To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ It Is Love For One Another That Makes Us Continue. Interview With Kojo Sampson
I am Kojo Sampson. Three years ago, in 2002, I traveled to Libya and returned last year. I am a plumber but in Libya I did different work. I worked with German people at a gas-company near Tripoli. That is a factory that sees to the transport of piped gas. The pipe is government property but the contract has been given to a German firm. I planned from the beginning to find work there and succeeded in doing so. That helped me for the conditions of living are better with the Germans as compared to the Libyans. So relatively I had it easier. But I was away from my Ghanaian friends in Tripoli and I missed them. Therefore I did not also know how bad they had it. I thought I had it bad the way I was treated and at a certain stage I wanted to run to Italy for I could no longer stand the humiliations. Only later did I hear that those Ghanaians who work contracts in Tripoli suffered much worse from the local people. I had hoped to receive money from my family but they disappointed me and so I had no money to make the trip to Italy.
I started thinking about going to Libya after completing school. This was because I needed money to establish my own business. I have no helpers in life and so I had made plans to help myself.
I started to save money I earned here and there with the single aim of paying for my trip to Libya. The business that was in my mind was opening a store in Nkoranza where I would offer combined plumbing works and the placing of tile-floors and bathrooms. That was what I had in mind since I completed school where I learned these skills. I attended the Technical Training Institute at Abetifi in the Kwahu Mountains and specialized in plumbing and tiles setting. I also decided that I wanted to be my own boss.
I went to Libya and worked hard in order to come back with enough money to establish my own store. I am back now and as you know I am in business and it is growing and doing well. I have become known in Nkoranza already!
At that time it took me two million Cedis to go to Libya, which equals 200 dollars. I took the route through Agadez in Niger and from there I went to Tripoli where I have spent two years making money.
The journey was rough. I did not like it. I will not advise anybody to go to Libya because the trip is too dangerous for any human being. I would not have done it if I knew then what I know now. The road is bad. The cars are not maintained in fact they are terribly overloaded. A pickup from Agadez to Druku is filled with 27 Ghanaians in the back, while there is place for only 10. If you make it during that trip, there is another pickup waiting for you to drive you through the desert to Libya. Same situation, overloaded with again 27 people and the car is old.
They treat you like cattle. The pickup shakes and there you are with two hundred percent overload. You take turns and sit in the back or hang over the edge of the pickup. On the way between Agadez and Druku I fell off. The car goes at night and we all get sleepy. They drive at night because of the police patrols during the day and also the sun gets too hot. So we travel late evening till early morning and during the day you can’t sleep either because you have to protect your money and your belongings. One night I fell asleep, however much I struggled to keep my eyes open. Everybody pushes all the time and I fell, I did not even notice it till I hit the ground. Because we are all Ghanaians, Nkoranza people, we look out for one another. If not you die. They saw me falling off the car and knocked hard on the back window of the cabin to make the driver stop and pick me up. If no one would notice it or if they are strangers then you lay there and you are lost in the desert. So it is important to travel with your own people. Read more
I am Mr. Darko, 37 years old and I am married with two children. I’m from here in Nkoranza and I work as a car electrical mechanic in town. I will tell you about the experiences I had on my way to Libya. About three years ago I went to Libya. I started from Ghana, passed Burkina Faso and went on to Niger and then straight into Libya. That’s what I thought, but it happened otherwise.
From here to Burkina the road is acceptable but once in Niger the going is rough. From Burkina you get to Niamey which is the capital of Niger. There are many Ghanaians there waiting for their chance to get transport into Libya. In Niamey you wait until about thirty people have assembled, then you all get into an Urvan minibus. These buses take you to Agadez. Ghanaians wait for each other till they have the money to hire the car together. We Ghanaians, we like to travel together.
“Everyone pays about 300,000 cedis which is 30 dollars to the driver. The driver is not from Ghana, he is from Niger. You take off and although the distance is not too long the road is so bad that it takes you three to four days to get to Agadez. This town is the second capital of Niger and lays at the edge of the desert. The military police stops you many times and each time you have to pay up. When they see Ghanaians in the bus they say: ‘stop, out, pay.’ If you don’t pay they will throw you out of the car. You waste a lot of money on that stretch alone. Every time they stop you, you pay 5 dollars, this is on top of the 30 dollars which you already had to pay to hire the car. Every time the police halts the car they take our passports and documents and we don’t get them back till after paying the bribe.
So after three days and much money you get to Agadez. After Agadez it is all desert, there is no more road. There is a trail which the drivers know but they miss it sometimes when there is a desert storm.
Whenever we stop we sleep beside the car. Really to be honest you cannot sleep. We don’t feel sleepy for while you sleep anything can happen. People will grab your food and your money if you are not alert. So it is not sensible to sleep, so we don’t sleep. It is also very cold the more you get into the desert so you could not even sleep if you wanted to.
There are Toyota land-cruisers and heavy trucks in Agadez; these are the only cars that can drive through the desert. With 30 other people I got into a Toyota Land-cruiser to start the journey through the desert. If you are less lucky you get into a large truck which takes two hundred people at the time! You stand like sardines in these large trucks and the sun burns you and the desert wind fills your eyes and your mouth and even inside your ears with sand. Whatever type of car it is, it is overloaded and still, some people force themselves to get inside by sitting on the edges or by just jumping and clinging to the car.
Once in the desert
Once in the desert everybody is allowed a 7 gallons container with water to drink, and some small gari to eat, nothing else. The water-containers are tied to the car and hang outside, side by side. Everybody strictly keeps to his own water else there is murder. This water has to last you. When there is a stop you take your tin cup and put some gari in it and then add water and then you eat. Everybody loses weight but we Ghanaians are strong and we don’t care. In fact we can do anything, anything at all. Read more
To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ No Other Treats Than Daily Fresh Insults. Interview With Yaw Charles From Nkoranza
It was a few years ago that I went from Nkoranza to Libya to look for work. This was because I had no job and nothing to do in Ghana.
During the two years in which I stayed in Libya I lived in Tripoli. I did contract work, mostly mason jobs and welding jobs. I was there with my brother Sampson, but Sampson got into a company while I worked on daily or weekly basis or whatever longer contract work was available. Life is better if you work with a company in Libya. Because Sampson worked with a company outside Tripoli far away from the capital we did not meet much of one another during our time in Libya. After our journey together all the way up to Libya we lost contact, although we Ghanaians all know from each other where we are and how we live and so on.
The desert trek was all right for me. I don’t mind whatever happens to me as long as I am alive and can fetch some money. So yes I got work to do and I saved money and decided to go to Italy.
Mosaratta is the place in Libya where you get boats to Italy. Just when we were preparing to get into the boats and take off over the sea towards Italy the police came to cut us! They put us in prison for four months and then they simply sent us back by plane to Ghana. Libyan people are not good. They are so arrogant that for example they don’t let us, black people, into their houses. They do not talk to us.
In prison they treated us very badly. They kept beating us every single day and we got nothing to eat. We received no other treats except daily fresh insults. During these four months in prison we did not even get a bath! No soap, no water, no towel, nothing, except beatings. Actually they enjoy disgracing us. Cruel people they are. Now I am back and have nothing to do except some little farming work.
I am waiting for money and then I will try my luck again. I have a friend in Italy who may send me the money to go back to Libya. I am waiting. Now I am weeding the farm while I wait for my chance to go.
I am not married. I will get settled with a woman when I return from there with money. I cannot disgrace a woman by staying with her without money or marrying her in order to just go away again.
The Libyans disgrace us but I can stand it for it is the money that I need.
Next time I go however I will do it differently. I will not try to go to Italy. I will return to Ghana as soon as I have gathered enough money and then I will settle, take a woman and start a business.
Next time I will get into a company the way my friend did. Now I know how to go about it. It is a matter of paying the man who leaves the post. The deal is among Ghanaians of course for we look after our own. I will wait in Tripoli till a friend at the company goes to Italy and then I will get his position. It is all a matter of being in the know and paying. To get the job you pay the man who is leaving, that is all. I will go and stay for two years and then return. And then I will settle with my woman and we will live happily and get children and all that.
To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ I Want To Get A Life But I Can’t Because I Am Waiting. Interview With Richard Kwasi Ntim
I am a native of Nkoranza, Richard is the name, 42 years old. In 1987, at the age of twenty, I decided to leave Ghana. Always I have had the urge to travel; for the sake of traveling, exploring new environments and meeting new people, not specifically to work or doing anything special. I had already visited three West-African countries before I went to Libya. Traveling is my habit. I was in Mali, Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, just casual visits. I am an O-level student and completed secondary school here in Nkoranza.
So it was in 1987 that I went to Libya. I worked there at a company in Tripoli. Those days it was difficult to get a visa into Libya so I went by road. We passed through Agadez, then to Tamanrasset and on to Gat, which is a town in southern Libya. To get there you have to walk for three days. We walked with a group of Africans, eighty in all, from three cars. There were ten Ghanaians among us and many other West-Africans. Difficult! But interesting because I met other people and shared my experiences and before I knew it we had crossed the desert and were there. You have to be strong else you get sick or mad. Some people died along the roadside and we had to call there relatives to inform them of their misfortune. But I and the majority made it.
Then on from Gat to Tripoli. Not so easy but I was lucky for I had means to board a plane and flew to Tripoli. There I worked for a year. I had a job at a construction company. After a year I decided to leave for the environment in Libya is not conducive to peaceful living. Fortunately I got a visa at the Dutch embassy in Libya and went to Holland. It was hard to get the travel documents and they asked many questions at the embassy but I impressed them and they issued the visa and I took a trip from Tripoli to Amsterdam. Malta airlines, with a two-day stop in Malta. In 1988 I arrived in Holland. I knew nobody there so what I did is I stayed for a few days in a boardinghouse in Amsterdam; later I got to know a man from Ghana who introduced me to other Ghanaians and the house where those from Nkoranza live. I moved in and it was nice for we all knew each other from Nkoranza from before; we were all born and bred in Nkoranza and as you know it is a small town. I lived with a person in one room, the apartment contained four people, in the center of Amsterdam near the Wibautstraat. Another guy from France came to join us. The rent was not to bad, 450 guilders for all of us, so we shared the rent and the light bill and so on. Manageable, a good place. My room mate was illegal and I too. I lived there for two years up to the 90’s. At that time it was easy to find jobs. Work two hours here, then three hours there, then two hours cleaning a hotel in the evening and so on. Nowadays finding that kind of work is difficult in Holland but in the eighties it was easily available. Later I worked with ‘Carpetland’ which is a big company with branches in many towns. I worked with a job manager whose name I still know, Willem I think. They were good people at Carpetland and I traveled a lot for them.
One person helped me to get papers and so I used them. They were not my own paper as I had none so we shared them and I would pay for using the papers. So then what? Two years in Amsterdam, Carpetland. I had to process my own papers one way or another for I used those of others. So I decided to get a Dutch woman, she was from Surinam. We were going to marry but just then I received a permit for one year so we did not have to marry. The woman had to work and I also worked and stayed at my place with the Nkoranza people. We did not live together. It was friendship and we met each weekend, I worked and in the weekends I stayed with my girlfriend. I was twenty-five and she was over forty. No children with her she was too old but here in Ghana I have two children from before I left. Read more
The rumor arrived before she herself made her appearance: ‘Mercy is back!’ ‘Mercy? Really, you are kidding! Mercy back?’ ‘Yes, she is in the country and will be here any day now!’
Two days later Salamata came inside my house and announced with restrained excitement as if she introduced a famous star: ‘Here … is … Mercy!’ And there was Mercy! Glowing, beautiful, graceful and courteous Mercy, with Philomena in a sling on her back and a present for us in her hand.
We all started talking at the same time. Mercy, you are back! You look so great! Hugging, exchanging compliments, truly happy to see her so well. She had hardly time to sit down because she had not seen her own parents yet and had to move on with her taxi to the small village nearby. Of course we could not keep her long and yet we did, we simply had to!
Mercy, who worked with us at our home for the handicapped children, left four years ago and she left rather unceremoniously. Mercy had been a very good caregiver and her children Inno and Philo had thrived by her playful and loving care. When she came to me that Friday night four years ago she cried uncontrollably. ‘I am so sorry but I have got the ticket to fly to Italy and the flight is Sunday and I simply have to go, it is my only chance’. Taken aback, though these kind of sudden departures happen quite a bit in Ghana, we kissed and I thanked her for her work in our community and waved her good-bye.
Life goes on. We heard about her every now and then. In Italy, always good news, and once we saw Philo in a beautiful new dress. ‘From where?’ Oh, Mercy has sent money over from Italy and the caregivers together had bought the most intensely beautiful dress for Philo from the money. Philo wears that dress every Sunday. And now this… Mercy is back!
She left like a girl with red leggings and a gentle though somewhat casual style of doing things and she re-appeared transformed into a demure, graceful lady! ‘Mercy, tell your story if you will?’
Well, they did get a ticket for me, my uncles in Italy, and I was to look after a child, was to be a nanny. Then I worked extremely hard all the time and everywhere, mostly in textile factories. I still do, from early till late at night. People in Italy like hardworking foreigners and next year I will get my Italian citizenship. And also … Mercy is married!
Did you know him before you left Ghana? ’No, but they told me about him and I had a full year in Italy to study his character and then I said yes, I want to marry Ebenezer’. What we gathered is that Ebenezer, her new husband, was originally in Holland but as the immigration laws in Holland got tougher every year he had drifted down south to Italy where seemingly it is easier to become a legal immigrant. That’s by the way why many boat-immigrants travel overland from Spain to Italy where they can breathe freer without being immediately picked up by the police. Spain too is difficult for immigrants. Whatever the cost was, and it must have been a whole lot more than the few hardships she had endured in Italy of which she talked about, she reappeared as a woman radiating success and we were so happy to see her almost majestic appearance.
She left, really had to see her own real parents now (Bob and I are like second parents to her) and so we kissed and she was gone. She will come back in two years, by that time an Italian citizen with her lawful young husband Ebenezer. Who knows, a baby as well. We are proud for her!
To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ Education, Solidarity And Being Able To Say No. Interview With Matthew Essieh
Matt Essieh is my name, born in Sampa which is a village on the border with Ivory Coast. I loved school but had to stop at age twelve after completing middle school. My parents were very poor, even so that I had to live as an altar boy at the Catholic mission. My parent’s house was literally too small for all their children and you know that we Africans can improvise! So I grew up at the mission. After middle school I went across the border into Ivory Coast and stayed with an aunt. It was my own idea and the only way I knew to find money to further my education for which I have a passion. Yes so my plan was to do odd jobs and so raise enough money to support myself through secondary school. I decided on moving over the border into another country because in those days the economy over there was better. It was for example possible to earn money delivering loads at the local market with your wheel barrel and I also sold ice-cream with one of these bicycles with a cold box up front. I was willing to do everything. I cleaned tables in one of the hotels and many other ‘by-day’ jobs, whatever I could find.
This hotel had a restaurant where many of the Peace Corps volunteers used to come and have a drink after their work. The French language is hard for the Americans and I spoke English with them. Two Peace Corps volunteers took a special interest in me. They were maybe 21 years old and I was then 15. They really wanted to help me go through high school. So with the money I earned over these three years in Ivory Coast, and with their help, I found admission at secondary school in Brong Ahafo in Ghana. I was a little tiny skinny kid at that time so I looked as young as the other students. These volunteers helped me so much because they paid most of the tuition fees. I almost finished secondary school but during my last year one of the volunteers died. She had leukemia and died in Washington DC. I heard later that before this girl died she asked her parents to please look after ‘the boy in Ghana’. They then took such an interest in me that they helped me go to college in the States. I went to Oregon, Southern State Oregon University. When I left Ghana and entered college in The States I was probably 20 or 21.
Oregon is beautiful and quiet. It was the perfect place for me coming from a small rural town in Ghana. The atmosphere is nice that’s why I was specially grateful to be able to attend college over there on the West Coast. I graduated in computer business and then also got a Masters Degree in business studies.
Of course when you grow up here in Ghana you never forget your family. You feel strongly that you need to help your own country. So I studied hard and worked hard and was quite successful in both. I sought to get jobs which enabled me to best help my family in Ghana, like other Ghanaians do to their family. Read more