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Opinions of Sunday, 14 October 2007

Columnist: Appeadu, Charles E.

Quality of Life of Ghanaian Immigrants

How many times have you heard some of the following statements: “The only thing we do here is work; there is no happiness here in the United States; life is boring here”. In this piece I wish to discuss these feelings about living here and try to make sense of them and finally propose certain actions to mitigate the feelings and hopefully make life here a little more bearable and more fun. One big difference between Ghana and the United States is the stronger interpersonal relationships Ghanaians enjoy.

This contrasts greatly with the individualistic lives here in the United States. When many of us were in Ghana, we were used to having friends over for talks and food. Many others could go out to play Damme and Oware with perfect strangers and come home satisfied. Of course, the negative economic impacts of such a lifestyle are great – especially when it is the order of the day at a national level. I will not dwell on this economic impact here as this is not the subject of this article. When the Ghanaian (in Ghana) gets on the public transportation system, he/she can engage in conversations with other passengers without even bothering to ask their names. When the tro-tro or bus gets to its final stop, passengers get down and each goes his/her own way and that relationship ends.

Here, in the western world, the situation is very different. I have a friend who is very outgoing and likes inviting people to his home for food. He has tried several times to no avail. The response he gets is that his place is too far. Here he is, ready to cook and fete friends with aponkye nkrakaa (goat meat light soup) and drinks, but no one comes. He is home always with his wife and children. Make no mistake, my friend loves his wife and children, but sometimes yearns to be with friends too.

Can anything be done to make the best out of the existing environment here to improve on the quality of life here in these United States? My answer is yes, but we need to think outside the box and devise new ways. We should not continue to moan and yearn for Damme and Oware. That lifestyle is gone forever, for most of us. Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Family vacations:

Many Ghanaians consider vacations a waste of money. The only reason for this mentality is that we were not brought up that way. Many of us grew up poor so money (I mean the paper) has become just too important. Whenever I advise Ghanaians here to go on vacation, they tell me that they do go on vacation. Guess what they mean? They go to Ghana! While I laud this patriotism, I do not consider most of the trips we take to Ghana as vacations. In fact, most of us come back to the US more tired than we were before going on these trips. These trips to Ghana are even more demanding than business trips. People take their short annual leave and use it to go and continue their projects back home or use it to go and bury their parents back home and they call it vacation. After working two or three jobs for about a year or more, a trip to complete your house or bury parents can hardly be the vacation your body needs. Of course, this also means that your children never go on vacation. I suggest that you rethink the value of your hard earned money and use some to go on real vacations. Some of these vacations could and should be vacations to Ghana but make sure they are vacations! It’s not all vacations within the United States or elsewhere in the western world that are expensive, if planned in advance. Let’s make use of our strong interpersonal relationships. If you have a friend in another state, arrange to take time off at the same time. Then two or three families can plan to travel somewhere on, say, a week-long vacation. There are many places you can visit. My favorites are historical sites so your children will learn a little bit of the history of this country. Some are angry at me now because I am advocating that their children should know something about this country, but I am only being practical. Your children were born here and live here and go to school here. It is only wise that they know something about the land of their birth, if only to be able to compete with their classmates and be able to participate in meaningful conversation with their coworkers in the future. Doing this does not mean that they will stop loving Ghana. On the contrary, a good knowledge of the history of this country will reveal to them the atrocities caused by slave trade, the development of democracy and the bottlenecks that had to be smoothed on the way. You can stay in a bed and breakfast residence, usually a little cheaper. As an example of such a historical site, a guided tour of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, would be a very touching experience for you and your children. At Monticello, not only will the guide give you a closer knowledge of one of the greatest minds of American democracy (Thomas Jefferson) but you will also learn the dark side of slavery and the preserved conditions under which Thomas Jefferson’s slaves lived. While a Disney trip, for example, might be too expensive for many families to undertake, it can be done cost-effectively in a group. Two summers ago, I took the youth in my Church, Church of the Living God in Atlanta, on a Disney World Trip. They were ecstatic about the trip and their experiences will be etched in their memories for life. While I had taken my family on a Disney World vacation prior to that trip, most of the other children had never been on such a trip. I would like to encourage our churches to think about trips like this for their youth. Other places that might be amenable to group trips are the Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, the monuments of Washington D.C., and New York City, to name a few.

2. Exercise: I cannot talk about quality of life without talking about exercise. I don’t have the facts about the lifespan of Ghanaian immigrants here in the USA but my guess is that it is not nearly as high as it is for the general American population. Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels etc. are some of the health hazards plaguing our communities. It is sad when we hear of Ghanaians dying at very young ages. While death can happen to people of any age, it is less likely to happen to young healthy people. For those of us from the villages in Ghana, the days of walking four or five miles to the farm and coming back with a load on your head are over. For those who used to live in Kumasi or Accra, the days of walking several miles up and down Prempeh II street in Kumasi or Makola in Accra doing your shopping before walking several blocks to your tro-tro are over, as well. Now, many of us sit behind the computer for hours daily and drive home only to continue sitting down to eat our oil rich tomato stew and joloff rice dinner or fufu and palm nut soup (with meat laden with animal fat etc) and later watch TV. Look at the pictures of Ghanaians often posted on this site and look at the Ghanaians you encounter at funeral celebrations and you cannot help but see obesity all around you. Please, please, go to the gym and lift weights and run or walk on the treadmill. Please make use of the parks close to your neighborhoods and take the whole family out at least once a week (Saturdays are ideal) for a brisk walk or a jog for at least one hour. The food we eat is also very important. Include vegetables (a lot of it) in your diet. If you are like me, you are noticing that your body does not need as much food as it needed when you were younger. I certainly have observed that so I am eating less and I am being more careful. Cut down on oily foods, red meat and deliberately include fruits and vegetables in your diet.

The biggest enemy to attaining a high quality of life is the pursuit of the very thing that we think can give us high quality of life. I am talking about the pursuit of money. Too many of our people are spending all their time working two or three jobs and making no room for meaningful rest. Please rethink your strategy and get a more beneficial view of money. By all means work hard but use proper planning to work smarter and give yourself a break from time to time. Some of us are trying to attain in one generation what realistically can only be attained in two or more generations. In the process, many are losing their lives rather too early in life, leaving behind the so-called “funeral homes” in Ghana. Take a rest, exercise, and enjoy a higher quality of life!

Charles E. Appeadu, Ph.D., CFA

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