Why I’m Leaving For Ghana

I was born Adelaide Nana Agyemang in Kumasi, Ghana and I lived there for the first four years of my childhood surrounded by a large biological and extended family.  I have almost no memories of those early years, however, or the people who were important to me during them.  When I was four, my father entered a lottery to win a Visa to America and won.  He left Kumasi for three months, and my mother and took her three daughters to live in Accra with her family.  Soon, when my father raised enough money, the rest of our immediate family joined him New Jersey.  Since then, I have lived in the U.S. for my entire life. I’ve never traveled, and I’ve never been able to return to Ghana.

Throughout all of these years since my family left Ghana, my parents promised us that somehow, we would find enough money to go back as a family. They would tell us stories of the people they loved back home and the things we would do when we could finally afford to visit. When we were kids, my siblings and I didn’t really mind the fact that we hadn’t been to Ghana since we were born. My parents, however, desperately wanted to go back home. The only time this was possible, however, was when my grandfather died and my Dad went back briefly to bury him; life, it seemed; kept getting in the way.

My childhood experience of assimilating into America was, in retrospect, a tragic combination of the kind of culture loss that inevitably occurs when one lives in a new environment and a willful, conscious abandonment on my part. As a child, I wanted to be an all-American girl more than I wanted to be a faerie, a princess, a witch, or a knight. I remember so clearly the sharp, painful longing I had for this wish. There were smaller moments, I’m sure, that helped culminate in this aspiration, but it must have really began when I was in the third or fourth grade and my sister Loretta and I were on the bus going home from school. We were so small then, sitting closely together on a seat and three boys had been teasing us about our dark complexions and foreign last names. The bus ride ended as they begin to chant, “Go back to Africa, go back to Africa”, and I remember my sister and I stumbling off the bus, sobbing in humiliation and hearing their howls of laughter behind us. In this moment, I think, the image of the African as an unwanted pariah in America began to form in my mind.

It was only in the latter years of high school when I began learning about and passionately loving other cultures did it even occur to me to try to understand and love my own.  Despite my new found desire to return to Ghana, it’s has always been something of a financially difficult process to find enough money to travel anywhere in my family of seven. However, this summer, due to the generosity of the Jennings Family who established a scholarship called the Jennings Family Brave Companions Fund at Carnegie Mellon University, I will be not only be able to return home to Ghana, but I will be able spend six weeks studying abroad at the University of Ghana at Legon.  The study abroad program in Accra, Ghana will, I hope, give me an opportunity to meaningfully reconnect with my heritage.  This is the greatest opportunity and honor I have been given in my life.  I am already thrilled even when I just imagine all the experiences and people I will encounter on this journey although, to be honest, my imagination sputters when I try and think about what meeting my family for the first time since I was four will be like.

I’m not sure if Ghana is still my home in same way that it belongs to my parents. I am often terrified that my family in Ghana will reject my Westernized self with the same cold finality that I abandoned them with when I was younger.  I lost the ability to speak my native language and never really bothered to learn about Ghanaian history or tradition until recently.   However, regardless of what happens two weeks from now when I board my first international flight as a young adult, I know that I won’t return as exactly the as the same person I was before I left.  I hope that I will be better able to reconcile my Ghanaian- American identity and I can convey this experience in an interesting and engaging manner to you, the reader.