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11.02.2009 Feature Article

'Abrokyire' Palaver: America's drying pastures

For many Ghanaians, leaving the motherland for Europe or the United States is an opportunity to experience, in reality, what has been a dream for many years. Starting the process from the respective embassies and consulates in Accra, long queues of able-bodied young men and women fight it out to get an appointment for visa interviews.

After defying all odds and contending with the scorching sun, people finally heave a sigh of relief when the opportunity to face an interview beckons. As though the embassy premises is 'abrokyire' itself, all the stress lines of surviving the first round of the struggle disappears from the faces of prospective pasture seekers. Then it appears again when it is time to face the man or woman who is paid to stay in a cage all day asking questions and helping to make some money for the embassy by reciting a line and passing back your passport to announce that you are enroute to becoming a veteran visa applicant.

For successful applicants the next step is booking a flight, saying adieus, and having an entourage of family members traveling with you to the final departure point at the Kotoka International Airport where they celebrate the next family benefactor at one of the drinking joints or restaurants at the airport, wining and dining. Expecting to have a lifetime experience of Jerusalem the Golden, promises are made to family members and loved ones of phone calls and mobile phones and other gifts.

It does not take long for America to welcome such Johnnie Just Comes (JJCs) to the real world of . Suddenly, finding five dollars to buy a calling card is like pulling the hair from your nostrils. Now man must work to survive so the job search starts.

That is when one gets a feel of the greener pastures gone dry. I was scandalized when in my job search I realized that the certificates I had which saw me in my somehow cozy newspaper office back home was nothing after all. I ended up with a job that saw me standing on my feet for eight hours on some days and dishing out soda (Coke, Pepsi, and Sprite), sandwiches and smoothies to students, some of whom were so disrespectful. Others are on their feet for as worse as 12 or 13 hours a day. I only relished my teaching days at Akyem Ntronang in the Eastern Region where I had full permission to dole out some spanking to the disrespectful buyers whose purchases paid my daily wage.

The dreams of any job prospects are further lost in the US unemployment statistics. According to the Associated Press, the US has since December 2007 lost 3.7 million jobs with most of it lost in three months. My home state of Michigan has been badly hit with lots of job cuts in the auto industry.

Last month alone, the Labour office disclosed that nearly 600,000 jobs were lost, pushing the unemployment rate to7.6 per cent, the highest in 16 years. It is expected to rise up to nine per cent in the next six months. This is not good news, especially for all the people out there seeking to come and eke out a living and better their lives.

Also, according to an economic review by the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, next door state of Illinois could lose 147,200 jobs this year. This is after it lost some 100,700 jobs last year.

Now back to my main story. Sadly, after many years of merely surviving on a few bucks a month, after paying all the bills and helping out at home, those who return home for visits come back and lament how much time they have lost staying out here. They see their colleagues who stayed back either for personal reasons or due to the lack of resources to travel abroad, and they feel that the years of pasture seeking have been nothing but a total waste and retrogression. The few who are able to make some decent money are also saddled with so many family problems to take care of that they are sometimes left with no option than to completely cut off any ties so they can have some peace.

There are so many people who wish they could go back to Ghana and rather sweat it out there but cannot even find the means to purchase air tickets to get back home. I am sure one of these days if the government for some reason got super generous and decided to charter a flight that will fly people back home for free, it will be the best thing that ever happened to some people here.

These notwithstanding, many people back in Ghana tell me how willing they are to come to the United States and make a living here at any cost and this makes me feel so “anti-progress” for dying to come home after my studies. The truth, however, is that there is no better teacher than experience itself. Going through an experience in life has its own way of teaching you what you never wanted to learn even for free; So, to all those seeking to come to the US for pastures, I can only say that come if you want but remember to have a two-way ticket, that may come in handy. Then remember that even Americans, living in their own country and paying taxes cannot even find jobs so you must be an extraordinary or rare talent to take the few job opportunities that sprout up from time to time.

Even as I write this I am sure some people reading will still find themselves battling it out at the embassy tomorrow bent on coming to America. Good luck and I hope you get the visa; very soon you will appreciate why your uncle no longer answers his phone.

America here we come!

By 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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