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11.01.2004 Feature Article

Abrokyir Nkomo: Johnny Just Come

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There are some things you can never prepare adequately for. Death is probably the foremost that springs to mind. But that is not all. Nothing really prepares you for adapting to the first few weeks, or maybe even months, after you arrive in abrokyir. No matter how good his cultural shock absorbers are, a Johnny Just Come (JJC) is as obvious as an elephant trying to blend in with the teeming crowds at the Chorkor fish market. He will to have to go through well-dug pitfalls en route to qualifying as a bona fide ‘boga’. The tell-tale characteristics of a JJC are easy to spot.

When JJC arrives at Heathrow, Schipol or JFK airport, his first hurdle is usually that of the tricky business of the escalator. JJC will inevitably jerk uncontrollably as he steps gingerly unto these funny moving stairs. With his eyes firmly glued to it, he will literally do a long jump just as he nears the end. And this is irrespective of whether JJC has hitherto lived all his life at Airport Residential Area in Accra, or Asempakrom, deep in the hinterland. The escalator is indeed the great welcoming leveller, ladies and gentlemen.

‘Verily verily I say unto thee, unless a JJC loses his way in town at least once and becomes as helpless as a newborn child, the status of ‘boga’ shall be unto him as Canaan was unto Moses’. (Abrokyir Chapter 1:verse 1) Allowing your JJC guest into town on his own could well constitute an act of torture under the provisions of the Geneva Convention. It is easy to spot a JJC in town. On the trains, he clutches a map of the train system as if his life depends on it. He consults it every two minutes, panic written in bold letters across his face, unsure whether he is going or coming. He stares at bus numbers and the destinations indicated on the buses as if they were written in ancient Hebrew, his eyebrows furrowing in concentration as he struggles to remember if a particular bus is actually passing anywhere near his house. Eventually, JJC will call you and announce solemnly that yes, he is hopelessly lost, and that your rescuing services are required at that point in time. You may be rather sadistically amused, but this scenario is no laughing matter to JJC. Especially if it is very cold, for JJC ‘s teeth may have been chattering angrily against each other like little pebbles on the riverbed. JJC at this stage usually starts to curse the aircraft that brought him into town, and yearns for the blistering heat of his homeland.

Dear reader, it takes a while to get work after arriving in town, so JJC may undertake a walkabout to feast his eyes on the items in the shop display windows and to get away from the boring programmes on daytime television. After all, in abrokyir you are free to check the price of items without any intention of buying them, a practice you would be most unwise to repeat in front of Maame Akwele at Makola market, for you cannot carry the resulting scorn and abuse on your head. Anything JJC sees in the shops, his in-built mental currency converter instinctively whirrs into action. A shirt for $40? Ebei!! JJC swears he will never go for such extravagance. After all, the cost, in cedis, is almost equivalent to the monthly chop money he gives his wife back home. The conversion mentality, of course, is quietly shunted when the JJC starts gaining some earning power, for no self-respecting ‘boga’ ever thinks in cedis when he is living in abrokyir. After all, if you are earning dollars what is the logic in calculating your spending in cedis?

Dear reader, nothing is more annoying than having spent laborious years learning the finer points of English grammar back home, only to arrive, say, in England or America and realize that when some of the natives speak what they call English, they might as well be speaking Latin, for it doesn’t seem to make sense at all. Apart from the various accents being horrendously difficult to grasp, some tend to break every grammatical rule that your English tutor painstakingly taught you back home. Your plight is probably worse if you have just arrived in Germany, for instance, and do not understand a single word of that language. You have to rely on your host, Kwame Jack, to act as your interpreter. Naturally he tries to show off as the language rolls of his tongue. Much later you realize that all along, Kwame, who apparently rattles German with such linguistic flair, is actually limited to ‘broken’ German, utterly ignorant of the rather complex linguistic jungle that constitutes German grammar.

Very few JJCs tend to be gastronomic adventurers, with most sticking to what looks and/or tastes familiar. If fufu is one of your all-time favourite food, it will take some time to get used to abrokyir fufu, which is prepared ‘a la banku style’ on a cooker. ‘Funny’ abrokyir foods are not something your average JJC is in a hurry to try. “Quiche Lorraine with buttered asparagus, glazed carrots and hollandaise sauce for you, sir”. “What? No, No! Rice and chicken stew will do rather nicely, thank you very much…”

Just like a novice in any set-up, the JJC usually starts work from the lower rungs and may work his way up, depending on his ambition. The cleaning/factory/catering/security jobs commonly form the starting point. Now if there is one scenario that generates so much amusement regarding the JJC, it must be the ‘by force’ change of name palaver. Many JJCs are compelled to ‘borrow’ a name in order to work. So poor Akwasi Donkor, now known at his workplace as Mawuli Doku, is blissfully and innocently oblivious as his obroni supervisor (standing only a few paces away), keeps bellowing ‘Mawuli!’ till the poor man’s face is a flushing scarlet. When he comes to his senses after prompting by amused colleagues, Akwasi will sheepishly explain to his boss that he has a little problem with his hearing. Miraculously, however, as he gets used to his new name, his hearing dramatically improves, and he can hear his ‘name’ from a thousand miles. Hmm, asem beba dabi!

It is always extremely tempting to tease JJC over the inevitable mishaps he lands himself in. But then, every ‘boga’ has been there before. Every ‘bogalisation’ journey begins with the essential first step of being a JJC. But then, on the other hand, why not have a good laugh at JJCs expense? Chances are that when the JJC metamorphoses into a bona fide ‘boga’ and gets to become a master off the system, he will become ‘too known’ and laugh at the JJCs, anyway. So why must the current JJC escape ridicule, only to unleash it on future JJCs? Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, © 2004

The author has 34 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RodneyNkrumahBoateng

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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