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Opinions of Thursday, 15 February 2007

Columnist: Tawiah, Francis

Empty Nest: Reflections of A Ghanaian Abroad

[Please, take a breather from the intense partisan political, ethnic bouts, and other confrontational discussions, feature articles, and news in this forum these days with the approaching election campaign season and the 50th independence anniversary and immerse yourself in the following easy read. Thanks.]

This past fall, I helped my younger son settle in Chicago, Illinois, to attend graduate school. It is over 350 miles or about five hours drive from our home in the mid-west United States.

Considering the large Ghanaian population in the U.S., I was not surprised that my son’s studio apartment building happened to be next door to a long-time Ghanaian resident of Chicago who has been in the U.S. for almost as long as I have lived here. He invited us to his large rental unit and I had a lovely and thought-provoking conversation with him and his wife. He promised to check up on my son regularly. He also has a daughter in college. I discovered how much both of us have in common as a result of our lengthy stay in the U.S.

Since coming back home my thoughts about the stages and transitions of life have become more intense. In the last few months, I have had constant quiet solemn reflections on my life in the U.S. and also my bitter-sweet experiences of growing up in Ghana prior to my departure to the U.S. I am one of those Ghanaians who left Ghana in the early 1970s. I left Ghana before there was an increased rate of emigration out of the country to Europe, U.S., and Canada. When I arrived in the U.S., there was a small Ghanaian population here in the Mid-West. However, towards the end of the 1970s through the mid-80s and especially during the early years of Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings’ bloody purge of what he claimed was the cleansing of the taint of intractable systemic corruption in his fellow Ghanaian, there appeared a modest growth of Ghanaians in the U.S. Most of them settled along the East Coast but a small number ended up here in the Mid-West. Many of the young new arrivals enrolled in the universities and colleges around here. Others either moved on to other cities in the West Coast or the East Coast in states like Maryland, New York, or the District of Columbia. A very small number went back home when there were reduced tensions in Ghana.

Over the years, we have seen Ghanaians arrive in this area, mostly to attend the local universities. Many of them completed their under-graduate education in the local universities and moved away to other states or cities farther from us to either work or continue their education. We made friends with many of the Ghanaians and other African students. There were also transient African professionals who came here to work for a few years, some with their families, and moved on to other areas of the country. A good number of African professionals and their families are still here. My wife and I have seen many Africans come and go and we have had the pleasure over the years to have gotten to know most of them. Yet, we stayed and raised our children in the same city. We have traveled to other cities in the U.S. to visit friends or go on vacation but we always came back to our family-friendly area which boasts excellent public school districts. The Ghanaian population in this area has fluctuated over the years. Our numbers here have stabilized to pre-1980 levels, yet the caliber of permanent Ghanaians has changed from mostly students in the 1980s to professionals and workers who have now established stable households here.

For as long as I have lived in the U.S., that is a little over 30 years, I am grateful that I have had meaningful, enriching, very memorable, and sometimes interesting experiences. I have gone through the usual hazy, neurotic and tumultuous adjustment period during my early years away from home. I have struggled through higher education, more financially than academically. I have gone back to Ghana, married and have raised very wonderful potentially successful children in the U.S. My wife and I have worked hard to provide for the family and keep our household intact despite a few hits and bumps here and there. Three of our children have graduated from college and the youngest is currently at a loss as to which university she should select and attend in September when she has already received admission notices and attractive scholarship offers from four prestigious universities. Our children’s achievements so far would not have been possible without the combined efforts of my wife and me. We are very proud of them.

Blessed Times The blessings that have come our way with our children’s birth, growth, and their progress so far will linger with us always. We have enjoyed heartwarming and a few awkward times when we saw them through their primary, middle, high school, and college years. We have enjoyed their participation in a lot of school activities including many extra-curricular activities. We have attended numerous academic and athletic award ceremonies and have watched them take leadership roles in school activities. We have watched them play soccer, basketball, and run track for their schools. Our children’s friends and their parents of all races, who enjoyed our company and my wife’s delicious Ghanaian dishes, have enriched our lives and have left indelible memories for both of us. And we believe we have enriched their lives too and have disabused them of many inaccuracies and their misconceptions about Africa.

Overall, we have had much more to be thankful for than regrets. And the regrets have been a few dotted setbacks in-between all the blessed times. Despite life’s usual bumps and bruises we have very little to complain about. We have stayed in touch with relations back home by traveling to Ghana regularly for vacation or to attend to a few extended family matters and participate in a few funerals. Our children have traveled to Ghana in order to get them in touch with their roots. They have met and bonded with living or now late grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and many family members. They have made many friends in Ghana outside the family and have visited memorable Ghanaian historical sites. We have even taken them to our ancestral homes.

Retirement At this point in our lives when the children are beginning to make separate lives for themselves away from home and after making the U.S. our permanent home for over 30 years, I believe the time has arrived for my wife and me to focus our attention on our retirement. Both of us have worked very hard to provide a warm home for our children, and their academic and social achievements so far prove that we have not failed them. In just five to seven years from now, when we expect the youngest to experience some degree of independence and self-reliance, we plan on living our remaining years commuting between Ghana and the U.S. We are contemplating devoting our time and resources to provide geriatric assistance to the Ghanaian elderly to have a semblance of decency in their later years.

The children have become adults now, the youngest one just legally. The older three live permanently outside the home in different states and cities. They are seeking higher education, working or both. But as a result of the gradual changes in the family unit, my wife and I are now beginning to experience the painful severing of the proverbial apron strings. But it sometimes feels like the children are the ones who are trying to wean us off them instead of the other way around. Our house is slowly and steadily becoming quieter and empty. When the youngest goes away to college this fall, it will be just the two of us and her golden retriever in a four-bedroom house. Of course, they will come home during the holidays and their vacation periods if they want to. But the life that we have known for thirty-plus years has changed for good. It is soon going to be only the two of us and the dog. And, yes, we have to accept and adapt to the change. We have very great friends but they cannot take the place of the unique and memorable relationship anywhere close to what we have had with our children.

Why We Always Want Out Right now, I would like to share some of my sentiments about the benefits and the pitfalls associated with my long ago decision to leave Ghana and impart some of my experiences to young families who are already outside Ghana and those who are fervently yearning to leave home for overseas destinations. The migration decisions that millions of Ghanaians and other Africans have made over the years and continue to make are not blissful utopian trips to paradise but very serious life-changing decisions.

Before we leave home for the first time, we often have lofty Eden-like misconceptions about life in Europe and North America or other places outside of Ghana. No amount of advice or discouragements by veteran been-tos can mitigate the euphoria, the desperation, and the strong attraction to flee perceived and real hardships at home. For a very long time many Ghanaians and other Africans have felt the need, often the desperation, to leave their homelands in order to improve their lives. It often seems that there are no alternatives. I can foresee the immediate reaction from readers: What alternatives are out there? I agree, I cannot think of any right now. Indeed, I left Ghana with the same spirit of desperation, same as what impels many Ghanaians today to seek self-improvement elsewhere. It is sad to see that desperation to get out is still a very strong controlling force when you read about Ghanaians and other Africans who perilously walk across the steaming cauldron Sahara to North Africa to find their way to Europe.

For obvious reasons, my very first caution for newcomers is to never assign a specific return date before you leave home. You may have to place a flexible and not a stringent timeline on what you plan to accomplish in a strange foreign land. Things are not always what they seem and accomplishments do not always happen in the timeframes you may impose on yourself. Remember that there is a steep price to pay for that life-changing decision to leave home and that you are actually bartering a familiar set of problems at home for often very heart wrenching set of unaccustomed problems elsewhere. For the few who are lucky, sometimes the gains may be prompt or timely and more than eventually make up for the traditional deprivations for leaving home. For example, you may enroll in a university immediately after your arrival, follow course requirements timely, you may even promptly pursue additional higher education which will definitely position you for a steady and solid personal and financial growth. But for many other Africans who through no fault of their own arrive unprepared for a smooth structured life, any gains in a foreign land may not always be adequate to make up for the steep price of the difficult separation from traditional bonds with one’s bloodline and country. I have seen many here who year after year are still working hard and getting nowhere and are quietly yearning for that one huge illusive jackpot that will yank them back home to live comfortable lives that they consider to be at par with Ghana’s current well-to-do. In other words, there will always be unfinished business.

In the meantime, days, weeks, months, years, and decades come and go. Why do many hang around so long? It is because the grass was always greener across the Atlantic Ocean prior to your initial departure for the Good Old U.S. of A. Your unfulfilled dreams and hopes for prosperity will detain you here for eternity. Your newly acquired lifestyles will definitely make it difficult for you to up and go live in the same conditions that existed prior to your departure from Ghana. For example, you are now used to peaceful single family homes and apartments that provide you some degree of comfort and privacy as opposed to the loud, querulous, and bickering communal extended family living conditions in most areas of Ghana. No amount of developments at home to improve the quality of life of Ghanaians will ever come to par with the standards you have tasted in your newfound home however wanting. Also it is because you feel trapped as soon as you arrive. Even when the burst of the harsh cold air of initial reality and disappointment hits you hard in the face, you still stay. You know you cannot turn around and head back home because of the possible taunts, snide snickers, and the stigma of a been-to loser who could not stay in a perceived paradise like America.

The Influence of the Returnees When I lived and worked in Accra in the late 60s through the early 70s as an office clerk, I met along the way a few Ghanaians who had returned from overseas with higher education. They rode in nice cars, dressed in sharper clothes and seemed to be more upwardly mobile. They exhibited self-assuredness. Together with their advanced education, they seemed to have acquired some aura of finesse, sophistication, and classy refinement and they exuded untouchable superiority which unfortunately engendered personal insecurities and educational inadequacies in me. I had a secondary school education then but I felt so strongly that I had to travel overseas to go take a drink from the same magic well that made those returnees so professionally and socially attractive. Some of them had titles to their names and were employed in higher level and better positions and I often felt panicky whenever I contemplated a future of an ordinary office clerk who might be resigned to a stagnant unsteady job and a career with no upward mobility plus an impossible and unaffordable dream of starting and maintaining a steady family life.

Towards the end of 1960s through the early 1970s, Ghanaian friends in my age group (I was in my mid-20s) were leaving Ghana in gushes and whenever the panic set in I thought I was a loser. Leaving Ghana in itself has always been a spectacular hurdle-clearing achievement like a successful prison breakout. You felt trapped and incomplete if you never made it out. I had two poignant experiences which really pushed my desperation to leave Ghana to the fore. The first was a young Ghanaian who had just returned from Britain with a college education and business certification who was employed immediately as my direct boss at the multi-national company near Accra High Street where I worked. He looked better fed and sharp, had a better command of the English language, and dressed nicely. He was provided housing and a vehicle and he had his own office. He had his pick of the young attractive bank clerks and a few women mid-managers in the High Street area. Some of those young women were married but were still attracted to this young man.

To me at the time, it was, wow, he had a car he did not pay for when I always struggled, rather often fought, my way onto trotro to and from Bubuashie and High Street, in rain or shine. I often left home very early in the morning in order not to be late for work and always got back to my rented little one-room abode when it was dark. The pay was a pittance. I never had enough money for a decent meal. I was relatively healthy but a skinny lanky dude with gaunt features that bear very little resemblance to me today when I look at my old black and white photographs. I was malnourished and I did not know it. Though I was always broke and hungry, I always made sure that I had money for transportation to get back home after work. If this guy who just came back from England is living large then I had to do all I could to get out of my rut and head in the same direction. By the way, I had my eyes set on America as the prime destination choice and then Canada. America was THE place. America was cool. America had soul. America was hip. America had style. America was groovy. Anywhere else in Europe was the last resort if I could not make it to either of the two places.

Another big impact on me to leave Ghana was a smart bookworm childhood buddy and a classmate who had come back to Ghana from a North American university on a research assignment for his doctoral thesis. When we were kids I knew for sure that if anyone in the world was going to make it to the top this academic wizard of a childhood friend was the one and only. When he came back to Ghana, he looked for me and found me in Accra working for a Ghana government agency. We reminisced about our childhood days and he introduced his stunningly attractive and pregnant Caribbean wife to me. We talked about how during our middle school years we used to roam at the weekends around the whole town where we lived. How we used to venture far from home up the hills to the European bungalows to steal ripe mangoes, pawpaw, guavas, and other tasty fruits. How we used to be chased out of the European compounds by Gold Coast bungalow guards back down the hills with whipping canes in hand. How we roamed faraway from home past the Zongo part of town, past the Old Town and sometimes ended up at the railway station at the far end of town. How we ventured into the bushy areas and shot birds and lizards with our slingshots. How we often relaxed on our front verandahs, read comic books and paperback novels and kept them under lock and key and were cherished as valuable treasures. How we spent our pennies and shillings and later pesewas on those books. (Up to today, I do not know what happened to my collection of the 1950s and 1960s comic books and novels after I left the family home for Accra and later to America.) We talked about how we clipped and pasted pictures from magazines and newspapers and made albums of leading Negro boxers, other championship sports figures and world-renowned Black personalities.

I remember so clearly today how my once childhood friend tried to be funny by asking me during that one and only visit with me in the 1970s if in adulthood I still shot birds. I never told him and he never knew that for all those years that we hung together I never felt as his equal but just a second fiddle and a hanger-on. We lived in the middle-class neighborhood of the town but I always felt that he was raised in a better structured home than I was. I was a smart kid in school but he was smarter. He had a lasting impact on me and I still have fond memories of him even today. He probably saw the discomfort in me during this visit at my workplace and did not come back. After the visit with me in Accra which was also the last time I saw him, the encounter left me so disheartened and so bereft of any sense of completeness that I resolved there and then that, come hell or high water, I was leaving Ghana.

So, I left Ghana a couple of years later. I was on my way to accomplish what those two people and other returnees had done for themselves. I was going to attend a university in America and come right back home and enjoy life a little better than I left it. I had lofty dreams and nobody, I mean nobody, was going to talk me out of the one and only solution to my tough struggles in Ghana. With a student visa and an airline ticket in hand and only about $50 in my pocket, I was totally clueless about what was in store for me, that is, the jolt of the real existence that awaited me in the so-called land of milk and honey where roads are paved with gold. I was running away from my problems at home and I was sure that America was the virtual, the ultimate, and the end-all problem-solver. All right, what can I say? After a little over 30 years, I am still here. I have achieved some of my educational objectives but I never made it back home they way I dreamt it.

Price Paid and More Over the years, my wife and I have made a decent living in this strange but wonderful foreign land. Our prime concern has always been the children and we have done our best. But what gives me pause these days is the price of the choice we made to leave home. I sometimes see the cost of leaving home in our children and other African children here who are more American now than Ghanaian or African.

Secondly, the many years lost and the distance from relatives at home which has created a huge gap between us here and those at home which has somehow turned us into relative strangers in our homeland also give me pause. Now, many of the epochal and historical political events and social transformations that have taken place in the last 30 years in Ghana which we could only read about but did not experience in person have become one of the dear prices paid for choosing to leave home. I also often think about the loss of old friends and very loving relatives who have passed on in our absence; and lastly, the dramatic changes in the geographical landscape that have occurred in our absence in the last 30 years. All of these changes have given me something like post-partum emptiness despite our successes outside Ghana and despite all junkets made in the past to Ghana to try to reconnect with our roots.

A point to keep in mind more for those who have not left Ghana but desire to do so for the first time is that there is an overwhelming probability that any children you raise in America will become American and not Ghanaian citizens not only on their birth certificates but in their actual persons too. It is clear that not only will your new-found country of residence sap you out of your strong youthful employable years it will take your children too. In the end, you will have very little left in you, mind and body, to contribute to your country of birth. As long as there are disparities in the standard of living between most African countries and the West, the migration to the North will continue and the loss of our employable years and our children to the North will continue.

When it comes to our children that we consider lost to America and other foreign lands, I only take comfort in the fact that I am not the only African overseas who has raised children outside his homeland. It may be solacing to feel that we are in good company with many African parents overseas but the loss is real. We are experiencing it right now. Not only are we going to lose our children to America, our relatives back home have already experienced the loss the many years we have been away from them by choosing to live so far from home. Of course, all humans have to make lives and homes separate from their families, but why do we Africans have to do so faraway from home? Some of the Africans here have married and are in solid relationships with African or American spouses. Others have had out-of-wedlock offspring with their American girlfriends but never hung around long enough to raise the children. I have also seen a few broken African marriages over the years. It has always been painful experiences for the children. America is a rough and tough place for children in single parent homes. I have always been heartbroken to see the struggles of single African mothers here and the difficulties of their children. For example, not very far from here, a teenage child of African parents recently killed his divorced single mother in a fit of anger. I doff my hat to all African mothers everywhere.

Anytime I watch televised collegiate and professional sporting games like American football and basketball and I notice young American-born African athletes, it reminds me of my children’s national identities. They may carry African names and even be bilingual but they are almost completely American. With the millions of Africans overseas, imagine the many children of Ghanaian and other African parents who may never make their way to Africa permanently. The loss will increase with further dilutions of your offspring and your heritage, up to the disappearance of your African heritage, when you become grandparents, great-grandparents, great great-grandparents away from your birth home. Many of the parents themselves may never make it back. Of course, with very limited choices at home, I do understand the argument for raising and educating children anywhere in the world where excellent schools and opportunities for better paid employment are available. Parents in Africa where educational and economic opportunities are limited or lacking readily jump at the chance to educate and raise their children in the West, but we must be willing to accept the greater probability that those children will grow up in and belong to the country of their residence and not their parents’ country of birth.

About the relatives you leave behind when you leave home, remember that your relationship with them will be strained as the years go by. Aside from the growth and other physical changes that naturally take place in you and those at home, there will be other changes in the composition of the extended family which you may only hear about on the phone but not be part of. The very young ones at home will become adults in your absence. There will be marriages, divorces, childbirths, deaths, and relocations in your absence. The structure of the family you left behind will definitely change without you. There will be young children, teenagers and adults you may recognize and have some affinity to but have no bonding at all. For those who have not left home yet, the old adage, you can never go back home, will define your generational gap experience.

However, with transportation and communication advances in the last 15 or so years and still improving, the gap may not be as wide in the near future as it was when I left home, when most contacts with people at home consisted almost only of correspondence through the postal service. The world-wide web, cellular and improved land phones, increased availability of air travel, and other technological advances have all bridged the gap so much that young-adults and future generations may not consider the Atlantic Ocean as a wide relationship impediment anymore. With e-mail and better telephone systems, I do not remember the last time I saw an aerogramme letter.

As for political, economic, and social changes in Ghana, you will feel as if you are part of and personally affected by policy directions, electoral processes, both peaceful and violent governmental changes, business, residential, and commercial structural developments, and even attitudinal changes when you read about them on the internet, listen on satellite radios, or watch snippets of Ghanaian television broadcasts in your faraway residence. But the truth is that you are not part of the changes at all. You are only a faraway spectator. You do not have firsthand experiences of all those events. I was in Ghana when Busia was overthrown by Acheampong but I only read the news about subsequent political, social, and economic events from across the ocean. Yet, I still felt that major events in Ghana affected me too even when I was not in the midst of all the dramatic changes. I only read about events like the near-famine during Acheampong’s regime through the early years of Rawlings. I read about Acheampong’s failed Operation Feed Yourself and his National Reconstruction undertakings.

I was still away when Rawlings loudly plopped onto the political scene. His abrupt arrival and his deadly wildness were world-wide news. He bounced onto the scene so wildly that many Ghanaians became justifiably terrified for their lives and ran out of the country. A few arrived here. Those were the years when our extended family members in Ghana would admonish us to stay put in the U.S. whenever we said we were coming home for a visit. The bloodletting, the physical abuse and torture, and nighttime disappearances of both prominent and ordinary Ghanaians did put the fear of God in everyone who lived at home. Market queens, large and small business owners, many government and private business managers and mid-level employees had to run to escape the wrath of Rawlings, and those who could not run were lucky if their only misfortunes were the confiscation of personal or business properties. What a sad and crass way to correct national economic imbalances.

My trips home during the whole Rawlings era were far and few in between. Rawlings managed to stay in power for an additional eight years when world pressures forced him to hold popular elections. Despite what Ghanaians knew about his record, they still voted him into office as president twice. Whether Rawlings was pressured or not, one of the very important achievements of his reign that I give him credit for is the expansion of print and broadcast media across Ghana. It is amazing how Ghana went from a single short-wave broadcast system (the GBC) to many privately owned independent FM stations around the country in a very short period. This very important development has made it easier for Ghanaians to express themselves and has helped reduce the chances for irresponsible violent government overthrows. In between Acheampong and Rawlings, there were the short-lived advents of Limman and Akuffo. Though I felt affected by all of those events, I was just a faraway remote observer. Even today, there is sometimes awkwardness on my part when I try to join in the discussions of the current issues and events in Ghana. Sometimes I feel like I belong and sometimes I do not.

Today Ghana has a new-born representative governmental system for just about 15 years. The stability of the current political system has not been time-tested and the country has experienced only one relatively smooth major governmental transition when Rawlings’ NDC handed over power to Kufuor’s NPP. Many of the previous transitions had been abrupt and bloody. We are now eagerly awaiting the next major transitions to test the current stability. In the meantime, under a constitutional and parliamentary system, there have been huge social shifts in the country. Along with the political, press, and other freedoms have appeared increased violent crime, illicit drug trade, pornography, and other social ills in a society with a law enforcement structure that has very little oversight control, a not so very fair, biased and selective rule of law, plus our porous borders. You can notice these changes written boldly in the hardened, stony, unfeeling, unemotional, disaffected, and the I-will-take-you-down-in-a-moment faces of the Ghanaian youth. All of these have made those of us outside who want to come home to a once cherished peaceful safe Ghana very jittery, unnerved and hesitant. A few Ghanaians around here have resolved to stay here for good. Some of these families have even completely given up the idea of visits to Ghana because of the violent armed robberies and other crimes prevalent in the country. The fears of many Ghanaians overseas are not unfounded because some of them have become victims of the increased crime in the country.

Other Changes Whenever I have traveled to Ghana, I have been shocked by the many visibly damaging deforestation of a lush environment I was used to up to the early 70s. The most painful is the sad disappearance of the many huge ancient trees that gave us rich thick forests and ample fauna to support the level of human population at that time. Game and wild animals have now been hunted and displaced to near extinction. I agree that the problem is worldwide, but I am touched more by what I see in my country of birth. I do not know whether we should excuse our leaders for the destruction of the landscape because of the need for hard foreign currency as the reason for cutting down almost all of the irreplaceable ancient trees for export. Maybe we should excuse them. We cannot easily blame them. We cannot also blame the energy hungry Ghanaian residents for their survival needs which also impel them to indiscriminately go after the country’s wood.

What also baffle me are the same limited access roads and the same highways since independence that support an exponential growth of the number of vehicles in the country. The attendant unchecked chocking pollution from increased traffic, accidents, and death on the roads scare me to death. I have not driven a vehicle in Ghana in over 30 years. I have always had someone drive me around because I know that I would be a nervous wreck behind the wheel anywhere in Ghana, especially in Accra.

The dramatic spike in the population from about 8.5 million in 1970 to about 22.4 million today, or 164% increase, in just thirty-five years is amazing. It is surprising how the limited resources of the country have been able to support the astronomical growth in the population in such a short time. But increased pressures on the limited resources are so evident in the nearly decimated landscape and the regressive life span in the country. Today, those over 65 years make up less than 4% of the population and the median age is currently 19.9 years. The numbers of those over 75 years are so small that they cannot even be decently measured. Imagine the additional devastating pressures on the limited resources of the country if the millions of overseas Ghanaians and their offspring who also number in the millions lived in Ghana.

It is clear then that the chances of living to the middle age and beyond are greater outside the country. It took me a long time to pay a closer attention to admonitions by extended family members at home to stay put here. Examples of some older returnees who did not last long at home and died prematurely and a couple of close calls, such as very severe life-threatening gastro-intestinal infections, for me and my wife and a couple of the children during some our visits do reinforce their concerns for our lives. They may be justifiable in their concern that we may shorten our remaining years if we move permanently back to Ghana. I am afraid that my inbred natural immune armor against tropical ailments has dissipated with our long periods away from home. But the attraction of Ghana is so strong that the concerns of the extended families pose little dilemma for me now. I still love the country. Ghana is still my romantic paradise.

Should Have, Could Have, Would Have Many questions about the worth of my immigrating to the United States can easily and only be answered by me. With all of these experiences, should I have stayed in Ghana? I can answer that question with a short narrative. As a late Ghanaian trailblazer who got off the plane for the first time in New York in the 70s and had no one to meet me at the airport who also found his way on a very cold night to the Grand Central Station to board the Greyhound bus to my destination about 700 miles away to attend college where I also did not know anyone, I should have turned around back to Ghana because I truly felt like it my very first few weeks here. Could I have done that? Yes. Did I leave? No. Despite the shock of my initial entry into this world away from home, I kept trudging along. I lived through the initial rough and shaky adjustment years. The if-I-had-to-do-it-over-again mistakes were many. I worked hard and paid my dues for what and where I am today. I really worked hard to lay the foundation for the family that I am proud to have now. That is why I can easily call this place my second home now with very little discomfort, guilt, or betrayal.

When I reflect on all those changes in Ghana over the years that I have been here in the U.S., I wonder how I would have ended up if I never left Ghana. What would have happened to my career aspirations? Would I have had the kind of children I brought to this world? Would I even be alive today? Maybe I would have been alright. But the disparities in the quality of life between Ghana and the U.S. were so great when I left Ghana that there were extremely few alternatives that would have encouraged any young Ghanaian to stay at home. These to me are legitimate questions whenever I remember friends and relatives who have passed on in Ghana prematurely; and what many of those who are still alive but I do not see around anymore when I visit Ghana did what I did: they too left for the same or other destinations outside Ghana. A good example is the Ghanaian gentleman I met in Chicago and the other is my childhood friend who is still outside Ghana as an extremely successful college professor.

Again, the very important question I often ask myself is whether my life as it is today and my personal achievements outside Ghana are worth the price paid for leaving my homeland. It is painful to say so but the clear cut answer is, yes. When I look at my family, especially my children and where they are now, I know that I paid a price to be here but I made the right decision. Additionally, I truly feel a sense of satisfaction for my heritage when I think about world-renowned Ghanaian-born athletic stars, well established educators in foreign universities, high performing corporate executives from Ghana, and other famous and not-so-famous Ghanaians outside of Ghana who give honor and credence to the country. Nevertheless, there is also a good part of me that makes me rue all that I have missed by leaving home. I guess you win some, you lose some.

Notwithstanding the seldom despair from my fractured national allegiance, I harbor a very difficult and seemingly unrealizable hope. I earnestly hope that the gap in the qualities of life between Africa and the western world would be bridged soon to help erase the desperation that still drive many of my countrymen and women to tear themselves away from their homelands and risk their lives in search of prosperity elsewhere. I yearn for a time when Ghanaians and other Africans will travel away from home only for business, vacation, and other temporary purposes rather than relocate to foreign lands out of the necessity to survive.

God bless us all.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.