African Women Voices
I moved to London at the old age of 31. I was a young man in my prime. I was full of youthful energy and the optimism of a young child. I had gone to one of the best schools in Ghana which subsequently landed me a job with Ghana’s top accountancy firm. It was situated in the heart of Accra.
The role had even introduced me some of the great cities of Africa. I was fortunate enough to travel across the continent, visiting the likes of Juba, Kigali, Johannesburg, Kampala and Dar Es Salaam. I was enjoying life, as one should.
One day, whilst sitting in my beautifully designed air-conditioned office, I decided it would be a good opportunity to get some international exposure’. It had to be in either Europe or America.
Why I hear you ask? The western world, they say, glitters with not only Gold but Frankincense and Myrrh. The precious gifts that the missionary ‘saviors’ had taught us about.
I left the sunshine to embark on an icy adventure.
My sweet Naa promised me she would wait for me. The day I broke the news to her was the day she finally gave up her virginity for me. We both cried together, the prospect of not seeing her every day brought pain to both our hearts. We kissed passionately and my hand found its way to her skirt. She resisted but I looked longingly at her. You see I wanted her to understand that soon I would be far away. If we didn’t do it now then who knows when we would get a chance. I was used to getting what I want and that night I got her. She was my first true love.
I promised that I would bring her to London once I had found that dream accountancy job I was so eager to get. She was 8 years my junior. Innocent, obedient and followed me like a lost sheep. She was wife material that was for sure well that’s what I thought…
I had high hopes of stacking pounds and possibly some euros, returning to Ghana with a swelled belly like most of the men who returned from the west had. It showed that they had money to eat and eat well. That would be me for sure. I was optimistic even though I was scared of coming face to face with the ridiculous things such as ‘Snow’. Why God would allow mushy ice water balls to fall from the sky is beyond my understanding.
I’d rather sweat than freeze.
What had I let myself in for?
Despite my resistance to the cold, the UK excited me. I was going abroad to face the land of pale faces. I had with my intelligence, my health, my swag. Nothing scared me.
I will never forget the coldness on my arrival into Heathrow Airport, it was not just the weather but it was from the people. It was as if they were robots. No emotion, no smile and no banter. It was definitely different to what I was used to in Ghana. Our people could be annoying but they were warm. I would happily flirt with the flight attendants and they would banter back with me although at times they could be coy. The flight attendants in British Airways were straight and stiff in every way possible. They had straight-ironed dull grey uniforms, straight bodies and cold blue eyes. Gosh, they were scary. There was no way I would even attempt to flirt with one. I would probably have been assassinated should I have tried.
I did however credit the organisation and the cleanliness of the place. Kotoka airport in Accra could be pretty chaotic at times. It was common to see people fighting.
My experience at the UK border was one of the most degrading experiences I have felt in a long time. The woman looked at my black passport, looked at my face and mispronounced my name.
I corrected her, advising her of the right pronunciation but she clearly was not interested. She looked at me blankly as if she was to say “how dare you correct me”. She asked for my reason of entering the UK, I told her that I, Mr Kwame John Sarkodie was a qualified accountant and I had come to seek employment that would utilize my skills and experience.
She looked at me with that same cold blank look, but this time a sarcastic smile was added. “Good luck with that Mubunjomo” she said and called for the next immigrant.
Fast forward 15 years. The luck the lady had wished me had fallen on dead earth. I had been far from lucky. I worked as a Care Home Coordinator. No accountancy firm would hire me because my queens English sounded too harsh and primitive and my skin blended in nicely with their dark walls. Each interview I had involved my interviewer asking me what exactly my qualification meant. It was a frustrating mess especially I was more qualified than any of the baboons that looked across the desk from me.
By this time I had to go for option B, care home employment. The government had launched a new scheme encouraging people to work in care homes across London. They provided accommodation and a good bursary. It sounded terrible but the benefits were very reasonable. I continued in that job, addicted to the pounds I was getting. Although minuscule, it was my bread and butter. I was now married, not to Naa but to Dorcas, a shy and humble woman who knew how to treat a man well. London life was definitely lonely and a companion made things better. She gave me time, attention and 3 healthy children. It was my duty to support her.
I know you may be thinking Dorcas? What happened to Naa? Well, it was 8 years since I went back to visit the motherland since embarking on my London journey. Naa had written me countless letters and at first they were beautiful and made me smile. But as things started to get hard for me I stopped communication. I couldn’t bear to read the longing letters. I knew there was nothing that I could do to help her. The promise I had made became more unrealistic each day. How could I tell her I barely made enough to feed myself each week and that a giving a visa to a black person was like someone winning the lottery. I was ashamed and I had given her an empty promise. The letters eventually stopped.
It was after 8 years I returned home. I went to my village greeted with comments about how much I had aged and how worn out I looked. Little did they know all they said was true. London life was slowly killing me.
Naa lived in a block next to mine back then and I knew some of her family members were still there.
Out of respect I had to go there and greet them. It was there I saw Naa, with a small boy and a round stomach indicating number 2 was on the way. She was shocked when she saw me but I wasn’t sure if she was happy or angry.
“You look even more beautiful than when I left you”. I said to Naa
“What happened to you” she replied
“I waited and waited. My mum began to get annoyed with me saying that I would be stupid to think you’d ever come back for me. I don’t know why but I clung onto the small hope I had. I guess she was right”. She said painfully.
I listened to her feeling like I had lost the best thing that could have happened to me. And for what? It could have been so different if I was with her. I knew I had to be a man but I felt it was my duty to explain everything. I told her that London life was misleading and that if I could go back I would have never have left. My struggle and stress made meant worry filled my head all the time.
She told me about her husband and her kids and said she was happy. Of course she would be. The man that had married her was blessed. What I would do to turn back the hands of the clock. She would have been my wife and I would have continued to prosper in Ghana. At least I was her first lover. That’s the only thing I could credit myself for regarding her. The last thing I wanted her to think was that I only wanted that one thing. Reader, I was in love with her. It was circumstances that took her away from me.
After that holiday, I believe I left my homeland more depressed than ever but I had no choice to continue.
I worked hard as a Care Coordinator. Doing countless night shifts and double shifts. Attacking my body to fend for family and block the thoughts of what could have been. Dorcas also worked at the local school as a cook in the canteen. There were times I felt the pinch but we managed to get by. I decided if I couldn’t have the life I wanted, my children would.
Education was important and I made sure they all studied. It paid off because later on in life, the twin boys and my daughter all managed to secure good jobs by the time they reached their mid twenties. They were all grown up and ready for the world leaving Dorcas and myself to look forward to our imminent retirement.
One day I sat down with one of my sons, watching the news and enjoying a cold beverage.
“Dad, when are you moving back home?” my son said abruptly.
I was taken aback by his question.
“Why do you ask son?” I replied patiently
“Because you always complain about this country so I want to know when you are leaving?” He responded.
I looked at him for a total of 5 seconds, took my newspaper and left the room.
To be fair he was correct. I was heading into my final working years before retirement. I was still bitter about what I had left behind in Ghana. I knew that I had the tendency to waffle on about the lies this country had taught me. I wasn’t surprised my son was fed up.
I was his father though, and yes although I did complain he had no right to ask me when I would be leaving. I felt uncomfortable and decided not to continue the conversation.
It was true what they said about children that had been brought up in the West. They forgot about their parents. It was something I saw with my own children. My daughter had married and moved to Belgium. I was lucky if I heard from her once a month. After all she was living her own life, busy with her children and her husband. My sons were selfish, they were moneymakers but it was only on Father’s day, my birthday and Christmas that I saw the fruits of that labour. They forgot about the endless nights I sat up with them helping them to do their homework, they forgot about the hours I had put in at work to pay for their university fees, schools trips and God knows what else.
I was thankful to Dorcas, although these days she was hardly home. She enjoyed visiting those Ghanaian parties/funerals/church arrangements etc. where she could gossip with the rest of the community about how successful her children were. I was content in my home meaning I joined her on her ‘outings’.
I decided to lie down, my head was spinning with all the disappointment I had faced in my life.
I rested my eyes and thought back to my younger days, the days when I was in Ghana, walking around with my swag and my hope for the future.
“Dad?” My son’s voice boomed interrupting my thoughts.
I ignored him and pretended to be asleep. I could not bear to engage in a conversation about when I would be leaving the house. Right now, what I needed was positivity.
My son finally left the room, believing I was asleep.
Ha Fool! I always told that boy to read between the lines. He was one person that always took things at face value. It was one of his bad qualities.
“Baby, I’m trying to get him to leave then this place is ours”. I heard my son say on the phone to ‘baby’. You know I can’t push these things. It takes time. He said hurriedly.
“I’ve arranged for his brother in Ghana to call him for a family emergency. I’m hoping when he gets there he will fall in love with the Ghana he so truly loves. Then we can live here in peace. Just give me time. He’s an old man. I’m working on it”.
My eyes snapped open. I had just heard my son confirm what I had believed about western children. I was unwanted in London, I was unwanted in Ghana – it had been so long who would I know there.
To add to this, my own children could not support me. They were happy to see the back of me.
My wife was never around. I was in a house full of people but I was very much alone.
I wish I never left Ghana. Things would have been so much more different.
This short story was written by Jennifer, an outstanding writer living in London but with Ghanaian origins. You can find more of her writings on her blog www.whiskmebacktothemotherland.blogspot.co.uk You can also follow Jennifer on Twitter @esi_types. If you want to write for Balobeshayi just drop me a line at balobeshayi AT gmail DOT com