So long, and thanks for all the Milo

When in Ghana 10 years ago, ActionMan and I would often breakfast at street stalls. Sometimes we’d have an omelette in a bread roll, washed down with Milo. ActionMan’s brothers & sister all start and end each day with a cup of weak, milky Milo. It seems to have become part of Ghana culture, just as it’s part of Australian culture.

Now in Milo you have a truly bicultural drink, at least in terms of our family mix: Milo originated in Australia, and while I haven’t done the research, I’d guess there’s a good chance it contains Ghanaian cocoa. As it happens, most of DadaK’s family are cocoa farmers. I wish I could say mine were dairy farmers, it would be such a neat match, but alas, we were in beef.

But I digress. I mention Milo because earlier this week I came home from Sydney International Airport with a 1.5 Kg tin of Milo, a small jar of hazelnut spread, and a very damp hanky. Anyone with Ghanaians in the family will spot where I’m heading with this.

On Wednesday night DadaK, Obapaa, ActionMan’s cousin, and all his siblings, took off for a long holiday in Ghana – maybe up to a year. ActionMan and I will be joining them during the Aussie winter. I, at least, am going to miss them enormously. I told ActionMan’s brothers they would need to bring a bucket to the airport to catch all my tears. On Tuesday they offered me a nice yellow one. (But I managed without it).

In the weeks leading up to this landmark event, huge suitcases started sprouting from the floor in DadaK’s home. I viewed them doubtfully. I hefted one. I tactfully suggested that maybe they borrow some scales. Discussions ensued as to how much in excess of the 20kg per person allowance they could get away with. Consultations with other Ghana returnees established you could get away with quite a lot. I remained dubious, but held my peace.

Vivid in my mind were visions of other airport farewells, of Ghanaians with suitcases spilling toilet rolls, shoes, cans of mackerel, six-packs of new undies, and, of course, tins of Milo, all over the floor as the travellers agonised over what they could safely leave behind.

And now these visions are probably also vivid in the minds of the long queue of non-Ghanaians who were waiting behind DadaK and Obapaa at the Emirates check-in the other day, while they tried to eliminate over 20kg of excess (except there were no toilet rolls this time).

It certainly added a welcome element of farce to an otherwise weepy occasion.

The first time I witnessed such a scene, many years ago, I was perplexed. Why woud you take tins of corned beef to Ghana? Why not save your money and buy it when you get there? But I understand the logic now. Ghana is not a rich country, and expatriate Ghanaians have a big financial responsibilty to their families back home. Visiting family in Ghana is not like visiting family in the US, or Europe, were you might chip into the kitty and buy them some duty-free, but that’s about it. Essentially, you support the family while you are visiting. And Ghanaian families tend towards large (ActionMan has about 40 cousins in Ghana).

So over the nine or so years since Obapaa was in Ghana, she has been shopping. One day she’ll buy a couple of extra tins of beef, another she’ll buy up big on undies at a sale. This, she assures me, works out cheaper than saving the money to spend in Ghana. Even when, as she & DadaK have done, you pay for a space in a container to ship all that accumulated gear. And what you can’t fit into the container, you try and squeeze into your luggage. Although I still don’t quite understand why you would try and squeeze in two bolts of Ghanaian cloth. Taking coal to Newcastle? But I’m sure there’s a good reason.

The end result is that when they are in Ghana, DadaK and Obapaa will have a ready supply of gifts for all-comers, plus a small stockpile of food to add to the family cupboard. This will considerably ease the financial pressure of fulfilling their obligations.

20kg per person isn’t really much, in this context. Especially when your friends are hoping you’ll take a few small items back to their families too. Fortunately, the check-in was generous and Obapaa and DadaK did get away with quite a bit of extra weight, but they still had to cull a lot. After sorting through various suitcases, they ended up with a large plastic bag that, apart from the Milo, was mostly full of new clothes (apparently all belonging to other people).

I thought at this point that it would all go home with me and I’d get a lot of visitors over the next few weeks as people collected their rejected stuff. But no, they were determined to take it all. And they did – almost. They deserve awards for determination and persistence. One of the people seeing them off (did I mention we made quite a large crowd?) went in search of plastic bags, so the excess could be carried on as hand luggage – in addition to what I’m sure was far too many over-size, overweight cabin bags and a huge pink teddy. Lucky for them, the crutches went in the hold.
The last I saw of the family, as I stood morosely clutching my newly acquired tin of Milo and my hazelnut spread, was Treasure clamouring to be carried through customs, which meant the teddy had to be carried by someone else. They were quite loaded down, but even the four year old did his bit.

And the Milo? We don’t drink it. But … the use-by date is not till 2009, and when we go to Ghana in May/June, our luggage allowance will be 50kg each ….

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2 thoughts on “So long, and thanks for all the Milo

  1. Pingback: So long, and thanks for all the Milo

  2. Pingback: Looking for Michael « Border Crossings

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