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02.02.2009 Feature Article

'Abrokyire' Palaver: Why Africa beats America

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

America is a land of opportunities and yes, so many opportunities. It is also the land where people kill themselves for sometimes what may be perceived as “no justifiable reason”.

Suicide cases are on the increase and every week there are reports of people who have committed suicide. In the past few days alone two particularly sad cases of family murder-suicides have been in the news. Although we tend to label them murder-suicides because someone killed others and killed himself, the basic truth is that people decide to end their lives and those of their loved ones to escape hardship.

First a family of seven was found dead in their Los Angeles home. A message faxed to a TV station by the father Elvin Antonio Lupoe, narrated how he had run into such financial difficulty and could find help coming from nowhere so he decided to end it all. With one shot after the other he ended the lives of seven beautiful people including his own. A day after that report came another family murder-suicide story from Ohio where a family of four was found, including two children, dead with gunshot wounds in what is also believed to be a family suicide case.

The reasons for all these cases are not far fetched. This country has all the professional help in counseling for people but what is non existent is the family support system. In my work with students which involves some advising it is evident that the lack of family support is one thing that drives people to take such extreme actions.

This is one country in which people decide to throw tons of food away although a needy shelter may be just across the street. That is no fault of theirs because they also do not want to be dragged to courts for giving food that caused a stomach upset. It is in this same country where California passed a law in December allowing Good Samaritans to be sued. Now if you set out to offer a helping hand you have to think twice because those same actions could end up being more costly that you bargained for, in America.

In the absence of societal protection and support the most sensible and logical place to seek help will be the family. Unfortunately the system here is incredibly difficult to understand. One only needs to offer a listening ear and you will be amazed at what people are willing to share. Sometimes it gets to a point where you cannot help it but begin to question why people are born to families.

As for the church in America, the least said about it the better. My own experience has shown that you go to church knowing that it is a decision you take based on your belief in God and not because of any expectations of the pastor at the pulpit or members of the congregation. You only need to be faced with a problem to appreciate what the church means in this country.

It is for reasons as these that it breaks my heart when I see some people, in the name of education or religion, cutting themselves off the family system that our country is so blessed with and trying to live all by themselves.

I do not pretend ignorance of situations where some people may have had real and heart-breaking experiences with their families but one still needs the support of people whether they are friends or work colleagues or church members. That is the context of family relationships that I advocate – a society where I offer you my shoulder and you offer me yours.

America has many good things but I can bet my last pesewa that our family system and communal relationship is one thing that this country would give anything to have if it had the opportunity. People stay in the same room with others and yet a roommate dies for weeks and no one knows about it until something comes up. Families have children who do not come home and nobody cares what is happening to them. People live in neighbourhoods and do not even know what the person living next door looks like. People are heart-broken and need someone who would just listen to them and yet they cannot even find a listening ear in their congregations.

I remember how once I came across a lady in one of our restrooms who had been crying and crying. People came in and left and nobody asked her a question. I saw her and was not sure what to do so I left but decided to go back. I did and still found her crying her eyes out so I went to the sink near her and turned on the tap pretending to be washing my hands. Then I asked her if I could help her. I was not sure how she was going to respond but I could not be bothered especially with my experience of having to face it all alone occasionally as an international student. She looked at me and broke down. Eventually we talked and she was happy that I spent time with her.

The interesting twist though is that now she sees me and walks past me as though nothing ever happened. That is America, it does not bother me that she does not 'know' me but I am happy that I could help when someone needed my help. At least I was spared any 'court action' for possible interference.

Ghana and Africa is blessed and our families are our best assets - families that we are born into, our adopted families, families that we make at church, at work, at school and in our communities. These are valuable support systems that money cannot buy but are the places to find ready help when the need arises. Money is not everything and the earlier we make a decision in our individual lives to hold on to and build our respective family systems the better it will be for us in life.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family”- Anthony Brandt

Credit: Dot Asare-Kumah [[email protected]]

Dorothy Asare-Kumah
Dorothy Asare-Kumah, © 2009

This author has authored 21 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DorothyAsareKumah

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