Early days

I used to daydream when I dressed my in mum’s clothes. Staring into the mirror I imagined I was pretty, despite my scrawny physique. I was round-shouldered, and my constantly hanging head looked like it may have fallen off at any moment. But I have big, deep piercing brown eyes, a sharp nose, a wide mouth – and long curls, drooping in tight ringlets.

When I tossed my hair it seemed to float in the mirror. My long locks and my penetrating eyes were, undoubtedly, appealing when I wore mum’s best Sunday dress and her blue, wide-rimmed fedora hat. I was certainly vain, especially about my hair. I fancied I was in a photographic studio or on set in a Nigerian soap opera from where flashing paparazzi would persistently pursue me back to my luxury apartment in Lagos – and not to a one-room shanty hut, in the shameful slum of Kitanye, the poorest slum in Nilemwe – possibly the poorest in East Africa.

I would strut and turn, model-like, for the photographers to flash me, impeded by the cramped, cluttered hut that was my home – merely a single living-room of upturned crates, crockery, saucepans, a calor-gas stove and washing bowl. My narrow bed, an old, oily mattress raised up on two planks above the cockroaches and soggy persistence of the mouldy damp. A ragged curtain separated my mother’s ‘bedroom’ where I would ‘dress’ and pose in front of the cracked, ornate oval mirror, propped up on a rickety, wicker dresser, supported by two flaking.

Yes. A one room slum hut where I was raised in Kitanye, Nilemwe, East Africa. We came to Chanzo when my Dad left us and shortly after my two brothers died of malaria. I was lucky. I got to live in a hut with a plastic drainpipe so we could catch the rain. One room, no toilet facilities, no property management. Forty thousand Nilemwe shillings a month; fifteen US dollars. Pay up or be brutally turfed out. I lived there with my mum.