Guest Post: Being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home

After my blog post on my 10 years in Ghana last week, I received numerous comments, ideas for celebrations (leaning towards a night at TeaBaa with friends) as well as congratulatory messages. Over the weekend, I also received a very special email as a response to my blog post from someone who understands my position extremely well, someone who is living a life with one foot in Canada and one in Ghana. I really enjoyed Rod McLaren‘s email and therefore asked him if I could share it with my readers on the blog. Luckily he said yes, here is his email.



Good morning, Kajsa,

You just observed your ten year anniversary in Ghana – congratulations. You are one of those special individuals who have the perseverance and positive outlook on life that is required for the long haul. Good on you!

Several of your observations resonated with me and prompted me to write to you today. You and I have met only briefly, but I have followed your Facebook posts. I feel like we are connected because of the common experience of being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home.

When I moved to Ghana in 2001, I had already logged the equivalent of close to three years in the country if one took into account the two years that I taught in Half Assini 1971-73 plus the many visits over the ensuing 28 years, visits that were always a month or longer each time. In 2001, I was quite convinced that I would remain in Ghana until the end of my life, and that my ashes would become part of the red laterite soil of West Africa. Well, I didn’t quite make it. After 10 years, for reasons that have only in part to do with Ghana, I returned to Canada.

Rod McLaren with his son Akwasi.

Ghana can be very frustrating at times. I am not referring to the day-to-day life, which I thoroughly enjoyed or the “real” people (i.e. not bureaucrats), especially those in the villages, who for the most part live with enthusiasm and energy and joy. However, it can be tiring to be called obruni after a while, and especially so when that comes from someone behind a desk at Ghana Immigration Service who knows and has seen less of the country than I have and who was not even born when I learned to chop fufu. My biggest Ghanaian disappointment was not being granted citizenship, even though I applied as soon as I qualified, and followed up on the application repeatedly.

It is now six years since I returned to Canada. My return has been challenging in two ways. I have had to learn to adapt, and in some ways, this has been more difficult than the adaptations that the move to Ghana required. In the first place, Canada is not the same country that I left, due to the restructuring that had taken place at the hands of an extreme right wing government. It is not a kind country anymore – the focus is more on resource extraction regardless of the cost to citizens, Indigenous rights, and the environment.The restructuring continues under a different political party that puts on a pretty face but is still directed by the same neoliberal ideology as its predecessor.

There is another, more personal challenge, one that you mentioned in your post. Even though I am back in the country of my birth, I feel as though I am an outsider who sees Canada and the world through the eyes of my experience in Africa. It is not easy at times to find people who share a common point of view.

In spite of that, I am happy with my life. I am blessed to be living with a very generous woman. I have been able to pursue activities that are my passion. My health continues to be very good. My children and grandchildren are well. My past has blessed me with wonderful memories. Life is good.

And so I will close with my wishes for another ten wonderful years for you and your family. Carry on blogging.

Best wishes,

Rod McLaren

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Guest Post: Why you should (not) read García Márquez

My dear friend Natalya Delgado Chegwin has in my view a very interesting take on the literary legacy of García Márquez, my favourite author who recently passed away. In her view, “I commend whoever has read his novels, but do not recommend them”.  I asked her to expand her (shocking!) argument for my blog. Enjoy her witty and insightful text below!



I want to believe I have some authority to talk about Gabriel García Márquez: I am Colombian, just like he was; I come from the Caribbean coast, from Barranquilla, where he spent so many of his best years; he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, and I was born the next year; but mostly, I spent one year researching him and his work to compose my Bachelor thesis.

Thus, I have read García Márquez both as a scholar and as a “normal” person; that is like one who read literature to understand society as well as one who reads literature to jump into a new world. And the world that García Márquez presents is nothing short of magical – it is not for nothing that he is credited with the creation of magical realism. But instead of my diverging into whether or not he did, actually, create magical realism, let me jump into the true point of this post. You would expect for me, a Colombian literary scholar with some authority to talk about García Márquez, to be the most avid supporter of all of his writings. But I’m not.

I don’t think everyone should read García Márquez, especially not One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel is not only incredibly long (spoiler alert: it spans 100 years!) but is plagued with hundreds of names (neither the use of the word “plague” nor the seeming hyperbole of the names is coincidental…). His last novel, Memoria de mis putas tristes (Memories of my melancholy whores), 2005, is an apparent apologetic to prostitution with a shorter time span and fewer characters, but not for that a better or worse read than his masterpiece.

I, too, fell in love with his Of love and other demons, considering the (his)story of Sierva Maria the best and most profoundly pure love story I had ever read. That was 15 years ago. I re-read the novel recently and noticed that what had once allured me no longer piqued my interest. You see, his novels are filled with stories that do not grow with you; they are not novels that are meant to be read more than once. Written beautifully, yes, with a masterful use of vocabulary, both colloquial and with a yesteryear flare, albeit stories that don’t change. So no, not everyone should stop what they’re doing to run to their nearest bookstore to purchase one of his novels. His novels are an acquired taste, and a difficult one to acquire. I commend whoever has read his novels, but do not recommend them.

Not the novels, at least.

Because his short stories, his journalistic reports and his essays are genius. Those are something everyone must read. You see, García Márquez was a journalist at heart, that was his dream. He just happened to discover that he was a good novelist, too, and when he won the Nobel Prize he kind of relinquished journalism for long and prosper career as a novelist. Do you want to know the real García Márquez? Read The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970), News of a Kidnapping (1996), Living to Tell the Tale (2002), Eyes of a Blue Dog (1947) or Big Mama’s Funeral (1962). The order is based on my favorites. The last two are two of his short story collections; Living to tell the tale is his autobiography, the brilliant tale of his amazing life, which one only enjoys more after having read most of his work. The first two, as their titles already hint, are journalistic reports, so cleverly narrated that you might just feel as if it were you surrounded by sharks or guerrilla. You see, García Márquez’s genius lies in the fact that he is able to completely spoil the climax of the story in the title, and you still are fascinated with the sequence of events.

In his Chronicle of a death foretold (1981), you will learn within the first three sentences that Santiago Nasar is shot in the morning by two Vicario Brothers. And in spite of having read this now, here, I promise I have not spoiled a thing. Therein lies his skill – you will want to continue reading.

So don’t jump on the bandwagon and try to tackle his impossible Buendía family tree. That is, unfortunately, not for everyone. Rather look through his titles and see which one interest you – I can guarantee you will fall in love. And then maybe, just maybe, you will want to know about Aureliano and the pig’s tail…


Text by Natalya Delgado Chegwin, illustration borrowed here.

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