Am I here or am I there? I’m sure many people part of a diaspora have reached a point where they have asked themselves this question. The adoption of what is somewhat a hybrid ethnicity – you’re never really from X and neither are you from Z. For me, my race and my place of birth do not make me feel inclined to identify as being ‘British’, albeit my citizenship status makes me British. So what am I?
I was born in Ghana to a Ghanaian parent and to a non Ghanaian parent. I spent the first few precious moments of my life of course having no recollection of those memories what so ever. At three months old I found myself in a foreign country – Germany. German became the first language I ever spoke, all my early childhood memories are attached to Germany. My first school, my first house and my first friends – all reside in Germany.
Fast forward to a few years, aged 3, my mother decides to return to her country of origin – and mine too. I was on my way back to Ghana, again of course I have no vivid recollection of this – however pictures have aided this memory. There, I found myself confused and elated! My mother recalls me jumping with excitement about how many people looked just like me, had black skin just like me! A 3 year old, already aware of race and its connotations perhaps? That’s a story for another blog post.
My 2 years in Ghana as a child were amazing, I have nothing but fond memories of that time, I enjoyed school, I acknowledged the difference in cultures,climates and people, but I embraced it all. I will always attribute those few years as being some of the best years of my life, as well as importance in shaping my connection to the motherland. It was time to leave again, why? I did not know, life was good, I attended a very good private school, I spent plentiful time with my family and generally lived a very good middle class African life.
If it were up to me I would’ve stayed put! But as a child, you have little choice about where you are placed – and off to Europe I was again – which was at this point a distant and foreign memory.
Back to Germany we were, welcomed by the cold air, the cold atmosphere and stern faced people. I didn’t like it, I wondered why I couldn’t just be back in Ghana eating banku with my friends on our veranda…
Being in Germany again as a 6 year old was difficult – I was this time, aware of it all, aware of how different I was – how different they were. I noticed the intolerant looks given to me by adults and children likewise – and immediately knew, it was because I was different. To make matters worse, I now lived in a small town in Lower Saxony, Oldenburg. I lived in the upper middle class area of Oldenburg – attended a brilliant school, lived in a big house with a big garden and carried out the same activities as my white middle class friends.
Oldenburg is also a place where every black person, every person of colour and every non-German were automatically acquainted. My recollection of school was hell – kids asked me if I stayed in the sun for too long? Why my gums were black? Why my hair was like that? In addition to a range of absurd questions. Sometimes I was faced with direct and overt racism – adults driving by and shouting the hard N WORD and all sorts of other derogatory terms – all this because of my skin. This brief period of time in Germany would come to solidify my current day feelings about being a ‘diaspora babe’ and my place in the world.
It was time to move, AGAIN? You ask, but this time to London. I had visited London many times and liked it enough I guess for my mum to say – lets pack up and go. I’ve now went from living in a small white town to moving to a bustling metropolis like London. Upon arriving in London – I was immediately taken aback – in the way I was when I arrived back in Ghana. I went to school with people who looked like me ? Who ate Fufu, Banku, and Omotou with their hands just like me? Me and my mum were now able to go to a market – within walking distance to get ingredients for Ghanaian food and ughhh hair products! Back in Germany, we would drive an hour to Bremen just to be faced with a small selection of options which we were grateful for at the time.
I was quick to renounce my German-ness and immediately adopted my Ghanaian identity – it became a source of pride , not shame. Although arguably being culturally German at this point – it didn’t mean anything to me. I finally felt like I was at home and accepted.
But you see, this false sense of acceptance is short lived in your childhood, as you grow and expand into the world and leave the walls of comfort, you realise, acceptance in this part of the world may always just be a facade.
Right – we skipped a few years, you know another story for another day type of vibe. 2013 dierrr, it holds significance. It was the first time I had visited Ghana since I left in 2004! 9 years of being estranged from my place of Birth, it sure didn’t feel like it – I spoke Twi, I ate Fufu on Sundays after church, attended christenings where meat pie, bofort and malt was served as snack. I was Ghanaian right? X wrong. The thought of going to Ghana distraught me, I was not pleased, I begged my mother, why do we have to go? I wanted to go somewhere in Europe – like all my friends had visited. Suddenly at the age of 14, my Ghanaian identity was no longer a shield of pride- but it was not recognised. I saw myself as assimilating into British culture, being British and feeding in to the nonsensical narrative of what Africa is like. You see I don’t know about you, but in 2013, being African was not perceived as a particularly cool thing, we became the butt of all jokes that were made.
July 2013 – After crying my eyes out – we boarded the plane. I was in Accra- the city I had seen with my childlike eyes and through melodramatic Ghollywood/ Nollywood films. I was there. 6 weeks in a place I no longer recognised. In 2013 – I was a pimply teenager who behaved as if I’d been sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. I MOANED. I moaned about the internet, about the street hawkers, about the noise, the potholes, the heat, the air conditioning, the traffic and the fucking chicken that woke me up at 5:45 every morning. Something shifted during my second half of my stay. Something shifted in me – I became grateful, humbled, blessed and regained my sense of pride. I enjoyed all my distant relatives again. I became startled and fascinated by the city where I took my first breath. I loved it, I loved the people and their slowness, the noise, the smells, the FOOD. I fell in love with Accra.
The impact this trip had on me? I cant even put it into words. This trip saved my life, quite literally. Prior to this trip , I was heading down a dangerous path – gambling with my education and endluging in things that could have been detrimental to my future. Coming back to Ghana, renegerised me, I felt a sense of purpose,obligation and pride. I became aware of my identity, who I am and where I come from. After a lengthy 6 weeks, I returned to England, focused and driven like never before. I owe everything that I am and will be to that trip, it became the start of great things in my life and ignited a never ending passion for Ghanaian socio-economic affairs and a general interest about the continent.
Whew, I’ve taken you guys through a time machine. Well lets talk about where we are now, since my initial visit back to Ghana in 2013, I have been back several times! I absolutely love it there – Ghana is my peace, where my spirit feels grounded and whole, the only place where the word home can ever be associated with to me. I have had various different internship opportunities that are to do with development and sustainability in Africa. I worked hard in my academics and achieved exceptional grades, as a university student I am currently continuing to do so. My research product for my undergraduate degree will focus on diaspora migration and the impacts this will have/has had so far on the country. I aim to keep myself informed of Ghana’s socio economic and political affairs taking a particular interest in education. I see myself returning to Ghana for good and contributing to the society which made me whole and gave me my life and purpose.
So if you ask me, am I there, or am I here? What would my answer be? My answer would be both. I am here in London, where I’d use init excessively.. Yet I am also there, in Accra, where I say chale and have mastered walking in slippers on a deep red sandy road. Although I’d like to think – I’m there more than I am here.
If you’ve come this far, thank you so much for reading and supporting my tiny blog! Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss any of my posts.
ABG x ❤