The American writer and essayist Cheryl Strayed wrote the following in an advice column to English majors who felt anxious about their careers as they approached graduation: “That both things could be true at once—my disbelief as well as my certainty—was the unification of the ancient and the future parts of me. It [being a successful writer] was everything I intended and yet still I was surprised by what I got”.
I feel similarly about my journey to Ghana in 2016 and my decision to permanently relocate there at the age of 25. In hindsight, the move was everything I wanted. Yet, I am still surprised by what I got.
The Immigrant Story
Like many of you (that is, first generation young Africans born outside of our home country or who moved outside of the continent at a young age), I never thought that I would permanently relocate to the continent at this age. Although I always knew that I would work on issues related to the continent, I thought that I would return years later, much older, like my parents say they will.
In fact, some of my friends and family tell me that I am brave for moving back to Ghana at this tender age. Many of them reason that I should want to make money now, by working in the U.S. and while I am young, before I move. I once thought that way too - that we move home to settle, not to work.
But, although I did not move with the decision to permanently stay in mind, I am not surprised that it is ultimately the one I arrived at. Life had been preparing me with many positive and meaningful experiences on the continent before and during my long stay which would lead to my decision to stay; I was just unaware of it at the time.
A Move Some Years In The Making
My first time in Ghana after I immigrated to the U.S. at age 10 was through a five month study abroad program at the University of Ghana, Legon. Through this program, I traveled throughout Ghana, and to Togo and Benin in late 2011. The experience gave me a deeper experience of the country and continent beyond the “place to visit family” experiences we usually have as first generation immigrants visiting home. In hindsight, I could not have asked for a better re-entry or re-introduction to the country I left 11 years prior; it set the stage for seeing it as a place I could make a life.
In 2013, I had another similar experience, this time, during my two month stay in Nigeria. Traveling throughout the country, I met young, vibrant Nigerians working on the continent and saw my first set of young Diasporans from the U.S./U.K. who had permanently relocated to the continent to work and do business.
These two experiences coupled with living in the Ghanaian capital of the world outside of Ghana, the South Bronx, and engaging in Diaspora related issues there subconsciously embedded in me the belief that Ghana is more than a vacation destination or volunteer stop.
The Future Has An Ancient Heart
Psychologists call the positive encounters I had on the continent primers. Priming is “exposure to something that influences behavior later on, without that individual being aware of that guiding influence”. Priming is most deliberately used in advertising but perhaps life teaches it best.
While I see that there have been a lot of chance events, encounters, and situations in-between which have led me to this point, the greater truth is that my past experiences, much of which I was unaware of and most people would never know of otherwise, were preparing me for this ultimate event.
My brave move was a pleasant glide which would have otherwise been a frightening leap, absent the stepping stones of many positive past experiences.
What has been preparing you for your next move? I would love to hear about it.