ACCRA, Ghana — I am an alien. A foreigner. Easily, if not instantaneously, identifiable. Whether the dead giveaway is my diamond stud in my left ear, my shaved bald head a la Michael Jordan or the two visible, modest chains I wear around my neck — one a black sterling silver cross, the other a silver dog tag bearing a portrait of my beloved grandmother — I do not know.
Perhaps it is my African-American swag — my 230 pounds or my broad 48-inch chest. I am not loud, not obnoxious, not arrogant or flamboyant, not assertive of any red-blooded American privilege. Still, I stick out like a sore thumb.
I have inquired of a few Ghanaians how they can so quickly discern my Americanness. They won’t exactly say. We chuckle.
Whatever it is, clear to me in the staring, then averting eyes, even without me having spoken a word, is that they quickly ascertain that I am not one of them but instead, a member of the lost tribe.
In a month’s time here, this much is clear: That my first visit to the West African nation 14 years ago made me feel for the first time in my life free — not like a Black man, just a man. But upon my return, I now feel like an alien among everyday people — outside of Cape Coast and the usual tourist fare — where I have been immersed in this nation’s heartbeat and soul. As a resident.
‘What’s he doing here?’
I love Ghana. I love its beauty, its people and have felt the embrace of some brothers and sisters here.
But barely a day goes by when I am not slapped with a reminder of my status, granted by my American passport and my Ghanaian visa. I am detectable by the Uber or taxi driver, the airport security guard, by the clerk at a mall clothing store, the Realtors or someone else who sees me as a foreign fat pocket.
Or I am the recipient of some slight — an obnoxious and disrespectful cut in line. By frowns as I pass on the street. By an attempt to exact a higher price or by stares of disdain as I walk that say, “What’s he doing here?”
I am here because I love Ghana. I have come to give and not to take anything at all, except the breath of freedom. To place my feet again here upon this soil and sands from which Black bodies departed more than 400 years ago.
In my heart, I also pondered Ghanaian citizenship. Romanticized life in a land devoid of white racism. But I did not fathom discrimination based on nationality, or intra-racism, in a land of people mostly Black like me.
Maybe, in the end, I will chalk my current feelings up to “growing pains,” to “culture shock” or simply the pathway to deeper revelations about the place for me in what remains of my mortal days.
“We want the Black Americans here,” some Ghanaians I have questioned have assured.
“You are our brothers,” some have told me.
They acknowledge the existence of the resistance I feel but insist it is not prevailing. Among them, a taxi driver who recently shuttled me to the airport to pick up my son fresh from America.
While waiting for my son outside Kotoka International Airport, the driver remarks, “There are a lot of Black American women traveling here” today.
“How can you tell they are African American?” I ask.
(Silence) “… It is the shape of their bodies.” He meant they were fat.
No prejudice there. Nope. Just my imagination. (Sarcasm.)
I share my encounters with two sisters from America now making a home in Ghana. They empathize. Three weeks into their journey, they tell me, they almost called it quits but are now happily settling in after a year, with no plans of ever returning to America. Their words give me hope. Their mac & cheese and hot water cornbread soothe my soul.
I am enlightened by the clarity born here in just a few weeks: That I am American by blood and African by blood. That Africa is my ancestral Motherland. But America is my Homeland.
And that America — for good, bad or greater — will always be home. No apology needed. And absolutely none given.
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Follow John Fountain’s journey in Ghana at: www.hearafricacalling.com