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Opinions of Monday, 11 February 2008

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

One man's bushmeat is another man's calamity.

The U.S custom agents are cracking down on bushmeat distribution and consumption.

Africans are so possessive of their bushmeat, as they’re with their spouses. So if you want to ignite communal warfare then mess with their bushmeat. History has it that in the olden days a man’s qualification to marry depended on his ability to supply his would- be -in -laws with great quantity of fatty bushmeat. Bushmeat and one’s chances to marry the most beautiful woman in the village went hand in hand.

“Do you have some bushmeat in your luggage?” You better tell the truth because the x-ray machine will hand you over. These days it is not only cocaine that can land you in jail for years. Concealment of bush- meat is considered as an offence so is your failure to label or state your food items properly on the custom’s declaration form.

These days you don’t have be working for (“Osaman”) Osama to be on the U.S law enforcement agencies’ investigation list. Since September 11, air travel has become a headache. We have all learned how to cope with stockless, shoeless, beltless, bottled-waterless and liquid less at airports security check-ins. The fact is any semblance of these items listed will mean you should be properly scrutinized. As if that is not enough. They have barrage of questions such as: “Who packed your bags? Why did you go on your trip? How much money have you? What do you do for a living? Is that your passport?” The interesting thing about this test of countless questions is that the TSA (Transportations Security Administration) Agents and Customs officers are never pleased with any answer that is given by an air traveler.

The September 11 attack on America has created a law for every bank in U.S to notify Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FCER), an outfit of the Treasury Department, of any cash transaction exceeding $10,000.00 or any transaction that seems inconsistent with the client’s business activities. So withdrawing large amount from the bank can easily trigger investigation and can make you a target for search when you travel on a plane. Your luggage could be singled out for proper combing.

As if African air travelers don’t have enough complaints –delayed flights, declining services, crowded seats, small leg rooms, bad food and endless security procedures--- now improper luggage labeling has been added to the travelers’ burdens. On top of this, having in your possession a piece of grass cutter meat or an unknown dried bushmeat can easily land you at the wrong side of the law. You will be targeted as if you’re a Qaeda sympathizer. I wonder which one is a lesser evil: carrying bushmeat or possessing Qaeda’s recruitment pamphlet.

Bushmeat which is considered by most West –Africans as a favorite delicacy, has become a contraband item on the list of the U.S custom agents. It is also seen by the wildlife conservative as a threat to declining animal species. The epidemiologists think the consumption of bushmeat could endanger one’s health. But the West-African immigrant has a different view of the bushmeat. A chunk of a bushmeat with its aroma is enough to remind one of his or her mom’s kitchen in a typical West African village like Tweapease. It is even considered by some as a brain booster.

The demand for bushmeat among the west-African immigrants (particularly Ghanaians, Liberians and Sierra leans) in the U.S is ever increasing just as the Custom Agents are leaving no stone unturned to crack down on its importation. Most West –African air travelers try to beat the system. But once they got caught they pay for it with either a big fine or jail terms.

The gospel according to the U.S Customs Service say improper labeling of dried meat is a crime, punishable by five years imprisonment. Don’t laugh, this is a serious business. If you think it is funny the case of the Liberian lady on the Staten Island, New York is a good reminder.

The poor lady’s crime started when she was returning to US from her trip to Liberia with some pieces of bush meat. Nothing other than bushmeat got her into a big deep hot soup—no pun intended.

Actually, there is no law which specifically bans the importation of bush meat but this Liberian immigrant in U.S was accused of “falsely labeling her delivery and failing to obtain proper permit”. Yes, you read it right”proper permit,” The penalty for this offence is a jail - term, maximum of five years. Call it a bushmeat crime.

Her crime started in January 2006, when she was identified by the Custom agents at Kennedy Airport in New York. According to the news reports, she had twelve bags marked “African dresses and smoked fish” But when the bags were opened, the agents found sixty-five animal parts believed to be parts of a Baboon. Oops! Why are you laughing? You do it all the time. The story didn’t end at the airport. They went to her garage and searched for more animal parts. The investigators found: animal skulls, legs, limbs, torsos and many more.

Now our cultural freedom is slipping away gradually. It’s also taking away our ability to fortify our mental faculties. Growing up in the village I was told that eating “Okusie” meat would retard my brain so I stayed away from that. But my mom said bushmeat is good for the brain. So I stuck to grass cutter (Akrantie). I fed on a leftover Akrantie soup the very morning I left for my Common Entrance Exams. Surprisingly, I was kicked out of the examination hall for trying to help a boy who couldn’t pull up his own academic weight. Fortunately I had to take a late entrance in order to get admission into secondary school. I guess the bush meat played an important role in my schooling.

As I am writing, I am cooking my grass cutter soup. But I am sure the scent which is coming out from the kitchen will eventually alert the entire neighborhood of my contraband meat. I guarantee this piece won’t end on a positive note. I am even afraid of the next knock on my door. I don’t want to break the bushmeat law, and I surely don’t want to end up in jail for enjoying my African soup. But I am torn between my soup and going to prison. Hey, I just came from Ghana but please don’t ask if I brought some bush meat.

Hold on, do not hang up! I think there is someone at the front door.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

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