Reasporans: the new African returnees

The number of people with Ghanaian heritage returning to the Motherland is reportedly increasing. Not surprising with the lure of oil and natural gas opportunities in the country. Other reasons for the increase is the desire for returnees to reconnect with their culture, identity, and getting some sun and more wholesome food!

Interestingly, being able to find the data to support what has become fact in Ghana is a little harder to come by. Even the International Organization for Migration, which kept coming up in my Google search, was not able to furnish me with the information, let alone the Ghana Ministry for the Interior's migration unit.

But what I thought was more telling was despite my detailed search for 'Ghanaians migrating back to Ghana', Google was more interested in throwing up searches on migration from Ghana to the West. It was almost as if the reverse movement did not exist or was not as important....

Even without these figures to hand, the wave of migration is real and not merely confined to parents of pensionable age. Those in their 40s, 30s and even 20s are moving back in their droves - so much so that a new word has even been coined.

Returnees
‘Reasporan’ is a word I heard 24 hours after landing in Ghana recently. The word is a hybrid of returnees and diasporans, and refers to those returning from the diaspora. The word was uttered by one of a group of actresses on a local Accra radio station who had made the decision to return to her ancestral home after living in the West - something I am hoping to be one someday.
Reasporans in 'An African City' © 'An African City'

Unlike many returnees however, I was not born, or ever schooled in Ghana. My connection to the country comes from my parents who were born there, and the regular visits there that my brother and I looked forward to as children.

I did a trial return in 2008 on the cusp of the economic crash. Although in one sense, I was “coming home” in another, the experience of returning threw up new challenges centred around identity and culture. 

Luckily for me, I was able to secure a job through my then boyfriend and was immediately in work during my eight months in Ghana. (The initial plan was for three months but I just kept extending it).

With the job thing sorted, the process of integration was a lot easier. The main reason being because I became part of the day-to-day workforce – commuting and interacting with fellow Ghanaians on a regular basis.

Independence
One of my first challenges was being able to independently negotiate and understand the transport system. At first glance to me as a Westerner, the system seemed chaotic and confusing. Trotros (mini-buses) weaving in and out of traffic at the cost to pedestrians’ lives, and the use of honking horns instead of indicators meant bus stations resembled the middle of a commodity trading floor. 

Thanks to my soon-to-be husband, newly-made friends and a smattering of common sense, I soon realised that there was order and a clear system that had evaded me previously. I think that was because I was basing my understanding on a Western model of what constituted order.

I valued using the trotros because they allowed me to navigate Accra’s bustling city and even meant that by the time my mum came to visit me, I was showing HER how to get around.

Taxis can be nightmare for someone like me who has not mastered the art of haggling, or have an impeccable command of Twi (one of the most commonly spoken languages in Ghana). So for me, the standard price that a trotro fare costs saves me the hassle of negotiation, but still allows me to get around the city.

I would say that achieving some level of independence in a sometimes alien city helped to cushion me from the more challenging and painful experiences that followed.

Culture shock
I say painful because my assumption about coming to live in Ghana had been that the prejudices that I had grown up facing in Britain would be non-existent here. I assumed I would be welcomed with open arms, much in the same way that Ghana’s policy under former president Kufuor attempted to welcome US diasporans able to trace their roots back home.

My experience was far more complex and was tinged with negative experiences from some Ghanaians I encountered who were quick to label me as an 'obruni’ white person or foreigner. Unbeknownst to me, my hairstyle, style of dress and even the way I walked betrayed me as an obvious foreigner in the eyes of locals. 

This was a difficult pill to swallow because for some of us Ghanaians born abroad, we don’t always feel we have a true home in either our country of birth or our ancestral home. At the same time, separation from the cultural practices, language, and customs and our Western viewpoints can put us at a disadvantage to our Ghanaian brothers and sisters.

I also remember a horrible incident when I was trying to cross one of Achimota's unruly roads. I managed to get to a reservation area to pick a trotro when all I felt was a sharp burning tingling pain on my arm. I turned and saw a car drive off with the driver withdrawing his hand. I could not believe that someone could have had the audacity to pull out his hand and slap me in a moving car. It was painful but far more bruised was my ego. Ghanaians do not ramp koraa!

The positives
But my experiences in Ghana have not all been bad, there are positive differences. Being able to have good food on tap is something that I revel in when I am in Ghana. I can be sitting in my beloved trotro, thinking of something yummy and an almost endless array of foods such as fried yam and shitoh (pepper sauce) sold by ladies sashaying by would be there to tempt me. All without me having to leave my seat!!

I also value being part of a wider family network of aunties, uncles, cousins  grandparents that does not exist in the same way in Britain. In Ghana, there is a sense of community. Complete strangers will advise you, scold you and stop and talk to you or show care instead of walking on by - as is often done on Britain's streets. Life in Ghana is undoubtedly different and it's been nice to be able to celebrate those differences and see them played out in a new mini YouTube web-series.

Home from home
The series called An African City centres on the lives of five women who, having lived in Europe and the US, but decide to come home to Ghana. Interestingly, all of the characters are real life returnees who have decided to settle back in Ghana. And one of the characters, like me, has never lived in Ghana at all.

Topics discussed include how they are received by their hosts, finding employment, love and getting to grips with the day-to-day challenges of 'light-off' [power cuts] and there being no Starbucks.

While it is obvious to see why people are calling it the African Sex in the City (even the writer Nicole Amarteifio does), I think the series is much richer than that. For me, it captures and weaves in much of the socioeconomic and political discourse that is ever-present in Ghana today.

It explores and challenges the often one-dimensional image of the African female and discusses dealing with cultural adjustment. But check it out here yourself and see what you think.
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong

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Talking TV with 'An African City' with creator Nicole Amarteifio


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