Top 5: Being a Black American Expat (BAE) Parent in Ghana

No matter where you come from or where you settle, raising children abroad presents challenges. These can be especially acute when you’re Black and particularly interesting if you find yourself living on the Continent. Though Ghana is no exception, she does seem to offer some important benefits for the Black American expat family. Here’s my top 5.

1.  Everyone is Black.

This can’t be overstated or over appreciated. On a basic, day to day level racially-tinged micro-aggressions don’t really exist here. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that if you get into a disagreement with someone, whether substantive or petty, it’s likely because of something other than your race. While class and complexion can color interactions, this could be the case anywhere in the world. The difference is that in Ghana, these issues are neither life-threatening or particularly stress-inducing.

Black children are afforded the right to grow up in a place where the President, the Parliament, the store clerk, the driver, their teachers and doctors, large and small business owners, pretty much everyone is BLACK. They’re brought up in an environment where the default is that the folks around them look like they do.

I see this as having two distinct benefits. The first is that their experiences subconsciously inform them that they can and will be anything they choose to. Secondly, they’re not the inferior other sheerly on the basis of their race. They aren’t made to feel unwelcomed, out of place, or less than because they’re Black.

Everyone is Black!
Clockwise from bottom left: The current Asantehene, or traditional Ashanti King, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II in some of his many gold adornments; President Nana Akuffo-Addo and other governmental branch leaders at his inauguration in January 2017; group photo of the Ghanaian Physicians and Surgeons Foundation, the Parliament of Ghana in session.

2. Having a nanny is pretty standard. 

My nanny is like a parenting wingwoman. She cooks local dishes, keeps the house clean, makes sure school clothes are ironed, and more. Essentially, she helps eliminate much of the drudgery of parenting. No need to worry about who’s going to be home with the kids when you’re working. And depending on how you set things up, date night childcare is inclusive!

Many residents, Ghanaian and expat alike, have at least one domestic helper. There’s a hodgepodge of arrangements, salary levels, duties, etcetera. Some nannies live in, others out. There’s an upside and downside to each, but if you’re patient and steadfast, the world is your oyster. In theory.

For example, my nanny is a Muslim woman from the north of Ghana. I like that she’s able to introduce my boys to the Hausa language (Twi is the dominant language and their father-tongue) and my hope is that her presence teaches them the importance of religious diversity and respect. She sleeps over most nights but is off a couple days a week, including Friday for prayers. No withering violet, she’s tall with a firm tone so my boys don’t mistake her for a pushover.  Though well paid, my expectations are high and her duties are broad. We’re still working out kinks, but so far so good.

Everyone’s priorities are different and can be at least somewhat accommodated. It took me a while to firmly get used to having “help” and almost every household, including my own, goes through at least a few nannies before finding someone they can work with. But in whatever iteration, the nanny is a most welcomed must-have for the BAE parent in Ghana.

3.  Affordable, high-quality education is accessible. 

Many of the top schools in Ghana run on the British system and there’s no doubt in my mind that the curriculum is superior to what’s on offer in the American education system. Period. Let’s just consider the fact that there’s uniformity and actual standards. This means that one could move their child to another school anywhere in the world that runs on the British system and the academic adjustment would potentially be less jolting than going from a school in New York to another in Florida.

What students learn are very advanced from this American’s perspective. And the way that subjects are taught seem more thoughtful. In addition, foreign languages such as French, German, and Mandarin are offered to the youngest of pupils at many schools.

With all honesty, affordability is in the eye of the beholder. But tuition for a great private school in Ghana is much cheaper than a comparable private school in the US. And school fees here are less expensive than inflated rents, home prices, or property taxes in a good school zone in a lot of places. Value for money.

I’ll also add that there’s a wide range of athletic/extracurricular activities for children on a group, semi-private, or private basis. Cooking, acting, art, foreign languages, dance, swimming, fútbol (soccer to us Yankees), golf, tennis, and even horseback riding lessons are all on offer depending on how much money you’re willing to drop. This is not a big deal in many Western countries, but it’s affordable and may not be what you’d expect in a country that’s still developing.

after school activities
Sample of some of the extracurricular activities offered to Junior School (elementary school) pupils at my son’s school.

4.  Relative safety. 

It’s common to see very young children leading their even younger siblings to and from school. Or seeing small kids roaming around, playing, just being kids with no adult in sight. It’s such a normal thing that the shock has worn off; now I even marvel at it. American parents are so overprotective (sometimes justifiably), that you’d never see such things in the States.

Our family hasn’t gone that far, but we do have peace of mind regarding the physical safety of our children in this society. If my eldest wanders off in the local Walmart-esque store, I don’t freak out and frantically run around the store trying find him. I simply (though quickly) push the cart around the store, calling his name in some version of Marco Polo until he yells back, ‘YESSS?!??’

There’s no worry that interactions with police are going to result in fear, intimidation, bodily harm. It’s nice not to have to teach your kids to be nervous around law enforcement. At worse, you just come off of a few bucks at the ubiquitous roadblock and you’re good to go.

That’s not to say that there isn’t crime because there is. But most of it is theft or stems from some simmering interpersonal/domestic conflict. For the expat, as long as you’re vigilant and savvy, there’s not too much to worry about. The safety that we feel in Ghana not only results in physical freedom, but also a kind of mental and emotional freedom that’s priceless.

2.  Language & Cultural Immersion

Like anywhere else, living in Ghana allows the expat to learn the culture and local languages naturally. Sentence structure, colloquialisms, intonations, cuisine,  traditions, manners, norms and nuances are all picked up through immersion.

What should give us all life is that diasporans will recognize similarities (good and bad) between Ghanaian and Black American cultures, especially Black southern culture. The same can be said when comparing Caribbean and Ghanaian cultures. There are certain tastes, sights, and sounds diasporans have surely seen before. And while it shouldn’t be surprising, I’m always giddy when see the Ghanaian doppelgängers of people I know back in the States.

These experiences are exponentially more impactful for children. Pathways in their brains are still developing, making them primed for learning. And for all of us, one way our brains receive and store information is through comparison. This is especially true for children who are still just figuring out the world around them. A child with the sustained firsthand knowledge that comes with living in a foreign country, who’s able to compare and contrast different cultures, has an enriched worldview. Ask a military brat. Then consider the impact if these experiences impart that child with pride, self-acceptance, and self-love. It’s something truly magical.

xoxo | Ni


COMING SOON … Top 5: Being a BAE Woman in Ghana


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