In this article, the term ‘Modern Day Africans’ refers to Africans, African-Americans, and Black or Brown people in general because the truth of the matter is, you cannot call yourself African-American and deny the fact that you are African first. If this were the case, one would be called American-African.
The American Dream vs. The African Reality
In my previous article, titled ‘Modern Day Africans In America and Why We Feel Exempt From Racial Injustice‘ I argued that despite the fact that we were living in a new generation, nothing had changed because Africans continued to remain silent about the struggles of Blacks around the world. We were existing and not living. I used the story of my family, with my father and I as examples, because it is a reality I have chosen to not stay silent about. I witnessed it and so I am familiar with it. We were existing in a foreign land when we could have been living on a land that was our own. While this land may not boast of all the wealth in the West, it was free of racism, discrimination, stress, and the perils of life.
America is our house but it is not our home. It is not built for us to achieve greatness!
I must admit, I appreciate America and everything it has afforded me and; afforded us. I said it before and I will say it again, “It is the best teacher of humility and humanity!” I realized earlier on what truly mattered and luckily I was able to do something about it. I suppose working in Human Resources opened my eyes a lot. Many people have also come to this same realization but unfortunately either their hands are tied or they feel helpless and hopeless.
Hope will always live here!
For Africans who have the choice of traveling to the U.S., having the opportunity to go to America is a privilege denied to many. However, with that privilege comes a great deal of responsibility. We must travel abroad, learn and experience all we can and return home to pay it forward.
‘96% of Africans migrate out of necessity and not by choice’
I happen to fall among the 4% who relocated solely by choice. When I ended ties with corporate
America, I knew I was not going back. All I could think about, when I pulled the top down on my convertible and sped off into the sunset was my business plan. That afternoon of April 20th, 2012, after walking away from a life I had become accustomed to for eight years, I arrived home and completed my business plan. The plan was set in motion. I was going back home!
Flashback to four years prior to relocating
I had just about grown tired of my parents promising us every year that that particular year would be the year we return home as a family. I cannot completely fault them for never living up to that promise, though. How were they going to afford to buy seven round trip tickets for five children including themselves? My mom and dad felt that since we traveled to America together, it was only right that we returned together as a family. Honestly, I am sure this was my mother’s master plan and not so much my father’s.
In August 2007, I gave myself the best birthday present any girl struggling with an identity crisis could ask for: I returned home to reclaim my past so I could move forward and become the person that I am today. ‘Till date, it is the best decision I have ever made in my life! Another reason it was important for me to return is because I was doing research for my book titled ‘Sankofa‘, which I will one day re-release. I had reached a point where it was important to return home in order to fill in the blanks.
In the book, I talk about four characters that are of Ghanaian descent and had lived in America for the majority of their lives. Each character deals with an identity crisis that has left them to identify with a race and culture that is different from their own. Kimberly, the main character, journeys back home to connect to her roots and rekindle her relationship with her grandmother.
When I arrived at the immigration checkpoint at the Kotoka International Airport in 2007. I did not receive the homecoming I was expecting.
“What is your nationality?” the immigration officer asked.
“I’m Ghanaian. I was born in Ghana,” I responded cheerfully.
“No, you are not. You are holding a U.S. passport and you do not sound Ghanaian.” I would have thought of his response as a joke if only he smiled afterwards.
So I was not considered Ghanaian in my own country where I was born because of my accent and the color of my passport?
There was a bit of confusion. I had never once called myself a Ghanaian-American; I always referred to myself as Ghanaian or African. None of this dawned on me while I was standing on the ‘Non-Residents’ line before approaching the immigration officer. As far as I was concerned I was born in Ghana and had the birth certificate to prove it. However, it didn’t matter so long as I was a U.S. Citizen. A status that was bestowed on me through my parents several years prior when they took an oath and denounced their Ghanaian nationality; a process that I didn’t have much of a say about because I was not of legal age when it happened. I am sure they did it with all of the right intentions and to make life in America easier for us. Like the time my dad requested we only speak English at home after arriving in Davenport, Iowa, just so the other children would not make fun of our ‘African accents‘.
Contrary to my experience in Accra, when I arrived in Kumasi, I was welcomed with the widest of opened arms. My grandmother, one of the main reasons I returned, met me several blocks down the street before the car even reached her gate. She walked hastily to the car and asked me to get out, then gave me the biggest hug before taking me around to greet the neighbors. She was so happy and gushed to everyone about how much I had missed her and decided to journey alone to Ghana only to see her. She was right!
“You see my granddaughter? She missed me and so she traveled all this way just to see her grandmother. Me!” she stated in our native Akan language and I could sense the excitement in her voice as she clenched onto my arm. All I could do was follow along with an occasional stare of admiration and excitement.
“Is this really happening? Am I really here?” I thought to myself.
On most days in America, I thought about my grandmother and how we had forgotten about her although she raised us. We knew she existed but we, my sisters, brother, and cousins included, never called to check on her. We had become so disconnected with our roots and the family and friends we had left behind long ago. I spent my evenings sitting outside of her shop, which is conveniently attached to her house. I laughed with my cousins, shared stories, and was treated like royalty. They wouldn’t allow me to cook unless I snuck to do it. They wouldn’t let me go out alone. I was showered with so much love. I must admit all of that died down after a while of relocating in 2013 partly because I live in the capital city of Accra and not Kumasi.
This was a life that I was not used to. Here I was, this workaholic who never had time to sit outside and gist with anyone. I was like a robot programmed to not feel, and to not appreciate the simple things. But I was becoming human again. Time slowed down just so I could enjoy the simple things, the things that really mattered like spending time with family and sitting outside for no apparent reason except to talk. I visited the Kumasi zoo, despite only seeing a handful of animals. My cousins took me out to experience the nightlife. I danced, I laughed, and enjoyed every bit of it.
From my grandmother, I learned who I was.
I learned that I was a strong, courageous woman who loved and cared for people deeply. Qualities that both she and my mother possessed. She is a tough cookie, though! I can recall an incident where my cousin and I ran off to Accra because we wanted to experience Accra for the first time. What an adventure it was! When we returned home she had placed the padlock on the gate and both he and I had to jump the wall to get inside the house. She did not care that I was visiting from America and she did not care that I was well in my 20’s. Grandma was disrespected and disregarded and that was all that mattered. Hell had broken loose! She taught me what it was to respect my elders. She taught me so many values I had long forgotten. The ways and tone in which I would speak to my mother I wouldn’t dare speak to my grandmother.
After my visit in 2007, with every day that went by the more meaningless my possessions became. I began to crave the things in life that truly mattered and brought true happiness. For me, it wasn’t my Audi A4 convertible, my Co-op that I had just purchased, the comfort of a savings account or investment account. It is helping and being around people.
I was in search of fulfillment and was looking for a way out. For almost two years after returning to New York that was all I wanted. I craved going home.
My brief stint in Cape Coast
In 2008, I traveled to Ghana and stayed for one week. During that week, a friend and I traveled to Cape Coast to see crocodiles and dine by the water. I was completely unaware of my surroundings. I was unaware that I was dining right next to Elmina Castle, the biggest slave castle in West Africa. It occurred to me one day while in the States.
How shameful! To be of Ghanaian descent and not know my own history.
This incident added fuel to the fire. Reclaiming my past had now become essential. Visiting a place where I was born just did not sound right. Now it made sense why I was considered a stranger on my own land. I was a stranger!
Relocating to Africa is not for everyone
In 2010, I returned to Ghana with my niece and older sister. We were going to spend the Christmas holiday with my eldest sister. She had just relocated or was contemplating relocating to Ghana with her family. We had such a great time. We experienced ‘December in Ghana‘ and if you have ever traveled here in December then you know exactly what I am talking about. We enjoyed but I was also very disappointed because of the image we, Ghanaians from abroad, portrayed during the holiday.
In June 2013, I officially relocated to Accra, Ghana
Working eight plus years in HR taught me that as Black people in America, and being female, there was not much hope and room for advancement. Indeed the glass ceiling was sealed. It took me eight good years to come to that realization. The system was designed to keep us oppressed whether you were African, African-American, Black or Brown. So long as you didn’t have a certain level of pigmentation, you were not exempt.
Shortly after arriving, I made it a point to visit Elmina and Cape Coast Castle to learn my history and learn it properly. To hear that our people were sold for silly petty things like teacups tore me apart but I did not need to visit the castle to learn that we sold each other. If someone invades your home unwillingly, you put up a fight, perhaps we did not retaliate enough. At the Castles, I also learned of how we were deceived and tricked into slavery.
In the film ‘Taken‘, actor Liam Neeson fought to the death when intruders kidnapped his daughter. That is exactly what you do when someone invades your home and takes what does not belong to them, especially a human life. But who is to say the ‘invader’ was not welcomed with open arms? Ghanaians can be overly trusting and generous to outsiders versus their own.
Another reason I relocated was out of fear
Fear that if we do not come back and claim what is rightfully ours; our land and resources, our corrupt leaders and system will destroy it and give it away in exchange for a teacup, rifles, or something of mere significance just like had been done in the past.
I arrived in Ghana only to realize that I did not see eye to eye with a majority of my people. Many of them did not see the heaven that I saw. My cousins were eager to get their hands on my passport and some even cursed me for relocating and “wasting a good U.S. passport.” I could not blame them for feeling the way they did because they did not know or understand my reasons for returning.
At what point, do you stop to ask yourself,
“Hey, if she moved back from America to deal with corruption, lights off, traffic, etc. then there MUST be a valid reason why”
A question for Africans living on the continent
Do you like Dumsor? I am very certain you answered “NO”. So if you do NOT like dumsor, if you detest it, what would make someone relocate from a place of constant electricity? Or take a chance at getting Malaria. Please ask yourself this question. Obviously, their situation was hopeless and much worse than what you are dealing with. I do not like dumsor any more than the next person.
Africa is not perfect, let us be honest, we are as flawed as can be, however, we are FREE and life without Freedom is hell. If you have freedom, nothing else matters. Not even meaningless possessions.
Why we MUST stay connected to our roots
Who does not appreciate a life of convenience? I wish and hope for a life of convenience but not under any circumstance, not when it only benefits me, and not when it is conditioned.
My father did what he could for us. I actually have a new level of respect for him after returning and learning that he could have easily fallen victim to corruption and spent his money on young girls and foolishness but instead sacrificed so we can have a better life.
He did what was right for his family at the time and now we have to do what is right for us at this very moment and sacrifice for the next generation like he sacrificed for us. We cannot sit there and expect him to undo what was done. We have to do it ourselves.
I came home in 2007 only to realize that I was a princess. No scratch that, a queen in my own right with family to welcome me back to a land I had forgotten. A land I forgot existed because I was too busy living the life of convenience and chasing the American dream when I could have been living my African reality.
Hope, faith, and opportunity live here
When I say ‘Connect To Our Roots’ I mean by any means necessary because we are all we’ve got and I hope these recent blatant racial attacks have opened our eyes and made that very clear to us.
It is time to pay it forward.
Author: Rita Kusi, threesixtyGh
Image source: Google and Wikipedia
To be continued…