09.10.2002 Feature Article

Abrokyir Nkomo: The Project

Abrokyir Nkomo: The Project
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My friend Kwame Kantamanto called me the other day. He was fuming. No, actually, he was boiling. After a five-minute incoherent rant, he finally got his point across. You see, Kwame lives in Trondheim, Norway, having emigrated from Ghana several years ago. As you would know, Norway is a very cold country indeed. Kwame is now an established ‘Papa Samo’, as per A. B Crentsil’s definition and criteria. But Kwame is a Sankofa philosopher, and does not believe in forgetting his roots. So last year, after a lot of sweat and toil doing backbreaking shifts, he managed to buy a car, which he sent home to be used as a taxi. The objective was to provide a regular income for his mother back home, thereby saving himself the headache of sending money every month for the old lady to support the household. After all, he reasoned, instead of giving fish to a man everyday, is it not better to buy him fishing equipment so that he can catch his own fish? A very wise and noble gesture indeed. The old girl was proud of him. Inscribed on the side of the taxi were the words ‘Nyame nhyira me ba’ (May God bless my child) Then a week or so ago he called home to find out about the old lady’s health. The daily ‘sales’ were not going very well, she told him, and the car had started giving mechanical problems. These things do happen, and Kwame stoically accepted that. But what sent him into spasms of red-hot rage, and his blood pressure soaring like a crow in full flight, was the report his mother gave him concerning his younger brother. The idiot had been literally hijacking the car most evenings, packing it with girls, and driving around town like a demented baboon, pumped full of booze. To say my friend was not amused is a gross understatement, and his brother was lucky indeed not to be within slapping range. Dear reader, there is nothing more maddening to an abrokyir resident than juggling two jobs to make ends meet and sacrificing a lot of good things in life to send some money home for a particular purpose, only for someone else to misuse it, assuming that you picked the money off an odum tree. The assumption seems to be that just because you live abroad, you can afford it over and over again. Indeed!! So that brother of yours back home lives off your sweat and wins over gullible girls on the basis that his brother is ‘uptown’, and he’ll be joining him soon. Meanwhile work alone prevents you from having enough time for social activities, yet the silly goat is chilling out big time back home when he ‘melts’ your hard-earned cash. Your white and non-African friends wonder why you send so much money back home. Their concept and perception is different, and they think you are crazy. But then at least, western countries have the luxury of a welfare system to take care of their aged, unemployed and socially disadvantaged. Back home the abrokyir resident is the welfare state, a charitable organization, a manna tree, and Papa Bronya all rolled into one, upon whom some families depend entirely. Whether it is the building of a house, the establishment of a shop, running a taxi/trotro business or some other project, the dream of most abrokyir-based Ghanaians is to ‘do something back home’. We do not like to forget our families, no matter how much spaghetti bolognaise and Caesar salad we eat. However long we have stayed in Akwasi Broni’s land, the mindset is to return home one day, and there must be something for the son of man to go back to-somewhere to lay the head, an income to survive on. In most cases the ideal approach is to leave such a project in the hands of a family member back home. After all, based on our family set-up, you are not the only person who will enjoy the fruits of the project-the whole family benefits. But then, sometimes, dear reader, that is precisely where the problem lies. After all, what do you do when your own brother or sister ‘chops’ the profits of the project you have toiled to set up, thereby leading to its collapse? The answer is ‘Fa ma Nyame’. There is little else you can do, no matter how much you weep and gnash your teeth. But the pain does not go away. Indeed it is worse. On the other hand, let’s look at it this way. Your brother back home is not working. Things are hard. His wife is expecting their third baby. The other day he was not feeling well and went to the hospital. He has been prescribed some expensive drugs, and he can’t afford them. You have just sent him $1,000 to continue the work on the house you are putting up. He is human, and it is not fire that is raging in his mouth. Even fire needs an extinguisher. He can also ‘chop better’. He looks at the money, and instead of green dollar bills, he sees red- his endless problems. He is the one who will be going up and down in the unforgiving heat, chasing the carpenters, masons and labourers who are supposed to be working on the building site. After all, he who runs a poultry farm does not eat koobi at Christmas. In any case he is expecting some money from a ‘connection’ he is running So he appoints himself the bank manager of your cash and ‘lends’ himself some of the money (interest-free of course). As the borrower, he promises the bank manager (i.e., himself) that he will definitely pay back the money within a set time, to enable the project to go ahead smoothly. Not surprisingly, the ‘connection money’ does not materialize. The money simply ‘passed through his hands’, very much like kerosene through a basket, and less than half of the expected work gets done. It is never easy for an abrokyir resident to organise a project back home by remote control, for there always is a risk of some of your hard-earned cash disappearing into thin air. You can only hope that even if your brother ‘chops’ your money, he will mercifully only ‘chop’ a small bit and not be guided by some misconception that the streets of Tokyo, Amsterdam, London, New York and Toronto are paved with glittering slabs of gold. For as my friend Kwame Kantamanto will readily attest, even if they are, it is extremely hard work bending down to prise them away. Bending down is bad for the waist, you know…

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