20.01.2004 Feature Article

Abrokyir Nkomo: Nkrataa Palaver

Abrokyir Nkomo: Nkrataa Palaver
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It is easy to be excited as you walk out of the American, British or some other western embassy in Accra, clutching your spanking new, visa-embossed passport proudly, a rather wide grin plastered across your face as if you just won a confirmed express one-way ticket to heaven. It comes with a certain feeling of smugness, and if abrokyir travel has been your dream for a very long time, it is particularly poignant when you get your breakthrough. But that is the easier part-the calm before the tempest.

By the third month of your arrival in obroniland, you start wondering what you will do when your visa runs out. By God, how the months fly! It is all so new and unfamiliar to you, this krataa palaver. After all, back home, what was your business with the Ghana Immigration Service? In fact, in all honesty, dear reader, were you even aware of the very existence of the said organisation?

Very quickly you realize that krataa is fundamental to abrokyir survival. It is the key that opens so many doors, ranging from the kind of jobs you can do right up to whether or not you can even open a bank account. Your visitor’s visa issued in Accra may only allow you to remain as a tourist for six months-which means no work. All you are supposed to do is sightseeing and shopping. After all, when you went to the embassy in Accra you yourself said that you wanted to come as a visitor.

But then, you argue, if you travelled all the way to London or New York just to gawk at the river Thames or the Statue of Liberty, you could well have stayed at home and visited the lovely river Densu. Or Kwame Nkrumah’s rather impressive statue at the mausoleum, for that matter, at little cost. No, you are in town to make some serious dough, and deal with all the family problems back home. You may even have had to borrow your ticket money, and that needs to be repaid.

Because your visa clearly bans you from taking up a job, you may end up having to ‘borrow’ someone else’s name and krataa for that purpose, with all its attendant problems. It is an uphill task trying to get used to your new name as you learn to discard your cherished name bestowed on you at birth. No laughing matter there, you know!

Amanfo, the feelings you go through if your visa expires whilst in obroni’s country need to be experienced rather than described. As some would rightly observe, ‘it resembles your eye’ (ese w’ani). The reality is that you are now an overstayer, and if the authorities get hold of you, you will definitely be wailing unexpectedly on a one-way flight to Kotoka. The risk is higher in some countries than others, but it is always real. You always feel as if there is a kaya-yoo’s load strapped on your back during this krataa impasse.

If you are unlucky enough to suffer bereavement back home when you are waiting to resolve your papers, you just have to rely on the video coverage of the funeral sent to you. You might as well buy a one-way ticket if you insist on going, for you will almost definitely be ‘locked’ in Ghana after the funeral. Yet, what could be more painful than suffering the loss of a parent or sibling and not being there to even see the coffin lowered into the bowels of the earth? How do you scoop some earth onto the coffin as the priest gravely intones, ‘earth to earth…? How do you lay your wreath in tribute? In fact, how do you get ‘closure’?

As long as you remain ‘krataa-less’ in obroniland, your ears are still burning hot like a blacksmith’s furnace in spite of the cold weather. When it comes finally, your status as a legal abrokyir resident may be in the form of a rather non-descript, unimposing sticker in you passport, (or on the US, a ‘simple’ green card). But the right to remain indefinitely in Obroniland can come at a huge price. For some people, this may involve huge financial costs and/or months, if not years, of uncertainty and cold sweat, anguish, and gnashing of gritted teeth.

At last, after all these years of uncertainty, you can now also go home on holidays and ‘do too known small’. You can strut around like a peacock with your chest out, safe in the knowledge that if it takes your fancy, you can even slap an abrokyir policeman and not find yourself the next morning basking in the heat of Accra. Indeed, you feel like Ali Baba. All you have to do is clap your hands and shout ‘Open sesame!!’, and steel doors that were hitherto slammed in your black face will just glide open smoothly without as much as a whimper.

The road to ‘krataa-dom’ can be a long and perilous one, with more potholes than the Odorkor-Awoshie road. Some still languish by the wayside, with no apparent relief in sight. For them, there is always the furtive look over the shoulder, fearful of the long arm of the law reaching out, grabbing them by the collar and banishing them to Kotoka.

Amanfo, I have a dream. I have a dream that one day we shall all live in a truly ‘krataa-less’ world, where all boundaries and frontiers will be torn down. I have a dream that in this new world, a man shall be able to emigrate from Gomoa Potsin and choose to settle in Chicago, Bombay or Kintampo with equal ease -you just pack your portmanteau and get moving.

Yea, I have a dream that all this will come to pass on the very day that pigs begin to fly and rocks begin to grow beards. I have a dream…

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