When I was growing up, in the early nineteen-eighties, most of my fellow-Ghanaians viewed America as an evil empire that was bent on destroying our country. The Cold War was at its apogee, and the Ghanaian government, a military junta led by the strongman Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, had quickly declared allegiance to the Soviet Union after seizing power on New Year’s Eve, 1982. As political hatred between the Reagan Administration and our dictatorship intensified, flamed by an intelligence leak exposing American plans for a coup to overthrow Rawlings, Ghanaians were all but mandated to hate the United States, the No. 1 enemy of the People’s Revolution.
It was in the midst of this hostility that my father placed me, in October of 1988, on a plane bound for New York City. My final destination was northern Michigan, where he had enrolled me to study creative writing at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy. I would have expected my father, the emir of Ghana’s Muslim Zongo people, to harbor anti-U.S. sentiments even stronger than those of his average countryman—if not for American political and economic bullying then at least for the “hedonistic and immoral” behavior depicted in the news and in Hollywood movies. He had sponsored two of my older cousins to study at the Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; I wondered quietly why he didn’t also choose a Muslim site of education for me, his first son. But I was eager to become a Yankee man, and, afraid of jinxing my trip, I kept my thoughts to myself.