Radio-Cultural, by Vanessa Mordi: Writing Competition Winners
2015-09-01 14:24:02 -

Racist bullying at school inspired this 15-year-old from Huntstown in west Dublin to start her own radio show - and the results were more than she could have ever imagined



Sometimes a life experience can change your worldview. Being a victim of racial discrimination did this for me. I learned how to combat discrimination through showing people how they could learn more about me and explore my culture; the more people are educated, the less ignorant they become. Intercultural diversity means different cultures intertwining and thriving together; they show tolerance and respect as they remain candid about the differences in their culture and learn from each other. Listen as I tell my story.


It was a warm summer afternoon. The sun was splitting the stones and exhibited scorching picturesque rays of sunlight. My grandmother and I were quite close, she would sit in her old wooden chair when I walked in, seeking refuge after a petrifying day at school. I sported a red bruise under my right throbbing eye and my nose bled heavily and trickled down my quivering chin. My eyes flooded with angry tears as I told my mother how the children in my school ignorantly bullied me because of my race. She would sit me gently on her lap, her eyes filled with pity and sadness, as she caressed my long braid. As I glared at her intently, I could see the clumps of makeup in between her wrinkles. I couldn’t stop staring at the calloused worn skin hanging from her chin, just flapping around while she talked, it reminded me of watching calm waves in the ocean because her wrinkles seemed to go away for a second and come right back. Her loving presence washed over me as though erasing the torture I felt. It was a heavenly sensation. However, I would be reminded it was only a temporal moment of joy because of the comfort would fade instantaneously the moment I prodded down the school corridor.


“You are an African and Africans are great,” she would assert to me in husky whisper and squeeze my hand encouragingly and planted a soft kiss on my right cheek. Her words replayed in my mind right at this very moment when I was greeted with my newly decorated locker that read ‘GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!’ in thick black marker. I ran to the toilet and grabbed tissue paper and began cleaning off the disgusting words. Unfortunately, the culprit had written it in permanent marker. My peers gathered around me mockingly as they whispered and gossiped among themselves, some took pictures with smug smiles plastered on their faces. I was not only an outcast but a laughing stock too. Ashamed and embarrassed, I scampered out of the mortifying circle of shame that surrounded me. As tears streamed down my face, the laughter and chatter became distant.


“These children don’t hate you, they just don’t know you. You’re unique and eccentric, an exotic individual! All this threatens them. The fact that you stand out makes them jealous and ignorant. Sweetie, you just need to let the world know who you are!” My grandmother cooed soothingly as I told her about the day’s events. She held a solemn facial expression; her beady brown eyes were warm and enchanting but had a sincerity that lured me to stare at them. I felt how powerful her words were and it uplifted my soul and empowered me.


I decided to listen to my grandmother’s advice and tell people about my culture. After pondering for days how to fulfil this task, a brilliant idea sparked my mind. My own radio show.


My father pulled some strings and managed to buy me 45 minutes of radio time each Saturday. I was thrilled and contented, reaching out to the media locally but in a small-scale manner was the perfect way for me to tell people more about my heritage. I called my radio programme ‘Radio-Cultural’ and soon the first day of my radio programme was scheduled to launch arrived.


I was paralysed with nerves as I stood awkwardly in the studio; the sound machines, earphones and cool atmosphere made me queasy and nauseated, as sweats of trepidation trickled down my shoulder blades. Being in the studio ignited an uneasy and anxious feeling. I was greeted by Ryan, a nice radio presenter with outstandingly good looks, his hair fell lazily swooping right under his bushy eyebrows, his locks were different shades of brown and swirled smoothly like the froth on a cappuccino, complimenting his dazzling white perfect teeth. He counted down to zero enthusiastically. I felt my heart beat rapidly and I was certain it was about to burst out my sweltering chest.


“And we’re on air here with Radio-Cultural founding radio presenter Vanessa,” he confidently chimed with an encouraging smile as the big red button flashed on. Engulfed in a wave of shyness, I stared at him dumbfounded, luckily, I managed words after a few awkwardly silent seconds.


“Hi everybody!” I croaked in a timid and quiet tone and explained a few things about the reason for launching this radio show. My confidence grew from strength to strength and my sentences became longer and bolder, I found myself subconsciously babbling about my culture towards the end of the radio show without even giving Ryan a chance to add anything in! I was surprised about how much I had to say.


“I’m from Africa, Ryan. Nigeria to be exact. Although I wasn’t reared there, it’s a place that’s dear to my heart. I feel people don’t know enough about the culture, the love for music, food, fashion and language is dynamic and breathing, Its always celebrated. I was hoping through this radio programme I could teach people about my culture, and maybe if they knew more about me they would be more respectful and perhaps even celebrate my culture with me. I’d love to celebrate theirs too.”


I beseeched in a thoughtful and austere tone. Ryan raised an eyebrow looking impressed and held up a thumbs-up that made me certain I had invoked a sense of respect and understanding on the bullies in my school.


“You’re trying to promote cultural diversity through Radio-Cultural?” he enquired.


“Yes, Ryan. Exactly that.”


It wasn’t long before my radio programme became the talk of the town, people began to tune in every week on their phones, tablets, in their cars and even their beaten up old radios! I became overwhelmed with the prosperity of my radio show and it welcomed popularity and a newly found confidence arose within me.


“We’re here live on Radio-Cultural with your favourite radio presenter Vanessa!” I announced proudly. It was now my fifth show here in the studio and I began to feel as though it was my second home.


“Today we will be discussing Nigerian food cuisine. All lovers of delicious food tune in! Okay listeners, in my culture, food is carefully prepared to water your taste buds! Where to start… There’s jollof rice, which is rice cooked in a tasty tomato sauce. Or fried rice which is cooked in a chicken stock, my personal favourite. There’s also coconut rice – how exotic, right? We’re not only rice lovers, we love our soups too! Nigerians differ with our soup habits to Irish people, rather than accompanying our soups with bread we do so with pounded yam and eba, they would almost be equivalent to a nice mound of mash potatoes, they look very similar to that too.”


“Well you’ve heard it all from Vanessa about the Nigerian food platter! Join us after a short break,” Ryan added as he smiled sweetly at me and a commercial broke in.


My social status metamorphosed, those accustomed to snarling and sniggering obnoxiously at me because of our cultural differences now beamed at me in respect and adoration. My locker was even left clear of repulsive comments and stuffed with fan mail! My grandmother was right. I had completely been stripped of prejudice and loathing and I was now the local celebrity whom everyone was intrigued about. 


However the benefits of Radio-Cultural were beyond me being regarded with respect tinged with awe. My radio programme transcended even the highest of my expectations, it became not only about my culture but about others too. ‘Cultural diversity’, as Ryan called it, captivated my radio show. After reading the numerous fan mail that flooded my lockers, I discovered that people began to open up to me about their own cultures and compared to mine, I found it fascinating. The community began to call in to the radio show and add their own input about numerous cultures. My radio show became a depiction of intercultural diversity. People from various nationalities tuned in to learn more about each other, it became a mantlepiece to unite the community through sharing different cultures.


“Hi listeners, today we will be discussing different traditional garments from different countries. I’ll start with the Nigerian traditional garments. Now it’s important to note, these are worn mostly on special occasions, ordinarily we wear western clothes. The garment is called aso ebi. You might struggle with the pronunciation of that – it’s pronounced ‘ash-way-bee’. It basically consists of three parts and they are specially customised for each individual meaning you’d have to get sizes measured initially. The three parts are the head wrapper, the chest garment and skirt. They are designed in a range of eye-catching colours, designs, frills and unique fabrics,” I jabbered informingly.


“That sounds very interesting, now we have Cosmina from Romania,”, Ryan chimed friendly as the line momentarily rung and Cosmina greeted the show.


“Hi guys, I just called to shed some light on Romanian garments too. I really love this radio show! The traditional dress of Romania for men and women is a shirt, usually made from fabrics like hemp, linen or woollen cloth. Romanian men traditionally wear completely white costumes too, you should see my husband’s wardrobe!” informed Cosmina in a warm and vibrant voice.


Ryan and I laughed good-naturedly before thanking Cosmina for her contribution. The radio show continued to flood with calls from people from different countries, it was educational and riveting to learn about the differences between each culture and I was proud to have incited this.


Intercultural diversity wasn’t only evident in the radio studio, I even managed to concoct it in school too. I was voted as leader of the student council and in honour of Radio-Cultural, I initiated an intercultural day.


The vast school hall was decorated with flags from different nations that was planted on the walls and ceilings, there were six stands scattered around the hall. They translated greetings in different languages, exhibited different traditional garments, displayed different traditional meals, presented various types of music linked with nationalities, showcased the history of different countries and showed pictures of landscapes and special monuments in different nations. There also was a dancing area where student learned traditional dances and performed their newly acquired dance moves to the eager audience! The atmosphere was buzzing and lively, people ambled from stand to stand observing interesting facts and eager to take part in each activity. They chatted to each other and pointed out things that intrigued them and giggled among themselves about strange traditional habits that were new to them. The intercultural day was engaging and eye-opening for many, it effectively displayed intercultural diversity in the community.


I arrived home that evening, flung my school bag hastily and rushed to greet my grandmother. She stood still balancing on a rusty wooden stick, her long grey hair tossed to the side and flowed graciously giving her an elite and tranquil angelic presence. She adjusted her circular glasses that sat on the bridge of her wrinkled nose, her rosy cheeks rose as her eyes twinkled like gleaming rare diamonds, the sides of her frail lips curved slowly exposing her perfectly aligned false teeth into a warm smile that melted my heart. I embraced her passionately and felt the heavenly sensation consume me once more. Only this time, it wasn’t going anywhere.

TAGS : Radio-Cultural Vanessa Mordi Writing Competition Winners
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