- Christabel Nsiah-Buadi
- cultural identity
- Media representation
S***hole Country: “The Struggle Narrative Can Go Straight To Hell”
‘S***hole Country,’ a podcast presented by Radiotopia, is written and co-produced by ‘Afia Kaakyire.’ Yes, I use quotation marks because I don’t know the protagonist/host’s real name — and that’s by design. ‘Afia’ is keeping her real identity secret because, she says, ‘her parents would kill her’ if they found out she was putting ALL of the family business out into these streets.
The truth is her reasons for staying anonymous make sense. Trust me, this is speaking as someone who would love to interview her on the podcast. As a writer, I understand the psychology. By staying in the shadows, ‘Afia’ gave herself the freedom to tell ALL of her truth. She shares a lot. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say that when I suspected what her final ‘bombshell’ would be, I stopped wondering if we’d ever find out the character’s name. Instead, I started feeling very protective of the actual woman.
The title, as you may have gathered, is a quote by the 45th President of the United States. Back in 2018, Donald Trump, while talking with lawmakers in the Oval Office about immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, and African nations, complained, “Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?”
Trump’s comments, dripping with his racism, was – and are shared by many, many others. Even people who condemn his remarks likely see these nations as ones that have nothing to offer, ones that are filled with lost, broken, poverty-stricken individuals. After all, the popular narrative for economic migrants in the US or Europe is that they want to make ‘a better life’ for themselves. Yet, no one ever stops to ask what that ‘better’ is.
Kaakyire’s podcast challenges this idea through her family history. And it all starts with her mother, Agnes’ story. For the record, I think her mama is the star of the podcast. It’s a complex one, told with love and humour, revealing push and pull factors. It involves crime, money, lots of ambition, and a trailer load of smarts.
The story is full of twists, turns, and humour. For example, Auntie Agnes (yes, I’m claiming her) initially comes across as a manipulative immigrant mother. I found myself shouting “OF COURSE SHE DID!” when it looked like she might be trying to shame and bully ‘Afia’ into staying in Ghana with her. But, as her reasons for leaving Ghana unfolded, I learned she was more complex than I assumed. Auntie Agnes’ story challenges everything the media tells us about why immigrants move.
Kaakyire’s parents are also one of the ones who made it. And I mean, really made it. They worked themselves to the bone to live the American dream. But, in Ghana, they’re landlords who drive fancy cars and go to polo matches. Yes, you read me right. So when her mother makes her an offer she can’t refuse, she – and we – begin a journey of seeing a different side to Ghana.
Their success and their desire to pass it down raises a difficult personal quandary for the protagonist. When you grow up living with the sharp end of policies that exclude you from influence and power because of where your roots are, can you ever be OK with being at the centre of power in a different country…because of where you were born?
But the most important story of ‘S***hole Country’ isn’t the one about her parents. Instead, it’s about how Afia learns to embrace all of who she is and wonders if she could ever have a relationship with this country she loves.
Again, without giving too much away, Afia’s story will resonate with many ‘third-culture’ kids. We never fit neatly into the worlds we’re from. For most of us, it’s a private pain that we keep to ourselves. It was a poignant reminder that, in the end, claiming your culture isn’t just about waving the flag. It’s about fighting to be seen, loved, and respected for who you are.