Monthly Archives: May 2013

So, It Took Five Days to Get to South Africa…

Greetings from windy South Africa! I’ve been on the road and in the air since May 25th and I’m ever so grateful to have my feet on the ground.

The last time the family went to South Africa I believed it was the most grueling experience I would ever endure. Seventeen hours in the air with four listless kids in economy class was the worst form of agony I had ever suffered through in my adult life. That time I had a 3 day bout of diarrhea when I was 25 is a close second.   But they say if you think life is hard now, live a little more.

globeAs bad as traveling with the kids was that year, this trip was incredulously arduous. Every, including myself, keeps saying we need to be grateful that at least we didn’t have to haul 4 children across 4 time zones for 5 days, but that was little comfort for my aching brain and sore back. We began our vacation by driving 8 hours to Ohio to drop the kids off, then 8 hours back to Atlanta the next morning. I went to work on Monday morning put in 4 hours because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make some extra money. Then we got on a plane at 3:30 and flew to Houston. 4 hours later we flew out of Houston and took a ten and a half hour flight to Germany, where we had an eleven hour layover. That night, we took yet another ten hour flight to Johannesburg where we hung around the airport for 2 hours before we took an hour and a half flight to George and then an hour drive to Plett where I hopped into the shower and went dead to the world. Do you follow?

How did I get through this ordeal, you ask? To divert my thoughts form the physical pain I found myself in, I focused on the supporting cast and extras milling and running about in the airport and on country highways instead of how long it was going to take us to get where we were going. I made a number of profound discoveries through my observations.

The first of these was that it is perfectly alright NOT to talk to your seat mate.  

I heard people say incredibly stupid things to perfect strangers in the airplane. I wish people understood that even though they guy or the gal sitting next to you may care how recently you were divorced and what your ex-husband is doing with the 22 year old tramp he left you for in Amsterdam, the rest of us on the flight don’t really care! To boot, it may behoove you to notice that the hot guy that you’re whining about your failed marriage (and by extension your whole life) is smiling tolerantly and not encouragingly. Know the difference!

The second was that airlines have discovered a new and devious way of extracting money from would-be travelers through the coveted exit aisle.

Once upon a time, you could request a seat in the exit row from your travel agent or the airline on a first come, first served basis and still pay regular economy fare with the benefit of extra leg room. Now, the airlines charge you an extra $30 – 100 per ticket to sit in the exit row by labeling it “economy plus”. I will never pay extra money for economy plus. The exit seat is not a luxury seat. It’s wide for a reason. If that plane goes down, I’m responsible for getting that door open on time and helping other passengers escape peril, which may include laceration, evisceration and incineration. That’s a lot of pressure. Why should I pay extra to be under pressure?

The third thing I discovered is that airlines treat passengers differently based on their destination, not necessarily based on race.

IMG_3039When Lufthansa called our flight to South Africa, I was appalled by the boarding process. This was no way to treat perfectly good White folk! Flying to Ghana, which is the only other African nation I’ve been to, I assumed that the boarding process they employed had everything to do with the fact that the passengers were, in large part, Black. It was carelessly done, merely separating priority passengers from economy passengers in two lines and having them board the plane by tapping their own tickets on an electronic surface and walking to the plane. There is very little interaction with or customer service from the airline representatives. Imagine my shock when all these Afrikaans and German speaking were divided into two lines, crowded into the terminal space and dismissively left to their own devices!

Finally, and most importantly, I discovered that I need to make major changes with my finances.            

I had an epiphany during this trip. Apparently, there is a negative relationship between my age and my tolerance for flying economy class. In my 20’s, I could walk by first and business class on my way to my seat in the back of the plane which was ALWAYS over the engine and next to toilet. Not only would I take that walk with pride, but with a hint of smugness too.

Stupid first class passengers, I’d think to myself, we’re ALL gonna get there at the same time, but I’M going to get there cheaper!

I took great pleasure in the fact that my seat was (relatively) comfortable and that my flight attendants offered the same congenial service in economy as those in first and business class did. And then technology shattered that entire paradigm.

first classWhile service and comfort levels in economy class haven’t changed since the 70’s there have been exponential improvements in first class. I mean flat screen TVs, glass goblets, real silverware, chairs that do a full recline, tons of overhead space and at least 3 square feet of leg room per passenger. And then there’s that curtain. Once we were airborne, the flight attendant snapped the heavy, navy pleated cloth shut with a snap, quarantining the rest of chattel class from their premier customers. With every cramp and battle for leg room I waged with my husband, I felt more and more like a failure.

I decided I would dedicate to spending the rest of my life fighting against the plague of flying economy class. It just has to be that way!

Now that we’re here, I’m looking forward to experiencing new adventures. There is a familiarity being back in South Africa that is troubling me, however. I want to be wowed and astonished! But the truth is I feel like I’m back at home… and home doesn’t tend to “wow”, does it?

 

Meet the Man Who Is Ruining Ghana: Rashid Pelpuo

pimpleConsider a pimple – a whitehead to be exact. Over the course of time – a week perhaps – you see and feel it erupting slowly, breaking through the surface of the skin with powerful stealth until it blooms and settles on your face with opaque grotesqueness.

Frantically, you begin to stab at it, vehemently cursing the offensive acne with all your might.

How dare you show up on prom night/ my wedding day / during my job interview! This is most inconvenient and inconsiderable indeed!

So it is with Presidents and politicians.

Take John D. Mahama for instance. Like all presidents before him, and certainly all that will follow after him, the failures and/or successes of his beloved Ghana will be thrust at his feet in contempt or upon his shoulders in celebration. They will say “Mahama built us roads and bridges!” or they will say “Mahama was a thief who robbed the country blind”.

In truth, John Mahama is responsible for neither the country’s failures nor its successes. That burden belongs to his cabinet, either elected or appointed. These are the women and men who are truly responsible for the state we find Ghana in today. The “Ghanaian experience” means different things for different people. For some (meaning  few), it means a life of immense wealth and luxury. For others still, it is a life riddled with strife, want and lack. Neither of these things are Mr. Mahama’s doing. He is merely a pimple – a whitehead. Attacking or praising him is to no avail. If we are to correct Ghana’s image, we need to look beneath the surface and root out the infection manifesting as a blemish.

That infection is Rashid Pelpuo.

I’ve always wondered who the imbeciles that were ruining the land of my birth were, and now I know. No one man or woman is capable of ruining an entire nation. You need the implicit assistance of 23 cabinet ministers, 10 regional ministers and all their deputy ministers in order to collapse a nation; or in the case of Mr. Pelpuo, Minister in-charge of Private Sector Development, express assistance.

I know very little about Ghana’s government. I’ve never taken an interest in politics. I was groomed to be suspicious of all politicians and to treat them with the contempt they deserve. If you’ve seen one politician in Ghana, you’ve seen them all: and they are all swathed in crook’s clothing. This year, I have chosen to eschew willful ignorance about the inner workings of my native country’s government, and now I’m beginning to regret that decision. The cogs, I have discovered, are largely rusty and ill-fitting. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the person of Rashid Pelpuo.

Mr. Pelpuo first caught my attention when I was forwarded this article on PeaceFmOnline (http://business.peacefmonline.com/news/201305/164557.php). It was entitled: We Won’t Protect Local Business Against Competition Says Gov’t.

Of course my interest was piqued immediately. The slant of the title alone was very damning, and one has to wonder what government official of a such fledgling economy would have the gall to admit that the government would tacitly allow foreign companies to overrun local business.

In the article, Mr. Pelpuo reportedly opines that the government of Ghana would not relent to requests by local businesses to protect them from the rampant influx and influence of foreign competition. In his rebuff, he advised local business owners “to endeavor to offer their best to enable them withstand the competition or at best, undo it.”

This is where I got stuck. I skimmed through the rest of the article, frantically searching for a hint of redemption in Mr. Pelpuo’s regard. Surely, someone who holds the title Minister in charge of Private Sector Development ought to hold the capacity to understand that vast majority local Ghanaian businesses are in no shape to compete against multi-national conglomerates? These organizations come flushed with capital, technology, investor backing and in some cases, the backing of their own governments. How is a Ghanaian Mom & Pop shop supposed to compete against that?

In discussing the abysmal utterances with others, I found that they were equally aghast.

What Mr. Pelpuo suggests in itself is not inherently asinine. It’s actually good business advice. If you want more people to buy your product, then you need to offer them your best. However, this advice falls under the category of marketing and advertising (at best), and does nothing to further the cause of implementation. And for local business owners and manufacturers to compete effectively against foreign companies, they will need government assistance in ways Mr. Pelpuo has probably not thought about.

Despite the hype and propaganda, Ghana is not yet in the position to protect itself from the effects of foreign oligopolies; and as usual, it all comes back to failed and crumbling infrastructure.  As  @geoessah points out:

george tomatoes

For those of you who do not live in Ghana, the true test of any of our newly constructed roads comes during the rainy season, when torrential rains are literally capable of washing away entire sections of a street over the course of a few months. Why these roads are so fragile comes down to an age-old plague: corruption. A contractor gets the bid to build a road, several officials get their share of the money that is supposed to be invested into the road, a few of the workers may siphon off coal-tar and gravel to use at home, and the result is a shoddily built road. Happens every year.

In this instance, which repeats itself in industries all over Ghana, the industrious and hardworking tomato farmer spends the growing and harvesting season getting his crop ready for market. As he loads up his produce, he discovers to his dismay that his cargo is stuck on the road in the middle of the country due to poor road conditions. He is unable to get his goods to market and fill orders. He devices a work around, perhaps sending his tomatoes in smaller batches. Now the transportation costs have gone up. He has no choice but to pass this costs along to the consumer, who in turn does not understand why a tomato with a short shelf life and nearly rotten should cost so much. Enter the government’s alternative solution: Let’s not fix the roads. Let’s rather do a deal with Monsanto and offer the public genetically modified tomatoes with a shelf life of 2 months. We know just how to spin it! This is what they are eating in America.  It’s better for you than our local foods anyway… because it’s from America, land of prosperity.

Mtsewww….

I did some digging around on Rashid Pelpuo’s background to find out what made him such an authority on Private Sector Development. You’re going to love this.

Abdul-Rashid Pelpuo  has a degree in Education from the University of Cape Coast and later earned a Masters in International Affairs from the same institution in 1998. He entered the parliament of Ghana in 2005 on the NDC ticket and was appointed Minister of Youth and Sports in 2009 after the resignation of his predecessor. He was replaced by Akua Dansua after a cabinet reshuffle in 2010, to be appointed deputy Majority Leader in Parliament instead.

Fair enough. What deals has Mr. Pelpuo brokered to make him an authority on Private-Public partnerships and development? I could find none. What I did find was a number of rants calling for Chris Brown’s arrest for smoking weed on stage, a denial that he owns a fleet of cars, and other inconsequential things. Whether this is a failure of Ghana’s media to report on his achievements or an indication that he actually has not achievements outside of an unexplained trajectory through the ranks of government, I cannot say. But what I do know for sure is that this man and all those of his ilk are ruining the country through their unabashed hubris and willful ignorance.

We need true experts who have demonstrated a capacity to work with players at all levels of development in order to get Ghana working, not just some guy with a Master’s degree offering platitudes about private citizens “offering their best”.

I’m sure if we dug through the backgrounds of all of our parliamentarians, we would find them woefully lacking in the capacity to hold their posts. Rsahid Pelpuo just happened to catch my special attention (and ire) at the moment.

We cannot afford nepotism, favoritism and 30 other isms in this juncture of Ghana’s development. We are in a new century for Heaven’s sake – with phones that talk and cars that can go under water! Can we get some people in office who know how to at least draw up policy to encourage our student population to get a footing in the technology race? I’d do a handstand if a leader would open his/her mouth to admit that they were even thinking in that direction, instead of waiting for private citizens to do it on their own… otherwise, what do we need government for?

Tell me if I’m wrong ↓

 

Does Ghana Have Anything to Fear From Monsanto?

monsantomonsanto2

Hmmm… I think Ambolley wants me to write about Monsanto. Done!

Does Ghana – or Africa as a whole, for that matter – have anything to fear from Monsanto? The short answer is “yes”. Anytime a huge US conglomerate takes an active interest in developing nations or any geographic area perceived as being bereft of privilege, there is cause for concern.

I first heard about Monsanto while watching the documentary Food, Inc. I have to be honest: it was pretty terrifying stuff. The idea that one company had the power to change the face and nature of the types of food we eat, dictate how our crops are planted, and make farmers solely dependent on their agricultural products because the very nature of that product (i.e. seeds) had the capacity to alter the state of the very soil it was planted in so that nothing else but genetically modified seed could thrive there is a little disconcerting. The antics of the Greek god Ares come to mind, for some unexplained reason. I visualize carnage… carnage everywhere.

To hear a number of American farmers tell it, they feel “enslaved” to Monsanto. No doubt this sentiment arises from the voluminous contracts the company is the habit of handing out to those who be willing to make a deal with the Dark One. (You can read about it here.)

In fairness to Monsanto, the company has done some unquestionably impressive things in the realm of science since the company’s inception in 1901.  Some of its more harmless achievements include creating and selling the artificial sweetener saccharin to Coke; it became the first company to start mass production of (visible) light emitting diodes (LEDs); and it gave us AstroTurf, which is an imperative must at the Super Bowl.

aoHowever, some of its more sinister inventions include DDT (which eliminated malaria in America, but destroyed bald eagle shells, sending the population into decline), Agent Orange (the toxic effects of which still persist 51 years later) and lastly, genetically engineered seed.

It is the last component that I am most concerned about with regard to Ghana in particular and Africa as a whole.

There is no doubt that Africa has a problem feeding itself. It is estimated that every 5 seconds, a child dies from a hunger related disease.  As usual, and as it is with every African crisis, our leadership looks outside of its borders, way across the sea and into some Westerners science lab of carpeted office for solutions to the same problems that these labs and offices created. Enter Monsanto. And Bono. And Kofi Anan. And President Obama.

Looking at the lineup, we should trust all of the gentlemen. They are Nobel Laureates and by the world’s standards, very intelligent and well-meaning individuals. The trouble is none of these guys are farmers; for if they were farmers, they would know better than to engage in this sort of sanctimonious frivolity which has gotten the Western world nowhere but fat, sick and nearly dead.

We don’t have to go very far into the past to see the future effects of genetically modified food. Take a stroll around Any Mall, USA, and you can see the direct effects of bovine somatotropin, a hormone injected into cows pituitary glands to increase milk production. Bigger udders on cows = bigger boobs on little girls. Throw a Σ and a few Ωs in there, and you’ve got yourself an equation for disaster. Other unforeseen consequences of genetically modifying our foods in such an aggressive manner include indecent acts against these unnaturally buxom young ladies of the R. Kelly variety, which then translates to increased prosecution rates and overcrowding of our prisons.

But for the purposes of our discussion today, we are looking to Africa’s fertile land scape… not the waxy surfaces of North Point Mall.

From the little that I have read on genetically engineered seed (GES), I have learned that these plants are extremely aggressive. They take over native crop varieties and either strangle them or at best, cause them to mutate. There is also the alarming phenomenon of Monsanto seed – marketed as ‘Roundup’ – causing glyphosate resistance, whereby overuse of Roundup creates aggressive, herbicide-immune super-weeds. In turn, these super resistant weeds require more toxic chemicals in order to suppress them. It’s the agro-equivalent of Super Gonorrhea.

Ghana, along with Tanzania and Ethiopia, has signed on for Phase 2 of the so-called Green Revolution, which in simplest terms in the business of creating ‘higher yielding crops’ (not necessarily higher quality) in Africa.

This is where I get stuck… because it’s obvious that someone in the Kufuor/Mills/Mahama administration did not do their homework before inking this deal (as usual) and putting the farmers – our country’s backbone – at risk. I smell a kick back.

I can’t speak for other African nations, but the fact is, Ghana’s feeding problems have less to do with output than how to get the product to market. How often have you driven through a village and seen women and children scrambling to sell their wares to passers through? Depending on the topography, they will all be carrying similar items: okro, garden eggs, tomatoes, and/or pineapples. People in the villages who carry out subsistence farming eat very well. Ironically, they produce more than they need to get by. The failure of the government, private industry and other stakeholders has been in engaging these farmers in a meaningful way, and helping them bring their goods to market in an efficient and cost effective manner.

Ghanaians die not only from hunger, but from malnutrition in alarming and needless rates. Because the cost of transporting food is so high, our diet is severely limited to basic carbohydrate saturated staples like kenkey, gari, rice and over fried fish, when we need to be eating more greens, fruits and legumes – which are grown in abundance.  Tragically, every few months there are reports of crops tumbling from the sides of tipper trucks en masse, or worse, being left to rot in one production center or another because the lines of transportation were either ineffective or broken. Truthfully, there is no reason that a country that harbors iron ore in its hills and oil in its seas should not have an advanced rail system at the ready.

And now Ghana is going to let Monsanto come in with its high-bred GMOs to devastate the soil, alter our environment, and cause genetic mutations in our population because Obama and Bono said it’s an excellent idea? Tell me, someone, how do the major players plan to distribute this new-found genetically modified manna? On the wheels of ‘hope and change’? Pshaw!

Agriculture is big business, and there are billions of dollars at stake whenever these sorts of deals are hashed out. But at the other end of that of those negotiations also sits a mother who is trying to feed her family. How much consideration is she being given?

*****

I know that there are quite a few scientists and health professionals that read MOM but rarely comment. Don’t make me call you out *cough* Stella and Karimi! *end cough*.  Would you be so kind as to share your views on GMOs, either good or bad, and enlighten us all here?  I’m only writing about it because Gyedu asked me to.

I know that Misty (yes, I called you out) is also a big champion of organic food. I’d like her and other parents like her to share what influenced her to make these choices.

Oh heck. Everyone just speak all at once here ↓

My Father’s 35 Minute Rant on Imported Toothpicks and Other Profundities

I always wait too long to talk to my father. The last time we talked was – what? – two weeks ago? It’s to imagine I went a full two years without talking to the old man…

“Yes… Abena Owusua. What do you want?”

“Kwasi Gyekye. How are you this evening?”

“Hmmm. I’m okay. My gout is acting up is all.”

“As for this your rich man’s disease dierrrr…”

We exchanged necessary, but loving, insults and fell into a short fit of laughter before we each asked the other what they were doing this weekend.

“I got off work about two hours ago,” I replied. “I meant to call you earlier, but I got busy with the kids.

“Oh, it’s okay. You know I was at church anyway.”

“Yeah. That’s what I figured.” I asked him if he’d seen that I’d written a book. His excitement quotient increased considerably.

“Yeah! This is your second book, isn’t it?”

“No, Daddy. That was Sami. He’s on his second book.”

I gave him the rundown on the family here in the States. A cousin had had a baby. My brother had bought a house. The kids had achieved certain milestones. He was aware of all these things, thanks to Facebook, where my father like, most people/parents his age have become professional stalkers and super sleuths.

“As for me, I’ve become a professional downloader ooo,” he boasted. “I’ve downloaded all my grandkids pictures onto my laptop!”

I remember a time when my father didn’t understand the concept of email and thought the internet was an actual place. I smiled secretly at the memory. I asked him if he’d downloaded any movies yet. He ‘hmmm’d’ before answering.

“Some stupid guy was supposed to download some movies for me and he brought me kung fu films.” He sucked his teeth in exasperation. “I’ve grown past these things!”

“What things, Daddy?”

kungfu1“Kung fu films! Didn’t you hear me the first time? You know how these kung fu people are. Two people will meet each other on the road, one will ask the other his name, and before the man can reply, the other one is beating him. Ghanaians only like these because of the sounds they make. Whowaaa! Twaaa! I’m too old for these things. I listen to conversation and sense, not noise and nonsense.”

“I see…”

“You know what? You’ve even reminded me,” he continued. “Your sister’s boyfriend was supposed to send me some movies from Dropbox. I guess he dropped them from Mars, because they have not landed yet.”

He cackled joyously at his own joke. The sound of his mirth forced a farting-giggle from my pressed lips.

Speaking of the Chinese, how were they treating Ghanaians these days?

chinoafro“Oh, Malaka. They are killing us here! Just in the last two weeks some Chinese miners killed four or five Ghanaians over a land dispute with assault rifles. And the government is sitting here doing nothing!”

“Beh e dey be k3k3?”

“Oh. They dey spoil us k3k3.”

I wanted to press him more on the matter, but he was in the mood to discuss more pleasant things.

“Do you hear my puppy?”

“Yes, Daddy. An old man and his dog. What’s his name?”

I could hear the smile of pride in his voice when he said Swift.

“I’ve taught him to sit and wait for his food. He likes to pounce on the food and when I withhold it, he gives me a funny look, like I’m a stupid old man. After we’ve stared at each other for a while I’ll put his plate down and he looks at me like ‘Ah. So why were you pretending like you weren’t  going to give me the food?’ And when people try and enter the house by heart I tell him ‘Swift! Go swift on them!’ And then he’ll run!”

I congratulated him on his accomplishment in training his dog. He didn’t thank me. He probably didn’t even hear me. He wanted to know if I could send him a tub of Tums.

“They come in boxes of a thousand…in different colors.”

“Why do you need so many Tums, Daddy?”

“Ohhh. You see? Anything I eat these days gives me heartburn. Kenkey, rice, bread – doesn’t matter. Also, the Tums prevents a hangover.”

“Huh?”

“Yes. One night I took Tums with my dinner and then went to the bar. I drank and drank but didn’t get drunk!” I could tell he was rubbing his stomach. That’s what my dad does when he’s reminiscing about his drink. “So I decided to try it the next night. I took Tums, drank and my eyes were clear like ice!”

“Do you need a thousand Tums because you plan on having a thousand drinks?”

“No, dummy!”

That’s when the toothpicks came up.

bottled air“As for Ghanaians? I just don’t know. We import eeeeee-very-thing! Even if air was to be imported, we would import that too!”

“Oh, chaley…”

The reminder of the plague of imported goods sparked a distant memory in him.

“You know, those in leadership are really doing a disservice to the country. When I was in secondary school, you could spend 2 to 3 months working in a company during your long vacation. I used to work at the forestry. It gives you job and working experience. Now? Now we have university graduated with big degrees and are of no use to anyone. Why? No experience! So what do they do? They set up an Unemployed Graduate Association.”

“Daddy. That can’t be true.”

I didn’t bother to stifle my laughter, guffawing in condescension. How sad!

“You think I’m lying? Humph. Ask your friend who works at Korle-Bu. She’ll tell you…and probably tell you more absurd things. We don’t think about our future. We only think about how to eat for now. We used to have a corned beef canning factory, sugar refineries, match-making factory… but after they killed Nkrumah and these stupid, useless soldiers took over the country, we import everything!”

I hummed in reflection, wondering what Ghana was like in her glory days when it was a self-sustaining country. My dad was not done.

“Where a bunch of wise-guys are gathered together, stupidity reigns.”

“Huh?”

I could almost hear him shrug.

“Mmmm. Beh everybody is wise in Ghana? We have so many “smart” people holding onto knowledge that they are burying it out to sea. They won’t even bury the knowledge on land where we can excavate it… they are taking it out to sea where it will be lost forever!”

Well, that was true. What with the current crop of ministers of parliament, our perpetual groveling at the feet of the IMF, and our abysmal plans for improving social structures and waste disposal (other countries dump THEIR garbage in our seas and on our lands), Ghana is a long ways from the near utopia of the 1950’s. The retrogression is really disheartening.

My yelped in glee.

“Hey, hey! They’ve turned the lights on at long last!”

“Oh – you’ve been sitting in light off this whole time, Daddy?”

“Of course. This is Ghana! We may only have light for the next 20 minutes. I won’t even bother to turn on the fridge.”

Ordinarily I would laugh at his flip response, but I was sad. I’ve reached a point in my existence – with the progression of age – where life has begun to take things and people away from me and I don’t want my dad living in these conditions… but he loves Ghana. He would never live any place else. I suddenly didn’t feel like talking anymore. I told him I’d give him a call in a few days before I left for South Africa.

“Don’t come back pregnant,” he advised.

I assured him I wouldn’t.

“And kiss each of the kids for me too. Your kids are plenty. Line them up like the Sound of Music and give them a kiss each from Grandpa.”

Then came my second favorite part of our calls: That quintessential long African good-bye.

Okay!

Okay!

Mmhmmm…. good-bye

Good-bye!

Okay… good-bye!

*Click*

I SURVIVED Mother’s Day, 2013 + Other Random Events from the Week

camp face

Is it too late to talk about Mother’s Day? Is there a threshold after which the topic becomes banal? I don’t know… so I’m going to tell you about my Mother’s Day weekend anyway.  Plus, I want to hear about some of the Mother’s Day adventures of the moms in the M.O.M. Squad in the comments section.

The sequence of events that took place over the weekend came in rapid succession. I’m under the gun because Stone has a pissy pull-up on and Liya wants to go outside, so I’m just going to give you the highlights if that’s ok. Okay? Here we go!

 

Book Launched:

Malaka BookCover2This was supposed to be an exciting milestone – a triumph, in fact! – but it turned out to be a near tragedy. With just mere hours to go before my first book was supposed to go live online, I discovered to my shock, horror and dismay, that the back of the book had no information. How and why would people buy it if they didn’t know what it was about? When I was instructed to upload a “cover”, I had my graphic artist do just that: create a front cover. Come and see me scrambling at midnight to reformat the whole thing! I was exhausted. I had to get some sleep because the next day I had to go camping with the big girls.

 

We’re going camping? I’m coming too!

My period invited itself to my Mother’s Day weekend festivities. It sucked. I don’t like taking a dump in public, let alone bleeding out my behind in the presence of total strangers for 3 days and two nights. Oh and did my period show out. I spotted on my jeans – something I haven’t done since high school. When another mom (very discretely) pointed it out to me, Aya asked me what the stain was.

“Did you poo-poo on yourself, Mommy?”

“Yes. I did.”

I chose to tell my 6 year old that I crapped my pants just so I could avoid a conversation about the onset of menses.

 

Pat that weave, baby!  

running girlBy hour five into our camping trip, I had begun to question the wisdom of such an endeavor. I called lights out at 11 pm. I had already had enough of the screaming, screeching, squealing and scampering that accompanies a pack of first and second graders. As silence descended upon the bunk house (we had avoided sleeping in tents, that Heaven) I heard a vaguely familiar sound. It was a thunderous, methodical thumping.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump!!!!

As the night wore on, it became more and more persistent. Sweet baby Jesus in the sky. I wish I had a rat tail comb to give this woman so she could scratch her scalp! Or better yet, why didn’t she just get her weave washed before she came on this trip. Ugh! Finally, at 3 am, I fell into a fitful sleep…

 

It’s time for activities, Mommy!

Tie-dye. Leather work. A 45 minute hike. Canoeing. Basket making. Kitchen cosmetics. Swimming. All these things and STILL my girls were not satisfied.

“I wish we had done archery and the big swing,” Nadjah moped.

I wish you would just shut your face!

“When were we going to have time to do all that, Na?” I asked, rubbing my neck in frustration. “There was literally not enough time to do everything on the activity sheet.”

“But I – “

“No. No, Nadjah. No!”

I shoveled camp-issued mac n’ cheese in my face and chewed ferociously. I was tired, and bleeding, and when we got back to the bunk house that night, that one mom was posted up in her bed, thumping on her skull like a Roman soldier nailing a thief to a cross.

 

Can we go out to eat for Mother’s Day?

I vetoed that idea immediately. You know how my kids are. I’ve told you about them. They are those children…the ones who can’t sit still long enough to take a bite of their food before their plate magically hits the floor. You hate dining out with those kids, and so do I.

But my husband wanted to dine out this week, so we did. I gave him my conditions before we entered the restaurant.

“Babe. I literally “can’t” with these children this week. If you want to eat out, then you have to let me sit in this car by myself for 10 minutes just to get my mind right.”

He said okay and took our tribe into Sweet Tomatoes alone. Poor man. Poor, foolish man.

Eight minutes later, he was calling me from inside the establishment.

“Are you ever coming in??”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

I took a deep breath. The landscapers had planted gardenias and roses in bushes nearby, and I was inhaling the excellent scent of the mingled fragrances.

What was wrong indeed! Sweet Tomatoes, for those who don’t know, is a farm to table-ish buffet. They have soup, salad, light pastries and fruit. It’s a healthier (and better tasting) alternative to Golden Corral. So there stood Marshall in line, trying to balance four trays and four kids, each with their own demands and food preferences. In the midst of his trying to scoop food onto their plates, Liya hit her face on the tiled counter and began to howl with abandon. At that moment, Stone took it upon himself to run out of the restaurant and plant himself in the middle of the STREET. A nice white guy in Sperry’s went outside to retrieve him for my husband. Several women offered to help my husband. He declined their assistance. The cashier offered him a belt.

As he recounted his harrowing tale, I couldn’t help but give into a fit of satisfied laughter. I told him! I told him they were crazy! I spend all day with these inmates. I know their limitations and I know mine.

 

And then we had an anniversary…

turkeyThis week Marshall and I celebrated 8 years of wedded bliss, or something close to it. To commemorate the event, we climbed Kennesaw Mountain.  I will not expend the time needed to describe the comical scene of two people whose combined weight equals that of a small marine mammal as they attempt to scramble over sheer rocks and dodgy trails. That being said, we were pleased that we actually made it to the top and could add that to our list of feats accomplished as a couple.

I attempted to make this achievement analogous to our marriage, but I was distracted by the sight of a younger (fitter) couple running past us. The guy was muscular and had the posture of someone living in a state of prosperity. The girl was a brunette, with a flat stomach and was clad little Lycra shorts that sat perfectly on her taut bottom. Whore.

“Look at those spring chickens,” Marshall said with a snort.

“That’s okay, babe. We’ve had our time. We are winter turkeys!”

*****

And now this winter turkey has to take her turkeylettes(?) outside to play.

Happy Friday one and all!

Oh, Oh, Oh! Random thought for this random blog. Let’s play a game! What are you doing while reading this post? Tell us right here: ↓

 

 

 

 

I Have No Thoughts on Angelina Jolie and her Breast Cancer

I opened my inbox today and found a note from my favorite teacher. I was all at once excited. We have a pretty decent bond and have managed to keep in touch, even though I have not been under his tutelage in seventeen years. I tore into his message, which read this in part:

Howdy? Planning to do something with issues arising from Angelina Jolie’s story? Also, what’s it with grown men abducting and keeping young women in captivity for decades – surely you’ll have an interesting angle to provoke some real thinking and action among the outraged … as in loud proclamations of outrage are not enough. Both offer a bigger and more useful set of issues on which to expend your ever sharpening talent than indulging the soft porn desires of Adventures readers methinks…

He then invited me to get angry with him if I wanted for being “judgmental” and ended on a softer note by saying he missed Abena Gyekye (but only a bit). In times past, this sort of criticism might have cut into my soul like a blade set ablaze – but I have just come through a weekend spent camping with my two oldest children and 100 other squealing first graders in the woods for Mother’s Day. I am unbreakable.

At his behest, I went to read up on Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery  – a ‘luxury’ most people who suffer from breast cancer will never dream of enjoying. Women with breast cancer in lower income and developing nations will most likely expire once the disease has run its course. Those are just the facts, and this has everything to do with access to not only medical care, but the availability of such. In my (half) native Ghana for instance, there are six oncologists to serve a population of 22 million in the entire country.

SIX.

You don’t have to be an authority in mathematics or economics to see immediately that demand far outweighs supply and to forecast what the trickle down issues are when you have SIX oncologists with the mandate of caring for an entire nation. We’re lucky in Ghana though, aren’t we? How many oncologist live and work in the DR Congo?

I read Angelina’s op-ed piece and had no thoughts. I don’t like Angelina Jolie. (I have never forgiven her for the Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston thing 8 or 9 years ago. How that affects me and the pot I cook my rice in, I have not discovered yet, but there it is.)

Breast cancer runs in my family. So do ovarian fibroids. I have had several cousin, aunts, a grandmother and a mother all have their innards cut out and discarded in an effort to save or extend their lives. In some cases it worked, and it others it didn’t. God rest those who lost their fight against a disease which kept their cells replicating under it eventually killed them.

If it sounds as though I am glib about the subject, it’s because I am. There is something else that runs in my family that I fear far more than cancer. Only the earliest readers of my blog know about it because I don’t discuss it often. The disease I dread more than any other is mental illness – and like cancer, it’s generational and hereditary.

This Mother’s Day, I spent a great deal of grey matter devoted to the memory of my mother. She’s not dead – don’t worry. But I haven’t spoken to her in years. I think she’s bipolar, but she refuses to get her head examined. She thinks she’s perfect. My mother and I stopped getting along right when she hit menopause and I hot puberty. In my younger years, I just attributed our furious bouts to a clash of hormones. But as I got older and learned to lock myself in a room or not come home at all until I learned to cage my raging emotions so as not to clash with her, I saw that she was not getting any better. My mother was just irrational. It was unbearable. It ruined a good portion of my life. When I had the choice and the chance to disassociate myself from her, I took it without hesitation. I thought we had a bad mother-daughter relationship, and that was the end of that… until I began to hear whispers from my extended family.

“You know why your Momma is crazy and your Aunt Jane ain’t, right? It’s because she wasn’t your grandmomma’s daughter.”

“Your Grandma and her mom didn’t get along either. I once watched your great-grand mother beat her daughter until blood came out of her ears for going to watch a movie. Mistaken identity you see…”

“Lawd, your mom walks to the beat of her own drum. You know mental illness runs in your side of the family, right? You should get that checked out.”

No, Auntie So-and-So; I did not know that. Thank you for delivering the news with such finesse.

photo(10) As my elders calculate it, I have four and a half more years before I go stark, raving mad. I’ll be 40 and Nadjah will  be 13… just entering puberty.

And the insanity will start all over again.

And I’m not sure what to do about it.

And that scares me.

How Suntrust Lost my Trust – and Earned it Back in the Same Week

There is a mountain of paperwork that perpetually rests on the desk in our office/dining room. This mountain never gets any smaller – it is merely divided, sorted, and reassembled over time. I got tired of looking at it this Monday. Monday’s are days when people resolve to do things – like start that new diet or squat regiment.  I resolved to clean up the mountain.

Our papyrus pyramid primarily consists of unopened envelopes of weekly or monthly repeat mail: credit card offers from Chase, Allstate invitations and bank statements. I rarely open any of them, but after staring at the pile for almost a year, I decided enough was enough and began to open envelope after yellowing envelope to determine and discard its contents if needed.

I started with Nadjah’s Suntrust savings account statements. After opening six months’ worth of statements, I decided that it was time to go paperless. The details of her account never change: It draws $10 a month from our checking and puts it into a small yield savings account. I smiled as I remembered the day I took Nadjah into the bank at age 5 to open her new account. She was given a blue plastic piggy bank and a lollipop. I estimated she should have a few hundred dollars in there, minus the money we took out to pay for camp one year.

So imagine my surprise when I opened up envelopes and started noticing fees that I had never seen before. Consequently, I began to see red. These people were now taking $5 to maintain $10! How long had they been doing this? I could only assume from the very beginning and that they had bilked my daughter of $300 over the course of 5 years. I went on a twitter rant, gathered my youngest children and my purse and went into the bank to close the account.

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I was too pissed to try to conjure up a work around. I know how banks work. To my surprise, Suntrust’s social media team responded to my tweet. I informed them that I had just pulled up to the bank to close the account. They responded with a canned answer, saying were sorry to lose my business.

I met with a pretty, hipster account rep named Denise and told her I wanted to either have the fees removed or close the account. She obliged, and noted that the account was set up wrongly from the very beginning.

“This should have been a minor account,” she said. “They have you listed as the primary, when it’s your daughter who should be the primary account holder.”

I was surprised that she was so forthcoming about the error. Before I could speak, she said she could correct the error right there.

“I’ll ask my manager about getting those fees refunded too,” she said kindly. “I’ll have to confirm with him if we actually can, however.”

She scribbled my number and said she would contact me later in the day. I left with Stone and Liya in tow, oddly relieved that I would not have to go through the process of re-opening another account at another bank.

And then I got a call from Denise.

“Malaka?”

“Yup!”

“Hi…I spoke with my manager, and he said that we can only refund two months’ worth of fees to this account.”

“You mean ten dollars?”

“Yes.”

As I grunted in disgust, Denise stuttered through an explanation.

“I guess the logic is that at least they were able to give you something back off the loss…”

$10 back off of a $300 theft hardly constitutes as something!

I guffawed at her response and told her to have a good day. Initially, I was outraged, and then I was indignant. I called Denise back, demanding a meeting with the branch manager.

“I want him to explain his policy to my daughter, and tell her why he can’t refund money that was taken from her account due to an error that his bank made!”

“Oh…it’s not HIS policy,” Denise said pointedly.

“Whoever’s it is, she’s the customer, and she deserves an explanation.”

We scheduled a face to face meeting for Friday. For some unearthly reason, I called Suntrust’s customer service department to find out what kind of account Nadjah was holding. When had these fees actually started? The woman was of no help first, because she barely spoke English and second, because her ineptitude made it difficult for her explain that the terms of the account had changed some time before.

“You have to put $25 into the account to avoid the fee,” she said after I eventually wrung the information from her.

“Since when?!?”

“You should have received a communication telling you this, either over email or in letter form.”

“Do you have my email? Because I’m looking at a years’ worth of statements and I don’t see a letter here.”

“No, we don’t have your email,” she said after a brief pause. “You have a letter. You must have lost it.”

I hung up on her. I couldn’t WAIT for Friday.

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After doing my own investigation, I discovered that the fees had begun in July of 2012. The bank had taken $55, not the exorbitant $300 as I had previously (and incorrectly) presumed. I explained the details of the fiasco to Nadjah, who was clearly upset by this revelation. (The only thing the girl loves more than life is money.)

“We’re going to meet with the branch manager on Friday,” I said, as though it was fight night. I didn’t want to taint her response with my own biases, so I didn’t tell her what the bank was PROBABLY going to say: That it was her mother’s fault for not opening her mail and – despite it being their error from the beginning – they were not going to be able to refund her money past the $10. I then made a mental note of all the other banks we could visit to deposit her meager savings.

“Can I come too!” said Aya.

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. It would be good for both of them to learn how money and customer service work (or don’t work) together.

Finally, Friday arrived. The girls and I went to Chic-Fil-A for nourishment before the epic showdown. I had piles of statements in my purse and a no-nonsense countenance at the ready. We were twelve minutes early. Denise met us when we walked in and directed us to the waiting area.

“Michael will be with you ladies in just a moment. He’s on a conference call,” she said flatly.

I looked towards the back of the bank and saw an enormous man with red hair and a white shirt pacing his office with a phone plugged to his ear, waving his arms wildly. And so it begins…

At 3:01, Michael walked out to meet us. He extended his hand and greeted the girls and I warmly.

“Come this way to my office please,” he said.

Humph. This was customer service 101. You defuse a volatile situation by offering kindness before you address concerns. It was like offering a rabid dog a piece of aspirin laced meat, and it was working. The girls and I virtually skipped into his office.

“I only have 2 chairs, so I’m going to bring another one in for you ladies if you’ll give me just a moment,” he explained before ducking into the neighboring office and retrieving a chair.

He was the quintessential Southern Gentleman. He had a drawl – yes – but not the type that incites terror in Black folk. You have to have lived here to know exactly what I’m talking about.

He took his seat and launched into a recap of events, including tweets, dollar amounts and mistakes.

“I’ve only been in this branch for a year,” he revealed. Then he pointed to his HTC phone and made a startling admisssion. “I don’t twitter, I don’t facebook, I don’t do any of that stuff. So when the Suntrust (social media) department emailed me all this stuff, I was at a loss!”

Nadjah and Aya both laughed. The idea of a grown up not tweeting or Facebooking probably seemed absurd. Michael continued.

“Called Denise in here to figure out this $300 thing, and we discovered that the fees actually began in July of 2012.”

“That’s correct,” I interjected. Michael was not done talking, and neither were the girls, apparently. They asked him about his kids in the picture, about Disney world, and informed him that they had 200 Disney Dollars between the two of them for doing chores.

“What kind of chores do you have to do?”

“Do the dishes, fold the laundry and clean our room,” Aya said excitedly.

“Sometimes I have to clean the room twice,” Nadjah said, shooting me a dirty look. “Can we get back on topic, please?”

Michael raised a quizzical brow and smiled slightly. He explained to  Nadjah how her account had been set up incorrectly, and that she was a minor. Then he said something about paying taxes on her investments, which then got her all out of sorts. Her eyes began to water.

“I don’t want to pay taxes!”

“Well, as your momma will tell you, there’s only two things certain in life: We’re all gonna die, and we all have to pay taxes,” he said, laughing.

Nadjah did not appreciate his joke.

I thanked Michael for taking the time to meet with us. I explained that since I had brought Nadjah in to open the account initially, I wanted to make sure she was involved in every part of the process if there were any changes. Michael looked at Nadjah seriously.

“Well, I have to tell you, we appreciate your business,” he boomed. “And we want you to keep banking with Suntrust when you get older and get a job.”

“And start paying taxes?” Nadjah said sullenly.

Michael and I chuckled.

Michael turned back to her.

“Okay Ms. Nadjah, I’m going to make this commitment to you,” he said earnestly. “I’m going to contact my regional manager, Courtney Thompson, and ask her if we can get that $45 refunded to you. I don’t know what she’ll say, because it’s going to require an override, but I’m definitely going to ask.”

This was the moment I was waiting for. Nadjah was going to put her foot down and tell him he betta git ALL her money, or she was taking her business elsewhere!

“Does that sound fair to you, Na?” I asked with baited breath.

She nodded and looked at Michael.

“Yes, it’s fair. Even if you can’t get all the money back, at least you tried and did your best.”

Michael sat back in his chair and clasped his hands.

“You know what? Just because of that, I’m going to strongly recommend that we refund you all of your money!”

He stood and ushered us towards the door.

“Can we have a lollipop?” the girls asked in unison.

Michael strode over to the bowl and offered them any flavor they wanted. Then he looked at me.

“Hey, why don’t you bring them back one day so that can take a tour of the bank? We might have some future financial officers on our hands,” he said. He wasn’t joking.

“Sure!”

We shook hands once more and left. The girls were elated, and I was satisfied. It wasn’t the train of events I expected…it was far better. And as they often do, my kids taught me a lesson I’d recently forgotten: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Oftentimes, you get better results when you’re sweet.

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