African American Educator On Life, Love, And Repatriation Work In Ghana
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That’s how native Mississippian Akosua Boateng says her life abroad in Ghana unfolded.
"As a child, I’d always had a connection with Africa. My mom was a civil rights activist. So, we always grew up knowing that was a place we came from and that we had a long line of ancestors."
Years later Akosua had an opportunity to experience the Africa she grew up hearing about. Through a Fulbright scholarship, she was able to visit Ghana in 2003. It was a tour that ignited the young teacher with a passion for Ghanaian culture, so much so that she returned to Ghana every year after that.
An Atlanta-based educator, Akosua felt pulled to do more than just visit the west African nation. She decided she wanted to open up a school there. A chance encounter with Ghanaians at an expo in Atlanta helped Akosua’s dream became a reality.
"I told them I’d been to Ghana and I wanted to open up a school. One of them said, 'Oh here’s my cousin’s number. She’s the Ghana Education Services director,'" she recollected.
Akosua followed up on the connection upon returning to Ghana. It lent her enough support to be able to open up her very first school, located in Agogo, a village in Ghana’s Ashanti region.
By October of 2006, the doors to Akosua’s Youth Institute of Science & Technology had opened to local children. A second campus has since been opened and the institute recently celebrated its first graduating class.
"Those first babies that were with me - they graduated this year and went on to what would be the tenth grade in America. It was very emotional and monumental."
Ghana, also affectionately referred to as the “Black Star of Africa”, was not the only place on the continent that captured Akosua’s heart. A second Fulbright tour in 2010 endowed her with a love for Tanzania.
"There’s something about the people in Tanzania that I like. Ghana has nice hospitality and the people are very welcoming. You don’t find the same hospitality in Tanzania, but the people’s energy - it’s just a different feel.
"And I like the way Tanzania looks. Ghana has a lot of sanitation issues. It’s rough in terms of the eye. Tanzania is very beautiful. It’s very serene. I absolutely fell in love with Zanzibar. That’s my favorite place in the whole wide world," she said.
Love At First Sight
Yet, the shores of West Africa once again beckoned Akosua’s spirit.
She eventually returned to Ghana and married a Ghanaian national. The couple met at a local nightclub during Akosua's first year in Ghana.
"We got into an argument at the club," Akosua reflected, "He was a bouncer and I was complaining about the music. I was very naive. You know, I thought I was gonna come to a club and hear like African drumming. But they were playing Celine Dion. And I was like I didn’t come to Africa to hear Celine Dion.
"I was like I know how to spin and I’m a radio DJ in America so I can get this club popping. So I went in there with that arrogance. And my husband at the time was a bouncer, he was really catering to me. Like just relax. Let me see what I can do with the DJ.
"Since then we were friends for a long time. But I knew I loved him when I first saw him. It was like love at first site. He came to see me the next day and I knew right then there was something special."
Wedding Into Ghanaian Culture
Ten years later the couple married. Though Ghanaian tradition gave Akosua anything but the wedding she’d always envisioned for herself.
"I was sad a little bit because it wasn’t what I had in mind. You know how we always have these visions of what our wedding day will be like? Mine didn’t look anything like that. I didn’t have any of my best friends, none of my girls. No one from my family."
Akosua's Ghanaian wedding day came as a bit of a surprise. After a family meeting, the couple was quickly ushered into marriage. Ten years of dating hadn’t sat well with her older soon-to-be in-laws.
"We really got married because of his tradition. The elders came and asked us what we were doing because we were mature people. I was asked that question on a Wednesday and I was married by a Friday.
"The way it unfolded, I didn’t know until the day before. At the time I was confused about what they call an engagement and what we call marriage. Their real marriage is called an engagement."
Akosua added that marrying into Ghanaian culture has highlighted how distanced African Americans are from their ancestral lineage.
"Being with my husband is almost like a mirror. And it’s also like a time warp. When I learn about his culture it’s like I’m learning about everything that African Americans were before we were brought to America."
"When there’s a family dispute, it is brought into a family forum and it is settled. Everybody is heard and there is a decision made. Everybody accepts the decision and moves forward. I find it is the one thing that has been destroyed and is missing in the African American way of life,” she explained.
Akosua says there are also staunch differences between how African American and Ghanaian youth are raised.
"The way that their families practice cooperative economics and take care of each other. The way that they all even live in one house is different from African Americans.
"As African Americans, you always have this fear that at like 16 or 17 when you get out of high school you have to get out of your parents’ house. That’s what I was always preached.
"When I got to Ghana it was nothing like that. There was no expectation that you should ever leave your house. It’s not a standard of independence. You’re not measured by it. But in America the first thing you’re taught is, 'Can you stand on your own two feet by yourself with no help,'" she said.
Life In A Rural Ghanaian Village
Yet, Ghanaian culture has been no utopia for Akosua.
She and her husband live in a rural village in Ghana, three hours outside of the capital city of Accra. Akosua says that despite being able to speak enough Twi to communicate with locals, she has found other conditions difficult to adapt to.
"The more difficult things I had to learn was the way to dress. In Ghana when you’re a teacher you’re held in a very high regard. There is a silent judgment between all teachers and educators. I am from two hours outside of NYC. I wear sneakers and shorts. I’m an athletic person, like a basketball person.
"On a Saturday I wanna dress like me. I don’t want to put on a long dress to go around the corner to the market just to get some tomatoes."
Akosua has also found certain societal norms hard to accept.
"I have long dreadlocks so that was also a cultural taboo. When I first arrived in Ghana there were no women with locs. I would go to the Ghana Educational Services lady and she would say, 'Oh Akosua, when are you cutting your hair, this thing here is very disgusting.'"
Guiding Others To Repatriation
Despite these trials, Akosua continued on to find success in Ghana. Aside from managing her two schools, both in rural Ghanaian villages, she formed her firm, “Akosua and Associates”. The lifestyle consultancy boasts educational andentertainment components. It also offers repatriation services for foreigners interested in moving to Ghana.
"There's a whole bunch of African Americans here doing their own thing. For people that are repatriating it should be a lot easier since there’s already a sizable community in the country, but it’s not so. Every person that comes here goes through their own struggle. Many of them end up packing up and leaving."
Akosua stressed a crucial need to strengthen the network between African Americans interested in moving to Ghana and those who have already relocated. She also feels there is a lack of cohesion within the African American community of Ghana.
"All of these African Americans are here," she said, "and we don’t have a traceable sizable economic collective contribution to this country. So we’re in the country but we don’t have any say in the country."
Acquiring Land In Ghana
According to Akosua, land ownership is a key way for expats to become integrated into Ghanaian society. She explained that while newer laws prohibit foreigners from owning land in Ghana, they can obtain land as a leaseholder until they become a citizen.
"What I’ve found is when I became a land owner things changed and I received a different level of respect. I’m certain that was because they felt, 'She’s one of us and she’s not going anywhere. She’s not passing through.'
"When you finish [acquiring land] you’re going to speak a little language. You’ll know a little something about the hierarchy of the traditional systems. You’re going to be more in depth about the families in that community and you’ll have a different kind of respect," she said.
Akosua reflected on the criticism she has received after starting her repatriation consultancy services. She said many believe information about moving to Ghana should be free. Despite feeling ostracized by some she still firmly believes in the value of her services.
"If you don’t know anyone here, I can make sure that someone meets you at the airport. I can make sure that from the airport you go to a decent place to live depending on what type of experience you want to have. I can make sure that if you want to business network that you meet the right people.
"If you want to buy land, yes, I sell land and I can make sure that your land doesn’t end up in court being litigated. Land litigation is one of the number one problems that foreigners have.
"If people are interested in moving to Ghana I can pretty much guarantee a successful journey."
What THE Future Holds
A seasoned entrepreneur Akosua advocates foreigners repatriate with the goal of being a business owner. As for her own firm, an exciting year lies ahead with projects lined up in both the U.S. and Ghana.
"We’re getting ready to host the Ghana Entertainment Awards and the Natural Crowns Hair Show. There’s a lot on the horizon that I’m excited about. I’m just moving full speed ahead."
"It’s a life path journey for me and I’m gonna ride it by the horns."
If you’d like to get in touch with Akosua about her repatriation services, you can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She also provided more detail on everyday life in Ghana, just below:
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Read more reflections from African Americans living in West Africa here.