Last weekend I visited a friend.
He rents. Like most hardworking folks, it is very hard to have your own house in London. The lowest price for a one-bedroom flat, could be half a million pounds, which is billions of Tanzanian shillings. If you are working or running a small business renting a one bedroom flat can be a joyous option. And that is for singles. If children are around, the colours change; we start talking of mortgage – 20 to 25 years minimum. Life-long investment. That is why there is something called permanently angry parents. Huh!
Or pay for what you are renting – called “rent to own” – for minimum five years, then finish it off, and that means debts. Meanwhile (and no wonder) the very rich scramble to rural areas or buy their own islands. Zanzibar islets have attracted Bill Gates and our own star, Diamond Platinumz.
What about if you are from Africa and have been living in London for, say, ten years like my friend who we can call Hussein? Hussein has done thousand jobs – delivering letters and food parcels, cleaning roads, toilets, shops and supermarkets and finally, taxi-driving.
The house he lives in is spacious. He moved in here after splitting from his wife of eight years. I met Hussein after booking his taxi.
Hussein was a marvellous driver, knew the routes, short cuts and wasn’t not reckless.
With time we became friends.
Hussein is by nature exuberant and positive, but last week he was down. He says despite loving the house he has been in for six months he now finds it hard because he has to share with people of “toxic” habits.
“Some tenants in here drink a lot and smoke indoors.”
So we spoke about smoking.
How come so many Londoners smoke?
Hussein: “It is like a curse if you don’t smoke. Smokers question and get angry whenever you mention the habit. It should be the other way round. Those who smoke should be regarded as ones doing the wrong thing. Yet smokers feel its a superior thing.”
I reflected on that.
Statistically on paper, smokers are not that many. London is divided into districts called boroughs. Like Dar’s Temeke, Ilala and Kinondoni. On average 20 to 22 percent smoke in each borough. That is one in five people, says London’s Evening Standard.
The biggest revolution kicked off in 2007. After pressure from health groups, the government made it illegal to puff indoors; ie. pubs, restaurants, offices, buses, trains, hotels, etc.
Hussein: “There are seven of us living in this house. Almost all smoke. Two also love ganja (marijuana). Despite restrictions not to smoke indoors, we are always having arguments over noisy nights and drugs. The trouble with smokers is they might occasionally go out to smoke, but during the night, or when it rains, they will open a window and light up. They do not realise that opening a window does not mean getting rid of the impact.”
Hussein’s tragedy is that, as a driver, he needs his sleep. While relaxing in the communal kitchen eating the nice meal he has made – red rice with spinach and fish – a restless, noisy flatmate comes in. Let’s call him Johnny. Friendly, but the minute he sets foot in the kitchen to prepare a light sandwich made of eggs and bread, he reeks and stinks of alcohol, ganja and cigarettes.
Johnny eats with us.
Hussein teases him: “ Our visitor here sells Spliff…”
We laugh, but soon get serious.
Johnny and I have a long chat about the benefits of not drinking and smoking.
Johnny is very defensive. “ I don’t go out and cause trouble. I was born in a family of smokers. My grandparents smoked. Parents smoked. When I was ten I could not wait to start smoking. My brother and I nicked our grandmother’s cigarettes. I was 11, he was 13. By the time we were 15, we were fully-fledged smokers. I haven’t stopped for 20 years now.”
Hussein sighs. Rolls his eyes.
“I wake up in the middle of the night, and can’t breath properly. It’s just hard. Johnny is such a wonderful person, but he smokes.”
Johnny raises his hands dismissively.
“Every one has a vice…”
Later after Johnny is gone, Hussein is furious.
“Did you notice? He cooked and ate. He did not clean the pots and plates. Just dumped them in the sink. These guys are like that. They don’t care too much about cleaning up. Many times I go to the toilet, it’s not flushed. Or people shower and leave their hair in the bath. I dream of the day I will have my own house.”