After sojourning abroad for well over 15 years, a young man returns to Ghana for a holiday. It’s Christmas – the season of giving – and he came along with a lot of goodies for a dear, old family friend and her household.

After distributing the gifts – including jeans, shoes and some jewellery – the young man is treated to a sumptuous bowl of fufu and palm-nut soup, which he thoroughly enjoys. After the meal he sits down with dear, old family friend for a chat about life abroad.

“You know what? It is just as well that I have no hope of going abroad and I’m still suffering here”, the woman says. “You see, God himself knows that the moment I land there, it will take a grader to make me return”.

The man tries to explain to her that life abroad is not all that rosy. It’s tough.

“Ah, my brother, no matter how hard life is out there, how can you compare it with life here?” she asks. “If it is that bad over there, how come you are still there over fifteen years after you left Ghana, eh?”

Most Ghanaians (and a good number of Africans living beneath the Sahara) see a chance to travel abroad, especially to Europe or America, as an escape to paradise. Some people give up all they have (which is often not much, really) on the services of so-called ‘connection men’ to help them get visas to travel abroad. In most cases, they get disappointed.

Others, who do not fancy their chances of acquiring a visa, take extreme risks just for the chance to see the paradise that is either Europe or America. For the risk takers, the journey to paradise isn’t complete without a stopover in hell – the treacherous desert, the choppy seas of the Mediterranean or, with limited supplies, the underbelly of a vessel whose destination they have no idea about.

After scheming, planning and plotting to get abroad, most African immigrants are often hit with the daunting realization that ‘paradise’, like they say in America, “is not all that it’s cracked up to be”. And that is the key message in Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng’s book, Abrokyir Nkommo – Reflections of a Ghanaian Immigrant.

It is an engaging collection of anecdotal pieces Nkrumah-Boateng has written over the years about life abroad – not just for him but for thousands of other African migrants. The articles draw a lot from his personal experiences (having lived under Queen Elisabeth’s government for almost two decades) as well as those of his close friends and associates.

Every immigrant from Oslo to Osaka and from Brussels to Brunswick will very easily identify with the stories he tells and his very intelligent observations and wisecracks.

For example, Nkrumah-Boateng’s conversation with his dear, old family friend, Akos (whom he considers a sister) will most definitely resonate with any migrant who has been away from home for any considerable length of time. It is often a very tough conversation. How do you convince someone who lives a life of penury in a third-world country with limited access to the very basics of life (water, healthcare, transport services, electricity, schools etc) that life at home is better than abroad?

“Life is hard, you say, but you are building a house, whilst the landlord of his ‘chamber and hall’ apartment is giving him grief with dark threats,” Nkrumah-Boateng writes in Abrokyir Nkomo. “Despite your complaints, you send money home regularly whilst he finds it a struggle to provide ‘chop money’ (housekeeping money) for his wife, even though he is a university graduate and he is working.”

In Abrokyir Nkomo, Nkrumah-Boateng raises several other difficult questions – not just for those who have moved abroad but also for the friends and relatives they left behind. He speaks vividly about the struggles of all those who have been forced by various circumstances to move away to a foreign land to eke out a living for themselves whiles thinking – constantly – of the best way to set themselves up for a possible return home. It’s a struggle and Nkrumah-Boateng captures it vividly in his book without any pretences.

For those, like Akos, who dream of a paradise abroad Abrokyir Nkomo offers an honest perspective on life abroad. Reading the book will not necessarily lead to a change of mind but it could serve as a useful guide for surviving (and, possibly thriving) in a foreign land.

For the immigrant who is struggling in the cold winter of Winnipeg and Helsinki, Abrokyir Nkomo will come in handy in those times when the spirit is low and the only way to lift it up is to feed the soul with some memories from back home. In such circumstances a reminder that you are not the only one caught up in the daily grind of life in a foreign land provides some consolation and the strength to keep on keeping on. Nkrumah-Boateng’s book provides such a helpful, friendly reminder.

There is even something in Abrokyir Nkomo for the foreigner, providing some insight about Ghanaian society and culture – especially for the first-time visitor and even those Ghanaians who have been away for far too long.

In Abrokyir Nkomo, Nkrumah-Boateng quite rightly strives not to pontificate – a product of the difficult conversation he had with his dear, old friend, Akos. “My encounter with Akos has stung me into a decision,” he writes. I no longer see any reason for actively dissuading anyone back home from travelling abroad to seek his fortunes. I don’t want to be called a hypocrite or worse, and I don’t want to lose my friends or my family relationships.” 

It’s a wise decision and it is exactly the reason why Abrokyir Nkomo is such an exciting, enjoyable and hard-to-put-down read.

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