Dr. Komli-Kofi (George) Atsina


As a baby, George had been abandoned by his mother and lived initially with his father.  In later years he would be raised by other villagers.  As a baby, his father had tied him to the back of a bicycle each day, rode off to work and laid the baby in the field where he worked.  At the end of the day, George's father would tie him to the back of the bicycle once again and peddle home.

As a child,  George had begged door-to-door at Christmas.  As George told this story, one had the impression that it was a rather positive experience for him, and for the other children who begged door to door.  He received generous hand-outs and food was plentiful for several days.  He also claims that in more recent years, handing out money, rather than food, has become more common.

We talked a bit about George's eating habits.  We had rarely seen him eat during the week that we visited.  I think he sat down to a meal with us only once or twice and didn't eat much.  During his life, George has never been in the habit of eating three meals a day.  Normally he will eat once a day, occasionally he doesn't eat at all during a single day.  He told me that even when he was a student, living in Ames, Iowa, he didn't eat three meals a day.

George also told a story from his school days in Accra, when he had no place to go during the breaks. A classmate invited George to store his belongings, at his house, but the classmate's mother would not agree to letting George stay at the home during the break. Happy to have a place to store his belongings, George roamed the streets of Accra, sleeping in the shade by day and walked the streets at night. George considered it to be too dangerous to sleep in the open during the night.

George and Adjoa met when George was in high school in Accra. Adjoa came from an educated family. Her father was a physician's assistant who assisted a foreign doctor from the West Indies. Adjoa’s parents didn’t like George much. Eventually they fell in love, but in the meantime, George had left Ghana to study at the university in Hamburg. Adjoa made plans to study French, in Paris. Instead, she went to Hamburg and married George! Many years later, Adjoa’s parents learned to love George like a son and George and Adjoa’s father eventually became very close.

Dr. Atsina studied German at Hamburg. As a matter of fact, he was able to pass the German proficiency test after only six months so he began to study physics.

George also had become quite enamored of his ability to find jobs and make money in Germany. He often went to the student union, where a job board was located. On that job board, a person might advertise that they would like to hire a college student for two hours to move some furniture on a certain day. George told me that he was amazed, "They actually paid me MONEY for things I would happily do for free, and they sometimes even gave me something to EAT!" The money became more and more appealing and eventually George found a job unloading ships at the harbor, and his studies began to slide. The money seemed so wonderful – money, money, money!

Finally, one day George found himself working THREE shifts at the harbor, unloading bone meal. By the third shift George was completely white, covered from head to toe by this fine white dust. He had also neglected to put on the mask that he was given, to prevent him from inhaling the powdered bone. Once, during the third shift, George collapsed and woke up in a Hamburg hospital three days later.

During this three-day period, Adjoa, who had now joined George in Hamburg, had no idea where her husband was, or what had happened to him. Eventually, the Hamburg police helped Adjoa to track down George who recovered after a week in the hospital. After a week in the hospital, George had learned a valuable lesson that would stick with him the rest of his life. All the money that he had made and all that he had saved was completely used up by his stay in the hospital! George decided that it was time to get serious about his college education.

He was too embarrassed to return to the physics department at Hamburg, so George enrolled in Mechanical Engineering. Some years later George would become the first foreigner to earn the mechanical engineering degree from the University of Hamburg in the standard five years that it took the German students.