Dear Blog Followers:
My major apologies for the long silence. As many of you know, I have been busy living in Ghana since September 26. You have been on my mind at least once a week, and more than that in the last two weeks. I had such great plans of writing daily, posting weekly, and even reorganizing my blog when I left the U.S. Thank you for continuing to support me through the dry periods. As I mentioned in my first post from the continent, it’s not for want of material. It has more to do with overwhelm, and at times with the monotony and fatigue that comes with elder-care. I have been the sole care-giver for my 88 year-old Grandmother since November. I have also hosted two U.S. friends, both for two weeks at a time. In all honesty, I have not had a night by myself in 91 days. I do write at various times when my muse sets up shop (I am feverishly typing them up so I can begin sharing), but it’s been challenging finding that protected space to just disappear into my head.
As I sit on my yoga mat in my childhood bedroom listening to repeated plays of “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me, please have snow and mistletoe…” I can’t help but miss the snow (just a tad bit, mind you) and the mistletoe and the family I have left in the U.S. For seventeen years I have wished to spend Christmas in Ghana and now I am here and frankly, it feels so anti climatic. People I know fly home (Ghana) just for Christmas. Last year, I flew home (back to the U.S) for Christmas. This year, my mother and uncle asked me to stay until my mother could arrive to take over care of Grandmother. I acquiesced thinking, there’s nothing really tying me to the U.S at the moment, so why not?! What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d truly miss my other home. Miss the way the season unfolds over there. Miss the stillness when the snow is falling. Miss the excitement of my family of choice creating new holiday traditions. Miss delivering or serving meals at a shelter. Miss some alone time to reflect and write. Miss my sisters, mom and aunt and our own special traditions that have developed over the years of living in the U.S. I’ve been almost in tears at various points in the last week.
As a transcontinental woman I have been faced with leaving family behind at various times in the last 30 months since I began trying to live on the continent after fifteen years away. Each departure in each direction has been fraught with some anxiety, some sadness, and some excitement. My hope is that eventually it will get better or Ill choose one location (the Bay or Ghana) as my home base (most of my Ghana-based family are placing their bets on the latter). Moving back and forth so much requires that I not have any expensive possessions. I have now lost track of who has which item of clothing, piece of art, or my numerous collections of books. At any given moment I am of split mind: thinking the food culture in the Bay is where I ought to be with my gourmet cooking skills, or Ghana is where I ought to be starting my own writing coach business improving the writing skills of people. I continue to wait for a sign to show me the way. So far, I have had not received any definitive answers about my location. Or perhaps I have but I am not ready to accept them…
In the meantime I would like to share with you the highlights of the three months I’ve spent in Ghana:
You first heard from me after a month of being in Ghana when my college best friend came to visit Ghana. I stayed up all night like a kid on 24th night waiting for Santa and completed that poem I dedicated to our friendship. We had a glorious time, literally running around from dawn to dusk. I introduced her to a bunch of my Ghanaian friends, showed her my preparatory and secondary schools, tried every food Ghana had to offer (except kokonte and oto), and reconnected her with the family members that she had known in the US. It was lovely to have this relationship come full circle. I am still thankful for that protected amount of time we had. We had never been together in the same room, same bed, for more than 2 days at a time. We made it through the two weeks although towards Day 11 we needed a break away from each other. We made memories that I’m sure will last our lifetimes.
After she returned to the US, I was faced with a series of challenges key among them, the departure of the woman who had cared for Grandmother for almost seven years. I didn’t realize how much we had grown to depend on her over the years. Her smooth-running of the house made it seem effortless. After she had packed her bags I was at a loss for how to operate a home in a country I had never been an adult in. My panic had to quickly give way for a new adult to develop. Grandmother needed me, and I had a home to take charge of. Almost immediately, I discovered that there were various tasks that Grandmother had been putting off doing. The house needed a new septic tank, soak-away (I don’t think we have these in the U.S.), several electrical repairs, and a massive overhaul of the house including masonry work and painting. Grandmother had been resisting any form of modernization of her house so it was an uphill battle every day a new workman showed up. I was doing all this and taking care of her as well. Needless to say I grew several grey hairs within that first week. Towards the end of week three I cracked, told her I’d change my flight and leave immediately if she didn’t permit me to get her new care-giver. Somehow taking charge in this manner gained me the respect I’d been begging for the last ten years. Thankfully all repairs have been completed and I now have a new care-giver who Grandmother can tolerate. Although her presence gives me some wiggle room, she also needs daily direction so I have mostly become a full-time housewife with one child and a house-help, stealing pockets of writing time every so often. The 35 year-old who arrived 3 months ago is most certainly not the one who currently exists.
Another friend arrived just in time to save me from myself around the first week of December. MB was a Bay area friend I had known for only a few months. When she heard I was headed to Ghana, she asked if she could visit. Although her trip was a more subdued one because the country was under the stress of the democratic elections, we managed to make some memories as well; visiting Kumasi which KT and I were unable to do. Her visit made me wish I was returning to the Bay for the holidays.
By the end of her trip, my mother had booked her flight and informed me she would be arriving on New Year’s day, throwing the house into another frenzy with cleaning and re-organizing. See, I clean, but my mother is Mr. Bean’s character in that TV series (help! I can’t recall it for the life of me and IMdb is not helping); you can almost eat off her kitchen floor!
Throughout the three months I have cooked more than I cooked when I was in Ghana last year, however my true success came a couple days ago when I cooked my first Ghanaian four-course meal for Christmas day. I topped that with a Boxing Day brunch for 10 people. I just might have a career in cooking! In addition to cooking, I have tried to do more touristy stuff (when I can sneak out) and have met some amazing new people in the process. All is not lost! Cooking, writing, and these new friends have kept me going the last three months. (well that and Skype and text conversations with Bay Area family)
I have re-booked my ticket for late January with no real sense of whether I will return to the U.S. then or not. In the meantime I’d like to leave you with promises of posting more in the next few weeks as I settle into having reprieve from care-giver work.
“Climb Every Mountain…” is the instrumental playing as I end this update. Perhaps this is appropriate given my dilemma about permanence and location. I hope that your Christmases and other Holy Days were everything you set out for them to be.
Thank you for a wonderful year of support and love as you have read and commented on and offline. I pray I can be more faithful in the coming year. Keep me in prayer as I climb all my mountains to discover my dream. And may you do the same with the advent of this new year.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
To My Siblings, In Solidarity
The sun is beating down mercilessly on people who are already toasted varying degrees of brown and shades of black. The skies look like those on the Simpsons TV comedy: cotton-candy blue and white, and as I lay on my back, I can almost picture the credits rolling across the endless screen and hear the familiar tune playing. The sun beats down on my left side yet the gentle breezes from the right slowly caress and ease the heat of this equator sun, making it all worthwhile. The sound of a metal bell reminds me that some people are working even on this holiday. As the sound of the bell grows fainter and shifts to the background, it is replaced by the crowing of a rooster and the barking of dogs. Other sounds have become so much a part of the environment that one has to pay particular attention to be able to decipher what constitutes the cacophony.
Where am I? I’m sure you are dying to know! For Christmas, I gave myself the gift of a second pilgrimage to Haiti, Ayiti, the beautiful land of beautiful people where the great economic divide is as visible as the night and day that marks the passing of time and where suffering, as widespread as it is, never keeps the people from smiling back when you make eye contact. I had to return to Ayiti. It had wrapped its arms around me in May 2002 when I made my first pilgrimage and it had refused to let go. So I honored it, and all who were in it, by returning.
I am sitting on the rooftop, seven floors up, at St Joseph’s Home for Boys, affectionately called “Michael’s” after the director and founder. As I bask in the sunlight thoughts of snow, thousands of light years away, in my memory, I try to absorb all of Ayiti again—yes, I loved Ayiti, just as I loved my homeland, Ghana. I had fallen in love with Ayiti from the minute I exited the plane and had to make my way to the terminal on foot.
As I lie, I absorb all the sounds that are unique only to Ayiti and some of the other developing countries I have been blessed to visit: the sound of the vendors’ bells and voices advertising their wares, roosters crowing (although I am still unable to determine the exact reason since people have been awake since 4:30 am), music blaring out of speakers miles away echoed off the mountain sides, “tap taps” (local bus system) and taxis honking incessantly, engines of cars starting up, a PSA of some sort being run from the back of a pick-up truck with a make-shift megaphone, people calling out to each other in Kreyol, cats and dogs fighting for turf, and intermittent gun shots interspersing this orchestrated piece, poignant reminders of the state of the country.
The sun has dipped behind one of the many mountains that encircle Haiti although a part of the island is still bathed in sunlight and a shadow of light is thrown across the mountain. Sounds of nighttime are slowly replacing those of the day: generators kicking on (electricity is only available for part of the day), the crackling of firewood and the smell that accompanies it, as people prepare the evening meal, rush hour traffic with all its sounds, and radios and televisions blaring loudly.
The flight part of the journey had been uneventful and we had landed finally, after about 15-20 hours in airports (Ohio to Miami to Haiti), on the small farm runway that had cattle and goats grazing on it. About a half hour after landing, and squashed in the small cab of a pick up truck, with luggage competing for space, we were ascending and descending roads that were carved so adeptly out of the mountains. In the darkness, roads pitted with potholes filled with rain, gave the illusion of being smooth terrain until we were jolted out of our seats when our driver landed in one of them. It was pitch black, the kind of dark that threatens to swallow the dim, struggling headlights of the journeying vehicles. We had been driving for over 90 minutes when we had originally been told that the trip was a half hour max. There had to have been something wrong. I was convinced there had to have been rebels on the main highway and that’s why our guide had detoured. Who was to say?
Was my faith tested? You bet it was! I began saying the Rosary in my head and trying to remember any prayers I had memorized in my 20 years of Catholic school education. That having brought no comfort, I took refuge in making my petitions in my native tongue and just free-styling. At this point, I realized how ridiculous I might have seemed to any of my friends and family back home. I had made this trip after reconciling that “if this should be the end then so be it, I was going to Ayiti, come what may!” I smiled as I realized that this initial panic stage was natural when faced with trials. This thought surprisingly calmed me down enough to concentrate my efforts on watching the driver make it round each sharp bend in the two-lane mountain road, the lesser of the two evils. No sooner had I shifted my focus than we were arrived at our destination: the rectory at Plaissance.
Plaissance was one of the two reasons I had been itching to return to Ayiti. Located in the northern part of Ayiti, Plaissance for me was the French Riviera with all the mountains dripping with greenery. This was also where my host family lived and I could hardly wait to visit with them and catch up on 3 years worth of news…whew! Oh wait a minute, we can’t do that! The language barrier for me was my biggest struggle. Having had some elementary French in school, I could get by if people spoke French however, the Kreyol in Ayiti, a mixture of French and African languages, bore little resemblance to French. As I vacillated between excitement and disappointment, I began to piece together sentences in my head from the basic Kreyol I knew. Yes, I would tell them this or that, oh wait…how do you say this in Kreyol? I got ready for bed; tomorrow the words that eluded me now might come.
Gwo Jan was the other reason. This was where my other family lived. Two men and a lady! , Ari, Dja, and Carla. These three were my inspiration for some of the work I had gotten involved in since returning from my first trip. They had the arduous task of educating their own people, the people of Ayiti, about the history that lay beneath the brand name sneakers they loved to wear, the struggle with power, and the struggle against systems that was always in motion. They were also responsible for educating any tourists, who dared to enter their village, about the beautiful land of Ayiti and its people. These three, so far as I was concerned, were the heroes whose stories hardly ever got told. They had captured my heart and brain and engaged me in working for the struggle from the first time I had visited and though our communiques were few and far between we carried each other in our hearts and I couldn’t wait to see them again.
I look at the chaos that surrounds me. Sometimes I work well under pressure although this time all order and creativity has eluded me even though my deadline is but 24 hours away. The chaos, the order I strive for, the pressure which produces results, or so they say…all this is nothing compared to the thoughts that take residence in my head all day long as I go about the mundane tasks of my everyday life as one of the numbers in a big corporate institution.
These thoughts are far from related to my job or everyday routine. These thoughts are about the greater good, about service to all people, if I may be allowed to use clichés. My thoughts are with the people I met on my two trips to Ayiti (Haiti), my study abroad project in Morocco, my trips to Ghana, my working vacation in Egypt, my time at the Catholic Worker house in Denver, CO, or more recently and way less expensive, my chat with the unassuming man who everyone mistook for homeless. These are the things that occupy my head as I try to navigate my way through the numerous cubicles, edit letters, make copies, or prepare mail.
In these thoughts the perpetual question burns my innermost parts each time I can scrounge a few minutes to pause and reflect…what am I being called to do…in the long run, what really matters the most?
This question has come to me in various forms, and over the last five years since graduating from college I have processed this question in numerous settings: over dinner with religious discernment groups, in retreats, workshops, service trips, journaling, and mind you, this list is endless. If I have learned anything at all, it’s that, nobody else can tell me what my calling is because this is something that I need to discern for myself.
In journeying through this process of discernment, I have slowly learned more about myself, and my place in the grand scheme of things. I have come to cherish the heritage, the ancestry that makes me who I am today. I have discovered and embraced the similarities, as well as the differences, that make us all children of the Great Being.
It is with such a basic foundation that I returned to Ayiti for the second time. I returned not to donate time or money but to visit with the ones I had met once before, to sit in solidarity with my siblings, to share with each other the gift of our lives, despite the admonishment of family and friends fearing for my safety in Ayiti.
There is a quiet knowing…a sort of “I have arrived” feeling as I sit on my steps and crunch on some cereal. The “ChocoBalls” cereal I chose instead of the name brand one which cost 11/2 times more than this one. I may never get to live as simply in America as I do when I am in Ghana or Haiti but I can carefully consider my choices before making my small everyday decisions. I have been back two days now and I’m still buzzing with the energy and excitement that usually accompanies a return from a service trip where one has been made more aware and one has left with a resolution of some sort.
I’m reminded of my trip leader’s numerous poems that she read to us at prayer time while in Ayiti. One in particular sticks out: “to my brothers and sisters in third world countries” it begins and then it apologizes for the insensitivity on our parts that allows us to spend twenty minutes picking out what sweater or shoe to wear when my sister halfway around the world, is putting on the only piece of clothing or pair of shoes that she owns. This prayer has stayed with me since my very first trip to Ayiti because somehow that is how I manage to stay grounded…to constantly contemplate the faces of the people I know and am now fortunate to call family, in Ayiti. To remember their joy and excitement when they don their Sunday best for church or throw on the same pair of shoes for work day after day. To recall their smiles as they share what little they have with everyone around. To let myself revel in the optimism and conviction of the people as they say “Viva Ayiti”! My family in Plaissance and Gwojan who keep the dream of freedom alive, and continue to live and tell their story despite all attempts to silence them. They are the thoughts that constantly plague me as I go about my routine tasks. They are the constant heat from the equator sun, absent in the dead of winter, yet ever-present in my thoughts as I ponder what the greater good and ultimate calling is.
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That’s what we call the 26th of December in Ghana, and I’m sure in other British colonies. If we had presents, we gave them on Boxing Day. Usually, if I remember correctly, that’s when we made our rounds of various family and family friends’ homes. We took presents of fruit or cookies and stopped to drink Fanta or Coca Cola in each location. We sometimes ate jolloff or chicken at some of the homes. It had the feel of an American Thanksgiving Day. We would arrive home stuffed, and usually headed straight for bed.
It feels like eons ago. This is my 15th Christmas I have spent away from Ghana. It feels surreal to have had 18 consecutive ones and to now be bereft of them. My sister Sheela is in Ghana. I wish I had gone with her but there was no way I could have pulled off another ticket twice my rent. I think it makes me miss home the most when there is someone there “enjoying” it for me. Although yesterday, Sheela gave me one of the best presents ever–a Skype phone call with all my cousins. The ones with whom I grew up at least. I felt like the proud big sis to have all of them gathered around the computer talking in and out of turn catching me up and telling me I should be there. I smiled broadly on this end for moments after we hung up. I ought to have been there, but no use wishing that now. For months I had been kicking myself for going to Ghana in August instead. It would have been so much nicer at Christmas when everyone else was home as well, and definitely more enjoyable to go with Sheela. But I didn’t. I am here in the grey-slightly warming-up, sun-struggling-to-peek-through, Bay. Much as I love the Bay and California, this is the one year where I wished most for a White Christmas or a Christmas in Ghana. Perhaps it was mainly to do with the fact that Sheela was in Ghana or perhaps it had to do with the fact that I loved family and wanted to be surrounded by large quantities of good food, big laughs, and re-telling of stories.
In any case, I am here, trying to be content, to love being with me, and eek out some writing. I am going to finish up a piece on analyzing Christmas music which strangely enough disappears when it hits 11:59 pm on Christmas Day (have you noticed this?) Shouldn’t we be rejoicing now that the season is finally here? The child has been born? Yesterday afternoon, I was in CVS for an item (yes they were open) and they were already setting up the Christmas sale aisles for all the items that have come to define Christmas. I guess if the carols were gone, there was no need to keep the tinsel or miniature Nutcracker or reindeer. Ironically, I also noticed that close to 90% of all those working to dismantle Christmas were of Asian descent. Earlier on in the IHop in a pre-dominantly Black neighborhood, our server and several of her colleagues were also Asian. It was fascinating to me that I observed this stark difference. Were there always several Asian workers and servers, or did I just notice them more because it seemed they were the only ones working? Were they the only ones working? Why? As a woman of color sitting in a restaurant with a very diverse pool of customers, why did it bother me to see all Asian servers? Did Christmas bring all these people together? If so, why wasn’t the server pool just as diverse?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
It has been a while since I wrote anything current on my blog. I apologize to my avid readers. I will try to do better. It has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride since the beginning of November. It feels like it was Fall Break and now it’s the end of the semester with Christmas rolling in on the San Francisco fog, or perhaps with the thunder that’s been riddling the Bay. So I’ll catch you up briefly…ok not so briefly. I’m a writer, you know!
I spent part of my Fall Break in Ohio with my Grammie and family as we contemplated her health situation. I left them to attend CTA’s Anti-Racism team meeting which was being held in the same location as the annual Call to Action conference in Milwaukee. It was my ninth consecutive year of attending the conference, and the third year we had decided to attach our meeting to the annual conference.
The family of conference goers that I have acquired over these years have made it almost impossible to actually attend a conference session. Because we only see each other once a year, we want to try to squeeze every little bit of time out of the weekend. We usually begin with the pub crawl of sorts, then it’s the coffee-house and the fishbowl, then another pub crawl. In between all these are reunions of all sorts: the colored folks, the white folks, the next generation, the gay folk, you name it, we can create a caucus space for you. I have had the job of choreographing dance for the closing liturgy almost every year, with the exception of a couple, this year being one. This year, I had the privilege of introducing Asra Nomani, who was the Saturday morning plenary speaker. It amazed me to have found a kindred spirit in her almost instantaneously. Her talk titled, “Bad Girls of Faith: The Daughters of Sarah and Hajar Standing Together to Reclaim the Feminist Tradition” called us women (and men) to action in banding together to make change. It brought tears to my eyes when I went up to thank her and she took my hand and raised our joined hands together to show the solidarity of Muslims and Christians.
Over the 9 years I have come to literally love and cherish CTA and the folks I have come into contact with. I have grown up there. From the shy twenty-something year old (yes, I used to be shy) who knew there was something wrong with the Catholic Church but didn’t know what to do, to this now thirty-something year old who is outspoken, and able to discuss Church reform. I ask you, how does one let go of one’s family? Biological or chosen? A part of me feels that I have come to that fork in the road where I have outgrown the space. Or perhaps I am currently jaded and just need to step away to regroup.
Prior to leaving Ohio, my final visit with Grammie was pleasant, but upon my arrival in Milwaukee my sister alerted me that Grammie was rushed to the emergency room again. I was torn. Should I have stayed? I tried to go through conference as best as I could knowing that I had probably seen her for the last time. I returned to the Bay and three days later Grammie passed. Some of you have watched (virtually) over the last month while I’ve been dealing with the pain of losing an important woman in my life. What I realize each day I miss her is how much a part of my life she was even though I didn’t see her often. For some unusual reason, I think of her every time I look in the mirror on my medicine cabinet (I know! totally random…or not!). Knowing that we were not blood relation, this is a fascinating correlation. I am glad I did go home to see her and even more so that I was able to write something for her that we read at her memorial. Tonight I sit here writing in her nightshirt which is inscribed with the following: “Chick with Money” depicted by a bright yellow chick with lots of dollar signs and purses. There’s a magic marker addition that makes the “with” “with-out” thanks to her. I have also added my own commentary and turned the “out” into “some” which I’m sure has her cracking up.
I was torn for a really long time about her choice to be cremated. There would be no place to go “visit” her at. Where do people go when they are cremated? I have come to terms with it, thanks to my sister. She goes wherever she pleases now that she isn’t bound by a box. I like this idea of death. I have lost two family members this year, my Aunty Gytha to CA and my Grammie. And both of them were cremated so I know I’ll have both of them around always.
So thus ended November…
I returned from the memorial with tons of homework to do for my MFA and finals week looming ahead. I never thought there’d be such a thing as finals in an MFA program. It’s just writing, right? Well, I had to produce 10-20 pages of material to be workshopped that finals week, plus complete a final map project for my other class. So finals for me became completing the workshop piece and the map project while returning to work to pay back those hours my supervisor let me have to go home.
I know I began the semester with updates about the program and some of my prompts from class assignments. It is only fitting that I wrap up the semester with an update. So, for starters let’s just say that those “speycial” cohort members did not change, at least not in any drastic way as to warrant comment. I ended my semester slightly jaded because I didn’t feel like I had gotten what I had paid for. I was perturbed that not only was the program expensive, it had no substantial financial aid to speak of. It had no money for conferences, nor did it seem to make any particular effort in providing students with recommendations on how to come by money. Shoot, several of my cohort colleagues didn’t even know about all the conferences they could attend. And as enlightening as our Saturday Night Events were, I was often too tired to enjoy them having just completed an 8-hour class session. Would I recommend a low-res MFA? I’m not so sure after all. One of my instructors encouraged me to dream up my perfect MFA program. I think I will withhold final judgments until such time as I produce this document.
So finals are done, Christmas is like 4 days away or something. It’s scary how the year has flown by and how so much has changed in the year. I was part of a writing workshop on Saturday with Jen Cross and a lot of our prompts and writing had to do with the holiday season, and for almost all of us it was not the usual “sleigh-bells-ring-snow-is-glistening” fantasy. So onward with our reality, I say…stay tuned for some of the manifestations of the prompts from Saturday.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )