In Ghana, most of our food items are seasonal, and therefore are in abundance when their season comes around. Take for instance the humble corn. During the corn season, corn sellers colonise every street corner and map out their territories, pervading the air with the aromas from their boiling pots or sand-filled roasting trays. The corn season tends to transform us into mouth organ players as we munch away in our homes, tro-tros and on the streets, a piece of coconut in hand to complement the process.
But dear reader, it is not just food items which are a seasonal affair in Ghana. Our university students have created a specialist seasonal migratory trend to rival the annual mass Hajj to Mecca. The main season naturally is around this time, when the universities are on their long semester breaks. London is now awash with them, and you hardly meet a Ghanaian who does not know a university student from Ghana on holiday.
What started as a mere trickle in the late eighties and early nineties has metamorphosed into a huge flood, and London seems to be the top favourite, followed by the US. The interesting thing is that whereas it was seen in earlier times as a mere frivolous show of ‘dadaba-ism’ the student summer break now represents for many people a serious means of campus survival during the next semester. For a start, it is relatively easier getting a visa if you are a bona fide student at one of the country’s universities. Most students see it therefore as a good opportunity to build a solid visa-grabbing profile for possible future needs.
Why London seems to be the top favourite for most students is probably due to the fact that it is after all the main English-speaking country in Europe, and most students at least know someone here who may host them. America is too far away and costs far more, especially for a three-month holiday. Since the universities all break at different times but in close succession, you could have the ‘Legon Wave’ this week, followed by the ‘Tech. Exodus’ the following week, and so on. Sometimes it is almost a plane arriving in Heathrow from Accra took off directly from some airstrip behind Legon campus, full of students!
And dear reader, if you think that the average student comes on holiday just to lie around and enjoy the tourist sights, then you might as well start believing that snow falls in Kete Krachi all year round. With all these user fees and other associated spiraling costs of acquiring university education in Ghana, it makes sense to see a trip to London as an investment rather than as a mere holiday. After recouping the cost of the ticket,(which in many cases, would have been lent by some kind travel agent), anything on top of that is profit, and so may be worth the trip.
Because of their extremely tight timetable within which to make their money and return to campus, these students walk off the plane with their ears burning hot like a blacksmith’s furnace. They must get a job within the shortest possible time, and until they have done so, they remain restless. Luckily, in many cases, they do not have to worry about bills whilst they are living with relatives- after all they are only on a short trip and need every penny they can get.
A few brave souls, however, turn up at Heathrow airport with no idea where they will be staying, only armed with loads of faith and hope, only surpassed, one might add, by a larger dollop of folly. Yet others arrive, call their purported host expecting to be picked up, and eventually the realisation sinks in with a dull thud. The said host will not be coming, simply because the his or her phone is firmly set to voicemail. Desperate, stranded and confused, they are almost always lucky enough to encounter a fellow Ghanaian at the airport who has come to pick his or her guest, and who may be prepared to take in the stranded person for a while.. It is at times like these when you are particularly proud to be Ghanaian, for we always try to feel each other’s pain and help out as much as we can, especially in a foreign land. You would be hard pressed to find a white man who would be prepared to offer accommodation in his house to a complete stranger.
Getting a job in London, or indeed any other western city, can be a tricky business. It is worse where you are you are a university student in town and therefore time is a luxury you can ill-afford. It can be a grindingly slow process, with lots of form-filling and endless waiting for interviews.
And when these students eventually get a job (or sometimes two), they throw themselves into it with the zeal of a convert, spurred by the images of all the ‘too known’ they can do on campus with their nice clothes and mobile phones. Even worse, they are haunted by the thought of the travel agent or parent waiting patiently back home for their ticket money. Any job will do-construction, security, kitchen and factory work are among the most common. Perhaps what keeps them going through the back breaking crazy job patterns is the knowledge that they do not have to do the job forever-after all they are killing themselves only for three months. It may sound incredible, but quite a number of students spend a whole vacation in London and return to Ghana not knowing any of the famous tourist landmarks. But then, can you blame them? After all they did not come to see the Thames, as many of them would gently remind you.
Eventually it is time to fly back to Kotoka. The three-month ‘slavery’ period is over, and conveniently for these students, they are just in time for the Great Escape-the cold season is just about to rear its chilly head. The ticket money has been recouped, to obvious relief. Some extra money has been saved, after doing a bit of shopping for a few nice clothes and shoes. Of course, they never forget the obligatory, standard accessory of every modern university student in Ghana-a good looking, stylish mobile phone, even if most of the facilities available in it simply do not work back home.
As the student flies home, he has enough time to ponder over his experiences during his holiday. Whatever he went through, one thing is for sure-the punishing work shifts were worth it. His image is transformed. He has joined an ‘elite’ corps of students who have been abroad, and can now flex a bit on campus and afford to be a little ‘too known’ and try to impress those who stayed behind. When chatting with his friends who stayed behind at home, he can at least afford to pepper his conversations with the irritating phrase, ‘..when I was in London…..’ Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.