During my first week in Ghana, my father took me to his hometown, a mining town called Akwatia in the Eastern Region. It’s where both he and my mother were born and raised. During my time there, I met my paternal grandfather, my dad’s younger sister, my parents’ friends, and relatives, my mom’s sister, my mom’s brother, my maternal cousins, and a bunch of other people that my father grew up with. Overwhelming is an understatement.
We were toward the end of my weekend-long stay, and I had to head back to Accra because I worked the next day (had serious first-day-of-work jitters). My mother’s younger sister, Auntie Vida, insisted that she wanted to head back to Accra with us, so before we made our way, we stopped by her place.
We pulled up in front of the house and my father told me to phone her-- unbeknownst to him, having been in the states for so many years, I don’t think he realized that we were in an area where cars rarely parked in front of homes without capturing everyone’s attention. So about a minute after we parked, Auntie Vida and my grandpa came out of the house carrying some bags. They were large (dang auntie we going to Accra or Narnia?) and my father assisted them as they placed everything into the trunk. I sat in the passenger seat of the vehicle the whole time, focused on getting to Accra on time and texting my best friend.
My father spent a few minutes outside of the car conversing with my grandpa and aunty, and assured my grandpa that he’d come back to visit. My aunty got into the back seat (aht aht, they insisted that I remain in the front okay) and sat comfortably. She greeted me, then proceeded to converse with my dad’s sister (who was also heading to Accra) in the back seat.
As I sat there texting considerably, my grandpa walked over to the passenger seat window and wished me well on my new job. He then handed me a small white plastic bag that appeared to have cards in it.
“These are photos of your mom, I gathered them for you,” he said in Twi, then smiled.
I was very happy to have been leaving my mom’s family home with memorabilia. I thanked my grandpa and squealed with excitement as I opened the bag, excited to flip through the photos.
At this time, my father, and two aunties were in the car conversing and laughing. Those of you who know my family know that we are all jokesters. In fact, my father might as well have been performing stand-up in that car (this needs to be its own post because he’s a whole comic.)
As I flipped through the photos, my throat began to dry up... I was overcome with emotion. My heart raced as I found myself living vicariously through my mom through each photo I saw of her. I found myself comparing all of her features to mine. Her eyes. Her hair. Her smile. I’d never seen so many photos of my mother at so young.
Then, I came across a photo that did it for me.
It was a photo that had quite a few people in it, roughly 14 people, but the stars of the shot were my mom and brother. (My father was in the U.S. at the time.)
My mother was draped in a kaba and slit, her tresses relaxed, short and curled. She had on hoops, a gold chain, and a cute watch that I’d definitely have to “borrow” if I were present at the time. She wore a pair of black flats to complete the look.
She was sort of staring into the distance. This photo was a candid shot for everyone pictured except for my (little) big brother, who looked into the camera for the shot, posed and prepared for the flash to go off. He was wearing an ntoma (or Ankara, if you will) shirt and short set with brown shoes that buckled and of course, you guessed it… a gold chain.
As I looked at the photo, all I could think of was the word SACRIFICE.
Sacrificed so much so that my brothers and I could have the best possible life.
Left her friends and family behind to migrate to a country where she knew no one.
My father had a sibling in the U.S., and my parents would unite in the states (no pun intended, hope you caught that), but she didn’t know anyone else.
In the photo, my mother was standing behind my brother almost as though she was protecting him. Her stance also represented a lot for me, being the strong woman that she is.
I looked sacrifice in its face, and also thought of all of my peers whose parents had to do the exact same. It doesn’t matter what country your parents migrated to the states from. Be it Ghana or D.R. or Bangladesh, all I could think of was the post-migration depression that must’ve occurred and the unhealthy coping mechanisms like brushing feelings off or ignoring them altogether that first-gens’ parents dealt with.
In the photo, there were so many people around, people my mom knew her whole life. Friends. Family members. Acquaintances.
Relationships that could be maintained despite distance, even if frequent visits are made, but would never be the same.
I feel the exact same way towards my dad having to sacrifice his comfortability to move to a land unfamiliar to him in search of better opportunities, but this picture in particular arose sentiments specifically for my mom.
I was the first of my parents’ children that they had in the states. In that moment, all I could think of is also the added pressure of being successful. Wheww, first gens, we have a responsibility for real. And I hope you aren’t taking the opportunities in America for granted—I pray that you aren’t, because I know quite a few people who would take your place in a snap.
As I stared at the photo, I also thought about how much different my life could’ve been. I was reminded that the only difference between me and anyone I’d encountered on the roads in Akwatia was an invitation letter, a visa approval, and a flight.
NOTHING. Let me say that again. NO-THING validates me or my experience more than anyone else. It is only by the grace of God. The same goes for you. And I don’t say this to devalue anyone else’s life trajectory, but just to say that things could’ve been very different for myself and my family. Not necessarily negatively, I’m a strong believer that if you are favored, you will triumph in any setting. But, in the sense that goals would’ve been significantly more difficult to attain. It would’ve been more difficult to be noticed. In some instances, financial status would speak louder than my capabilities.
My grandpa got super uncomfortable and sad that I was crying and pleaded with me to stop crying. He kind of backed away from the passenger's seat window, worried that his presence there was making it worse. My father’s large voice accompanied by his boisterous laughter was enough to drown the sounds of my sniffles. I know that in the corner of his eye, he noticed me wiping my tears, but he didn’t want to draw my aunties’ attention to it, so he continued to perform his sit-down stand-up act.
I thanked my grandpa repeatedly for the photos. Something I’ll cherish forever. Being born and raised in the US, I’d only seen like 5 photos of my parents pre-America, half of which I viewed via WhatsApp.
My heart is racing just typing this and re-living that moment.
The next day, I called my mom crying. She was on the bus on her way home from work (Bx1 we liive) , extremely worried but trying to maintain her cool because she was in public. She asked me if I was okay, in the most collected voice I think I'd ever heard. I told her about the photos, the emotions, and just thanked her. It was a lot. She told me to stop crying and that she’d call me when she got home.