Atare (Clothes)

Photo by Adam Jones/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Photo by Adam Jones/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

On Behalf of Ghana Airways and crew, I’d like to thank you for joining us on this trip. We are looking forward to seeing you on board again in the near future. Have a nice day!

This is really happening to me. I am really in America. This can’t be real. I finally did it.

It was hard to believe that I was standing in an airport, leaving the only place that I had known all my life.

“Ma, how was it? When you landed? Tell me all about it!”

Hmm, it was everything I imagined it to be and better. The airport looked magnificent. It was very clean and had so many people and they all looked different. They looked disciplined and very well built. That was also the first time I saw black men who were so tall and very big. Not fat, but big. They looked like giants. Their fashion was different and unique from what I left behind. Many people wore bright clothes and beautiful jewelry; I couldn’t wait to get some for myself. You know what really hit me first though was the terrible cold. I landed in New York in February. Very cold you know. Your dad could not pick me up from the airport because he did not have a car. He sent his friend instead who was a taxi driver.

Augustina, I am right here. Welcome to America.

Mr. Adu, thank you. This place is amazing.

Yes it is. Ready to see America?

“How was it when you stepped outside?”

I was in complete shock. I did not have a jacket, so I was shivering terribly and when I opened my mouth to talk, vapor started coming out. At first, I thought I was getting sick from the cold and started to panic.

Mr. Adu, what is this thing coming out of my mouth?

Hahaha, it is your breath. When it gets cold here that is what happens.

I felt like a complete fool, you know. It was strange but unique. That was when it really hit me that I was not in Ghana anymore. Driving through the city to get to my new apartment gave me such a rush. I was in complete awe, seeing the big, tall buildings pass us by. When I finally got to your father, our excitement to see each was indescribable.

“Well can you at least try and tell me?”

I hadn’t seen him for about five years now and to finally see him standing in front of me, skinny, yes, but still alive and well, gave me so much joy. We just hugged each other and through that hug I could tell that he was very excited to see me too. You know, us Ghanaians, we don’t really show that much emotion to each other and there were also people around us watching, so that was all we could do. Your father was not living alone. He was not yet set on his feet to get his own apartment, so he was sharing with friends. But I was satisfied with that.

“Yeah. Hahaha, I can tell. How was your first day Ma? What did you do, hm?”

Surprisingly, I fell asleep right away, after I had breakfast of course. I thought I would be too excited to sleep, but I wasn’t. The plane ride had been very long. It was about twelve or thirteen hours. We left Ghana at night and got here in the morning. I couldn’t sleep on the plane because I was so scared and excited. It was my first time on a plane and I kept looking out the window at the clouds. I was in the air. But because I couldn’t sleep I was very tired. Oh… I also called you guys back at home when I woke up. I was very happy to hear your voices, yours and your brother’s. It was my first call ever in America and I couldn’t wait to hear your voices again. It felt different not having you kids around. You guys were very young. You were around what age, like nine? And your brother was seven. When I was leaving, I had to force you two to fall asleep before I left. I knew I couldn’t leave if you guys were still awake. You were the main reason why I forced both of you to sleep. Your little brother was OK, I could calm him down, but you, on the other hand, were a crybaby.

“Me?”

Yes you! You will cry for anything even now that you are twenty. I knew if you saw me leaving and started crying, I would have never been able to leave. I loved your father, yes, and I missed him, but you two were my life and so very young to be left behind. But I had to do it, you know, for your future. For our future.

“But why did we leave Ghana? And don’t tell me it was for us again, I want to know!”

I mean it was for you guys. We did have good financial standing back home. I don’t think you remember but I used to shower you with gifts everyday. My first born, you were so spoiled, but a man my sister was dating at the time robbed your father of everything he had. You guys were little so you didn’t know, but your little brother, even though he was a baby, hated the man. He was a con artist and he stole everything from us, leaving us penniless.

“Wait, how did he just take everything from you like that?”

He said he was an investor, so your father was giving him his savings bit by bit, believing that it was actually being put to good use. The last time we saw him, he said he was taking your father’s car to run an errand and he never came back. I am just glad he didn’t add you and your brother too. After that incident, there was no one there to help us; your father’s friends were all making fun of him because he was the rich man that fell. His own friends turned their backs. In Ghana, you always have to fight for yourself and family, and that’s it. That’s when your father left us for America. He had no other way out but to start all over again. To come to America is a blessing in Ghana. It’s like we were saved when your father came here, and I wanted my whole family to move here too.

“Yeah?”

Of course. Coming to America is very life changing. You guys were far from me and it was the first time we were ever separated like that. I left you with my stepbrother, but that was hard. Hearing your voices on the phone gave me strength. When you have kids one day you will know. We were so excited on the phone that we forgot that we were apart. I was expecting you guys to cry and throw tantrums but you didn’t. You two were so excited and surprised that I was in America.

Are you really there mummy?

Yes, I am Nana Ama.

How is it mummy? Is it beautiful?

It is very beautiful and cold!

The first day went by quickly because I was in your father’s rented apartment and around people I knew. The apartment had other Ghanaians living in it. It was a two bedroom apartment that was being shared by like, I think six people: two women including me, and four men. In my head, I knew I was in America but I kept feeling like I was back home. There was no language barrier between us at home, so I wasn’t forced to speak English.

However, the next day we had to go shopping for some clothes because I had come with only one bag and I was in desperate need of a winter jacket. Your father took me down to a Salvation Army shop and bought me a winter jacket, two t-shirts, and one pair of jeans. The winter jacket was very heavy, and it was uncomfortable at first, but I appreciated it because it kept me warm. It was the first time I had ever worn a winter jacket before. Your father didn’t have much money so that was the only place we could afford, and even there he was trying to negotiate with the man. In Ghana, you know, we like to negotiate a lot with buying goods and it always works. It is a natural thing for us even if we can afford it, we always try to negotiate to pay less. But here, I saw that it wasn’t the case. It wasn’t going as smoothly as your father had hoped either. Even though he had been in America for a while, he still had trouble with his English.

‘Xcuse me sir. Can you please cat this price down four us a bit?

The price is set sir. We can’t help you with that. We don’t have a sale going on right now or any discounts either.

Yes, yes I know. But the price is too much you know.

Sir, I am sorry but we can’t help you. The price cannot be changed.

But I have not enuf money!

Well go to a cheaper store then, I can’t help you with that.

All I could do was stand there and watch. I couldn’t help your father because I didn’t know how to speak English very well. In Ghana, I would have been the one doing the negotiations, begging the salespeople think the men are trying to cheat them. Anyway, I felt like your father was wasting his time and money on this, but he bought the clothes anyway. I was happy that I had something to wear.

My first week was very enjoyable. Everything was new to me. The food, the environment, the people; all I had to do was stay home and eat. I felt bad that I couldn’t help your dad but it felt good. By the second week, I was already tired of everything.

“Why is that? Your life seemed so easy?”

Of course you would say that. You are lazy!

Please get a ticket number from the booth and wait to be called for your social security number activation. Thank you.

Back home you know we used to own a big grocery store and I was in charge of it. So I was working and taking care of the family just like your dad. Staying in the new house like that was wearing me out; it also made me miss you guys more. I was getting worried and sad that I was not there for you. The food was also not to my taste anymore. It was all fat and oil. American chicken wasn’t cooked well for me. At first, yeah, it was interesting and different and I didn’t have to cook, but I was missing my home food. So I spoke to your dad about all this and he was actually thinking the same thing as me. He said it was time I found and a job and got out the house. I was scared at the thought, even though we both agreed to it. My English was still shaky. I had tried practicing with your dad but he was not that good either. We spent days looking for a job for me and we were only successful with a home care job we found in Westchester for this old white woman. My first day at work was not so great. Taking the bus to my destination was trouble on its own. I asked this black lady, I remember, who was standing by me for the bus location.

Axcuse me please. You know where bas 14 is?

Itonthatsideovathereuhavetocrossthestreet!

I couldn’t understand a word she said. The lady spoke really fast and I was too scared to tell her to slow down. Finally she stopped talking and just pointed to the place I needed to go. When I got to the old woman’s house, I was amazed. Her house and neighborhood were very beautiful and different from what your dad and I were living in. Her house was an actual house. The neighborhood was quiet and they had a lawn with flowers. It was like the America I had dreamed of. I mean, I liked that I had a place to sleep, but your father and his friends lived in a two-bedroom apartment and the neighborhood was dirty and noisy. I walked up to the house shaking and rang the bell. The old lady opened the door, greeted me, and gave me a list of things to do. Again, her English was very fast and she didn’t really pronounce each word fully. It was like she was singing to me.

Ahh, sorry maam but I no understand you. Can you say again please?

Ok, I said you have to….

Nana Ama, I am telling you, I almost peed myself. I wasn’t ready for any of it. You guys should count yourselves lucky that you didn’t have to face the same things when you came. You were educated back at home so you knew how to speak English.

I told your father and he understood why I was so scared and didn’t create a fuss when I said I was going to leave the job and never go back. We started looking for another job that I could handle and luckily we met a friend from back home in Ghana, Auntie Mariam, you know her, right? She had lived here for a while and had kids here. She said she needed a babysitter, and I was more than happy to help. She had three kids, two boys and a girl. They came with her when she came to America. They were lucky. You’ve met them before. They are all grown now. I used to take care of them at home and every time I was with them, you and your brother were on my mind. You know, now that I am talking about it, I realize it was really hard for me to take of someone else’s children while mine were without their mother. Imagine what you guys felt, huh? Without a mom? But we are all here, right?

“Yeah mummy, we are!”

Those kids, they were good when their mom was there, but very stubborn when she was not. They kept me occupied and also brought me my very first paycheck.

“Ohhhh, what did you do with it?”

What do you think, huh? I went straight to the African store and I bought meat and some groceries and made the best African light soup your father and I had ever drunk! Oh, and I also got myself some clothes. I really appreciated what your father had bought for me, but the women around me were all dressed up and they looked at me like I just came from Africa. It’s true I was new, but they were looking down on me. They had shiny jewelry and bright colored dresses. Everything they wore had to match the colors of their bag, shoes, and even earrings. Their clothes fit them while mine were baggy on me. They would invite me to their homes just to show off. It was like a competition for them and I wasn’t going to lose. I knew already that Ghanaian women were showoffs. They all came from nothing back home but here, since they made their own money, they were “queens.” You know, that’s where I learned that in America you have to work for everything you want. Those women didn’t even try to help me, even though we were from the same place. They actually shunned me because I was not presentable. It’s not easy here but you earn whatever you can and what you earn is for you to treat yourself.

“That is why you can’t stop shopping mummy!”

Of course not, why should I? I break my bones to work, then I must treat myself. And I also treat you guys. Treating you is like treating myself. 

“Ma, would you do this all over again? This process of coming here?”

You know, in everything we do, there must be pain before the reward. Look around you, Nana Ama. If I didn’t do what I did, would we all be together? No. We would still be in Ghana. Look at the life you guys have been blessed with. You and your brother are already in college, doing big things, dreaming big dreams. Your little sister is following in your footsteps too, proudly. Look at our apartment. It’s far better and bigger than what your father and I started with. And my journey was bearable. We’re all here now and that’s what matters. All you and your brother and sister have to do is learn from it and do better. That is all we ask of you.

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