He has just accumulated 10 years of living in the British capital, where he came to study English. Serving bandejas paisas, stew and other specialities from his homeland, Colombia, he dreams of one day returning home to try his luck.
Interview and photos by Marcos Ortiz F.
The day that Andrés Hernandez packed his suitcases at his home in the Northern zone of Bogotá, he believed that he would return within no more than a season.
He left with his girlfriend, bound for London, already having studied international relations and to learn the language that evaded him.
That was in 2007, exactly 10 years ago. His then girlfriend is now the mother of his children and Andrés has not returned to Colombia to this day. It is Maria, Andres’s manager, who inspired him to tell his story. She is the owner of a Colombian restaurant in Brixton, South London. He works as a waiter here and with his manager’s approval he is now sitting at an empty table to remember it all.
“I came from Colombia just to study English. It wasn’t that I was in love with the place, just that little by little things dictated that I stayed”, explains the thirty-two year old.
“I was soon financially independent, but at the start we came with nothing. It was difficult when we arrived to find somewhere to live. At that time we paid to stay with a family for twenty days because we studied very near there.”
His then girlfriend –“now my wife”, he hastens to add– was a professional in the field of respiratory therapy.
“Like a good Latino I have worked as a cleaner, a little bit of everything. Restaurants, bars, everything”, explains Andrés. For a time, he even worked as a courier, dashing around the city by bike and motorcycle.
But that all changed the day he went out with a group of Colombians. “Some friends took me for breakfast at this restaurant. We asked if there were any vacancies and the answer was yes, that’s how I found myself here”, he says. Since then nine and a half years have passed.
“I feel at ease here. I don’t miss anyone much. The Latino community is always around, the language, the food”, he adds. Those exact dishes like the stew, bandeja paisa and fish that bring in the customers every day.
Although there are a variety of customers, there are times when 70% of them are Latino. In the evening, however, the number of British people that come to try out the Colombian delicacies increases.
On the subject of his country, there are several things that Andrés misses. “The thing I miss most is being among family, the atmosphere and the weather”, he admits. In fact, while his family couldn’t travel to London when he married his wife, if they could have come, there would have only been a couple of opportunities in the ten years he has been settled in the United Kingdom.
“If I had been able to go back when I wanted, though I haven’t currently, I still wouldn’t have done so”, he explains. “Luckily, in my family we are self-sufficient and I have been able to spend time exploring and getting to know European countries”, he recounts.
Now with two children, a girl and a boy, Andrés has not abandoned the idea of returning to the country he left a decade ago. “I would like to try my luck in Colombia. After so much time you get comfortable, but I have plans and I want to return to give them a go”, he concludes.
(Translated by Francine Morgan – Email: email@example.com)