Maame Afon’s new music video, “Mala Lala/Emi Oko Orin” boasts a catchy tune; I listened to it four days ago and I am still humming the refrain. The inclusion of background preparations with bantering lends a friendly and familiar feel to the video. The singer and her band invite the viewer/listener in by offering us a stake in what’s about to happen. Paa Kwesi is dilly-dallying. Junior is once again blaming his perpetual tardiness on “Accra traffic.” This whole scene rolls along to soothing instrumentals that set the tone for the actual song.
Maame Afon begins singing, and the pause button is clicked; daily life comes to a halt in the city. A girl skips and twists her arms as she sings along. A young boy hops off his bike to display that spin and two-step his elders taught him. A newly-wed couple celebrates their partnership with a dip in time to the music.
In the village, the masons pause their labor to come help push the stalled car. The young children discover the celebrity in their midst and ask for a song. Sophisticated musical instruments have nothing on the empty paint buckets, saucepan lids, and horns. To top it off, the people in the village work in unison. They pause to praise together. Some salsa, some slide, some two-step. They perform a call and response of sorts.
People all over are pausing to enjoy the beat. Maame is comfortable in both environments. The song appeals to just about everyone. The lyrics are easy to pick up. The colors are playful, tricking your eyes with blues, oranges, sepia, and good-old, black & white. There’s a lot to love about this video! My only complaint: why couldn’t the woman frying yam stop and praise too? I guess it’s the Martha-Mary scenario, huh?
If there is one word to describe this video I would have to pick ‘dance.’ Watching everyone dance, made me grab my sister to practice some salsa moves. Your turn, get up and dance!
“aribiti arabata” is my new phrase!
I walk down the street in my flowing Ghanaian print dress. I am on my way to my favourite Eritrean café to journal about my swearing-in ceremony. I am sentimental. I want to shout out, and then grin broadly while I tell everyone I meet, “I am a US citizen now.” I smile broadly at some folks. Most of them, white men, stare some place above my eyebrows and don’t acknowledge me. I want to say I am one of you now, but somewhere deep inside I know this can never be true. I have lived in this country long enough to know this isn’t the whole narrative. I continue to walk and smile anyway. A Black woman and her daughter stop me to comment on the African fabric; they make small talk. I contemplate sharing my good news. All of a sudden I’m shy.
Earlier as I sat listening to the many levels of ceremonial rites, I penned a few words on the blank portions of my program. Some are mine, others are what some speakers said, yet others are reflections from what my fellow citizens said:
The theater is packed full with family members and well-wishers seated up above in the mezzanine and the new citizens down in orchestra. I feel I am standing on the edge of making history. Goosebumps take residence on my skin and refuse to move on.
Pictures of the White House, Mt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Washington Monument flash across the screen suspended from the ceiling. In the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland, California, about 2000 people are gathered to celebrate.
These flashing pictures are interspersed with black and white and sepia shots of the millions of immigrants who have rolled through Ellis Island over the centuries. The pictures show them waving mini Star Spangled Banners. Tears fill my eyes despite my resolve not to ruin my rarely made-up-but made-up-for-the-occasion face. That mascara was applied after ten minutes of fretting.
The steady scroll of pictures begins to switch to our own locale. I see the Golden Gate flash across, followed by the Bay Bridge, then the Redwoods and numerous mountainscapes, lush with greenery or red desert dirt. I live here! My heart skips a beat. I dab my tears quickly as they roll down my cheek. I imagine the trail of salt it leaves.
Names of countries flash across the screen. Flags follow. I try to test my knowledge by matching country to flag. Countries whose former citizens are being sworn in. I smile sadly as Ghana and then much later, my red-green-yellow dotted with the black star, appear on the screen. Another tear rolls down. Would this be termed a betrayal? I wonder how many other Ghanaians are in the room. Are they and other citizens feeling pangs of guilt?
As my guilt slinks into the corner, country names are called out and former citizens stand. I discover that of the 111 countries amassing the 1206 immigrants represented in the room, I am the only one standing in for Ghana. Contrary to popular belief Africans aren’t dying to give up their allegiance to their countries. More tears. This time I give up trying to wipe them. I try to smile through my tears satisfied that we have proved them wrong, at least for this event. China, Mexico, and a handful of European countries actually have the highest number of immigrants present. Go figure!
The MC thinks he’s funny, making jokes that get a stilted-clapping response at best.
“No more waiting in lines at ports of entry. Your blue book waves you through and buys you a smile.” Yeah right! I will test this theory when I return from Ghana in the fall.
“Your passport is a valuable document, use it in good faith and protect it. It gives you the freedom to choose your path.” This, I myself know to be true. I couldn’t be an “aimlessly” wandering academic back in my home country; the pressure would have had me conforming by now.
“America is better for all 1206 of you deciding to become citizens.” Really? Do you mean that?
A past immigrant of Asian descent gives the formal address. Ironic that they would pick one of the model minority. She is proud as she says:
“Value family because that is the foundation of this country.” Oh Lord here we go!
“One of the first and most important things to do is to learn English.” I wonder if anyone is chuckling in their heads. This from someone who has obviously mastered the language enough to be given a speaking part. I roll my eyes. I wonder how much of her speech is doctored.
“You are not foreign anymore!” This pronouncement makes me almost guffaw forgetting where I am. We, all of us with our blended accents and difficult-to-pronounce names, will always be foreign.
The ideals we espouse in this here ‘land of the brave’ are tantalizing alright. The packaged U.S we sell to immigrants is attractive. Having lived in this country for 17 years I know living up to these ideals is where the real work is. It’s where we as a people very often fall short.
Later, I wave my mini banner and sing, “O Say Can You See…” The harmony is touching. I reflect on all the journeys that culminate in this theatre. More tears. I think on my own journey and my reticence to make this particular commitment. Have I failed in choosing access? Much later, I walk the streets bordering Piedmont and Emeryville wanting to shout “I do!” to anyone who cares to know. I have bought this package with all its flaws. Now what can I do about it?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
I stare down at my swollen ankles and use my hands to trace the chubbiness right from the ankles to the toes. I used to want to be this fat. The kind of nice plump that people could tell by looking at my feet, that I was well cared for. Now I know it’s not healthy to be over a certain weight given one’s specific body type. But as a young person who pretty much weighed between 80 and 100lbs until my mid 20’s, I was teased mercilessly. Complete with buck teeth, I was the brunt of many a joke in my classrooms over my entire school career, that is until I wore myself out praying to become fat, eating all things fatty, and padding my clothes.
It’s funny how a tiny act like staring at swollen feet can evoke such a powerful memory.
In any case, I had almost a four hour layover in Brussels. It’s slowly dwindling and I am happy for that. There are no shops in this section of the airport. This is probably a good thing since I am broke anyway. This trip is costing me a lot more than I bargained for. Or maybe the truth is I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to move my life to Ghana for a year. With a ticket over $1800, airline baggage fees about $300, shipping 3 barrels costing $175 each, travel to and from Cali, shopping for professional clothing and other household things, I think I am close to $5000 in total moving costs.
Was it worth it all? What happens if I decide this is not for me, and I want out? What do I do with all these things I’ve shipped to Ghana? But what if I decide, I want to stay? How many of my contemporaries return to Ghana and stay this early in their lives,l. at age 34? I know of folks retiring there after they’ve acquired their “fortunes” or amassed enough wealth to live better than they used to live when they were there. I know these folks are around my mother’s age. But what would the country look like if my contemporaries all came home in their numbers and pushed for better functioning public service systems. New public restrooms. Dual-, better yet, multiple-carriage roadways that were built in the allotted amount of time with no contractor “chopping” the money. Traffic regulations implemented and thwarters penalized. Child labor abolished and perpetrators dealt with harshly. The status of women elevated and their well-being and thriving be of national concern. What if my coming home, our coming home would aid in this process? Would I have the patience to deal with the traffic, poor cell service, filthy public restrooms or lack of, and the superiorist attitudes of men?
Lots of people commend me when I say I’m returning to my home country. Most wish me well amid comments of “there’s no place like home.” A few laugh out loud in my face saying: “no way you are going to make it. Those people will drive you nuts.” I first I saw this as some challenge. Then with sadness, as I saw my own people give up on their own developing countries. Then I saw the added layer of how they perceived my assimilation. Was I so assimilated that I was unable to return to my own culture? Then there’s my mom who says jokingly, Kuukua loves Ghana. She’s a Ghanaian through and through.” I’m usually waiting for the “you can’t take the Ghanaian out of her” part. It doesn’t come. Maybe that’s my own baggage. Is this a bad thing? Idk for right now.
For now, my swollen feet tell the story of my long journey to try out this my home country. I’m in Brussels after traveling from Columbus to Chicago, a total of about 8 ½ hours flying time but more of prep and stress. I still have about 8 more hours to go not including the layover. Ugh! Anyway, onward I say.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
There is a lot to say and do but for some reason I am quiet and calm. I booked my flights yesterday and it gave me some calm after it was all done. It’s scary to be making such a big move. It didn’t occur to me until Nana Nyarko said it that I was really doing something brave. Yes, it was home but it was out of my comfort zone. A place I hadn’t lived in for 16 years. I am taking a big leap of faith dragging myself off to another continent and especially to a country where sexism and homophobia have lunch together every day. A place where any sense of progressiveness is sometimes seen as an adoption of Western ideals and a booting of the traditional homegrown ones. Homophobia and sexism are preached in the pulpit on Sundays at most churches, discussed and prayed about at Bible Study on weekdays, and argued about over Star beer in the local chop bars where men retreat to instead of going home to their toiling wives.
Over the last two months I’ve been privy to conversations with several people, some of which have scared me. People in charge talk like this? These are the voices in the mainstream? What will happen to the world if we don’t stand up and counter some of these conversations and yelling matches? What happens if those of us with alternative voices chose to remain quiet? I’ve been more shocked at my own friends’ reactions to their “lot in life” to use the phrase rather facetiously. Most of the women I encountered knew their worth but some were willing to let society dictate to them how much they should be worth. Some were willing to be physically groped in public places because it was easier than causing a scene and drawing attention to the man doing it. Some had never been told their worth and so didn’t know to expect any better. On an average a woman is guaranteed to be forcefully grabbed by a strange man at least once a day if she leaves her house and more if she uses public transit. This is not OK! The term, “Personal Space” and “Boundaries” mean absolutely nothing to most men, married or not. The common retort I’ve gotten is that women were created for men’s pleasure so any woman who doesn’t acquiesce to such harassment hates men, this then ushers in the topic of homophobia and when this comes in, people literally lose their minds.
But I think I am beginning at a good place. The school I’m headed to is an international one, and there is only a handful of its kind in Ghana. As such, it is a cocoon of sorts, and this characteristic both thrills and disturbs me a bit. It would be a microcosm of Berkeley to an extent but there will be more people who look like me than not providing a comfort I have not been privileged to have before. I have been assured of care and support for this journey, but it’s my conscience that nags about service to the poor and how this fits in. The school is one of the more expensive schools in Ghana and even though they serve orphans as well, the concept still remains that it is an exclusive school of 320 students more than half of whom can afford to be there. I have heard only positive things from everyone I’ve spoken to. I know now after traipsing through five institutions that no institution is perfect. Some are better than others but they are all people-made and so have flaws. Once I learned this, and also that institutions don’t always work for people, especially my people, I had a whole new understanding and appreciation for them and my relationship with them. I hope this will be one of the better ones. This hope is what tempers the nervousness and anxiety that seizes hold of me at all hours. What the heck am I doing? When I can’t answer this question, I try to pack. When fitting 16 years of life in America into 2 50-lb suitcases fails, I go shopping. After all, I am going to have to replace those shoes I gave to Aunty Ama. JRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
Enuanom na adofo, mi gyena Ghana na miri kyerew0
I owe you one. I apologize for the silence since my angst filled post 2 months ago. Since most of you follow me on FB I assume that you mostly all know that I am in Ghana. It is day 6 of my 73-day experiment to try on my country of birth. So far so good. I’m happy to report that I’ve had waakye, my favorite street-vendor food, for breakfast and dinner on a couple of occasions. The jet-lag is challenging leaving me consistently sleep-filled and nodding off in the most inopportune of places like in the taxi cab or sitting upright on my bed working my way through one of my numerous “summer reading” texts. The journey was pleasant albeit rather long and arduous on the no-longer-limber body.
“Hi Sir!” I flashed all 32 molars as I attempted to get help from the guy in the seat across the aisle from me. “Would you mind terribly helping me with my carry-on?” I’ve been told I smile pretty. It helps that I have a pretty face to go with it.
“Why of course! Anything for that pretty smile.” Feminism out the door, Or perhaps it’s a different articulation of feminism (we can debate that at a later date). With ganglions on both wrists and two wrist surgeries behind me, hand luggage was always a hassle. Try as I did to minimize how much I took aboard flights, I never seemed to succeed. The extra pound or three off the 50-pounder checked luggage almost always inevitably ended up in my hand luggage. The past few months of traveling had actually found me perfecting a system: Wait until everyone was boarded so there was sure to be no overhead space for my luggage then feign surprise as they asked if I would mind terribly if they gate-checked it for free! I would pretend to think it over ever so momentarily pretending that I might need something from it during the flight. I would then acquiesce, and waving the bag away saunter onto the plane with a triumphant look. Well for this transatlantic trip, it didn’t work that way. They couldn’t gate-check the luggage. So the flight attendants’ brought me a Delta plastic bag and asked me to downsize the hand luggage a bit until we could zip it back down to its original un-expanded size. The funny thing is the sir I asked seemed to struggle with the luggage almost as much as I would have. I guess that should teach me to go by appearances. Anyway, I made it through to Amsterdam smiling at strange white men who surprisingly happened to be contractors from the South. Baton Rouge, South Carolina, and Texas. There’s a race commentary for later. In Amsterdam, all hand luggage were forcibly checked. I was relieved.
In a throwback to my first time in an arcade, I settled into the 17-hour plane ride with two stops and 3 hours of layover, scanning the over 100 entertainment options with panicking and frenzied calculations. If I chose wisely, didn’t doze off, or take breaks while at the watering hole, I could potentially see 4 movies on the first leg and 3 on the second. What if I couldn’t decide which 7 were worth it? In the end, I didn’t make the 7 cut but I did see the period classics that I had missed in the theatres: the 7th Harry Potter (somebody needs to kiss already!), Black Swan (OMG!), Life As We Know It with Katherine Heigl, and Going the Distance with Drew Barrymore. I saw bits of Barney’s Version, No Strings Attached, The Rite, and Big Momma 3, enough to know not to spend any more shrinking brain cells on them. I believe that such nocturnal busyness is responsible for my current super comatose level of jet-lag.
I arrived in Accra worn out but was rescued almost immediately by Papa Kwame, our Estate Manager. With him by my side, I could let some of my defenses down so I did. He walked me through the immigration paperwork and a one-hour wait for my luggage (I’ll never complain about SFO again!). Another hour later, we pull into our compound.
Thanks to my MFA writing, I was ready for my aloof Grandmother. This time I didn’t even attempt to chase her for a hug. She stood at the back door almost nervously as I approached the front door calling her name to ask how she was.
“Hi Ma! Otsi Den?”
She responded with a mumble. Something about how old age sucks. I nodded knowing I could neither agree nor disagree on this fact. Having written out quite a bit of scene around my interactions with Grandmother, I could almost predict the next sequence of dialogue. They came just as I imagined. They had to do with how much she hates my hair this way. The baby locs that I’ve been twisting.
“Do you like it?” I play clueless twirling one of them. “I did it myself,” I add proudly still ignoring her discomfort.
I abandoned the effort and asked what was for dinner. I then went to my room to re-arrange the luggage the house-help unloaded, shed my travel clothes, and spray my room with the mosquito spray readying myself for my first night back in Ghana.
This is how I begun and ended the main part of this epic journey.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
I am in Ohio with my family. I’m sitting at the dining room table in an empty house (unless you count the dog) sipping on coffee which although my doctors have banned, I sneak when I’m home because it’s tradition.
Ohio was the first stop on the migration trail. My sisters and I would later move away to chase dreams of our own, but somehow we always found ourselves here whenever things went awry. Sometimes too it was to celebrate major events in our lives, but often it was to re-group, get pep talks, reminisce, and sneak copious amounts of coffee.
I am home this time because I was just stopping through on my way to yet another conference panel to publicize the Anthology. At least that’s what it was when I originally bought my ticket, which thanks to the conference funding at CIIS, I was able to afford. But as the months have flown by it has been something I have come to look forward to. And even more so in the last two weeks.
My aunt and uncle, who practically raised my sister and me when my mother was away, have both been diagnosed with late stages of stomach cancer. In my adult lifetime (25-now) I have lost close to 10 family members to Cancer. They have all been difficult losses, but I think these two are more so because they were parents to us. They kept us sane when our grandmother was being her rigid principal self at home and forbidding simple things like riding bikes. My cousin, an only child, was happy to have siblings. We roamed her neighborhood with no particular purpose, something that was absolutely forbidden when we were with Grandmother.
So this particular struggle with Cancer is more personal. I feel angry every day and yell and scream at a higher power I don’t know if I believe in any longer. It is even more devastating as it becomes apparent each day that I might have seen them for the last time when I was in Ghana in August. I am beginning to wonder if I was loving when I saw them last. What was their impression of me in August? Were they proud of my collection of degrees? Were they proud of my recent publications? Were they wishing I would grow up by marrying some guy? (Any man at this point, because now it was about having children before it was too late.) Were they wishing I’d move back home?
This brings me back to home and the need of the immigrant family to re-group. We pooled money and gave my mom a ticket to Ghana because as the professional Hospice nurse, it made more sense for her to go. But it was with great difficulty that we let her leave on Tuesday. She was going to get what we here are longing for each day—a chance to cry and laugh and reminisce about the good and bad ole’ days. I’m jealous even as I sit here writing, chasing my dreams.
The struggle of the immigrant is sometimes way deeper than even the most succinct theories attest to. It’s not just about assimilating and chasing dreams with more gusto than we could in our own countries; it’s about giving up that which makes us who we are—the food, the distant relatives we couldn’t bring with us, the elaborate clothing that often looks out of place in the Western world. It’s about the struggle between the old world and new glitzy Western world. It’s about feeling schizophrenic (for me at least) all the time because I can’t be in both places at once. It’s about not being able to eat waakye (my favorite street food) whenever I have a yearning for it because I can’t just go to the corner of Hearst and Spruce and buy $2 worth of it. It’s about suddenly stalling on your native tongue, a language that used to roll off your tongue all day long, while speaking with a family member. All this on one side of the scale while chasing your dreams sometimes becomes weightless on the other side of the scale. Is chasing my dream worth the loss of all this? It all seems unbalanced when life is so short. Is this what I should be doing with my life? And what is IT that I am really doing with this life that is supposedly mine?
I have been chasing my dream of becoming a full-time writer for the last year since being accepted into CIIS. I have been workshopping 10-20 page pieces, reading craft books, mimicking my favorite authors, finding the lineage for my work, getting addicted to audio books, applying to artist residencies, speaking on panels, and just plain looking for money so I can sit home and write. I know it’s not impossible but it seems so most days. It’s not easy to juggle all this while trying to find time for that initial impetus for all these side effects: the writing itself. I may make it look glamorous or sound so irresistible, this life I’m leading, but underneath it all is the struggle to remain sane (less schizophrenic or bipolar), and true to my daily urge to write. Some days I think there’s no way I’ll find a job I like, a place to stay, and finish critiquing my fellow cohort members’ work, but on those days I remind myself what is most important at that particular point in my life. I’ve by no means perfected this, but I’m working on living a daily version of it.
My advice to other artists is this: don’t think for one minute that any other artist is doing more than you, or going places you will never go. If I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s this—you must walk the path that is yours to walk. People will forever be around for you to compare yourself to, people will forever have ideas about how else you could be hustling, but in all of it you must remain true to yourself and where you are at any particular moment. You alone can determine if that imbalance in the scale is worth it, and even so, for how long it is.
I can tell you this: there are days like today when nothing I’m doing seems worth missing out on being back in Ghana with my family and eating waakye every morning. But then again, there are days when my writing is all that matters. I am learning to love myself through all of these days and to cherish the very gift of writing itself because it gets me through both of these extremes and for now, that is enough.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 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.
******************************Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I too had an absentee ballot for a dad. Although in my case I was lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to still be on the continent of Africa with my mother’s people. Talk of bitter kola nuts, tubers of “real” yam, and sisters from spirit worlds had me missing my homeland, Ghana. I was right there with her as I imagined the sound of the ululations, and the knocking sound some of the words made as the women uttered them when Faith and her new-found sister strolled the streets.
I miss Ghana. Everyday! Moments like these– hearing other African writers read about the continent– take me back and make me miss it more. Later on in the evening, I played with sesame seeds, and tossed a few mini-sized Hersheys-kisses look-alikes into my mouth, all the while suspiciously eying the cinnamon bark being passed around. We were writing through sensory detail; I was thinking of millet, Golden Tree chocolates, and roots from the medicine woman’s jar. I guess Faith’s prompt worked. Even though I made a shameless plug for my latest anthology (AWWR), I didn’t have the guts to share my free write when it came time for the competition. aah well, another time I guess.
It was a great experience all around.
I want to thank the co-captains, Irina and Lex for birthing this brain child. And of course all the fun people who attended and brought good food. If you missed it, catch them next first Tuesday, February 1, 2011.
Be sure and also check out Faith Adiele’s main site.
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 )
« Previous Entries