100 Strangers Project - 50/100 / by Michael Pung

I noticed a man standing outside a shopping centre talking with some people.  He was wearing a brightly coloured traditional African dress that illuminated him from the crowd. He had a set-up which included a large chest, a board with an open coconut, 4 beetroots and a painting he made using oil paints and fragments of fruit. Soon after talking, he sat down on his chest and played music on his harp. He was tuning into his music and letting what came to him flow out. I asked him about the way he was playing with his harp:

"When we tune into the frequency, eventually what's inside of you comes up."

His name was Inap and he has been living on the streets since the 22nd of June. A decision which he made after he decided that he wanted to be free. Before this, he was training to become a doctor and had actually finished his qualification to become a junior doctor. I asked him where he came from and he said that he is from a place called Biafra, a region that is between Nigeria and Cameroon:

"In 1914 they decided to amalgamate the north and south together so they can control the oil in Bayelsa. They signed a contract called the amalgamation contract but these people didn't agree to the contract. They were always their own nation so why are they trying to force them together? There was a fight in 1967 for us to become our own nation and they said it was a civil war but by all definition it can't be a civil war. Civil war is a war between the same nation. But we've never been the same nation. In fact our culture is different. We circumcise our children under 8 days. They don't do that and there's a friction they are not accepted in Nigeria, it's like a forced relationship. They were fighting and three and a half million people got slaughtered in that war.

There's still a a lot of agitation in our nation and that's why I would never say that I'm Nigerian simply because of the propaganda... I believe in Africa as one but when there is an agenda you have to ask yourself why? Why is it that you can't let people just be themselves?"

At this point a couple of other people entered the conversation, one who came to say goodbye (a musician who I finished interviewing a little earlier) and another, a friend who was hanging around.

"...Corporations are running us, but it doesn't have to be like this. They taught us greed and vanity so everyone is trying to obtain this invisible dream. Everyone is trying to climb this invisible ladder to try to be something that you're never going to be. No matter how big your bank balance is, you're never going to be bigger than the banks. So the banks are your gods. All these religions they're all fighting saying we worship God. No, you worship money. What is worship? Worship is something that you're constantly focusing on. So what are you really pouring your attention to? You only pour your attention to only on a weekly basis but every single section of your day you're focusing on money. How I'm going to live, how I'm going to eat, how I'm going to pay my council tax. And I got to pay this, I got to pay that and this all ties in to banks. Those are your gods.

So it's deep man, what are we gonna do?"

There was a brief pause.

"We have to change the rhythm," said the musician as he was walking away.

"Change the rhythm that's it! I like the way he said it, he's a percussionist. If you change the rhythm, everything: your synapses, your thoughts, your heart beat is set to a rhythm. Change the way you think. Once you change the way you think, then you change your perceptions on which shapes your reality.

When I look at that homeless man do I see myself connected to him? Love your neighbour as you love yourself. We don't need no religion, our religion should be love."

While I was standing there listening to his story and words, people kept coming up to him, greeting him, giving him hugs, food and just looking to make conversation with him. He offered me a banana.

"There's a reason why we're different. There's a reason why the hand grabs, the legs walk, there's something I'm supposed to learn from you, there's something you're supposed to learn from me. So yeah, we all got to do our little part one person at a time."

I asked him about why he decided on embarking on his journey:

"I left everything. I was in Birmingham, I had a place in Birmingham, I had a landord over me. I don't want a to have a landlord over me. I don't want anything over me. I want to be free like the birds. Where do birds go? The wings, can you contain the wings? Where does it come from, where is it going? So I want to be a free spirit. I see myself as a caged lion and I'm not even a lion, I'm a domesticated cat *laughs*. But the cage has always been open, I thought I was closed up, so I thought I had to pay my council tax, I thought I had to pay for water, I thought I had to do this and do that. And I thought I had to live for this guy called Bill and Debt, but I don't know who these people are. I've never been out of the jungle before and that's where I am right now. My journey. I'm figuring it out. So I came out on the 22nd of June and I'm trying to figure out the basic things, food, water, shelter... Now my mind  is getting understanding as the weather changes I have to change location and that's how people used to migrate. I'm not trying to be in the lottery of a system, a lottery that's exploiting and harnessing my energy. I'm going to define my own reality.

It's just been amazing. People have been. I've never lacked one day since I came out. I didn't come with anything and I've not been hungry. Just like the birds, they've been fed somehow and that's how I know there is a most high. We're too afraid, there's nothing to be afraid of, the main thing to be afraid of is you, look in the mirror and understand yourself. I don't feel that I completely understand myself yet but I'm on that journey."

Thank you Inap for sharing your story and I wish you well on your journey!