John Otagburuagu: A story of deportation and optimism

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Headshot of John Otagburuagu, taken by Jon Howard.

Forced to abandon his unborn son, John Otagburuagu came to London four years ago with nothing and through sheer determination has built a successful business. Georgina Blackwell has been to meet him and share his tale of deportation and optimism.

John Otagburuagu, owner of Black Cowboy Coffee and Waffles, outside Elephant and Castle shopping centre, stands with his cowboy hat and a wide-eyed smile in his café. Which is a wonderfully decorated horsebox with nick-knacks that his customers gave him over the years. 

John moved to the United States from England fourteen years ago to pursue his dream job as a cameraman. He made a stable life as a truck driver, through which he met his current wife and had four children.

He made good money and had a huge house, “leading to the point of becoming a billionaire.” When, after fourteen years in the US, “my friend reported me to immigration services.” He was put on a plane back to England. He went from having everything, to having nothing. 

“I saw it as an opportunity, not the end of my life.”

 His three daughters came to live with him in the UK however his wife and recently born son were in the US. He didn’t see his baby boy until he was two years old.

When trying to get his wife and son into England, they were constantly refused. John remained hopeful about the situation: “The way I see stuff, everything in life has a reason.” and “eventually they will be here so why panic.”  It was three years before they were reunited.

John’s optimism was blinding and his regular customer and friend, Mascha Angoscini butted in, saying, “This is also the optimism he always brings here to his customers.”

After being deported, to get back on his feet, “I contacted Prisoners abroad.” he said, pulling out their business card from all those years ago. When he arrived, they provided him with money and a hostel.

“When I’m in a bad spot I deliberately look for the silver lining.” He told himself: “This is a time to create myself, it’s a time to live again.”

He decided to open up his own cafe which was made possible through an enterprise programme organised by Prisoners Abroad. He chose the name ‘Black Cowboy Coffee and Waffles’ because when living in Richmond, Texas, he learnt about the origins of Black Cowboys. “It’s part of my history as a black person.” he told me.

The coffee inspiration was from being a truck driver and always drinking, “really shitty coffee.” and the waffles were inspired by ones he ate in Liege, Belgium.

He started with a cart he built out of wood and on his very first day “I earned £40 pounds, I put on music and started dancing.”

A year later he had enough money to move into his horsebox: “you know when you wake up in the morning and breathe oxygen? This is how this was for me.”

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John Otagburuagu cafe, taken by Jon Howard.

Four years later John has a thriving business which supports him and his family, and for the future has applied for a shop space.

When asked where his resilience and determination come from he is sure: “In life you have to have passion and my passion is my children, I love my children, I don’t even call it love, it’s something deeper than that, I feel like they are a part of me.”

Residents angered by council for misuse of Southwark Park

petition on Alice in Winterland
Alice in Winterland entrance, photo by Juliana Onetti.

Southwark residents asked the Council to cancel the ‘Alice in Winterland’ event as this would mean a 2.5-month closure of Southwark Park to the public.

An unsuccessful petition was created on the 19th of September 2018 and at the time of writing, over 600 people have signed.

Rosie Beattie who started the petition said she did it because, “the council failed to consult or inform resident groups about the closure of half the publicly funded park.”.

She expressed her concerns saying that: “It is disgraceful that the council signed the contract before carrying out an environmental study.” She added “the profits aren’t even being channelled back into the park”.

In response to the petition, Southwark Council has said “We have doubled security measures, added CCTV cameras and have implemented strict restricts on sound level from Sunday to Thursday, ending at 9 pm.”

As the council explained, changes have been made. A local resident and mother, Bia Mungalsingh, has noticed these changes. Living next to the park, she would be directly affected.

She has said, “they leave most of the park open” for resident usage. She also added: “I hear no music at all so we are virtually unaffected.”

McLaren House: Students getting waxy over candle issue

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McLaren House Entrance, photo by Georgina Blackwell

There’s no enjoying the delicious scent of a candle in McLaren house due to the fire safety hazard but inspector promises to tackle everyones candles next time. 

On the of 31st of October Block A of McLaren House, one of London South Bank University’s student accommodations, had room inspections.

The rooms are inspected to ensure that students are treating them properly. Also to make sure all the safety regulations are in check.

Every resident should have to follow the same rules but this doesn’t appear to be the case.

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Inspection letter, photo by Georgina Blackwell

“A letter from the inspections came saying that I will have another inspection because of a candle I had in my room” said Katie Isherwood. “It had never been lit, its simply for decoration” she added.

“I have two candles in my room and I didn’t get a letter about it” said Angharad Akideinde, Katie’s flatmate. “My candles are just for decoration, but that’s not the point. I feel bad for my flatmate.”

When talking to the inspector who wished to remain anonymous, they said “Angharad was there at the time and I asked them to put the candle away however Katie wasn’t there so I was unable to let them know, hence why they got the letter and the other didn’t”. 

The inspector had a reasonable explanation to as why this happened. However trouble like this causes student to get rowed up and cause problems. The inspector said he would “treat them as fair as possible” next time. 

Georgie

Raw profile: John Otagburuagu

Picture of John in his horse-box, by Georgina Blackwell

John Otagburuagu is standing in his horsebox which is surrounded by a small marquee with a set of four tables, each with two chairs. The horsebox is wonderfully decorated with things that he was given by his customers such as art pieces, figurines and plants.

The Nutella and Banana waffle with the ‘Cookies and Cream’ frappe, taken by Isabella Ehrlicher.

I sit down at one of the tables after ordering a waffle with bananas and Nutella and a ‘Cookies and Cream’ frappe. As I finish eating my waffle I watch John serve around 8 different customers. Five of which appeared to be locals, I watch as he jokes around with them.

Before sitting with me for the interview John jokes about needing to prep himself for the interview. He asks whether his friend Mascha has his make-up with her. When he finally sits down, he notices that I am nervous and laughs. He tells me not to be with a smile on his face that genuinely calmed me down.

John was born in Nigeria and had always wanted to be a cameraman and work in the filmmaking business. However, his father had an accountancy firm and wanted John to continue his legacy.

His dad sent him to England at the age of 17 where he studied accountancy in Collage. Following his dream he applied for BBC over and over again. Not able to find a way in he told me that he believed the, “BBC at the time were prejudice.”

He decided he didn’t want to return to Nigeria and work for the accountancy firm. He became a UK citizen and went into retail and catering. Not giving up on his dream he went to a place in SOHO to learn about being a cameraman. Telling me how he, “caught onto it very quick.”

He worked at Wood Norton and eventually started working for the BBC through someone else, as an assistant cameraman. He covered things such as Prince Phillip as Buckingham Palace, Wimbledon for Swiss TV, an interview with John major etc.

Eventually he started getting a few jobs here and there by the BBC but it wasn’t enough. He needed to make more money and so he left to America. He thought it would be easier to get into filmmaking there. 

Things didn’t quite go as planned but he became a truck driver. Through which he met his current wife had 4 children. Things started to get good, he was making good money and had a huge house. Telling me how he was, “leading to the point of becoming a billionaire.”

 After 14 years in the US, “my friend reported me to immigration services.” After suffering in detention for 6 weeks, he was put on a plane back to England. He went from having everything, to having nothing.

While sleeping on the floor of his aunties house, where he could only stay a single night, he remembered about a letter from British high commission. Which was about, “Prisoners abroad.” he pulled out the business card that he had gotten from all those years ago.

The company provided him with a hostel as well as some money. He was grateful to be in the hostel telling me that, “if I would have gone back to a different place I would be dead.” But he didn’t want this to be his life, he needed to get back on his feet.

“When I’m in a bad spot I deliberately look for the silver lining.” he says with an optimistic smile. Adding that “I said this is a time to create myself, it’s a time to live again. I felt like I was born again because I was into UK where I hadn’t been such a long time.” continuing on that he felt young and energised again.

He wanted to be his own boss and have his own business. Luckily when reporting back to Prisoners abroad they introduced him to the, “Enterprise Programme.” All he needed was a valid business plan and he could apply for a loan. He was accepted and given 2500 pounds to work with.

He chose to call the café ‘Black Cowboy Coffee and Waffles’ because when living in Richmond, Texas, he went to the George Ranch and learnt all about Black Cowboys. Telling me how the word was made to demean Black men by calling them boys, telling me passionately that it’s “part of my history as a black person”.

The inspiration for making coffee came from him being a truck driver and always drinking “really shitty coffee” and the waffles came from a place called Leigi, Belgium, where he went in his 20’s on a car journey with his friends.

A picture of Johns first cart cafe, taken by John Otagburuagu.

He built a cart out of wood and tools which he borrowed from his children’s school and on his very first day “I earned £40 pounds, I put on music and started dancing. My daughter was filming me.”. Everything went up from there.

John in his horse-box cafe, taken by Georgina Blackwell.

A year later he found a horse-box and spent 6 weeks building it with his daughters, when talking about it he said “you know when you wake up in the morning and breathe oxygen? Do you think about it? This is how this was for me. You just think, it’s organic”.

While John was going through this, his three daughters were with him in England. However his wife and recently born son were still in America. John didn’t get the chance to see his baby boy until he was 2 years old.

Every time he tried to get his wife into England, they were refused. John was very positive about the all the struggles he went through getting his wife and son to England. In fact, when he saw my reaction to the situation he said “The way I see stuff, everything in life has a reason. I was thinking this is going to be great because it adds to the story”. Adding that “eventually they will be here so why panic”.

I couldn’t believe how optimistic John was being. That’s when one of his locals Mascha Angoscini butted in, saying “this is also the optimism he’s always brings here to his customers”.

A picture of what John hopes his cafe in the future to look like, designed by a UAL student, taken from Black Cowboys Coffee and waffles facebook page.

For the future, John has applied for a shop space where he will expand by also selling sandwiches and gelato. He had a UAL student design what his café would look like, as shown above. He is positive it will happen saying “showing it to you, you like it, so it will be real”.

Anything important you feel the need to add? “In life you have to have passion okay and my passion is my children okay, I love my children, I don’t even call it love, it’s something deeper than that, I feel like they are a part of me.”     

Traditional vs technology-driven journalism

Traditional journalism is slowly dying out whereas technology-driven journalism is quickly becoming popular. With this comes tensions between the two.

Timing; Traditional journalism takes a much longer time to finish up and print. Having to find the appropriate space within the newspaper, having to have the right amount of words etc. There are a lot of aspects what have to be looked into. When it is finally printed, becomes old news within hours. Whereas technological-driven journalism can be published within seconds, which means old news can constantly be updated.

Pay; Getting paid as a journalist has always been very difficult and you would assume that because publishing online is much quicker. That journalists who write for online platforms would be paid much less that traditional journalists. This wouldn’t be the case considering that the process of writing article online is much quicker and easier. Journalists are able to write more articles per week and update quicker. Which should mean getting paid a relatively high amount.

Length; When an article is being published in a newspaper, the word-count generally has to be to the exact amount allowed as there is a certain slot for that article and it wouldn’t fit if there were too many words. This means a lot of editing. For online journalism, firstly the length is generally much shorter and to the point as this is what people would want to read. They also don’t have to stick to a specific word count as they don’t have a specific slot, the article can just be uploaded and will fit no matter what.

There are many more tensions between the two. 

Georgie