The story of Inacio Binchende, an ‘afro-slovene’ who divides his time between his businesses and appearing on TV as an African in national costume.
Inacio Binchende was born in Mansôa, Guinea-Bissau. He came to Slovenia in 1986. Having become a Bachelor of Forest Science, he obtained an MA in Economics. He runs his own import business and has opened an affiliate in his homeland in order to facilitate economic co-operation with Guinea-Bissau. He gives presentations on his mother country in the African Centre in Slovenia. Inacio’s anonimity came to an end when he started acting in Boris Kobal’s comedy ‘Africa or On Our Own Land’, which mocks a typical Slovene family. By accepting the role of Janez Belina (‘John White’) in Kobal’s comedy series ‘Poper’ (‘Pepper’) produced by Televizija Koper-Capodistria, he has become famous right across Slovenia. He lives with a Slovene and has a 13-year-old son.
Q What has brought you to Slovenia?
A My studies. In 1986, I won a Guinea-Bissau scholarship awarded within the programme of international co-operation with Yugoslavia. I graduated in forest science, and then obtained an MA in economics.
Q What did you know about Slovenia before your arrival?
A Nothing. I knew only a few things about Yugoslavia, mostly general data and some stuff about Tito. I started to get interested in it after I had received the scholarship.
Q What about the language?
A My Slovene lessons started in Ljubljana. For half a year, the foreign students were learning only the language.
Q What did you find most unusual, maybe even shocking, upon your arrival?
A My first stop was Belgrade where we were assigned to our universities. I came to Slovenia by train and was very surprised to see that everyone was wearing the same thing: jeans. That was not the case at home. When it was snowing, I didn’t go to classes. When I saw piles of snow outside, I went back to sleep, being totally sure that people stayed at home in such weather.
Q When getting used to our lifestyle, what did you find most interesting and easy, and what most difficult?
A I had no trouble adapting myself. With my fellow countrymen living here, I didn’t find it difficult to integrate myself into the society. It was unusual, though, that people would stare at me in the street. Until I got used to it, I often asked them what was wrong.
Q Has it ever happened to you that you witnessed intolerance because you were different?
A I can’t remember any direct act of intolerance during the times of the ex Yugoslavia. Most probably the authorities didn’t allow them, I can’t say for sure. Some nasty things, however, did happen after Slovenia gained independence. I was physically attacked by a group of skinheads. Slovenia has been much more open lately, and so maybe it’s getting less intolerant.
Q What about Slovenes? What do they know about others? Does it often happen that they don’t know where Guinea-Bissau is located or which language is spoken there?
A People are different. And so they also differ in their knowledge of other countries. They don’t really know a lot about them. When I mention my homeland, they perceive it as anything but a real African country. It’s a small country, indeed, slightly larger than Slovenia, and yet its population is smaller. Interestingly, we speak as many as 25 languages.
Q What do multilingualism and multiculturalism look like there?
A There are 23 ethnic groups in Guinea-Bissau, each possessing its own characteristics. The majority of them are of Bantu origin, yet they are very different. The situation is really diverse. Our languages are so different from one another that we don’t understand each other. Our lingua franca are Creole and Portuguese.
Q Why did you decide to stay in Slovenia?
A I intended to go back after graduation. But then I got the opportunity to continue my studies at Master’s level. Then arrived my son and so I stayed.
Q Guinea-Bissau is far from here. How often do you visit your relatives and homeland?
A At first, it was only rarely that I went home, now I go more and more often. My father and sister and brothers live there.
Q What do they think about your life in Europe?
A My sister has studied in Italy, so Europe is nothing special to her. My brothers have been keeping track of my life here and they know it’s very different. Back at home, communication between people is much more direct. Here it’s much more difficult to establish contacts. People are individualists. Africa is home to the collective spirit.
Q What habits have you kept?
A I haven’t given up any good habit, I just practice them at home. Elsewhere I adapt myself to the Slovene environment. I’ve integrated myself well into the society, but I haven’t become completely assimilated.
Q Does food count as a habit?
A It does, indeed. At home, I like to boil rice and fish, our national dish.
Q You have a son. What do you teach him?
A I often tell him about life in Guinea-Bissau, its people. I teach him to be aware of ‘being different’ and warn him that he will meet all kinds of people, some of whom might react to him differently. I’d like that certain remarks wouldn’t hurt him. He has to think that his roots are not only in Slovenia but also in Africa.
Q Have you already taken him to your homeland?
A We are going there this year.
Q A few years ago, we could watch you on stage and TV. How did you make it there?
A I played an African in Boris Kobal’s comedy. Nobody wanted to perform on stage, so Kobal offered the role to me. I found it interesting, so I accepted it. And then I kept working with him for his TV series.
Q What do you think about the name you were given – Janez Belina (John White)?
A I found it a good parody of an African dressed in traditional Slovene costume. And the idea behind this character was interesting. People are not used to an African in Slovene garb. Just think of my son. People ask him what he is, and he says he’s a Slovene. And they tell him: “C’mon, stop joking!”
Q If you were asked about your identity, what would you say?
A I always say that I’m from Guinea-Bissau. I cannot lose or change the things I got from my childhood. Slovenia is my second homeland, I’ve been here for a long time. I feel well in both countries and see this as an advantage. x