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  • Writer's pictureKossivi Kpama

20 YEARS LIVING IN THE USA: I STILL DON’T HAVE ANY AMERICAN FRIENDS, AND I’M COOL WITH THAT

By Kossivi Kpama



One day at school, a fellow student was standing in front of the door of the building loosely holding onto his pants which he had allowed to slump down to his knees. Posing like a gangster, he yelled, “Hey! What’s up?” I was ready to fight him because from my limited understanding of English at the time, I thought he was teasing or threatening me (lol). Later, I realized I was wrong. He was just trying to be friendly. But I wasn’t interested.


In fact, I wasn’t keen on making friends with any of the Americans around me… not then…not now.


It has now been exactly 20 years since I left my home in Togo, a country in West Africa, at the age of 16 years old after losing my mother and embarking on a new life in the United States. I reflect on this, my immigration journey, my life in America as the sun descended on another quiet day in the city of Decatur, Georgia while sitting on my apartment balcony, taking in the vibrant sights and sounds of my neighborhood. Children were playing in the playground, squealing in delight. Parents were calling their names, urging them to return to the house. It was all so charming and tranquil. For a while now, America has felt like a place I can call home. Yet, I realized that I still don’t have any American friends. Not even one who I can actually call a friend. And to what may be a surprise to many, I am content with that.


“In fact, I wasn’t interested in making friends with any of the Americans around me, not then…not now.”


My immigration process started when my father tried to win a U.S. visa lottery back in 2001 in the hopes of finding a more financially sustainable life. Fortunately, he was selected. He was the first one to leave in 2002 and soon after, I followed in 2003. When dad announced his plan to the family, there were no outward displays of excitement nor sadness from us. But, on the day he left, we were all overtaken by grief.




When the time came for me to leave, my emotions were all over the place because I was leaving my siblings behind and I didn't know where I was going. Togo was the only place I knew. I left with two suitcases and my backpack. It was difficult saying goodbye to my siblings and not knowing when I was going to see them again. I knew I would deeply miss my family and my country of Togo.



I am Ewe, the largest ethnic group in Togo. We make up more than 20% of the country’s population. We are so pacific and that makes some people think that we are not aggressive enough. They forget that nobody pokes a sleeping lion (lol). Ewe people love to socialize and dance. We have a vibrant array of traditional dances like, agbadja, also known as the checken dance; bobobo, a shoulder and hip dance. We have contemporary dances too, like the popular Afrobeats moves. In the music scene, we have Toofan, King Mensah, Santrinos Raphael, Kiko, Almok and Pikaluz just to name a few.





When I came to America, it was not easy to adjust because I did not speak English at all. French is the official language in Togo and there is also Ewe (my native language), Mina, Tem, Nawdm, Gen, Aja, Moba, Ntcham, Lama and dozens of others.


I grew up in Clarkston, Georgia which has the highest concentration of immigrants in America. Known as the Ellis Island of the South and “the most diverse square mile in America,” the little city of Clarkston situated not far from downtown Atlanta, has been welcoming refugees and immigrants since the 1970s. Since then, more than 60,000 immigrants from all over the world have passed through or settled in Clarkston to start their new life in America. There are cultural community clubs, international food markets and diverse religious places of worship within Clarkston.





Arriving in America as a teenager, I went straight into the high school system. But without a good grasp of English, school was tough. But, I did not give up learning it. I tried my best to stick around those who I thought spoke it well. I remember when my high school English teacher told me, “If you want to speak good English, do not hang out with those who are speaking in slang.” That statement stuck with me up till now.


Early on after moving to America, I decided not to build a social network of American friends. I embraced solitude, not out of bitterness nor rejection. Rather, my choice to keep a low profile and focus on my goals and my family stems from a deep appreciation for my Togolese roots and a fierce desire to preserve my cultural identity. I had always been a fiercely independent person, unafraid to tread my own path and forging connections with those who couldn't understand nor shared my heritage seemed secondary to me. So I moved through my everyday life in America with a deep sense of focus. I graduated from Clarkston High School and then attended Southern Polytechnic State University. I transferred to Georgia Piedmont Technical College which was closer to my house. I studied electrical and computer engineering. University life was hard, too. I was the first generation in my family to get that far, so, there were no examples for me to follow. Some of my engineering and math classes were extremely challenging but, I pushed myself on, thinking about my siblings behind me. When I was done, I felt like I had climbed a mountain. I had earned a degree from an American college!


“...forging connections with those who couldn't understand nor shared my heritage seemed secondary to me.”


Over the years, I have built a fulfilling life for myself. Recently, I moved out west to Portland, Oregon where I work for one of the largest tech companies in America and I don’t shy away from wearing my West African clothes, showcasing my exquisite collection of traditional garments and accessories. I enjoy wearing agbada and ankara wax patterns. I get a lot of compliments on them.




I have also become involved in community initiatives. I dedicate some time and resources to participate in cultural events such as “International Day” and annual festivals. Whenever I go to the African diaspora community gatherings, I talk to the younger ones who were born in America to find out how much they know about the culture of their parents and to emphasize how important it is to be bilingual. Through these endeavors, I formed a tight-knit network of fellow immigrants who shared their experiences and values. But with my five siblings, their children and my wife, I see no need to expand my social circle very much.


You may still be baffled about my resolve to not have American friends. You may think that I am missing something. But my lack of American friends has never hindered my zest for life. On the contrary, I believe I have embraced the diversity of America, the country that I now call home, appreciating the mosaic of cultures that surrounded me here. I marvel at the flavors and aromas of diverse cuisines. When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate. I am moved by the mesmerizing rhythms of music from all corners of the globe that blast from speakers and radio stations across America. I love afrobeats; it’s the life of the party. I also like some Afro-Latina music, salsa, merengue, bachata. I listen to the collective tapestry of stories woven by the countless immigrants who, like me, have made the USA their sanctuary.


I accept that I maintain an isolated social circle. But I do not shun all Americans. I interact with them daily at the workplace and around my community. I exchange pleasantries with my neighbors, share smiles with strangers and engage in cordial small-talk. However, I always and will always keep a certain distance, for I know that my heart thrives not in America, but in the warmth of my homeland back in Togo, West Africa.


The food in Togo is superb and delicious. When it comes to foods like jollof rice, the Togolese know how to balance the ingredients. And those ongoing jollof wars? We, Togolese, do not get into the warfare with the Nigerians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, Liberians and other West Africans who think they can cook jollof better because we know we got it. Calm and clean, the beaches in Lome, our capital city, are some of the best you would visit in the world. The people are among the most respectful beings you’ll ever meet and hard working. Yes, I live in America but the beauty of the culture, the foods, the music of Togo, my homeland, never ceases to fill my heart with appreciation. I find that Americans have a superiority complex that makes them believe that their ways are the best in the world or that there is nothing better anywhere else. I have a tolerant approach. I get along with anyone I come in contact with without any issues because I have a cultural background and upbringing that taught me how to respect myself and others and I humbly listen to the experiences of others. I also think about my parents and how my actions reflect on them. As the eldest son of the family, I know my siblings are always watching me.


“We, Togolese, do not get into the warfare with the Nigerians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, Liberians and other West Africans who think they can cook jollof better because we know we got it.”


As the years have gone by, I have observed how people around me try to manage their friendships. I noticed they were entangled in the complexities and demands of friendships. This solidified my resolve even further. My solitary lifestyle gives me a simplicity, a freedom from expectations and obligations that come with trying to understand and manage Americans as friends. This is a freedom that I cherish and would never give up for anything in the world.





Let’s not forget that America is a very capitalist country, meaning it is transactional. Money is the basis for everything here. I came to realize that you have to work very hard to make money. Back home in Togo, we had fed ourselves with the notion that making money in America is easy. We did not realize how wrong we were! So in America, I put my head down and I work.


“I find that Americans have a superiority complex that makes them believe that their ways are the best in the world or that there is nothing better anywhere else.”


Togo is never far from my consciousness. I’ve been traveling to Togo more often and now I have a closer view of the progress that my peers and families are making back home. I don’t only travel to Togo. I also go to Benin and Ghana (where most of the Ewe people live) to visit family and friends there, too. Anytime I feel like I need a break from America, a reset from life here, I travel home to West Africa to recharge and when I come back to the USA, I perform better. I was in September of 2022 to get my beautiful wife Esse.


“Back home in Togo, we had fed ourselves with the idea that making money in America is easy. We did not realize how wrong we were!”


Back in Togo, people see that I have changed a bit. I reason a bit differently from them. However, I try to blend in and not bring attention to myself. But it’s still obvious. I have two cultures inside of me now: American and Togolese. All I can do is pick and choose from these cultures, the elements that will benefit me and serve me in the long run.


“Anytime I feel like I need a break from America, a reset from life here, I travel home to West Africa to recharge and when I come back to the USA, I perform better.”


So on that tranquil evening as I watched the sun disappear behind the city skyline, a wave of contentment settled over me. I had learned to navigate the twists and turns that come with immigration, like learning a new language while studying at the same time. I had to learn the work ethic of the American capitalist system and also preserve my heritage while embracing the opportunities that my new home provided. I have come to realize that true fulfillment lay not in the quantity of friendships, but in the quality of the connections I had cultivated. For example, the job I have today was because I met a recruiter two years back on Georgia Tech’s Campus. I kept his business card and stayed in contact with him. Sometimes, you just never know who will be there for you.


“I have two cultures inside of me now: American and Togolese. All I can do is pick and choose from these cultures, the elements that will benefit me and serve me in the long run.”


With a peaceful heart and a renewed sense of purpose, I turned away from the balcony, ready to embrace another day of enriching my life and the lives of others. For me, 20 years in the USA has brought invaluable lessons and the unwavering certainty that I am exactly where I am meant to be – living with the memories of my homeland and pleased in my decision to remain, blissfully, without American friends.



Kossivi Kpama is an electrical engineer technician living in Portland, Oregon. He spends time between Portland and metro-Atlanta in Georgia. He enjoys good music, hiking and traveling.


Instagram @kossivi Remon


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