The current cold snap that has enveloped many parts of Europe and North America is not the least amusing. Mountains of snow and sheets of ice appear everywhere as the son of man has to wrap himself in layers of warm clothing, with steam billowing from the mouth and nostrils whilst going about his usual business. Gallons of tea and other hot drinks are consumed by the day, all in a bid to keep bodily temperatures from plummeting.
If you are a Ghanaian immigrant who has just arrived in Europe or America during winter, then you must be gritting your teeth as you sit huddled by the heater and stare desolately at the whiteness unfolding outside as you wonder why you came to town at this time of the year. Is this it, you must be wondering to yourself. If you have to wake up by four am in plunging temperatures to leave for work and then have to wait at a lonely bus stop for a bus that never comes whilst your body shakes like a fetish priest invoking the gods, the reality of life away from your motherland does hit home really hard with cold brutality. As the good Lord himself knows, winter time is hardly the season for your family back home to be making demands on your icy pocket, for it brings into sharp focus the biting cold that seems to freeze your blood whenever you step out, no matter how well padded you are, and this in turn annoys you at the slightest provocation from them. You wail that they do not appreciate the cold weather that you have to endure simply for their sakes, whilst keeping western union in business.
Of course, as an immigrant from a hot country, it is easy to be nostalgic about home whenever the big freeze sets in. ‘Ah’, you dreamily say to yourself as you wipe your streaming nose whilst picking your way gingerly through snow and ice to get to work,’ go see how the sun is shining beautifully and permanently back home. I would be wearing just shorts, singlet and ‘charlie wote’ or a T shirt and short skirt at this time back home and would properly be enjoying the warm rays of the sun and an ice cold Guiness or malt.’ Cue more sniffing. ‘Home Sweet home, true true,’ you sigh wistfully, sending plumes of steam emanating from your nostrils.
But then are you really sure that you would be enjoying the sunshine back home? When, as per the norm, the sun is blazing mercilessly at its zenith and with an intensity that most people would scurry from, fruitlessly seeking shade? When you are stuck in a trotro or taxi in mad traffic and in the baking heat and there is not even the gentlest of breezes to be felt? When your skin crawls with the heat, when rivers of sweat drench your face your arm pits? When you feel suffocated and tired and disoriented and stifled? Are you really, really sure you prefer the African sunshine?
You see, it is tempting to romanticize something when you are away from it and you are experiencing its opposite, forgetting that what you yearn for is actually as vicious. I suppose it is simply human nature. Last Saturday, I called a friend who has left the UK for a month’s holiday in Ghana. Of course I moaned about how bitingly cold and miserable it was here, and how I longed for kokrobite beach, lazily sipping a Bloody Mary cocktail and staring vacantly at the shimmering, glassy sea.
My friend quickly snapped me out of my reverie by reminding me that she barricaded herself indoors all day in her air-conditioned bedroom until just before dusk because of the unbearable heat. She had developed a heat rash and had to drink lots of water everyday just to remain hydrated. But I was particularly shocked when my friend told me she actually missed the cold weather in England. I snorted in derision and thought either she was going crazy or was cruelly mocking me. There was no third way and that was that.
But the more I thought of this, the more I realized that my friend may well have genuinely missed England with its current cold weather, and not because she had become ‘too known’ or Europeanised. I recalled that many people who complained back in Ghana that it was too hot and yearned to travel to colder climes actually yearned for Ghana and its heat if they came over in winter. Human beings truly are interesting, versatile yet fickle beings. We seem to yearn for and romanticize about things that are outside our grasp, and yet when we attain them, we sometimes look back with nostalgia at that which we have jettisoned.
So, Ghanaman ‘bogger’, as you recall and paraphrase the famous nursery song by singing ‘snow snow, go away…’, and dream of the beautiful Ghanaian sunshine in replacement, just be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it…