I had argued with my friends. They said I was too trusting, allowing a total stranger to let herself into my apartment, use my laptop, and have free reign of all my possessions while I was attending a conference in Chicago. I couldn’t be dissuaded. She was safe, I was convinced. She was good people, I told my classmate who was to hand her my house keys.
Several hours after she had let herself in, the cab dropped me off. I grabbed my hand luggage and headed up my 13 steps, heart beating a tad bit faster with each step. What if she had changed the password on my computer, found out the document that held all my passwords and transferred my measly dollars into her foreign account. I was actively trusting the universe that I was right about this woman.
I put the key in the door. All these thoughts vanished as I quietly pushed open the door. She lay curled up on the 3-cushion, well-loved, black leather couch I had inherited from Craigslist. Her spindle-curled locs lay scattered around her head, slightly concealing her face and caressing her cheeks. Both arms were folded at the elbow in a prayer pose, supporting her sleeping head. I had only seen pictures and images from our Skype conversations. I wished she would stir so I could see her beautiful face. Two suitcases stood guard over her sleeping body. Despite all admonitions to pack light, here she was with luggage to last her for a couple months instead of the one-week trial we had agreed upon.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
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 )
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 )
Earlier on today
My usual attempt
To order my world
Make sense of chaos
As I wrote I thought
This relationship of ours has
From the days
We just said “Hello”
And went on campus ministry trips
To spending time at
that “Dominican Connection” retreat with mutual friend, KR
Laughing so hard,
Letting go of all defences
Sometimes I wish you had come with
On that other “Dominican Connection” weekend in New York
Or to Ministry in the Mountains
In Colorado Springs
where we could have gotten to know each other better
I’m sure there’s a blueprint for our Relationship lying somewhere in
God’s house and at those times
We were not destined to be
Not yet at least
I remember the time when Yaye Marie and I were teaching you steps to
Your first African interfaith dance;
How did you get coaxed into that?
And later pigging out in the Colonial Room during the international day festival
And continental fashion show
I remember you coming to my numerous African family
celebrations, my graduation, my 25th birthday
You were slowly building up your
Tolerance for spicy African food
An incident of a bright, red face
comes to mind
That night mom
You had had your first taste a month before
But this time the pepper was too much
Plus it had pigfeet
Which from the look on your face
You had never tried before
I gotta give it to you
You are one brave Diva!
Never hesitating to try something new
I remember losing touch after my graduation
Then seeing you at your graduation in
The summer I went back to Ghana for the first time
Don’t recall what you did that summer
Or how we got back in touch again
I recall my first semester of grad school
I don’t know how much of the difficulty of my first year struggle with theology you knew about
Looking back now…
It probably wasn’t so much the theology
Although I’m sure it played a part
But rather my depression that made it such a difficult time for me
I signed up to lead that trip to Haiti
Returned a changed woman
You helped me move that summer
In between Haiti and Morocco
Me driving 50 miles on the freeway
Getting stuck behind semis and all the while
You patiently driving ahead
I left for Morocco with contact only through email that summer
Upon my return from Morocco it was an even greater transformation!
The beginnings of the woman I am today
An amazing adventure
That July 4th weekend
The infamous and dramatic phone call to my boyfriend
That ended a 5-year co-dependency
I remember you being there for me
Encouraging me to come out dancing with the ladies that night, me refusing
Choosing instead to
Wallow in self-pity for
Not being a true black woman
Not making that man love me enough
To marry me
Determined for me to get my license that summer you lent me
Your time with an ample supply of patience
In July of 2002,
6 years after moving to the US I finally did it!
I tried to finish up teaching and grading
You finished up too
Both of us anxious to be done with grad school
You looked at jobs
I looked for tickets to visit Ghana
You got the job
I confirmed the tickets
I was leaving for home
Second trip in seven years
Excitement built up as I turned in my final
Thesis and drove home
The phone call came
Relayed the news
Tragedy had hit; Disappointment took root
Disappointment led to grief
I had lost a parent
I got ready for my trip back to Ghana
To bury my father
We met at Panera’s that morning
It was a sad parting
You were moving two hours north to
Start a career
I was returning home to bury a
Father I had barely known
Yet knew I would miss We wrote email
You called twice and each time
I felt hope
After talking to you
This too shall pass Promised I’d survive
Blending, bonding, spending time together
Time spent watching “Kissing Jessica Stein”
Or “The Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”
Or falling asleep during “Runaway Jury”
Or reading Iyanla Vanzant in bed together
Or journaling side by side
Us loving and caring for each other
Us sharing our deepest fears:
Mine, my inability to remove race from the conversation
Mine, worrying about fitting in with your white peeps
Yours, your constant struggle with
Feeling the need to sound smart all the time around me
Yours, your lack of knowledge about your
Valuable time spent with each other
Time spent with each other’s families
Each moment building on the next
Grafting us slowly into each other’s lives
Once separate and individual
No longer so
We–you and I have come a long way
And I guess that’s what makes us so close
Makes us friends beloveds
Through most of it we have been there for each other
A relationship that is still Growing Progressing
This is for you
For what we have that is beyond words
For what we have that defies societal restraints
For what we profess
That society denies
For what we have been
For what we are
For what we will become because
Of each other
I appreciate you
I love you
Thank you for
Being my friend
Kashka & Kuukua
A Celebration of Friendship & Love
Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe
Jan 12 2004
October 26 2012
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 )
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 )
There! I’m here at the page. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think “I need to blog” but it has come to be so intimidating that I’ve been paralyzed for a while. I don’t have anything to say. Who wants to read what I have to say anyway? The list of excuses goes on. And I stay away from the page. I think the fear of not having anything to say paralyzes me at least once a week, but the fear of not posting something “substantial” (however that’s defined) paralyzes me daily. So the page remains blank night after night as I find other things to occupy my time.
So once again, a lot of time has passed since I blogged.
Life has been great for the most part. I didn’t expect AWP to have had such an impact on my life but it did!
First of all, I hadn’t been to Washington DC in almost 10 years, so I was excited to be back. It surprised me to have the Capitol steps all to myself as I strolled various parts of The Mall that Sunday and Monday after AWP was over. I used to live here! I kept thinking. It’s kind of like when the reality of the gifts you have, finally sink in. I think people there take it for granted to be in the Nation’s capital every day, much as I take it for granted that I have a 360 degree view from my workplace that encompasses three major bridges, especially the world’s famous Golden Gate.
Secondly, I stayed with my friends Anice and Reece out in Maryland instead of staying at the conference hotel. Definitely made the trip doable, but also I choose family and friends over hotels any day, on a budget or not. That way, I didn’t just meet them for “lunch” or “coffee” but I actually got to talk to someone when I got back from the conference, although, I was gone for a good 12-14 hours the first two days. Reece and Anice took me out to Mama Ayesha’s for my birthday. It was great! Nice ambiance, and the food was superb! Our Rice Pudding came with a few candles on top. I blew them out and then Anice asked me “The Birthday Questions” which were four questions that were helpful in causing me to reflect on year 33 and name my hopes for year 34. I think year 33 was tough and I had a lot of heartache so I hope year 34 will be one of relative ease.
I had a mini VONA reunion with my dear friend Willona Sloan. We were a pair of laughing, silly, girls who came alive with laughter at the slightest provocation. I was also lucky to have my MFA cohort friend Wendy Sterndale.
When Wendy joined the two of us, we were truly “ac’in a fool” and had a great time together. I didn’t know I could laugh so hard! We enjoyed the company of VONA elders Elmaz, Faith, Ruth, Suheir, Evelina, and Junot (from afar), and fellow VONAites, Crystal, Chelsea, and Daisy. We were lucky to get “stage” seats to the reading by Ruth Foreman, Carolyn Forche, and Suheir Hammad, hosted by Hedgebrook’s Amy Wheeler, and held at Busboys and Poets. For me, side events like the off-site University of Miami MFA reception and the on-site Macondo Foundation reception were more engaging than the sessions. Of course, I loved Junot Diaz’ plenary in which he challenged all of us writers to be real. I enjoyed listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s plenary, although I wished she would have interacted with the audience. I have to say, it was amazing to have the lead keynotes be writers of color, but more importantly the first keynote be a woman! That made for a great inspiration right there!
I volunteered my time on Friday afternoon as a registration desk clerk and I had quite a ball. I was stationed at the booth marked “E-H” between two white guys who were hilarious! One of whom wrote Saving Erasmus Steve Cleaver
I bantered with them for most of my four-hour shift so the hours went by really quickly. I found out how common it was for writers to have a degree in Theology as well as an MFA. I think altogether, I have now met about 10 folks with that combination. I don’t feel so odd anymore. (Yeah right! I wish that was all it took!)
Overall, AWP reminded me that I wanted to be a writer, was a writer and author already, but that I needed to keep writing. A part of me was depressed after the third session on publishers and agents because it felt like they were saying a lot of it depended on luck and I wasn’t encouraged by this idea. Of course, it is my perception, you know?
I returned from AWP and DC and plunged right back into work and my MFA demands. It feels like I haven’t stopped moving since the Earl Lectures ended three weeks ago. A part of me knows that this is only the beginning; the other part is in denial. I am excited for the many things that are happening in my life this semester.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
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