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Abrokyir Nkomo: The Deportee
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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Columnist: Nkrumah-Boateng, Rodney

Abrokyir Nkomo: The Deportee

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng ( rodboat@yahoo.com)

Imagine this, dear reader. You have managed to escape the heat, the trials and the tribulations that defined your life back home, and you now find yourself somewhere in Dublin, The Hague or Antwerp. True, life is not easy out there, as the good Lord knows, but then at least you have something to show for the fact that your waist is in permanent lockdown. Your daily bread is not an issue, and you can at least send something home to pay the children’s fees. You are ‘forcing small small’, and even though your immigration papers are yet to materialise, you continue to live in hope that one shining day, the Lord, through whom all things are possible, will show his mighty hand. After all, without hope, there is nothing but a dark, bottomless cesspit of despair. Now, suddenly, one day, you blink rapidly and realise that you are on a flight to Kotoka, cruising languidly at 32,000 feet above sea level. Wispy clouds drift lazily beneath you as the sun filters through the cabin, with the Sahara desert spread out further below like an expansive cashmere blanket. Cause for celebration that you are going home to the land of your ancestors? Joy at the prospect that you are off to see your dearest mother after many many years? Surely, you must be eagerly anticipating savouring some freshly grilled guinea fowl and Star beer at one of the country’s many beer bars. Non? Ah, no wonder. After all you are travelling against your will, having fought the demand that you return to the land of your birth. Obroni now says he is tired of your black face, that you have long overstayed your welcome and have now become a liability to him. He has, in effect, declared you a ‘persona non grata’. Bottom line: you are being deported to Agona Swedru or Kintampo from Europe or North America. The run-up to the feeling of cold metallic handcuffs clicking shut over your wrists as an illegal immigrant and in some cases being shunted to a desolate, bleak detention centre away from humanity comes in many shades and hues. For some, it might be driving offences or suspected of criminal activity. Others may jump buses or trains without correct tickets, thereby annoying a red-faced inspector who may get on board. Some ‘paperless’ men, in moments of madness, decide to use their wives or girlfriends for punching practice. They forget a cardinal rule. In the west, this is almost sacrilegious and therefore the police will descend on you like a ton of bricks if she picks the phone and calls them. In all these scenarios, it clearly makes no sense to invite trouble to your home, for trouble will bring all her cooking pots, pestle, mortar, ‘ayowa’ and even her own charcoal and coal pot. She will aslo carry a can of worms for extra measure and empty it all over the place. Our elders, in their wisdom, say that if you are wearing rags, you do not engage others in ‘buga buga’ play. How can you expect to derive sympathy or even help where your deportation is simply due to the fact that ‘na you cause am’?

Of course, there are those who keep their head down and stay away from trouble because they know they are wearing rags, but trouble, like a heat-seeking laser-guided missile, has a way of finding them. They may be at work quietly trying to earn an honest day’s bread when unsmiling immigration officials, acting on a tip-off, suddenly descend on the work place like a mutinous army batallion on heat, simultaneously causing severe diarrhoea and migraine among the workforce. But you cannot barricade yourself at home for fear of being unearthed as an illegal. Life must go on, for man must eat. After all, as Doris Day famously sang, ‘Que Sera Sera’-what will be will be.

Then there are those who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in all sorts of scenarios. I know of someone who tried to separate two people fighting at his place of work. When the police came, he was hauled along with the two bloodied pugilsists to the station to help with ascertaining what happened. Two weeks later he found himself enjoying the sunshine in the hot dusty streets of his hometown Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, whilst the fighters, both British-born Africans, were released without further action. You see, it does not always pay to be a Good Samaritan in the west, especially if you are rather unsteady on your immigration feet. If you don’t have papers and you see two people busily disembowelling each other in the streets with machettes, look away and get as far away and as quickly as possible, unless you want a free, one-way lift back to your country-don’t be a hero. It is none of your business. Having been to several detention centres as part of my work in the UK, it never ceases to sadden me when I see human beings who have been banged up in these centres, not because they are criminals, but simply because they tried to make a living like everybody else. The helplessness, the despondency and the fear of being returned home empty-handed and unprepared saps the spirit and reduces grown-up men to nervous wrecks. Even during bitter winter colds, you do feel very hot in a detention centre awaiting shipment home.

For the vast majority of would-be deportees, the central question is this: ‘Ei, what am I going to do back home?’ It is a loaded question that never seems to have answers. There has been no opportunity to prepare for returning home, and there may not be much savings to write home about, even to survive for two months. And you cannot always be guaranteed that your little money in your abrokyir account will find its way to you in Ghana and that your friend you trust to send will be faithful

After examining your options in trying to avoid getting on that plane back home, you may well decide that there is no point further delaying the inevitable. Lawyers may not always be able to save you from taking your seat on Flight BA081 to Accra. You get philosophical and say to yourself that the good Lord knows why all this is happening. Prayer is good, especially now that you have found the Lord in your hour of need.

You worry about your family, friends and enemies knowing you did not come back on your own free will, especially when months later you are still in town, arguing in tro-tro queues at Madina. You only mumble incoherently when asked when you are going back. You detect a mischievious glint in the eyes of your inquisitors, as if they sent you abroad in the first place. If you were away for a long time and did not build house back home or send money regularly to your family upon demand, you may not even get a very good reception if you turn up in Ghana with only the clothes on your back and your pocket as empty as an old woman’s gums. Your fufu meal , rather than being set nicely on a teble with water and a nice lace cover awaiting your retrun from town, will probably be left casually and stone cold near the coal pot in the kitchen. You have lost your sheen. After all, a broke deportee is often a drain on meagre resources-so goes the conventional wisdom.

There are three categories of Ghanaian abrokyir deportees. First there are those who believe that before they were born, God had ordained that they would live abroad, and that they had been born in Ghana by mistake. Immediately they land home, they start making plans to leave-scheming, plotting, manufacturing, hiring ‘connection men’ and working the system. They may or may not return to the country where it all happened-no matter what, he must flee his homeland again-even if to Argentina, South Korea or Israel. He is determined. If deported 100 times, he will return 100 times. Ghana, the land of his birth, is anathema to him.

Then there are those who insist that they can’t be bothered to travel abroad again because they did not like it anyway. In most cases, it is a lie- the problem is there is no money to organise a return trip with all its acoutrements. Deep down, they long for the cold, the long hours of work and the stress, for it gives a certain regimen to their lives. Back home there is nothing to do, other than drifting from one thing to the other and rehashing their old stories from abroad that no one wants to listen to anyway.

Finally there are those who genuinely resolve not to return and mean it. They see their deportation as an opportunity to brighten the corner of Senya Breku or Bonwire where they have been tossed with careless abandon. Instead of spending whatever little they have on slick, oily connection men and endless visa fees, they invest it, work hard and make something of themselves.

The life of a deportee is never easy, but how one moulds a post-deportation life is crucial. It is your call.

The writer is the author of ‘Abrokyir Nkomo: Reflections of A Ghanaian Immigrant’, which was released in May 2009.

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