Mr Bean, Michael Fish and Jerusalem: Is this the Britain that immigrants know and love?

Jonathan Brown watches the Olympic opening ceremony with a group of Congolese refugees and asks what they think makes Britain great

Jonathan Brown
Saturday 28 July 2012 13:19

“That’s nice that,” purred Ezra Kitungano as molten steel cascaded from the Olympic rings in spectacular fashion. Earlier references to Britain’s industrial greatness, the Beatles or even the royal family had largely passed the group of Congolese refugees by.

But sitting in the front room of the house shared by members of afro beat band The Upendo Crew in Hull it was clear that one aspect of the opening ceremony resonated. As the Victorians removed their stovepipes to mark the fallen of the First World War so 19-year-old Ezra took off his baseball cap.

“I need to take my hat off because they are doing the same,” he said. Like his friends Albert Kalombe, 22, and Peter Sikas, 34, they know what conflict is all about having fled their native country during a war which killed five million people and spent much of their young lives waiting in a refugee camp in Zambia before being brought to the UK. So while they might not have known the words to Jerusalem or encountered the Suffragettes or even Michael Fish in their cultural education so far they know why they like this country.

“The war came in our country and we had to run,” explained Mr Kalombe. “But I heard that if you came to Britain you would be safe and you would have a good education and good medicine. We were told we would be in a safe place and would be treated as British and everything has been true,” he said. “We have loved sport since we were children and we try to forget what has happened to us. Sport helps us forget the things,” said Ezra, a passionate Arsenal supporter.

“I was watching Bradley Wiggins last week,” said Albert as the Tour de France winner rang the bell to initiate proceedings. “I was seeing Andy Murray and felt really bad when he lost,” he added. But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Rowan Atkinson. “Mr Bean,” they chorused before breaking into uncontrollable laughter filming the television with their smart phones to record the moment for posterity. “He is a genius – everybody likes him,” said Albert. “What?” asked Ezra. “I love him. We watch him all the time but I thought he was American.”

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