Thursday Born

The everyday life of a psychiatry resident (who was born on a Thursday).

The guilt of having immigrant parents.

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There are more Ghanaian doctors in New York City than in the entire country of Ghana. I learned this while back home in Ghana for my two weeks of Christmas break.

“Are you planning on moving back?”

“Well, I’m stuck in the US for at least seven or eight more years. After that, we’ll see.”

I’ve had that exchange many times, and I have to confess that’s not the most honest response. Stuck in the US? No, I’m not stuck here. I’m quite happy in the US. I was born here, lived here till I was 4 and came back nearly every summer until I started boarding school in New England at 14. Been back to Ghana at least once a year, often twice, since then. I am quite happy shuttling back and forth between these two countries, both of which I am a citizen.

My parents primarily live in Ghana, visiting the US at least two or three times a year. Of my three older brothers, two are currently in the US, one in Ghana and moving back with his new family soon (maybe?). In the long term, I can see him, and maybe one other (but he’s a bit of a wild card in general), moving back.

I feel guilty though. I know I’m lucky, incredibly lucky, to be in my position. I do not come from an extensively well off and well educated family. It is easy to look at my immediate family – myself, my brothers, my parents – and to get a very skewed image of where I come from. I am very much the child of hard working immigrants, acutely aware that my privileged upbringing is the direct result of my parents’ effort and determination.

But I could ignore it. I could ignore that my parents had six and seven siblings, that I have fifty-something cousins. I could stay in the US, pretend that I’m just another American, not an African and an American.

Except I can’t.  At the same time, I don’t know what to do. I’m not a politician at heart, and I’m not sure I’m an activist either. Every year I understand a little bit more my mother’s yearning for a quieter life, because life in Ghana is anything but quiet and peaceful when you’re trying to do good things in a third world country, even in a politically peaceful climate.

I don’t know if I’ll move back or not someday, but I don’t think I will. I admit, I don’t really want to. It’s not that I love the US more than Ghana, but life is simpler in the US. There’s more options, and it’s easier to be just another person.

Knowing that about myself though, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do from here, because it is possible to have an impact without physically living there. And I don’t want to fall into the trap of feeling like the good my parents and my brothers are doing absolves me of having to do anything myself.

I’m open to suggestions. =)

Written by Aba

February 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm

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  1. You know, you could start and organization based here and sends kids over to ghana every summer to do doctor-y things so that ghana would have more doctor-y people and make more people care. you could start writing to the dr.s in NYC and try to get them to start doing something like that NOW and find funding somehow from places like amnesty etc. I really don’t know but vomiting ideas here. <3


    February 9, 2010 at 2:17 am

    • Thank you for your suggestions! I hesitate when it comes to involving foreigners, or in general programs that require outside help. I think it’s a sad situation for a country to be in where it needs to rely on others to take care of its people. Short term fixes are good and necessary in the meantime but I’m much more interested in long term fixes.


      February 9, 2010 at 6:10 pm

      • long term fixes sound all happy and shiny and idealistic to me. they requires moving the people and inspiring the next batch of people in charge or the people in charge now. maybe your father getting more involved with politics is his way to accomplish that. if you’re not interested in politics, it’s hard to change an entire nation b/c nations are built on so much politics (and economics, i guess). i think all you can do without becoming politically active is give what you know — medicine. maybe if you’re willing to become involved in or help inspire a better national health system (or start one if one doesn’t exist) and deal with all the crap that goes with bureaucracy… but otherwise you can only try to get people there to help themselves.


        February 10, 2010 at 12:56 am

      • and clearly when i’m not paying attention, i change the subject of a sentence and forget to make the verb match. sorry ’bout that.


        February 10, 2010 at 12:56 am

      • There is plenty one can do that fits in between setting up a volunteer program that relies on bringing in outsiders, and changing an entire nation (often difficult without taking the dictator route).

        That’s interesting that that’s your view on long term fixes. They may seem like fairy tales, but they are absolutely crucial for the long term survival and prosperity of many people world wide. And they do happen. They’re just often smaller than you’d think would have such a big impact, and they take time to make a difference.

        Bureaucracy is unavoidable, however. It exists and interferes with anything one tries to do. By not being interested in politics, I simply mean that I have no desire to run for office or fill a position. I have no problems with working with the government, if that’s what must be done.

        I’m not looking for something I can start doing now. I’m in no hurry. Right now I’m in the very early contemplation stage. Thinking it through. Figuring out what’s within my personal realm of possibility and comfort. In the end it might be something as simple as setting up a scholarship, or something as large as working on Ghana’s lack of emergency and ambulatory services (which is something I know my father’s interested in too). I think, like Amrita suggested, that in the end I will end up working together with my family on something, but I have no idea what it will be. I don’t think my brothers and I have reached our peak potential yet, but I think it’s possible we’ll reach it sooner than we thought we might.


        February 10, 2010 at 1:13 am

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ghanaian Recipes. Ghanaian Recipes said: The guilt of having immigrant parents. « Thursday Born: My parents primarily live in Ghana, visiting the US at lea… […]

  3. Haha “vomiting ideas”.. that sounds.. terrible. I think you’ll figure out some way to help or give back, even if it’s just working with your brothers/parents to do something. Life is definitely easier in the US, especially when you’re originally from a 3rd world country and you’ve seen both places. I used to feel guilty too, but I know truthfully I’m just more comfortable here and this is pretty much where I’m going to stay for good.
    But I don’t think you have to ignore that other part of you; just appreciate that your parents were able to send you here to give you a good life, and try to give back in the best way that’s right for you?


    February 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    • I think it’ll take time to feel more comfortable with the guilt (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get rid of it completely), but I am optimistic that it’ll happen someday. I used to give more excuses for why I think I’ll stay in the US, but I’m more okay with the idea that I just like living here more. I don’t fully feel American though, and I don’t think I ever will. The closest term to how I feel is the “third culture kid” term I see tossed around, although even that’s not quite right. I’ve found, in general, that I tend to get along well with others who’ve lived in third world or at least not quite first world countries for a significant portion of their lives, often immigrants themselves or fellow children of immigrants.


      February 10, 2010 at 12:57 am

      • what do you mean by you don’t fully feel “american”? what does feeling “american” entail?


        February 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm

      • It means what you want it to mean, but I can’t think of anything that I want it to mean for me as my sole label of nationality.


        February 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm

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