As I type this, I find myself at my desk, guided by my fluorescent lamp as my standing fan soothes me into believing that the Ghanaian heat and humidity is but a myth. Just over two weeks ago, France was where I lived, French was what I was speaking, and fromage was part of my way of life. In a couple of months, England is going to be my base and only goodness knows what comes next. Not to mention that before France, there was a whole year in Canada; before Canada, England; before England, Ghana again; preceded by an early childhood in England…basically it’s safe to say that my years thus far have been something of a nomadic, not-so-straightforward existence, rendering the questions “where are you from?” and “where are you based?” almost dreaded phrases. Regardless, every last experience in all of these places has shaped me into a person I can say I’m pretty proud of.
Thankfully, I am at peace with my answer to the first question now: Ghana-blooded, England-born, lived more or less half my life in both places but my heart is definitely in Ghana. However, it wasn’t always this way…
I was born in England over two decades ago in Hammersmith, London to a young Ghanaian couple very much in love. A little over two years later, my first brother came into the picture. For the next eight or so years, we had English schooling, English accents, English tastes, and very little intention (if any at all) to be acquainted with Africa, with all its bigheaded, pot-bellied, starving children and wars (thanks, donation adverts!). According to my mum, my teacher back then had told her at a PTA meeting once that I appeared uncomfortable talking about Africa in class whenever we chanced upon the topic of the continent. Not that you could blame my kid self, having only been bombarded with negative news whenever the land of my ancestors was mentioned. I had no other concept of the place, save for our two brief holidays in Ghana where at least a fraction of my preconceptions were proven wrong (such as me thinking my Grandpa might not have a TV—those couldn’t possibly exist there, right?).
So you can imagine my horror when in 2000, it was announced that we’d be moving to Ghana for good. I bawled, I screamed, I said I didn’t want to move there, that it wasn’t going to happen, that it wouldn’t be possible all the way to the airport, into the plane, and then while hitting the Kotoka tarmac amidst clapping and cheers of other Ghanaian passengers. Oh well, this was it then.
I was enrolled in a typical “tea-and-bread” school where you’d be lashed if you didn’t do your homework and there was no such thing as cleaners coming in to sort things out—this was the pupil’s responsibility. I still remember how at first I didn’t know how to hold a typical Ghanaian stick broom, and how the other kids laughed at me, and how I ended up crying and running to the teacher (cringe). Fortunately, I adjusted eventually and now look back with fondness at the days of marching to class after assembly to the beat of the drum, “Our Day” where we’d go to school in mufti, bringing plenty of good food and music, among other great memories.
Two years later I moved to an upmarket international school, quite a far cry from the humble yet happy place I had come to love. Here, designer tags were as common as polythene rubber bags—I had never seen so many rich kids in one place! This was another experience altogether, but long story short I loved it, too. Though initially daunted, I grew up a lot, realised money wasn’t everything, that not everybody there was the same, and got an education and friendships that I will forever be grateful for.
After an exciting gap year in Ghana and hectic application process, I found myself back in England for university. At this point, I definitely felt Ghanaian more than anything else, but I found myself literally grappling with my identity. How would I identify myself—would I go all “Black British” because I was born there and spent half my life there, or would I be a Ghanaian girl through and through because this is what I had grown to be? This was in no way made easier by the clear distinction between home and international students and the fact that I could relate to both sides. Even when I’d just say I was from Ghana, due to my accent (which is VERY diluted) home students would ask me, “no, where about in England are you from?” after which I would launch into the story of my England-Ghana-England life followed by “oooos” and “aahhs” and whichever other elongated vowel sounds you fancy. In the end though, I came to accept and appreciate being able to relate to both sides to a large degree and enjoyed this unique standpoint.
The next stop was Canada. Save for the Arctic winter, I adored this place. One interesting thing though was how, according to Canadians, I had a “[British] accent.” I had never consciously thought about it seriously, but hearing the sharp contrast of mine against theirs somewhat amused me. Couple that with being often the only black girl in a class and an outspoken one at that, and you often had the whole class turn around to find out who on earth was speaking like that? I have never had so much fun voicing my opinion to be honest—for some weird reason, a lot of people loved the accent, even with its added Ghanaian spices. Thankfully, by this point I believe my identity issues were long solved.
After Canada, the beautiful French city of Lyon was to be my home for the next couple of months (all these exchanges were due to the nature of my study programme). In summary, it was the most bittersweet of all my solo years abroad, which has borne a new resilience, patience, perseverance, and independence in me I never knew could exist.
The interesting thing is that from the time I stepped foot back in England for university up to now, I have developed a whole new love for Africa—one that dwarfs what I thought I felt while there. It’s almost like it took leaving Africa to understand and appreciate my “Africanness.” I studied extra hard for my common entrance exam into the international school so I would not have to cut my hair—now, it’s been over a year since I first decided to cut every permed end off and let the kinks reign. I used to not care so much about Ghana’s peculiarities—now, no-one even needs to ask me and I will be singing Ghana’s praises, bent on eradicating (or at least reducing) the ignorance a lot of people have concerning Africa and life there, the very ignorance I had been plagued with in my early years.
Though I have spent the past three years gallivanting about outside Ghana, social media has kept me very much in touch with the goings-on on the ground and I have made some very valuable connections and friendships through it. It’s AMAZING how many other Ghanaians—Africans—are totally changing the game and raising the bar. I am eager to move back sooner than later, and be an active part of what I would call our renaissance. This is definitely our time. Fortunately, through platforms like Facebook, distance hasn’t held me back too much, as I’ve been able to start a dynamic photography group as well as a women’s network from my laptop, connecting people from all over (though mainly Ghana-based). Having met people from other parts of Africa with the same passion for the continent has only made the desire to move back and affect the change we want to see infinitely stronger.
Now, still sitting at my desk, my insides are warm with gratitude to be back. The question “where are you based” still begs thought, but at the end of the day Ghana is where my heart is. Hopefully, when I’m back for good, all my experiences can be put to best use. When exactly is not certain, but I will be back. That much, I can say.