Sunday, 1 July 2007

Life as African Hungarian

Interview by Hakeem Babalola

She's 25 and already separated from her father for 23 years. She often thinks of her father but doesn’t miss him. As a child, only sweet things she heard about him until adulthood when her mother decides to reveal the darker side of the man she once married to. Her mother told her: your father didn’t allow me to pick quinine, so I had malaria four times and you had it twice. It was malaria that killed your younger sister in Nigeria. Your father was not a bit kind to me…Meet Klara Bassey who says she can’t actually judge her father because he’s not here to defend himself.

Please briefly say something about yourself?

My name is Klara Orsolya Eme Bassey. I was born in Budapest in 1983 February 2nd. So now I'm 25. After High School, I tried a University (Eötvós Lorand Tudomány Egyetem) but I left before the first exams. It turned out quite early that I've got nothing to do with teacher's classes neither the library sciences. After a year of thinking, being confused, and having a serious nervous break down, I went to School of Design. Decoration, Interior and Outer shop design (visual merchandising) became my trade. This course only gave me mid-level certification.

During this two years I studied in Pannonia Animation film studio. I learned how to make animated cartoons manually and some animated film history. After Design school, I still didn't feel talented enough to go to the University of Applied Arts so I started another two-year course, but didn't finish. Actually I didn't know what to do with myself. Finally, one of my best friends found me a job where I work as a decorator. Funny, isn't it?
During school years I used to be a dancer at Tunde Komolafe's group - the Bongo Men. I also did some hostess as well as waitress jobs, which I disliked later. My main job is decoration. With the B.O Decoration Corporation we are working for the Pafumeria Douglas. I have been doing this for almost two years, and in spite of my interest in textile designing, I couldn’t make up my mind what to do with my talent. Though I consider my talent in drawing and fashion designing as hobbies, I would like to make it bigger.

On the other hand, I really want to be a mother soon. But this does not depend on me alone. Anyway, I think it's quite clear that I do not know where I am going in general. So I don't want to act as if I knew something special about life. I could describe only one thing as my practical ambition: I'd like to do my best at whatever I do. In an abstract meaning, my ambition is to give fashion a new base. I would like people to see beauty in a compact way. I have had enough of men with perfect bodies, and girls with ill-looking slim frames! Let beauty be more than that. The other thing I'd like to change is the picture people have about eroticism. It's ugly and flat to advertise everything with naked women. Sex is something discreet; should stay between two people. If we consider the truth that eroticism has a wider meaning than sex, then we could exchange nakedness with mystery, which I think could give more than the 'pure facts' of a body! I would design not only clothes but styles and general effect of pictures. After making my own trade mark, building up a style empire, then I could find that utopistic colony where homeless people would find a new home; a new chance to recover like getting new trades, jobs, and a new life entirely.

Do you feel African or European? Please be honest

It's a good question but the answer won't be that simple. I am an African European. As a child I was brought up to be a Hungarian girl, though I wasn't really. I know about my Nigerian root. I know my father’s home town. Yet I've always felt myself European, and it's how I think because of the kind of education I received. The history of arts and the history I studied so hard - all determined my person as European. But the most important subject (from this point of view) was the literature. How could I tell anyone what language means to me, though I am the visual type. If I summarize what I've told you so far, then it even changes the question. I don’t even feel European because I'm Hungarian.

The word "Afro-Hungarian" means nothing for me, as it's just an expression. At the moment it doesn't cover any homogeneous communities. We're just finding our cultural and social base. It's very exciting on one hand, but brings a lot of responsibilities and problems. We (the 1st and 2nd generations of Afro-Hungarian) should not act as many of us do now. I have experienced snobbishness and prissiness that I could not identify myself with. Of course many white Hungarians behave likewise, but I see this type of behaviour more in Afro-Hungarians. We should be much more careful because it's obvious that the minorities are always under heavy criticism.

Well, I know why it is so. I mean it's hard to be African Hungarian here without own culture. We have no clear root or past to guide us through the challenges of life. Many do not even know their fathers. That's why they use their exotic look as a weapon and act like a conqueror, criticizing anything Hungarian and glorifying everything African. I'm not saying this in order to hurt anybody's feelings. And of course I might be wrong. Anyway, I'm sure things would be better in a few years. In our life many changes come. Hungarian borders have opened up a bit, and that gives new opportunities and widens people's horizons.

Would you have preferred your parents to be from the same race?

It is out of question. Of course had they been from the same race, I wouldn't have become who I am and I would not have been in a precious position to give you honest answers.

Are your parents still together?

They divorced after my mother came back from Nigeria (Bauchi). She had lived there for two years. She could not stay there anymore though she loved my father. My father loved her too but he could not put up with the situation in Hungary. It's now 23 years they parted.

Do you have any regret being African-Hungarian?

Jesus, no of course. Even in my childhood when I regularly had bad experiences I never mind that I'm African as well. I used to think I was ugly…inside too. I didn't consider myself a nice girl. Nowadays I have started enjoying it's advantages. I'm rather happy to be African-Hungarian.

Then you must be proud of yourself as African-Hungarian
This has nothing to do with being proud. One can be proud of his/her own achievements. It's not within my power to be born who I am. First, I have to work hard to make my race recognised, and then we can come back to this question. No, really I'm quite happy recently. But I think it's a gift, and trying my best to stay humble.

Your father is from Nigeria and you haven't met him for 23 years. Do you miss him?

Yes, He - Solomon Frank Abassiekong - is from Nigeria, Calabar. As far as I know he lives now in Akwa Ibom State. As I told you before we have been living separately for 23 years now. I was 2 years old when last I saw him. I can't really miss him but of course I think of him. I'm sure he misses me a lot; just as I'm sure if we could meet again he would be as frightened as I would be.

As a kid, Did you feel different?

In some ways I was always different. But it's rather because of my soul structure. I'm very moody and always hold extreme views far beyond the norm. It's easier to be an adult because I have better control over myself.

Have you ever been racially discriminated against either by the Hungarian government or the people?

Yeah, I have many stories that happened to me. Most of them when I was only a child. I'll tell you one that was quite frightening and it happened not so long ago. Two young guys forced me down from a local train. They said 'niggers' should not travel on vehicle; they should use their feet. I was a student at that time. What pained me most was not even the incident but the fact that I was not travelling alone on the train, yet nobody bothered to help me. I hate to remember it, and I hope this kind of things will never happen to me again.

Your teachers?

No teacher discriminated against me, but some of my classmates didn't really like me in primary school. I never knew whether it was because of my colour or my strange manners. In the kindergarten the bigger children hated me and gave me nicknames like the beast, lucifer, etc. Sometimes they hit me on the playground. Kids are cruel. I was not more discriminated against than the girl with glasses, or the boy who is deaf.

Do you recollect what happened in Nigeria?

After I was born here in Hungary, Mom and I travelled with my father to Nigeria. We spent two years there. First, we stayed near the coast in southern Nigerian village, where my grandpa lived. Then we moved to Bauchi, where my mother sufferings began. I don't remember anything; it's mom telling me stories about how it was. She said everybody were nice to her but language was the first obstacle. She could not make friends neither could she find a good and permanent job. Dad's bank account was locked up; food vanished from the market so we had nothing to eat. Mom was pregnant with my younger sister, who died right after she was born. She was only my sister from the same father.

Mom said she could endure everything but that Dad was not a bit kind to her. She told me that Dad became a different person at home in Nigeria. He became arrogant and authoritative. He didn't allow mom to pick quinine, so she had malaria four times. I only had it twice. That was the only reason my sister died. I just couldn't comprehend this. My father is an educated man - agricultural engineer. How on earth could he command his Hungarian wife not to pick quinine? He should have known better than anyone what malaria can do to foreigners.

Another question is, how can a father see his first born suffering? I try not to judge him because he is not here to defend himself. Mom helped him when he was miserably homesick, when he was lost in Budapest during his university years. Mom even left her family for a while because of him. He accepted mom's help, but when she needed him he didn't help her fitting in. I guess he treated us as his properties. Mom told me these things after many years, when I became an adult. As a child I only heard about my father as a great person, who I'm sure he is. However, mom later told me he might have been under pressure at home. In Nigeria he had to show everybody that the 10 years he spent in Hungary did not make him a European.

Do you speak any of Nigerian languages?

Unfortunately I don't speak any of African languages. I only speak English, some of which I understand from pidgin.

Do you have any favourite African dish?

I love gari. I also like kus-kus, fried plantain, and spiced jam. Yeah, I'm not much of a cook, even simple dishes. So most of the West African dishes I have never even heard of.

What can you say about mixed marriage?
Mixed marriage could be great when two similar tempered people tight their lives together. They could enjoy a colourful interesting life together. But they must have great respect for each other. They have to tolerate each other a lot. Sometimes the family causes the problem. I think it's wise to choose a neutral country to live.

What is your preference when it comes to relationship? I mean do you prefer Hungarian or African man?

I have never had any serious relationship with a black man, but I don't think it's because they are African. My mother tongue is Hungarian and that determines my possibilities. I think the most important thing is for the couple to understand each other very well. words cannot express everything but help to show what is inside.

I almost forgot to tell you two of my favourite hobbies after drawing and painting - they are reading and writing. It would be tragic for me if I couldn't share my opinion with my love about a novel or a poem. And I expect him to do the same. So if I don't choose to live with African man, it's not just because of cultural differences, but because of language.

Anyway, thank you for the chance. And I'm sorry for being late for the interview. Oh, I read your article about business men Ball 2006. I enjoyed it a lot. I think you're the journalist who is not afraid to tell the truth.

2007 copyright

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