my brother’s ‘English’ teacher in Congo, is English for toilet. I’m yet to hear someone refer to a toilet as a ‘waterclose’. Newcastle became my home, but it never really felt like home. I was in love with London’s multiculturalism and vibrancy and so two years ago, when an opportunity to move to the capital came, I grabbed it with both hands.
I had been offered a three-month internship at a pan-African channel based in London called VoxAfrica. The internship was unpaid, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was just happy that I was getting a taste of life as a journalist. I’ve wanted to work in the media since I was 14.
When it comes to realising my goals, I have a ‘just get up and go’ mentality which is something my dad instilled in me. The year before my summer internship at VoxAfrica, I travelled to Catalonia, Spain to study International Journalism and current affairs for a semester but I learnt a lot more while I was there. On 11 September that year, while the rest of the West commemorated the Twin Towers attack, Catalans in central Barcelona celebrated their national day and called for independence from Spain. I became somewhat fascinated with the Catalan independence movement.
This year I finally broke into television, but before doing so, I spent nine months working in a kitchen in Canary Wharf. It was a job I took out of desperation - I was skint and I don’t particularly like cooking. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the experience. It made me realise just how much this country exploits low-skilled migrants. There wasn’t one British person in that kitchen.
I finally moved to London in pursuit of my break in television, only for life to take me to Manchester. I don’t know where I’ll be going next but I’m always ready. Plan your life by all means, but you never know where flexibility will take you.
Sifa is an aspiring producer currently working on ITV’s flagship current affairs programme ‘Tonight’. She hopes to travel back to Congo someday to share stories of people throughout the country.
You can connect with her on Twitter @sifamanara .