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The Dark Side of Being a Returnee: The Things They Don’t Tell You

“When death finds you, may it find you ALIVE” – African Proverb

I really felt it was important to write this article after the loss of a dear friend and fellow returnee. I am not certain why Akua is no longer with us but I feel a sense of guilt. I was not there for my sister like I could’ve been and now she is no longer here.

The morning I learned of Akua’s passing, I laid in bed for a whole day reminiscing about the last time she and I met up. My mind was racing with so many thoughts. I thought long and hard about the returnee experience. Was it worth it? Will I survive long enough to see my family and friends in the U.S.?

Akua will surely be missed, and I am sure those who knew her will agree. I have not known anyone so passionate about social good like Akua Akyaa Nkrumah. As returnees, we relocate home for various reasons, whether it is for a better employment opportunity, to start a business or give back to the country that gave us our roots. Each and every one of us returns chasing a dream or pursuing a passion, whatever it may be.

Sure, there is no place like home, as the saying goes. The feeling of being back to your birthplace and homeland is difficult to explain. However, it is also costly. It is great to be ‘home’ because we love the organic foods, our intricate African fabrics, the amazing beach weather, and the feeling of unrefined Shea butter on our skin. What is there not to love? But there is as much to hate just as there is a lot to love. There is a dark side to being a returnee, the side many of us do not talk about for our own reasons.

As returnees, we have shared interests. Our commonalities include the ability to relate to our pains, struggles, triumphs, heartbreaks, dilemma’s, etc. The morning I learned of Akua’s untimely death, I called a good friend and fellow returnee. I was in complete shock but I called her because Akua’s name had come up recently in a conversation and I was not sure she had heard the news. I guess I called also because I was in denial and needed confirmation from another credible source but she had not heard the news. The earlier conversation this friend and I had was regarding fufu. She had been craving fufu and wanted the location where Akua and I had met to have fufu several months back. Akua loved fufu and everyone who knew her knew about her love for the popular pounded cassava and plantain Ghanaian dish.

The last time Akua and I met was over a fufu date. We had been trying for months to connect for a fufu date but returnee life seemed to get in the way. One day I received a message from Akua. She was on leave and wanted to connect with a few “amazing” people and so she reached out to me. I was touched and was more than happy to meet her because I also love fufu (not like Akua though) but mostly because I admired her passion for sanitation and the environment, a field many people shy away from.

Ask any returnee and they will admit that the first two years is the most difficult. As returnees, many of us deal with depression, sadness, heartbreak, boredom, loneliness, fear and excessive work habits to numb the pain. Depression, because you are without your immediate family and friends and at times you find yourself alone. Sadness, because you are re-adjusting to a new way of life from what you had become accustomed to and dealing with daily challenges. Not to mention, you are viewed as a foreigner although you insist you are not and as such you are treated like one in most cases. Heartbreak, because it didn’t work out with “that” guy as you had hoped perhaps because you are not the traditional mate he had hoped you were. Boredom, because truth be told there is not much to do on the outings list. Loneliness, because at times you feel out of your element. Fear of the unknown. Excessive work habits because Ghana is a tough economy and so you are constantly working to make ends meet. Maybe we find solace in working so we do not have to think about the aforementioned or because you keep it tucked in the back of your mind that ‘failure is not an option’ and so you just keep going.

As a returnee, we also have very little time for one another because either our schedules do not permit or we are “too busy” or simply do not want to be bothered. As the saying goes ‘Di wo fie As3m’. But as returnees, this should not be the case. We are our own tribe; we must account for one another and be there for one another during those dark hours. After all, we are fighting the same battles and winning and losing the same wars. When one person succeeds we have all succeeded. When one person loses we have all lost.

The morning I learned of Akua’s passing, I was completely numb, I am not certain what she passed away from but I felt guilty, I still do, and was left with a boatload of questions. “I could have been a better friend”, is what I kept telling myself as I laid in bed staring at the ceiling. Why didn’t I reach out to her sooner? Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve but didn’t and now Akua was no more.

“What are we living for?” was the question I asked my friend the morning after Akua’s death when she mentioned that all she did was work all day and all night. She sympathized with me and also admitted that she too could have been there more. So what are we living for? Are we chasing a dream and not living life? We have become all work and no play with very little action. Was this our returnee destiny?

As returnees, we relocate home for various reasons, whether it is for a better employment opportunity, to start a business or give back to the country that gave us our roots. Each and every one of us returns chasing a dream or pursuing a passion whatever it may be. Akua did not die in vain! She died chasing her dreams and pursuing her passion. Something many people do not get a chance to do. Her passing has inspired me to continue chasing every bit of my dream and pursue all of my passions. She made a difference in Ghana and for the people of Ghana and for that she will always be remembered.

A tribute message to Akua wherever she may be….

Akua Akyaa, you were so sweet and so amazing! Thank you for being supportive, for being a true sister, for doing your very best to give back to our country and our people. You inspired me just as I inspired you. Your passion for sanitation and the environment was like no other. You took on a task that most people will shy away from and that says a lot about your character. I know you are seated at the right hand of our maker. May he keep you, may he shower you with eternal happiness because you are more than deserving. We lost you but Ghana has gained an angel for life. Love you girl! #borlaladynomore 

Click HERE to support Akua’s Homegoing Fund.

Written by Rita Kusi

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