She had a dream. She clung to it like a frightened infant who understood that a trip to its babysitter meant temporary separation from its mother. This dream was born in 1980 in Dreamville, a remote village in the eastern plains of the Main Region of Ghana. The dreamer, now a retiree, had gone back to her roots. Dreamville had no asphalt roads, subways, or skyscrapers. But the dreamer, Janet Smart, knew she wanted to visit the United States (perhaps the greatest nation on earth) ? and the White House ? someday. Twenty years later she did!
John Small, Janet’s nephew, arrived at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) on October 10, 2000, at 8:50 a.m. to meet his aunt. He waited anxiously as the arrival of Ghana Airways Flight GH660 was announced. Thirty-five minutes later, Janet appeared in BWI’s Arrival Hall, so exuberant that she could have been mistaken for a girl wooed with a box of chocolates to perform a task she was neither required to do nor was capable of performing satisfactorily.
John greeted Janet with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, the latter a sign of deference. After a few more hugs interspersed with laughter, they drove back to his residence in Alexandria, Virginia, discussing old family stories and adventures along the way. He had lowered the car windows on Interstate 495, so she would enjoy the cool, autumn breeze. Janet loved the light wind so much she remarked, “This must be God’s own air.” She smiled intermittently. Her face suddenly tightened as their conversation turned from family issues to concerns about John’s welfare. She had always worried about him.
Ten days later, John and Janet decided it was time to visit the White House in Washington, D.C. They rose early that morning and took turns showering. After enjoying a good breakfast, which consisted of kenkey, shittor and fried tilapia, the pair hailed a taxicab to the Van Dorn Metro Station. John bought two tickets at the counter for a total of $6.20. They then proceeded through a turnstile and headed for an escalator to wait for the Blue Line train. John held Janet’s hand as they stepped onto the escalator because Janet had always suffered from acrophobia and claustrophobia. John had never understood these trepidations.
The subway ride was Janet’s first, so she not surprisingly felt uneasy. Janet later confessed to John that she was very nervous when the train “disappeared” underground for what seemed like an eternity! The journey took them through several stops, notably the King Street Metro Station, the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the Pentagon Metro Station, the Arlington National Cemetery (where almost all military personnel killed in the line of duty are buried), and the Farragut West Metro Station, their final destination by rail.
John and Janet got off the train at Farragut West Metro and moved through another turnstile. Janet was pleasantly surprised when she noticed that their tickets were “swallowed” up by the ticketing machine attached to the turnstile. She understood why. Seeing another escalator that seemed to run interminably frightened her; she knew she had to get on it to reach her final destination ? the White House. Once again, John held Janet’s hand as they climbed onto the escalator. When they finally came out of the “dugout,” they proceeded to I Street, NW. They then made a turn on Connecticut Avenue, NW. One block later, they bore right on Jackson Place, NW. At last, after traversing the length of another block, they turned left onto Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
They had reached the White House at last! Eyes filled with tears, Janet Smart adored the beauty and grandeur of this magnificent eighteenth century edifice, which had come to symbolize the unmatched power of the United States, as well as the will of all humans to live in freedom! This great edifice, the people’s House, with several flags flying at full mast, left Janet in particular with warm feelings she could not put into words. From across the South Lawn, Janet and John and the “scavenging” faces of the many different people who had come out that morning to “soak in” the scenery, scrutinized the columned South Portico, the East Wing, the West Wing, the fences ? perhaps the first visit for some, possibly their last ? which left an indelible impression on all of them. These were memories of a lifetime!
The radiance on Janet’s face while she was in the United States was unsurpassed. She had visited possibly the greatest country on earth, had seen modern marvels, was exposed to the best of current technologies, had her strong beliefs about the American way of life accentuated (whatever that meant), and had concluded that it was a trip worth the cost and sacrifice! Janet’s dream had been fulfilled. Janet returned to Ghana a month later, carrying with her memories no one could annihilate. Suddenly, she had awakened out of her dream. The year was now 2000 and the dream had become reality. Perhaps Janet’s story encapsulates your experience as a tourist to the United States, perhaps it does not. For most Ghanaians domiciled in Ghana, a trip to the United States and back confers some type of regality ? at least in the eyes of others ? which they are happy to live with the rest of their lives.
John Small’s story, however, is not one resplendent in radiance and hilarity. He had arrived in the United States as a tourist in 1994. After listening to some encouraging words from a few friends and reading about a smorgasbord of “success” and “near success” stories, he would take his chances and stay in the United States permanently. John had been the managing director of a successful quasi-governmental agency in Ghana and, by all accounts, was doing well financially. After all, he had a house and a nice car to show for it. His ebullience and good manners, he had hoped, would be enough to accelerate his quest for success in his adopted country.
After spending a few frustrating months living with a friend and discovering that it would be difficult to immediately land that high-paying white-collar job ? akin to the one he had while in Ghana ? John reluctantly agreed to accept a menial job as a sales associate in a thrift store. John made $7.50 an hour, a far cry from what he had initially hoped for. His charm could not help him negotiate a better wage, as his new employer, Jake, was unsympathetic, impenitent, and a hard man to crack. After all, Jake’s progenitors for centuries had exploited people like John, and Jake was not about to relent now. And yes, Jake’s forebears for many decades had also perpetrated anti-miscegenation laws to both humiliate John’s kind and prevent the “mongrelization” of Jake’s bloodline! This lethal combination of humiliation and exploitation had steadily transformed a once ebullient and good-mannered John Small into a man filled with deep-seated anger, a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sadly, John’s resentment is now evident in all of his writings, conversations, and interactions with others. A sad but common story indeed.
Things have gotten slightly better for John Small nowadays, but he still regrets to this day his decision to emigrate from Ghana. John now worries about those who will do anything ? just about anything ? to move to his adopted country and others like it. His counsel? The grass is not always greener on the other side! Just call it John Small’s epiphany!!
While portions of this article are factual, pseudonyms have been employed to mask the identities of those closely associated with the story. The writer hopes this article will engender a good debate in regards to the fears, hopes and dreams of everyone bold enough to seek pasture in another man’s backyard.
Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.