Building Relationships We Can All Be Proud Of

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A BLIND DATE WITH GEORGIA - PART 1

The road to marriage is a long one, and for most people that experience is like traveling from Takoradi to Atlanta for the first time, like I did some years back. On this journey, you keep quiet and open your eyes, keenly observing, being scared and excited at the same time not sure of what will happen next, not sure whether you are on the right track or not and not sure who to ask for the right path since most people do not understand you. 

On this Journey are people who will take advantage of others and rob them, people who look back with nostalgia, missing what it was like to be single and yet more, people who straight away scare others out of the journey. However, those who have been bold to close their eyes and ears to it all, have surely made it to the end of the journey. 

This is the story of my life when I first travelled to the United States, and I find marked similarities between that journey and the journey that leads many to marriage.

I was in the university when I first travelled to the US. That was the first time I ever travelled outside of Ghana. I remember it like it happened yesterday; such experiences do not just leave you. 

I was to travel with my sister to visit an uncle on the mother side in Maryland. He had invited us and all the documents were so on point there was no way the embassy was going to refuse us the visa. A few days before we went for the visa interview, however, after booking an interview appointment for only God know how many months ahead, my Uncle, called and said the visit must be postponed for some good reasons. I was hurt but my sister was devastated. 


I have this thing about me; I usually do not tell people about my stuff with 50/50 outcomes until I was done with it and I knew it is positive for me. Going for a visa was one of such stuff. You could be refused [bounced] the visa and I did not want folks asking how it went. So only a handful of friends knew about it.

I took the postponement well but my sister was terribly hurt. I prayed about it and as religious  a person that I am, I told her to get ready for the interview anyway. We could get a longer period, meaning we could travel next vacation. We did and got a year visa with multiple entries each. We couldn’t however travel that particular summer. In July, a month after we were supposed to have travelled, I felt sick, and I was down for almost three weeks. Maybe that was God’s good reason for not letting us show up in the US. How was my uncle going to handle it? 

Back on campus, as the President of my church, I spoke to my Treasurer who was a senior Borger [someone who has travelled out of Ghana many times]. She had inquired about my summer trip, because she was one of the very few people who knew I was planning to travel the previous Summer. When I told her what had happened, she told me not to worry.

She pulled her cell phone right in front of me and called her Brother in Atlanta and left a message for him to call back. She called me later that Sunday evening and told me her brother won’t mind hosting me from December to February. This Brother, I will later find out, was my Senior in High School. 

My sister had made her own arrangements and was going to Virginia for the Christmas break.  
  
Before We went on Christmas break, Augustina, my Treasurer from Church and also a Course mate, stood with me at the Old Site Church building of UCC and gave me directions from Takoradi in Ghana[Where I resided then] to Atlanta in the United States. 

She took me through the airport system at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, took me through the Airport system in Milan where I would transit, took me through the formalities at JFK in New York and gave me an option to fly down to Atlanta or ride a Greyhound bus from New York down south. I opted for the bus ride. 19 blessed hours on a bus. I set off on Tuesday December 21st 10 am in Takoradi and got to Atlanta December 23rd 12noon! 

She gave me two stern warnings; when you get to JFK, do not take a taxi from the Airport to the Station; find a bus. If you are lost or unsure of where you are going, ask a Policeman. If you have to ask anyone other than a police officer, ask a decently dressed white person. I did not care to ask why. I was taking in so much info I did not want to meddle in questions that would not prove much. Besides, I trusted her so much I would strip naked and walk to Central New York, if she had told me to. 

Finally, the day came and I had to leave. My sister had left a week earlier. I went to the STC station in Takoradi and hopped on one of the buses. It was around 10am when we finally set off. We got to Accra around 2pm. My sister had made Arrangement for a friend of hers to pick me up to her house somewhere in Accra [Dome or Haatso] so I could rest before I flew out. She was at the station to pick me up as arranged. She took me to her house, gave me food to eat, I showered and changed my clothes and took me to the airport. We tried to keep family out. We made it our own trip! 

She said bye to me and left. I was totally lost, but it did not show on my face. There were a lot of students travelling, and for most of them it was their first time. We all walked carefully ensuring that we did not do anything wrong for anyone to pick us out as the novice. In fact I was so sure-looking, a lady got stuck to me till we parted in NY, following my lead and asking questions I had to manufacture answers for on my feet. Gradually, as I watched keenly, and followed the lead of others, I boarded the Alitalia Flight bound for Malpensa in Milan. 

We got to Italy the following morning and I had not suffered Jetlag yet. I quickly crossed that word out of my Vocabulary. Jetlag didn’t exist, I told myself. But that Airport was big! Gosh! It was too big we had to walk forever moving from where we landed to where we were going to catch our next flight. Remember I told you I had a tail? Yes and she kept asking me questions! I was so furious but I had to be that perfect gentleman to her. She did not have the benefit of higher Education; but she had won the lottery and was going to live in America. Simple. Naïve, aggressive and from Kumasi. Do the math! Holler Oseikrom. Holler!  

I did not take any chances and I did not take any one person’s word as the ultimate advice. Where I was not sure, I would ask an airport worker where I was going. Some will tell me, I was on the right track so keep going. Some will shrug meaning they could not understand. Some will just walk past me right in the middle of my question. The elderly folks would just point to the giant flight schedule display screens. We kept going. With each turn, I knew I was closer to the Delta Flight that was to take us to the US. 

I did not mind asking three people for directions in a spate of 20 meters. And I could see the look of disbelief on the faces of those I had asked earlier if they accidently walk past me and saw me asking again. I did not know what it was they were thinking as they looked at me neither did I care. I had to be sure. Not everyone had the correct map and I was not ready to get lost in that humongous space called Airport. 

Finally we found our terminal, made ourselves comfortable after freshening up. By 11 am local time, we were up in the air headed for The Land! 


Personally I find a lot of similarities between this journey and the journey to getting married most of us have undertaken, are undertaking or will undertake. I know many people reading this would identify with this story, reflecting on their own first trip outside Ghana. The truth is most of us walk the ultimate road to marriage on our own. 

That journey always starts with a promise. That someone will assure you of their unfailing love and willingness to host you for the rest of your life. It starts when you both agree that it would be fun to spend the rest of your days on this lacklustre Earth together so you can both enjoy the few summers that life throws at you. They propose, ‘Lucy, will you marry me?’ 

My uncle invited us to visit because we had passed a comment about our desire to visit. It was not just, a word. It was with a ring! A ring of Documents some sent to us to present to the embassy, others sent to the US embassy directly, for it to be easy for us to go through the process. 

From that point you start thinking differently, acting differently. You start putting things together. Some involve their friends and family, like my sister did, others like me, only whisper it to one or two ears. He proposed. She accepted my proposal. No big deal, life goes on.

We need to start our counselling! We need to get the list for the Engagement, if you are a traditional Ghanaian, we need to start drawing our budget and guest list! We need this, we need that! We run helter-skelter in interstellar excitement. Until one beautiful day, after an argument or a fight, after a beautiful dinner the previous night, after snooping through your phone, after a silly excuse, after nothing you can put your finger on you, after a very good reason, you are told the wedding has to wait. The whole marriage thing has to be put on the shelf. 

For some, it is temporal shelving, but for others it is a simple cold break up. My uncle had a good reason I will never fault him on; the truth however, was that our trip was postponed indefinitely. All the visa wahala, skipping lectures so I could be in Accra to see all kinds of Characters who claimed they could sort things out for me? 

That proposal, forced you to alter your plans, gave you hope and a brighter view of the future. You got excited, started asking for prices, started a budget, started talking to people you were not ready to talk to, asking questions you had no business asking, spending your time online, looking for Wedding themes, looking for Honeymoon destinations, battling with yourself how the bridal train should look like. Your whole life just lights up like a big fireworks going off over the Hong Kong skyline to welcome the new year.

Then that phone call, that visit and everything changes.

My sister, Mikelin, was so upset! She cried! She had lost all the opportunity of traveling with one friend or the other. All her friends were expecting her to get the visa and she had their US and UK numbers she was going to call when she touched down in the US. It was too much to handle. And if you have ever been bounced at the Embassy before, you would know what I mean. I, on the other hand told a handful of people I could count on one hand, so I had better shock absorbers to contain the rather unexpected news. 

A lot of us are like my sister and no one can fault you for that. When a man proposes or a woman accepts to marry you, it is a big deal! You cannot hide it! You cannot keep quiet on it! You let the whole world know! People would be counting the days for you. People will be sending you links to check online concerning a dress or a honeymoon getaway. Everyone starts offering bits and pieces of advice. People will send you pictures of wedding themes and phone numbers of décor houses to call.  Everyone gets excited for you as you let them in on your big day. And a postponement or break up is usually not the news you take easily especially when it is close to the time. And a lot of people get to this point and everything just come crumbling down like a false ash at the tip of a gently smoked Cigarette waiting for a little jolt to finally fall off.  

I, on the other hand took it easy. I prayed about it and said we would still go for the visa even if we did not have to travel. I guess I took it well because I had let a few people in on my impending journey. In that regard, I had few people to explain why I couldn’t travel to and few people to bug me with it.  The reason many people get devastated when their relationships end suddenly or a proposed marriage is cancelled [or they get to the point where they themselves must call off a wedding] is that they involve too many people in their business. When you are dealing with another human being, do not assume 100 percent certainty of the things they tell you. Moreover, in putting your stuff out there, be careful to build shock absorbers that go to the core, to sustain you if something should go wrong. 

I appreciate that some naturally cannot keep it on the low side or keep calm about it; but I know we can try our best to manage the exposure. It is not a sign of doubt; it is just keeping your business close to your chest and waiting for the right time to let the world know. The people I spoke to before I went for the visa were people who had not just travelled, but people who had travelled to the US more than once. And how many opinions did I need on that? Not very much! Yes, sometimes the more views you seek, the better the chances of getting it right. But sometimes, you just talk to that single Maestro and you don’t need a thousand more opinions! Simple. You can talk to a 100 people on how to make money or you can talk to one or two millionaires who have actually worked to make the money. 

Eventually when the date is fixed, and the colours are chosen and the theme set and cards printed, people will hear about it. No need giving them progress report every day. It puts pressure on you and makes setbacks difficult to handle. 

I also had faith. That one bad turn of events was not enough to mess my world up. No one knew how many months or years I was going to get for my Visa, and so the final person to decide if and when I enter the US was the Consulate not my Uncle. Some visas are as long as 5 years and if I got anything of that sort, I could take my time and plan how I will travel the next time. No need crying or quitting.  Stuff happens and relationships break, promises are changed; keep calm and deal with it.

But for the promise of a marriage, maybe you would not have had the interest in wedding themes, honeymoon destinations, wedding colours, and wedding budgets. I know the news will shock you, but after the initial shock, you pull yourself together and keep searching. Guess what, you now have two or three years to plan a better wedding and a better marriage thereafter. You do not stop until you know you will be travelling again before you go for the visa. Go for it now and don’t let all the effort you put in go to waste. Do not wait until you meet another woman before you start saving for your wedding and home, work on it even if one lady said she won’t marry you again. Keep saving for that dress, that honeymoon destination, keep on with that Gym regime and keep the trim going. Do not stop because he said he was not sure if marrying you was the best decision for both of you! Bae! He is so on his own! 

Before I met my wife and started dating, I had not been in any solid relationship for about two years. When people asked me, ‘George, when are you getting married; do you know you are growing?’ I would answer them in a joke, ‘I have my wedding all planned out and invitation cards all designed, I am looking for a lady to say put my name on the card and print it out and we would have a wedding going on instantly!’ I joked about it, but that is the attitude we all need. Be ready!

Again, while my sister was all sad and thinking life was over, I was going on with my life. We need to look beyond the disappointment and enjoy the moment. Avoid the pitfalls of rebound relationships, one-night stands, silly inexplicable sexual entanglements and pity parties. Pick your stuff up and walk like you just paid your two year rent in advance, in dollars, cash down, the Ghana way! 



You see, you do not even know why you may not have to travel. Maybe, just maybe, there is a sickness around the corner. Typhoid! Getting typhoid in America? Dude, would they quarantine me? Sometimes stuff happen and we get all mad at God, at life and the various variables in it, forgetting that Providence has a way of creating detours so we do not walk into a cul-de-sac, which awaits us at the end of the specific path we are on.

Then after all the drama, bam! Someone shows and says I will marry you. Someone; a total stranger says, no worries I will host you. What?! Yep, I will host you. I had it all together; Visa and plane fare and all; but I did not know the way. I had planned it, but since I was not sure of the final destination, I was not completely prepared. So one beautiful Sunday morning after church, my good-natured soft-spoken Treasurer asked me, ‘Presido, I remember you were supposed to travel to the US last vacation, how did it go?’ I told her what happened. In less than 12 hours, she had a solution for me. 


Sometimes we just need to be ready. You do not need another 3 years of a relationship to marry after being in your last one for three years. You do not need two years of starting from the reset button to build it all up again. If you have learnt your lessons and put it all together, when that right person shows up, it is only a matter of time before they realise you are the kind of person they are looking for and committing comes easily. 

A lot of us are skeptical about love because of previous disappointments. That, directly affects your new relationship. Some of you are driving your partners away with your paranoia and skepticism. It failed before so you fear it would happen again? Seriously? Try walking to Tamale from Kumasi because of the car accident that happened on that road, and give me a feedback! Sometimes we just have to pretend nothing has happened and go through again, only this time, wiser and with keen eyes, not skeptical and scared. 

I had a good testimony given to someone by another person on my behalf because she trusted me. Yes, the relationship is over and marriage called off. Who can trust you enough to say, ‘that lady, that guy lost a world of goodness’ and go on to link you to that man or woman standing at the wrong side of the street looking for someone like you? Would people listen to your case and say, ‘oh sorry it will be well’ or someone is going to listen to your case and say, give me a minute; I will give you the link of your lifetime? There are so many men out there looking for wives, and the reverse and people around you know them, but they are scared to link you up because they cannot trust you. You have questionable character and riddled with issues! 

The lady told me not to fret. It is done. Her brother, Leonard, is the decent type who does not go back on his word.

When we were about vacating, she gave me a mental impression of the entire journey. That was how far she could help me. That was how far she could walk with me. The rest was for me to take care of. It is not enough that you are connected and seem to be on the right track; you must own up to the task of making it work. It gets to a point, people will line up at vantage points to help you cross critical boundaries; but you need to walk the most part of that journey to marriage. People will give you a fair impression of how marriage is like, what to do and what not to do, where to stand your grounds and where to let go. They will even suggest who to talk to when you meet these challenges and who not to talk to under the pain of death. But you see, you have to remember it all and do as advised because they have been there and they have done it and they know the price tag that goes with the choices we make. 

In addition, while following their lead, you remember to open your own eyes and learn on your own. Pick up new things and personalise the experience. That step into marriage is not a one-size-fits-all.  We all have our own impression of what constitutes marriage and how it should be bound. And while it is good enough to talk to an experienced person [ not necessarily an old person or someone with long marriage time frame] it is of immense import that you also learn on the job. Open your eyes and pick in everything that comes up along the road. 

Do not let people know you don’t know what you are up to. Let them believe you know what you are doing. Life is littered with jerks who take advantage of people who are desperate. Be selective about who you talk to. And if you have to let anyone know your business, do it discreetly and with dignity. Choose your words carefully so you do not sound like an idiot. At Kotoka, I asked a lot of questions, but those I asked responded with respect; the same people who had been rude to other students. The confidence with which you approach things makes it easier for people to want to help and not see you as a nuisance or immature. Hello Mr So and So, you are a man; my fiancé said this and I am not sure how to handle it.  What would you mean if it was you who said it?  This is better than, ‘Mr So and So can you imagine my fiancé insulted me? He said this to me!’ 

When we got to Milan, it was one huge Airport and I was sure I was going to get lost in it. That was the luxury I couldn’t afford. My destination was not Italy so I did not intend to even look around until I found my terminal first. First things first. Get married! Don’t get comfortable in the promise. Do not get comfortable that counselling has started, stuff is being bought, a date is set and probably invitation cards are being printed. Get married and stay married that is the ultimate end. 


As you get closer to it, you find yourself overwhelmed by many things. Do not assume anything, just seek every help you can get. This is different from being bubbly and telling people you are getting married. Talk to people of worth when you need an advice. You are fighting over colours; talk to your counsellor if that is going to ruin the wedding. You are fighting over venue, involve a trusted and respected person as far as both of you are concerned. You are at loggerheads about the budget; discuss it with someone who can help break the stalemate. Do not walk in your own conceit; you may get lost and miss your flight. A lot of marriages are called off because of fights associated with wedding preparations. These fights bring up many things that eventually scare the partners away. Talk to significant others. 

It does not matter if you talk to your mother and confirm it from your father; it may feel awkward for your mum to know you were asking your dad about something you asked her earlier. Well, the good thing is, your mum is a woman and your dad is a man, you needed both perspectives. Simple. Find help from trusted people, I don’t mean friend necessarily. That lot can be prejudiced and may not offer the best of advice; talk to a neutral and objective significant other. 

And while you talk to people and seek directions, do not neglect the advice of those who point to the large display screens in the airport, directing people to where they are to go. Do not close your eyes to those who advise you to pray. 

Marriage is a cultural universal in most part, but to people of faith, it is a divine ordination. Most societies add it to their sacred texts making only priests of various denominations competent enough to bind it. Do not neglect the original intent of it and what is expected of a married person. Whenever you feel lost as to the right step to take in your preparations, look up and listen to what God has to say. 

Sometimes we get too busy talking we forget prayer is a dialogue not a monologue. When you talk a little, you keep quiet and allow God to talk back. That is a relationship. And if you would listen, you will know He really speaks. The problem is that we go to him with our own expectations born out of anger, bitterness and prejudice; these are positions silent and quiet talkers like God, can’t argue you out of. In our prayers, we pray and do not receive, because out of our selfishness, we pray amiss. 

Keep the focus; the diversions are many and people may help as much as they can. Some will not understand you but will assume they do and direct you through the wrong path. Others will not understand you at all and would walk away while you are still seeking their help. Some will yet direct you. But ask anyway and keep looking up. Ultimately, the entire Airport has these screens that are designed to guide the traveller to their destined terminal. 


To be continued. 

PG Sebastian. 

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