I have been tasking myself with writing “that” blog entry almost everyday since I arrived in Ghana.
It’s not that there isn’t a lot to write about. As you know a writer always finds ways to make even the mundane, exotic and appealing to her readers. The problem is three-fold: first, it is having too much to write about and using the idea of this overload as an excuse to just absorb and not produce; second, I feel I’m reliving the same experiences of being back in Ghana so why bother telling this story to my readers; finally, my own dilemma about attempting to live on the continent for the third time in two years is preventing me from sharing my thoughts. Today I have overcome the confounding issues that have left me tongue-tied because there is something new and exciting happening in my life that demands to be written about.
My first few years in the US were fraught with change and confusion not unlike what I have experienced in returning to Ghana. Only back then I was thinking life moved too fast, white people multiplied by the day, and everyone was too uptight about being on time. “Open-sesame” doors (motion-sensors) and moving staircases only belonged to the world of the books I had read back home. (You can imagine our indignation when after a couple stores with open-sesames, the doors at Pep Boys refused to open to Sheela and I.) People always asked me to repeat myself which I found odd; that had never happened to me before. People asked stupid questions like “did you ride an elephant to America?” Imagine that! Some people back home had never seen a live elephant, let alone ride one. Yet others wanted to know if my family had ever been photographed by National Geographic. Did I mention confusion?
Living in the contradictions as I am always want to do, I tried unsuccessfully to befriend the Black American students on my two campuses where I began my college career despite the stereotypes my immigrant family relayed about “the Blacks.” True to some of my family’s stories, some said I talked “funny” and wasn’t really black. Others accused me of only hanging with white folks and being an “Oreo.” For others, I was the Africa they didn’t want to be associated with. On the contrary, White Americans found me fascinating and exotic, someone to invite over to showcase to equally clueless family members. I spent many an evening sitting around fireplaces giving ‘Africa re-discovered” talks after eating Lasagna or Chili. (Although some of my friends were genuinely clueless and curious, I cringe when I look back on those days.) Nevertheless these experiences were made smoother and less jarring by the friends I made those first two years of college who were willing to learn and teach. Some of these genuinely clueless and curious friends and those who called me an “Oreo” have lasted through the seventeen years and become some of my closest friends.
Enter KT. We met our sophomore year at a campus ministry retreat held in New Jersey. We were both raised in very traditional Catholic homes, volunteered as Eucharistic ministers and altar servers, loved going on retreats, and accumulated service hours like they were frequent flier miles. We had our differences. She was from a large catholic family of nine people; my family of four paled in comparison. She was an athlete and participated in various sporting activities; I couldn’t catch anything thrown my way. She didn’t know any black people; ironically, I knew scores of black people and even some white ones as well. Later on, she would meet everyone in my small family and eat fufu and habenero-infused light-soup; I would meet her large family and share a thanksgiving meal with them. I would teach her how to dance to African rhythms and she would teach me the hokey pokey. Later, she would inspire me to explore the Buddhist tradition, learn yoga, and pray in alternative ways. Much later, I would demand that she unpack her “invisible knapsack” of privilege, and she would sometimes drag me along for the ride. The ebb and flow of our relationship is at times beautiful and at times intensely emotional, but I dare say that all of the fifteen plus years have been powerful and very instrumental in shaping us into the women we have become, and the unique friendship we share today.
I am not sure how many black people she knows now or better yet, how many have made it into her regular circle of friends, but now she can thrown down fufu and pepper soup like nobody’s business, knows when she doesn’t “get” racial issues and when to shut it, and is one of the handful of white friends I know whom I’d claim on any dance floor. Let’s just say she’s come a long way from “Hi my name is KT and I’m from Parma, Ohio,” as have I from “Hello, my name is Melody-Ann and I am from Ghana, West Africa.
So I write this blog entry for KT who is making her first trip to Ghana and to the continent of Africa, fifteen years from that first hello and handshake. I want to say Akwaaba and re-introduce myself: Akwaaba, wo fr3m Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe. Mi y3 Ghana nyi. These are my people; these are where my roots lie. If you are ready, we can wander the back-roads of Melody-Ann and the new tracks of Kuukua. This is for you my friend.
[The prose poem post that follows was written about 10 years ago and edited today as a tribute to our many years together]Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
Hello Dear Blog Family,
You have been on my mind at least once a day for the last month. I am sorry for not keeping you posted on what’s been happening. Quite a bit has happened and it’s all occurred so fast that I’ve had to do all I can to physically keep up. Blogging about it to share has been high on my priority list but I haven’t been able to make that happen until now. Thank you for checking in and reading and liking posts even as it’s been silent on here. I’ve missed hearing from people, perhaps you have as well?
Forgive me for the silence. You will find though that I have been writing. Working very tirelessly on the memoir, as well as a lot of other social commentary pieces that I will share with you soon. I also finally got off my behind and turned in close to 5000 words for two contests and a residency application. Keep all those appendages crossed for me!
So where to begin to catch you up…
With the now…
I am seated in my PJs perched a-top my free leather sofa writing to you. It’s 7:20 am on the West coast. I hope Mother Earth is planning to send some California sunshine my way today because right now, it is quite cloudy and chilly. The weather patterns in the U.S. have been quite unreal the last three weeks. I visited an 80-degree Maryland/DC for a few days in mid-March and returned here to find a foggy and rainy 50-Degree California. I keep saying we should be praying for forgiveness for all that we have done that’s messed with Mother Earth’s rhythms.
It has been a month of adventure beginning with AWP which was held in Chicago this year. I LOVE Chicago! I’ve never had the privilege of living there, but when I worked at Notre Dame, I visited quite often, taking the South Shore train up whenever I had a weekend off. In addition, some of my closest and life-long friends who have become family live in Chicago. So I planned to spend a week in Chicago even though AWP was only 4 days long. I had an amazing time. Despite the tight and insane AWP presentation schedules, I managed to see all seven of my friends and spend some individual time with each of them. What a blessing to be so rich in friends! It was great to see them all because generally we see each other at least twice a year but because of my time in Ghana, I hadn’t seen some of them in almost a year. I had so much to tell them about my time in Ghana, the students, my love-disgust relationship with the politics in Ghana especially when it comes to women & queer folks, my family pestering me about marriage, you know…everything about how I had grown in the last 9 months since I last spoke to or saw them. The biggest blessing of all was that everyone was so generous with their time and money and didn’t make me feel as though not having a job made me less of a human being. I crashed with my one friend and her boo in the West Loop and on the first night when I arrived, they had blown up my mattress and made my bed so cute and cozy, it brought tears in my eyes. So thoughtful. Ours was an unlikely friendship but we have nurtured it for twelve years and it has grown. A white girl from the UP and an African girl full of racial politics at every turn. I returned to Cali with an overflowing heart, quite grateful to have such wonderful friends in my life.
AWP itself was a blast as usual. This year, I challenged myself to attend more sessions and offsite programming because thanks to my one friend I was just within a 20-minute walking distance of the conference hotel, and I had purchased at CTA 7-day pass for the train. I went to sessions mainly on getting residencies and fellowships because I felt that’s where I was in my writing career. I’m ready for some of the free money out there to help me finish writing this first book. I learned quite a bit about the process and the many options out there. I sat in on a Fulbright discussion that was quite enlightening. I also challenged myself to be supportive of panels that were mainly led by either Black women or People of Color. When I looked in the AWP Bible, there weren’t but a handful, and they were occurring simultaneously almost as if to make sure attendance was low. This was also the case for Queer issues’ panels. It reeked of the Divide and Conquer mentality. It felt as if someone was afraid there would be a revolution if only one Queer Issues panel or POC-led panel was held per time slot. And maybe there might have been because folks would have shown up in their numbers. Who knows? We didn’t have the opportunity to find out. As it stood, everyone apologetically said: “well you know we are competing with this other POC panel or Queer panel so thank you for choosing to come here.” We shouldn’t have to compete against each other for participants. There aren’t enough panels as is, why should they all randomly happen to be scheduled simultaneously? My favorite off-site event was the Lamda sponsored Queer Writers of Color (yeah!) event held at the Center on Halsted. I ferried my little happy behind on over there as soon as the last panel was over, inviting all my friends in Chicago to come. It was surreal. We do exist! We sound amazing, like brilliant! And we are so beautiful. The room felt cozy and I felt I belonged. Finger snaps and ululations kept me grounded. Yes this was POC culture; we showed appreciation when something sounded good. At an not-on-purpose almost all white women writers’ offsite event, I got mistaken for the server three times even in my dress slacks, nice sweater, and name badge (saying the same thing as theirs)! After the third woman asked me to pour her some wine, I cracked. She stuttered in her blindness, turned red, composed herself and then decided to tell me that she too had been a server before and I was standing behind the table just as a server would. Let’s just say I had to leave the event soon after. Ugh! We do have such a long way to go sometimes.
Anyway, I wrote some pieces while I sat pondering the shortage of POC panels as well as the unfair arrangement of them. I will share it with you soon.
After 6 days in Chicago, I returned to Cali Tuesday morning at the crack-o-dawn to welcome a new friend into my life. We were soul sisters from ancient times. The Ancestors have been telling me, but I am often stubborn so I don’t listen well. She stayed for a week and we had a fun exploring the Bay and soaking in the warm sunshine. I had two cooking gigs that week she was visiting and I must say she passed the test of being able to handle me under stress. There will be more on her later.
Since I returned to the Bay, I’ve been contemplating starting a catering business. I have been cooking for a long time, and catering at random moments for different people. But this time when I returned, it felt like Ancestors were telling me that in addition to finishing the memoir, I should cook. It hasn’t been easy juggling the two loves. But I have decided to try my hands at it. I have catered four receptions for The Contemporary Writer’s Series at Mill’s College, and will be doing the last one for the semester tomorrow evening. I did the Generations Literary Magazine Launch, and that was a great accomplishment; I realized that unless I go commercial there is no way I can pull off that many dishes for that many people (11 different items for 75 people). I have not made much money because most events have small budgets and I’m spending some on groceries as well as renting a Zipcar to cart things around. So I am at a crossroads of sorts needing to make a decision to move forward about beginning a small business and perhaps buying a car. I’ve been invited to participate in SF Small Business Week in May so I have to get serious soon, I think. I’m beginning with a brand new website. Stay tuned for more!
I made a trip back to Ohio after all this to visit with my mom and sister and to fly out to Maryland for my cousin’s wedding. So even though my cousin is Ghanaian, it was not a typical Ghanaian wedding with the traditional engagement rituals because he married an American woman. It got me thinking about culture, loss and preservation that is, and how somehow certain things are ok in Diaspora. We adapt to Diasporic (made it up, yep!) rules and create new customs as a result, yet even within these new customs there is rigidity about what passes, what gets ok’d, and what doesn’t. I know I’m being very cryptic at the moment but I will post a piece I wrote on this later.
I am chipping away at the memoir steadily. I have to turn in a reasonably sized thesis on the 12th of April. I am determined to be ready for this because the closer I am to a clean copy, the easier it would be to find my agent and publisher.
Finally, the biggest news of all is that I am going through the process to become an U.S. citizen. I am learning things I didn’t have the chance to learn because I didn’t do high school in the U.S. I feel rather proud and excited knowing all these founding principles.
Thank you for reading and commenting and I hope you will enjoy some of the pieces I post next. I promise not to be gone for so long next time.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 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 )
She cussed silently as she felt a splash of water hit the footies that she wore. She had washed her regular house slippers and forgot to dry them so she decided these padded footies would have to do. The splash of water came from the pot of meat that she was prepping to slow-cook.
She had literally been on her feet for sixteen hours, except for an hour in therapy and a few minutes here and there as she commuted from one place to the other. She had done massive amounts of laundry and had stood through that as well. So tonight, the feet made it known that they were tired. “A few more minutes guys, I promise,” she whispered. I really ought to invest in one of those kitchen mats that absorb the shock. She knew her back would ache when she finally lay down to rest tonight. She was certain of it.
Grammie lived close to where her college was, in a subsidized housing community that mostly housed senior citizens and their families. It was off Broadway Street almost close to downtown Columbus, and was right on the bus line so it was real easy to get to since she didn’t have her license yet. Sometimes, she would bring a friend with her and enjoy watching Grammie entertain someone else while she cooked.
“Hi Grammie!” she called to her grandmother from the back door. She had dropped by after classes to have a cooking session with Grammie, or more like to fix her one of the many Ghanaian dishes she loved; they had about five in rotation now.
She would call and ask what to bring and Grammie would say:
“Oh honey, don’t worry yourself, everything you need is right here.”
Sure enough when she arrived Grammie had laid out all the ingredients for the recipe of the day. Grammie had also baked her, her very own spice cake. Of course, she knew she had to share once she arrived at back on campus but she didn’t mind. They brewed up a cup of coffee and sat down to prepare the ingredients. They would catch up on which of Grammie’s neighbors’ children had gotten into trouble that week. Or talk about how Mz. Thelma and Mz. Fanny’s smoking habits seemed to be getting even more out of hand.
“Sometimes, I can just smell it!” she declared, referring to her upstairs neighbor Mz. Fanny.
“Remember when you used to come by the apartment so we would cook?” I miss those days,” Grammie said. Grammie had been confined to wearing an oxygen mask for a year now.
She smiled reminiscing right alongside with her.
“Yeah, I remember.” There were patches in her memory that made her worry; she was glad she could recall this memory on demand.
Encouraged by this recall, she continued:
“Remember me going up to Ms. Fanny’s apartment to say hello and bring her a piece of cake or a bowl of whatever we had cooked that day?”
“Yeah. Fanny would always tell me I had a good grandchild,” Grammie added smiling.
“Mz. Fanny would put hot sauce on everything I took to her.” she said.
“Yeah, that’s Fanny alright!”
Picturing the old apartment that Grammie had brought tears to her eyes. SO much had changed since then. Those were the carefree days of learning to live life in America. She had acquired independence by choosing to live on campus even though home was a mere 30-minute bus ride away. Having lived under her Grandmother’s totalitarian house rules for nineteen years, she was finally unfurling her wings and realizing what freedom truly meant.
Tonight, cooking in her own kitchen had brought these memories rushing back right alongside her flood of tears that seemed to rise out of a deep pain she wasn’t even aware she was holding. Grammie was on a breathing machine, with tubes in her lungs to help her breathe. Tonight when she checked in with her sister, she had said Grammie was getting more and more confused. She had been lately, before the EMS came for her. Her brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen, the doctor said. Tomorrow was a crucial day, they were going to try and switch her to breathing on her own.
“Do you think she will?” She asked her sister, already knowing that answer was ambiguous.
These thoughts overwhelmed her as she cleaned her brand new crock pot. As much as she loved cooking, there were days when she could just stand to throw it all in a pot and not have to mind it half as much. Tonight was such a night.
She felt Grammie’s presence in the room. She burst into tears again smiling as she saw her tears drop into the bubbling liquid. “Cook your heart out honey. That’s my girl! Oh honey, don’t cry, I’m ok, I can cook now.” Grammie seemed to say.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
This is the third piece that was published in the African Women Writing Resistance anthology in August.
Musings of an African Woman: Life in the Land of Opportunity
I. IMMIGRANTS IN A FOREIGN LAND
The leaves on the tree right outside my window gently stir with a wind that only blows about every ten minutes. The air is hot, sticky, and humid. The leaves rustle and move yet no breeze enters my room to ease the stifling heat. The air condition units of the neighbors kick on and drone out the sing-song voice of the man who is having a highly animated conversation next door.
As I gaze out and try to take in my surroundings, I realize how this crowded apartment complex reminds me of the Korle Bu flats back in Ghana, which houses civil servants who work for the government hospital. I think to myself, life in America is just a coated version of life in a so-called “third world” country. True, the thickness of the coating makes it easy to dismiss this theory. People work so hard all day only to retire to this in the evening–a conglomerate cacophonous display of miniscule living quarters! For the amount of money people pay for a place here, they could be living in a 5-bedroom ranch house in some developing country free from all the stresses of life. Sure, some of the finer amenities of life could be missing, but these should be minor inconveniences given the amount of space and peace of mind one would enjoy.
…I have finally gotten my body to understand that lying still, perfectly still, is the fastest way to staying cool and sane.
So, really, what makes this different from an average Akua (insert “Joe” or “Jane”) living in a developing country? Maybe it is the convenience of constant running water here whereas Akua would certainly have to be rationing or walking some few miles to a well or a community pipe. Or the electricity that seems to burn all day long, by which these people in the other apartments are cooling their living spaces. Or could it be the microwave, coffee maker, or George Foreman grill? All seemingly necessary appliances for existence in America yet, I beg to differ! These are all mere trappings of the life we choose to lead in this here “freedom country” to which members of “developing countries,” en masse, escape with hopes of amassing wealth and returning to establish a mini-America in their homelands.
Noble goals, no doubt! But realistically, how many of these people ever end up leaving America to return to their homelands? How many actually achieve that goal of returning home to recreate better versions of the lives they had here in America? I would like to purport…very few! The average immigrant Jane usually ends up caught in the lifestyle of consumerism. With the onslaught of bills, even a trip home to visit aging relatives or bury a dead family member becomes unaffordable, a debt to be added to the credit consolidators list, or for some a risk, the imminent danger of not being able to return because of immigration regulations.
As I write I wonder, whom I am really writing for. Who is my audience? My people, my fellow “developing country” citizens who, like me, have left oftentimes, better living conditions to come to America with the hopes of “finding greener pastures” and “making their fortunes” in this land of opportunity? If this is my audience, do they even care?
Funny, mass amounts of immigrants make up the bulk of the population in America; almost everyone left somewhere to come and “make it” here. Different reasons propelled each ethnic group that migrated here, but the one underlying reason, regardless of which group, seems to be the promise of something better.
In the process of “making it” we all lose important parts of ourselves: an accent, a-difficult-to-pronounce-name, the foods with which our clothing used to reek, the culture that used to emanate from our very beings. We lose these parts of ourselves in an attempt to blend in, become one of the majority. Sadly though, (or would it be fortunately?) for most immigrants, we can never quite complete that process of blending in.
Just when you think you’ve perfected the pronunciation of a word, or got the meaning of some idiomatic expression, some person somewhere comes up to you on the pretense of making conversation and asks, “so where are you from?” or my all time favorite, “what are you?” I love to give people like these hernias because I calmly proceed to say casually “the Midwest, Ohio!” Of course, they don’t get the subtle hint and so they continue to probe: “no, I mean where are you really from?” At this point they are practically beside themselves with frustration at you, oh no, not themselves! They know they are right, you look different, you sounded different just then, you must be different!
That’s when I kick myself for ever leaving my country, where I was not “different,” to “seek greener pastures.” What most people do not realize or refuse to acknowledge is the fact that this country, America, truly only belonged to one group of people, and much like my country, colonized by the British, these original owners were sacked and maltreated. America today is made up of centuries of people from other places; people who looked and sounded different back then when they first arrived, some brought in by force, others driven by the search for a better life, others escaping persecution; these very same reasons continue to bring immigrants in today.
So if we’re going to be so darn fussy, about who is “different” then shouldn’t we all return to our original homelands? But of course, there are quite a few Americans today who cannot trace their ancestry back to their original locations, so where does that leave them? May I suggest: Ambassadors for peace, embracing and extending warm welcomes to all new immigrants?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )