I may have saved her relationship this past January when I was in Ghana. A brilliant Ghanaian millennial. One of my graduate student mentees in Accra. She’ll go places in academia.
I notice she is sad. In Africa, you can poke your nose and ask personal questions in ways that would get you into a load of cultural and legal trouble in Oyinbo land.
So I poke my nose into her business the African way. She breaks into tears.
Prof, can I talk to you?
I’m all ears.
Prof, it’s my fiance.
What about him? He is misbehaving?
Sort of. He is in America. He lives in Los Angeles. He came home for Christmas and promised my parents that he would return later this month for our registry marriage. This is mid-January and he has been dodging my calls. We chat but he is not saying anything about when he is coming for the marriage.
How old is your fiance?
I see. How long has he been in America?
About five years now. He went to study and stayed.
Yes, Prof, he werks.
What does he do?
He is a biological analyst.
Can I see photos?
She shows me photos of the biological analyst – a very handsome Ghanaian millennial male specimen.
Unfortunately, I haven’t spent 21 years in Canada and the United States not to be able to smell a typical African odd jobs hustler from miles away. Looking at him on his fiancee’s device in Accra, I see his struggles. I see his frustration with bills. I see his anxieties. I see a man combining maybe 3 odd jobs from McDonald’s to UPS to Walmart just to make ends meet. I see a man who hardly sleeps all week as he juggles odd jobs. I see the gulf between his life in Los Angeles and how the people at home in Accra, especially his fiancee, think he is living.
My mouth does not contain the puncture of the biological analyst nonsense. I realize suddenly that whatever I say could drastically affect a young man’s life in Los Angeles.
You love him?
I’m madly in love with him, Prof, and I am convinced he feels the same way about me. I don’t know what has come over him. He treated me like a queen when he was home in December. See, he brought this phone as one of the numerous gifts he gave me. Maybe it is those white women.
I look at the phone. Samsung S8+. Brand new. Gleaming.
He brought this from America for you last month?
Relax. There are no white women. He loves you. Go easy on him. Be patient and understanding. He is avoiding your calls because he is ashamed.
Ashamed of what, Prof?
You see this Samsung S8+ you are wielding? It’s about one thousand dollars. Over there, we cannot afford the phones you guys use here. We sign three-year contracts for the phones you just buy like bread here. He paid off this phone to bring it home to you. It’s on his credit card. He is still paying for it monthly in America. It will take him three years to pay it off.
Her eyes are getting wider.
And I explain the world of an advanced credit economy to her. The world of bills and debts and crazy personal income taxes that turn every paycheck to a source of misery and anguish. A world they can never picture or imagine easily in Africa.
You see, your fiance came home to see you just last month, bearing gifts for you and your family and also his family. Even his flight ticket is on his credit card. Then he spent Xmas and New Year’s here spending on you people.
When last was he home before that trip in December?
Four years ago.
It means he barely settled for a year before coming to see you. Ok, the money he came to spend here in December, that is four years of his savings. It is money he scrapped together in conditions I better not describe to you. Then you and your family and possibly his family put pressure on him to return again in a month for another round of expenses. E fe pa ketekete ni, I mumble to myself.
But, Prof, I thought that life in America… but why didn’t he just tell me?
There comes a time in our life abroad when we don’t bother to explain things to you people at home anymore. We realize that you can never understand. I spent the first five years of my life in Vancouver trying to explain life abroad to expectant people in Nigeria. Then I stopped wasting my time. He probably feels you’ll never understand till you join him in Los Angeles.
Ah, Prof, he always says that! He always says that I will never understand till I join him in America.
He is right. You will never understand. He is dodging you now because he is totally stressed and paying all the bills from his last trip home. You see this Samsung S6 I am using? I signed a three-year contract on it two years ago. I am still paying. Yet, here you are using Samsung S8+. By the time I am able to upgrade to Samsung S8 in Canada, you people in Africa will be using Samsung S12 and still expecting your people in the diaspora to fund that lifestyle. Your fiance is not cheating on you. He is just broke and stressed. Approach him with womanly wisdom.
One week later, she runs to me excitedly with news! She cannot believe how accurately I had read the situation with her fiance! She had carefully broached the subject of finances with the guy and he opened up.
Now she plans to just go with whatever makes him financially comfortable, possibly join him on a fiance visa. They can go to registry quietly in Los Angeles. No more pressure so the guy is back phoning her yanfu yanfu again.
You just saved two lives, Biodun Ishola Ladepo, an insider to the story tells me over beer at the airport in Accra on my way out. However, what happens when she gets to America and discovers the biological analyst part?
Wo, Biodun, wahala won niyen o. The part that God sent me, I have done it o.
Pius Adesanmi is a prodigious public affairs commentator. Pius’ “Africa is not a Continent” won the 2013Prize for African Writing. B.A. University of Ilorin, Nigeria, 1992 M.A. French, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1998 Ph.D. French Studies, University of British Columbia, 2002.
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