Monthly Archives: September 2010

Tastes Like Milk of Magnesia

Last night I sank to a new low in my motherhood experience.

A friend of mine has graciously allowed me to use her home for the remainder of my stay in Ghana. It has done A WORLD of difference for my countenance. My father also offered to watch the girls for the next two days to give me some free time. Last night was my first night without them, and I confess, I wasn’t quite sure to do with my time. So I came home and did what any woman who suddenly finds herself devoid of her brood: I watched Nigerian dramas with the house-help -Perpetual, a really sweet girl of about 20 – and ate the least nutritious meal we could conjure up – a fried egg, salty corned beef stew on rice with a side of Indomie.

By the time 11 pm rolled around and we had been satisfactorily amused by dramadies like “The Return of the Snake Girl: Part 4″, my breasts began to ache and throb. Against, my better judgment, I had allowed my father to keep the baby, even though I knew I’d have to nurse her. I helplessly watched breast milk flood the front of my dress and drip onto my friends decorative silk pillows. I was now paying the price for my ‘freedom’.

There are 2 things I should have never left Atlanta without: My nursing pads, and my pump. I can’t give you a proper reason for their absence amongst my luggage. I sat in the living room ruefully brooding over  my predicament. Finally, I could take no more and announced I was going off to bed.

“Good night, Perpetual,” I said.

“Good night, ma!” she replied with a grin.

I grimly went into the bedroom, contemplating how I was going to pass the night with rock hard, leaky boobs. I undressed and looked in the mirror. My mammaries were MASSIVE. They were droopy as well. In fact, they sat square on my belly, elongated by liquid they were ferrying about.

Wait a tic, I thought. If my breasts are long enough to sit on my belly, then surely they are long enough to reach my lips!

I’d watched my daughter Liya hungrily gulp down tummy fulls of breastmilk. It must be pretty tasty stuff, by my imagination. Add to that, a contestant on America’s Next Top Model used to “recycle” her breast milk by pumping it and drinking it. She was away from her infant to compete on the show, and she said it tasted like light soy milk.

Dilemma solved.

I sat on the edge of the bed, naked from the waist up, looking at my reflection in a 2 foot high mirror on the dressing table in front of me. I lifted my right breast and began to drink.

My eyes widened in disbelief.

I gagged.

I sputtered.

I ran to the sink to spit out Nature’s elixir.

Oh. My. GAWD!

How could any child drink this stuff? Was it that bad? Is this what corned beef tastes like in lactose form? Ugh.

Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done about it. I HAD to get relief for my breasts. For the next 8 minutes, I woefully sat on the edge of the bed, sucking and spitting out the substance I’ve fed all 4 of my kids with. The combination of the heat in Ghana and my elevated core temperature attributed to the anxiety I was experiencing caused me to sweat uncontrollably. I vividly recalled the last episode of Family Guy that I saw before I left Atlanta. Brian and Stewie had gotten locked in a bank vault, where Stewie coerced Brian into eating the poo from his diaper. He then declared later that he had made Brian his b*tch.

I had just made myself my own b*tch.

Run and tell that. Homeboy.

Bitter Grass on the Other Side

Today I was alarmed to discover that not only will I never be able to live in Ghana, but after this visit I am very unlikely to make any effort to ever return, even for a short visit. If I do, the circumstances leading to that return would have to be extraordinary, such as some unspeakable calamity so pressing that it would be equally catastrophic if I were not present at such time.

I spent the better half of the beginning of this year poised and excited about the possibility of moving back to Ghana. At some point in March however, I had a moment of doubt, and publicly posed the question: Am I really cut out to live in Ghana?

Friends from Facebook chimed in:

Oh! How can you even ask that? Ghana dey jom!

Yes, yes! You can! Come home.

I dunno…Ghana life can be hard.

No! Don’t listen to them! Life in Ghana is great.

And indeed, life is Ghana IS great…for some. For about 5% of the population who control 80% of the wealth (these aren’t hard government figures, mind you), life is absolutely amazing. When you live in a house of 4 adults and have 6 other people waiting to do your bidding – like bring you a glass of water as you pass through the kitchen – life is pretty frikkin’ sweet. I, sadly, am not in that 5%.

It’s not that I want or need anyone to bring me a glass of water, or that I want anyone to wash my clothes (that is an actual need), it’s just that I had been set up to expect that these sorts of services and structures would be in place prior to my arrival. Sadly, I’ve been gravely disappointed. And my disappointment lies in the illusions I allowed others to create for me.

In the grand scheme of things, Ghana and America are not that different. Friends and family on either side of the Atlantic make promises and fail to deliver on them either because they can’t or won’t honor the commitments that might influence your decisions. That’s just human nature; and after all, people have their own lives to run too. When you pull back the veneer from American life, Africa is waiting just beneath the surface. The problem with Africa is that is HAS no veneer, and so corruption, greed, poverty and the seldom slips of kindness  and philanthropy that might try to address all these are far more glaring. And when everything is whittled away, I suppose the bulk of my disappointment in Ghana is that it is different from when I left. Ghana is neither better nor worse than when I left here permanently in 1996. The country’s development can be likened to that of an atom: moving neither forward nor backward – it’s simply unfocused and all over the place. I find that I do not like where the atom has landed; and the onus is on me to accept that the Ghana I left in 1996 and the Malaka that left it no longer exists.

Perhaps too it’s the frame of mind I came here with. I was supposed to be on holiday, and so far, I’ve spent virtually every day toiling like a wretched drudge. I hardly feel like recounting all that drudgery, for fear of sounding like a whimpering, whining simp. (And so what if I do? It’s MY glass of beer, and I’ll cry into if I want to!)

Back to the point.

I came here ready to relax and explore the possibility of moving back. So far, I am not relaxed, and convinced more than ever that all that ‘homesickness’ was just a hankering for some hot kenkey and a jovial conversation with friends – both of which needs can be met comfortably in my home in Atlanta through the local Ghanaian market and the magic of social networking. By my second week, I discovered my ‘home’ is where my husband is – and he ain’t HERE. I’m a bit annoyed that I had to spend over six thousand dollars and 12 hours in flight to discover this…but you live and learn.

I really am sad that this is my reality. I brought the kids here, so excited about this trip. I wanted them to love Ghana as much as I did…but how can they, when I no longer favor her myself? All the promises I’d made to them and to myself have yet to come to pass. Ghana had become a proverbial warty, slumped, shriveled prince that I had waited my whole life to live and die for. And what is the sense in that? My daughter pretty much summed it for me just two days ago.

“Mommy? I want to go back home and I never want to come back to Ghana again.”

Neither do I baby. Neither do I, I thought.

And then my heart broke.

“Breaking” a Beggar

Break, def: to “block”; to thwart; to speak disparagingly of to a third party in order to completely ruin a person’s lofty goals.

Last Saturday I went to the Accra Mall with the girls so that they could play in the outdoor playground and to join my BFFFL (best friend for freakin’ LIFE) for lunch. It had been a pretty hectic day. We left early that morning to go to a naming ceremony (and subsequently left the gift for the baby in the taxi we took) and were hungry, tired and aggravated by the time we got to the mall. After nourishing ourselves on salty, low nutrition fare, the girls happily played on the secondhand  inflatable jumpy castles with the 50 or so other kids whose parents could afford the 5 cedis per hour. (Some people spend 5 cedis in a week in Ghana.)

As Nana Darkoa, my BFFFL, took over watching the kids in the play area, I sat and leisurely sipped a soda. It was good to be off duty for a change. My “vacation” in Ghana hadn’t been much of one up until that point, and it was slowly begging to take the shape of one with the few moments that I was able to loose myself in a cool breeze and a cold Coke. My few moments of blank bliss were disturbed when a stranger sat down in a chair opposite me.

“Hello sister,” he said.

Ugh. What did he want? Some hulking man with huge cheeks had already asked me if I was “Kate” from Berekum, and a hairy Arab man had just gotten done ogling me for the better part of the afternoon. I didn’t really want to be disturbed.

“Good afternoon,” I replied.

“I was standing over there watching you, and prayed that God would give me courage to speak to you,” the man said by way of introduction. “I saw that you were watching the playground and must be here with your children.”

I felt my eyebrows rise.

“You see, I am and AIDS patient, and I have come to Accra for treatment.”

His tone was so gentle and convincing that I really began to take notice of him for the first time. He was a dark skinned man, with pallid skin, sunken eyes and several missing teeth. Those still in his possession were horribly aligned, and seemed to shift with every word he spoke. He was a slip of a man with a whisper of a waist. He didn’t seem well at all. Despite his ill physical appearance, he was neatly dressed in a light gray shirt and neatly pressed dark dray slacks. He carried a small black attaché.

“I came from Anomabu to get treatment for my AIDS this week,” he continued. “The treatment is free, but unfortunately they do not provide for my transportation or the diapers I have to wear. I have also left my elderly mother alone in the village, and I have to have tro-tro fare to get back to her. As I am talking to you now, my diaper is full, and when I leave here, I have to purchase a new one before making the journey. I have 10 cedis on me, and only need 12 cedis to get home. I thank you for not exposing me or sacking me from your presence.”

His voice trailed off and he ended abruptly, quietly looking at the floor in silent expectation.

When coming to Ghana, I know that I will be the object of one con or another, and I’ve pretty much seen them all. I allow for one person to “get” me on every tri before I deliver a swift “no!” to anyone who looks like they may have their hand out. This AIDS one was a new one on me! For a grown man to sit there and tell me he needed money and that he had soiled himself – even as we spoke – and was languishing in said soiled diaper…well, he couldn’t be lying. Could he? I felt guarded compassion rise within me.

“My brother. Look, I am a Christian, and if you need anything, I will give it to you, because that’s God’s love,” I said. “But just be honest with me: Is what you are saying true?”

His eyes widened and he raised his hands defensively.

“Oh my sister! It is true!” he exclaimed. “I can even show you my AIDS card.”

He hoisted his attaché onto his lap and pulled out a tattered wallet. As he did so, he spoke of his mother and her suffering not knowing how long he would live. He paused short of producing the document. This distracted me. I pulled out my wallet instead.

“Here is 10 cedis and 5 dollars,” I said. “This should be enough to get you home.”

“Ohhh…thank you, my sister,” he said. “Would you allow me to say a word of prayer for you?”

I nodded. He prayed that Jehovah almighty would bless my children and I, and would bring to fruit whatever I was in Ghana to do. It was a rather long, elaborate prayer.  I asked him if I might pray for him as well. I kept mine short and on target.

When I was done, he thanked me again, although adding that he wished I could have done a bit more for him. I reminded him that he only needed 12 cedis to get home. I had just given him 10, plus a 5 dollar bill.

“Oh, it’s just that I need the diapers too….”

“There’s a forex bureau in the mall. You’ll be alright,” I said resolutely.

He said thank you again and got up and left. Nana asked me what that whole deal was about, and agreed that he did indeed look sick. Satisfied and pleased that I had fulfilled some level of Christian conviction, I patted myself on the back with a modicum of pride.

My husband called me the  following afternoon. I told him about the begging AIDS man.

“What about his soul?” he asked.

“Well, he offered me prayer first, so I assumed he’s saved,” I replied.

I heard my husband nod his approval on the other end.

For my part, I thought about the man all week. Had he been able to change the money? Had he been able to change his diaper? Did he make it home safely? Thoughts of him invaded my mind until I saw him again…yesterday. At the mall.

He was wearing the same get up, only this time with a stripped collared shirt. Slow recognition sparked in both our eyes. He smiled sheepishly (and somewhat impishly) and I held his gaze until he disappeared behind a giant stone pillar. Heh! That thief! Suddenly, he re-emerged and sat down in an open seat where a young, attractive couple was sharing an intense conversation. I watched as the young man leaned in to hear more. The young woman’s eyes softened and the corners of her mouth turned downward. I could not take the scene unfolding before me anymore. At the moment, Aya walked over to me and announced she had to go to the bathroom.

“C’mon!” I barked.

I strode over to their table where Mr. AIDS man was launching into this monologue.

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Is this man telling you he has AIDS and asking you for money to get home?”

“Uh. Yeah…” said the man in surprise.

“I JUST gave him 10 cedis and 5 bucks on Saturday. Don’t part with your money unless you really want to,” I advised. “He should be in his village/town by now.”

I spun off on my heel with Aya in tow. The AIDS man followed me. He was 50 feet behind me with an intent, aggressive look in his eye. I dared him through my slitted  lids to say a word to me. He never did, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the afternoon.

Now, I of all people know that times are hard, and we all have to do what we can to get by…but I will break anyone who uses two things people must never toy with to suit their own advantage: AIDS and the name of the Lord!

Oh.

I don’t even know how to title this post. “Oh” says it all. Please allow me elucidate on the circumstances that threaten to bring me to total grief.

Anyone who knows my father knows that he is anti-house help. He grew up washing his own clothes, walking where ever he needed to go, weeding, farming, fetching water, you name it. Despite traveling to America and becoming a pilot, this man has refused to honor the time honored rituals of the “returnee”, which says “Hei! You’ve been to America. You’re a big man now. You don’t wash your own clothes”. Returnee or NOT, Ghanaians of a certain stature always have someone to help them in the house. Shoot, even the ridiculously poor will capture somebody else’s child by some derelict means and force them into servitude.

While all my other friends are always eager to go home to Ghana because: a driver will drive them around town; a ‘gateman’ will open the gate to  give access to their premises; a maid will cook and bring breakfast to the room; somebody in the house will iron their clothes – I, Malaka Gyekye, know that that fate does not and never will apply to me. My father doesn’t hire help to do what he can do himself. I, Malaka Gyekye, am sitting here looking at a massive pile of laundry that has been accumulating over the last 3 weeks. And there is no one here to wash it. No one but ME.

Ebei.

Washing clothes in Africa is no easy task. Even with my faithful washer and dryer in Atlanta, which do everything automatically for me – from measuring the water to determining the rinse cycle – I STILL hate doing laundry. Now here I sit in Adenta with no running water and six loads of laundry. All of which I, Malaka Gyekye, must wash by hand.

Oh.

First, I’ll have to make sure there is enough water in the tank. If there is, I’m relatively set. Hmmm, but if there isn’t! – we’re in big trouble. I will either have to wait for it to rain and turn the barrels over to collect the rain water OR, I’ll have to find the tso-tso-tso boys who drive around the area selling water. (At 30 bucks a pop!) 3 basins will be needed. One to wash, one to pre-rinse, and one for the final rinse “cycle”.

Because water is so precious, I will have to wash all the clothes in the same water, lighter clothes first: Whites, then blues/blacks, then reds. It’s back breaking work. I’ll have to bend over, waist down,  in the hot sun on a concrete platform designated for washing. I’ll have to wring each garment by hand. I’ll have to hang each item on the line, skillfully shooing away flies and praying I don’t die of heat exhaustion and dehydration. I’ll be dehydrated from sweating and crying. The sweat and tears will mingle with swirling mass of wet clothing before me. I’ll cry until the task is complete. Have you ever wrung wet jeans by hand before? You’d weep as well.

Once I’m done washing the clothes, I’ll then have to wash each basin, making sure there is no soapy residue or dye from the clothing that might sully the next wash. There is poor drainage in this area, which means I’ll then have to sweep (with a stiff broom that has no handle – you figure that one out) the concrete platform so that the water doesn’t become stagnant and attract a myriad of colorful, enormous African insects.

OH!

What is this fresh manicure I’ve just gotten for? Nothing – because I have NO clothes to wear, and in order to dress myself for a potential outing, I’ll have to ruin said pedicure with the arduous task of washing by hand.

OH!!

I’m just not certain what to do.

Oh.

Yours confusedly,

Malaka Gyekye

What is YOUR 3 year old reading?

*Shaking my head in shame*

I have always known that the American primary education system was failing students across the country, but today, I got a rude awakening as to HOW FAR this failure goes. Whenever a child learns to read by the age of 3 in America, we’re in awe. If a child can’t read by 4 in Ghana, they ask what’s wrong with him/her.

Today my father went to enroll the girls in elementary school. Nadjah being five and a half was expected to go straight into the kindergarten class, possibly even first grade.

“Can she read?” the principal asked.

“Well…I’m not sure,” replied my dad.

He knows that girl can’t read. Just 3 nights ago she asked him to read a book to her. If she could read, she’d do it herself.

When he got home to tell me about their (near) future matriculation, he was all a-chatter about the caliber of student at Faithway Christian Academy.

“You should see the 3 year olds, Malaka,” he said. “They were standing in front of the classroom, reading and reciting their ABCs…and writing them.” He droned on and on about how smart these kids were; which  indirectly said to me how dumb he might think mine are. Waves of shame suddenly washed over me. I pursed my lips.

“Oh yeah?” I said  in response to his reverie. “I see.”

Inwardly I fretted over my children’s academic success. Aya could be forgiven for being somewhat behind. After all, she just turned 4 two months ago and has never seen the inside of a classroom. Nadjah on the other hand is nearly 6, and is the victim of Georgia’s reprehensible and ridiculous policy which says no child can even set foot in a Pre-K facility until they turn 4 in September. Na was born in December, which means she had to sit out an entire calendar year before starting Pre-K. To add insult to injury, the Pre-K curriculum only requires children to be able to count to 10, and prior to her graduation, I have never seen her bring home a sheet of paper that proves she can write her alphabet free hand. (That was something I had to teach her at home myself.) Prior to attending Georgia public Pre-K, she could count and recognize numbers up to 30 by the time she was 3. All that training went down the drain when her numerical aptitude was replaced with songs about popsicle sticks and mischievous bunnies.

A friend of mine enrolled her 3 year old child in school in Ghana last year. In 3 months, she had learned her two times tables and could write her numbers from 1-20. A product of a Ghanaian education herself, my friend was terribly displeased with what her child’s private school in Texas was teaching her daughter – which was nothing.

“We believe in developing the whole child,” the administration said in defense of their curriculum. Sure, but in developing that whole child, can you throw some math and science in there too?

Looking into my eldest daughter’s eyes, I know she’s not ready to deal with the rigors of a Ghanaian school. The teachers will not brook opposition, rude interruptions or back talk – and she is the poster child for all three.

“This school doesn’t look fun,” she lamented, after she’d been introduced to her new teacher and class.

“It’s not supposed to be all fun, Nadjah,” I scolded lightly. “You will have fun when it’s time for that…at recess perhaps…but you’re here to learn.”

I asked her if she understood and she nodded forlornly.

Aya on the other hand picked up a sheet of paper, asked the principal for a pencil, and declared she was ready to start school.

Tonight, I’m praying that they can get through the first week without too many tears and/or being ejected from the school for some asinine reason…like jetting out of the classroom to chase chickens. When I rise in the morning, I’ll do the same thing. I know my children are smart, and can pick up material if in the right environment. Children are sponges, and can learn virtually anything – if parents and educators are willing to believe in them, challenge them, and set the bar higher than memorizing the theme song from Barney & Friends. It’s just a shame that (once again) it’s taken classroom full of 3 year olds from a “third world country” to demonstrate how far America truly has to go in terms of laying a foundation for academic success.

No wonder so many children get left behind.

Chasing Chickens

Although she’s had a harder time adjusting to life in Ghana, my oldest daughter Nadjah has begun to receive all the benefits that I’d hoped she would. She’s learning to listen, not to talk back to adults, to be a little kinder – and most importantly – to use her imagination.

My great shame as a parent is that I have allowed my children to be socialized by iCarly, Sponge Bob and the ridiculous visual fare offered on American cable TV. As any parent (who actually cares to pay attention) will tell you, shows like these teach little kids that the little guy can/most likely will triumph over the tyranny of the adult world and that impudence is cute, amusing and to be expected. As my father simply (and harshly) explained to Nadjah on her third day here: Not in Ghana.

It’s taken all of two weeks, but she is coming around and understanding, to my relief, that those blofo ways will get you nothing in a country that expects nothing from its children other than complete and instant obedience.

My father has no cable TV in his house, no grass, no running water, no easy paved road leading to his house, and until I got the Vodafone hook up, had no internet either. The last 4 years I’ve visited him have been frustrating and miserable at times. These remote conditions also dismayed my daughter, who has asked me no less than 13 times a day when we are going back to Atlanta. I’m happy to say that as of Friday, she’s only asked me 8 times a day. However, it is due to these conditions that she is making such positive changes.

On our daily walk to buy bread and juice, she breaks away from me to chase chickens. Chickens, lizards, goats and whatever other domesticated animals are roaming the area in the morning. It does my heart a great deal of good. The other day while I was washing dishes by hand (shoot me NOW please!), I heard her outside with her sister playing with rocks, stones, sticks, seeds and other things not to be found at a retailer near you and assigning them names and various functions.

“Aya,” she said to her little sister. “This is a crabby patty. I’m going to be the customer, and you say ‘Order up!’ when you’re done making the food.”

“Okay Nadjah!”

Sitting shirtless and barefoot outside, they played a myriad of made up games that made sense only to the two of them – which is exactly what a pair of 4 and 5 year old sisters should be doing…not clustered around double PC screens playing nickjr.com for 4-6 hours every day.

Many mother’s will tell you that they have and will continue to learn a lot from raising their children. For my part, I’m learning to try to not sweat the very large frustrations that life in Ghana brings. Our useless crop of politicians, our poor sanitation, the difficulty in performing the simplest tasks because of the ineptness of the person sitting opposite you. I’ve had to contend with the fact and frustration that life in Ghana is NOT like life in America, and anyone who’s traveled between the two places knows what I’m talking about. I’ve had to complete own adult version of ‘chasing chickens training’ in these two weeks as well, and am a more contented (and slightly less cynical) person for it.

Thanks for the lesson Na.

A Day Spent With Friends

This Thursday I had the pleasure of having brunch at Café Dez Amis with my Auntie Obi – that’s the Hon. Minister Oboshie Sai Cofie to the rest of you. I got there around 10 am with my two oldest girls and ordered breakfast while we waited for Auntie Obi to arrive. They had pancakes, and I being a sucker for pastries had a cinnamon roll and a meat pie. OMG. What a meat pie! A meat pie is like a Jamaican beef patty but better, if done properly, and the chef at Dez Amis knows properly.

Pardon me as I drool in reflection.

As it would turn out, I literally spent an entire day with friends at the café. Having only gotten 2 hours sleep the previous night, and having no car in Accra, and still trying to sort out my bearings in the city, I was perfectly content to ‘shroom on the premises and direct people to meet me there. There are little things about the café that make it special. Cream colored colonial columns welcome you at the door way. The café is fitted with free wifi and a flat screen TV. There are two nooks with sofas and side tables for intimate or relaxed conversation. Sea shells serve as ash trays and the bill is presented in leather bound box lined with red felt. There’s an eclectic mix of old world Africa and modernity. My eldest daughter collided with the two when she knocked over an imposing oware board and made a bee-line for some chrome object before I halted her progress.

In self imposed detainment, I watched as a mix of patrons came in and out of the doors. Young and old, expatriates and locals, posh people and common folk all came to sample the simple pleasures of the café: good food and a really great atmosphere. I sat in the garden until sunset, where I stared blankly at trees that had been there since I first came to the grounds as an eight year old. The café shares a compound with Afrikiko, one of Accra’s oldest establishments. Saplings from 1986 now provided a broad shady canopy and the landscaping featured one of my favorite Ghanaian flowers – lady in a boat. Among all the patrons of the day, the most memorable had to be a racially ambiguous White/Arab/Lebanese/possibly all three man named Harry who spoke Ga so indigenously that if you weren’t looking, you would expect the speaker to be a fishmonger just returned from the shore. As he conversed intensely with Auntie Obi, employing all the mannerisms of a man who had grown up on the continent, their discourse was disturbed by his ringtoe: the theme song from The Godfather. How oddly appropriate. He was a throwback to the days when foreigners endeavored to immerse themselves in local culture, as juxtaposed by today’s Ghanaian youth who communicate in a myriad of LAFAs (locally acquired foreign accents), some doggedly refusing to speak any native vernacular at all.

In the moments that I awaited two sets of friends’ arrival, CANOE magazine was my silent companion. I have been waiting for months to get my grubby hands on a copy, because it looked so glossy and editorial online. I was delighted to find that visually, it was everything I hoped for. I read every article cover to cover. My delight turned to dismay, as I was distraught by the content. Too many of the articles were cumbersomely written.

You’re being a snob, Malaka I thought. My best friend later echoed my thoughts: A lot of the writers were indeed crap. I was relieved. I hate snobbery, and there’s nothing worse than embodying the thing you hate.

Later that night, she and I went to Koala for a Ghana Bloggers meeting. It was jolting to be in the company of snarky and progressive people. Most of the bloggers there were foreign, or Ghanaians that had grown up abroad. The average Ghanaian is pretty straightforward, and the subject of our discourse is pretty predictable. I felt pressured to say something witty, but as I had had virtually no sleep, I knew I would come out incoherent. I chose to cackle at the version of humor my new acquaintances offered instead.

It was an absolutely amazing day, sullied only by the taxi driver who threw my money out of the window after driving me home because he wanted to be paid 12 cedis instead of 10 (despite the fact that we agreed on 10 before I got in the car), and my father furiously berating me for getting home so late (11:15 pm) and informing me that I was lucky that I was brought home at all.

“He could have raped and killed you!” he raged.

Ahhh. A father’s love. So reassuring.

That night, I went into a coma-like sleep, my dreams of delectable pastries interrupted by thoughts of some wanker taxi driver chasing me down flooded roads with the intent of raping me. Not a good mix.

The Splendor of Mrs. Sonaike

If all marriages started out with an engagement like Big Nan’s, no one would ever get divorced.

‘Big Nan’ is my nickname for one of my oldest and closest friends, Nana Koranteng; because she does everything big: House real big, cars real big, grades real big and now wedding real big. I’ve always known that Nana comes from a royal family, but you’d never suspect it because she’s so very humble.

When I pulled up to her house, it was a sea of BMWs, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, and a hundred other indistinguishable shiny black cars. Two very uncompromising men in dark suits stood guard at the gate. They looked at me unsmilingly.

“Good afternoon,” I said.

“Do you have your invitation?” one asked me, not returning my greeting.

I quickly pulled it out and watched the pair of them look for my name on the guest list with no success. I was certain they were going to bounce me (from the gate of one of my best friends’ house!) and I’d be left to find my way back to Adenta in a taxi with my two kids in tow. Two minutes after standing at the gate, they found it. Akos, Nana’s big sister met me at the driveway and informed me Nana was up in her room, feeling really nervous.

“Then I must go crack some jokes to loosen her up!” I proclaimed. It suddenly occurred to me that Mamissa (this really, really crazy girl that is part of our group of five fast friends) was already up there doing the job of bride/wedding jester.

“You remember the way don’t you?” asked Akos.

“Yep!”

I found Nana up in her room, looking resplendent and regal in plum and raspberry color kente. She had a gold ornament in her hair and was decorated with beads the like of which I’d personally never seen. I said my hellos to everyone in the room and informed her that her guards at the gate nearly sent me home. She furrowed her forehead and seemed further distressed. I wasn’t helping much. So I reintroduced my kids before they could scatter everything in her room and worsen her mood. Nana loves kids. I looked around the room, thinking it felt really small. Much smaller than the last time I was there as a teen. Before parties we’d huddle around her mirror to put on make up and afterwards 3 or 4 of us would sleep on her twin sized bed and fight for sheets and space. Yesterday, the whole crew was back in that room 18 years later watching our girl get married.

Part of Ghanaian tradition is that the bride must wait in house until she’s called out to join the festivities. The groom waits outside the compound of the house until he’s called in as well. Each is heralded by their respective family’s okyeame (spokesperson), drums and/or a piece of music of their choice and surrounded by a gaggle of friends and family who escort them to the wedding festivities. I would joined Nana as she danced her way to meet nanaanum, but Mamissa bullied me into holding her video camera so that I could catch her on tape dancing and swaying in Nana’s bridal procession to the beat of massive fromtom frontom drums. Nothing had changed from the time we were all 14. Nana looked simply amazing, gracefully doing adowa dance steps she had just learned 30 minutes early.

Hmmm. These Nigerians.

Before her arrival to the court yard, they brought tings paaaa! There is no other ways for me to describe it. To honor the bride’s family, the groom’s family will generally come bearing gifts. A crate of minerals (soda); a few bottles of gin; a few envelopes of money. By the time I dashed outside to get a glimpse of their offering after someone shouted “the Nigerians are coming!” I’d missed half of the show. Women clad in he most amazing purple jewel toned fabrics danced in unison behind suitcases upon suitcases of gifts. A stack of parcels wrapped in vibrant orange paper were ferried in by at least 4 young men. A 3 man team of percussionists heralded the family’s arrival. When all had gone silent, the informed Nana’s family that they had come with “so many gifts and pound sterling”.

“As you can see,” said their spokesperson, “your daughter will not lack. She will be well taken care of in the Soniake home. She will go from glory to glory.”

I’d frikkin’ say so.

Uncle Paul smiled broadly.

Ohhh, and Afolibi! – her groom. When he was summoned, he danced with vim and vigor of a 10,000 man marching band. His feet screamed joy, his eyes shone in delight, the posture of his very back was arched in gleeful expectation. He swung his pale blue garments like a king celebrating victory. He danced like I imagine David might have danced before the Lord. He was coming to claim his bride!

After the clergy from both countries led us in a prayer and a hymn sung to Jesoss (Nigeria)/ Jezess (Ghana), they blessed the engagement ring and Afolabi spoke a few words.

“Nana, I promise to love and care for you; and I promise to work hard to support you, and to support everything you do.”

Nana smiled the broadest and sweetest of smiles. If you had a fine-behind velvety chocolate man looking you dead in your eye making you promises in the poshest of British accents, you’d be smiling too. I looked at all the women in the crowd, and indeed we were all grins. Yes, we were ‘jealous’. I wanted to get on a plane and remarry my husband all over again.

Rap to me the way Afolabi rapped to Nana! I’d say.

As they kissed quickly, we all shouted “Eiii!!!”. The Nigerian okyeame teased them making smooching sounds. Eh mweh mweh mweh mweh!, she puckered into the microphone. The pair of them ignored us, and seemed oblivious to the presence of the 300 people gathered on the lawn as they embraced each other like long lost friends. He hugged her like a man hugs a cool drink after walking in the heat for days.

Day 2

Yes, there is a day 2, because not only were these two Africans getting married, but two African royals!

The next day they were married in church at Christ the King. Their nuptials were presided over by an Irish priest with a Ghanaian accent – with hilarious local jokes.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I was late arriving, but got seated just in time to hear them exchange vows. I was immediately informed that there were no ushers, and I would be joining a vigilante team to collect an offering. This was the day I had burned my dress in the post I mentioned recently. Still, I was proud to be an official “money getter” at one of my best friends’ weddings. I was amazed as a flood of 20 and 50 cedi bills filled my basket. I prayed such anointing would fall on me! (God, I dey wait ohhh…)

“Did you steal any of the money?” Mamissa asked me.

“Nah. Not today.”

Those who had flown in from abroad were ferried (in a chartered air conditioned BUS) to La Palm for the reception. And what a reception. No attention to detail or luxury was spared.  Each table sparkled with the finest crystal and silver. And my God…the food. I mean, what did you want to drink? They had it. And what did you want to eat?!? They had it! Prawns, chicken, beef, plantain, feta cheese, plump tomatoes, the best jollof rice ever boiled and seasoned known to man…they had it!

Again, I was given another post as an official guest seater; and I performed my duties with pride…in my burned green dress.

Nana Henewa, Kemi and Mamissa looked like Grecian goddesses in their green toga inspired dresses as they danced into the reception hall; but it was Nana who stole the show. Never one who could claim the gift of dance, she kicked it old school and twirled her bouquet around her head. She was breath taking in her iridescent white dress, but she needs to take lessons from her hubby. He danced in like he was auditioning for the lead role in Breakin’: Electric Boogaloo.

No reception is complete with a boisterous MC, who after cracking a few jokes informed us we would soon be cutting into their “immaculately configured cake”. Before we were served, Mamissa gave a lovely toast to the bride and groom. As she told her version of how she and Nana met, I recalled that I had met Nana first and Mam stole her from me. That bully. In her toast, Henewa called Nana “the most selfish person she knows”. She was devastated as the whole reception laughed uproariously. Of course we all knew that she meant ‘selfless’, but while the rest of were briefly amused by her Freudian slip, she grieved over it for most of the evening. She so desperately wanted to honor our friend properly.

And then this Afolabi again.

After feting his family and celebrating their many achievements, he redirected his speech to address how he had met and courted Nana. He completed his monologue by turning to Nana, looking her in her eyes and saying resolutely:

I came,

I saw,

I conquered!!! we shouted in completion.

He shook his head.

And I was surely conquered, he finished in the most soothing baritone I’ve heard to date.

The whole room erupted into wicked applause.

“Heeeeeyyyy!!!!”, we screamed.

From the opposite side of my table I heard an obviously impressed man (who otherwise also had a very British accent) say “Chaley, I no hear some before oh!”

We danced until their was sweat and champagne on the dance floor and the DJ played the last song.

“Thank you for staying out so late Malaka, especially with a 3 month old baby at home,” said Nana. “You’ve forced oh!”

“C’mon girl. You know I love you more than my kids. I’ve known you longer.”

My dear Big Nan: Love real big, smile real big, and in a few years, I’m sure a really (really) big family crawling with ten adrini little Soniake’s. Like I said, if all couples started off like these two, there would be no divorce. Their success will not as a result of all the stuff (although as a guest I certainly enjoyed it) but in the quiet but confident way Afo showed us all that he loves my dear friend, and in the quiet way that shes willing to let him.

Sweat, Ice Water, Sleep

It’s hot in this country. I sweat. I drink loads of water. I have trouble sleeping.

Today marks a week I’ve been in Ghana. I have to confess, I didn’t think I was going to make it. By day 4, I was ready to tuck tail and run back home to Atlanta. I had several factors leading me to concede defeat: 1) My eldest was just not adjusting to the change well, and spent every waking moment since we got off the plane (literally) saying she wanted to go back to Atlanta. 2) I still can’t figure out how to get from town to my dad’s house. 3) I forgot, ever so briefly, my role as a child to African parents. That lapse in memory led to stony silence and 4 days of personal discomfort for my part. And 4) I missed my husband terribly – more than I expected to in such a short span of time.

But this blog isn’t about the sad/negative stuff. Who wants to read about that anyways? You’ve got your own issues. Why don’t you take your mind off all that and let me tell you a tale of 6 cities merged into one: Accra the megatropolis.

Accra has its own soundtrack, and it’s the same one that has been left on repeat for donkey years. To every conversation, there will be background noise consisting of swallows, roosters, crying children, the rumble of a taxi or a trotro and some woman screeching a gospel hymn in soprano when she is clearly an alto. The sound track to Adenta (a town that forms part of Accra’s megatropolis where we live now) is slightly more unique, however.

Every night, a pack of feral dogs fights outside my father’s gate. They snarl, yip and eventually end their fight with a chorus of mournful howls. Other dogs in the area of course join in the refrain. As I lay in bed, I imagine the fight must have ended with one dog viscously eating the other. An hour later, a family of bull frogs croaks until about dawn. Then, the resident cock crows the signal that it’s time to wake up. Someone outside begins to sweep the street with a stiff broom. It is at this time that the local malaam will make his call to prayer. A torrential flood of Allahu Akbar!!‘s fills the air. Not to be outdone, a pastor at one of the 15 or so churches that dots the road to our house will preach non-stop from noon to midnight over his megaphone. All sorts of prayers permeate the air, and depending on your fancy, you can find and join a congregation harassing God or pleading with Him to hear and entertain their supplications. Ghanaians don’t really just talk to God. He is either revered and approached softly, or advanced upon like a volcano that must be shouted at/over to be heard. It doesn’t matter though. God is still ignoring them. The roads are still bad, the politicians are still corrupt, and many people still have their visa applications to come to Amrika bounced on a daily basis. It’s sad, but kinda funny.

A man from Akropong lives in the house just behind ours. This man must–as a matter of need – eat fufu every day, twice a day. So great is that need that several of his house help have run away over the course of the years. Pounding fufu is back breaking, painful work. There is a reason that it is reserved for special occasions, like Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas duck. Even now as I type, a rhythmic dum dum dum interrupts me.

Getting through this week has been difficult, as I said, because I’ve had to relearn many things since my last visit. Unlike all my other returnee friends who have a gaggle of maids and drivers to attend to their every need, it’s just me, my dad and my kids at home trying to muddle through our days and night together. The first domestic challenge I faced in that week was ironing.

I don’t where all these irons in Ghana come from:- Korea, China, Singapore – who knows? – but they all have one thing in common. They have two settings, namely OFF and MELT YOUR GARMENT. In preparation for a wedding I was attending, I actually melted my lace dress, even though the setting on the iron was set on low steam.  I watched in horror as a sticky goo where my neckline used to be lay before me on the ironing board. I was confused as to how that was even possible, but I wore the dress anyway, and hoped that my American blubber would cover the singed fabric.

Next is negotiating the gate to our house. If I ever am successful in reaching this gate after venturing out for a day in town, access to my house will be denied me for 10 minutes or more. The gate is padlocked to keep out intruders. That’s not a problem. The problem lies in attempting to open said gate with a rusty key fitted into a rusty lock. My dad has an endless supply of WD 40, but it doesn’t make a difference. Something about the melding Ghana’s air and metal is just conducive to rusting. In the moments spent trying to enter my house, I will cough incessantly as my lungs are cloaked with gray smoke as someone begins burning trash. Someone is always burning trash in these parts.

Lord, please don’t let me forget TV. TV in Accra is hilarious. Every morning, politicians get on the air to pontificate and tell a gaggle of lies. They then accuse the opposing party of lying as well. The only bit of useful and pragmatic information I’ve seen on tele has come from the mouth of a Nigerian educator, and they (as a nation) are supposed to have the reputation for corruption and lying. The soap operas are still the same as well. All the scripts are over acted, the value of an actress still lies in how quickly she can produce visible tears, and the sound and picture quality is atrocious. But there are subtitles for all pieces done strictly in local vernacular. That’s a nice touch.

This week, things are looking a lot more positive and I’m beginning to generate amusement in watching my people instead of despair. Like the man at a reception I attended who was decked in a ¾ length suit that was clearly too large for him (the hem of the coat rested below his knee), who accosted a waitress ferrying savory bits of food around on a tray and made her stand still while he popped whole bits into his mouth, never pausing to chew. Hmmm…proof that a fine suit does not make a ‘gentro man’ out of you!

Sights that are familiar to me are a wonder to my four year daughter. She proclaimed just two days ago that she wants to learn how to carry things on her head so she can sell them in the middle of the street. Her grandfather and I got a big chuckle out of this. Silly girl. That will never (ever) happen. My friends have all been laughing at me since I announced that I want to go to South Africa to teach. Can you imagine their guffaws if I one day inform them that my college educated girl is a yoyi seller at the airport?

A small girl shouts “Oooo shame!” to her compatriot. Her shrill interjection into the steady humdrum makes me smile inwardly.

Next week, I go to check out jobs. I hear people in Ghana don’t like to pay for work. I would say this isn’t true, but I still haven’t been paid for an article I sent to a magazine months ago. It’s no sweat though. Akwaaba to me!

Abusing Crippled Children at Osu Children’s Home

Stop what you’re doing. Get up and get all the old books your kids don’t read anymore. Put them on the kitchen table, your desk, the floor, or where ever you’re reading this blog from. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Got ‘em? Great.

The night I got into Accra, the very first news story I was confronted with (because news in Ghana is not brought to you – you’re confronted with it) was a story that was broken by Ghana’s premier investigative reporter, Annas Aremu Annas, on the plight of the orphans at Osu Children’s Home. He secretly shot footage of the squalid conditions and the cruel treatment that most of the children endure. In a country that touts itself as ‘the land of a thousand smiles’, they were horrific images to behold and no one was smiling. Crippled children were being drug across concrete floors before being bathed with damp dirty rags that had been sitting out all morning. Infants were left to wail for hours with no one to tend to them. Bereft of love, some of them have turned to sodomy to find some sort of comfort, and this has of course evolved into older children sexually abusing younger ones. It’s a national tragedy, and sadly, I’m certain is not unique.

When I lived in Labone (a suburb of Accra) OSH was literally a stone’s throw away from my house. It’s been years since I lived in the area, but as a kid I recall being struck that I never saw any children playing outside on the compound.

“An orphanage should have swings or something,” I thought in passing. Inside I imagined a world of singing orphans, somersaulting over banisters and dodging the spiteful punishments of a proverbial Mrs. Hanigan. Eventually, OSH faded from my psyche, although I passed it daily. The truth is, these orphans have probably been abused and ignored for decades and until Annas’ shocking revelatory report, very few people gave them a second thought.

To the country’s credit, the public outcry in Ghana has been swift and condemning. A few small groups have even gotten together to sort out what they can do to help the orphanage. There is only one dinosaur of a politician (whose name I will not mention on my blog) who has blasted Annas for his report saying “he should have asked his permission before broadcasting the footage” and that Annas has “disgraced Ghana” by revealing this cruelty. As though our media is censored and the shame not lies with the perpetrators of these evil acts. For my part, I’ve been haunted by then image of a lanky little boy being tossed about by a stone faced male worker while his legs dangled lifelessly behind him. How long has he been treated like this, I wonder?  What thoughts flood that little boys head? Has he been ill treated so long that his heart has become as stony as the face of that uncompassionate man who is charged with his care? What could I even do about it?

The financial needs of OSH are monolithic. Greater than that, they not only need more staff, but a staff that has the temperament to care for several hundred children. Childcare is not an easy job. I have 4 small kids myself and take no joy in the 30 minutes it takes to clean their squirmy little bodies. I can’t imagine having to bathe 60 kids, particularly if I didn’t like my job, or worse, the kids themselves. And this is where many of the wardens at the orphanage find themselves. Overworked, understaffed, and ill suited to this work to begin with.

So again, what could I do to change all this? Nothing. Nothing at all. But what I can do is be a small part of the change that I am certain is coming to the home. I don’t have plenty of money, but what I do have during these 2 months I’ll be in Ghana is plenty of time.

Last night, my two girls begged their grandfather to read them a book. As he stumbled over the words through his bifocals, they sat in rapt attention, offering to turn the pages to find out what happens next. All kids love to be read to. So, I’ll go read to the orphans. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong. There are two problems:

1) I only brought two books from the states, and one of those is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (hardly literary fodder for little kids)

and

2) This is Ghana. Nothing is ever simple in Ghana. I’m sure there will be some bureaucratic BS I’ll have to swim through just to spend an hour a week reading to a few desperate kids…Because this is GHANA.

So, reader, would you do me a favor? While I go get on my hip boots and prepare to go beg the OSH administration to allow me to show their charges some kindness, would you get up, go get some kids books (even if the pages are missing and the covers are torn), put them in the mail and send them to:

Malaka Grant

(Mailing info removed because this is now moot, 2013)

Please? You will?

Awww! You’re so sweet. Thank you!