Coming Home

July 30, 2011 § 5 Comments

What or where is home? What comes to mind when you really think of that word? I’d never given much thought to those questions until I came back to Ghana. Home for the longest time had been “New Jersey” to every inquiring mind. At other moments, especially when that nostalgia bugs hits me, it’s Accra. It’s Ghana. It’s the experiences, the memories, the foods, the languages, and the culture. It’s even those idiosyncrasies most of us could never seem to shake even after fully immersing ourselves in our western societies.

But is that really home? I did that mini customary jaunt down memory lane by hitting a few places that seemed to mean a lot to me growing up in Ghana. But I felt nothing. Not much of any connection. Most often, I find myself leaving these places a bit dismayed. A few months ago, I watched a science channel clip about the universe and marveled at the size of the largest star in the observable universe: VY Canis Majoris. This thing is IMMENSE! I think it’s a 2100 times the size of our not-so-puny sun. Then I wondered what it’ll be like to travel through space to its constellation to see this baby up close, but then I realized that perchance I actually made it there, VYCM would have been long gone as most unstable red hyper giants go. It can only remain a momentary experience that I could only relive in pictures and youtube videos, but can never visit, and in a way, that’s how Ghana can only be to a lot of us. Things change. Time never stops. People change. Life moves on. It’s a cold and piercing reality but those memories we cling to as reminders of some whimsical sense of home are no different from my red hyper giant.

Then what is home? For me, home is five delightful and effervescent personalities that clash and coalesce in a maelstrom of cries and shouts almost always around a computer screen or a television screen. It’s losing oneself in long phone convos with pals. It’s daily day-long discussions with friends who “best friend” doesn’t come close to fitting, where your conversations stream from AIM to gtalk, to fb chat (if that buggy thing works), and to phones. It’s the experiences and more importantly, the people with whom I share those experiences. Ghana isn’t now and sadly may never be home again for me. It’s simply where I grew up and where I live. Don’t get me wrong. It can be a beautiful place to live and experience if you can make it so, but it ain’t home right now.

So why come home? I don’t have one of those sweet, patriotic-sounding reasons for coming back. I came back for two reasons: 1. my visit was long overdue. I’d been gone 16 years- more than half my life and I wanted to experience Ghana again. And 2, I came for somewhat selfish reasons. I saw some excellent business opportunities in an emerging market, and dove right in. Along the way, I’d like to see what I’m able to do help the nation in some small, significant, socio-economic way which might give me a better connection to this idea of home with Ghana, but let’s see how that goes.

Now, let’s turn this on you for a minute. Why do you want to come to Ghana? If you want to do that two-week tourist bit, what I’ll add below isn’t for you. But if you think you want to live in Ghana for at least 6 months to 1 full year, start thinking. It took me a whole year to plan, prepare, and fully convince myself that I was ready for the move and even then, I still haven’t fully adjusted. I cope well because I know how to tune out a lot of what I don’t like, but I’m a pro. Can you? My mother likes to convince herself that in a couple of years, she’ll return to Ghana for good. HA!! That woman won’t last 3 months before she jumps on the cheapest Delta flight back to New York. It’s not just a matter of wanting to live in Ghana, coming down, and simply enjoying the ride. I’ve seen and still see people who can’t seem to stay put. They’ll come to Ghana believing they can hack it here, but the moment they touch down, they become antsy and start looking for every excuse to leave. You can consider some of these as you ponder your next moves. Remember, everything I write is just my observation and naturally there are those few exceptions, but these are hard truths if you haven’t planned extensively what you want to do in the time you’ll spend in Ghana.

  1. If you’ve been gone more than 10 straight years without a visit, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you won’t make it here.
  2. If you left when you were a teenager or younger and have yet to return, you won’t make it here.
  3. If more than half of your closest friends and family is also living abroad, living here will be a bit difficult.
  4. Do you have a wife/husband + kids? (for women) Is your husband a non-black African? Stay where you are. Oddly, it seems living here is very doable if your wife if non-black African provided she’s game on the move.
  5. Have you done university and/or gone on to professional degrees? Again, I’ll save you the agony. Stay in Texas. Don’t waste that PhD in Chemistry here. Coming here for you would be like someone buying a Ferrari and moving to a village with only muddy foot paths. It won’t make any sense.
  6. Are social amenities very important to you? Do you need your On Demand Channels, or those pause/review/record features? Are you one of those people who mark black Friday on the calendar? Do you like drive-thru banking? Frequent shopping outlets often? Like excellent customer service? Sorry, like my mom and sisters, you won’t hack it in Ghana. So what about me, you ask? I’m of a different breed. I can live in a cold Siberian village with no light and running water, or neighbors for miles if need be for a whole year, and I’ll be comfortable with that. Can you do the same?
  7. Would you be comfortable with your tiny social circle being those wannabees who traipse around Accra like they’re the ish? They fancy themselves as Great Whites in large lakes, when they’re more like tadpoles in puddles next to those lakes. Man, I could easily write a 1500-word entry about wannabees, but then I’ll have to see some offline.
  8. And even though you have brown skin, would you be ok with accepting that your only connection to Ghana is your skin color and your ability to speak a local language or two, and that everything else about you is western and not relatable for locals who like to point out that you’re different?
  9. Have I scared you enough yet? 😛
  10. Are you a single male? Can you accept that there’s no way you can date or marry 95% of Ghanaian women, even when you imagine they are or can be socially compatible? That 5% exists, but they’re hard to find. By the time you’ve waded through half of that 95% muck, you would’ve moved on.

Are you a single female? Educated? Accomplished? Self-reliant? Your pool is 1/100th of that 5%. The man you might fancy as a mate wants women who would worship them. See as I said “women” and not “a woman?” Too many Ghanaian women date more than one man at a time. It’s more the norm, actually. See someone you like and have a connection with? Chances are they’re seeing other people as they pursue you.

  1. Do you have solid plans for an income to support yourself? Do you have back-ups? Do you have back-ups for those back-ups? Are you patient enough to wait and see your plans through? If not, really think it through before getting any ideas into your head about coming home.
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§ 5 Responses to Coming Home

  • Chris says:

    Electricity!!!! That’s enough to keep me here in the US. I miss my family and will visit whenever I can. But living there??? Electricity!!!!

  • Nana says:

    Oh Chris! youve done it once more! brilliant, I wish I had read this 2yrs ago, everything you mentioned is 100% accurate. No 8 especially relate to me exactly. It is soo refreshing to find someone who understands what we go through in our own country, it can be soo lonely because they dont get you. I’ve lived in the UK for 20years so I really get you and I have to say I admire you for sticking with it for so long, I did six months and it was tough.
    I Iove my comforts too much so I am back in UK sadly. it made me appreciate what I have here more, water, electricity, fresh milk you know little things we take for granted.

  • Nana says:

    oops! I meant Mike, I do apologise.

  • […] as a returnee. While he is not an expat in the traditional sense, he writes intimately about reconnecting to the place of his childhood: Home for the longest time had been “New Jersey” to every inquiring mind. At other moments, […]

  • eof737 says:

    I hear you… It isn’t easy resettling after years abroad… and soon people tire of the life abroad stories. If you start yet another sentence with “Back in the…” They roll their eyes, suck their teeth and tell you to shut up!. 😆

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