I’ve always felt at home with a cup of tea, but until a few years ago I never really knew why.

Still though, I’ve always admired its unique function as a catalyst for life.
Whether it’s shrugging off a stressful day with a gripping episode of Grand Designs.
Sitting down with my family and learning the history and genealogy of my mixed raced heritage.
Or simply venting to a work colleague about your manager only to find out they hate them too and building a newfound friendship based on the pipedream that Bernadette gets fired in a humiliating yet not too scarring way. I’m not a monster.

On this particular day however, my subconscious was treated to a new experience with this particular pot of French Earl Grey. But as with all good loose leaf, let’s allow that thought to brew for a few minutes as we jump back in time to where our story begins.

It’s 2013. The Harlem Shake is in its prime, Jennifer Lawrence has recently stacked it at the Oscars, and I was sitting by the poolside with 43 German children in my care as a WWII Blitz Air Raid siren begins to blare. My cohort of younglings together with the 50 or so other pool patrons seemed undisturbed by this literal blast from the past and continued frolicking seamlessly. Its brief moments like these that shock you into realising how isolated you can be sometimes. I was in Laubach, a remote town in the heart of Germany, 2 hours from Frankfurt by car, a mode of transport I did not possess. I spoke conversational German at best and I was the only brown person I’d seen since customs. These thoughts however fluttered from my mind as quickly as they came when my colleague Marlene leant over and amusingly informed me that the siren was to signify that the pool would be closing soon. Clearly there was an obvious connection between the closing of the community pool and the oncoming approach of the Luftwaffe that I was unaware of. 

Shortly after, we packed up and led our little Deutsch-lings back to school, where I was working as a Holiday camp leader. Think Camp America but German. Instead of superficially chipper Yanks, there were extremely blunt Germans. Instead of Mac and Cheese there was Eisbein, the sumptuous boiled meat of pig feet and instead of marshmallows there was, well they still had marshmallows but they’re called Mäusespeck which is just an adorable word.  

For that evening’s activity we decided to host a movie night which allowed the kids to calm down just before bed and for us staff to not have to actually plan a real activity. With only a few dvds on hand, I chose ‘Remember the Titans’ as I had not seen it before and I’d be damned if I was watching ‘Pitch Perfect’ for the 46th time that summer.   

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, ‘Remember the Titans’ is the true story of a newly appointed African-American coach (played by Denzel Washington) and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit in Virginia, 1971. There are many poignant moments of inspiration and many of racism, including one particular scene where a rival coach hands Denzel’s character a banana after calling him a monkey in person and on TV. Overall, many themes that were worth bringing to the attention of these young and impressionable minds.

After the film finished the kids went to bed with little fuss, much to the pleasure of us exhausted camp leaders and an early night was much welcomed. 

The next morning went by uneventfully, the children were predictably exhausted at breakfast, distractible during class and borderline anarchistic at first break. Lunch however was not to follow suit. I had just brewed a pot of French Earl Grey tea in the staff room where Marlene and I spent every break venting, gossiping and discussing which of our class were most likely to end up in jail first, when there was a knock on the door.

In poured around 10 tiny tikes with a box which they presented to me as a gift. I unwrapped it with intrigue as I looked down to find nothing but one slightly browned banana. As I looked up to pretend I was grateful, in the way that all adults dote on the weird offerings of youth, the leader of the motley gang said “we got this for you because you are the monkey” to which they all started chanting monkey and doing monkey actions. Now, my memory is blurred to the moments that directly followed, but when I came to from a brief bout of pure, unadulterated shock. I could patch together the irate yelling of Marlene, thrilled teens turned stunned then being alone with my cup of freshly made French Earl Grey Tea. 

Gosh it was awkward. But it brought to mind an interesting stream of thoughts. Because yesterday, to these kids, I was the same as them. Today, I was Denzel Washington. One film had made them change how they perceived me and how they would react to me. One day I was kin, the next, I was not. In this equation of race however, I had not changed. I was the constant. My face, my skin, my entire being remained the same but how others perceived me and how easily that could shift would dictated how they treated me. A revelation that would follow me throughout life. 

Now, I won’t go into what happened to the kids after as some of you are probably curious about. Did they receive just retribution, were they scolded aptly etc. That is their narrative and as I’m not the spokesperson for all things brown I’d prefer to focus on my own thoughts because that day I learned something much more interesting.

I realised why I feel so at home with a cup of tea. Because just like tea, I too am an assorted concoction. A secret recipe where everyone who has ever encountered me develops strong opinions about my true composition. But whether you think I should be black, milky, herbal or chai I’ve learned, ultimately it doesn’t matter, because I’m goddam tasty either way.

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