Sunday, May 9, 2010

Efie ne fie: The Illumination

This note has been a long time coming. So much so that were I not to make full use of the opportunity to vent out months of astriction, I would do myself a disservice. The most apt description I can think of to describe a retrospective look at the situation is the feeling of having a veil pulled over your eyes, perhaps akin to what it must be like everyday for a woman in a muslim nation. I must have been wearing a niqab for about 24 years.

I made the independent decision to leave my home country for 'Aburokyire' to get a graduate degree. While it was a choice I made freely and only too willingly, I cannot admit to it having been a comprehensive one or even a practical one. Barely crossed the one year mark being away and I cannot imagine the amounts of resolve people who spend years away from home must muster.

The first of many 'culture shocks' that the US throws at you is the fierce and almost combative claim people have on their independence and individualism. The feeling of constantly being in competition with others is a constant oppression even when it is not tangible what the prize is. I have to conclude that the constant sizing up is both a means and an end, it is a way for the individual to feel accomplished in the most rudimentary of ways if one can convince themselves on whatever incoherent level of a claim to superiority. From a distance, I had admired the trait of Westerns to go it alone, swim against the tide *add whatever other cliche fits here. Up close, it is a less than enviable quality. The culture makes reclusion a wonderfully attractive option, it also creates an easy route to marginalization and discrimination. And it is no wonder the extent to which those constructs are very poignant in the society.

I do not claim to be an extrovert, anyone who has met me would agree that I am more reserved than most. In the States however, I find that I have taken introversion to heights Freud might have been fascinated with. It is not the easiest thing to put in words, suffice it to say there is a difference between being alone and 'being alone'...if you are Ghanaian/Nigerian that's probably good enough for you by way of explanation.

Recently there was a short succession of suicides at my university during the mid-semester week of exams. Like everyone on campus I was greatly distressed for both the students and their families, but what mostly dawned on me was the fact that I could relate, I understood what could drive people to such lengths. That frightened me... that I understood. I am quite sure that I do NOT want to 'inadvertently' understand such things as motive for suicide.

Is the grass a greener shade and are the streets lined in gold in America? Most emphatically no, at least not from my personal experience thus far. In Ghana, I experienced lack and poverty but I have only been introduced to hunger since I have lived in the States. Ironic. To wake up hungry, take a shower and get on a bus, go about the day's tasks and come back home at night still hungry. The extent of financial hardship preventing the purchase of a single meal was a novel experience good ol' Yankee introduced me to.

The thing about being in a country that is not yours is the gradual stripping away of your sense of self-validation. I shall attempt to expatiate. We all have a sense of who we are, a story that you tell yourself about yourself. It's sort of an outline you expect to gain more substantive pages as you interact with the world around you. A problem arises when the story you have in your mind contradicts that which your experience portrays such that you have to strip off and rewrite the narrative. The average American is largely influenced by stereotypical thinking and unmotivated for the most part to expand their knowledge beyond the shores of their great land (in and of itself this is understandable, considering), so a foreign accent, idea or opinion elicits a reflex reaction of sorts. It is easy to begin to see one's self in a diminished capacity in accordance to what clouded lenses reflect.

I must say that it has not all been gloom and doom, 'abroad' has not been all rotten oranges, on the contrary the benefits have far outweighed the detriments in my mind. (Disclaimer: This is not to say that I shall not board my Kotoka flight with vim when the moment arrives). I have never felt more African than during the last year. It is as if the more invisibility society imposes the more of a counteract being able to identify and conform with my roots presents. It has been a sort of private defiance if you will. I have not done as much research into issues affecting my home country as I have since I have been here or felt a real sense of empowerment and belief in the ability of the individual to alter destiny. I have been unceremoniously stripped of my imbibed belief in the treasures of aburokyire that most people in Ghana just seem to believe without examination. It has been a most enlightening experience.

Oh, to delve into my new appreciation for family may take another note entirely. To summarize, they say you don't know what you have until it's gone and they must have sojourned to Yankee to arrive at such a revelation.

People, what is interesting is that I used to think I was alone in my experiences, I would say to myself "toughen up, the world is hard" and it is. But the kicker is that there are hundreds of international students who deal with the same issues. Even though my contact with fellow Ghanaian students in the States has been mostly limited to electronic communications, they always find a way to air their grievances. Lo and behold their struggles are mine, comments like "we dey inside", "small, small", "e go be" come up all too often. Most of the dreams we packaged and flew with us to JFK have become sand to gusty winds of disillusionment.

So then, to join the returnee wagon, or not? A very important young voice in the Ghanaian blogoshere Ms Esi Cleland seems to have retraced her steps with grand success, however countless others have not. The question in reality is not as cut and dry, investing one's time, money and self into an endeavour creates grey areas. Ultimately that choice must be made with the least damage to one's psyche.

Alas, this sad fate awaits thousands of the best and brightest from Africa who leave their home countries with stars in their eyes and lofty dreams in their hearts. I will not attempt to become immersed in a debate about brain drain or take a stand that people should not leave home to begin with. Because in my case it took leaving for me to get to the point I am at now.

Surely this is not the tale of every African immigrant but I believe it to be common enough in varying degrees perhaps to deserve a voice. And if African culture teaches anything it would be the value of community, there is indeed a strength in unity and I feel obliged to beat on the drums in recognition of this. If I must conclude with a morale to make this rant more cohesive and/or comprehensible, here are a few things the old folks say that capture the idea succinctly: "All that glitters is not gold" , "Sankofa".


**Afternote: I am not one for regrets and I believe that life is as much as about the journey as it is the destination. Therefore, I can only look forward to perils that make for a most enlightening adventure, but more and more the waves shake and break and carry me towards where I began. Efie ne fie...

--- Marie Nkiru Selali Onuoha---

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You were never out of his sight

There is a young couple who had been married for a couple of years. One day, because of some illness, the wife became blind. Fortunately, her office let her keep her job. It was very difficult for her to learn Braille, use walking stick, but gradually she learned what she had to. This also included having to learn about how to use public transportation since they live in the big city and had no car.

That first week, her husband accompanied her to work. He taught her how to walk from their apartment to the bus stop, how to take the bus and count the stops. She had to get down after the 8th stops, and she would make her way into the building. The husband talked to the bus drivers so they would understand the situation and watch out for the wife during her daily journey. He accompanied and taught her every day during the first week. And then come the day when she has to try on her own. She found her way to the bus stop. She got on the correct bus and exited after 8 stops. She found her building and her office just as they had practiced. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. She had done it.

As she was about to exit the bus on Friday, the bus driver said to her,
“Your husband must really love you.”
A little confused she asked, “Why do you say that?”
He answered, “You haven’t known it, but every day this week he has followed our bus on his bicycle. He has watched to make sure that you got on the right bus and got off at the right stop. He has been waiting for you at your bus stop every day after work. He has been there for you the whole time, even though you did not realize it. God’s given you a good husband.
You were never out of his sight, even though he was never in yours.”

Isn’t God also like this man? We are never out of His sight, even though He might never be in ours.He is the one who has led us to our school/office and keep us safe when we drive home. He is the one who has cared, blessed and kept each of us during 2009. And He will also be the one who cares, blesses and keeps us during the upcoming years.

God always be with us

(The story is taken from a sermon in IBC Madrid by Pastor Tim)

Haunted By Beauty

I walk about the busy streets and see the myriad faces amidst their duty
The damp air and acrid scent of the sweltering proletariat
Vivifies my sensibilities with a repugnant reminder of the workaday life
But somewhere in the crowd, an enrapturing face arrests my sight and I lose all sense of self
Sometimes it happens in the dawning hours of the day
As I make my way through the hustle and bustle to till the hay
At other times it catches me at dusk as I stride home after a laborious day

But even more timely, it happens in the awkward moments
When I am least accustomed to expect it
Just when I feel my soul sinking beneath the heavy load of existence
A pleasantly beauteous face flashes a captivating smile
A beatific scene throws me into a state of rapture
Or a melodious voice from somewhere says ‘hello’
And I am pierced and wounded anew!

Pierced by the perennial ache that stalks me day and night
Wounded in heart at the exact spot where you wielded your magic
Wounds that opens up to reveal my familiar assailants
The unyielding trio who break through the iron bars of my hardened heart
To wreck a havoc of extreme pleasure and intense pain
My fractious soul is flooded with a molten torrent of Longing
I find myself immersed in a lava of Nostalgia and swarmed by a deluge of Desire

A Longing for what might have been – An increase being; A rest in your arms
Nostalgia for those few and rare moments when I was afforded a tiny glimpse into your soul
Desire for a dream… a hope… the whisper of a thrill… a promise
A promise of something yearned for in my younger years; that remains unknown still

In such moments of merciless assault from Longing, Nostalgia and Desire
I am swept in an ocean of memories and fantasies but in the noise of the waves
A silent voice reminds me that all I’m really missing is you
Oh yes! I am haunted by beauty; I am haunted by YOU!

--- Daniel Ekow Arhin Buckman. ---