This is a project that Owen Powell and Alex Horne started on October 24th, 2006 (United Nations Day), and finished on October 24th, 2007. Our aim was to prove that London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world, by endeavouring to meet and chat to a citizen from every country in the world who currently lives and works in London.

We managed to meet people from 189 countries. According to the UN, there are 192 countries in the world, so we've proved that at the very least, London contains over 98.4% of the nations of the world!


We are still looking for people from three countries:

Marshall Islands; Palau; Tuvalu.

The final encounters during our year appear below, but to follow our story from the start please click on the links under 'How we're doing' on the left-hand side.  The countries appear in the order in which we found their representative. (Any country with an asterisk * next to it has a brief account of the interview - longer versions will appear in the future!)

To find out more about the project, including our self-imposed rules, then click here.


Follow this link if you have the urge to see us looking awkward on Channel 4 news.  Or just below you can see us when we were half-way through the project being interviewed by George Alagiah on BBC World.


Please email us on worldinonecity@hotmail.com if you want to get in touch, or if you know any shy Londoners who are also Tuvaluan, Palauan or Marshallese.

George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Now it's the End (of the World (in One City))?


Alex Horne - 24th October 2007 (United Nations Day)

We met our Qatari at the appointed time! He used to be an ambassador but isn't now so he counts! And he's extremely good at soundbites!

And, Jody, our Nauruan Nurse/Angel got our messages and bravely called us back - despite the fact that we must have looked much more like stalkers than anything else! She's at The Globe at Baker Street right now with Owen! And I'm going to join them in about 8 minutes!

But first, a couple of hastily thought out conclusions:

London scored 189.

That's pretty good. No, there isn't someone from every country in the world living here, but it is now officially the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

Until another city beats 189.

So, no, the story doesn't end here.

For one thing, we plan to write a book about the whole adventure AND have the ultimate global party with someone from every country in the world in one place at one time (hopefully early next year - more information to follow...).

But also, we want to beat 189 ourselves! Whether it be New York, Montreal or Hong Kong, we're almost certainly going to give it another crack...

So please do stay in touch and keep visiting the site for more updates. We may well need your help again soon!

No.189: Nauru

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 24th October 2007

Yesterday, we got an email from a nurse called Jody. Jody is from Nauru! (Well, half from Nauru, but at this stage of the project, half-Nauruan definitely counts).

We both replied, we went to bed, we woke up (all these activities were done individually, in our separate houses), and saw that Jody had not replied. We ummed and ahhed. I had a shower. (I don't know what Alex did). We phoned each other, and decided that as Jody had told us where she worked, we should go to where she worked. Which is a intensive care unit for children in the Royal Brompton Hospital.

It's amazing how far into a hospital you can get without really being ill or injured. We were on the point of going into a classroom for ill children in search of a nurse from Nauru, but saw another nurse in the corridor and asked her instead. "Jody?" she said. "Oh, she was on night shift last night, so she's probably in bed now. Do you want to leave her a message, in case she's working tonight?" Alex scribbled something, in the kind of handwriting a stalker might use, and we hoped for the best.

Later this afternoon, while Alex and I ate lunch (this time, together, at my house) Jody phoned. A Nauruan! Finally! On the very final day that a Nauruan could have phoned!

She told me that she wasn't working tonight, and in fact wanted to come to our last night party, bringing her sister, another half-Nauruan with her. (Two half-Nauruans, in my book, always add up to one whole Nauruan).


Jody and Catherine came to the party, stayed for hours, and put up with everyone else saying, "So, YOU'RE the famous Nauruans!" again and again. But they are the famous Nauruans, in our eyes, and it was a fitting end to the project to interview someone in the final hours of what has been the most amazing year of our lives.

No.188: Qatar

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 24th October 2007

If he is to be our final find, we couldn't have asked for anyone more appropriate or erudite than the former Ambassador of Qatar, Mr Al-Khalifa. We met at 6pm, six hours before our deadline, in a perfectly cosmopolitan cafe in Mayfair, where he now resides.

Some Qatar Quotes:

On Londoners:
'I don't expect people to smile when walking around. You're busy, you have to get somewhere! People in London are nice.'

On London:
'Now it is a global city. No one can claim it. You find yourself in places now and you don't know where in the world you are.'

On multiculturalism:
'When people move around they become aware of each other. They understand each other. That way, there are no more wars. Unfortunately politicians all over the world are backwards when it comes to multiculturalism.'

On Ken Livingston:
'The Mayor is a good man. He is ahead of his time. He understood what people who come from abroad can do for this city. It used to be dark after 5pm on the streets. Not any more!'

On Doha:
'You can't compare it to London. It's a much smaller city. It's a new city with new people. 80% of the people are non-Qataris. There are people from all over the world there. You could find someone from every country in the world there.'

The End of the World (in One City)?

Alex Horne - October 24th 2007

So, we've got less than ten hours left till our year long search comes to an end and there are still five countries to find. Why am I wasting time writing this then? Good question.

Well, first of all, Happy United Nations Day! Good.

And second, I'm afraid we've almost exhausted both our options and ourselves. Here's a quick breakdown of the current situation:

  • Qatar: We are meeting a Qatari gentleman (a former ambassador in fact), at six o'clock this evening. If this falls through we will feel extremely foolish.
  • Tuvalu: We can confirm that there are absolutely no Tuvaluans living in London. I have, however, met the closest Tuvaluan to London, a lady called Suliana whose house I visited yesterday - more details to follow.
  • Palau: Again, we are as sure as sure can be (is that a phrase? It sounds like one but doesn't seem to make any sense) that there are no Palauans in London. We've looked everywhere. The Mayor's office have looked everywhere. People from Fiji, New Zealand, Kiribati and Tuvalu have looked everywhere. In fact, we don't even think there's a Palauan in the whole of the UK. An interesting if frustrating fact if true.
  • Marshall Islands: No - no Marshallese people in London I'm afraid. But we have had an email from someone who is half Marshallese, half Nauruan (see below) who lives in Gravesend. We were hoping to pay her a visit but unfortunately we're still waiting for her to get back in touch. Also, we were contacted yesterday evening by...
  • Nauru: A nurse from Nauru works in the Royal Brompton Hospital! She emailed us, we emailed back - incredibly excitedly - then nothing... Obviously we paid the hospital a visit this morning only to be told that our one Pacific lead was on night shifts. She's almost certainly asleep as I write this. But we've left messages for her at the hospital and on her email so are hoping to meet her some time before midnight tonight.

Also before midnight tonight we're going to have a drink. In fact, we're hoping to have a drink with a lot of the people we've met over the last twelve months. And even some of the people we haven't met. So if you fancy coming along, we'll be at the Globe* Pub opposite Baker Street tube from 7.30pm tonight.

Again, Happy United Nations Day!

*Globe, by the way, is clearly a deliberate pun - but a multilayered one at that, being as it is an anagram of e-blog. Thank you.

Countries that we're still very much looking for:


Hello there. Due to popular demand (and because it's a good idea which we really should have thought of ourselves), here is a list of the countries for which we still have no leads. If you are from one of these countries and you now live and work in London, please do get in touch (worldinonecity@hotmail.com)! Or, if you know someone who fits that bill, please do also get in touch (same email address)! Here they are:

Marshall Islands

A Tiny Update

So Near...

On October 4th I wrote this to show where we stood with our last nationalities and we've been updating it ever since. It's now a bit confusing but does say something about how we're getting on and is quite useful for us to see where we've been looking and what we should be doing next. So don't worry too much if it doesn't make much sense but do let us know if you think there's a stone we haven't yet turned.

"We've got twenty days left so I thought I'd start a bit of a countdown to show how we're getting on with the remaining countries. I can't speak for Owen but I'm starting to become entirely consumed by this thing. I've dreamt twice about meeting a Marshall Islander and woken up distraught that it hadn't actually happened.

After 345 days of searching, the end is in sight. But will we succeed? Will we prove that people have come to this tiny corner of the world from every other corner of the world (accepting that there are 192 corners in the world)? I hope so. Or at least I hope we do everything in our power to prove that they haven't...

So here's where we are with TWENTY days to go (4-10-7) (Owen - please correct my mistakes):"

  • ANDORRA: After a postponement yesterday and a close call with an Andorran who actually lived in Manchester the day before that, Owen is hopefully meeting Kim this afternoon. COMPLETED 4-10-7!
  • BARBADOS: Owen is all set to meet a Bajan pupil at a school in Croydon tomorrow (as well as discussing the project in an entertaining and educational way with the other kids. Well done and good luck Owen). COMPLETED 5-10-7!
  • BOTSWANA: After spending yesterday evening going to a gig by a Botswanan band that never actually showed up, I was today contacted by a man called Kabelo to whom I am immensely grateful and whom I should be meeting on Monday. COMPLETED 8-10-7!
  • CAMBODIA: After two time-consuming trips to the Vietnam Laos and Cambodia Refugee Centre in Kingsland I finally met Mr Gak (from Vietnam) who gave me the phone number for a Mrs Owen (the head of a Cambodian society based in Southampton) who is now trying to find me someone from Cambodia who lives in London. There are also unconfirmed rumours about a Cambodian restaurant in Camden. Day 19 update: Mrs Owen has given my number to a Cambodian refugee who lives in London and should be calling me soon... Day 17 update: she phoned! And I'm going to meet her in Hackney on Sunday!COMPLETED 14-10-7!
  • CHAD: Owen has found someone on a London socialising website. This is a tenuous lead. Day 16 update: Alex has a new email address. We might be getting somewhere. COMPLETED 11-10-7!
  • CONGO (Republic of the): My dad has found me a very nice guy called Mr Padzhou whom I was meant to meet yesterday but who had to postpone and so whom I will hopefully be meeting next Monday or Tuesday in Walthamstow. Day 16 update: I should now be meeting Mr Padzhou next Monday. Fingers crossed.COMPLETED 15-10-7!
  • COTE D'IVOIRE: A friend of my brother's has given me the phone number of a guy he calls Drogba who I have spoken to and whom I should be meeting on Monday. I have also been chatting to Kolo Toure's agent but we don't know if he actually lives in London yet. COMPLETED 8-10-7!
  • DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Owen and I have planned a trip to New Malden next Wednesday. Day 15 update: Owen and I did indeed spend this afternoon in New Malden and spoke to ten South Koreans but zero North Koreans. We did, however, find three leads which Owen is going to chase vigorously. TRIPLE COMPLETED 19-10-7!
  • DJIBOUTI: We have nothing. Day 14 update: We have someone!COMPLETED 11-10-7!
  • DOMINICA: Owen is hopefully meeting a Dominican this evening. COMPLETED 4-10-7!
  • FIJI: A friend of a friend of my wife's is Fijian and returning from a holiday in the middle of next week. Owen may also find one watching their team play South Africa at the rugby world cup on Sunday. Day 17 update: Owen didn't find a Fijian at the rugby and South Africa won. His Samoan did, however, provide us with another lead. Day 14 update: We've also got a lead through Facebook. Day 12 update: Alex went to the Fiji Day celebrations in Aldershot, and met a Fijian. COMPLETED 13-10-7!
  • GABON: Oscar from Equatorial Guinea has invited us to the Equatorial Guinea Independence Day next Friday. I can't go unfortunately, but hopefully Owen and someone from Gabon will. Day 13 update: Oscar introduced Owen to the deputy ambassador for Gabon, but meeting him was breaking the rules. Day 10 update: Owen has met someone on Facebook who he is hopefully meeting on the final Monday. COMPLETED 22-10-7!
  • GUINEA-BISSAU: Owen's friend Andy might know someone. Day 8 update: we've now been contacted by two more people that may have leads so are starting to feel confident. COMPLETED 23-10-7!
  • HAITI: We have nothing. Day 12 update: An email has come in ... COMPLETED 16-10-7!
  • KIRIBATI: Tonga from Tonga might know someone from Kiribati. Day 12 update: A lead for Alex from the Fiji day celebrations - hopefully meeting Mr Burentarawa on Tuesday. COMPLETED 16-10-7!
  • LAO: Jessica from the last live show has given us an email address whom we are waiting to hear back from. Day 9 update: we still haven't heard back from this contact so are now scouring restaurants. Day 8 update: we have confirmation of a chef from Laos working in a pub in Richmond. I'm going to pay them a visit tomorrow. COMPLETED 18-10-7!
  • LESOTHO: We have been trying to find a convenient time to meet lovely Likeng in South London for the last three months. Hopefully it will happen soon. Day 10 update: unfortunately Likeng is now out of the UK until after our deadline. However, I do have a friend from university from Lesotho who lives outside London but whose brother lives in Finsbury Park and who I'm hoping to meet. Day 10 update: Owen has also found someone on Facebook. DOUBLE COMPLETED 17-10-7!
  • LIBYA: A friend of a friend of my brother's has located a Libyan whom I emailed today. Owen also might know someone called Molly. Day 17 update: Owen met Molly but Molly lives in Sunningdale - outside of London! I have meanwhile been corresponding with another Libyan lady called Sara whom I hope to meet in the next day or two. COMPLETED 10-10-07!
  • MALDIVES: We have nothing. Day 15 update: my elder brother's fiancee has a friend who has a friend from the Maldives who's in the Maldives at the moment but whose brother is in London and who we might be able to meet.COMPLETED 12-10-7!
  • MARSHALL ISLANDS: We have nothing. Day 3 update: Somebody living in Gravesend (just outside London) is half-Nauruan, half-Marshallese. We're going to try to speak to her before our deadline.
  • MAURITANIA: A very nice person called Fatima (from Sierra Leone) has put me in touch with her aunt's husband Gibril whom I am meeting on Tuesday. COMPLETED 9-10-07!
  • MICRONESIA: One of our previous finds has set up a secret meeting... COMPLETED 20-10-7!
  • NAURU: We have nothing. Day 2 update: A Nauruan nurse (IN LONDON!) emailed us. We're going to go looking for her on our last day. COMPLETED 24-10-7!
  • NICARAGUA: Owen's contact has had to pull out due to poor health. We are back to square one. Day 16 update: Alex appeared on LBC Radio and now we have a new lead. COMPLETED 10-10-7!
  • NIGER: Doundosy from Burkina Faso may be able to help. Day 6 update: Ibrat from Uzbekistan phoned - he's found us a man from Niger who works at the World Service, and Owen is meeting him on Monday.COMPLETED 22-10-7!
  • PALAU: We have nothing.
  • PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Nick, a contact whom we had almost give up on, phoned Owen today and they're hopefully meeting next Tuesday. COMPLETED 9-10-7!
  • QATAR: Surprisingly, we have nothing. Day 15 update: Sara, our Libyan, may know someone. Fingers crossed. Day 1 update: We should be meeting our Qatari this evening .... COMPLETED 24-10-7!
  • SAMOA: Owen is hopefully meeting a lady called Pele tomorrow. COMPLETED 5-10-7!
  • SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: See Gabon. Day 13 update: Unfortunately, there were no Sao Tome and Principians at the party... Day 9 update: a very nice BBC World journalist put us in touch with someone called Sao whom I am meeting tomorrow! COMPLETED 19-10-7!
  • SOLOMON ISLANDS: A very nice Priest gave me another Priest's (from the Solomon Islands) phone number but so far there's been no reply. Day 19 update: Ben, the Solomon Islander Priest has called! We are hopefully meeting on Tuesday... COMPLETED 8-10-7!
  • SURINAME - Very nice Fatima put me in touch with someone called Rachel from Suriname who's on holiday but returns next week. Day 17 update: Rachel has been in touch and we're trying to meet tomorrow. COMPLETED 9-10-07!
  • SWAZILAND - My other brother has tried to help but as yet there's been no reply from his contact so we are still pinning our hopes on Richard E. Grant whose agent says he's too busy. Day 16 update: we've been emailed by a Swazilander! And we're arranging a meeting.COMPLETED 11-10-7!
  • TUVALU - Owen's friend Zane has put us in contact with someone called Joshua who put us in touch with the wife of a guy called Avau whom we're waiting to hear back from. Day 11 update: I also got a couple of contacts from people I met through Patrick and Philomena at the Fiji Independence Day Party in Aldershot. Day 6 update: we are now being told by everyone who might know that there are categorically no Tuvaluans in London. I have been emailing a kind and patient lawyer/author called Philip Ells who doesn't know any, Owen has visited the Honorary Consul who lives in Tuvalu House down in Merton but is actually from Tanzania, and I've just spoken to a Mrs McNaughton who is from Tuvalu but lives in Ayrshire, Scotland. She told me she knows all four of the other Tuvaluans in the UK and they live in Exeter, York, Carlisle and Alton respectively. Still, we have not given up yet... Day 1 update: By now, we're pretty sure there are no Tuvaluans in London.

That's it. It's tangible. But time is running out.

If you can help with ANY of these countries please get in touch.

As always it's worldinonecity@hotmail.com.

We would love to hear from you.

Missing Country C: Marshall Islands

'I'm going to stop you right there'

Alex Horne - 24th October 2007

I spoke to a man called Giff Johnson in the Marshall Islands on Tuesday night (although it was Wednesday morning for him). He's been the editor of the Marshall Island Journal for the last 22 years (that link would not have been possible two weeks ago, by the way - the islands' best (and only) newspaper's website went live for the first time on October 10th).

'I'm going to stop you right there', he said in a strong American accent when I'd told him roughly what I needed. 'We tried to find someone in London last year for another organisation and we searched and searched and couldn't find anyone. I'm sure nothing's changed since then'.

So there we go. There's no one here from the Marshall Islands. Just as we suspected but didn't want to believe.

The organisation doing that research last year, by the way: The Daily Mail. Ironic?

Missing Country B: Palau

A mysterious wreath

Owen Powell - 24th October 2007

Last Thursday, Alex and I were standing on top of the GLA building, with wonderful views of Tower Bridge to the east and St Paul's to the west. We had been discussing our project with the Mayor's office, and they were extremely enthusiastic and helpful, and now we were up on the tenth floor thinking about ideas for parties and massive international get-togethers in 2008. It's nice to think that 'The World In One City' might end up being an ongoing project, rather than reaching a partially-triumphant conclusion tonight.

Alex pointed out to the east, nudged me and said, "Is that where Rotherhithe is?" I confirmed that it was (it's only a twenty minute walk from where I live). "Great," he said, "let's go and find our Palauan after this meeting has finished ..."

You're probably expecting me to be more excited about having found a Palauan. After all, we have just spent a year trying to meet people from every country on the planet, and with a week to go Palau was almost top of the list of the countries we had heard nothing about. But it was with a fairly heavy heart that we jumped on the 188 at Tower Bridge, made the short journey to St Mary's Church in Rotherhithe, and stood by the grave of Prince Lee Boo.

In all our research, the only Palauan we can conclusively prove to have lived in London is Lee Boo. Unfortunately, for him and us, Lee Boo died aged 20 in the year 1784. He was picked up on the East India Company's ship, 'The Antelope', when his father, the King of what is now Palau, asked the Englishmen who were travelling home via China to take his son with them and make him an Englishman. Lee Boo firstly visited China, where he saw his first mirror and first cow, then arrived in London, witnessing the first balloon flight in England a few months later. (There is more on his story here.)

Sadly, after five months of living in London, Prince Boo caught smallpox and died. He's buried in the churchyard of St Mary's, and you can see a 360-degree image of his grave here. We stood there for a while, and I copied the authentically eighteenth-century inscription into my notebook (sample: "stop reader stop let Nature Claim A tear / A prince Of Mine LEE BOO Lies Buried Here").

St Mary's itself was quite quiet. Alex spoke to the priest, who looked a bit like Friar Tuck, and he said that once every three or four years, somebody from Palau comes to visit and lays flowers on the grave. This year, however, a mysterious person had laid a wreath and he wasn't sure who it was. Could it be a London-based Palauan? We're not sure. Probably not. We think we would have found them by now.

We waved goodbye to the church and Lee Boo, and Alex went to meet a chef from Laos.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Missing Country A: Tuvalu

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 23rd October 2007

When I was about 8 years old our family dentist moved his practice from Midhurst in West Sussex to Alton in Hampshire. Showing unusual and perhaps unnecessary loyalty in the field of teeth, we then spent the next ten years travelling twenty one miles West North West to have the same man make our mouths hurt.

Up till now, therefore, Alton has been a town of uncomfortable memories for me. Yes, we got given a sticker on the way out of the surgery as some sort of compensation but I mainly remember the painful needles, grinding drills, blinding lights and weird pink water.

I'm going to the dentist for the first time in Chesham this Friday, by the way, so I guess I might be a tiny bit preoccupied with the whole business.

Today, however, my view of Alton was altered forever and favourably by Suliana and her husband Paul who not only welcomed me into their home but even picked me up and dropped me off at the station (without once mentioning things like fillings, dentures or headbraces).

They met on the main island (and capital) Funafuti when Paul was working there as the People's Lawyer from 1990 to 1993. Some of you may have read a book called Where the Hell is Tuvalu? by a man called Philip Ells. I have. He was also the People's Lawyer in Tuvalu. In fact, he took the job over from Paul. I contacted the author a few months ago, he replied and we ended up having something of a fun dialogue. But he didn't know of any Tuvaluans in London.

He did, however, know Paul and Suliana, having gone out for a couple of drinks with the former before going out for a couple of years to Tuvalu. They haven't been in touch for a good few years so I've promised to pass on each others' email addresses (I found Suliana through Patrick and Philomena, my Kiribati contacts, incidentally*).

Anyway, Suliana has lived in Alton for fourteen years. The last time she flew back to Tuvalu was on September 11th 2001. Suliana, Paul and their three children were meant to be flying via America but were rerouted through Hong Kong. It's not the easiest place to reach at the best of times.

'When do you think you'll next go back?' I asked.

'When I win the lottery', she replied.

Suliana confirmed definitively that there are definitely NO TUVALUANS LIVING IN LONDON. There are three in her house (her niece and mother also live there at present), one in Scotland, one in Exeter and one in Sheffield - but that's it. Her cousin was also living in Cornwall but she's not there at the moment.

We also talked briefly about global warming, the subject for which Tuvalu is most (if not solely) known.

'If it's mentioned in the paper my workmates get excited and say 'have you seen what's happened? It's going to disappear! You should phone home and check your family's ok!' It's nice they are worried but they make it soundsso dramatic. I know what it's like. It's not really happening. Slowly, yes, the sea is coming. But the people there just don't want to move away...

Yes. I miss home.'

* Argh! Inci-dental-ly! I can't stop thinking about it...

No.187: Guinea-Bissau

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 23rd October 2007

With only a day to go, I feel like I am inundated with non-working phone numbers for people from Guinea-Bissau. Finally, I have some luck with a number sent across by Jamie from the Mayor's office (oh yes, for this final week, we've got the big guns in).

I meet Nayanka at SOAS where she studies Politics and Development. Born in France, but the proud owner of joint Guinea-Bissau/Portuguese nationality, she is a suitably cosmopolitan person to allow us to reach the point where we can say that people from every African nation (more than a quarter of the world's countries) live in London. We've also met people from every European country, every country in the whole of the Americas (North, Central, South, Caribbean), and every country in Asia. After tomorrow, we hope we can say the same for the Middle East. It's just Oceania that's proving a little harder ...

Monday, 22 October 2007

No.186: Niger

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 22nd October 2007

Ibrat from Uzbekistan knows I'm on the lookout for a person from Niger (a 'Nigerien', as I later learn - not to be confused with a 'Nigerian', somebody from Nigeria). He asks around at the BBC World Service where he works, and locates Elhadji, who works in the Hausa department.

Elhadji is now pretty settled in London, his family is here (including his third child, only five months old) and he's been at the BBC for nearly ten years. But journalism wasn't his first career - as he was good at science in school, the government gave him a scholarship to study Mining Engineering, in what was then Czechoslovakia at the end of the 1980s. "There weren't many other black Africans around," he says, "so it was sometimes quite difficult. London feels far more mixed and welcoming."

No.185: Gabon

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 22nd October 2007

Michel came over from Gabon when he was eight, with his mum and younger brother. They moved to Newham - Michel had never seen snow or white people before, and couldn't understand why his mum was speaking this funny new language (they had grown up speaking French). Now, however, he thinks of himself as an East Londoner. Are you losing your sense of being Gabonese, I ask him? "I've lost it all together, if I'm being honest," he replies.

Michel became an uncle over the weekend.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

No.184: Micronesia

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 20th October 2007

You'll have to trust me on this one. I met a Micronesian, but I did it in a sneaky way and I feel worse about it than I did about meeting the man from Myanmar. So, no details yet ...

Friday, 19 October 2007

No.183: North Korea

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 19th October 2007

Alex and I made a trip to New Malden last week, where we spoke to EunJung Lee, a (South) Korean lady who runs an educational consultancy. She thought that a teacher she knew may have had some North Korean students, and a few phone calls, emails, and days later, I'm back in New Malden, waiting for Denise to take me to her classroom.

Now, I promised Denise I would let her see my write-up of my meeting with her students, so all I can confirm here is, yes, I met not one, not two, but three people from the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, their names (as far as I am concerned) were Geraldine, Keith and John, and while a couple of them have seen Buckingham Palace, none of them have had afternoon tea with the Queen.

No.182: Sao Tome and Principe

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 19th October 2007

Whilst working in a school in Ghana earlier in the year, my brother Mat happened to read an article by a lady called Maimouna Jallow who had moved from London to Sao Tome and Principe. You can read the article here.

On a whim, I guessed her email address, received one back pointing me to her actual address, and sent her a message pleading for help.

Within hours she'd put me in touch with her friend Conceicao. Within days I'd spent a fascinating and hugely enjoyable hour and a half with this former BBC World journalist, renowned poet and truly inspiring woman.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

No. 181: Laos

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 18th October 2007

Following a tip-off from a very helpful correspondent called Marc, I headed down to a pub called the Racing Page in Richmond this evening. The train was bursting with commuters. In fact, the only person in my carriage not wearing a suit and tie was the drunk-ish old-ish man next to me who spent most of the journey impressively listing the Eastern European countries who've most recently joined the EU and concluding that they should all return to their homelands because he hadn't invited them over here. He then looked at my yellow shoes and concluded that I'd almost certainly bought them in Oxfam. I didn't agree with him.

Toi presumed I was there to talk to his dad. 'He's quite a famous Laotian chef and artist', he explained. 'A lot of people come to talk to him about his recipes.' But I was more than happy to meet his son, a chatty 29 year old who'd arrived in the UK aged two and grew up in Worthing, just like my mum.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

No.180: Lesotho

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 17th October 2007

Refiloe is not in London entirely by choice. "In Lesotho, I was a qualified advocate - what you call a barrister. I practiced for a year and a half, it was great work. Then my partner got a job in London. We tried to make it work long distance, but it was hard. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have come."

He now works in the legal department of Camden Council, and is going to be taking a Masters next year in Compliance and Commercial Law, with a view to (one day) working back in Lesotho again. It's clear where Refiloe's heart is ("This is great!" he says at one point, "I never get the chance to talk about Lesotho like this, normally!") and he brings me up to speed with a detailed survey of Lesotho life.

Some facts about Lesotho:
1) The only country in the world that is ENTIRELY a kilometre or more above sea level.
2) One person from Lesotho is called a Mosotho (the plural is Basotho). The language is Sesotho.
3) Lesotho's motto is 'Peace, Rain, Prosperity'.
4) During the apartheid era, Lesotho (which is surrounded by South Africa) gave asylum to political activists, and provided education for those unable to receive it in South Africa.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

No.179: Haiti

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 16th October 2007

Both of Kathleen's parents are from Haiti. Indeed, all four of her grandparents are Haitian. But Kathleen herself has never actually lived there, having spent her first nine years in New York, the next nineteen in Montreal and then living in Miami before moving to London in 2004.

On a table outside the same Starbucks on Chancery Lane where I'd met Ohood from Bahrain three months earlier, we chatted merrily away about how different people view different nationalities. In Britain people think she's American, but in America people think she's Canadian. Nobody seems to know how to respond when she says she's from Haiti. 'I have no country!' she laughed.

It's hard to get the tone right in these brief blurbs but I should make it clear that this was a very upbeat conversation about race. She may not fit in to any easy category, but Kathleen has clearly enjoyed her life wherever it has taken her, this 'outsider' status a quirk not a burden.

Still, I did feel quite pleased with myself when, having pronounced her 'genetically Haitian' and eminently qualified to represent Haiti here, Kathleen smiled broadly and said, 'I love that'.

No.178: Kiribati

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - October 16th

Kiribati is pronounced keery-pus. That's according to 62 year old Mr Maritino Burentawara (pronounced purentawara) who's now living in Sutton (yes, that is London, it's in the London Borough of Sutton). He's been a missionary and a headmaster in his time and has lived in Papua New Guinea and Australia as well as Kiribati and London. When he and his wife, whom he met while she was working for VSO on the islands, first came to the UK they stayed on the floor of her parents' farm in Scotland. 'That is the coldest part of this country', he told me.

Monday, 15 October 2007

No.177: Republic of the Congo

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 15th October 2007

My dad found us Mr Pandzou after hearing his accent on the phone and demanding to know (purely because of this project of course) where he was from. They were chatting about a charity Mr Pandzou is running in Walthamstow, helping elderly people in the area go about their everyday lives. He is also trying to set up a charity in the Congo where the suffering, he told me, is unbelievable.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

No.176: Cambodia

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 14th October 2006

In the kitchen of her house in Hackney, Muyeng first soothed my rugby-inspired hangover with a cup of tea and a slice of moon cake then told me her moving and inspiring tale of fleeing Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge through the Cambodian jungle to a refugee camp in Thailand. That was in 1983. After five more traumatic years she was finally taken to London, where she's lived with her family for the last nineteen years and where I also met her first grandson, a smiling six month old baby called Charlie.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

No.175: Fiji

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 13th October 2007

The UK's Fiji Independence Day celebrations this year took place in Aldershot. There I sung the national anthem, watched but didn't join in traditional dancing and eventually met Uncle Joe outside the army community centre cum traditiontal Fijian 'Fale' - whilst also attempting to get contacts for the likes of Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Friday, 12 October 2007

No.174: Maldives

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 12th October 2007

Ismail is in his second stint in London. The first came as a student, firstly doing a degree in Biochemistry, then two years at the London Film School. I hover my pen over my notebook, trying to make the link. "I had no interest in Biochemistry," says Ismail. "My parents were keen for me to have something to fall back on, but now I feel it was wasted time. I always wanted to go into film or TV - in fact, I made short films even during my first degree."

He arrived back in London this year, after five years studying film and working in TV in Los Angeles. (If you've seen any of the US Big Brother, you may have seen some of Ismail's editing work). He's now looking to move away from the 'reality' genre into more narrative work.

He goes back to the Maldives regularly to see friends and family (many of his friends are in Sri Lanka, where he went to school). While he was there in 2004, his plane was on a runway when the tsunami hit. "Things were a lot worse elsewhere, further south. But the runway flooded, and we were stranded for twelve hours. I remember I'd felt the earthquake earlier in the day - I'd felt a few in LA - but this went on for over a minute."

Thursday, 11 October 2007

No.173: Chad

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 11th October 2007

'Everybody who has left Chad wants to go back soon', Theo told me. 'We're not rich - in fact we're one of the poorest countries in the world - but we just love our country.' Theo himself is no exception. Having completed his LPC he's now working for the Brixton Legal Centre whilst applying for a training contract. 'That is my purpose here - to be qualified as a business sollicitor. My ultimate aim is to have a practise back home. That is my dream.'

No.172: Swaziland

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 11th October 2007

"One of the first thing I bought when I moved here five years ago was a fishing rod," says Tracey-Ann. "I'm a proper farm girl, I'm outdoorsy, I can't quite get used to the pace of urban life. Walking down a street when everyone's got umbrellas up - that's a mission."

Despite that, Tracey-Ann works in the heart of London, in the Treasury in Whitehall. "I always say to the guys I work with - Look where you work! It's amazing! Some of them don't appreciate all the building and the architecture like I do - I love working here." Compared to the work culture in South Africa, where Tracey-Ann previously worked, she finds British people friendly and less macho.

"My favourite place in London is Camden." Tracey-Ann starts to laugh. "I took my dad there when he came over, and we just wandered around looking at all the freaky people. By the end of the day, I had bruised ribs from all the times he had nudged me."

No.171: Djibouti

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 11th October 2007

Following up the last of Philippe Sibelly's leads I trudged pessimistically up to the Argos on Kilburn High Street where, four years before, a man called Hufane from Djibouti was working. I asked the security guard if he knew anyone called Hufane. He shook his head, pointed at the customer service desk and went back to looking for shoplifters (not an easy crime in an Argos). After the man in front of me had returned a faulty iron, I asked again about Hufane. 'Hufane?' they replied. 'Hufane' I said (proncouncing it hu-fan).

'Hufane from Djibouti', I presisted.

A pause.

'Ah!' they eventually replied, suddenly enthusaistic. 'You mean D J Hufane! (pronounced hu-fay-nay) Hang on - I'll see if he's upstairs...'.

I hung on and he was.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

No.170: Nicaragua

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 10th October 2007

Ada is a beauty therapist living and working in South Kensington, which she describes as like "a village - it's very friendly and you know most of your neighbours." In fact, her Italian neighbour pops into the cafe where we're chatting, and suggests that Ada and her Swiss husband Nicolas go out for a rum and coke later.

"The sad part of London," says Ada, "is that although you meet lots of new people, you also lose them. People move on quite a lot, they don't tend to stay."

No.169: Libya

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 10th October 2007

Sara Nashnush has one of my favourite surnames of the project so far. She told me it was a big family name back in Tripoli. She herself moved to London when she was just a year and two thirds old (well, her family brought her really) but she did live in Libya for a year in 1993. 'That made me feel a bit more connected to my family and friends', she told me. 'But being Libyan in London has never been an issue for me. I've got my own culture and religion alongside my London life but I don't ever really think about it. Maybe that's because of London. I don't have to think about it here because it's such a multicultural city.'

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

No.168: Papua New Guinea

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 10th October 2007

Papua New Guinea gained its independence in September 1975, and Nick was born there in November 1975, making him probably one of the oldest official Papuans that you could ever hope to find. He grew up speaking pidgin, but at the age of five went to live in his parents' original homeland of Australia.

Now working as a consultant in London, he likes exploring the obscurer places in the capital. "Whenever my friends come here they tell me I should write a guidebook," he says.

No.167: Suriname

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 9th October 2007

Rachel thinks she could be the only person in London with an actual Suriname passport. Most people who emigrate tend to either live in the Netherlands or get a Dutch passport.

She's also the only person in London to have ever given me a calendar of herself.

Rachel is a model. A very successful model. And a TV presenter and a DJ and an actor and a writer and she speaks four languages and is learning Japanese. She's also setting up a charity back in Suriname. That's where the calendar comes in...

No.166: Mauritania

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 9th October 2007

Ignoring an 'Area Closed' sign, Gibril took me to the top floor of the MacDonalds in Wembley and told me all about the third biggest country in Africa. He was a passionate man wearing a white suit, a white t-shirt and a black woolly hat.

Like almost all former French colonies, his is a country suffering from deeply ingrained corruption. We spoke for about an hour.

'I have told you what I believe, what I see, what I believe is right,' he said before we parted.

Monday, 8 October 2007

No.165: Cote D'Ivoire

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 8th October 2007

Everyone calls Huberson 'Drogba' because he's from Cote D'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) and looks a tiny bit like Didier Drogba, the frustratingly gifted Chelsea striker. Huberson has actually met Drogba a number of times and says he's a nice man who devotes a lot of his time and money to charity.

Huberson himself, meanwhile, is planning to return to Africa next year. 'I was at university with someone who is the Prime Minister now', he told me. 'Now it's time for me to go back home and be useful to my family.'

No.164: Botswana

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 8th October 2007

I met our Botswanan on the 29th floor of the Euston Tower. It was the highest of our encounters so far.

Kabelo works for an engineering consultancy firm called Atkins that employs over 16,000 people - more than the entire population of both Tuvalu and Nauru.

Despite spending what he describes as 'the most important years' of his life in London, he still can't stand the weather here.

No.163: Solomon Islands

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 8th October 2007

Arriving in London just two weeks ago, Father Ben has so far found his experience rather confusing. 'Most people can't speak English!', he told me with a genuine look of bewilderment on his face. 'I sit on the bus and can't understand anything. Especially the domestic workers. This surprised me. I always thought people spoke English in London!'

Sent here as part of a staff development programme by his church on Malaita in the Solomon Islands, Father Ben is here to study anthropology. One day he will return to work as a tutor and lecturer along side his job as a priest.

On his first trip to a church in St Martin-in-the-Fields he was amazed both by the number of Chinese people and the lack of young people in the congregation.

Friday, 5 October 2007

No.162: Barbados

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 5th October 2007

Sometimes Alex and I get encouraging emails from people. (We also get lots of emails that say, "Why don't you try embassies?" even though we're pretty clear about not trying embassies). One of the most encouraging, recently, came from a teacher called Michael who told us that he was using our blog as a way to teach Citizenship to his GCSE class, which we found incredibly flattering. Oh, he added, would we like to meet Rashad from year 10 who was originally from Barbados? And would I like to travel on a tram for the first time in my life?

Sometimes you just have to say, 'Yes, please.'

To get to Addington High School, I had to travel on a bus, a tube, a train and, most excitingly of all, a tram. The school is so far from central London that the phone number doesn't even begin '020'. But it is definitely in London, and Rashad is definitely a Londoner. He left Barbados aged twelve, three years ago, and the kind of lifestyle that meant he "swam in the sea every day after school. Oh, and on Saturdays too." He's going back at Christmas to see family (he's the grandson of famous West Indies cricket umpire, Lloyd Barker, and a cousin of recent fast bowler Tino Best).

No.161: Samoa

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 5th October 2007

Pele lived in Samoa until she was twelve, when her father was appointed as the Samoan ambassador the US, and the family moved to Washington for three years. "I had never seen an escalator before," notes Pele. "Oh, and I got to meet the first President Bush."

Later on, she studied Chemical Enginering in Melbourne, and managed oil distribution centres all around the Pacific - Fiji, the Cook Islands, New Zealand. Often, she was in charge of a dozen or so oil workers in an installation in the middle of nowhere. "Some of the men had children who were older than me," she says. "Sometimes it took a year to bring them round."

Then, an epiphany. "I sold everything, packed my whole life into two boxes and a suitcase, left the boxes at my sister's house, and came to London. I don't regret quitting my job. It's not about money - it's about looking back at 60 and seeing what experiences you've had."

See Pele's blog here.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

No.160: Andorra

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 4th October 2007

Kim is our final European, proving that at least one continent is completely represented in London. Like every Andorran, he speaks fluent French, Spanish and Catalan, but also English as well, having been in the UK since arriving at prep school aged seven.

No.159: Dominica

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 4th October 2007

Wayne, another of Milena's friends (although he's technically her boss) is a very very fast young man. "Four or five years ago," he says, "while I was still training, I could run 100 metres in 10.93." My eyes goggle. That's pretty swift.

He moved from Dominica when he was two, and doesn't feel any lasting connection to his place of birth. "If I reach 100, you know, only 2% of my life will have been spent in Dominica. I'm a Londoner now."

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

No.158: Madagascar

James Bond and a Baby

Alex Horne - 3rd October 2007

This morning, for the first time, I felt a tiny bit pessimistic about our task. Three weeks to go and thirty five countries to find is not a great equation. We do have leads for about twenty of those nationalities but several of them seem to be going cold and we’ve got no clue at all how to find someone from Palau, the Marshall Islands or Haiti.

So what I’m saying is, if you’re reading this and you think you can help, please get in touch. Soon. And if you’re living in Palau, the Marshall Islands or Haiti and you’re thinking about moving to London, go for it.

My spirits were lifted, however, by a coffee with two people from Madagascar (now, I know they’re called Malagasy people but I still don’t know whether they’re called Madagascans or Malagasians – I’ll stick to ‘people from Madagascar’ for now) who reminded me that even if we don’t find someone from every country in the world, we’ve certainly had an awful lot of fun trying.

I met Vaonarivo (a traditional Malagasy name) and Eric (a traditional French name – ish; it definitely came from the French colonisers anyway ) in one of the Starbuckses on Fleet Street. As usual I went to the wrong one first but they eventually found me, I accidentally bought three enormous hot drinks and we got down to business, starting, as so often, with a faux pas from me:

‘So you two are married, aren’t you?’

They shook their heads and giggled at my mistake.

‘Oh no’, explained Eric, ‘we’re neighbours!’

‘Yes. Good’, I said, recovering well. ‘Neighbours here in London?’

‘Oh no’, Eric repeated. ‘We were neighbours back in Madagascar, in the capital, Antananarivo, (would anyone have got that?) but we didn’t come here together. We didn’t even know the other one was here. I’d been here for six months, went into the consulate where Vao was working and thought, ‘hang on, I know you!’ After being on my own for so long it was great!’

I like stories like that (see Azerbaijan for another). And if you’re thinking, ‘She works in a consulate! She’s ineligible!’ well done for paying attention, but don’t worry, the consulate shut six months ago and we didn’t set foot anywhere near it. Everything’s ok.

While Eric came to the UK to study (he’s on the verge of completing an MBA funded by relentless 6am shifts at one of those EAT cafes) Vao came to be with her English husband. ‘We met in Madagascar’, she told me a little shyly. ‘We came here for six months to see if I liked living in London, went back to get married in Madagascar then came back to stay here in December 2000. And now I’m pregnant!’ She patted her modest bump as she said this last sentence. I’m a bloke so hadn’t noticed. But I’m a broody bloke so got quite excited.

‘Brilliant!’ I said, a little too loudly, ‘and how pregnant are you?’ (not quite the right terminology but a good effort). ‘Twenty two weeks’, replied Vao, smiling broadly now. We all agreed it was an exciting time. And I decided that after eleven months of searching I was now meeting two and a quarter people from Madagascar in one go and that this was also exciting news.

Eric is actually planning to go back home fairly soon. He’s been away from home since 1999, spending two weeks in Kenya, two months in Ethiopia and two years in Tunisia before finally arriving in London. ‘It’s tough living in here as a foreigner’, he told me. ‘It’s difficult to get the papers to work legally now. There’s a sort of employment hierarchy with British people first, Europe second, the Commonwealth third then people like us at the bottom. And it costs us £500 to renew our visas every year. It used to be free. But that’s a lot of money’.

I agreed and asked if most people he’d met here knew where Madagascar was. He smiled. ‘Not really. People often say, ‘Madagascar, wow! I didn’t know there were people there!’ (there are, in fact 18 million people there). But they’ve heard of it now, thanks to the cartoon*’. He kept smiling. ‘That was great actually. We got to go to the premiere, it was a lot of fun’.

‘And we went to the premiere of the new James Bond as well’, chimed in Vao enthusiastically. ‘Really?’ I said, genuinely jealous. ‘Yes, well I helped with the film. There was a scene that was meant to be set in Madagascar but they filmed it in the Bahamas so my job was to go back home and take pictures of the buildings and people which they could use to make it more realistic. Then when they’d filmed it we went into the studio and recorded Malagasy voices so that they could use them instead of the Bahamian ones...’

‘So you were in James Bond?’ I asked incredulously. ‘I must have heard you in James Bond!’

‘Yes!’ they both replied. ‘There are some advantages to being part of a small community in another country’.

I wondered if they could recognize other Malagasy on looks alone. ‘Oh no’, said Eric. ‘We all look quite different. People have said I look Brazilian, Ethiopian, Malaysian and Arabic. We’re quite a mix ethnically.’ (Eric, by the way, is 29 years old, just nine days older than myself, but looks enviably youthful. Just last week, in fact, he was turned down twice, first trying to buy cigarettes in a shop then beer in a pub. Vao and I were both quite jealous about this).

‘But we could recognise each other by whistling’, Eric continued. ‘By whistling?’ I asked. ‘Yes, whistling’, he replied, patient and amused. ‘I don’t know why but we all know a certain whistle, ever since we were little’. I asked him to demonstrate. ‘I can’t whistle while I’m laughing!’ he said, before composing himself. He then did the whistle. It was a good whistle. Much better than our unofficial national whistle of the wolf variety.

Vao too was full of surprises. Not only had she bagged herself a speaking part in an iconic British film, she was also the producer of a soap opera back in Madagascar (‘it was called Sarivolana – it was a bit like The Archers’) and is now one of the main organisers behind ‘Madagascar on Thames’ a group dedicated to celebrating Madagascar’s culture in London. I was gutted to have missed their inaugural event just ten days earlier (an enormous party on an enormous boat with an enormous barbecue) but will keep my eyes on www.mada-on-thames.co.uk for future get-togethers (do have a look at the site for some great pictures and cracking facts. Madagascar, for example, is the world’s fourth biggest island. Good fact. Can you name the three bigger?).

Vao was keen and proud to promote her homeland. ‘It’s a hidden paradise’, she said. ‘There aren’t many tourists and you don’t hear much about it over here. Except for vanilla. The best vanilla is from Madagascar.’ ‘And the prawns’, added Eric. ‘The jumbo prawns’. ‘That’s right’, laughed Vao. ‘In the Marks and Spencers’ adverts they always say, ‘these aren’t just prawns, they’re Madagascan Jumbo prawns’ or ‘this isn’t just ice cream, it’s ice cream made with vanilla from Madagascar!’ She did the voice too. It was very funny. Eric and I laughed a lot. It was a lovely encounter. And I can’t wait for the next thirty four.

* A 2005 Dreamworks film which, according to wikipedia, ‘tells the story of four Central Park Zoo animals who have spent their lives in blissful captivity and are unexpectedly shipped back to Africa, getting shipwrecked on the island of Madagascar. The voices of Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock and David Schwimmer are featured.’

Monday, 1 October 2007

No.157: Central African Republic

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 1st October 2007

Amandine's a friend of Doundosy's, living in the same building. They said hello one night, and Doundosy heard the French accent and introduced himself. Now he's helping her find a new job (she works evenings as a cleaner at the moment, while learning English during the day). It's the only interview so far that I attempt to do entirely in French! It doesn't go that well - I keep using "tu" instead of "vous" and Amandine starts giggling. Neverthless, I do manage to discover her age (22) and where she lives (London).

Friday, 28 September 2007

No.156: Myanmar

Jo Brand in the rain

Owen Powell - 28th September 2007

I sort of hate myself. I’ve come to the protest outside the Burmese embassy to try to find someone from Burma for our project.

Burma (or Myanmar) is in meltdown. People are being shot in the streets, monks and students are risking their lives in the name of freedom, and the international community is definitely thinking about planning to do something about it. In Mayfair, a crowd of protestors, some journalists, me, and Jo Brand are shuffling about on a side-street under a dirty autumnal London sky, getting slowly drenched. Just when I’m plucking up the courage to ask someone if I can speak to them, a man grabs a megaphone and starts to sing. Everybody (except me and the journalists and Jo Brand – I think she’s here with Amnesty) joins in, men with red bandanas punching the air.

In the break between the second and third songs, which get more and more rousing, a builder on his fag break next door says, a bit too loudly, “Give it a rest!” Even if it’s meant somehow ironically, which I somehow doubt, it’s still one of the most repellent things I’ve heard in recent weeks. Maybe no-one else hears, certainly no-one reacts, and after he finishes his cigarette he goes back inside again. To my immense shame, its main effect is to make me feel a lot better about what I’m doing. I’m here! I think. I’m in the crowd! I’m protesting, just by my very presence. I’m protesting in the rain! And, in a minute, if I pluck up the courage, I’m going to speak to a Burmese person and ask them about what’s going on, which is probably a lot more than most people I know would do. I almost feel virtuous, despite the nagging doubt that I’m here on false pretences.

Once the songs and speeches are over, I notice several other (for want of a better word) white people come out from under doorways and begin thrusting cameras, microphones and notebooks at some of the protestors. Ah, I think, it’s fine! It’s a public demonstration, so they probably want attention. I’ll just act a bit like a journalist, and it’ll be ok. (Some of the journalists have laminated badges that say ‘PRESS’ on them. I don’t. I don’t even have an umbrella).

I ask one man, who had been singing particularly lustily, and he points out another man who might be more prepared to talk, who sends me over to another man. I begin by saying, “I’m writing a book about London and all the nationalities there are in it,” which is neither grammatically or ethically very satisfying, but he’s happy to speak, so we go over and cower in a doorway. His name is Ye.

I start by asking about the protest. “We’ve been here since the monks began marching in Burma,’ he says, “since 18th September. We have also protested in Parliament Square, and outside the Chinese Embassy.” Another song starts, and I get the impression Ye wants to join in, so I ask him about it. “It is a song from 1988, after the uprising then. It was a big thing. I was in High School, and we got involved in the demonstrations. Since then, we have tried to keep protesting, peacefully.” Ye has been in the UK for five years, but still has family back in Rangoon. “I spoke to someone this morning,” he says, “and they are still firing on the crowds.”

A policeman, very politely, asks us if we wouldn’t mind moving out of the doorway onto the street, as people are trying to get into their offices. It’s all very English and nice, although some of his colleagues are carrying machine guns. We shuffle back into the rain, and my pen and notepad start to stick to each other. I vow to remember what Ye is saying rather than write it down, which isn’t hard as it’s pretty fiery stuff. “The situation in Burma is worse than Iraq!” he says. “The regime there believes in Command, Order, Hatred and Fear. They believe that all problems must be sorted out with weapons. They are killing monks! You know, these are peaceful people. And it is not just monks and students, there is a big alliance against the regime. Civil servants as well, people from all backgrounds are protesting. You know, we had elections in 1990, and within ninety days, lots of the candidates were in jail. All we want is democracy but the regime are not interested in that. The government don’t treat people as people, they treat them as the enemy.”

On a banner being held nearby, I see a face I recognise and a name I cannot pronounce. I point to it. “What about Aung San Suu Kyi?” I ask. (You can imagine me pronouncing it correctly, if that helps). “What is the latest news about her?” Ye looks downcast. “We think she is back in prison,” he says. “She has been under house arrest for years, but we have heard that two days ago, she was taken away from her home.” In the 1990 elections, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won 392 of the 492 seats, which should have been enough to install her as Prime Minister. Instead, she is the only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize to be currently under detention, as she has been for the majority of the time since the election seventeen years ago.

I ask Ye what can be done internationally as a solution to the ongoing crisis. He looks a bit cynical. “The government in Burma can only get away with this because they have the backing of China. And the US want to keep a good relationship with China, so they only pay lip service to the idea of doing something. We are in a difficult position, on the borders of India and China, where there is 40% of the world’s population, but it seems that nobody wants to help us.”

The songs start up again, and I thank Ye for his time (after finding out that he lives in Cricklewood). The rain doesn’t seem to affect the ongoing demonstrations, but I scurry off – I have to be home by two so that I can show the new Polish cleaner around.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

No.155: Egypt

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 27th September 2007

Milena, from Bulgaria, has introduced us to more people than anyone else, I'm pretty sure of that. One of her work colleagues, she excitedly told us in an email, was an Egyptian who had once been kidnapped. Well, we had to find out more ...

I interview Shaka sitting in his van, as he zooms round West London on his evening London Lite run (picking up the merchandisers stalls and umbrellas). He was indeed born in Egypt, although his parents were from Sierra Leone - a country he returned to when he was quite young. Shaka's story is a bit too complicated to go into here, but it's worth saying that the kidnapping story is true, and also that Shaka gave me a lift home in the van after his shift finished.

No.154: Tonga

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 27th September 2007

Tomorrow Tonga is going to watch the crucial England vs Tonga rugby world cup match at home on the sofa. He's nervous already. He says he can't enjoy games in a crowded pub because he gets extremely passionate about his rugby.

Tonga, I should explain, is both the name and country of origin of our Tongan representative. A bit like Israel from Spain but even more confusing.

I should also say that Tonga himself is a renowned rugby player. When I met him he was wearing his London Irish training top and shorts. We were the only people sitting outside the incongrous walled garden cafe where we met. He was the only one not wearing trousers.

I'm sure when I come to write this up properly I'll use the phrase Gentle Giant at some point.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

No.153: Burundi

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 26th September 2007

I met Berenice with Jim, her Glaswegian future father-in-law, outside a Cafe Nero in Enfield. Neither Jim nor I had ever been to Enfield before.

After her obligatory military service in 1998, Berenice went to university in Burundi's capital Bujumburu. A year and a half into the course the university was closed down on account of the massacres taking place across the country. After being sent to a private university she then joined the socialist party, attended various demonstrations and was eventually jailed for two weeks. At this point her parents became extremely worried about her future and sent her to Europe.

Unfortunately for Berenice, she first went to Belgium, Burundi's former coloniser. 'I didn't like the Burundi community there', she told me. 'They stick so closely together. Many people don't even speak French. I didn't feel comfortable'.

She therefore spent a thousand euros (my old computer doesn't seem to have the symbol for euros), bought some papers ('it was really quite dodgy', she said) and made her way to Calais where the authorities looked at these dodgy papers and sent her right back to Brussels.

A month later she managed to persuade a Burundian friend of hers who'd been born in Belgium to lend her her Belgian passort and tried again. This time it worked. She was waved through and finally found refuge and a fiancee in Glasgow.

She recently finished her teacher training degree at Middlesex University and is applying for British citizenship in December.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

No.152: Belize

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 25th September 2007

The first recipient of the MBE we have met, Errollyn is an internationally-performed award-winning composer and songwriter. She takes inspiration from anywhere, even the noise of the cafe staff bashing the coffee pots around. "That might pop up later in a piece," she says.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Live shows.

Hello everybody!

Real quicky: as the project reaches its exciting last few weeks, we're going to be doing a weekly show at the Soho Theatre on Dean Street. The shows start on Monday 24th September and run weekly until Monday 22nd October. There's more information here.

If you're from a country we haven't yet found, then you can get to see the show FOR FREE! Email us on worldinonecity@hotmail.com to claim your tickets.

Keep checking the blog for more details about the show.

Friday, 21 September 2007

No.151: Rwanda

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 21st September 2007

Mary runs SURF, the Survivors Fund for Rwandans who lived through the 1994 genocide. The organisation recently raised funds for a memorial centre in Rwanda where people's testimonies and stories can be recorded.

No.150: Togo

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 21st September

Alexis, who lives and works (as a physiotherapist) near Twickenham, was a keen footballer when younger, and was picked in the Togo squad for the under 16s World Cup. "I was a thinker on the ball," he says. "I'd come off the pitch totally clean."

Thursday, 20 September 2007

No.149: Saudi Arabia

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 20th September 2007

At six foot five, Hussein is so far the tallest of our representatives. He was also one of the most relaxed.

When we met he was waiting to start a new job at KPMG so was happy to spend time telling me about a country that has no rivers or lakes and where a quarter of the population are foreign. 'If you trace the origins of the people in Jeddah', he told me, 'you won't find any Saudi people. There are a lot of expat workers, people from Iraq, Yemen, India, Sudan, Malta, Syria, Uzbekistan... In fact the El Saud Royal Family are the only actual Saudi family.'

No.148: Ecuador

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 20th September 2007

'People from our country like travelling', Christian told me. 'You'll find us anywhere in the world - even Alaska!'

During what turned out to be a tutorial in Ecuadorian history and geography, he also told me about the Chaskis, Ecuador's traditional postmen who delivered mail back in 1000AD before the wheel had reached South America. Travelling on foot, these runners would rest in tambos dotted along the way between Quito and Cotopaxi. When he's saved up enough money here in London, Christian plans to recreate fourteen of these hostels to provide shelter for the cyclists that now follow in the Chaskis' footsteps. 'That is my life goal', he said. 'There will be health service for emergencies, mechanical aid, solar cells and ecological eduation. This is my project. I think of nothing else.'

No.147: St Vincent and the Grenadines

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 20th September 2007

Gus left the Caribbean to join his parents in Essex when he was thirteen years old. That was about 1978 and his family was one of just two black families in the area. It was then that he made a conscious decision not to worry about what he has no control over.

In January he landed a job working for the Hong Kong government, effectively selling the island to the British. 'I didn't think I'd get it', he told me. 'I thought to myself, I'm clearly not from Hong Kong! But maybe that's a good thing for them. It says, 'we're international'. I guess it shows forward thinking.'

* St Vincent and the Grenadines, by the way, is the country whose name sounds most like a band.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

No.146: Bhutan

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 18th September 2007

Thinley's father hasn't yet visited her in London. 'I'd love him to come', she told me. 'He's a contractor and he loves architecture. I work in Southwark so I cross Blackfriars Bridge every day and see Parliament and the Tate Modern. London is a very beautiful city.'

She thinks there are only ten Bhutanese in London. I liked the fact that I was sitting at a table with a tenth of London's Bhutanese population. We discussed Buddhism, beggars and her forthcoming marriage. But mostly we talked about football.

Like me, Thinley is a Liverpool fan. We're both quite impressed with Benayhun. Neither of us can believe Heskey's playing for England again. She said that if I can get her a ticket to Liverpool vs Tottenham (my dad's a spurs fan...) I can come to her wedding in Bhutan.

No.145: Tajikistan

The Roof of the World

Owen Powell - 18th September 2007

I'm sitting in the front room of a terraced house in suburban Ilford. It's about as normal and English as you could get (on the bus, I went past fourteen consecutive streets with the suffix " – Gardens"). But above me, over the door, is a vast portrait of stern but warm-looking presidential figure, pen poised to sign a decree, and over by the window is a huge red, green and white flag. Most of the books on the shelves have titles in what looks like some kind of Arabic or Persian script, and the smell of some exotic cooking drifts in from further into the house.

A man I know only as Latif comes back in from moving his car. "My name is not Latif," he says, shaking my hand. "I am Behzad." He nods down the hall. "She is cooking," he says, and wafts his hand in front of his face while smiling broadly.

Behzad sits, and looks momentarily worried. "How long will this take?" he asks. "It's just that I have to pick some of my kids up from school." I say, perhaps slightly disappointed, that we can do it in ten minutes. I try to get the basics established pretty swiftly.

Behzad came to London from Tajikistan nine years ago, with his wife and two young children, and they have had two more since then (the kids range in age from twelve to six, and the eldest, who I meet, says that she doesn't remember much about her pre-London life). He's a TFL-registered minicab driver, studies English and IT in his spare time, and is considering applying for a British passport soon, although he's been granted indefinite leave to remain. But he's itching to tell me more about Tajikistan.

"We have a very strong culture. We are a very new country, but also very ancient." I ask about the books, and also notice some inscriptions hanging in frames on the wall. "It is Persian," he says, "like in Iran and Afghanistan. It is my main language, but I also speak Russian. Some people use Sanskrit." Behzad shifts in his seat, and his eyes light up. "Tajikistan is a wonderful country! Full of mountains - we call our land 'The Roof of the World'! If you go there, you will find the people are very kind, very ... what is the word? Like 'hostage', or 'hostile'?" Hospitable, I suggest? "Yes. Very friendly." He glances at his watch and makes a face. "Ah. I must go to pick up my kids. Where are you going?" Umm, I say ... back to the station? "I will give you a lift. We can talk more in the car. Come on!"

Behind the wheel, where I guess Behzad spends most of his working day, he really opens up. "I will tell you everything about Tajikistan!" he announces, as he pulls away from the kerb. Taxi drivers probably have an unfair press as far as their opinions on religion and culture go, but even the most enlightened is likely to compare quite badly to Behzad.

"I am a Zoroastrian," he says. "You have heard of this?" (I nod, slightly unsurely. My brother, fascinated by religion, has mentioned it once or twice to me, I think). "It is an ancient religion. Four thousand years old. Before Moses. In all other religions, God is a man – the bible says 'He did this' or 'He did that'. In Zoroastrianism, God is both man and woman. Men and women are equal!” Behzad holds his fingers up. “There are also six angels, three men and three women. One for every day of the week, and God for the seventh day. In these other new religions like Judaism, they say there are seven days because that’s how long it took God to make the world.” Behzad puts his indicator on and turns left. “They made this up.”

I’m desperately scribbling away, loving how Behzad (partly with tongue in cheek, it must be admitted) dismisses Judaism as a “new” religion, and I don’t really have to ask any questions.

“In Tajik culture, men and women are the same. In English, you have different words for ‘he’ and ‘she’, but in Tajik we have one word for both. Now, this is true also in the Georgian language, but that is mainly because it is a poor language without many words. In Tajik, it is because we see men and women as one thing. Everything is logical. In English, you have ‘husband’ and ‘wife’.” We’re sitting in traffic, and Behzad holds up a finger from each hand to illustrate how far apart these words are. “There is no connection. In my language, it is the same word.” He brings his fingers together. “Hansa. My wife is my hansa, and I am her hansa. Han-sa. It means, ‘same-head’. It means, once you have your hansa, you share your brain, you have the same mind.” Behzad laughs. “It’s a good idea, yes?”

I’m still scribbling, my notebook a mess of ideas and religions and half-heard, phonetically spelt words. Behzad looks over at me, perhaps having his doubts about whether I am really a writer (or, more fundamentally, whether I am really interviewing him). “If you do not ask me a question,” he playfully admonishes, “I will ask one myself! What do Zoroastrians believe in? Well, there are three parts to our religion: good thoughts, good words, good deeds. We do not want to kill unbelievers, do suicide bombings, it is a religion of peace, very thoughtful. If a Christian has a child, or a Muslim has a child, that child is Christian or Muslim. In our culture, we cannot understand that. It is a child! When they get to sixteen, seventeen years old, then they can choose which religion they want. But nothing is forced. We never say, ‘You have to do this, or that’.”

“I worry about the Muslim religion. In my country, you are free to worship how you want. We have churches, temples, mosques. People are free. But in Arabic countries – more restrictions. In some countries, women are not allowed to drive!” Behzad hits his steering wheel, incredulously. “There are lots of Tajik people in the north of Afghanistan, where it is peaceful. In the south, that is where the violence is.” I think at this point, my face betrays the fact that (despite some research) I don’t really know where Tajikistan is. Behzad leads me carefully through the history of the Tajiks.

“The Tajik people were first called ‘Tajik’ eight hundred years ago,” he explains. “It is an ancient land, on the border of Russian, Persia, China and Afghanistan. I was in Uzbekistan recently, and there, there are many millions of Tajik people, but the government has forced them to change their names in their passports – they are scared to speak the Persian language. I was in Samarqand, and I looked around – no Persian newspapers or books. They don’t want the Tajik people to understand that they are Tajik. I tried to take a Persian book with me, and the police told me to throw it away or I could not travel any further. I said, ‘If you give me the whole of Uzbekistan, I will not put this book in the bin.’ In my culture, books are very precious. You do not throw them in the bin.”

Behzad has travelled home to Tajikistan over the years, although not as often as he would like as there are no direct flights and it’s very expensive. I ask if he has seen many changes in the last few years. “Yes! Things are getting much better,” he says. “The new President has made things better.” The man in the photograph, I say? “Yes. A very intelligent man who likes his culture very much.” Behzad looks out of the window as we crawl through East London. “It would be good to make more links between Tajikistan and Britain. The government should encourage more students to come here. And – more than anything – you in Britain should visit my country. There is lots to see!”

The lights were waiting at turn green, and Behzad zooms off, excitedly. “The Christmas tree! You live in a Christian culture, but no-one knows why you decorate a tree at Christmas. It is a Tajik custom! The father of the Persian language was Tajik! Everything in the world – anything of any importance – can be linked back, traced back to Tajikistan! Here. We are at Stratford.” He pulls over and I get out, my head spinning. “Anything else you need – you want to talk about religion, culture, anything – come and see me again. Goodbye! It was nice to meet you!” Me too, I say, me too, as Behzad drives off to pick up his kids.

No.144: Monaco

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 18th September 2007

When I asked Pierre whereabouts in Monaco he used to live I stupidly said, 'by the sea?'

'Of course', he replied patiently. 'Right by the heliport.'

I think he noticed my tiny gasp.

'It's not all luxury there though! People think it's all beautiful cars, beautiful people and casinos. But there are lots of normal people too - lots of industry and businesses.'

Pierre now works in almost-as-glamorous Mayfair in the Monaco tourist office but recently spent six months at the University of Hull. 'They do a very good business course', he told me diplomatically.

There are just 36,000 Monegasques in the world so Pierre was a cracking find. I spent most of our chat smiling broadly and telling him he was a cracking find. In return he furnished me with this tremendous flag fact: Monaco has the same flag as Indonesia - they're the only two countries who share insignia (Poland, of course, is the same but the other way round).

No.143: Cuba

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 18th September

A friend of Helder from Mozambique, Reinaldo is very cool indeed. He plays the bass guitar. He ordered an espresso. He's 52 years old. 'I live just for the music', he told me. 'I play everything - jazz, salsa, Brazilian.' He invited me to his next gig this coming Sunday at No.1 Poetry Street by Bank Station. I said I'd do my best but realistically I doubt I'll make it. Going out late on a Sunday night? At my age? I don't think I could stand his pace.

No.142: Timor-Leste

Full story to follow...

Alex Horne - 18th September

I didn't know a lot about Timor-Leste before embarking on this project. In fact, I didn't even know that Timor-Leste is the official name for East Timor. I also didn't know that after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975 it was immediately invaded by Indonesia with just a little help from the USA or that it regained independence just eight years ago after a UN-sponsored referendum.

Vito told me all that. He was there when the fleeing militia bombed Timorese houses in 1999 and he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for years afterwards. Now, however, he wants to focus on the positive. 'It's a beautiful place, he told me, 'and once everything's settled, Timor will be one of the most outstanding countries in the world.'

Here in London he is frustated by the lack of Timorese ingredients when it comes to cooking. He went to B&Q but couldn't find the right sort of bamboo.

Monday, 17 September 2007

No.141: Slovenia

Full story to follow ...

Owen Powell - 17th September 2007

Vid is possibly the second most famous philosopher from Slovenia. (Slavoj Zizek, something of a cult figure, is probably the first). Vid's fame came before he was even a philosopher, however, as when he was still a teenager he appeared as an improvisational comic actor on Slovenia's leading tak show for adolescents, 'The Youth Relay'. "I got recognised once or twice in the streets," he says, modestly. Now a post-graduate philosophy student, he's planning a PhD while doing work experience writing for Time Out.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

No.140: Turkmenistan

An Englishman, Kyrgyzstani Lady and Turkmenistani Lady Go into a Kebab Shop…

Alex Horne - September 15th 2007

I went to a friend’s belated birthday party in Kensal Green tonight and had a couple of drinks. My wife had generously offered to drive us home and for nearly all the hour-long journey back to Chesham I, apparently, waxed lyrical about this project, saying, at length, how great it was to meet all these people and how honoured, in particular, I was to have become friends with Mariam. I’ll now try to recreate that eulogy, albeit with a touch more coherence, in this entry.

Mariam, from Kyrgyzstan, had got in touch recently to say that after a busy couple of weeks she’d now got time to help us find people from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – not the sort of offer Owen and I were going to refuse in a hurry. So this morning, fairly early for a Saturday, I made my way up to Wood Green, North London, where she was already waiting for me.

And it was great to see her again. As she guided me round her local patch in search of these two tricky former-soviet–stans she told me what she’d been up to since we’d last met at the picnic on Regents Park, how she was finding London life and what she was going to do next. I won’t include the details here – I fear I’ve already shared more than enough of Mariam’s personal life on this blog – but let’s just say that things are basically going pretty well for her right now.

It turned out too that we had a fair amount of time to do our catching up as the places we’d hoped to find our people proved frustratingly unproductive. We were aiming for kebab shops. But we’d met at 10.15am. Neither nationality was due to start their shift until noon. Which was a tiny bit problematic as both Mariam and I had other commitments in the early afternoon. Pragmatically we decided we’d try to meet Turkmenistan now and Uzbekistan later* then, over the course of three scenic bus journeys around her local area, chatted happily away about this, that, and the other – not necessarily in that order.

Why kebab shops? You may well ask. I certainly did. And there a couple of reasons: First, Mariam enjoys exploring London and at the weekends likes to take her kids to different restaurants, which, on occasion, have included Turkish cuisine. Second, people from the Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan/Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan area tend to be able to grasp the Turkish language fairly easily, meaning that if they come to the UK they can often find employment in Turkish restaurants. Third, Mariam is very good at spotting people from those countries and will often strike up conversations and then friendships with them, whilst dining with her family.

And so at a quarter to twelve we arrived back at Wood Green (after a trip to the Rose Restaurant and Barbecue in Crouch End) and sat down to wait for the Turkmenistani employee to start her shift at the Kebab Centre. I had a coke. Mariam didn’t. It’s Ramadan (cf Samia from Yemen). We talked about this. And I’m pretty sure one of my drunken themes on the way back home that night was how glad I was to be able to discuss things like religion with people from all over the world. I’d never really thought about Ramadan before – it didn’t effect me so I didn’t find out about it. Now, thanks to this project I learnt all about how Mariam had to eat her last mouthful at 4.54 this morning and then nothing until 7.22 this evening. Not even a glass of water. I had no idea. And, sitting in the mouth-watering atmosphere of the Kebab Centre I doubted I’d have the will power.

As we were wondering if Ramadan was why the restaurant was so quiet, Mariam finally caught sight of her contact. ‘That’s her’, she whispered then, after some swift negotiations with both the manager and the girl herself, Mariam introduced me to our Turkmenistani.

‘Her name means love’, she said. Muhabbat nodded with a grin. ‘Yes it does’, she confirmed. We were off.

She came to London two years ago from Ashabat, the capital, to learn English. Like so many immigrants here she’s now working flat out every day – either at school or here at the Kebab Centre, in a bid to pay for and make the most of her opportunity. ‘Are you getting much sleep?’ I asked. ‘Not enough’, she said, with a somewhat weary smile. ‘To be honest’, she added, ‘I want to go to Canada’.

‘So what do you like and not like about London?’ asked Mariam, easily wresting the reins of the interview from my hands. ‘Well’, said Muhabbat, ‘I was shocked when I found out so many people don’t speak English. My English was actually better before I came here, while my Turkish has improved! But I like that the government takes care of the people – everyone can get a house on a credit mortgage or live in a council house.' Mariam agrees. ‘We don’t have council flats back home’, they both say before concluding, rather heart-warmingly, that the British welfare system is the best in the world. Muhabbat’s daughter was born in an NHS hospital. She’s now being looked after by Muhabbat’s mother back in Turkmenistan. ‘The doctors were very good’, she told me. ‘I’m happy she was born here.’

Mariam’s heading back to Kyrgyzstan for her niece’s first birthday in a few weeks time. ‘There’s always a big party when they are one year old’, she said, ‘because in the old days babies would rarely survive for a year. Now they do, of course. In fact, under Soviet rule if you had ten kids you’d get a medal and free travel!’ I suppose medals are certainly one thing the welfare system here doesn’t provide.

* An excellent choice in the end as, without my knowledge Owen had actually met someone from Uzbekistan the night before. Well done Owen. So now, we have just one –stan to go – the rather reluctant nation of Tajikistan…