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01.03.2004 Diaspora News

Ill man wants to go home to Ghana

By Rainbow Rowell for Omaha World-Herald
Ill man wants to go home to Ghana
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Omaha, USA -- Many times, I have written about people who have sacrificed everything to come to this country and build new lives for themselves.

That was Kwame Bannor's story 14 years ago.

But today, Kwame would give up everything just to get home.

Home. To Ghana. Where his wife and 10 children will take care of him.

Kwame, 56, can't take care of himself anymore - not since he lost the use of his hands last year to Lou Gehrig's disease.

If he stays in Omaha, Kwame's not sure what will become of himself. He has rent to pay and medical bills, but no way to earn a paycheck.

His family in Ghana wants to take care of him - they tell him to come home - but they can't afford to send him money for a plane ticket.

It was always Kwame who sent them money.

In 1990, after Kwame lost his business during political upheaval, he sat down with his wife, and they decided that he would leave Ghana for America.

He says Americans don't understand how he could leave his family for so long.

"It's not like your country," Kwame said.

"I had to come and work and make a better life and take care of my kids."

In Ghana, he had worked as a trader, traveling to Europe and America to bring products to sell at home.

In America, he moved around some before settling in Omaha four years ago. He came here because he had heard there were jobs and affordable housing.

Kwame has worked in Omaha at the airport and as a security guard. Most recently, he worked in the parking garage at the downtown Doubletree Hotel.

He gave up that job in November when he couldn't use his hands at all anymore.

He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis last summer. "I had never heard of it before," Kwame said.

ALS attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord.

People with it lose voluntary muscle control - and eventually become paralyzed. The average life expectancy is two to five years from diagnosis.

"They told me, 'Kwame, this has no cure. When it gets worse, they're going to send you to a nursing home.'

"Then I decided, 'No. It's better to go home.'"

Even though he hates to think of going home like this.

It's not death that troubles him, Kwame said. "Some time, we all will pass away." What upsets him is watching his strength slip away.

"It's been a very long time since I'm seeing my kids, and now I am going home sick."

Kwame's two youngest sons, ages 14 and 18, know him only from phone calls and photographs. They won't ever have known their father when he was vital and strong.

"Even my talking is changing. Always, I am thinking about it. But what can I do? Nothing.

"If it's God's will," he said, "there's nothing I can do."

Nothing but go home.

The ALS Association and the Doubletree are trying to help Kwame raise the money he needs to fly home and ship medical equipment to Ghana.

Donations can be made to First National Bank of Omaha, Attn: Personal Banking, Melva Woods for Kwame Bannor, 1620 Dodge St., Stop 1026, Omaha, NE 68197.

Kwame hopes to see his family again by the end of April.

"I don't want May to get me here," he said. "By May - I'm gone."

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