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Opinions of Monday, 23 April 2007

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The House Of Exile: Who is a burger?

…..BEHIND THE PAIN, DISAPPOINTMENT AND FRUSTRATION, PART OF YOU IS STILL IN GHANA.

ONCE A GHANAIAN boards a plane he or she automatically acquires an identifiable and ‘enviable’ status, known as” a Burger”—a nice euphemism for an ‘outsider’, a ‘traitor’ and an ‘opportunist’. He or she is thenceforth a marked person and while in Ghana the matters only get worse as his or her economic status increases.

Other than an uninterrupted electricity supply, there are a few things that really irk the average Ghanaian .One is driving without blowing your horn needlessly. Now Ghanaians have something new to add to the list: A “Burger” who constantly, tries to question how things are done in Ghana. Never mind that, it’s still ok to blow $20 million for a party and still sleep in darkness. As long as the remittance is coming in there’s no cause for alarm.

Like most Ghanaians in the Diaspora ,I left home with the main intention of “making it” in the host country and go back home “one day”, to help those I left behind ,but I did not promise to take them into the socio-economic PROMISED LAND. Of all the problems we experience in the Diaspora, sometimes going home too becomes like a trip to the dentist’s office—the thought of uncertainties and the demand on you can give you some sleepless nights .It does not matter how often one goes home. One has to be on his guard all the time, so as not to be eaten alive, figuratively of course! When you go home everyone tries to find a way to get the most out of you, with no consideration or remorse. Ha’ba!

You know you’re in trouble if you’re from a small town. Your life is an open book. Your privacy is gone, once you get off from the plane and head off into your town. Once you’re seen talking to someone over a nice cold beer (at the local bar), about anything, you will be confronted a few hours later asking to confirm or deny a report that you have some refrigerators and other household items in a fully - loaded container for sale. And, if you attended a social function and danced with a young beautiful girl in town, more than once, the rumors of a “sizzling new romance” will find their way into the gossip quarters. Now, a casual dance has turned into a gossip mill machine. The dancing partner may have been your niece, cousin or friend’s girlfriend. But, that doesn’t matter to the gossips. If you’re married ‘the news’ will get to your spouse quickly, before you get back.

There are other drawbacks to being a “Burger”. You may be respected and admired in your town or community, but you should expect that the considerable and vociferous segment of the population will envy and even hate you; just for being an” outsider”. Yes, there are times you will be praised for what you say or do in your community—especially, if it has something to do with you dishing out free money. But, you will be reviled at least as often. Your second name will be “Too-known”. (Someone who claims to know everything)

You want to hear stories? Listen to this: I brought Blood pressure reading devices to my town and I hired a nurse to conduct a screening clinic to check everyone, free of charge. The next day I heard that the goal of that noble gesture was to screen and weed out the ladies with HIV symptoms, so as to help me to “make better selections” for some kind of sexcapades .Remember, we’re talking about a blood pressure reading device. Amazingly, nothing was mentioned about the high blood pressure disease which is killing people randomly. In another situation I was called” Too-Known” and “mean”, for I refusing to pay for the registration fees for students who had been under my scholarship foundation for three years, with fully paid tuition. The parents thought it was my responsibility to pay for the students’ examinations. It’s not easy! Am I complaining? Not at all! Am I bragging? Nope! There is no need to. I’m just listing some of the things a “Burger” has to accept with rueful and resigned good humor.

Just about every “Burger” has tales of fabulous things that happened to him or her, while on visit in Ghana. In some ways, a “Burger” can’t win. If one spends freely, he or she is criticized for being extravagant and ostentatious. If on the other hand, he or she lives quietly and thriftily ,the same people will have problem with that and call them miser and criticize them for being stingy .If one socializes one is labeled, ‘wasted’ and doubts are raised about his or her maturity and sense of responsibility .Let one shun the drinking bars and clubs, and one is promptly tagged as a recluse who hates people. ”He thinks he’s better than everybody”, that will be their remarks!

To the critics, and enemies of a ‘Burger’, even the most minor activity looms as matters of major concern. Take tipping .This is the money you give to ensure a prompt or exceptional service .Once upon at time; it was only given to restaurant or bar waiters. However, I tip anyone whose services make me feel good— like a warm smile or a pleasant gesture. But, now everywhere you go, from gas station to taxi drivers, if you don’t tip the workers scowl. And, if you tip too much they complain you’re showing off. If you take your cedis bills out to look for a small note, they say you’re displaying your money. You can’t do anything right!

It does not pay to be a ‘Burger’, these days in Ghana because you are a target—not to mention being the front line recipient of the armed robbers’ vengeance. (I say that in a measured, careful tone). And if you’re single, dating becomes an atrocious enterprise, which needs very calculated back-up plan on your part. Don’t be surprised if on your first date you’re asked to fill her cell phone with units. Phone units request has become the prerequisite demand for asking her name or phone number. And, that is all you can get from two- hundred and fifty units. However, forget the “Transferable Units”. They do not give you any chance!

Being a ‘Burger’, your family members want you to be their banker and monetary savior. And, if you refuse to give in to their demands you’re shunned forever. From that day forth you will only get a phone call when someone dies in the family. That is the only time your services and money are needed.

Another area you should watch out for is friendships. Friendship is something that seems to be involuntarily attracting to you. Don’t get me wrong, a good friendship is worth more than gold. People however, will try to sell its counterfeit, at any given moment. There is not a single soul in Ghana who won’t try to profit financially or otherwise, from your friendship. This is not to say that I haven’t encountered genuine friendship and good people who will put everything on the line to get close to me without specific financial motive. Nevertheless, there are some who go out of their way to seek my friendship with premeditated intent to get something for nothing. That ‘something for nothing’ maybe money to trade or to start a business, kid’s tuition, or payment of medical bills. They also ask for cash gift—that’s euphemistically described as ‘personal loan’. A loan they don’t intend to pay you back. Trust me, Ghanaians know how to blow your money waa, waa .I’m sorry if some of you readers are offended; I’m not making it up! . That’s my personal experience. .

With the friendships comes the ‘sponsorship- crowd’ .These are the people who get close to you with the intent to ask you to sponsor their relatives. I have been approached so many times that I have stopped counting. By ‘sponsor’ they mean securing their relatives (mostly, their children or nephews) with a visa to go abroad. That also includes, air ticket, a place to live in America, and then work out the monthly payment plan once he or she gets a job. Once I turned them down—and I always do— they become indignant. They say I’m selfish and that I look out only for my interest. Apparently, these people think coming to America is like going to Togo. They won’t believe that sometimes, one’s better off in Ghana. This advice is better kept to oneself. Telling them that calls for a third world war.

Sometimes, the perpetual belief that a Burger’s money will have a major effect on other people is surprising and unbelievable. As I said earlier, a ‘Burger’ is a marked person. There are many who also consider him or her an easy ‘mark’, as well. Many people want to sell you everything and anything on earth; but, you have your own exclusively expensive price tag, compared to the rest of the population. When you ask them why you always pay more for services, products or labor, than the average citizen, they look at you as if you’re an alien from a different planet. I bet they are saying”he can afford it, let him pay!” Oh, one more thing, “friends” and family members constantly want to find out when you are going back, so they can grab your cell phone and everything else you have on. They cannot wait to see you go and a few will tell you to take them along.

So what can you do, from the ashes of all that disappointment and behind the frustrations? Well, the way you handle it reflects who you are, your values and goals in life. Those things ultimately will determine how much you would enjoy your visit in Ghana. Sure, there are many problems but, it’s always good to be home. Despite their over- bearing demands, the people back home are our life lines. Their toil and sweat have helped us to become what we are today. They have been marginalized for too long. So their only hope is the expectation of seeing us coming home. The fact that they have someone who will come to see them once a year is enough to keep them going, when the going gets tough. So don’t let their demands, little inconveniences and sometimes the tendency to use you, turn you off. You need to go there to recharge your emotional and spiritual battery—hear, hear!

Having said all that, the one sad truth about life is that you never finish with the same people you start with. Friends, schoolmates, neighbors, brothers and sisters and others will fall by the wayside for one reason or another. As you go along you will out grow some, others become jealous and resentful of you, but you owe your existence to them. We should also try as much as possible to tell them all the truth about being in ‘economic- exile’. Maybe, that will make them have some sympathy for us and ultimately, treat us as one of their own.

Being a bleeding –heart proponent of youth empowerment, my main desire in life is to work to improve things back home for the youth. I try to invest in people, instead of buildings and the modern day toys. I sincerely believe that if it had not been for the countless individuals whose names have been tucked away in our memory archives, our paths in life would have been completely different—I mean, way different!.

I’m not crowing here. Neither am I tooting my own horn. However, there is no soul in Ghana or in the Diaspora, who cannot at least, recall one person in his or her life who has played unparalleled role to make his or her empty dreams to fly with tangible wings. So go ahead and adopt one poor child in your community—you can do it! At least, half of the money we spend on drinking and smoking can be put into helping a hapless and hopeless child to become an active member of this global village. Also, offer your services to your community and try to go to the schools in your area and talk to the students. You will be amazed the role your speech could play in their lives. Best of all, your emotional account will be filled, once you embark on the road of giving responsibly.

Now, before your plane takes off from Kotoka Airport, ask yourself what different did you and your trip make? You must not merely answer what makes you different, but what or how you do to make a different for the folks you left behind. I do not know about you, but I know by all rights, some of us were not expected to ‘make it’ to this far.

I may already have made you mad; considering the fact that there are plenty of highly educated, hard-working experts; who hold millions spellbound with their wisdom and who are more qualified than I to prescribe remedies for improving the quality of life back home. However, as a private citizen with genuine concerns and ideas—not a career politician, not self-serving bureaucrat, not special –interest representative who promotes the minority agenda at the expense of the majority—I’m qualified to share my dreams , aspirations and inspirations. No bi so?

Have a nice and safe trip! “Please don’t forget to leave me your Phat T-shirts”

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi
NJ, USA
*The Writer’s a social commentator, Chairman of Asuom Youth Club (AYC), and Founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Educational and Apprenticeship Foundation for the youth of Asuom, in the Kwaebibrim District.E/R


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