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 )
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
“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 )
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 )
So I’m doing all the things I imagine celebs doing—shaking hands, nodding yes’s and no’s, thinking up quick answers to various questions ranging from “who inspired this or that story” to “why do you write”—when I glance over and see a group of giggling young women of African descent. Their excited faces give me the excuse I need to politely extricate myself from conversations about why I write in English, or how Ghana manages to remain relatively war-free.
“Hello Ladies!” I say smiling. I think to myself, surely I have arrived; this here, ladies and gentlemen, is why I write.
“We are from Ghana!” the two on my immediate left blurt out unable to hold their excitement any longer.
The others, six or seven in total all wave excitedly and introduce themselves the minute I cease talking. Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Haiti. They are well represented. They all say they were inspired by my panel.
I have just come out of the auditorium where the 10th Annual International Women’s Day Conference had been held. My continent-sisters, Pauline Dongala, Nathalie Etoke, Tayo Jolaosho, and I were on a panel together speaking on how women writing resistance rights the world’s wrongs ((I love how catchy that is!). The panel was moderated by Anne Serafin whom I had met along with Jennifer Browdy Hernandez, the conference convener, at ASA 2010 in San Francisco
“Are you students?” I ask referring to Bard College.
“Yes we are students, but not here,” one responded.
“Oh. Ok. Which school are you at? I asked.
“MCLA!”, several chorused.
It was my first time in the Berkshires region and so I was not aware there was anything else outside of the college. Testament to this, the day before I was lost within a five mile radius of the college and didn’t find it until I followed a couple who stopped to answer my intermittent blinking lights and wildly waving left arm.
“I want to write.” one said to me.
“Great! I love to talk about writing.” I said, handing out business cards. I give them a spiel I have only heard once in my entire networking career, mind you it’s not a long one, but…
“Now ladies, I mean for you to USE these cards. I am not one of those people who just hand out cards and never really mean for you to call or email them. Please get in touch!”
A book is thrust at me by one of our editors who gently reminds me that we are supposed to be signing books at the author’s table. I smile, sign it and turn to the ladies.
“We’ve got to be going; the van is waiting.” one of the ladies prompts.
“Thank you for speaking up.” one says.
“No thank you ladies for stopping to say hello,” I say flashing my broadest smile yet.
“Please remember to write and stay in touch.” I say as we exchange hugs.
“Kuukua, you have other fans.” my sister editor says as she thrusts another one of our books into my hand, marking the page with a pen.
“Goodbye ladies.” I tear myself away wistfully. I am growing sentimental.
“They are from the motherland.” I say proudly, grinning even more broadly.