Monthly Archives: March 2013

We Should Not Need A Feminist Movement in Ghana

“I can’t speak for the rest of Africa, but I can say for sure that in Ghana, we treat our women very badly.”

My father had nosed his way into a conversation I was having with a childhood friend who had come to visit me a few years ago. I am always happy to have my father join me in conversation because he brings a humor yet poignant perspective to every exchange he engages in, but I was baffled by his view.

Were women in Ghana treated badly? I hadn’t noticed.

Upon deeper reflection, I realized that my cluelessness was not apportioned to the absence of injustice that Ghanaian women face every day, but rather because my experience growing up had been as a human first, and a female second. My father – or anyone else involved in raising my siblings and I, including teachers, for that matter – never treated us differently based on our gender. It’s worth noting that although this is not rare, it is not the norm in Ghana.

My new favorite photo blogger is Nana Kofi Acquah, an award winning photographer from the Western Region of the country. He admitted in a post  that he was baffled when he first encountered feminism, because he had grown up with so many powerful female figures his entire life. He didn’t understand the need for it. Furthermore, I gather he didn’t feel victimized by it either. He tells the story of how his grandmother scratched her way to success and prominence in her community and was never hindered simply because she was a woman. There was an unspoken assumption that if one was willing to work hard, they could have anything they put their mind to. This is as it should be. A person, regardless of gender should be able to study, come up with an idea, work hard, and be rewarded for it.

I’ve been engaged in a twitter skirmish (because our exchange hardly qualifies as a battle) with a man -whom we’ll call ET – for the last two days who is a self-professed anti-feminist. He says he’s “pro-human rights”…which is laudable. We both agree that all humans should be treated equally. Where we part ways in agreement is in the presence of reality: All human beings, particularly in Ghana, are not treated equally.

ET spent hours kvetching over Ghana’s Affirmative Action laws which he sees as preferential to women for the sole design of bringing disadvantage to men, whom he terms (or inferred) as the more “qualified group.” The conversation took several sharp turns, with him making wild proclamations that women have no interest in math, science and technology. This came as a shock to me, particularly since my sister has a Master’s degree in physics and no less than 12 of my closest friends hold advanced degrees in Engineering, Architecture and Mathematics.

But how did they get there? Surely not in the way education is handled in Ghana.

The fact is, Ghana has an emerging middle class, but it is still overall a very poor nation. When the majority of the proletariat spends its days figuring out where their next meal is coming from, sending your children to some fancy university is not high on the list of priorities. When the average Ghanaian of meager means does have the opportunity to send a child to school, he will almost unilaterally choose the send his oldest mail offspring. The fact that his daughter might be the brighter child is not the issue. A male should have greater earning potential so that he can provide for his family, which again is laudable. There is nothing a woman likes more than a working man; the problem lies in his success being incumbent on a certain girl’s failure or doom. Eventually, the trend becomes part of tradition and in time becomes cyclical.

Somehow, ET has failed to recognize that this cycle is part of our reality, and is reality for many Africans on the continent. How he managed to do this is a mystery. I don’t pretend to know the man beyond his twitter persona.

One of ET grievances is in the way women at the university level are scored. A male student needs to get a 15 to pass, while a female student only needs a 12. (Don’t ask me what that means. I was scored in A – Is in university.) While I agree that we do not achieve excellence by lowering standards, I understand the government’s implementation of this policy. With female students missing more days of school on average than their male counterparts, it’s unfair to judge their performance by the same standards. The reasons for female student absence are varied, from the onset of menses to nonpayment of school fees.

ET wants to do away with the scoring biases without looking at the reasons why they exist beyond “to disadvantage the more qualified.” I want to make sure that bright and motivated girls stay in school and indulge in focused study time so that there is no need for a scoring bias. Until we deal with the root causes for the failure of women in Ghana, there will always be affirmative action and perceived female favoritism, to the utter chagrin of men like ET.

Like I said, the entire conversation was an exercise in futility because the man refused to accept the basic truth that gender bias DOES exist. He is also operating on the premise that feminists want to dominate and take over men. I don’t know these women, so I can’t vouch for this assertion. If it’s true, I can understand why. Presenting one’s self as powerful is considered a “male” trait, and there are millions of women who crave power. There is a social experiment taking place in Middle Eastern and some European countries attesting to this fact.

If a family has all girls, for example, they will select of them to live life as a boy in order to remove the stain of not having a male heir. These girls grow up with the privileges of being self-assured, assertive and confident – which are the hallmarks of success in any human being. However, it has been proven that these traits are not desirable in women. An assertive woman is a “bitch” and an assertive man is “a go-getter”.  Let’s not forget when age compounds the issue. An assertive woman of more advanced years is a “crazy old hag” and an older assertive man is “seasoned.”

My husband will tell you without reservation that I am the smarter one of us two. Modesty prevents me from making this proclamation myself, and I only mention it now to make a point. We both went to the same university and I graduated with a far higher GPA and more honors. However, I am the one staying at home with the kids, although he is perfectly capable of doing so. He takes better care of the children than I do. The reason I am a stay-at-home mom is purely economic…that, and my husband wants smart kids. Although his degree in biology, he taught himself web design. Web design is a skill in high demand, and it pays well. My jobs as an advertising assistant and then a recruiter hardly rivaled his salary, and it made sense for me to stay home. Is this a co-incidence? I hardly think so. Fields that are dominated by men tend to pay more. I have no qualms with that, because I look at someone like my sister who works in a male dominated industry and also by extension earns more money than her live-in boyfriend.

ghmanEvery Ghanaian man and woman should have this as an option. They should have the opportunity to pursue a quality education and make informed, intelligent decisions about their own lives without the constraints of antiquated colonial impositions and harmful cultural norms. When that day comes, there will be no need for “feminism” as we have come to understand it, for we will all truly be equal.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Fireworks Display: Inside the Mind of a Toddler

It’s easy to tell what my 8 year old is thinking. She’s talkative, and will generally tell you what she’s pondering without prompting or solicitation.

“Do sloths wear pajamas to sleep, Mommy?”

“Oh Lord, I pray that we get home in time to eat those delicious noodles that Daddy was making; In Jesus’ name, amen.”

“What birds reach the highest altitude in flight?”

“Do you always have to get your chin waxed, or will the hair on your face eventually stop growing one day?”

I don’t know the answers to half these questions and on the days that I can’t handle her barrage of questions and useless factoids I tell her as much and order her to get out of my room.

“I don’t know, Nadjah! Get out of my room. Please.”

After dealing with her manic brother and sister all day, I do not have the cerebral fortitude to answer life’s least pressing questions. One day, I stopped to wonder exactly what goes on inside the mind of my two littlest lunatics. Stone is an easy book to read. His main concerns in life are eating, locomotives, airplanes – and yes – Barbie. He has a partiality to Barbie flicks.

It’s harder to get a read on Liya, however. Her powers of speech are not yet developed well enough to convey thought, however she is quite adept at conveying her feelings. There is no balance when it comes to a two year old’s feelings. Their emotions are a wildly swinging pendulum, ranging from excessive anger to utter joy. The pendulum only stops moving when a two year old is asleep…and even in that state I’m convinced they are designing their next terror plot.

I decided to watch Liya for a day, to try to get inside her mind.

*****

Crap. It’s morning and I’m wet again. I wish these two would stop being so cheap and buy some of those pull-ups I saw on Nick Jr today. It said they provide extra leak guard protection – whatever that is. The babies on the commercials look so happy and dry…and White. Why aren’t I White? And why don’t I have a back yard? My parents are such losers. That’s why I have to run through this house at top speed: because I have no back yard.

Well, it’s time to wake up the hag. She’ll change me and get me breakfast. It takes so long for her to rally though. It’s a good thing my biggest sister left her deodorant out so I could have a nibble. Screw it. I’m going to eat the whole block of this white stuff…

Ahhh. That’s better.

Ugh. Stonie is already in bed with her, snuggling with her. He makes me so sick! Just once I wish I could wake up before him and garner the spoils of a pre-dawn cuddle. But “noooo”, he has to bang his infernal head on his pillow all night and deprive me of sleep! I’ll outwit him one of these days, but in the meanwhile, I must use my size, weight and vocals to my advantage.

“Mooove, Stonie!”

As I anticipated, my commands have gone unheeded. I’ll just have to step on his head and get between the pair of them. This draws a sharp rebuke from the fat woman who calls herself “Mommy”, but I couldn’t care less. I quickly grow bored and request some entertainment.

“Micka Mouse Club Hawse, Mommy,” I ask politely.

She refuses my request and tells me it’s not time to watch TV yet. I’m aghast. How dare she! I pick a fight with Stone and kick him in the shin. This of course sends him into hysterics since he’s not allowed to hit me (no one is) and he begins to wail uncontrollably. I add an unholy timbre to his screeches of displeasure. As expected, the fat woman turns on the television. I then demand milk, which she scurries off to get.

Soon, I become acutely aware that she’s been gone for more than the 56 seconds it requires to pour a glass of milk and bring it to me. This is not to be borne! I rally my older brother so that we can swoop in and retrieve our drudge.

“Let’s get. Mommy!” I shout with urgency.

“Yeah! Mommy!!!” he agrees, leaping off the bed.

My brother is more like an obedient puppy than an actual functioning, intelligent human being. I don’t know what Allison sees in him. She’s always showing off her new dresses and t-shirts and asking Stone if he likes them.

“’Tone…do you like my Dora?” she asks in that sing-song voice. (I hope she learns how to enunciate the letter “s” soon. She’s not going to make it far in pre-k if she doesn’t.)

But do you know what my oaf of a brother actually said to her?

“Yeah, Allison! I like your Dora!”

Then the two of them run off to play – and fight. They never invite me to play with them. It’s not fair. I’m just as tall as they are…even if I’m a year younger.

As I contemplate these things, I see that the fat woman has my cup of milk in one hand and that hard thing I play Angry Birds on in the other. She wastes SO much bloody time on it! She sees the look in my eye, and her anxiety quickly becomes palatable. I can smell her fear. I wasn’t going to ask her for her phone, but I will anyway, since she looks like she doesn’t want to give it up.

“Can I want you phone, Mawmie?”

She says no.

At this juncture, I would typically wrestle it from her, but she’s pulled down that bottle with a red label that sits on top of the fridge  and is hungrily popping pills. These are dangerous times. It’s better to proceed with caution for the next 4 days…

photo(4)I take my cup of milk upstairs to watch TV in my parent’s room. I know I’m not allowed to do this, but the two fat people have disconnected all the good channels from the TV downstairs. They say my sisters need to spend more time reading, but it hasn’t helped. Mother spends hours helping the whiny one sound out words every night. I myself CAN read, but I’ll never let them know it. It’s why I request a book every night and read myself a bedtime story. I get to make up all the sounds in my head. And I particularly love the way every book begins with the phrase “One day…”

You know what I can’t stand? When grown-ups treat me like a two year old. Yes, of course I realize that I AM two years old, but when they ask me inane, rhetorical questions like “Where do we pee-pee?” how do they expect me to react? Everyone else in the house takes a dump in the toilet, and you don’t ask them where does the poo poo go. It only makes sense that I would opt to use the toilet on myself. For one, it’s terribly convenient, and secondly it shakes things up around here. People move a little faster when there’s poo in the living room. But am I potty trained? Yes…again, it is not to my advantage to admit this.

Still, I recognize that my grip on power cannot last forever. The fat woman keeps talking about “August 2014”, whatever that is. I also hear that Stone will be shipped off the pre-k this autumn. He vehemently denies that this will happen, but if the morning activities of my two older sisters are any indication of how things run around here, I won’t be seeing him for a few hours every day. Which is fine with me. The fat one buys me frozen yoghurt when none of the other kids are around.

Oh look! Jake just got four more gold doubloons…

 

******

WHOA! This is only 40 minutes of observation. My head hurts…doesn’t yours? Venturing into the mind of a toddler is like risking a trip to the Terradome. You go at your own risk.

 

Is a Vagina by Any Other Name Any Less Terrifying?

I was watching What Not to Wear when Aya burst into the room with a scowl on her face. Clinton Kelly was telling a woman how her ill-fitting trousers made her crotch look a rectangle. My daughter cut short my contained chuckles with a question I knew I was going to have to answer, but never expected it to come on that day at that moment.

“Mommy!” she exclaimed almost tearfully. “Nadjah said that we all used to live in your hoo-hoo!”

“No I didn’t!” Nadjah called from the other room. “I said we all used to live in your stomach, then we came out of your hoo-hoo!”

I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell that my first born was enjoying her younger sister’s state of hysteria. I sighed and muted the TV.

“Yes, Aya,” I said solemnly. “Your sister is right. Remember how big my stomach was when I was pregnant with Stone and Liya? Remember they used to live in my stomach?”

She nodded vigorously, her eyes widening slightly. It’s as if she were girding herself up for tragic news. I smiled and patted her shoulder.

“But none of you guys came out of my hoo-hoo,” I said reassuringly. “You all came out of my stomach.”

Almost every portion of my body has been used in the service of my children since the moment of their conception. A uterus to incubate them in; arms to cradle them in; breasts to suckle them with; a back to ferry them on; lips to kiss away the pain of boo-boos. So without hesitation, I lifted my flabby belly in order to reveal the keloid scar that marked the point of entry into the world for each of my four children. I told her that the doctor had cut my stomach so that she could be born. She seemed relieved and asked me a few follow up questions. Did it hurt? I told her no. (I declined to go into detail about the wonderful drugs and needles that accompany a c-section…or the intense pain that follows when those drugs do finally wear off. Why rock a leaky boat?)

She asked me if a doctor was going to cut her stomach one day too. I told her I couldn’t say. Satisfied with the knowledge that her entry into the world had not come from via a place where I urinated (not to mention menstruated) from, she scampered off to go play. The conversation stuck with me though. Was I doing a good enough job educating my girls about their bodies? Had the time come for me to do so and I’d somehow missed it? Neither of them is in the double digits as far as age is concerned…why these crazy questions??

I consider myself a progressive enough parent. I let them watch videos on babycenter.com when I was carrying their younger siblings so that they would understand what was going on inside of my body. At ages 3 and 4, they watched the cycle of life repetitiously, awestruck at how a blastocyst could become a person in a matter of weeks. By the time they were in preschool, my kids could name all the parts of the body with by their proper scientific names…except for one.

The vagina.

I will admit that there is a certain discomfort I harbor for the use of the word “vagina”, or any reference to it at all for that matter. In fact, I’ve never seen my own vagina. I couldn’t pick it out of a lost and found bin. So when my children asked me what that fold of skin was between their little toddler thighs, I told them it was called a “hoo-hoo”, some generic term I’d picked up from a co-worker 13 years ago. It has served me well…until now.

Dr. Phil said on his show once that it is very important that we teach children the proper biological terms for their genitals – and early. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I know that there will probably be social implications for my future teenager calling her…. *gulp*…. vagina something cutesy like a “pocketbook” or her “stuff”, but that’s one of those things I’m willing to let her navigate on her own with her peers. The labia minora is something that truly terrifies me.

I don’t know why it should though. I remember having a vagina monolog with my mother when I was about 12. She was laying in her room sunning herself and I burst in. I had a bad habit of not knocking. Her legs were open on the bed and she was naked from the waist down. I came face to face with her hoo-hoo before I knew it.

“Ewww, Mommy!” I exclaimed. “Close your legs! That’s gross.”

“It wasn’t ‘gross’ when you came out of it,” she shot back.

I was stunned into silence, and I learned two things that day: to always knock before entering that woman’s room and that I was terribly afraid of female genitalia.

I often wonder if I’m the only parent who feels this way about identifying that part of my kids’ bodies. It’s not something I discuss with friends during Mommy and Me time or over coffee. In anyone else squeamish over this issue, or am I just being weird?

The Thunderous Sound of a Giant Falling to Earth: The Passing of Chinua Achebe

Today, millions of Africans around the globe are lamenting the loss of Chinua Achebe. I am one of them. There is something eerie that goes on in the soul of a (presumed) writer when a fellow leaves this realm. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like that intense emptiness that rushes over you while watching your best friend get into a moving van relocate across the country. You wonder how you’ll ever survive, but in time, you figure out how.

I was not an early fan of Achebe. My education was fiercely Eurocentric, and when I switched secondary schools in sixth form I was bombarded with unfamiliar (and admittedly, uncomfortable) Afrocentrism. In my literature and higher English classes we were being ask – or required, rather – to read works of authors who were not White, male and dead…and I resented it. I would have rebelled completely, but 30% of my grade rested on completing a 500 word essay on either the works of Okot p’Bitek (Song of Lawino), D T Niane (Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali) or Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart). I chose Song of Lawino, not because it was a literary masterpiece, but because it was the shortest book of the three. After all, what could a man who was neither dead nor White have to say of substance?

At prep time, the majority of the other literary nerds from the junior classes would gasp audibly and give each other shocked or amused glances, daring only for a moment to look up from their copies of Things Fall Apart. Talking at prep was forbidden.

“Things fall apart,” one of them would say.

“The center cannot hold,” the other would reply.

Ah. What inside joke was this? I wanted in. Achebe shamed me into a mental revolution and freed it with his simple but profound words. He left an indelible impact on me as a teen.

Achebe’s influence extends far beyond rectangular cement structures that house pupils in Africa or grandiose university lecture halls. His effect is felt even in hip hop, dating back to 1999 with The Roots entitling their fourth album with the same appellation of Achebe’s most renown work Things Fall Apart. One of my favorite songs on the album, also entitled Things Fall Apart/You Got Me, features Erykah Badu:

We knew from the start that things fall apart

And tend to shatter

She like that sh*t don’t matter

When I get home get at her…

I loved that verse because it was so gritty and real.

50chi It never occurred to me to wonder what Dr. Achebe thought about The Roots’ flagrant use of the title he’d coined 40 years before, but I do know he didn’t care for 50 Cents attempt to do the same in 2011. He sued the rapper/actor for plagiarism and won. Fiddy must have thought he was dealing with a small boy. He tried to settle out of court, offering the Chinua Achebe Foundation $1 million to use the title, but the Chinua Achebe Foundation turned down the offer.

“The novel with the said title was initially produced in 1958 (that is 17 years before rapper 50 Cent was born), [is] listed as the mostly read book in modern African literature, and won’t be sold for even $1 billion,” Achebe’s legal reps said.

I don’t know what words Achebe whispered to Fiddy, but before you could say “It’s your birthday!”, the title was changed to All Things Fall Apart. Hei!

You guys know that I am a bush girl masquerading as a learned lady. And it is for this reason that this will always remain my favorite memory of Chinua Achebe: Hardcore Literary Gangsta!

As the tributes pour in for Chinua Achebe he will be remembered for many things: For being a man of the people, an unflinching voice of truth, a brave and unapologetic witness to Africa’s greatness and condemner of the follies of its leaders – a roaring voice of the people.

Now that my grief has subsided in part, I can finally offer my sincere thanks to you, Chinua Achebe. Thank you for telling your stories – our stories – so beautifully and inspiring generations and generations yet to come to do the same.

 

There’s (Probably) A Steubenville Near You

Yesterday I received a series of terse tweets from my “namesake”, Abena.

“How come you have not blogged abt the #steubenville rape? Why the silence? Don’t u feel sense of outrage? What if it was (one) of ur *girls*?”

Ah. I don’t like to be attacked like that. I asked her why she was being so aggressive! She explained with a laugh that she knows that this is something I am passionate about, and was surprised that I had not written about it yet. I promised that I would do so – just for her – and so here I am. I also cautioned her that my opinion might actually serve to disappoint her, and here’s why:

Perhaps my sense of cynicism has eclipsed my sense of outrage, so I might as well quickly admit that I am not outraged at all by what happened in Steubenville. I am outraged with society’s reaction to the event, however.

Let’s consider who the players in this atrocity were: a group of 15 – 17 year olds. 15 – 17 year old who grew up and lived in a derelict town in Ohio that hasn’t flourished since the Industrial Revolution. Now, if you’ve ever stopped for gas in one of these towns, you know exactly what manner of individual lives there. They’re low achievers. They live in homes with trash in the yard. They barely have an education. They are content with the small world that they live in, and in that small world the football team is the only source of pride. At the age of 16, you already have a false belief in your own invincibility, but when compounded with a whole town’s affirmation that you are indeed invisible and even further, above reproach, then the acts and the events leading up to rape in Steubenville was the next logical step.

Why do I say this? It all goes back to something I have talked about on this blog, my Facebook and over coffee with friends. It all goes back to how we parent (or don’t, rather) in this country.

The two boys involved in the rape came from broken homes where their fathers were either physically absent or emotionally unavailable. Not much information is given about the girl’s home, but I’m willing to bet that her parents were equally lax in their duties. I’m going to say something that is going to sound like I’m “blaming the victim”, but I’m really not. I am cautioning would-be victims and my remarks should only be read as such.

Under no circumstances should a 16 year old girl be out in the middle of a different town drunk, and by herself. When I was 16 and heading off to jams and parties, there were key questions my parents asked me.

“Who are you going with?”

“Whose car are you driving in?”

“Will there be drinking at this party?”

The questions went on and on until finally they ended the inquisition with this advice: “Stick together with your friends and be home by 10:30 pm.”

I thought I would die. Be home by 10:30?? That’s just when things would start to pop off! While I always broke curfew and suffered the month-long grounding afterward, there was one thing I always did – I stuck with my friends. There is safety in numbers, and we kept each other safe. When one of us got stupid drunk (as in the case of this victim) the four of us would made sure she wasn’t taken advantage of and got her home safely. This girl didn’t even know she had been violated until pictures of her attack began to surface on social media!

American society has developed increasingly casual attitudes towards sex to the point where we actually ask ourselves if a wide shot of Beyonce’s crotch during a half-time performance is “going too far”. Knowledge of sex, alcohol and violence are more common in a teenager’s everyday experience than the ability to solve a mathematical equation or locate their own freakin’ town on a map of the United States. From the cradle to the graduation stage, kids are encouraged through song to dabble in foolishness. Do shots! (LMFAO); Get freaky with a stranger at a hotel! (Pitbull) Lift your hands if you came to get drunk! (Mania)  And when you have parents who not only do not monitor what their kids are watching and listening to, but participate in the debauchery with their children, what behavior can you expect? There was some music I was embarrassed to ever let my parents know I was listening to, and that’s the way it should be. Your children should know that there are some things that are totally unacceptable.

These boys didn’t even know what they did was wrong…and that is frightening. They testified as much.

“I didn’t know,” said one of them tearfully.

In his mind, “rape” is a guy dragging a woman into the bushes and violently penetrating her. Coming from a culture where football players sleep with a different girl every week and where coaches and bars supply them with as much liquor as they need, slapping his penis against the thigh of a girl passed out on the floor while his buddy fingered her seemed “harmless”. Why else would they film it and distribute the video? They have literally grown up without a sense of compassion, shame or empathy.

America came to a crossroads a long time ago and willingly walked down a dark path. When you supply a mad man with a grenade, what makes you think he wouldn’t throw it into a crowded room? Why do we think we can give teenagers the ability to make adult decisions?

“Hey! You’re 14. You need birth control. I got whatever flavor you want. You want an IUD? The Pill? A quarterly shot? Some condoms? I got what you need!”

Why aren’t we instead explaining to the teenager that he/she is a three part being: spirit, soul and flesh, and that singularly satisfying one to the exclusion of the others is not healthy? No one talks to a girl about how she is going to feel in her soul the moment after her virginity is taken (because in most cases, it’s not “given”). It doesn’t matter…because her school nurse made sure she was on the pill. And even worse, we socialize boys to believe that they ought to be getting sex early and often. Furthermore, do we even think discuss with boys/men the implications of what it means to have taken something as precious as someone’s virginity? I’ll wait for the crickets to finish their serenade.

Of course Steubenville happened! Peel back the veneer and look at your neighborhood. It’s happening right now, right under your very nose. Why, WHY do we think we can give someone for whom it has been scientifically proven has limited cognitive ability the chance to make serious decisions and then get upset with they fail? That’s lunacy on our part.

So Abena, please accept my apologies. I can’t be outraged when someone meets the expectations of their conditioning. We live in different times. The machines are raising our children and we’re letting them. Anytime a kid has a smart device in their hands, there’s the propensity for trouble. Condoning the use and access to alcohol only exasperates this. Being an absentee parent guarantees disaster. And to your final question: What if it was one of my girls?

That’s a hard one to answer. I’m shaking at the thought. All I can do is teach them the lessons that my own parents taught me and do my best to raise a God-fearing son who respects humanity so that this cycle is not perpetuated within my own family. What about you?

Blacktanic

There are always sirens blaring in Roswell. Fire trucks, police cars, security teams – whatever. So when I heard the tornado sirens I took note, but barely paid attention. My mind was fixed on something else. One of the managers had offered me extra hours at work, and you know how “we” are when it comes to extra hours. I put on a pair of Spanx, slapped on some lip gloss and hopped into my car.

The drive to work was rather tedious, what with that awful siren resounding in the background and the rain impeding my progress. Atlanta drivers lose all sense of control and confidence at the presence of the first drop. I turned on Pandora to make my ride more enjoyable.

Oh snap! Jaheim was on. I hadn’t heard him in ages. I made sure my windows were rolled all the way up, increased the volume, and screeched along with the R&B crooner.

Gotta find my way back…way back!!!  

The sky was getting steadily darker now, even though it was only 6:26 pm. Very odd indeed. I pulled into the parking lot at work and waited for the song to end.

Drowning in the sea of my angiush…funny, how hope floats nuh nuh nuh but I cain’t cope!

Ah. Why was my manager at the door watching me like this? I still had 4 more minutes before I had to clock in. Why is she staring desperately at me? Mtsewww! I decided to let the song finish, casually grabbed my coat and strolled into the building on time.

“Oh gosh, Malaka,” she said worriedly, her brow furrowed. “I thought you were a customer desperate for shoes.”

I laughed heartily and nonchalantly put my things away.

“Nope, it’s just me!”

“Why didn’t you get out of the car? Weren’t you scared?”

“Sacred of what?”

“The tornado warning! The hail! Didn’t you hear the sirens?”

“Well, I did hear something banging on the roof of the house earlier…” I replied thinking back to 20 minutes before.

Oh crap. Once again, my life was in potential peril and I hadn’t even known it. At that point, Will, the assistant manager walked behind me and locked all the store doors.

smok

“We have to get all of the customers into the break room right now,” he growled. “Come on, come on! Quickly!”

Will is a Nigerian. When Nigerians panic, I panic. I made for the break room as quickly as I could; customers be damned. I had to be at work. No one told them to come shop for shoes during a tornado! Like Lot’s wife, I had to take one last look back at the world outside. It had gone completely dark now and was eerily silent…

The break room in our building is fortified with several feet of cement and steel. There are no windows, and hardly any ventilation. When I got there, several customers had already been corralled in. There was an Indian couple with a 3 month old baby, an elderly European couple, a scrawny blond woman with a miserable face, a young couple covered in piercings and tattoos who looked to be just out of their teens, and a female manager from the Hallmark store next door. Altogether that put 14 people in the 6 x12 foot room, when you included the staff. Oh wait. 3 more people had come in. There was a Hispanic couple that Will had to almost push into the room just moments later.

“But my dog is in the car,” the man was saying in broken English.

“If your windows are up in the car, the dog will be fine,” Will insisted.

I knew what he was thinking. There was no way he was going back out to the store to open the door for a dog. How?

I wondered how long this fiasco was going to last. I was already feeling heady from the mix of human smells in the tiny room. With so many different races and nationalities, I felt like I was in the middle of a war tribunal at the Hague. The combination of the curry stench from the Indian couple – the mayonnaise odor from the tattooed pair – the faint scent of cheese from the Europeans – and Will’s breath (he was always fasting and smelled like bananas) threatened to overpower me. But I am a hybrid Ghanaian woman. I would not give in to fainting.

The elderly European man busied himself by pulling out his iPhone and giving us up-to-the-second updates. Some county I had never heard of had been hit. I called my husband to make sure he and the kids were ok. I could hear a pan sizzling in the background.

“Oh we’re fine babe,” he murmured. “I just turned on the TV. Our county isn’t under a threat.”

Then what the heck was I doing locked up in this fonky room with all these people?

“You making dinner?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you bring me some later? You know…if there’s no storm, of course.”

“Sure.”

We hung up and I looked around the room once more. How much longer were we going to be in here? The silver-maned European man was still prattling on about expectations. Suddenly, I became very vexed. What made him think he was qualified to “lead” this group? Isn’t it the same in every action film? The White man swoops in the save the troop? Oh no. Not on my watch. This was Blacktanic, and I would play the action hero! I could see it now…

“My dog! My dog! I need someone to carry my dog por favor!” Gustavo was wailing. He was elderly and frail, and had lost the strength of his manhood at the door because his wife had forced him to carry her knock-off Luis Vuitton purse and tablet.

As a Black action heroine, I sprung into action. I dug around in my purse until I found what I was looking for. I handed him a half-eaten sandwich.

“You see this?” I panted. “As long as you hold this sandwich in front of your dog, he will follow you.”

I patted him on the back and hoisted Gretchen onto my back. Her husband had asked me to help keep her moving.

“No time!” I shouted. “I’ll just lift her myself. You just keep close by!”

I ignored the niggling feeling about servitude and skin color and chose to focus on the fact that I was helping another woman.

At that moment, a beam fell in front of us, shutting off all the lights in the corridor. My compatriots screamed in panic. I urged them to stay calm.

“We can’t use up all the air in the room! Take small sips!”

“But my baby doesn’t know how,” sniffed Ranjeetha as she cradled her infant.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said benevolently. “Her lungs are so tiny that she breathes in sips.”

“I’m so glad you’re here to help us all, Malaka,” said Erin the assistant store manager.

Yes, yes! Cried the rest of the group. They chant my name over and over again. Malaka! Malaka! Malaka!

“Malaka.”

“Huh?”

It was Niqqi, one of my co-workers. She’d broken into my fantasy and was holding the break room door wide open.

“Come on. It’s time to get back to work. Tornado watch is over girl!”

A flood of fresh air took over the room. I breathed in deeply and cleared my thoughts. I had survived! Now it was time to engage in my actual super power and go sell some shoes…

Lean In, Just Don’t Tip Over

Last week I silently observed the Lean In movement unfold and national reaction to it. I thought there was going to be a feminist/mommy war implosion! After x millennia walking this earth, women still can’t agree, even amongst themselves, what the model for female accomplishment looks like. With a great deal of hand-wringing, high achieving women decry the dearth of women at the CEO level, while others mourn the want of stay-at-home mothers wholly devoted to churning out well-mannered drones to serve society. There is one camp that says that we must all choose for ourselves what “success” is, and that seems to be the most rational line of thinking as far as I’m concerned.

Because me? I’m just trying to get by the best way I know how. I didn’t go to university and spend $60,000 (before interest) on a degree to sit at home and clean up kid poo, but sometimes you find yourself on an unanticipated one-way rabbit trail. The faster you power through it and get back on track, the better you’ll feel – or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. It helps me get by.

The Lean In movement is all about changing that thinking. On its surface, it’s pretty inspirational stuff; like Girl Power all grown up and on steroids. Sheryl Sandberg penned a book under the same title and encourages women to get out there and push through glass ceilings and fight their way to the top of their career path. I confess that I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say for certainty what she has to say about lean in options for women like me – who have part time jobs and work at home full time – but from the interviews, I didn’t see much. It seems like the attention is focused on women who have chosen careers at the expense of family, which is fine if that’s what a woman wants.

Where I think Lean In misses the mark is that it glosses over some important and unavoidable factors, such as the presence and reactions of men, female biology, and other women. In order for a woman to be ‘successful’ she will have to overpower all these things, otherwise she will end up tipping over when her life spins out of balance.

In order to lean in successfully, we have to start fostering girls’ interests in non-traditional roles early. Sandberg made a statement during her segment on the Katie Curic show that I couldn’t help but scoff at.

“If you decided to take time off to become a mom, don’t apologize for that,” she pleaded. “Go into that interview confidently and explain that decision. Being a stay at home mom is truly the hardest thing a person can do. You have to learn time management skills, planning, forecasting, and managing groups of (unruly) people.”

Yes, well every stay-at-home mom and I know that, but a recruiter/employer either doesn’t know or don’t care. How do I know that? Because I was that 20-something ‘recruiter’ throwing SAHM resumes in the trash under the direction of my manager.

“The thing about working moms is that their kid is always going to get sick or they’re going to have a recital to go to,” said my boss at a hiring firm once.

“Okay…well what about this woman,” I asked. “She’s explained the gap in her employment and listed that she’s been at home for 15 years and is ready to re-enter the work force.”

“15 years!” he choked. “Can you imagine how much her skills have atrophied? Put it in the trash, Malaka.”

And so that’s what I did. Every time I saw a gap in a woman’s resume – or made a phone call to get her to explain the gap during which time she revealed that she was a SAHM – I put her resume in the trash as I conditioned to do. It didn’t matter if her degree or previous expertise was in a desired skill set. Those skill sets had presumably ‘atrophied’. How is such a woman going to walk into an interview confidently if she couldn’t even GET to the interview stage?

One of the reasons I love being a Black woman is that we are virtually invisible to White men. White men will say things around Black women that they would never say in the presence of White women, and vice versa, I’m sure. Being invisible is how you learn things. Do you doubt it? How do you think slaves learned to read on the plantation? By fanning the Massa’s chil’ren during tutoring time and sitting in on lessons in the big house! I digress.

So I was sitting at the receptionist’s chair one afternoon and the manager for an IT recruiting firm walks into the hallway. He sees Chris, one of his recruiters, and stops him to see how filling a requisition was going.

“I’ve got this great candidate, but I’m not so sure about her,” said Chris.

“Oh yeah? Why?” asks Tom (the manager).

“Well we got to talking and she mentioned that she just got engaged…”

Tom cut him off.

“Oh that’s the kiss of death!” he nearly spat. “All she’s gonna be doing is planning her wedding on company time, surfin’ the internet and taking long lunch breaks to look for swatches. I never hire a girl for an IT position if she’s got an engagement ring on her finger.”

As if seeing me for the first time, he turned to smile at me and the two of them left for lunch together. I learned several things that day. They should be obvious to you as a reader as well.

If we want women to nudge their way to the top, we’ll have to learn early on that we’re not going to get there with so-called “soft skills.” We will have to develop hard to find skills with unquestionable value. That means more girls in math and sciences. A woman with a degree in marketing is darn near disposable. My degree is in PR. Think anyone is banging down my door to get me into the hot seat? I’m an excellent employee, but do companies neeeeed my degree? Short answer: nope. If I had gone to school to be a surgeon, that would be a different story.

Here is the conclusion I’ve come to: If a woman wants to have it “all”, she’s going to have to make it all herself. Unlike men, are lives are set by a biological alarm clock at virtually every stage. Menstrual cycles, windows conceiving and birthing, menopause…all these things affect when we can do what we want to do. That’s why I believe women entrepreneurship is so vital if you want to be a working mom. You have to set your own tone and pace, otherwise you run the risk of tipping over into despair while attempting to lean your way to the top in order to fulfill some other person’s vision for their company.

mm My concern about these fad feminist movements is that because they are driven by women of privilege and means, they tend to drown out the voices of the masses. We are the mainstream, but because we don’t have access to national platforms like the Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers do, it is accepted that they speak for and behalf of the majority of women. These women are the exception, not the rule. I believe that their messaging is adding another layer of already rife discontent within the female culture in this country, although I’m sure it is not their intent. That discontent is the ‘tipping over’ I’ve been referring to, which ultimately can lead to regret. The fact is, they live in a different world than the majority of us, and in many ways are indeed out of touch.

But by all means, lean in ladies! Just calculate the momentum with which you do so.

Get your coffee. I want to hear what you think.

Your Woman Desperately Wants to Make You a Sandwich

At some point in her relationship, every woman will face a critical decision. Some of us have been presented with this test and failed abysmally. Others can’t imagine the torture that this trial will bring. In many cases, it will set or change the tone of your relationship.

“Hey baby…can you get me a sandwich?”

Somewhere, a feminist fairy just ripped off her wings and use them as daggers in order to inflict multiple self-inflected stab wounds, shocked by the very utterance of those words. “Do I look like the type of woman who would make you a sandwich??”

It seems like an innocent enough request, but that question carries with it a lot of baggage. It signifies a time of oppression in a woman’s mind.  Images of pot-bellied men sitting in a dingy den with their male buddies, stinking of beer and sweat, bellowing requests for food come to mind. In the 1950’s and before, a woman would begrudgingly – but unquestionably – bring her mate a sandwich. That’s just what “good” women and wives did; they served their men. But then we had the women’s liberation movement and through much hard work and toil, the female gender won the right to point to the fridge in defiance and tell her man to get his own damned sandwich!

A Black comedian once remarked that since slavery is over, he won’t even pick the cotton out of his prescription bottle. So too will some women never (ever) make a sandwich for her man…even if she secretly really wants to.

It’s the female nature to want to nurture another human being. It’s why we Clara Barton started the Red Cross; why Wangari Maathai started planting trees; why Harriet Tubman led droves of people to freedom. We believe in peace and harmony for all living beings. And what is more peaceful and harmonious than a well fed man? Few things, to be sure. A woman would LOVE to bring her man a sandwich if it would make him happy…she just doesn’t want to be expected to do it. She wants to be appreciated for it.

Let’s go to MOM Mode so you can see why, and witness how a brilliant man got his woman to make him the best sandwich ever.

***Lights fading in*****

Niqqi is 38, and the daughter of preacher. She has always known her self-worth and cherished the idea of marriage, but somewhere in the 20s, a man came along. A few beguiling words and false promises later, a son is born. Her child is all grown up now – a junior in high school. She’s looking to find love again; and true love this time. All the same, she vowed long ago never to be taken in by a man again. In time the sultry, natural sistuh with piercing eyes and a sharp, but witty tongue allows a potential male partner into her life. His name is Bilal. He respects her stand on not having sex before marriage, and professes to be content with the mere pleasure of her company.

“Intimacy is better than sex,” he whispers reassuringly.

With those words, he seals his place as her official paramour and they see each other exclusively. Ever testing his resolve, Niqqi offers him companionship, but nothing beyond that. Men are wont to flee when they have taken all that they want. Soon, weeks turn into months and Super Bowl Sunday is upon them. Beyonce is performing for the duration of the half time show and Niqqi leaves the living room to get herself something to drink. She turns to ask Bilal if he would like something as well –just to be courteous – but notices he’s staring at something – hard.

“You staring at the TV kinda hard, ain’t ya?” she snaps.

She knows Beyonce is gyrating and winding at that moment. In the background she can hear the songstress growling “dutty win’” repeatedly.

“Naw, baby,” Bilal says confidently. “I’m staring at you.”

“What?”

“Girl yes,” he laughs. “Don’t you know you finer than Beyonce?”

“Oh shut up!” she says, laughing at the absurdity of the statement. After all, NO ONE is finer than Beyonce.

Bilal see’s the doubt in her eyes. He gets up and joins her in the kitchen.

“No. For real. Look at her hair,” he says, trailing his fingers through her brown twists. “That ain’t her hair. That’s all weave! You have beautiful, luscious hair…and it’s yours.”

Niqqi giggles and focuses her attention on her glass of juice.

“And your body is amazing,” Bilal continues, taking a step back to appreciate her form. “And it’s not all cut up and taped together like hers is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at her legs,” he says dismissively. “Her legs don’t even look like that. She got about 4 or 5 pairs of stockings on to make ‘em look like that!”

Niqqi bursts into full on laughter at this point. She didn’t look as good as Beyonce, surely, but she was feeling more beautiful by the minute. Bilal gingerly, but respectfully touches her belly.

“And you’ve had a baby,” he says, his voice liquid and warm. “Everyone knows Beyonce has never given birth. Girl, you’ve had a BABY and your body is still finer than Beyonce’s!”

Bilal takes Niqqi by the tips of her fingers and spins her around. She feels so…alive. He was right. She was finer than Beyonce. Before she knew it, the words fell right out of her mouth.

“Baby…can I get you anything? Would you like a sandwich?” she asks excitedly.

“Yes. I’d love one.”

****Lights fading out****

When my co-worker told me this story – the story of the day she discovered she was hotter than the “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” – it shook something in my belief system. Could it be that I could be converted into a willing sandwich maker too?

I don’t know. I’m scared to find out…

Ladies: do you enjoy “serving” your man? And men do you expect your woman to serve you? Do you appreciate it when she does, or do you think it’s a duty? You might want to respond anonymously. I don’t want any spousal abuse reported here…hehehe!!

 

 

Ghana Doesn’t Need Me; It Needs a Lobotomy

Last week, Ghana celebrated its 56th year of independent rule from Britain. Reactions on social media were varied, but there was one dominant theme: disappointment. The usual hand wringing over the lack of basic utilities (like a dependable supply of water and electricity) and public amenities (like roads and safe, affordable transportation) were at the top of list. If you’re a Ghanaian – or hail from any African country for that matter – you’ve heard it all before.

There are some people who take issue with those complaints.

“We should be grateful,” they say. “At least Ghana is not at war like some of our neighboring countries! By the grace of God, we are a nation that enjoys peace!”

Now, in the past, I could passively nod my head and agree to some extent. Indeed, we have managed to skirt an outright civil war. But as I have gotten older and done more reflection, I have come to see the danger in such thinking. I ended up in a social media battle with one woman because I refused to nod and agree with her platitudes about the absence of war in our native country.

Most of the MOM Squad knows that I grew up rather unconventionally in Ghana. I came of age in a time when there was no “middle class”. There were the very rich, and there were the very poor. My family existed a small host of citizens that was somewhere in between, but not large enough to make up a “class”. I have seen life on both sides of the coin. We lived in a huge rented house in Labone, but for a year we ate noting but different variations of rice because that’s all we could afford. My parents made sure that we went to the finest schools in the city: Soul Clinic International School, GIS (in my case) and finally boarding school at HGIC. For the first 3 months I was at Soul Clinic none of my siblings or I had a uniform because my parents couldn’t afford one. I’ve suffered the humiliation of being sacked for not paying my school fees at every school I’ve ever attended. I know what it’s like to go to school hungry because you don’t have lunch money or food at home to pack lunch for the week. Through wit and will, we overcame our circumstances in various ways. While I was declaring that it was “cool” to eat plantain and beans every day in GIS’ cantina “because I’m a Ghanaian”, my brother was doing coin tricks on his secondary school campus to earn his lunch money.

Now, I do recognize that this hardly constitutes as hard living by any stretch of the imagination. What I am saying is that I have tasted just enough hardship to empathize with people living at the bottom of Ghanaian society’s echelons. The fact that there is no war in Ghana will not serve as consolation forever. I know what a desperate person is capable of doing. Desperation is a dangerous thing, and I fear that ordinary Ghanaians are becoming more desperate as the years roll on.

The woman with whom I had an 8 hour social media battle clung to her belief that the absence of civil war in Ghana serves as panacea for its failing infrastructure.

“I can walk from Cantonments to Labone Junction without fear of getting my hand chopped off,” she said (and I’m paraphrasing.)

Well, isn’t that fortunate? To live a life of such privilege and fortune. To put it in perspective for my American readers, it’s the equivalent of taking a carefree stroll down Rodeo Drive. This particular young woman, who is actually a good friend of the family, has always lived in cloistered life of comfort and power. Of course she’d be grateful that there is no war. It’s actually the worse thing she can imagine. She admonished me because I’ve never been to Liberia – as she has; seen the children with their limbs cut off by rebels – as she has; and seen the deprivation the survivors of war live under – as she has.

To that, I say I don’t have to live next to a sewer to know it stinks. Of course I can imagine the horrors of war! But I wonder if have she and others of like mind have ever sat down to consider what led Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire to war? Corruption is what led these promising, thriving countries down a dark path, and if Ghana doesn’t solve its corruption problems, we won’t be able to rely on the grace of God to keep it safe forever.

When people say “corruption”, there is an automatic image of government minsters siphoning off millions of dollars into Swiss bank accounts and flying around the world in private jets. But Corruption is an ugly, multifaceted monster that doesn’t always manifest as Greed. Nepotism, Neglect and Laziness are all part of the beast we know as Corruption.

Every Ghanaian is corrupt at some level. It’s the only way to survive and do business in the country.

When the queue at the driver’s license office is too long, what do you if you have a “guy” who works there? Throw him a few cedis and get yourself ahead of the line: Corruption.

When you buy three plantain chips in traffic from a seller and demand an extra bag from her as ‘dash’ that’s corruption.

When you know that your neighbor is keeping their elderly grandparent chained up in a room without food because some pastor or elder divined that they are a ‘witch’ and don’t report it, that’s corruption!

When government officials do not fear the media’s reportage of their misdeeds, that’s a clear sign of corruption. In fact, every political party has a media house lapdog to do its bidding, and is not afraid for the public to know it.

When 40 children die from lead poisoning because their chief allowed their farming lands to become an e-waste dump site in exchange for a kickback, that’s corruption!

Corruption is knowing the right thing to do and not doing it anyway.

Ghana’s state of affairs as it stands today has everything to do with a mindset that we’ve slowly allowed to creep in. When my father first came back from living in the States, he came with numerous ideas. His friends shot them all down.

“Oh Kwasi. That won’t work in Ghana ooo. You? You’ve been outside for too long!”

Eventually, he began to believe it, and that has become his mantra too. “This” won’t work in Ghana.

Why don’t we have safety standards for how people in villages and towns purchase fuel? Why is it, at this very moment, a 3 year old child is probably ingesting kerosene and imbibing his doom? Because the government allows people to buy and sell petroleum products in used Fanta and water bottles. “This” is Ghana, and we can do that.

Why hasn’t the Ministry of Health halted the practice of referring critically injured patients from one hospital to another instead of bringing qualified physicians into the facility to perform an operation? Because “this” is Ghana, and we can’t inconvenience our doctors. A recent acquaintance of mine just died because he was sent to three different area hospitals following an automobile accident before he got treatment. He had just moved back to Ghana, brimming with capital and new ideas to help improve his country and his country killed him!

Armed robbery is becoming more prevalent in the country and thieves are getting bolder. A Dutch citizen was just robbed and killed in broad daylight this past week. Ghanaians like to blame outside forces for these attacks. “Oh, it’s the Nigerians bringing these things in. Oh, it’s those guys from the North.” We forget that we are raising our own little terrorists in our backyards. When an uncle comes to sell his 8 year nephew to a fisherman in Keta – a man who beats him, doesn’t educate him, feeds him two small meals a day, and forces him to do the dangerous work of diving under his canoe to untie tangled fishing nets – do you think such a boy will grow up to become an office manager? No! As an adult, he will do what he can to survive! He will become a thief, a male prostitute, or indulge in some other vice. And then Christians will sit in church and disparage him, forgetting it was their Christian duty to care for the least of these in the first place.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Some people back home like to say that because I only visit Ghana once a year, my views are invalid. I don’t live there. I don’t know what I’m talking about. They are living in it. They are the “experts”. If I lived there, I would understand that “this is Ghana”. I wish I could conjure an analogy to explain how absurd this line of thinking is, but I’ve drawn a blank.

So why do I say Ghana doesn’t need me? Simply because I don’t have the skill set Ghana needs for advancement. Ghana needs IT professionals, city planners, honest MPs, and health professionals of all disciplines. It needs engineers to design and build apparatus to harness solar and wind energy. It needs manufacturing gurus so we can build our own cars and trains. I’m a writer. Sending me to Ghana to further the cause of development is like sending a mural artist to an empty construction site. It’s pointless and foolish.

Above all things, Ghana needs  to get its head examined and work on decentralizing wealth from the hands of a privileged few. I’m not proposing that we  merely take from the rich and give to the poor. That’s not a permanent solution. But it does need to give the masses the basic hope…JJ Rawlings has already shown us what one motivated mofo with a gun and no hope in his government can do to a country.

 

Where have I missed the mark? Don’t be afraid to tell me right here ↓

My Old Man’s 20 Minute Independence Day Rant

This morning I woke up with hopeful exuberance. Ghana turned 56 years old at midnight, and even though the country still has many of the same challenges that it possessed on the eve of independence (and some our ancestors couldn’t have possibly imagined) I opened my eyes and imagined what the country might be in another 56 years. Perhaps in the year 2069 we will have solved our raw sewage problems and routed out corruption? As I typically do when I’m feeling hopeful about Ghana in particular and Africa in general, I called my father. He didn’t pick up when I dialed. I hung up. He called me back in nanoseconds.

My father: Malaka! You called me?

Me: Hey Daddy! Happy 6th March. Happy Independence Day!

Daddy: Sheeeiiit. What kind of independence is this?

Me: (laughing)

Daddy: You should see these fools today. The weather is about one hundred and twelve degrees and they have all these school kids out marching.

Me: (still laughing) Oh chaley. It’s hard oooo.

Daddy: You see stupid Africans? The same foolish things the British used to do to us, they are still doing. How can you force a primary school student to stand in the sun all day to come and salute you? Are they soldiers? They are not soldiers! Why should they march past you and salute you? Me? I never used to do that thing ooo. Kwame Nkrumah used to have this thing…I’ve even forgotten the name…Aha! “Ghana Young Pioneers”. Sheeeiiit. I never used to go for that thing. They said if you don’t march they will beat you in school. I used to skip school and come and collect my caning the next day. I would rather they beat me than go and march for some foolish dictator in the hot sun. I won’t even march past my own house and I should file past you as you sit in the shade? Kwasia! And you – you better not let my kids go and march for any foolish Ghanaian president either!

marching

Me: Yes, Daddy.

Daddy: Nonsense. Today, you will see how many cows they will kill at the castle, meanwhile the common man can’t even get sachet water to buy.

Me: Hmmm. Oh chaley…

Daddy: They are all crooks. I just pray that by the time our grandkids grow up, they can straighten out this mess.

I decide to take a different turn in the conversation. My father was never a Kwame Nkrumah fan. His parents were very critical of Ghana’s first president for his bully tactics at the polls, his jailing citizens without trial, and some fabled silo that never got use but cost thousands of dollars. He does concede that Nkrumah was the only president we’ve had that was focused on development.

Me: Daddy! I hear they are building a place called ‘Hope City’…

Daddy: Tsewww!!! (sucks teeth) Look at more nonsense! What electricity are they going to use to power this thing? And where will they get the water to mix the cement. We have a water shortage in Ghana! And who is going to maintain the lifts? Even Korle Bu hospital that only has 3 floors, the lift is always broken. Imagine if you work on the 98th or 99th floor – well, I don’t know how many floors “the tallest building in Africa will have” – but imagine you work at the top and the lifts are broken! By the time you get to the office, it’s four o’clock and you have to make your way back down the stairs and go home!

He burst into hysterical laughter over the scenario he’d just dreamed up. I was reminded about the building competition between the architects of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. It was called the Race to the Sky. Each architect kept adding floors in order to hold the honor of “highest building in the world”. Construction finally came to an end for both buildings, when the Empire State Building was declared the taller building…until Chrysler added a rod in the spire making it the taller building.

Daddy: Waaa, look! All someone has to do is add a pole on the top of their building and then they will have the tallest building in Africa. A little learning is a dangerous thing!

Me: Isn’t that a song?

Daddy (waxing lyrical): No dummy. It was in one of your literature books from when you were in SOS!

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

It means spend more time thinking, and you will become sober minded. The only stupid people are the ones who gain a little bit of knowledge and think they know everything.

Me: Yes, Daddy.

Daddy: I wish I could even Skype you guys, but I can’t. It’s cheaper to use the internet in the evening, but they always cut off the power in the night. They want to kill us here ooo!

Me: It would be nice if they could give you a schedule so you could at least manage your expectations.

Daddy: Exaaactly, Malaka. Exactly! NPP never solved our electricity problem, but at least we knew what time the lights would go off. At least they gave us that courtesy. But these NDC people dierrr…. (He paused. I thought he was at a loss for words. He wasn’t.)  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing! Africa is being run by fools!

I told him about a government minister that my friend had been chasing for a project he had to do. The man would stay holed up in his office and refuse to see his appointments until 5:00. He would leave the office every day by 6:00. Finally, my friend finagled a meeting, where – without shame- the minister told him he wasn’t really busy. He just had to give the appearance that he was. In fact, he was pursuing his Master’s degree online during office hours. Between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm, specifically.

Daddy: Waaa look! We are doomed! How can you waste the country’s time like that? How can we progress like this? I’m sure even God Himself is disappointed in creating us. He put us in the CENTER of the earth, gave us all these resources, but we get up in the morning to go and shit in gutters and throw plastic bags in the street for everyone to see. Are we not ashamed?

Me: (I thought he had fallen into despair. I wanted to cheer him) Hmmm. So do you think…

Daddy (urgently): Hei! My credit is finished ooo. I have to hang up. Bye bye!

Me: Wait! I love you. I’ll call you later.

6th march Daddy: I love you too. Foolish girl. Don’t let my children to grow up and be fools. Even Liya has more sense than many of our government ministers…

Me: Bye, Daddy.

Gosh I love my dad.