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Opinions of Monday, 19 July 2010

Columnist: Ablordeppey, Samuel

Don’t expect too much – a journey to the UK.

Name: Samuel Ablordeppey

Why are most Ghanaians in advanced economies afraid to come home? I used to receive money from friends and loved ones who reside outside the shores of my county Ghana, with the thinking that all was rosy in Europe and the United States of America (USA).

Sometimes I would wake up and receive text messages on my phone at the time of the month when I was hard up. The text had a code for collecting money at either Western Union or Money gram, and when that happens what first came to mind was ‘how much is the money?’ When I went and was a hundred quid I would get bored and say ‘ha but what can this money do in this economy’? Then what would go into my mind is that ‘you are living in an advanced world where the land is flowing with milk and honey, so send me something to also feel good here at least’.

Perhaps these sentiments are not solely reserved to me. I remember telling a friend Johnny Charles of my expectations of my friends and loved ones in Europe vis-a-vis the money they used to send and to my dismay Johnny Charles stood up, exhaled and buried his head in his arms for a brief moment. He then adjusted his chair to sit directly facing me, watching straight into my eyes and said in twi, ‘Eiiiiii paddy! Wanya Na wo bisa biom’ to mean you have gotten and you’re asking more. He then added, ‘’shwe mi maame ni mi papa ewo US efi nsia nie cedi mpo omu mani mi da, onua wanya ‘100 pound’ fa no saa’’ to wit, my parents have been in the US for six years and not a dime has been sent down for me ever, so if you have your hundred pounds stop complaining.

I was always asking and expecting more from friends and loved ones who have sojourned to Europe and the US. This was because I had the feeling that everything was OK in those countries as a result of some who go and come back home and show affluence and also ‘change the colour of their family overnight’, earning the name ‘Burger’.

I did not believe what my friends and loved ones used to tell me while I was in Ghana and was doing nothing except to expect more, like Oliver Twist, Hahaha.I made up my mind to try to visit the UK and see for myself how life really is there, and fortunately and unfortunately I began my Odyssey to the UK in February to search for a job and also explore educational opportunities, which was my priority. I took Afriqiya Airways from Accra on Friday evening and around 5 a.m. I was at my transit point Tripoli where I spent about two hours before embarking again, then en-route to the ‘promised Land’ the UK. All this while, I had my friend waiting to welcome me at the entrance to the arrival hall. I spent a lot of time going through what in modern terms is known as ‘Protocol’.

When I finally came out my friend, who had been hiding in a corner, appeared and enquired why I had kept that long. After explaining he whispered in my ears ‘Sammy let’s go fast and leave here. The personnel of the UK Border Agency may come and check documents. Then I retorted but ‘man’ I have documents, and then he said I know ‘let’s move’. We took a couple of buses and went to spend some few days at my friend’s brother’s house in Peckham, where we had a few bottles of ‘opeimu’, a Ghanaian brewed alcoholic beverage I had carried with me to officially welcome me to the UK. We then sat to have a chat. My friend Kwame started to tell me his story. Sammy, he said ‘enye easy wo krom ha ooo, yeebre ankasa (Kojo, it’s not easy in this country, we are really suffering). That alarmed me, so I adjusted my seat and then I asked ‘if it’s not good why don’t you go home?’ Hmmmm, I really wish to but I’m here as an illegal immigrant, which means when I get back to Ghana I can’t return to the UK again. Kwame continued ‘that is not the only issue: another reason why some of us illegal immigrants in the UK are afraid of going home is the usual expectations from friends, loved ones and family. These are the problems giving me and my other colleagues such huge headaches. He continued, you know when you go home with nothing and can’t establish any business you would be ostracised by your own family, and be equated to a failure. This is the problem my brother.

I one day paid a surprise visit to Osborne and during a long chat he said ’Abrokyire no enua nieooo, wo so behwe sena etie’ (ahhh, this is the London my people at home have been talking about so it’s good you are here to also have a first hand experience). As we continued talking, Osborne’s phone rang incessantly but he didn’t pick it, so I prompted him that he has a call (thinking that he did not hear it). He said rather unenthusiastically ‘Kojo’, all they say back home is ‘send me this, send me that’ without thinking of what we going through here’. I’m even tired, and all they want is the latest technology and fashion, ranging from phones, ipods, shoes, laptops, watches etc.

Indeed, ‘the heaviest baggage for a traveller is an empty purse’. I realised they don’t really have the money to purchase those requests, let alone send some to their beloved families. To add salt to injury, they have to work under very unacceptable conditions partly because they are illegal aliens, yet they work hard for the UK economy. Also they can’t access healthcare, insurance or get a good job, let alone open a bank account.

One chilly evening I was with a 22 year-old, named Daniel, in a pub and he had this to tell me. You know the illegal Ghanaians here are many and without hope. He continued, I was knocked down by a car and when the police came to assist, I threw them off because if they start investigations then the truth would be known that I’m an illegal immigrant and the worst would be for me to be repatriated. So instead of benefiting from assistance I had to let them go - it’s crazy isn’t it? And for an illegal immigrant to work, then it must be done by using the documents of a legal resident, for which they would take a percentage at the end of every month. Do you imagine yourself working and the salary going to somebody else’s account, awful is isn’t it.

Though ‘dry bread at home is better than roast meat abroad’, most of the Ghanaian illegal and legal immigrants in the UK have refused to go home and have a bite of the dry bread, for reasons of fear of expectations from the people back home. Isaac Anthony is a legal Ghanaian immigrant in the UK but has refused to go home because for him the expectations are too huge and failure to satisfy them all brings much disappointment. Must the expectations from others stop them from going back home to their families? The answer should be an obvious NO. Yet this is the situation we here are confronted with, Isaac Anthony said, ‘even the ‘Nike’ boots I am wearing will be taken from me by friends. Kojo I have now fitted in to the UK system and I am not going home.

Daniel is another Ghanaian who overstayed his six month visa and had to struggle to acquire his legal status in the UK through strenuous means. He said to me I will go back home in September and spend some few months after being away from home for the past seven years. I said that would be great. One week later he called me and said, Kojo, ‘I might not go as promised, why? I queried. I only have two thousand pounds and the expectation alone will be too much, so I want some loan from my bank without which I can’t go back to Ghana, my happy home’.

These and other stories from Illegal and legal immigrants suggest that, though they appreciate the need to go back home, their greatest worry is the expectations from society. No wonder in Ghana a lot of commercial vehicles write behind them ‘travel and see’. It is therefore important that the expectations of our friends and family abroad should be minimised or discouraged, and let them open up and tell us the situation so we understand it more, because some of the menial workers in Ghana are better off than some of the Ghanaians living illegally in the UK.

Meeting old friends and making new ones helped me discover that all that glitters is not gold. In my three and a half month stay in the UK, I was not left out either, as the calls kept coming, saying buy me something, I need phone, ipods, laptops, shoes, shirts, watches and many other different stuffs.

Indeed life in the UK is not rosy for our brothers and sisters living in the UK, especially the illegal immigrants, thus let us minimise the pressure on them and keep praying for them to come back home safe, if they so desire. Because the undue pressure of want and need from people back home has made them, ‘self imposed prisoners in a far away land’. I hope you don’t doubt this story but if you do, I better tell you, the proof of the pudding is in the eating (travel and see).