The Final Goodbye 3/3
A Burgher flush with cash is an impulse-buyer on the loose. And impulsivity of consumers is often associated with financial insolvency. A day before the burial he had hired Caterers to treat a 50-member family gathering to a 3-course dinner. Even by conservative estimates, it was the feast of the year in the town. Many guest and family took home parcels after stuffing themselves. But by the end of the funeral ceremonies, he was compelled to sell some personal items (an I-phone, a gold-watch, and a gold-plated armband) just to feed himself.
Intractable conflicts can sequester a functioning brain and focus it on getting even until one forgets both important and mundane things. He forgot his departure date. And when he realized that he had overstayed his visit, the rails on his odyssey came off the tracks. His departure date on his air-ticket has to be updated. Yet, he has no money left on him to fund the necessary booking changes in his airline itinerary. He went around town on a borrowing tour, asking the few rich people in town to lend him money which he promised strongly to repay when he got back to Holland. Nobody trusted his word strong enough to loan him money but that singular attempted act of borrowing from locals garnered lots of cruel comments and attracted many nasty jokes that inevitably became a personal embarrassment in the public space. Eventually, he was forced to seek financial assistance from other vacationing Burghers in nearby towns.
“He is useless; he is borrowing money from locals all over town. But that’s just trivial. Worse part is that he has no parcel of land to build on; he has no house; he has nothing; no assets. Just a few cloths and that flashy gold chain! He is a lost cause. I told him the family land is available and that he should give me money to build on it for him and for the rest of the family. But he just giggled at the thought like a little girl and babbled to himself like a baby as he walked away shaking his head in amusement,” railed his uncle in an incessant public lecture to his like-minded denizens. “I was puzzled by his behavior but come to think of it, a fool is still a fool even after living in Europe,” he shouted in contempt.
One of the clichés lost to men with bravado is that a man has to do what a man has to do including knowing when to walk away from conflicts whose inexorable outcome is anything but productive. After all, the basis for our instinctual knowledge of when to leave an intractable situation and when to stay mired in the pit of conflict is imprinted in our genetic make-up, the well-worn scientific concept of fight or flight. He knows better and he made his choice. As soon as he realized that there is no way around his uncle’s choke-hold on the family except his death he stopped all attempts to engage family members in détentes of mutual benefit. He reasoned that long after his uncle is dead and gone; the toxic culture he created will outlive him and will persist through the generational transfer of meanness. It is one of those things in group dynamics that seemed to sear itself into the conscience of the community and that has a sure certainty of regenerative growth within the family unit until perpetuity. He can fight back belligerently but the cost of sustained conflict will be too high even in situations where his view will be destined to ultimately prevail. But, this sticky situation? No, impossible! God knows he is exhausted from his routine of quietude and dignified endurance. What he has endured for 3 weeks will break the heart of even a lion. He is tired of his uncle’s ceaseless refrains that attempts to shame him into acquiescence. The best way he can stand up for himself now, as a matter of personal pride, is to leave while he still has some dignity left. He made his decision and he will stick with it no matter what. He will flee the ubiquitous presence of and the pugnacious dictates of his uncle. He felt relieved, after this decision, but along with its finality came despair and the emergence of a feeling of emptiness engulfed and smothered him.
He has decided he will use his gaze to say goodbye. His last goodbye will be executed with the use of only eye-contacts obviously. He is not on speaking terms with all the members of the family. He has never said a word to them since the fiasco with the “run around”. Some family members comprised of only women and girls congregated in front of the door to his room when they saw him packing-up few clothing into his suitcase for an ostensible journey of no return. They can’t ask whether or not he is leaving for the obvious non-speaking terms in their current relationship. Parting ways is always sad but what is it like to say your final goodbye with your eyes and to never go back again? How can he convey to them with gestures that this time, this only time, his goodbye is for good?
He simply stared at each individual within the gathered family cohort whose eyes were similarly misty with tears and whose posture likewise conveyed profound sadness. Between sadness and joy he conveyed his contradictory feelings by making rounds of eye-contact with each for a minute before picking up his suitcase and heading out to board the waiting taxi. He kept his gaze straight on the road and neither waved at curious onlookers nor winked at inquisitive gossips. And he never turned his head to look back when the taxi drove off. The emotional symbolism of this gesture was a completely complete severance of ties to Ghana. That act also constituted the perfectly perfect finalization of a divorce from relations to his extended family.
On the flight back to Amsterdam, he was pensive as he nursed his anger and played back every minutia of events that transpired to consolidate his sense of victimhood. He declined his in-flight dinner and requested alcoholic beverage for his in-flight drink. Each sip of alcohol was punctuated with a sigh of contemplation. Lost in soliloquy, he argued the pros and cons of the story of his ignominious farewell. It was the contradictory picture of a man whose thoughts on the bigger perspective of moderation argued against his own self-interest and impulsive reflexes for revenge. If his uncle were an evil man and if his extended family and the towns-folk were likewise evil, then the analyses will be easy because one can just blame it on evil machinations of self-evident evil people. But it’s neither that easy nor complicated. All the parties are dedicated Christians who wear a concerned Christian smile to Church every Sunday. They are not expressly evil people, at least not outwardly. Then why did they run him out of town in disgrace? None of them can conceive the notion that Christians could be that prejudicial and could display such wanton callousness to those they consider different. Whichever Christian way (theological or behavioral) that you slice this bread, meanness in any form can neither be justified in the name of nativity purity nor in the name of Christian exclusion and Bible-centered retreat from worldliness.
Where is the clarity of thoughts that can shed light on this scenario? He thought that a major unresolved question in this socio-cultural context is: who are Ghanaians and what are the core distinguishing features of Ghanaians - in other words what makes a Ghanaian a Ghanaian? What are the traits-visible or otherwise-of Ghanaian-ness? Is it the tribal language thing? There were more troubling questions than answers. “But, but, both of my parents trace their ancestry to Ghana and I speak fluent Twi so why was I treated like an outsider who is desperately trying to impersonate a Ghanaian? Why this toxic obsession with native purity in today’s intensely interconnected global community anyway?” Where is this pointless defenses of nativity heading? Why have we adulterated our past cultural acceptance and toleration of differences with austere pontifications about sameness now? Isn’t the local community better served if it includes within its echo chambers all the disparate views of the Burgher community on nation building? Why should the nation miss out on the wealth of Burgher experience if her eventual goal is to be plugged into the global community stepped in inexorable cultural divergences?”
I ate in “Chopbars” and wiped my hands and mouth with the same dirty soggy towel that all patrons use. I rode in “tro-tros” whose operation takes no cognizance of the length of one’s legs and the breath of one’s shoulders. I whipped out my penis and pissed in public, right in the open gutters of the street while others passed by and pretended it was a perfectly normal behavior. I threw my thrash onto the streets without thinking about its repercussion. I hawked and spat mucus in the streets with reckless abandon and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I did all of these in the Ghanaian way! I did it all to identify as Ghanaian and yet I was still not good enough to be a Ghanaian. My actions crystallized the locals’ view that I am an eccentric Dutchman with few loose screws in my brain. So this Ghanaian identity thing, whatever it is, is likely hidden in a mystery, in something that is indecipherable by me. I doubt if the locals themselves know what being Ghanaian is. Nobody seems to know what it is but most local self-identified Ghanaians know what it is not and that is that - Burghers are not part of this undefined family. How did Ghana slid into this state of ignominy?
He shook his head in disbelief, sighed in exasperation, tapped his right foot repeatedly in a sign of nervousness and continued his contemplation. Second-guessing every minutiae of Burgher decisions has become the height of intellectual arrogance. In this never ending odyssey Burghers who have survived know and accept that going back is not an option. After, life is a compromise. But this purity of Ghanaian identity, well I don’t know. Those who deride the eccentricity of the Burgher in simplistic terms and characterize it as madness contend that Burghers need to be re-educated by locals and inculcated with real Ghanaian thoughts, authentic Ghanaian behavior and an anodyne Ghanaina professional culture that teaches them their place in society.
If there is any unique Ghanaian identity, it rests on shifting sand castles of individual opinions, transient socio-cultural changes, and dogmatic tribal assertions that do not stand up to reason when viewed on close scrutiny against the merits of an open society. It simply directs attention to our unavoidable differences, stirs inflexible conflicts with each other and ultimately promotes ill-feeling towards Burghers. We have to relinquish this notion that living outside Ghana is an invitation to locally-inspired ostracism. Burghers cannot penetrate this pernicious bubble that contends that real Ghanaians are the locally-based ones. Ghanaians can be locally based or foreign based making the notion that real Ghanaians can never be both ludicrous. And then he lapse into more unanswerable questions. Why won’t Ghanaians take time to listen to everybody’s - including that of the Burghers’ - perspective? Why doesn’t differences in perspectives count for anything these days in Ghana? And why do the purveyors of such nativity purity operate seemingly without any restrain in a pliant echo chamber lined with sycophants?
Hi conclusion was that a nation-wide dispassionate analysis of the socio-cultural matrix that spawns and that encapsulates these dynamic questions about identity is needed. “And it better starts with the review of my sticky scenario which I think represents a stale Ghanaian “Jollof” originating from jealousy, hatred, meanness, ego, power-grab, anger, toxic competitiveness, ambition, revenge, disappointment and a host of yet to be identified and clarified issues all mixed up in its rancid base stew.” The notion that the nativity of Burghers is insufficiently pure to warrant consideration for “Ghanaian-ness” is a ridiculous assertion that has culminated in the self-reported banishment of many talented and professional Ghanaians to a life of domicile in the four corners of the world. Who is the enemy of national progress - is it the dehumanizing effect of poverty as it currently is or is it the Burgher brandishing his gold chain?
He is not one to hold hatred and grudges in his heart against others. Anger against family should not be held in the heart but on the skin so it can easily washed off through bathing. As for the invocation of the spirit of the impossibly obdurate Ogidigidi, only God knows how angry he was, and still is, about the unfortunate turn of events! There are no regrets. He has none! He wouldn’t have it any other way, even when his temper cools down later. He will not change nothing when the outrage wears off. Most certainly, his decision not to return will ensure the sad obliteration of the memory of his mother’s family line but he will take the bad with the good anytime.
Lost in thoughts, he didn’t even realize that the plane has touched down. As his fellow passengers left for the exit, he scrambled out of his seat with a start, looked at his gold-plated wrist-watch and grabbed his suitcase from the overhead compartment. All the issues he has been brooding about triggered flashbacks as he relieved all the painful moments of his trip and so he arrived at Schiphol emotionally drained, sad, broken, dejected and disappointed with the ugly turn of events that has precipitated his disheartening promise never to ever again set foot in Ghana.
When Dutch Immigration officials picked him out of the arrival hall, out of the line of travellers waiting to go through arrival formalities he felt singled out again. When he was sent into an adjoining inner room for a random detailed search for contrabands, he felt that he had had, in a single day, all the glum one man can take for a year. He is ready to fight an invisible enemy and was in no mood for niceness.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your nationality?”
“But your EU passport says you’re Dutch.”
“Yeah, that’s for my survival in Europe, Sir. I am a Ghanaian if Ghanaians will allow me to be a Ghanaian.”
“Why won’t you answer this simple question by telling us, for our official records, where you are from please?”
“Actually, I cannot say with exactness and with precision where I belong, Sir. I was born in Ghana and I have lived most of my adult life in Holland. I don’t know where I am from. With all due respect Sir”
“What do you mean specifically by this statement?”
An unanticipated opening for his psychoanalytical review of issues that had transpired during his trip presented itself. And he took it with aplomb.
“I don’t want to recall my despair but I have to talk to somebody about it. Talking about it has some cleansing value. Talking will take this gargantuan load off my back. Let me contextualize it for you if you will give me a little bit of your precious time. You see, Sir, I used to think that I was a Ghanaian based in Holland. It turns out that, in Ghana, I’m a Dutch with Ghanaian roots. I don’t fit-in in my adoptive homeland of Holland and I am rejected in the land of my birth - in my ancestral homeland of Ghana. A sense of being unwanted in both countries has sullied my national pride for both countries. Now, I have nowhere to call home with nostalgia. I’m symbolically stateless.”
“Ghanaians don’t recognize me as truly Ghanaian. But that Ghanaian identity defines the very essence of my being. Can you believe that, Sir? And they denied me that, wilfully, deliberately and maliciously. But that is of little significance in comparison to their deliberate refusal to humanize me. That hurt me badly. The hurt has permeated every fabric of my being and has lodged in my sinews, muscles, veins and arteries and I will never forget it until my death. I too love that country but they questioned my love along with my very right to exist as a Ghanaian and to identify culturally and emotionally as Ghanaian. Yeah, along with my right to do what I want to do when I want to do it and how I want to do it. That my love for Ghana was unrequited is one of the ridiculous undertones of this twisted love-hate relationship that my trip revealed. My extended family strongly rejected my love and the town did not love me back. Can you believe that - they did not reciprocate my affection with one of theirs? The entire country took my love, spat on it and threw it in the sewers of the dirty open gutters that line its streets. On this cursed trip, I was neither a visitor; nor a guest. And I wasn’t a citizen either.”
He paused, looked up to the high-ceiling of the room and shook his head and stamped his right foot on the carpeted floor.
“I know you don’t care a hoot about my country of origin. It has been labelled as a “shithole” by others and I don’t think you are bothered by this shitty characterization either. And you shouldn’t be but I care. My love for Ghana fuels my criticism of the actions of Ghanaians domiciled in Ghana. And so indulge me again for a moment, if you can please. Like I said, I need someone to talk to; a kind of sympathetic ear to offload this shit. “Burghers” in Ghana are not only vulnerable to unfair criticisms; they are subjected to emotional cruelty as well. Their very existence is a negation of the control that local traditionalists freaks exert in a culture whose set of axioms about who is a Ghanaians, how Ghanaians should act and live and who exudes the qualifying features of “Ghanaian-ism” are in constant flux like sand in the beach. And the financial and material successes of select “Burghers” are a veritable source of envy that easily clouds the eventual judgement of locals and cause them to over-react with meanness.”
“Sorry for my long speech, but you know what?”
He looked at his watch to masks his nervousness.
“The locals bleed Ghanaian blood and cry Ghanaian tears. Burghers bleed and cry foreign matter. Whichever form of delivery expression that the local traditionalist took, it presented the same unequivocal message: that the locals are qualitatively and quantitatively more Ghanaian than the Burghers. And that Ghana doesn’t want the Burghers. Despite the variety of categorized “offenses” purported to be committed by Burghers, including having uninhibited sex with their own country-women, the remedial approach offered by locals seems to have the same tenor: force the Burgher back to whatever rat-hole he crawled out of. Alas, the sight and presence of a Burgher brings out the ugly puritanism in locals.”
“Unsurprisingly, the diversity of approaches utilized by the varied pool of concerned local traditionalist has the same method of operation at its core: public ridicule of the Burgher using unvarnished nativity as a cudgel. The locals see Ghanaian, eat Ghanaian, walk Ghanaian and sleep Ghanaian. The Burghers are just lousy pretenders whose pale and shallow mimicry of locals is at best infuriating. The much-vaunted Ghanaian hospitality works only on short stays – in fact three days is the ideal receptive time-frame. If you stay more than three days as a Burgher, you tend to see them flip the different side of the coin on you. The goal of the attitudinal change is to evoke the same emotional response with non-verbal gestures that a direct verbal insult triggers. Of course situations exist that the Burgher really doesn’t want to hang around locals nor is comfortable to return to his motherland and so will contrive an intricate persecution complex to justify the depravity of his decisions. Such scenarios are few and far between.”
“Hindsight is twenty-twenty! I no longer view the events of my trip as a protagonist but as an astute observer. Before the trip, I never thought I will say this. But now with my experience as hindsight, I will say it. I will inform the Ghanaian community in Den Haag never to go back - you will be disrespected and forced out of town in shame. It is conspiratorial and they wouldn’t care who you are, what your professional qualifications are and what your innate human value is to their society and to the world at large. All they will care about is to run you out and whatever money you take down there will just vanish like that-vroom!”
He threw his hands up in the air as a solemn show of hopeless despair.
“Vroom! And it’s all gone. Gone away! Just like that! Vroom! Just like that! The market-women will charge you more for the price of anything you buy if they perceive you are a Burgher. Family and friends who have received parcels from you will come back to ask for more. Your childhood friends and schoolmates will exhibit a warped sense of superiority to you. But those are trivial by comparison. What’s worse is that Ghanaians will see you as an outsider who is insufficiently Ghanaian, who is ill-equipped, even ignorant to deal with issues considered uniquely Ghanaian whatever they are. It’s an untenable situation characterized by cascading chain of embarrassing events. Perhaps they don’t mean it. But they feel their actions are just and think defending their behavior is patriotic because they are the ones stuck in the thick of things on the ground. And all those Ghanaians in the supporting roles think it’s part of their national duty to vet the sincerity of the heart of Burghers towards the collective nation building effort. But all things aside, Ghana must be redeemed from the mostly benign neglect of its Burghers and from the occasional active harassment of them in the country they also love dearly. My brief experience exemplifies the multi-faceted challenges we face in integrating the society when we return finally from our travails from whatever diasporic enclave we sought refuge in and from which we emerge. So I ask you Sir, who is a Ghanaian and how are Ghanaians supposed to act, live? Who has the rule-book of axioms about “Ghanaian-ness”? Why hasn’t this manual or book been published for all of us to acquaint ourselves with its dictates? I will tell you what Ghana needs - an unwavering pursuit of human dignity for all including Burghers. See! The population is too small for the country to achieve extraordinarily success in economies of scale. The talent pool is too low to ensure high global competiveness. These are just the stubborn facts. Just the facts, Sir! What are they going to do about it? We have little alternative but to embrace, and not shun, Burghers with demonstrable express desire to return.”
He looked at his watch again to guestimate the time he has spent on his monologue. When he lifted his head, his eyes met that of the official’s briefly and he purposefully sustained the eye contact with the official to gauge his feelings about monopolizing his time with another country’s challenges. He saw ambivalence in the officer’s eyes. The officer didn’t seem to mind so he continued with his monologue.
“Look Sir, I can’t say where I am from. I am neither here nor there. I am an outsider looking in over here and funny enough I am not accepted as an insider down there also. Just like me, many Ghanaians across the large spectrum of age, gender and tribe within the diaspora communities are stuck in their adoptive countries - unable and unwilling to go back to their ancestral homeland of Ghana. So please don’t tell me to go back to the jungle where I came from if that will be your professional decision based on this interview. Just don’t tell me to go back to the impenetrable jungle because the jungle doesn’t want me either. I opened my arms wide for a warm embrace but the jungle closed up on me. Ostracism and contempt has forced me out of my motherland. How can I ever return to a country I left in disgrace? Come to think of it, the anonymity I experience here in Holland is far better than the familiarity I was exposed to in Ghana. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, I am stuck with you in an energetic Kusasi dance that will last until death right here in Holland.”
The quizzical expression on the face of the Dutch emigration officer was a dead giveaway.
“Mr. Manu, you’re welcome back to Holland.” The officer managed to say with enthusiasm and curtailed the search. “Here is your passport. Please pick up your luggage and go home,” he added with dispassion.
Thanks for the company and goodbye everyone.