“Madam I will be right back!” he mouthed as he walked by, establishing eye-contact when I looked up. He was dressed in a blue uniform with his baton hanging from his belt. I assumed he was as one of the security men who patrolled Coconut Grove’s beachfront. Confused I nodded figuring he feared for my safety and wanted to inform me that he’d be abandoning his security post briefly.
Upon his return he walked boldly towards me grinning.
“I am back o! Good moring”
“Are you a student?” First question. Since I am usually reading or writing in my journal most people assume this. Of course it doesn’t help that I have that close-cropped Afro that in Ghana usually brands one as a secondary school student.
“Where are you from? Where are your people from?” He demanded as though I owed him an answer.
“I am from here.” I responded and immediately returned my eyes to my book hoping he’d get the hint.
“Oh really? I thought you were one of those negroes from Amrika. Your hair and your body structure is like them. Most of these people are students on vacation. Rich kids…you know?”
I’m beyond puzzled as to why I’m his victim for interrogation.
All this while, he was eyeing my backside even though I was seated and fully clothed in a skirt and top.
When I said I was Ghanaian, he wanted to know exactly where my family was from. Then as if on cue he switched languages on me to test my claim to the land.
“When did you arrive?” He now asked in Fanti.
“Around 6 yesterday…” My exasperated look made no impact on his attempt to barrel through his twenty questions.
“Aha! That’s why I didn’t see you. I had gone off duty! How long will you be staying?” He continued.
Exactly what was I supposed to be doing with this information? Where could such an awkward conversation possibly be headed? Was it a botched attempt at a pick-up routine? An attempt to ask for money for school fees or an ailing relative?
Figuring he had the vim to keep going, I decided to break his ascent when I sensed a pause in the conversation.
“Em…I need to finish this book.” I gestured to my saving grace, switching languages on him.
“Oh? Aaah. Ok. By all mins! Continue. Continue.” The awkward pause. And then because he looked like he’d opt for keeping silent company. I leaned back in my chair to end the love affair he was having with my behind. I shifted about nervously, gave him my best this-conversation-is-over look, said ‘buh-bye’ in a loud voice, and buried my livid head in a book.
What gives people the right to just walk into my personal space, stand over me, and quiz me? I am on vacation for crying out loud! I shouldn’t pay mad money to be harassed. Why did he feel I was the most approachable of all the negroes on the property?
I desperately wanted to know why he had approached me and what the long-term goal of that conversation had been. I would have given anything to have a glimpse at his mind map as he walked towards me.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
“Hi! My name is Antoinette. I’m forty. I’m independent, single and happy.”
“Hi Antoinette! Welcome.” A chorus of women’s voices responds.
“Em…hello? My name is Kuukua…this is my first meeting. Oh…and I’m thirty-four.”
“Hi Kuukua! Welcome.” A chorus of women’s voices responds yet again.
“Welcome to WWISH, Kuukua, a place for women who are independent, single, and happy,” the facilitator of the group adds.
I am thirty-four. I am independent. I am single. Given the right combination of factors, I am happy most of the time. When I’m unhappy it’s usually because I have not paid attention to my gut. Some days I wish there was an AA-type group for women like me. Sometimes it is the sheer lack of our visibility that throws me into depression. I know we are out there, but because we don’t see each other, perhaps we cave and join the married forces only to launch ourselves into a life of permanent depression. It was difficult to see everyone pairing off in their twenties and wonder if all was well with me. It became more concerning to outsiders when I hit thirty and kept going and still showed no signs of pairing off. Now, a few months from thirty-five, and with every other word out of my aunt’s mouth having to do with marriage, I can’t help thinking about it all over again. It’s not the quintessential 34-year crisis, although I won’t deny that this is probably riding on its heels, but it’s the crisis that’s not often talked about. Even when it is talked about, it’s often done in an attempt to fix it—getting the culprit a therapist, setting her up with numerous blind-dates, quizzing her so often that she begins to make-up ‘boyfriends’—trying to know the root cause of her spinsterhood so they can fix it. Speaking of the latter, at what age does one cross over from being just single into being a spinster? Does anyone know?
When I was growing up my grandmother did her best to ensure that my sister and I steered clear of boys, or rather that boys steered clear of us. She was so concerned with boys and grades that everything else played second fiddle. If actions really do speak louder than words, then she needn’t have tried so hard. All around us, every woman in our family, including her, had been married, once, some even twice, and yet were all raising children single-handedly with little or no male support. So is it a wonder that at thirty-four and thirty-one, my sister and I are still unmarried and have no plans to do so anytime soon? So why do I get flack from all these single mothers, about getting married? Why do I have to spend time creating and keeping track of Jamaican boyfriends that no one will be able to trace? (I discovered a few years back that my extended family had a knack for tracing last names from some of the neighboring West African countries.) Jamaica is safe. They are Africa uprooted. Some of “them” are Rasta people but so long as their skin is like mine and they believe in God, we have a match! Plus to them, Jamaica covers all of the Caribbean so that gives me quite a range.
There are lots of theories why women like me exist. Smart, highly-educated, beautiful, sexy, great cook. Also, Type A, neat-freak, no-nonsense, impatient, brutally honest. Unmarried and childless. By choice! They say we had strong female figures in our lives who over shadowed the male figures (if they were around). They say we are jaded because some guy in our past duped us. They say we are ‘apuskeleke.’ They say we hate men. They say we are lesbians. The list goes on. It never occurs to anyone that perhaps marriage is not meant for everyone, nor does it have to have a timeline, nor does the same timeline have to apply to everyone.
Last Saturday, riding with two of my aunts around town, we passed three dressed-up wedding vehicles. They both chorused each time they saw each one that this was a sign I was getting married soon. Why not spend the time asking after my health and wellbeing? Why not find out how my new job is going? Am I happy? What do I want to do with my life? I’ve been gone from their lives for sixteen years, and when I return all they want to talk about is that boyfriend I’m hiding abroad. At least my one aunt is open-minded enough to use the term, ‘partner.’ Talk of marriage and children seem to consume people’s interactions with me. Given the fact that I have neither, one has to wonder what about it could possibly hold their interest for so long.
I have been on the continent for a total of four months, the longest I have been here since I was whisked away at eighteen to go and benefit from the Western world’s mastery of education and order. The past four months have been anything but a shock to my system; I feel I have stepped backwards at least five decades. It doesn’t matter that I have two masters and I’m working on a third. “Are you married?” is the first question everyone asks after being introduced. Of course the ring on my ring finger causes some confusion, but that’s another story. It seems over here in my old home, women are still just accompaniments to men. They do not acquire status unless it is spelled with the initials M.R.S. Even my classmates who are now doctors and lawyers and have come into some considerable contact with the Western world, have married and settled down, and are rushing home to fix their husbands’ dinners, or for those well-to-do ones, scurrying home to properly supervise the house-helps. These are the women who surprise me. I expect a barrage of marriage-related commentary from the older generation, not these friends. But it seems as if they, having accepted their lot in life, would now like me to also do the same. They don’t see marriage as a choice. It is something every woman must do; how dare I defy the conventions?
How dare I? This is another of the reasons why being in Ghana has been challenging. I don’t fit the conventions. Here, not fitting the conventions is a lot lonelier than in the U.S. where thinking outside the box is encouraged. Not fitting the box here means there are a lot of awkward silences when people ask certain questions. It means you rehearse a patent answer and deliver it to everyone who is nosey enough to ask (and that’s really everyone). It means rehearsing more answers for the obstinate guy who has come-backs for all my other answers. It is challenging because not only do I get to process the issue of Africa’s brain drain and my participation in it, or missing my family back in my other home, or teaching, or fill in the blank, I also have to think quickly on my feet about what to say to the question: “Are you married?” and its follow-up: “Why not?” or “What are you waiting for?” Of course there are other sneakier versions of the question:
“But Mel, aren’t you lonely?” (My old home friends call me by my Anglo name, Melody-Ann.)
“Of course I’m lonely sometimes, but not lonely enough to rush and fill it with a permanent fixture!”
Ehhh! Wrong answer! This one could lead to hours of defending such ‘flawed’ thinking.
It is exhausting to speak my mind, to say how I really feel about the whole matter, so I shut up and let them lecture me on the benefits of marriage and producing, again.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 13 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 )