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Escape from desert snakes: A Ghanaian struggle to reach London (Part 1)



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ONE post-modern irony is that we are all economic migrants now. Into that truth is the fact that we live in a more liberalised world of liberty, opportunity, tolerance and adventure. Daily, thousands of mankind leave homes, families, friends and neighbours behind to search the world for opportunities and survival. There is no way we can placate a restive spirit fighting to break out of its prison of lack, poverty and disease. Man, with all his terrible faults, is a homo realist who likes to work out a plan of survival in order to preserve his own specie.

Since the creation of the world, human beings have been on the run. There are Biblical precedents in the great passage of Exodus from Egypt to Israel through the Red Sea and other movements embodied in the personalities of Moses, Joseph and Jacob. God, in his awesome wisdom, laid down the principle of survivalist migration in the Bible. As Jehovah Tsebaioth, the Lord of Hosts, his words are:”Do not be terrified; do not be afraid…….”
Faith in the word of God has led to a growing migration industry of Africans who roam around the world looking for opportunities and survival. Daily, many Africans have to reborn in their imagination a new place, country and continent. Intrepid adventurers with brave souls have dared challenges to cross over into a new place, a new country and a new continent. Their morbid dread of poverty, capsized destiny and fear of losing in the lottery of life has brought them perilously close to death but somehow survived against all odds to enact epic stories of courage, endurance and wit.

ALSO SEE: What do you do in London? (Part 1)

When I met Richard Kuffour, nothing prepared me for his story of self-creation, self-discovery and self-fashioning. He is the embodiment of globalisation in a human form. One Saturday evening, I drove down to my North London Ghanaian restaurant hideout called Lomlova in Tottenham. It is in my gene to go to any length to assuage my appetite for haute cuisine. Lomlava, without being apologetic, serves the best fish and roasted plantain that side of London. Unlike Nigerians, Ghanaians are cultural preservers who love their music above western rubbish. In Lomlova, there is a palpable mad contempt for western music except Ghanaian high life. As a man about town, my body chemistry would not revolt against a bottle of chilled Guinness, a hot bowl of fish and roasted plantain and the socio-sexual gyration embedded into Ghanaian highlife.

With my glasses perched precariously while my eyes roamed round like radar, I saw a dashing man coming toward my table flashing his teeth. What draws people to me like magnet, I still could not understand! As a writer, I see every man as a piece of my unfinished story of humanity. I prey on people and sound them out to add to that awesome repertoire of human knowledge and experience. Shall we hear Richard in his own words…….?

ALSO SEE: What do you do in London? (Part 2)

“I lived in Nigeria between 1986 and 92. I used to live in Olodi Apapa, a place of real squalor, poverty and heroic pointlessness. I came at the invitation of my uncle who had been living in Nigeria since 1982. Charlie, that experience betrayed the picture of Nigeria I had in mind. My uncle had a successful business in Ghana but due to the Busia purge, he lost everything and voted with his leg to Nigeria. In Nigeria, mu uncle first worked as a gateman for one big industrial company in Apapa Wharf. So when I came in, I had to look for work. First, I worked as factory hand but that job was too hard then I turned into a nomadic tailor, the iconic ‘obioma’ or ‘ejika ni shop’ to control my time and freedom.

From dawn to dusk, I had to bear so much insult, taunts and jeers from Nigerians, who, believe it or not, are not better than me. After about one year, I got a job as a teacher of English in a private run school in Gbagada. Sorry, I did not mention that I graduated with 2:1 in English Literature from Legon, in Ghana. The teaching job was like a thread that held my life together. I worked harder than most Nigerians, stayed late and even worked on Saturdays and Sundays. After 2 years I gained the trust of the headmistress and she entrusted the affairs of the school in my care. I changed home from the shacks of Olodi Apapa to a small, well appointed one-bed flat in Gbagada. There my story changed!
In my spare time, I used to write a cousin in London who had been a source of support and encouragement for my migration to Egypt as first port of call for my eventual UK destination. After five years at the school, the proprietor got me a travel visa to Egypt with a Nigerian passport. There is no apology for that impersonation, I was desperate and hunger for success and Europe. I lived in Egypt for an agonising two years in the slums of Cairo and sold household wares in the busy city to motorists. There, I came face-to-face with barely disguised Mediterranean racism against their African brothers. To them, they are better than us, black Africans, because of what I and other transit travellers did for our survival.

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While there, I met hundreds of Nigerian marooned in Cairo and eking out living doing dehumanising jobs and some women offering their body to the highest bidder in order to have enough dollars for the journey to Libya. In Cairo, we were treated like animals. I suffered brutality and daily my liberty was dependent on the dollars I gave out to the policemen who harassed and threatened me with deportation. In the evening, I will go and see friends to swap stories of struggle and survival and exchange intelligence on our mutual mission.