Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Uprooted - Coping With Boredom

A Touch Of Nokoko by Kofi Akumanyi

The world refugee problem is gradually reaching alarming proportions. At the last count by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about five million of them scattered all over the world. Europe has a little over half a million while the United Kingdom accommodates as many as 143,000 but the United States of America takes the cake with one million refugees.

Time was when the mention of refugees immediately brought to mind pictures of women and children starved near to death, their disease-ridden and emaciated bodies sprawled on a God forsaken no-man's land. Well, a sizable proportion of the world's refugees are still in this category and thanks to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees their lot is being gradually improved.

However, in Europe, refugees come in all shapes and forms for the simple reason that most of such people (apart from those with proximity advantage had come from other parts of the continent) must have paid quite a bit of money as plane fare to get here - which situation places them in a different category even though, like other refugees, they share a common problem, the politics in their home countries has made them strangers in other countries.

Integration into a new society with different traditions and practices has never been easy even under the best of times. The issue takes on special significance when wives and children are also involved. The traumatic experience of a refugee in Europe is considerably alleviated if he or she has lived outside his home country of origin before or often travelled outside. The cultural shock is then absorbed slowly without any permanent damage caused.

To find out the life situation of refugees I first talked to a politician, who, by the nature of his profession, must have a lot to say about the situation. This is what transpired.

"It's all very depressing, indeed. It needs a man of steel and resolution to live as a refugee" my friend Braimah said. We were sitting at a pub ruminating on the hard times ahead over pints of beer. "The beer doesn't even taste like the beer back home."

"Oh come on, don't sound so sentimental. You're allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with nostalgia. You know that if you hadn't escaped at the time you did they might have made mincemeat of you" I said.

"You may be right but that doesn't remove or dampen my wish to go back home, that's where the action is," he sniffed noisily. I think it was the pair of dark glasses he had on but tear drops threatened to fill his half-full pint.

"What do you miss most?" "The joy of walking tall in the streets of my country making an honest living without tangling with unemployment office and other related agencies. Besides, it hurts to think that we could all be back home working for the development of our dear country."


"That's alright, except that I'm not aware that anything is being done to facilitate the early return home."

"You won't unless you're one of the initiated."

"Initiated? Why, we all want to go home and any help in that direction should come in handy."

"Sure, but you see these things are better done with a select few for obvious reasons," he said with a confidential wink and a nudge.

"You used to be a very active man, in the last government back home. This forced sedentary posture must be killing you. What's your typical day like?" I asked.

"Very busy, very busy indeed. You know, there are few administrative things concerning our less fortunate countrymen here that I help to straighten out."

"You mean your constituency back home has been extended and expanded here too?"

"Once a politician, always a politician!"

"Quite. It's an onerous duty, a self- less and thankless job."

"You can say that again! Yet the general impression is that we're all thieves who have squandered the country's money and are enjoying high life out here" he said.

"Well, it's still very early in the day."

"Oh yes, so after the administration, there are sometimes quite a few committee meetings to attend and they sometimes stretch from lunch-time to late in the evening.”

"That sounds like a very exciting schedule you have every day."

"There's never a dull moment."

"Thanks be to God. I thought boredom is a very serious threat to people like you who enjoy public speeches, pumping flesh and shouting TWOOBOI".

"We do, except that there must be people out there to listen and shake hands with. The real constituency is still back home."

"You mean our countrymen here in this country aren't interested in what you have to say?"

"Most of them are busy making a living and changing cedis for sterling at the blackmarket rate to bother with the seemingly intractable socio-economic problems back home," he said. There was a far-away look in his eyes.

"One can't blame them though, everything considered." "Maybe, but the overriding wish of the majority of these people is to return home to some sort of improved situation. We're the people working towards that objective".

"Our people back home I'm sure would be forever grateful for this. By the end of every day, you must have packed a solid days' work which may not be easily discernible by the uninitiated."

"By the way, how do you monitor the effects of your work on the government back home?"

"I thought you'd never ask. Well, we have many listening posts from which inside information gets to us, but the most popular one is the ordinary radio,' he said and the surprise on my face must have been great.

"The ordinary radio?"

"Yes, that's the quickest way of learning whether the government has been overthrown so that we can all go home.

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