Dr. John Kenneth Mensah

Senior Lecturer


Dept: Chemistry
Chemistry Department
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KNUST
Kumasi, Ghana

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The Final Goodbye 1/3

His belated return to his homeland wasn’t supposed to end this way. No! Never! Certainly not with the invocation of the spirit of Ogidigidi, the mean vituperative god of lightening whose reputation for heartlessness precedes its name. Ogidigidi is reputed to crackle with thunder before zapping its victims mercilessly with bolts of high electrified energy. Invocation of the spirit of Ogidigidi is not done in jest or in frivolity because the seemingly simple act constitutes a life and death affair. African Animism inspires belief in the supernatural. To outsiders who subject the African belief in the supernatural to ridicule is simply exercising the lazy man’s guide to intellectual bliss. Ogidigidi is no sick joke.

As the plane taxied on the runway prior to take-off from Kotoka in Accra for Schiphol in Amsterdam, he swore with single-minded intensity that he will never be back again dead or alive to his ancestral homeland. His sanguine acceptance of this decision should be conveyed to his next of kin. To be certain of this outcome, he will let all his friends and close associates in Den Haag swear by death by Ogidigidi that when he dies his corpse would be cremated and his ashes interred in Europe for eternity. He should never be buried in his motherland; no, never; definitely not with the humiliation he has endured at the hands of his countrymen during his only visit in a 30 year stint in Holland.

*******

He could neither show up in Ghana for his father’s funeral nor for that of his great uncle who paid for his university education in Ghana. But when the anticipated call finally came through that his mother was dead, the overwhelming sense of loss woke him up from his blissful European reverie and from his long-term Euro slumber project. More than any early morning call he has ever received from Ghana, this specific phone call jolted him to an unwelcomed reality and placed his shelved views of his motherland into immediate matter-of-fact perspective. Eventually and unwittingly, he came to the realization that he has been in sojourn for too long.

For him, the past 30 years in Holland has been one long exercise in futility. He got into a transactional marriage of convenience just to secure EU citizenship documents; he worked odd jobs because the quality of his university education from Ghana is recognized as inferior in his host country - the education is not good for any job besides those that involve the use of manual labor. He broke off contacts with his extended family in Ghana because calls and letters from Ghana pleading to be gifted with leather-jackets and leather-gloves were too bizarre for his comprehension. It’s better to ignore pleas for assistance from the hometown - from the extended family - for the sake of ones’ own good mental health, particularly when one is ensconced in such a stressful European work environment, he reasoned. Thirty years in Europe was thirty years of constant stress filled with perennial worries that he will lose his cleaning and janitorial job over complains of poor performance by employers.

“Thirty years of sojourn in Holland without a single visit to the homeland is way too long,” he muttered to himself in resignation as he caressed his brow. “I’m tired of this snowy weather. Give the sun! ““Ogyakrom” here I come,” he declared finally with the enthusiastic vigor of a charismatic preacher. He is happy to be heading home for a change. The easy laughter, the odd familiarity with strangers, the compelling stories of human ingenuity and of human triumph over seemingly insurmountable challenges, the highly spiced and the aromatic flavour-filled food and, of course, the vivacious women laden with sumptuous buttocks. He misses all of these and then some.

“Do me a favor, uncle. Please, uncle, I will appreciate if you place the body of my mother in the morgue for 3 months to allow me sufficient time to do the necessary financial preparations to come over for the funeral,” he informed his junior uncle who made the consequential call.

Now the critical unanswered question that rudely confronted him was: how does he fund this trip? He took two additional part time jobs to add to his two regular jobs of cleaning lavatories and selling newspapers. That meant he slept less than four hours a day. With the new added income from the extra jobs, he paid-off enough of his “maxed-out” credit card to create wiggling room for him to borrow more. And then he purchased his air-ticket on the credit card and took a credit card check which he redeemed for the money he has earmarked for spending on funeral expenses and for pocket money. He now has just enough money to cover the expenses for a decent funeral ceremony for his beloved mother and was now ready for his first trip to Ghana in thirty years.

He used some of the borrowed money to fill five large suitcases with bargain clothes, shoes and knick-knacks which he plans to give out to family and friends as gifts. As it later turned out, some family members took the offered gifts with murmurs of disapproval about its poor quality, about its little value and came back to his room demanding more expensive gifts worthy of Europe.

“I shouldn’t have bought those gifts,” he fumed in exasperation. To placate them and to avoid losing face, he assured the family that he has shipped a large consignment of cargo in a Maersk container and that there will be more than enough in the cargo to satisfy everyone’s desire when cargo is delivered. That assurance was a colossal lie prompted by the pressing desire to defray the incessant whines of family and friends about the meagre gifts they have received earlier from him. He thought all he has to do to sustain this lie is to keep on rescheduling the delivery date of the cargo until he finally departs and hope that the locals will forget about it. Well he misjudged the situation. The disgruntled family and friends will not be shaken easily by a lofty promise of acquiring additional valuable gifts from Europe.

Through it all, through the good and the bad, through the obnoxious and the delightful, through the bizarre and the ordinary, his goodwill for his family and his town-folks never wavered. Although he had anticipated a huge cultural shock, nothing had prepared him for the shock of the monumental infrastructural change that has taken place in Ghana in the intervening years since his departure. He took all in stride and wondered whether the perennial western media’s focus on famine and strife in Africa is a realistic portrayal of the continent. Is their negativity even trustworthy?

“It’s always a barrage of constant negative news when Africa is the focus. The world seems resigned to the acceptance of negative news about Africa because negative news sells better than good news,” he intoned. “In the western press reckoning, Africa is either a big free-range zoo populated by exotic animals and by anthropological tribes or a land uniquely afflicted with intractable problems. Misery and misfortune in Africa is mostly what the world knows but good news too should be given a chance in Africa,” he declared.

The cultural shock that he poignantly experienced was that the political and socio-cultural human interactions are much more sharp-edged and that rudeness is now the new king in town. Rudeness has been elevated to an art-form that seeks only to dominate, intimidate, manipulate and humiliate others publicly. And his uncle’s sour demeanor was all the evidence he needed as support. Back then, before his emigration, he accepted his uncle’s offer of help with his desire to migrate to Europe but frankly he didn’t like him. He still doesn’t like him and still incensed with his uncle’s recalcitrance and his obstinate refusal to settle his longstanding feud with his amicable father before the old man’s untimely death. But his earnestness to mend fences with his uncle and bond with his uncle as a reconstituted functional extended family unit tempered his dislike and lured him into believing that his uncle has changed from his flighty ways and was now amenable to reasoned consultations this time.

*******

Perfidy taste best when served cold. Unbeknown to him, his uncle had already prepared the men of the family for anything but a warm fraternal welcome for him. In a speech laden with vitriol and that alternated between combativeness and grievance, his uncle worked the family up real good against him and staked his claim to the family headship with a fervent call to the “primp and proper” nativity. He made a passionate request to rescue the “Ghanaian identity” from its current crises and from obscurity by reclaiming it from the grip of the “Burghers” aka “been-tos” aka “returnees.” Largely through their ingenuity, “been-tos” have turned the intended pejorative term of “Burgher” into a term of endearment and local critics like his uncle who are not amused about this conceptual change have succeeded in providing other counterweights that are as mean-spirited as they are effective.

“Our first duty is to promptly remind him that this town and his extended family are not his but ours. We also have to quickly lay claim to our stronger sense of national identity. Although they will like to act and feel like they are not really Ghanaians, being Ghanaian is important to their warped sense of identity. We have to strongly affirm that he could not simply earn inclusion to this country’s pristine identity because of his birth in this town. He can take it or leave it, we are more Ghanaian than him because our demeanor, cultural affirmation and nationalistic fervor are more intense than his. This position of ours is non-negotiable.”

“His kind simply comes in to ruin our pristine noble culture of communalism and collectivization with the Euro-American cultural import of permissive nihilism that holds nothing sacred and allows everything including same-sex marriage. Clearly, the values of Burghers are short-lived and are diametrically opposed to that of real Ghanaians. How many of us really want their parochial culture to transcend that of ours into popular culture? Yes, I knew it, none of us want that to happen.”

 “Let me tell you this” as he nodded his head thoughtfully for emphasis. “To be a Ghanaian is not simply an act conferred on by the accident of birth; it encompasses a set of unwritten ethics of cultural codes and folkloric affirmations that are inculcated and imbued into only those who have the humility and the temperance to stick with the country during its trials and tribulations and in those who have maintained a reasonable unbroken contact with the land that nurtured them. To be a Ghanaian is to have ones’ life outlook exemplify the elusive and indefinable Ghanaian spirit imputed by bona-fide Ghanaians onto “wanna-be” Ghanaians. Nothing else matters!”

“You can’t bribe your way into it; you can’t talk your way into it. You can’t marry into it. In fact a Burgher can eat as much fufu for breakfast, lunch and dinner as any random Ghanaian and it wouldn’t matter. That stunt will only earn them ridicule. They’ll always be outsiders looking in. They might as well live and die in their host country than to imagine that they’ll find solace and refuge from foreign persecutors in the land of their birth. They simply don’t belong. Period.”

 “We locals know the country better. We live here and the knowledge of the community lies with us. We feel the country’s pain more than he does. We feel the country’s pulse well than him. Ours is also experiential and not just conceptual. Experience, they say, trumps insight. But we are not burdened by experience only. Our proposals for solving Ghana’s many challenges are better because they originate from local roots and emanate from local lips infused with local-pumping steady hearts and from a clean-face “Ghanaian-ness” suffused with truly localized Ghanaian sincerity. We are more skilled in deciphering the country’s challenges and are better equipped to occupy positions of responsibility. His kind only offer “Burgherized” proposals that are just lofty and idealistic but have no context to prevailing socio-cultural climate. The ideas of Burghers are copy-cat versions of the Whiteman’s discarded ideologies and policies.”

“They use to think that they are better than us because they live in the Whiteman’s land. Not anymore. Let me say this again: he doesn’t belong. He just came in after we had toiled to lift Ghana from its knees and my intuition says that he wants us to give him the red carpet treatment for just living outside Ghana. No way, the red carpet is reserved for our local patriots whose garments are unsoiled by association with foreign entities. We are more patriotic than him.”

“What angers me most is that the Burghers, including him, target our women. Beautiful single women that we have carefully groomed for marriage are suddenly swayed by the Burgher’s boisterous swagger and by their flashy clothes and by their tinkling chains and shiny armbands of imitation gold. Before you could move-in for the catch, they are already having sex with her. My Lord, they are having sex with all of them one after the other. They even have sex with married women and offer them cheap trinkets as thanks for the sexual favors! A shameful and unforgiving act. Lord help us, they have our women in their grip! They sleep with all of them right before our eyes. You see, in their zeal to show their uniqueness, those Burghers flout all the common ideals and core values that unify us as a country. They are always horny and so they stalk our women; God knows they do that! They have sex with our women. Yes, they do! I want them out of here! I want them out badly.”

“So now, there is a tacit understanding, unspoken and yet palpable, that we have to be the negation of him. That we have to oppose everything he says even if it is conceptually and practically beneficial to us. To restate for emphasis - he can’t come from abroad and dictate to us. Times are past when they use to come in to regale us with lurid stories of the Whiteman’s abundance and of the Whiteman’s fabulous life sufficiency. No more of that now because we know from satellite TV news that some of the Whites are as poor as we are. We were here in this town before he came and this town has sustained us. We will not sit down and let his association with Europe intimidate us. We will not allow him to just walk in to challenge the tenets of our culture and break our norms with impunity.”

“Here’s the approach to dealing with him. Whatever he says at family meetings will be shut down by us, one of us at a time. Our position doesn’t have to be logical as long as it is an effective negation of his position succinctly expressed and uniformly accepted by all of us. Although we seek to state our position politely, we can mix it up if he becomes belligerent. And like I said earlier, we have to stick together on this - band up to oppose whatever he says even if it’s beneficial for our collective and our individual lot.”

“Any man and his family that associate with him beyond what is barely necessary to get the funeral rites done will be ostracized; his family will be burnished from our core group and will also be denied a share of our communal resources. Don’t you dare go grovelling before him! Rumors from reliable sources say - they say - they say - that he cleans toilets in Europe. He is not really a dignified person. He deals literally in European shit. He is the ass-wiper of Europe.”

“I can’t stress this enough. We have to be united on this. We can bully him into silence if we stay strongly united by our common hatred for all that his travel has come to signify: the exposure; the women-magnet, the know-it-all, the Whiteman’s accent, the jewels, the clothes. I resent all that with the very fabric of my being and so should you.” His uncle verbalized the consensus of the group that were to set into motion their time-tested plan of action. “We have to show an exaggerated form of camaraderie in his presence to let him see the strength of the bonds that unify us. I wouldn’t mind if we hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” in his presence and do it without his inclusion on every day. The family is ours and only we can permit others to join or allow others into it.”

The elders of the town show the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Since his uncle was the titular head of the family, all the men deferred to him. So family decisions were made through a kind of consensus; more appropriately, a sycophantic concurrence of what the uncle wants and what the uncle says. Yeah, that sort of thing!  And the uncle’s behavior was tacitly approved by the prevailing silence of the town-folks. Quickly and steadfastly his uncle raving and ranting about his nephew has come to epitomize every negative thing about Burghers that the town could conceive and could express.

But when he finally arrived, his temperance and his moderation were disarming. He did not grandstand and was certainly not the rambunctious idiot that his uncle has predicted. He was widely seen by the women in the family as a level-headed man whose magnanimity was clearly evident in his willingness to integrate his plans for the funeral into that of the family’s. He neither questioned nor challenged his uncle’s authority nor acted as a guest. As far as the women of the family were concerned, he was family and was pleased to be home finally in his motherland.

But he sensed pretty early that something that he can’t precisely diagnose was off. Funerals are big family affairs characterized by the spontaneous public expression of grief. His presence did not trigger the typical wails about the sense of loss. There was no formal family welcome of him with effusive expressions of “Akwaba oo.” Nor was there a groundswell of collective spontaneous expression of delight with his presence. The family could not even pretend to show enthusiasm for the sudden return of their son, once considered lost to Europe for 30 years. Perhaps the youth do not anything know him. He doubted that because as the only child of Akua Mansa, they may have surely heard snippets about him from her incessant references to him in her lively stories. It is apparent the family simply wouldn’t be lured by his Euro exposure to feign warmth where there exist none.

He didn’t feel welcomed. If his mother were alive, he reasoned, there would have been an endless parade of towns-folk wishing him “akwaba oo” as was done to all visiting family members when he was a boy. He burnished all these negative thoughts out of his mind and blamed it on exhaustion of the family members. But in retrospect the lack of a welcoming party and the prosaic reception were just a preview of what was yet to come.

He slept in his mother’s room and kept his suitcases under lock in corner of the room. For the “queenmother” of the cassava sellers association of the town’s central market, her mother was financially OK and her room used to be stuffed with trunks and boxes filled with Dutch made waxprint. Now her room is just plain and bare showing no signs of its previous assorted personal cargo and no one will offer any information on who has moved them. He thought the scenario is just sad but generally reflects the typical mysteries that surround the disbursement of the assets of the departed. He was unaware he will soon experience his own Armageddon. While he was out running errands for friends in Holland, thieves broke in and emptied his suitcase in broad daylight. He was lucky to have kept his passport and EU citizenship documents in the side pockets of his Khaki trousers otherwise he would have been stranded in Ghana for some time while new documents were made. Afterwards wherever he went, his passport also went along stuck in his side-pocket. He even slept in the same Khaki trousers, used as pyjamas, with his passport tucked in its side-pocket.

                                                         *******

                                      Thanks for the company and goodbye everyone.

JKM

                                                         Continue on 2/3

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