(Part 1 of this piece was published here http://saharareporters.com/2013/06/05/american-life-rudolf-ogoo-okonkwo)
This American life Sef!
You survived. You are one of the very few who did. By survived, I mean, you have spent 15, 20, 30 or more years in America without jumping bail, going to jail, getting deported or getting killed.
You know many who did well for themselves, people who got education and started a profession as a lawyer, doctor, engineer, pharmacist, nurse, realtor, etc. They took it a notch up. They started something of their own. They worked hard, only for them to hit what they call a wall of misfortune, loss of professional license for acts unbecoming of their profession, allegation of fraud, expensive trial, huge fine, confiscation of property, jail time.
Granted, you have diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You are considered a chronic patient, which means that, other than your friends and colleagues, your doctors will not be surprised if anything happens to you at anytime. The doctors already have a choice of dozens of diseases to blame. As far as they are concerned, you have pre-existing conditions that could lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, renal failure, or, ultimately, death.
You survived. Your children have grown. They are in the universities. They have graduated. You see them moving on with their lives with little help from you. In fact, you now have to cajole them to come home on holidays. They prefer to be on their own, independent of you. Your new worry is about the person they should marry. You hope it is someone from where you came from. But the friends you see them with do not give you much hope. It keeps you awake at night.
Your marriage survived. You went through those rough patches when most of the marriages of Africans in America collapse. That was when both of you put legs in one trouser because you felt you could do better, that you still had great prospects. Now you have adjusted to each other. One of you picks up the socks and, in exchange, the other makes okro soup. Or one of you is tired of nagging about little things like the socks and sundry matters and have practically moved into one of the other rooms your children vacated. In fact, that thing they say about old couples is happening to you two. People are beginning to say that you both look alike, like brothers and sisters, except that one appear to have bleached; you bleached your face and shoulders and forgot your hands and legs.
Okay, your marriage did not survive. But you have adjusted well to the custody battle, child support, shared custody, second partner and the multiple families. Or you have carried on well as a single fellow. You cannot stand going through the marriage thing again. You get by with others like you. It is the American way. You sigh at the mention of “till death do us part.” You are an authority on how America changes African people in marriage situations. You can write a book on that.
You survived. With the kids virtually on their own you suddenly found out that you have more leisure time. No more fighting with the boys to stay away from video games and concentrate on their school work. No more school runs to drop off or pick up kids. No more birthday parties, soccer games, piano lessons or basketball games. They drive themselves now to places they want to go. You just sit at home and worry about their driving. You hold your breath each time they hit the road, wondering if they will text while they drive. You also worry about how much their car insurance has added to your family car insurance bill. You cannot wait for them to turn 26 and get their own car insurance.
You have figured out how to use your new found free time. You will join one or more of those African associations, organizations and clubs. Those groups that you looked down upon when you were busy raising your kids and advancing your career. They are becoming attractive to you. Not just as a social group where you go to reminisce about the good old days, but also people who may help take your body home when the time comes. You have looked at your children and you are not sure if they care enough about what happens to you when the final call comes.
You join sons of this, daughters of that club. You form Elite club of this city and Elite club of that city. You join the People's Club. The club whose theme song says, "Let's enjoy life, afterward we'll figure out tomorrow." You were not attracted to flamboyant display of wealth and loud lifestyle, but something has since changed in you. Now you don’t mind being called chief of something; after all, Americans have Fire Chief, Chief of Surgery and Chief Justice. In fact, you are contemplating getting one of those traditional titles they give out at home for the right price. It is either that or you go for one of those titles that the churches are dishing out for a fee - elder, deacon, knight, minister. Anything to stand out in public and fill in the emptiness that life in America has become.
You are yet to figure out tomorrow. But you are on it. After putting in 15 - 25 years at work, you are ripe for retirement with full pension. You can see that if you retire now you can live on your pension before social security kicks in. You can even start doing something on the side- buying goods and selling in Africa, driving uber, starting an NGO, anything to keep you busy and earn an extra quid.
You survived. Your doctors now try every new medication in the market on you. In the morning, even before you say your prayers to God, you say one to the pharmaceutical industry, visit your pillbox and count out the morning pills. Over the years, you have noticed that the pills you ingest before or after each meal keep increasing in numbers, shapes and colors. The doctors hardly remove old ones before they add new ones. You don't need anyone to tell you that time is ticking.
So you get irritated when someone suggests that you control what you eat. You retort, "we proceed to the great beyond with what we ate." With all these your people in medical fields, everywhere you go you hear them say you should exercise - take a walk, run, join the gym. You are paying for gym membership but you hardly go near the place. To your credit, you try to take a walk every now and then. But your knee is beginning to ache. Your doctor has said that you may need knee replacement down the road. You don’t even want to revisit that discussion with him. It was enough that he talked and talked and talked until you went for a colonoscopy.
At social gatherings, you try to dance the diseases away. You do shoki, Azonto, Alingo, Makossa, Suokous and galala. People around do not understand the spiritual angle to your jives. You don’t blame them. They don’t know what it is like to carry insulin around in a bag.
You survived. And because you did, you are seriously thinking about retiring and going back home. Your pension and social security check will carry you through. That means you have to go and chase out the lizards occupying that mansion you built in the village years ago that you have never spent up to 100 days in. That mansion that took a large chunk of your 401K, retirement money that you borrowed at great penalty. Oh, you haven’t finished the mansion? Thinking of retirement means that you have to finish that mansion. Since your folks at home have ripped you off in the name of getting the work done for you, you decide to go home and complete the job yourself.
As days go by and arthritis and rheumatism invade, the prospect of retiring in Africa intrigues you the more. To get ready, you go and register at the University of Phoenix or any of the other online universities that is promising to give you a PhD with or without a dissertation. You will need their online PhD to fit in at home where titles and degrees are the great social divider.
You have worked out how to get your supply of mediations at home. Your social security check is guaranteed to arrive each month. You have imagined each morning grabbing the fresh palmwine from the village tapper before he adds sugar and water to the keg. As for who would be rubbing your back at night during harmattan season, you will work that out when you get home.
You have your plans worked out and then, your doctor calls…
This American life Sef!
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo 's latest work, "This American Life Sef" is available on Amazon.com