Reminiscing about Ghana

“You are invited” I almost say to the queer Eritrean youth who plops in the chair across from mine, forgetting a phrase like that is only specific to my Ghanaian culture. At home, if anyone sees you eating, you invite them and then you pray they have the decency not to grab a piece of cutlery or ask for a bowl of water to cleanse their hands in preparation to join you.

Ghanaian culture is unique like that. It’s as if our politeness and hospitality as far as sharing our bowl of food is concerned, is mere formality. On the surface we are very polite, but underneath it all, we really are human. I sometimes wonder where we acquired this attitude from.

So even though it is on my tongue to invite this young man, I don’t because I remember that we are not in Ghana and I am not obliged to share my tray of Alecha. People actually thought me rude while I was back in Ghana when I resisted uttering these perfunctory words, but here I am across the waters dying to utter it.

This is similar to the taboo around using our left hands to perform any functions outside of the bathroom. I let them think me rude as I told them I was an equal opportunity employer and believed in giving both hands a shot. People’s unamused looks when I defended the use of both hands spoke volumes. They were attached to cultural norms and nothing would make them question these norms. I often allowed the use of either hand in my class to allow my left-handed students the opportunity to be able to stay true to themselves in my space.

I know I promised to debrief my six months in Ghana thematically but sometimes certain things just jump out and want to be written and other times there is so much life happening that I don’t get to do much reflection, especially on time that far back.

I’ve been back now for almost five months and I’m just now getting used to handing people things with my left hand. The irony is that as much as I bucked some parts of the system that I felt didn’t make sense, the system still got deeply re-ingrained in me, leaving me giving my students the space but conforming to norms personally and not always pushing my Americanized boundaries on folks. Somehow I felt like making sure my students knew there was a whole world out there who didn’t believe in some of the norms that controlled our lives so much, yet I myself slowly succumbed to following some of these same norms.

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(Channeling Kofi Akpabli)

The steady pound of my sneaker-clad feet on the underground train station steps suddenly take me back to the soft thuds and steady pounding rhythm associated with fufu pounding in Ghana. It’s amazing how certain unrelated things have the ability to draw you somewhere. I struggle to stay there even as my foot hits the last step and I emerge into sunlight.

I am pounding fufu with my fufu partner. She’s seated on a small kitchen stool and turning the mound of pounded starch while I stand pounding, twisting my pestle ever so slightly with every landing. I pound carefully so I don’t add her fingers to the mound of starch in the mortar.

Fufu pounding is a unique art form that takes two people who listen carefully to each other as they engage in this act. It is often best not to be chatting while this activity is going on. The seated partner must be quite agile and adept at avoiding the bottom of the pestle as it lands in the mound of boiled cassava, yam, cocoyam, and/plantain. The standing partner must equally be agile to anticipate the intervals between when her partner is not turning when she can bring the pestle down and begin to turn the fluffy ingredients in the mortar into the elastic-like entity that will be served with any one of the soups that are part of the Ghanaian cuisine.

I am partial to fufu with groundnut soup loaded with aponkye nam (goat meat) served with a box of tissues, but I have to say I will almost always say yes to fufu with light soup any day, anytime. There is something about the light yellow, dark yellow, lavender (or “purple fufu” as my sister used to call it), or snow-white mound floating beneath a bed of aponkye, prako nkywer (cured pig feet), nwaba (snails), and enam totoi (smoked fish) that just makes my mouth water thinking about it even on a day when I’m full to the heavens with some other good food. I’m a self-proclaimed foodie, but there is just something about Ghanaian fufu and soup that cannot replace anything else for me.

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