I was fourteen. I had taken the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) stress-free with the knowledge that the results wouldn’t matter. That exam that would determine whether I would end up becoming a tomato seller at the market with a baby on my back or a smartly dressed Senior Secondary School pupil couldn’t faze me. I ended up acing it…with the exception of Ghanaian Language of course. Prior to that there had not been much in the way of argument with my parents when I selected the Methodist Wesley Girls over the Catholic Holy Child for my secondary school of choice. There had been some words when I selected “technical studies” with the mind to pursue architecture & interior design over “general science/biology” as the doorway to medicine but not as much as there would have been if the choice really mattered at that time. And when my class-mates started to taunt me that soon I too would have to cut off my beautiful natural mane of hair and go sakaro (basically), I smugly replied we shall see.
I arrived in New York City in autumn, after spending a mindless “summer” still in Ghana gearing up to leave the country. It wasn’t spoken about much actually, it was just accepted that it was time to pack up once more and go. I didn’t much share the news with my classmates before the end of the school year either; unlike my last days in class 6 in Germany. That being a British military school, last days were known for the sharing of tales of who would definitely be back next year, and who was going where next. There was no countdown on my part nor an eager anticipation of going to America. I just had a haughty sense that I had survived the brief sojourn to Ghana, land of my parents, and I was soon to return to abrokyire where I truly belonged. If given a choice, I would have asked to be dropped off in England to stay with my uncle there as I didn’t care much for the United States of America.
Our father left first. Left the packing up of the house and the managing of settling of accounts and other business to our mother to deal with. That was a tense time. About a month later, I flew my first sans-parents flight over the Atlantic with my sister N’ku. It was an unremarkable flight. She was excited as in just a couple of days it would be her birthday. Our father met us at JFK, and with our diplomatic privileges we were soon walking on American soil.
I do remember being very consciously aware of all the white people around me. Funny, as it had just been three years since I was last the sole Black person for miles around. White people, Asian peoples, fair-skinned Black people all around. All talking really funny. They were the ones talking at a 100 miles per hour, slurring their words, and dropping F-bombs every few words, yet I was the one being asked to repeat myself. Biscuit huh?
We stopped at a petrol station on our way home from the airport and I decided to use the bathroom. The key was tied to a large wooden plaque as if someone was going to run away with it. The restroom was dingy, smelly, and with a damp floor as you would imagine these sort of restrooms are. This is America? I asked myself. I half expected gleaming bright Mr. Clean fresh smelling stalls. But what truly took me aback was the broken toilet. The bowl was full of water! Since I had to go, I went (#1) but didn’t flush the toilet least the floor truly got flooded. I returned the plaque without a word and soon we were on our way out of the city and into the suburbs.
Concrete grayness changed to lush greenery. I did not recall this much greenery from my time in London or Berlin. On the highway, the cars had all looked so huge and I wondered why some of them had wood paneling. Weird! Wooden cars in America. The thought that America must have a lot of wood at her disposal was bolstered by the homes that we passed by that reminded me of Little House on the Prairie. From where I just came from, homes were made of solid cement blocks!
Our new home was the tiniest on the block. Figures! And yes it was made of wood. I did like this cute little “cottage” though. But most surprisingly, the toilets were all broken. Each and every single one of them. I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. Daddy, why are the toilets in America all broken? They all have too much water… I continued as my father burst out in laughter.