Interview: Siana Bangura

ELISE MORTON talks to Siana Bangura about her surprising experience on Channel 4’s ‘Living with the Amish’.

bonnet british Cambridge channel 4 christian culture family Fishing historian living with the amish pennying Peterhouse race Siana Bangura

“I thought that Amish people were hairy, a bit dry and loved to do chores. I stand corrected.”

Siana Bangura, a second year historian at Peterhouse, was surprised by what she found when over the summer she took part in Channel 4’s Living with the Amish.

The 6-part series follows 6 British teenagers living with different families in the Amish community. They must come to terms with the quirks of the Amish lifestyle, which is based around hard work and simple living. I caught up with Siana to find out what she made of it all.

“The boys had to get up at 4.30am, which is frickin’ crazy,” said Siana. And the hours were made worse by the gruelling work schedule. But Siana tells me that the hardest thing to come to terms with was the dress code: “The bonnet got to me… women aren’t even allowed buttons on their clothes, we had to use pins. Getting dressed took an age!” Siana, known to be a ‘confident dresser’, said the clothes made her feel like her “individuality was being sucked away.”

Siana, far right, in traditional Amish dress

But there was one way in which Siana was always going to be individual: she was the only black person entering a totally white community. As a result, she had to face Amish ignorance about race. She tells me she was shocked when a young boy “used the ‘n word’.”

“I’ve never had a problem before,” she says, “but if they have never been taught about race how can they know how to react?”

The Amish were equally clueless about other cultures. “One woman in particular assumed that all we British girls were loose chicks and so went off on a crazy Christian rant. They all seemed surprised that I was vegetarian, wore trousers and that we weren’t considering getting married any time soon.”

The first show, which was aired last Thursday, saw the teenagers trying their hand at fishing. Siana, a strict vegetarian, tells me she’s incensed by the editing: “They made out that I was the only one to catch a fish, when I was the only one not to catch one. I didn’t even put a worm on the hook!”

But while there may have been some challenging moments while filming the show, Siana sees it as a positive experience. She describes the Amish as “welcoming, warm and genuine” and the experience as “incredible.”

“I learnt that it’s important and not too hard to simplify life a bit, and spend more time with family… I can now also make a really good pecan pie.”

The first episode has had a good reception, but according to Siana it was just a gentle start. The “deep shit” is coming later.

Although she “could never be Amish,” Siana hopes to see her Amish friends again: “If I got married I’d fly them all over for my wedding… they’d be there with all my Cambridge friends, can you imagine pennying the Amish?”

The second episode airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday 1st December.