On Makala and Jazz; The Hermeneutics of Memory

So when I left Ghana the last time I left angry and broken-hearted. I had arrived with high hopes of attempting to settle down a second time by looking for work and starting some writing projects.  My second attempt went horribly wrong and I returned to the U.S. emotionally bankrupt nine months later. So even though I miss my family and friends, I know I’ve tried Ghana, twice, and it isn’t for me. Sure, I miss being surrounded by brown folks, good music and food, and most of all, my languages. These days I force myself to speak it with my mom. My sister and I usually begin conversations in English unless we have something to share that we wish to conceal from others. So up until today, I’d say I missed Ghana in an abstract sense.

Today, as I ate the lunch that my Beloved prepared for me, I had a sudden deep and painful missing of Ghana that I hadn’t thought possible given the state in which I left Ghana. My life is here now, especially as a partnered queer woman. I am an American even though I still blurt out “originally from Ghana” immediately after my name.

But this longing came today unbidden, as I ate makala and jazz which is  basically the Cameroonian (Bassa) version of our tatale and aboboi. The longing brought me to Independence Day 2013. A couple weeks after David died, and even though I was still in mourning, it was my first Independence Day on the continent in years so I wanted to celebrate alongside everyone. That day, my mom who was auditioning for her “Operation Move to Ghana, asked our housekeeper, Ms. D, to fix her her (Ms. D’s) favorite meal instead of the menu mom had set out. So that’s how tatale and aboboi came to be on our plates that warm March day amidst the pain of loss and the celebration of Ghana’s independence. As I recall, we enjoyed every bit of that meal.

I haven’t eaten it since, until today, that is. As I ate, along came some of the memories of that day. Around 9 before the equator sun had gotten too high, our nail technician arrived and our housekeeper rushed around making buckets of hot water available. All three of us-mother and daughters, and my friend, M-were getting our nails done. By 1130 all manis and pedis were done and we were deciding which corner of the porch would stay shaded long enough and calling dibs on these. My youngest sister was getting her braids undone. Meanwhile Ms. D was in kitchen getting ready to wow my mom with her favorite dish. My friend M, who was visiting from California, and who happened to live mere minutes from our home, had showed up earlier. I smiled as I remembered how surreal it was that M and I would meet in Ghana of all places and even more so, that we lived a short trotro ride away from each other. Along with this smile crept in the memory of how my friend M lost her mother three days after our festivities. I took another bite and thought how memories of existing pain mingled with present joy and frivolity, unaware of the new pain that was on its way to us.

Food takes us back sometimes. Often the journey is pleasurable, and just as frequent, it is also painful. This time it reminded me of how life does move on no matter what. From January 2013-June 2013, I lost 9 people (family, lover, friends) yet life moved on. Felt like I paused to tie my shoelaces because they were undone and dragging and when I looked up everyone around me was gone. This memory lane jog today reminded me that grief really is a journey, maybe one of a lifetime, who knows? But that every now and then, something takes us back and instead of fighting it, sometimes we just have to let it be.

I can still taste that delicious tatale and aboboi so saliently, even now 30 months later. And I still recall the details of that day very vividly, all thanks to makala and jazz.

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5 comments

  1. Beautiful Kuks. Thanks for sharing this beautiful heartfelt piece. Life indeed does continue and home as we know it can be interesting at times, but at at the same time home has a way of drawing us in and bringing comfort and healing in the most unusual way. Thanks for sharing.

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