Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why Naa Okailey Shooter is a Big Freaking Deal

 

Labone, 1989

“Do you want to go to Prince’s house?”

My breath caught in my throat on that crisp, rainy season day. I felt my eyes involuntarily fly open and morph into a pair brown half-dollars.

“Oh yes! Please! Can we go now?”

“Yes. Ask your Mummy of we can go for a walk, and I’ll show you the way.”

My mother trusted Emefa. She was one of the few girls in my primary school who never left her house beyond being sent to the market to buy tomatoes, okro and rice for her mother. It was such a shame, keeping a girl cooped up in the house like that. And now Emefa’s mother had relented and allowed her to come over to our house and play. Seeing the chance to give Emefa a bit of freedom, my mother allowed us to go, telling us not to stay out too long.  “Too long”, was never properly defined in my house. It could have been 10 minutes or two hours, depending on the instructing parent’s mood that day. I decided to be cautious and said we’d be back in half an hour.

“Prince lives just here,” Emefa said in her grating, rusty voice. “His house is very nice. One time, the watch man asked me to buy groundnuts for him and I saw the inside of his compound.”

I grunted in reply and skipped over to pluck a low hanging hibiscus leaf from a nearby bush to place in my cornrows. It wouldn’t fit. I cast it off and desperately tried to brush yellow pollen out of my hair. My sister – whom my mother had insisted come along with us – laughed and pointed mockingly at me. I told her to shut up, annoyed by her presence. How was I expected to flirt with my annoying little sister around? Everyone knew I had a third grade crush on Prince. All the girls did. He was the only light skinned boy in our class, and in 1989, light skin was all that a boy needed to attract legions of adoring admirers. Emefa was still talking.

“When his mother saw me, she invited me into the house for a mineral (soft drink). She’s so beautiful.”

“I’ll bet she is,” I murmured. After all, her son was beautiful too…

“She was Miss Ghana, before she became a mum,” Emefa informed me just before we turned the corner to Prince’s gate. She waved at the watchman who had spied us from his wooden bench.

“Brah Kofi, good afternoon,” she said with a curtsey. “Please, is Prince home?”

Brah Kofi giggled a silly sort of old man giggle and confirmed that the boy was home. He said he would call him for us, and instructed us to wait just there. I tried to peer into the compound, but Emefa, who was two inches taller than I, was blocking the view between me and the gate.

“Princeyyyy! Some beautiful ladies are here to see you!” Kofi sang.

We waited, and waited and waited, and finally, Prince came to the gate. He didn’t say a word. He just stood there, staring. I finally broke the silence.

“Hi, Prince! I didn’t know we were neighbors.” A stupid smiled spread across my face.

“Yes.”

“Well… how are you? Have you done your homework?”

“Yes.”

“Oh…” I was floundering, so I went in for the kill. “Can we come in your house?”

“No.”

His reply was flat and final.

We stared at each other for a moment and then I turned to leave. I didn’t bother to say goodbye. Heat shot up my back and burned the tips of my ears. I was already half way down the road when I felt A-dub and Emefa run along beside me moments later. My sister was laughing at me again, and again, I instructed her to shut up.

My crush on Prince ended that day, and the focus of my imagination shifted to his mother. To be Miss Ghana, she had to be very beautiful indeed! All the Misses of every country were glamorous women with beautiful clothes and perfect hair. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to have the perfect mom. No wonder she never came to pick him from school. People would faint at the sight of her! Naturally, I decided I wanted to be Miss Ghana when I grew up. I told my father of my aspirations. He was outside the house, talking trash and drinking beer with my Uncle Peter.

My father chuckled and smirked when I gave him my mini speech about my future plans. Uncle Peter almost choked.

Tweeaaaa! No. Please. You can’t become Miss Ghana,” he said. He sounded desperate.

“But, why not?” My heart was broken. Was it because I wasn’t pretty? Or maybe this pair of men thought I wasn’t smart, either… Why so little confidence in me?

“Because only prostitutes go for Miss Ghana,” my uncle said matter-of-factly. I wasn’t sure what a prostitute was at the time, but he said the word with such venom and disgust that I gathered it wasn’t a very nice profession.

I thought of Prince’s mother. Was she a prostitute? Is that why she never came to pick him from school? I felt so lost. I had lost my crush and my dream girl in one afternoon.

 

And that was Ghana’s legacy in the beauty/pageant world for a long time: only ‘prostitutes’, or girls or ill repute, or women with little education (or creativity/imagination/decorum) from extremely humble backgrounds competed for the of Miss Ghana.  Girls of my generation from a certain class would NEVER aspire to be Miss Ghana. In those days, we were not even proud to be Ghanaian. You couldn’t even sell Ghanaian rice to the upper class natives, and a t-shirt only had value if it was “Made in America”. How then were we of the Ghanaian bourgeoisie expected to use our parents’ hard earned cedis to represent a country that was on a continent that the world had nothing but pity for? Forget respect!

And so year after year, decade after decade, Ghana sent fiyanga girl after fiyanga girl to the Miss World pageant. Beautiful girls – yes – but girls who could barely string two words together in English. Girls who barely had a secondary school education. Girls with the memory of untreated jaundice haunting the whites of their eyes. Girls who were not confident in themselves, because they were neither confident in their country nor their country confident in them. In fact, when my friends and I would watch Miss World, we would immediate decide who our picks to win would be: Miss Thailand, Miss Iceland, Miss India… anybody but Miss Ghana. Miss Ghana was always just a mention at the beginning of the show with a short list of her credentials. She never made it to the semi-finals.

missworld13This is why Naa Okailey Shooter, second runner up in this years’ Miss World pageant is SUCH a huge deal. The 23 year old beauty queen is a fourth year medical student with definable aspirations. Each Miss World contestant brings a project from her native country as part of the Beauty With A Purpose campaign to generate awareness and fundraising.  For the following twelve months these projects become the focus for the newly-crowned Miss World, who will make visits and support the issues. Ms. Shooter’s project presentation on Buruli Ulcer, a disease that largely plagues children under age 16 in West Africa, placed in the top 10 list, a tremendous feat by all standards.

Recently, we’ve talked about colorism and its affects a lot here on M.O.M. and I have always advocated women being themselves. There is no greater merit to having pasty pale skin over coal tar black skin or vice versa; it’s merely the skin you were born in. Skin protects your blood vessels and is a sheet for your bones and organs. It’s just bloody skin!

*Breathe…*

Naa-Okailey-Shooter-miss-world-ghana-2013All that is to say is that  I was ecstatic to see Naa Okailey Shooter  on that stage with the first runner up and the eventual Miss World (Miss Philippines) , in her natural glory. Her deep cocoa brown skin was glistening and her modest make up played up kind eyes and a bright smile. She had bucked the pressure to bleach her skin as most in the African entertainment world feel the need to do just to get ahead. (Did you know one of the effects of skin bleaching is that is makes your eyes look evil? Your skin is being flayed off, layer by layer. Why wouldn’t you slit your eyes in pain?!) Naa Okailey looks like a regular girl-next-door beauty, Ghana style.

The judges and the board of the Miss Ghana Pageant are to be commended for sending the right woman for the job, not just the one they think the world will accept based on her aesthetics and/or their own myopic views of what beauty is supposed to look like. As Naa Okailey said herself:

“I believe the definition of beauty has evolved and its essence is to impact life… and the lives of the less fortunate, especially children.”

I couldn’t be more pleased and more proud of Ms. Shooter, who represented Ghana with grace and dignity and poise. With her win (and it was certainly a historic one), she will give future contestants confidence as they step out on the world’s stage. And certainly, there will be more little Ghanaian girls sitting in front of the TV with their friends scrambling to claim the title of Miss Ghana for herself before her friends can and confidently predicting a win.

Ghana: For the Love of Country

I recently read Boakye Glover’s The Justice, a Ghanaian political thriller. It was a definite page turner, fraught with action, suspense and action, courtesy of Caleb Osei, the novel’s hero and ‘blowman’.  The book – the central theme of which was the love of God, country and family – was released during an interesting time in Ghana’s history, for 2013 was the first time any election results had been challenged in court in the country’s fledgling democratic history. In the aftermath there was no bloodshed, no rioting in the streets; none of that stuff CNN sends planeloads of khaki clad journalists to cover with somber prose and patronizing glances for the camera.  The results were released and life went about as usual. Ghanaians had proven to the world, and more importantly to Africa, that we are matured in approach to governance and democracy.

But I wonder if we could take it several steps further?

With every passing year, I hear of more and more Ghanaians giving up their ‘spoils’ of toil in the West to re-emigrate back home. Many have declared the American Dream as dead, which I am wholeheartedly inclined to agree with. The pursuit of the American Dream is financed by crushing American Debt, which can take an entire generation to climb out of. Thirteen years after receiving my BA, I STILL owe thousands of dollars in student loans. There is roughly between $902 billion and $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the US today. It’s estimated that the average person owes $26,000 (not including interest) on their loans, which is a daunting amount stretched over 20 or so years. Most Americans barely recover, and the middle class is gradually but progressively shrinking. All the same, Americans hold tenacious hope and love for their country – an affection which is renowned throughout the world. It’s demonstrated in everything Americans do: from the way civil government is run, to the way they treat the environment and to how they celebrate their heroes.  I’m not saying America is perfect… not by any means. But I doubt any other country can boast a citizenry that LOVES its country as much as an American.

I long to see Ghanaians develop such a love for their country and heritage.

We often refer to Ghana as a Mother, assigning the country a feminine identity. If Ghana were an actual physical breathing woman, with thick thighs and ample breasts and full hair (you know, a proper woman) would we continue to treat her the way we do if we loved her? Would we dump trash on her, urinate on her whenever the feeling to ease ourselves came upon us and choke her with pollution? And when she wept, would her infuse her tears with petroleum waste and raw sewage? Would we reward her fealty to us by robbing her blind? Wouldn’t other men (or women) look at us with disgust and ask us why we were treating such a beautiful woman with so much promise and potential in this derogatory manner?

In real life, do you abuse someone you claim to love? Of course not.

Why should a Chinese man or an Irish man have more love for Ghana than a Ghanaian? Is she not for us? Of course she is.

And yet our politicians – who claim to ‘love’ and ‘serve’ Ghana -  rob our coffers daily for their own personal gain. Trash is thrown wantonly in the street, the stench of rich is made worse with a single tropical storm. Our police force, given the charge of serving and protecting rather defrauds and harasses citizenry with impunity. And worst of all, we’re forgetting Ghana’s glorious history, reveling in the fact that we raise children who can hardly utter a word in their local language and speak in undistinguishable foreign accents. Doing one’s National Service is not seen as an honor, but rather an abhorrent chore that is to be circumvented or made as inconvenient as possible, wherever possible. God forbid one should be sent to the arid North! Such is our contempt for our heritage that the busiest street in Accra, and certainly the center for high-end commerce is dubbed ‘Oxford Street’, mimicking a certain famous road with the same moniker in London. Is this how to love a woman? Is this how to love a country?

Now, do Americans litter, pollute, steal and destroy? Absolutely and almost daily. The difference is that for the love of their country, they have set up solutions to combat these problems.

  • Thieving politicians are made to pay for their corruption, whereas in Ghana, ours are left alone to wreak further havoc and encouraged to pilfer more.
  • American scientists and environmentalists are given funding for discovering solutions to its waste problems, whereas in Ghana, we have yet to entice our Western trained professionals to return home and develop the nation with their knowledge.
  • American children are being taught how to respect the environment and are made to understand what their personal impact on the globe is. Ghanaian children chew, pour, pass, forget and are not given tactile tools to creatively solve problems are even informed of what their own significance is as a student, other than to pass examinations.
  • Americans have safety rules and regulations for every product that is consumed in the country. Ghana imports inferior “Made for Africa” items from China, which are notoriously substandard and in many cases, dangerous.

I could go on of course, but the purpose of this post is not to gripe, but rather to point out that despite all Ghana’s foibles, there seems to be a crop of citizens – but Returnees and those who have never bothered to leave – determined to demonstrate a new love affair with Ghana. I’m encouraged by groups like the Green Ghanaian who are committed to repurposing our waste and ushering a new national consciousness surrounding the environment. The explorer in me leaps every time I see a post by Ghana’s Adventure Junkies, who encourage every Ghanaian to get out and see his/her country: Climb Mount Afadjato or brave the walkway at Kakum! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my BFFFL (and women of her ilk) who is committed to the cause of excellence in everything she does, from her MAKSI fashion label to championing the cause of women in every arena.

ghana flagThe pursuit of excellence is part of Africa’s glorious past. Somewhere along the line, probably in the midst of the brutalization meted out by the colonial powers and our own internal rivalries, Ghanaians were convinced of their own inferiority. The tide has steadily been reversing, but at this juncture in history it’s not time for gradualism. It’s time for an about face. You Ghana Man/ Ghana Wwoman: You’re probably reading this post on your iPhone or Android, a marvel of the 21st Century. The world is in the palm of hand. Don’t you think it’s time we achieved marvels of previous centuries, like reliable access to clean drinking water?

Loving our country a little better can certainly make that possible.

Guarding My 36Hs

I know I’ve been quiet for a while. I’ve had a lot to say, but not much will to say it. David S – who I have conferred the title of Supreme MOM Squad Captain upon – often scolds me when I get into these moods, because it always affects the frequency of my blogging.

You paaa…every time you feel sad, you stop writing.

I’m paraphrasing, of course. I can’t remember everything David S says. He has poignant opinions on lots of things.

Between the Kenyan Mall Massacre, the banning of Invisible Man in North Carolina, the murder of  Jonathan Ferrell by the police in the same state and my own concerns with potentially having breast cancer, I just haven’t felt much like talking, tweeting or blogging. The world had officially gone mad in the last two weeks.

Fortunately, it seems like the globe is beginning to spin back on its axis. The hostages in the Mall have been freed, the Board of Ed in North Carolina is today set to reconsider its ban on the book, the police officer responsible for killing Mr. Ferrell is being charged with voluntary manslaughter and I don’t have breast cancer. Hip-hip-hoorah!

Of course, I have to tell you about how I discovered my precious size 36H cups are indeed parasite and mutation cell free. Like anything else in my life, the discovery process and experience was far from mundane.

A few months ago, “guest” left a comment the blog asking me what I would do if I discovered that I had BRCA1, the breast cancer gene that runs in Angelina Jolie’s family. I ignored the question. I had already intimated that I was more concerned about the mental illness that runs in my family than possibly getting cancer. And then a few weeks ago, there was some discharge from my left breast. My husband thought I was lactating. We made a joke of it. I even posted a status on Facebook, offering a glass of milk to anyone who was interested. That’s when everything went to crap.

“You need to get that check out. Lactating two or more years after you give birth is not normal,” said one of my friends. She posted a clip from The Doctors to accompany her statement. Suddenly, I was facing the real possibility that there might be a rogue tumor residing on my pituitary glands.

Great. That’s all I needed. A tumor, which meant I would need surgery, which meant I might not wake up after surgery, which meant I’d leave a legacy of unfinished novels and un-raised children after my passing! I scheduled a doctor’s visit that afternoon. I went in for a checkup today.

Going to the OB/GYN while not pregnant was a new experience for me. I hardly get pap smears and I don’t have a primary care physician. I am a basically walking statistic…which also served to prompt me to act as quickly as I did. Black women die daily from preventable diseases. Out of 20 patients in the office this morning, I was the only Black one. The reasons why we don’t look after our health are varied and steeped in economics and access to healthcare. Anyway, it was weird being in there with no life in my belly. I felt like an outsider.

There was a man in his 40’s gingerly holding on to a glossy strip of an ultrasound printout, frantically dialing someone on his cellphone with his free hand. Expectant mothers in sensible flats waddled in and sat down. There were two other women well into their 50’s, benevolently half-smiling at everyone around them. And then there was me: 35, neither pregnant nor menopausal with periods that show up whenever they have a mind to. Oh…and with milky discharge coming out of her left breast.

photo(16) I signed in with the receptionist, peed in a cup and waited. When I was called to the back, I found out that I am indeed 245 lbs (I often joke about it, but I honestly thought I was 10 lbs lighter), that my blood pressure it good and my hemoglobin is great. I was then instructed to wrap on a paper towel the size of a postage stamp around my waist and don a vest made of the same material. Mortified by the realization that my girth prevented me from covering myself completely with the white material, I ripped it a desperate bid to tie it around my thick waist.

Posting images of myself in the examination room, I joked about having a surprise for my doctor. I had curry yesterday, and it’s back with a vengeance!

photo(17)I took pictures of my paper gown. I plastered a silly smile on my face. But in reality, I was scared. Really, really scared. What if I DID have cancer? It was going to change my life dramatically. It was going to impact my kids’ lives in ways I probably hadn’t considered. And poor, sweet Marshall…

Dr. Roberts came in and shook my hand. He has the best bedside manner, bar none. He had a student nurse with him as well. Most of the Black nurses in his practice are Ethiopian. This one was unmistakably African as well. Judging from her weave, pointed toe black shoes and hazel contacts, I guessed she was West African. When she got closer, I caught a glimpse of her name tag. Constance Yeboah*. A Ghanaian.

Dr. Roberts and I discussed my history for her benefit. My 4 c-sections; my family history; any contraception I use; my breast cancer query and concerns. Finally, the moment of truth had come. It was time for him to examine. I was the second woman in as many days who had come in with concerns about discharge.

“Discharge from a woman’s breast is as common with a woman with breasts,” he said by way of analogy. This made Constance and I both laugh. All women have breasts, silly man! Oh. Right…

“If it’s clear, milky/white, or greenish, it’s perfect normal,” he continued. (I grimaced at the idea of green stuff oozing from my nipples.) “It’s if it’s tinged with blood that should be a cause of concern.”

“Nope. Mine was kinda opaque,” I replied.

“And does it occur frequently?”

“No. It was just the one time.”

His blue eyes twinkled when he smiled. He told me he doubted I had anything to be concerned about as he rubbed my breasts. Constance and I both looked on. I realized I had quite a bit of hair that had grown around my areolas. I was suddenly embarrassed to have a Ghanaian woman peering at my enormous mammaries. Little did I know, my embarrassment would only increase by the minute.

Dr. Roberts asked Constance to have me place my feet in the stirrups, which I did willingly.

“Relax your legs, please.”

I thought I had relaxed my legs. Subconsciously, I knew what was coming next… and I was apprehensive. Constance pushed my legs further apart and parted my pubic hair as if preparing to cornrow it.

Good gravy.  This was terrible. And then I felt it. Something cold and hard being inserted into my core.

“Are you okay,” she asked politely, pushing harder.

“Yes. Yes! Just fine,” I lied. I felt like my virginity was being ripped from me again, this time by a woman in a white lab coat and sensible heels.

After Aspiring Doctor Yeboah dug around in my vagina for a bit, she declared she could not locate my cervix. What the –

“That’s okay! I’ll find it for you,” said Dr. Roberts.

He removed the mammoth obelisk that Constance had rammed into me and replaced it with a smaller, more friendly device. He inserted his fingers, titled the lamp upward, and pointed to the cervix that had recently eluded her. Standing to his feet, he handed her the apparatus to collect a sample for my pap smear. I was not ready for what happened next. She rammed her fist into my opening and pressed on my abdomen. When I tensed, she asked me if everything was okay.

“Yes, yes! Fine,” I gasped, betraying the truth. Dear Zeus, this was so painful!

I asked Dr. Roberts if I was supposed to experience this level of pain in my abdomen when pressed, and he informed me it was to be expected, especially considering how much scar tissue I had on my uterus. He removed his gloves, washed his hands, and declared we were done after I agreed to have a tetanus booster shot. I watched as Constance Yeboah washed her hands as well. She scrubbed, and scrubbed, and scrubbed – and when she was done she scrubbed some more. After she realized I was a fellow Ghanaian (my first name is Abena on my chart), I’m sure she was experiencing the same sense of sully that was coursing over me. After all, who comes AAAALLLL the way from Ghana to America to put their hands in Ghanaian hoo-hoo?

“We’ll call if anything in your results shows up abnormal,” Dr. Roberts said congenially. “Overall, you remain the picture of health.”

“Thank you, Dr. Roberts. And thank you, Constance.”

“You welcome,” Constance returned, slanging as hard as she could without coming off like a complete Johnny Just Come.

I put on my clothes and walked out of the office with the confidence that I neither have breast cancer nor a tumor on my pituitary. It’s much better knowing for sure, I can tell you that much.

Are you taking care of your health? Have you done a check into your family’s health history? Even more importantly, do you have hang ups about certain genders performing your exams? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be force fingered by a fellow Ghanaian woman, or that I would be so uncomfortable with it. Still, I suppose its something I need to get over it. I’d let the Jolly Green Giant find my cervix and rub down my breasts if it meant saving my life.

The NEW Miss America

Unless you count Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, I don’t remember the last time I watched a pageant show. I was completely put off the pageant world after the Caitlin Upton fiasco in 2007 in which  the then Miss (Teen) South Carolina was asked to give answer as to why a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the US on the world map. She went on to deliver a stumbling, bumbling speech so heinous in its contents that educators across the country buried their heads in a collective, thunderous face palm. What in the name of Zeus have we done to education, surely they must’ve asked. I’ve put the video right here for you to watch. Six years later, and it’s still just as cringe worthy as they night Ms. Upton half grimaced, half grinned her way through her idiotic reply.

Nina Davuluri, and her crop of co-contestants for the title of Miss America 2014, has made the pageant world relevant yet again.

Miss_America-bali

The real story was about the contestants, who this year, as far as my limited knowledge about the pageant world can tell, truly reflect the America we live in. The internet was abuzz over Theresa Vail, the tattoo sporting, gun toting blonde representing Kansas. She was the first contestant in the pageant’s history to openly display tattoos. Standford graduate and runner up Miss California, Crystal Lee is of Asian descent. And of course there was Nina Davuluri, who went from being Miss New York to Miss America with one proclamation. The nation was stunned, as was she. She went on to thank the organization for embracing diversity. And we must admit, those of us who are well into our 30’s and older can attest to a time when Miss America would most likely be blonde (maybe even brunette if the salon’s had run out of peroxide that year) and from Any City, USA. It didn’t matter where she was from… it only mattered that she looked like a “real American” – preferably of pure Irish or Scottish descent.

And that’s when the racists came flooding out of the woodwork, like termites after a torrential rain. A quick search on Google will inform you of the kinds of vile things they had to say. It’s no wonder 20% of Americans can’t find their own bloody country on the map. Many of the idiots (who, by courtesy of the innernets were able to display their idiocy for the whole WORLD to see) wrongly attributed Ms. Davuluri’s race and ethnicity to the dreaded Al-Qaeda and the equally dreaded, ubiquitous term ‘Muslim’. Just so ‘real Americans’ know, ‘Muslim’ is a religion, not a race.

I digress.

The 2014 Miss America Competition - ShowI was really pleased when I perused the pictures from the pageant. They represented the America that most of us live in. I get my nails done by a group of congenial Vietnamese women. A Hispanic woman serves me lunch at the Italian restaurant I often dine at. I myself serve women from all walks of life at my store: Gambian house maids and German CFOs. The American Dream has eluded many who have come here in pursuit of it, but this weekend, it came true for Nina Davuluri, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

Ms. Davuluri’s parents are from Andhra Pradesh, which is situated on India’s southeastern coast. I have never studied Indian history outside of Ghandi, a couple of Bollywood films, and the very westernized movies Karma Sutra and Mississippi Masala.I have a couple of (casual) Indian friends and I love dhosa, nan and curry. I’m no authority on India or its culture and I will never claim to be. The only thing I know for certain is that the further north you go in India, the lighter the skin and the further south, the darker. I know for sure that Indians are just as racist as their former European colonizers and just as color struck as we Africans who were also subjected to colonization. I just didn’t have any idea to what degree Indian self-hatred and racism ran.

Have a look at this ad selling Ponds skin lightening cream:

When I first saw it, my mouth was a fly trap: wide open with shock. I’m sure yours is too. Unlike advertising in West Africa – or Ghana at least, where advertising for skin lightening is a little a lot more subtle – this series of ads blatantly proclaims that the path to success, the path to perfect beauty, the ONLY way to capture the heart of your true love is by whitening your skin. Not lightening; whitening.

I suppose that this is because unlike Indians, Polynesians, and people of Asian descent, Black people can never have “white” skin. The best we can hope for is “lighter” skin. And even though we all have accepted that lighter skin gives you easier access to favoritism and therefore fortune, no one has ever dared suggest we completely shed off our black skin and opt for all out whiteness. That would be absurd.

Not so in India, apparently.

Models, actors and actresses, public figures, etc. are all under pressure to whiten their skin. The caste system in India is thousands of years old, and the idea that lighter (or whiter) people are superior is a hard one to break. Which is why I can only surmise that Indians both on the continent and in the diaspora were so dumbfounded by Nina Davuluri’s big win.

“In my country, she would have been a servant girl.”

“Or a whore.”

“She would never be acceptable in management, and even if she were, she would not be respected.”

Confounding, isn’t it? That one can think with their brain and not their skin? Here’s a newsflash: Nina Davuluri is taking her $50,000 all the way to the bank and using it to fund her medical degree, color struck haters be damned!

This… THIS is the America that I love.  Every once in a great while, we get to see The Dream come true. That a little girl with dark skin and bright eyes, who would be deemed nothing just by virtue of hue and gender in another country, has gone on to apply herself and don the pageant crown of the world’s last Superpower. (It’s supercilious talk, I know. Just stick with me.) And what is America if not a veritable masala of all the world’s cultures that have made it what it is today? We have a mixed race president and an Indian Miss America… let’s bloody celebrate!

Nina DavuluriHer parents worked hard, her aunts and uncles who came here before worked hard, and she is continuing a legacy of excellence and hard work herself. Nina Davuluri’s skin didn’t do that for her: Nina Davuluri did. And as much as people want to spit, and hate and angrily tear at their flesh in racist and racist self-hatred, the crown isn’t coming off her head. This is the NEW Miss America.

 

Friday the 13th: Nightmare on My Street

I wasn’t going to blog about Friday the 13th because I’m not a superstitious sort of woman. Ironically, I almost didn’t blog about anything at all today, because I was confronted early this morning with my greatest phobia on this 13th day of the month. But I soldiered on and grabbed my laptop and ran to the safest place I could think of so that I could bring you this tale of terror and woe.

Fridaythe13thseriesFriday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in Western superstition. I can’t even begin to tell you where it stems from. I’ve never bothered to study it. I always thought the roots of the superstition had to do with that one movie that came out in 1980 that my parents never let me watch. You know the one, right? It’s aptly named Friday the 13th. I wonder how much imagination was employed to conjure that title.

Anyway, there are very few phobias that I harbor. The fear of mold has become a recent one. And I have developed a fear of unwittingly sitting in smeared poo. I think that has to do with the birth of my four children. Apart from that, I don’t have any other phobias; Except for my fear of cockroaches.

I wouldn’t so much call it a “fear” as I would an unholy dread and abhorrence for the little six-legged spawns of Satan. And I mean that. Cockroaches are borne of Satan. What good have they brought the Earth? All they do is spread disease and frighten upstanding citizens of society. When the nuclear fallout occurs in the 40th century, it has been well documented that only the cockroaches will survive. Are these the “meek” that Christ so lovingly spoke of in the Scriptures that are meant inherit the Earth? Cockroaches???

I digress, and that rabbit trail was brought to you courtesy of the fact that I’m deathly afraid right now.

You see, dear MOM Squad Member and Random Reader, I am blogging today from my car. Why my car? Because as I was leaving my shower this morning, preparing for the task of dropping the kids off at school, I saw it. I saw it with my very own eyes, and not from the side view. It was a full frontal visual assault.

The being was about a foot long. It had the wing span of an adult male pterodactyl and the oily sheen of a creature that had spent its life in a sewer or some other such decrepit environment. It crawled slowly, deliberately and tenaciously towards my clothes rack where my beloved summer dresses and hand bags hang and sit. I think I saw it look at me with those, beady, roachy eyes and heard it say “What up, homie!”.

It was a cockroach. In my bedroom. On Friday the 13th.

How had this happened? Dear, sweet Merciful Sky God, how had this happened??? I haven’t seen a cockroach in my room in years! I make sure that Marshall sprays regularly and I always make our house as hostile an environment for them as possible. By what means had it entered? I can only think of one thing: the DEVIL sent it, because he knows that I have always loathed roaches. The disdain I carry for them comes from a particularly terrifying incident during my childhood. No. I don’t want to talk about it, so don’t ask.

So here I sit; in my car with trembling fingers and stained teeth (I couldn’t possibly brush them knowing he’d – and cockroaches are always male – had possibly climbed all over the bristles at some time during the night), in my car, with no underwear and wearing a faded purple boubou. It was lying on the floor next to me so I grabbed it – and that’s exactly how I took my kids to school today. With stank breath and no panties on, wearing old African garb. Visually, I’m sure I am somebody’s nightmare come to life as well.

Do you believe in superstition? Does Friday the 13th concern you? What phobias do you harbor? And more importantly, do you have any suggestions for getting a roach out of my room? Oh God. When is my husband coming home? I can’t sit in this car all day!!!

Happy Friday, y’all.

My First Ghetto Wedding

I sat up last night and counted. Nine seems about right. In thirty-five years of life, I have been to nine weddings, including my own. They all followed the same format: A selection of Ave Maria sung by the bride’s best friend; a few words about love in general, God’s love in particular, and a plea for each of the congregants to help the couple preserve their marriage; a first dance and the cutting of the cake. Sprinkle on some liquor, a few cigars, some kente cloth or a bagpipe for the sake of diversity (depending on which part of the globe you find yourself) and poof! You’re married!

None of that happened at the wedding I attended this weekend – at least not in the order one who has attending her share of weddings has attended. For you see, just like Indian weddings, Ghetto weddings are in a cultural class of their own. Had someone warned me, I would have spent more time enjoying the event and less spectating like some avid bird watcher on safari.

June – my 27 year old neighbor and mother of three – has been trying to get her baby daddy to marry her for years. She’s not religious and comes from a broken home herself, but has recently come to acquire strong convictions about the way she wants her children to be raised and what kind of example she wants to set for them as a parent. Although I have only met him twice, I am sure that these new convictions came as an inconvenient surprise to Craig, who was very much content to screw his girlfriend during the week and skip off to the club on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. And yes, I said “screw”. One look at Craig and those gold fronts and there is little room for doubt that he’s ever even considered making “passionate love” to his paramour.

Early last year, Craig gave June an “engagement ring”. He slipped it on her finger while she was asleep on Mother’s Day and presented her with a small bouquet of balloons. When she didn’t wake up, he shook her and told her to look at her finger. She saw the ring.

“Oh,” she said, feigning delight.

When she showed me the ring I shared the same response. The ring, like the proposal was lacking in all luster and uninspiring. June told me they would probably go to the justice to get married, hopefully before the baby was born. At the time, she was due in September. She wanted me to come. I said of course.

September 2012 came and went. The baby was born and her oldest son was now in kindergarten. Had I missed the wedding? I asked her in the early part of the summer.

“No, you didn’t,” she replied flatly. “I’m leaving Craig, I can’t do this anymore, Malaka! I just can’t!”

She laid out a list of grievances. Craid didn’t help out around the house. All he ever did was spend his money on clothes. He never helped pay for groceries. He couldn’t fathom the idea of watching his own  kids for an hour while she went to get her nails done. He spent more time at the club than with his sons. In fact, he had never even bothered to teach his sons to pee like men.

“How am I supposed to teach Jabari to pee standin’ up? Huh? His Daddy could at least teach him THAT!!”

I told her I understood. If I had to live like that, I’d do much better on my own! I told her I’d miss her, and by the end of the night, she was indeed gone…

Only to return two weeks later.

There was rap at my door.

“June? You’re back?”

“Yes girl. Craig’s auntie found us and fussed him out in front of the whole family,” her eyes bugging with excitement as she retold the tale. “He gave me THIS, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him properly.”

“THIS” was a 2 carat emerald cut diamond set in a white gold band.

“Wow…”

“Right,” she said, pursing her lips.

Three weeks later Marshall and I got a pretty purple and white invitation in the mail box, requesting our presence in order to “celebrate the marriage reception of June & Craig.” I should have known by the use of those semantics that we were in for trouble.

June had asked Marshall to shoot the wedding, which he offered to do gratis. When he arrived at the Othello, a reception hall neighboring a set of train tracks and a strip club/grocery store/sound studio, he sent me a text.

Oh God. This place is in the HOOD. And it smells like grain alcohol.

I arrived at six o’clock. We were not seated until 6:35, which is an eternity  by any standards. June’s family, who were all decked in their Sunday best were grumbling about CPT in the corridor. Clearly uncomfortable in their attire, they made more than one disparaging remark about the bride, who had requested ‘formal attire’ be worn to the event.

“You don’t understand. My family is really ghetto,” she informed us solemnly.

Coming from someone who Marshall and I consider residing on the cusp of ghettoness herself, we wondered what level of rathcetness we were yet to encounter. We soon found out.

photo(11)The nuptials had been performed offsite, so we were only there to eat and dance. June walked into the reception hall, treading demurely on a white runner on the arm of her ‘grandfather’. Knowing that all her family has either lived or died in New Orleans, I wondered who this adopted elderly man was. Craig neither smiled nor frowned at his glowing new wife. Nothing at all seemed to please him. His exhausted 6 year old son, who was now weeping for want of a nap, certainly exasperated him though. He callously ignored the boys need for a tender hug or encouragement “just to hold on until the event was over.”

I’ll skip the rest and just get to the best parts, which I will present to you in pictorial form:

The first dance was an abysmal affair – a mockery of every first dance ever performed. It was joyless and cumbersome. Craig refused to hold June close, and went so far as to jutting his arse backwards and away from her as they swayed awkwardly to some smooth jazz selection.

photo(15)“Get closer, mane!” his father heckled from our table. “What? You afraid you gonna get her pregnant?!?”

Snickers and cackles erupted across the room. June was aghast and ducked her head in embarrassment. Thank goodness for the deep brown of her skin. She might have turned bright crimson otherwise.

There was no real order to the reception. Marshall jockeyed with another photographer for shots. The man in turn growled and cut his eyes my husband whom he saw as his foe. There really was no competition – after all, this was my husband’s gift to our neighbor. Marshall ignored the man’s orders to “watch out” for the remainder of the night, sitting down to eat eventually, because he was a guest.

Dinner was pineapple juice, roles, saffron rice, steamed chicken, salad and steamed whiting. I didn’t care if it was gourmet or not. It was not 7:15 and I was starving. I wolfed my plate as delicately as possible.  The groom’s step-mother, a woman adorned from hair follicle to toe-nails in Barney-esque purple fanned herself furiously with one of the plastic dinner plates.

“Too hot up in this b*tch,” she complained. “And this chicken ain’t done,” she continued, pointing to a small pink spot on her chicken breast. “I didn’t come here to get sick!”

Well, Southern Black Americans are very much like their West African counterparts: Meat must be cooked until all evidence that the animal was ever a living, breathing entity is eradicated. Traces of pink will not be tolerated under any circumstances, what-so-ever.

photo(14)I looked around the room and considered the motley crew assembled therein. The most interesting had to be the enormous man dressed in red linen, shod with black and red shoes. He looked like a used Tampon, or Negroid Carrie, after the prom. After being summoned Yolanda, by the groom’s sister, to give an invocation, he jocularly declared that “dis righ’ heah ‘I buuful, know what I’m sayin’? You done did it cu’, dat what it is. I luh ya shaw…”

He gave the mic back to Yolanda and strode back to his seat amidst appreciative applause.

Second most interest was the grandmother, who leapt to the floor in an all red ensemble, sashaying and switching, twisting and twerking, bending and bobbing to the Cupid Shuffle. I don’t know much, but I do know that THAT was not the Cupid Shuffle. This would not have been so devastating to watch had her breasts been secured appropriately within her dress. Instead, her mammaries dangled lifeless just above her navel, drawing in the gaze of all in attendance.

I eyed the cake longingly. I needed something sweet to choke down the bland taste of the carb-fest I had just endured. But what was that structure to the left of the 3-tiered wedding cake? It looked like three crudely assembled rectangles. I leaned in and whispered in Marshall’s ear.

“Babe, go take a look at that cake and tell me what it is.”

He dutifully got up and when he returned he leaned back in his chair and let out of wail/chortle.

“Oh my God. It’s two stacks of money. Hundred dollar bills.”

“Money? You mean like ‘Benjamins’?”

He nodded and buried his face in shame.

cake

In the absence of an agenda, June’s family had declared that it was time to start drinking. The event planner grabbed the microphone and implored them to refrain from doing so just yet.

“If we could all wait until the champagne toast, the bride would greatly appreciate it,” she announced.

photo(12)Grumbling erupted all over the room.  Don’t e’rebody drank CHAMPAGNE, y’know! The groom’s father, Craig senior, said he was not about to be bossed around. He went outside and filled a white Styrofoam cup up with liquor that he had stashed in a cooler in his trunk.

“Here you go, Daddy,” he said, passing the cup to the grandfather. “Anybody else want some?”

 

photo(13)We declined. His wife fanned herself furiously. Although she only drank wine, she could not afford to drink it now. It would only make her hotter. It was hard to tell if the heat or the fact that should couldn’t drink because of it was vexing her more.

At long last, it was time to dance, and dance this bunch did! Shoes came off, and a variation of moves so sexual in nature that I fully expected someone to give birth soon emerged on the dance floor. I have never seen the Wobble performed in a manner that made me that uncomfortable.

Alas, it was soon time for me to leave. I had to pick up the kids. Marshall stayed behind to finish capturing the special moments. Apparently, the wedding was closed out to a special selection.

“Some song called ‘Versace’,” he informed me, holding his head in denial.

“Huh?”

“You heard me. ‘Versace’. And  that’s all they said for the entire song:

Versace, Versace

Versace, Versace

Versace, Versace

Versace, Versace

Versace, Versace

Versace, Versace…

Now, as bad as this was – the boy with the yellow sagging pants, the girl with the ripped jeans and gold front, the woman who said her career path at Walgreen(s) was coming to an end because they keep scheduling her for weekends and she just don’t come in to work –  I have come to understand that this is not as ghetto as it gets. Some people have actually served Kool Aid at their receptions.

Lawd.

Have you ever been to a memorable wedding? What made it stand out in your mind? I certainly will always be struck by Yolanda’s insistence that her 16 year old son do a slow drag with his girlfriend to a nasty Drake song. “You ain’t gon’ come here and act like you ain’t gon’ dance!”

Your comments. Right here↓

 

 

 

Isolation and the Myth of the Strong Black Woman

*There are some people – an exceptional few – who are paragons of emotional stoicism. These people have all the emotive sensibilities of a fragment of driftwood. This post is not about you. It’s about the rest of us.  Just FYI…

Strong.

Black.

Woman.

What comes to mind when you hear these words? Close your eyes… or not; really think about it. Perhaps an image of a woman at the bus stop with all her plastic grocery bags arrayed around like a field of rotting posies her pops into your consciousness. Perhaps it might be a powerful woman in a pencil skirt and lab coat barking out orders. Is she the nameless janitor that cleans your building every night? Whoever she is, I’d wager 99% of you have imagined her alone. Not supported by family; not surrounded by friends; just strong – and ALONE. And you would be right.

I was chatting with one of my dearest and oldest friends last night who is going through a very difficult time with her would-be fiancé. “Would-be”, because although he has continually promised on several occasions to propose to her by x date (the most recent being spring of this year), he has yet to do so. His reasons are his own, although as her live-in boyfriend, he does enjoy the benefits of married life with the bothersome commitment. She told me as of last night she had had enough.

“I keep choosing people who don’t want me,” she said in measured tones. I could tell from the quality of her voice she had been crying for hours. “I give and give, and I don’t get anything in return. Not a word of thanks. Not a word of encouragement. Not a hug in public. In fact, I was inspired to write on my vision board ‘B*tch, sit down. You doing too much.’”

I hummed in agreement. This particular friend (we’ll just call her Jayden) does do a lot in her relationship. She surprised her boyfriend with Coldplay  tickets and he pitched a fit.

I told you I don’t like surprises! he roared. Why would you buy these??

Jayden planned and purchased a trip to the islands for a getaway. He acted like it was a bother to leave the room.

She washed and put away his clothes when they returned from said vacation. He never acknowledged the act of consideration.

Recently, in the midst of an emotional breakdown, he discovered her in the room crying, drinking, and downing pills. His advice?

“Oh stop it. Send back the invitations to the pity party, address Jayden,” and walked right past her room.

Screw all that. Maybe that behavior is good and acceptable for those emotive deadwoods I mentioned earlier, but for the rest of us breathing, living, sweating women it’s downright hurtful! As a woman who has had more than one emotional breakdown herself, I can attest that those utterances were NOT what my friend needed in that moment.

She needed assurance. She needed compassion. A light touch on the shoulder or a strong bear hug would absolutely suffice. But she didn’t get any of that and the only reason I have been able to conclude is that she is perceived as a “strong Black woman.”

Let me tell you something: the Strong Black Woman doesn’t exist. The Strong Black Woman is just that: A woman. She has deep emotions and spiritual needs. She has a hear that gets broken just like any other woman. She has orgasms or not, just like any other woman. If you tickle her she will laugh and if you punch her, she will cry. She is just a woman.

Sometimes I feel as though I have been living under the umbrella (or shadow) of the strong Black woman persona. Since I’ve put my friend’s business out there, it’s only apropos that I do the same for myself. One of the biggest contentions in my marriage has been the sense of isolation I’ve felt since moving to Atlanta to be closer to friends, only to have those friends move back to Ghana or some neighboring state. I’ve blogged about this before, so it’s no secret to the MOM Squad. Atlanta is not my home. I have no familial ties or emotional connections to this city. There have been days when I have felt so alone I thought the loneliness would kill me and almost prayed that it would. I felt it in my body, and the sense of despair, brought on by loneliness, produced in me a headache of the most exquisite nature that I thought my head might explode. My husband, who neither needs nor craves social interaction, thwarted every hope of my ever establishing social re-connections outside of the limits of this city. I thought I was crazy until I had a chance conversation with one of my friends (who lives in another state, of course). She told me about an NIH conference she attended.

“Malaka, I have attended hundreds of conferences over the years, and they’re all pretty much the same: boring. But this NIH conference I went to last month resonated with me in a way no other one has before.”

I sat quietly, signaling that I was ready for her to continue.

The topic of the conference was the maternal mortality rate. It was discovered that women of African descent, whether in the diaspora or on the continent had the highest mortality rates. The numbers, as she put it, were staggering.

“Well, I would attribute that to poor healthcare and FGM if you’re on the continent,” I said confidently.

Not so fast, she admonished. As it turns out, unlike other races, the numbers did not improve whether these women moved up within income brackets, better education or geographic location. In fact, when they studied women who lived under inverse conditions (very poor and moderately educated) within Hispanic communities such as the Dominicans, their mortality rates were significantly lower.

“Overwhelmingly, Black maternal mortality rates are attributed to eclampsia, pre-eclapmsia , hypertension , congestive heart  failure and diabetes,” she said.

“Ugh. Sounds like stress to me,” I muttered, remembering my own bout with pre-emclapsia, courtesy of Douche Bag.

“And that’s exactly right,” she said affirmed. “Black women are dying not only from stress, but from stress compounded over time with little or no relief.”

Unlike Hispanic communities or homes, most of whose inhabitants are multi-generational, Black women live in pockets of isolation. Some because they’re chasing a professional dream. Some because their partners are locked up. Some because they don’t feel accepted within their own communities for whatever stigma they carry (i.e. they’re too dark, they have afro hair, their mother was a corner whore, etc). Some because their husbands don’t see the value in living to close proximity to family.

Said another way: Black women are dying of broken hearts.

Scattered.

Divided.

Discouraged.

But because we are and always have been placed at the bottom of the totem pole, no one sees it and no one cares. It’s assumed that we are strong enough to bear the weight of misfortune that is heaped upon is – because you know, we’re STRONG and BLACK. However any structure that does not have its foundations tended to will crack. And let’s face it: the darker the woman, the greater her presumed capacity for strength, right? Go to MOM Mode and pit Alek Wek against Namoi Watts in your mental  boxing ring. Alex wins, doesn’t she?

Alex!

Alex!

Poor Naomi...

Poor Naomi…

Admit it. (And stop laughing.)

It didn’t occur to me how much I needed my sisters around me until my cousin died a little over a year ago. He was in his 20’s and died in his slumber from a sleep disorder. No one was home when he passed. My aunt, distraught from the pain of losing a child so young and just coming into promise sat in her house and mourned. She is one of the lucky few who has a community of sisters in her midst. They came to her home, circled around her, and rubbed her scalp, limbs and feet and just let her moan her lament. Me? If such a tragedy should occur, I’d be reduced to a cryptic rant on Facebook. How does that even compare? How many women have been empowered to carve out and create circles of support to raise their families in or exist within themselves?

Even God said in Genesis 2:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Selah.

Here’s my proposal: think of Black women as a berry, the darkest of which is the sweetest, and in turn the most fragile. Have you ever noticed how delicate ripe fruit is in your hands? Press it too hard and it will fall to pieces. For the love of all that is good and pure, give us the privilege of falling to pieces! And if one is so inclined, take those fragments and lovingly transform them into something new and wonderful.