Author Archives: Malaka

RMart: Ghana’s Largest Online Shopping Mall

In May of 2000, I moved to Atlanta with 2 suitcases, a bag of toiletries, a newly minted degree and delusions of grandeur. Coming from Tidewater Virginia, everything in Atlanta was fresh and fast. People jogged. Everyone drove a luxury car. You could quit your job at noon and by 4pm land a new one! I had everything I would ever want or need in Atlanta…except for a car. I rode MARTA faithfully (and grudgingly) for three years.

It was also in the year 2000 that the Dot Com Era had taken off in earnest. Because of Atlanta’s constricted (and inconvenient) public transportation system, the online world served a life-line to the rest of humanity outside of the confines of my shared Buckhead apartment. Thanks to our trusty dial-up connection, suddenly I could shop online, find jobs, visit virtual chat rooms and download music…as long as nobody was on the phone. It was in 2000 that I discovered Overstock.com, which quickly became my go-to online market for virtually anything I needed. If I needed a new rain coat in the midst of a torrential downpour outside, I’d sit at my desk and order it. If I needed a new set of pots because my roommate had burned rice in it for the nth time, I clicked away. I even ordered my first set of dining room chairs online, all conveniently shipped to my front door. (No way I was hauling chairs and boxes of pans on the backseat of the bus!)

It think back to my 20-something year old self and I’ll be honest: It never occurred to me fourteen years ago that there would ever be an e-commerce site in Ghana. I never thought it would work. Our cities –apart from Tema – are not built on any sort of grid, mail came (and still does come) to PO Boxes  rather than to your home, and in 2000 most of us were still using pay-per-minute phone cards to contact folks back home! I figured it would “be nice” to have online shopping in Ghana, but that’s all it would ever remain – a wistful fantasy.

Guess what? Fast forward a decade or more and someone figured out how to make e-commerce work in Ghana.

ghanas-biggest-online-mall-21774828Like many of today’s most robust startups Roger Adjadi was a student at the University of Ghana at Legon when he conjured the idea for RMart. He began by setting up an e-commerce site online that served other university students in the country from Legon to KNUST. Working with EMS – a subsidiary of the Ghana Postal Service (GPS) – Roger developed a model for delivery of goods and services built around convenience. He overcame the challenges of sub-par urban planning by employing a system already in place (the GPS) and combining it with cellular technology. If the delivery driver encounters any issues locating his drop point, he/she merely needs to call the customer to verify the location. When he graduated from Legon, he expanded his idea from targeting the student market and taking it to a wider customer base.

The linchpin of Roger’s business model is and has always security, which is how RMart distinguishes itself from Ghana’s other mega-online merchandizer, Tonaton.com. Whereas Tonaton (which literally translates as “buy and sell”) is an online classified platform that models itself more along the lines of an Ebay or Craigslist, where individuals can buy and sell used products or excess merchandise, R-Mart exclusively serves as a platform to purchase from vendors who have been verified by Ghana’s Registrar-General. This means that the consumer has the confidence that the product they are buying online is precisely as they see it online and has a greater chance of redress should the item not turn out as expected or promise. Tonaton offers no such guarantees, since the consumer is purchasing not just from reputable companies, but from individuals as well.  And RMart’s website is verified as completely secure which means a lot to anyone who has more than ₵200 in their personal account. With e-fraud and 419 running rampant across the globe, shoppers can trust their purchases as well as their finances are guarded from infiltration from nefarious forces of evil.

If it sounds like I’m doing a commercial for RMart, I absolutely am. As a Ghanaian living in the Diaspora, RMart will soon prove to be an invaluable tool, just as Overstock.com was to me when I was a car-less Johnny Just Come to Atlanta. There are a thousand ways in which this service is beneficial to adopters both in Ghana and abroad. I’m thinking of Father’s Day, for instance. I haven’t been able to purchase a proper gift for my dad in years (the challenge being the expense of mailing an item from a different continent and his unwillingness to drive into Accra to check his mail), but through RMart’s delivery service and secure website, I can purchase and pay for a gift for him from the comfort of my living room and it will be delivered on time to him in the comfort of his.

I am definitely looking into using RMart as my vendor of choice to sell my books, as I believe it will solve the challenge for many an indie author’s distribution woes. Ghana’s publishing industry is lagging, and it’s like pulling teeth to get one’s books on shelves as prime shelf space is reserved for “better known” (read Western) authors. RMart will provide a level convenience and professionalism that Amazon affords my US and UK readers.

*Throws confetti*

You can visit R-Mart at www.rmart.com.gh to learn more about the company and to view their product offering. They offer competitive pricing, great customer service and their site is easy to navigate.

Are you big into online shopping? Do you have options like this in your country of origin? How reliable are they? Let’s discuss when you’ve had a chance to look at it!

 

I Finally Know What Juneteenth Felt Like!

Have you ever been in bondage? Not that type of bondage, you sexual freaks! I’m talking about the grips of something or someone who possesses a strength so terrifying that you know in your heart you may never break free? Those of who have held student loan debt are very well acquainted with this sensation.

Ah, Malaka. What do you mean “have held”. Why do you speak of student loans in the past tense?

Because, my brothers and sisters! I have finally been made free! I am free from the shackles of Sallie Mae (that repugnant whore), Freddie Mac (that crooked swindler) and Mohela (their little mutt that has terrorized the populace)!

Notice I said I have been “made” free, not “set” free. I and hundreds of thousands of graduates like me are not eligible for this new-fangled student loan forgiveness the government has rolled out. If you graduated before 2010, you’re pretty much out of luck. But no matter! I’m here to testify that there is indeed light at the end of the proverbial tunnel! And fam, once you step into that light, you’ll never want to go back into the dark, dank, darkness. That’s why when people ask me if I would ever consider getting a Master’s Degree I reach for holy anointing oil, fire water and command that demand to return to the hovel from whence it emerged. More debt for why?!?

(Excuse me while I ascend to my soap box. I’m about to preach up in hurrr!)

I love Black history; you all know that. Black history is American history. And for a time in American history, my kinsmen were in bondage -severe, soul breaking bondage! They toiled from sunup to sundown, never taking breaks, always in fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones, subject to the massa’s whims and wishes, and always believing in The Day…that one day when they would be free! And you know what? That sweet day finally arrived on June 19th, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. That’s right. For almost three years after they were officially set free, Black slaves toiled in fields, smithies and swamps for no remuneration!

There are accounts of some slave holders appealing to the “better nature” of their once imprisoned hostages, asking them to stay on and work for the “common good”.

“I can’t pay you, but I’ll treat you fair and share what we grow together,” one planter said.

Well, we all now know that’s a lie. Slave holders were compensated for lost “equipment” (that equipment being enslaved Blacks) to the tune of millions of dollars. Ol’ Massa could’ve afforded to give Toby $0.75 a week for his troubles. He just didn’t want to bother.

That’s how I felt when I called Mohela today to find out why they hadn’t taken my money from my bank account.

“Well, Malaka (because they always refer to you by your first name), it shows here that we did receive two payments from you on June 2nd…which brings your account to a $0.00 balance.”

A silly grin spread over my face.

free

“Really?” said I.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “And as a matter of fact, you’re in overpayment. We’ll be sending you a refund of $1.80!”

“You don’t say!” I chortled. Then my tone turned hopeful. “So this means our relationship is over, right?”

The rep laughed and said yes. Then he offered me his congratulations. I think I mumbled my thanks. I can’t recall. I was already dreaming up ways to spend that extra $500 a month we’d been sending them and was lost in my fantasy. He brought me to the present by asking if I wanted to take a short survey after the call.

“It’s not mandatory,” he said casually.

“Uh huh. Okay!”

“And just to let you know, we’ll be sending you a notice verifying you’re in full repayment in 30 days,” he promised.

“Great. Thanks. Have a great day.”

*Click*

How ironic. I was in overpayment for 24 hours and they never bothered to call me to tell me the great news… that they owe ME money. I remember the days when that scenario was reversed; when I was laid off and unemployed, wondering how I was going to make rent and constantly being hounded by the Student Loan office.

Ya 13 minutes late in your payment!

When ya gonna pay? When ya gonna pay?!!?

It was like anticipating a whipping. Thank God for deferment!

Sometimes I wonder what our ancestors did after they were finally set free. There are tales of men and women wandering the country looking for loved ones that had been sold away. Others said they were going to sleep in for the first time in their lives. For those who had been “made free”, i.e. purchased their own freedom, they were finally at liberty to go back and carry their enslaved loved ones to a new and better life.

However you slice it, freedom sure is sweet! It’s surreal. It almost doesn’t seem like it’s my reality yet. I’m dazed…I mean, I’ve been 14 years a slave to the federal government in pursuit of a degree I never used! A degree “they” told me I had to have to get any sort of decent job. Screw “they”. They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. I got a degree, and the economy crashed leaving millions of people jobless.

No matter. Ise free now, and lawd do it taste delicious! Bye-bye Massa Mohela!

Have you had student loan debt? What’s the biggest bill you’ve ever paid off? How did it feel? Discuss! :)

 

Attacks on Women Have Nothing to Do with Class, and Everything to Do with Entitlement

Note: I want to have as cerebral a conversation on this topic as possible, and although every fiber of my being craves to employ the words “punk”, “n!gga b!tch”, scum and douche bag, I will refrain from the use of such monikers and attempt more genteel discourse.

But you know where I stand…

You discover the oddest things on Facebook. Let’s be honest: Facebook’s appeal has everything to do with the content your friends create, and not so much the utility itself. My Facebook wall is pretty mundane the majority of the time. My activist friends use it to promote their latest cause. My artsy friends use it to promote their next gig. My Stay-At-Home-Mom crew uses it to promote their children…

I can go for three months without logging onto Facebook and tell you everything anyone has said with 99% accuracy, I’m sure. Or at least I was until this week.

e meEdith Faalong was my virtual before we actually met and clicked in real life. She’s an actress who lives and works in Ghana and Nigeria, and has a pretty impressive body of work for being in the industry for so short a time. She has exceptional comedic timing, great range and is pretty darn hot. To say that I adore her would be an understatement. But like ALL my friends, her Facebook wall is pretty predictable. She uses it to share inspirational quotes and links to director and film writer Leila Djansi’s blog. So imagine my surprise when I kept seeing a string of comments that said:

I’m fine. To everyone who has expressed concern, I’m fine!

When I messaged her to find out what was wrong, I didn’t expect her reply. She said she had been assaulted on her job.

“WHAT?!?!” I exploded. “By who?!”

“By the director,” was her reply.

How in God’s name had I missed this? After the necessary and customary expression of my outrage (which is all you can do when you’re thousands of miles away from the target you’d like to slap the black off of) I asked her what had happened. What she told me read like it was scripted from a bad 80’s Afro-sploitation flick.

Edith-Faalong1Edith plays ‘Naana’ on the show ‘Living with Trisha’, a popular TV series in Ghana directed by Prince Amuni Gbenga. She joined the cast in 2013. I’ve only heard her express excitement and positive things about working with the cast and crew ever since she told me she was joining the project last year. One thing I’ve admired about Edith is how in control of her career she has been since she took her foray into acting. She is a brand ambassador for Tigo, and has used her sphere of influence to direct a positive conversation on the topic of Global HIV/AIDS with her work as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS through the #ProtectTheGoalCampaign. As I said, she is a woman in control of her image and her contractual agreements. In regards to her contract for ‘Living with Trisha’ which often shoots on locations in various parts of the country, she mandated a clause stipulating that she be able to go home at night and return for shooting the next day at her discretion.

On the day of the attack, the rest of the cast had opted to sleep at the hotel where their scenes were being shot, while she left the night before. This did not sit well with Prince Amuni Gbenga, apparently.

“What do you mean this didn’t sit well with him?” I grunted. “Is he your father?”

“Ask again!” she retorted before laying out the crazy string of events that took place.

Edith returned to the hotel early to prepare for her scenes which were to be shot later in the morning. As she was getting dressed, Gbenga barged into her room, demanding that she get dressed now and come down stairs to do make up. He was yelling in her face, making ridiculous demands. Stunned, Edith grabbed a bed sheet to cover herself as she was standing in HER room in a state of near total undress. She demanded that he get out so that he could dress, and he refused. After making it very clear that she wasn’t doing anything until he left her room, he finally turned towards the door where she walked after him to close it. Upon seeing her advance, he turned around, pushed the door backwards as if to let himself back in, and did so with such force that it cut her lip and bruised her face.

Think he bent down to help her up? Think again.

He stood over her, screaming insults which eventually roused her sleeping roommate, as well as a crowd of people in the hall who collectively pulled him away from her and urged him to calm down. Edith quickly walked off set and went straight to the police department to report the incident.

And THAT part, folks, is key: she reported it.

How many other women has Prince Amuni Gbenga taken the liberty of physically abusing without fear of reprisal? His wanton disregard for consequences tells me quite a few! And what was the director of the show doing summoning an actress anyway? Is that not the job of the production assistant? Furthermore, any sort of gentleman who finds a woman in a state of undress in the confines of her room and does not leave immediately? It’s fair to say that Prince Amuni Gbenga is no gentleman, but a barbarian and a coward who gets his rocks off on intimidating women. He joins a growing, pernicious list of men like Oscar Pistorius, Brian McKnight, Chris Brown, Elliot Roger and ol’ Ike Turner who have no control over their infantile urges to inflict their will.

I believe that is the genesis of all these assaults against women we see in the news day, after day, after day. It’s easy to dismiss physical assault as a crime that only the very poor or marginalized commit. We can point at the impoverished men in India and their propensity for raping defenseless girls and say that’s just something they do “over there”. But the fact remains that entitlement and narcissism is a plague that cuts across all social barriers and there are men of all classes who think that they are entitled to do with a woman’s body as they wish. Sadder still is that there are women who have been conditioned to believe the same!

I am so proud of Edith for reporting this to the police, and prouder still of the Ghana Police at Dansoman for their handling of the case. Even they expressed their disgust in the way the ‘Living with Trisha’ PR team handled the situation, which was to:

  1. Lie about the event and,
  2. Encourage Edith’s hotel-mate to lie by asking her to corroborate their version of events!

What a horrible and uncomfortable situation to put this young woman who still needs to earn a living in! These people have no couth and no decency. Instead of apologizing, do you know what they’ve done? In a play from Patience Jonathan’s Guide to Being an Absolute Idiot in Public, the producer’s wife has sent threatening messages to my friend, the details I will not reveal here since there is the potential for a court case. You see African women? We can be our own worst enemies. What a silly insolent woman to think she has the right to threaten anyone after the victim has been attacked!

This is but one of the incidents of physical assault that happens in society every day. If you’re reading and you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, don’t be afraid to speak up and get out. Be like my friend. Edith walked away from a hit TV series, because there is no job, no relationship, no nothing on this earth that is worth your dignity and your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucking Black Mediocrity: At Least I have a Drop to GIVE

*WARNING* HARD CORE RANT AHEAD

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my hope to adopt one day. It was a blog that was well received, and we discovered that there are a great many men and women among us who harbor a desire to either adopt or foster a child, depending on what their financial/marital/biological/social circumstances would allow. There is no one reason to pursue adoption; no “right” or “wrong” reason (unless those reasons are unscrupulous and meant to inflict harm on the child) and I would never question why anyone would want to adopt a child if they had it in their hear to do so. This is why the call I received from a relative today was so puzzling, and quite frankly, fucking annoying.

Let me preface this rant by making this statement: I take great exception to anyone questioning my intelligence, and I am even further miffed when folks judge my abilities by their own failures or tendency towards inadequacy. The call I received today reminded me of two previous scenarios I had suffered at the hand of individuals who had my “best interest at heart”. The first was from a certain best friend of mine who sniffed when I told her I was pregnant with my third child in 2008.

“Why would you get pregnant in this economy?” she asked, not bothering to hide her mortification. “It’s like the worse time to grow a family!”

I just looked at the phone and resisted the urge to vomit morning sickness on it, resisting the need to utter the words burning on my tongue:

“Because, you imbecile, as ANY student of economics can tell you, economies are ever expanding and contracting. They exist in cycles. The fact that we’re in a slump now only bodes well for my unborn child in 4-5 years!”

economy

And guess what? 5 years later, the economy IS on the mend and I have a job and one final installment of my student loans to show for it. Unlike this particular single, unmarried, childless friend who finds herself $xx,000 in credit card debt with $xxx,000 in student loans that she has yet to pay off.

The second scenario came in the form of our thwarted move to South Africa by a particular influential church member who insisted that our Bishop forbid (or strongly discourage us) from moving because “we did not have a place to live” upon arrival in the country. What kind of a lunatic did this person take me and my husband for, to assume and proclaim that we would not have sorted out accommodations for our 4 children and ourselves in a foreign country? Thousands of dollars wasted and no reimbursement was the initial legacy of that venture. You all read that blog; I won’t rehash it.

But so you see what I mean when I say how it chafes the senses when people judge you by 1) their limited information and 2) the assumption that you would do things the way THEY would do them if they were in your situation?

TSSEEEWWWWW….

It was with great surprise that  found myself locked in the most unlikely conversation with a relative whom I will not identify out of respect. She called because someone else in the family had read my blog about adoption and was alarmed, to say the least.

“So what makes you want to adopt?” she asked in measured tones.

I told her that I have always wanted to adopt (ever since I was a child myself), that my father insisted I have my own kids before I care for someone else’s, that I felt I had a social duty to a young black boy as they are often left to age out of the system never having the benefit of a family and that my husband wants to adopt as well. Besides, Stone could do with a brother.

“Well, adoption is a big responsibility. How are you going to adopt living where you do?” she pressed.

I laughed and replied that this was not something we would be pursuing tomorrow. We just don’t have the room for it. No adoption agency worth their salt would let us adopt a child in our current situation.

“Maybe in about 4-5 years when we’re resituated,” I mused.

“So you’re going to adopt a child and then move to South Africa?” she continued. “That’s a huge financial burden.”

“Maybe we’ll adopt from South Africa, who knows?” But where was all this coming from? I was suddenly suspicious. “Why do you ask?”

Her tone turned somewhat condescending; that timbre that an adult takes when (s)he is explaining to a child that too much candy will result in a belly ache. “I just want to make sure you are not taking away from your OWN children and their future before you take on somebody else’s kid. You have to think of your OWN children and their college education…how will you pay for it if you spend all this money on an adoption?”

How indeed? I wanted to ask her how she managed to pay for her kids’ college education, but then I remember that she DIDN’T: her kids were in the same boat me and millions of Americans are in, i.e. saddled with nearly two decades of student loan debt!

I cut her off. She was talking nonsense, as far as I was concerned. “Okay,” I countered. “What if I got pregnant today? What if I suddenly ended up with 5 kids because Marshall and I conceived again? Would that take from my other kids’ futures?”

“Yes…I guess…but that would be YOUR child.”

“If I adopt, that’s still going to be my child!”

My voice must’ve taken on a quality that betrayed my irritation and disgust, because she suddenly turned defensive. There was no denying that I was utterly disgusted.

The conclusion of the conversation was that she and the rest of the family would support us and welcome our child as “one of their own”. How kind of her, especially since, as I pointed out, one of our most successful cousins –who just passed the bar – happens to be adopted and a number of our “biological cousins” are doing well to figure out where to put the toilet paper after they’ve wiped their backsides. What did she have to say about that?

“Oh don’t get me wrong! I’m not against adoption…it’s just good to look at if from all angles.”

Uh huh.

We discussed a few other pleasantries before hanging up the phone, but the fires had been lit. Ohhhh! There was just so much I wanted to say and couldn’t because of my damn African upbringing that demands I treat my elders with respect!

This particular relative, like 99.9% of my relatives, are liberal. She supports abortion, mainly on the grounds that it is more “humane” to abort a child than to bring one into the world that nobody wants. Well guess what? I AND MY HUSBAND want that child, and we are working diligently to provide a good home for him when the time is right and God says “yes”. We are not the only two people in the world who want to adopt, so spare me the false sanctimonious BS about the kindness of killing a baby in utero because “nobody will want him/her.”

Secondly, Black folk are constantly deriding White people for coming in and trying to “save us”. Well you know what, niggros? If ya tried to save yourselves, wouldn’t nobody feel de need to come in and rescue your community! Here my husband and I are, just thinking about giving a child what we hope would be a good or better life, and you want to discourage that? Why? Because you think it’s taking food out of my biological kids’ mouths? Do you know how much food goes to waste in American refrigerators and pantries every day? In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. Think about your own fridge. How much food are you going to throw out this week?

Ah ah. And as for college, what then is she saying about my kids? What if all four of my kids gets a scholarship? What if my adopted son is gifted and gets a scholarship? What if they 5 of them form a music band and he is the missing piece of talent they needed for success? Why are you putting limitations on my kids’ potential based on what you see NOW??? What is this fucking lack mentality that plagues that Black community at large??!?!?

And that’s the crux of the matter of it for me: this insistence that Black folk of previous generations have that there is not enough. They are SO afraid that if you give to others, you’re not going to have enough for yourself. And then sit up there in church humming hymns in fancy hats as if God didn’t say it is more blessed to give than to receive and that unless a seed goes into the ground and die, it cannot bear fruit. That’s agriculture 101. You can eat your tomato and its seeds, or you can separate the flesh and produce an orchard. Sure, you can take care of YOUR family, but impact are you having your communities?

We had another cousin who had the audacity to question our work in South Africa. He told my husband that the work we were doing was “only a drop in the bucket” and that our resources would be “better spent” if we helped inner city kids in Springfield. He said this while he stood under the shadow of his 42” flat screen TV and the numerous trophies his daughters had won for their extracurricular activities. How Marshall didn’t throw the same missive that his money would have been “better spent” doing the same for inner city kids instead of diverting those funds to his own children as he saw fit is beyond me. Sure, our work may be a drop in the bucket, but combined with the hundreds of other drops working in tandem with ours, it getting full rather quickly!

Where’s your drop going? Do you have one to give, or are you stuck in the typical middle class Black American debt bracket borne from buying a house and car you can’t afford to impress people who don’t really give a crap? You’re life has no impact on the world other than making Cadillac and Wells Fargo rich!

MISS. ME. WITH. THAT!!!

What people don’t seem to get is that if we want to adopt, it’s OUR choice. We live by simple means so that we can give our kids opportunities. Yes, we live in a two bedroom house, but our mortgage is less than most people pay in rent for an apartment, our cars were paid for in cash, we have no credit card debt, and my kids have been to three countries abroad while most children in our extended family are doing well if they get out of the state before they turn 18.

I am SO sick of this mediocrity mentality that plagues my extended family, my community, and my race at large. We’re SO afraid to give to somebody else, to bless somebody else, to dream bigger than what our experience informs us of.

You know what would have been more meaningful to me? If my relative had called and said

“Hey! I heard you were planning to adopt. I know that’s a huge financial burden. The family and I have gotten together and would like to support you guys by scouting out affordable real estate in your area/would like to contribute towards legal fees/help you guys in any way we can. I think it’s great you’re thinking of someone else beyond your immediate circle.”

But to call me because you think my kids are going to miss out on a meal or an education? Man…miss me with that. I didn’t graduate Magna Cum Laude for nothing.

 

My Interview with Noella Wiyaala

Hey MOM Squad!

Guess who has a new best buddy? Go and get yourself a cookie if you said “You”! And that’s “you” as in me, not YOU.

Wiyaala, my latest music crush, granted me an interview this morning, and it was absolutely brilliant. The sound was garbage, but the content is amazing. I think you can hear her portion if you watch it with earphones in, and I hope that you will. Wiyaala is so raw, real and uninhibited in her responses. She gives a lot, but leaves you wanting more!

Her artistic journey has not been an easy one. She talks about how her mother has ALWAYS encouraged her in her art, even when her father was less so. This is a huge testimony considering her conservative background, hailing from Upper West. She talked about how she grew up poor with no vocal training or perming arts training. All that she has achieved is from unharnessed talent.

When we spoke about her background and how supportive her mother has been, she broke into tears, which alarmed me, because I started crying too. Even though there’s poverty and then there’s poverty (I’ve never had to fetch water from a borehole or a river), I could identify with her struggle having been born of meager means myself. It feels overwhelming to finally see the fruit of all that hard work, especially after people have spent so much energy taking a dump on your dreams!

Wiyaala is  hungry for success and has been blessed with the right advocates at the right time. She talked about how so many people in the music industry passed her up, but her current manager believed in her and recognized her talent. It’s proof that you don’t need everyone in your corner: you just need the RIGHT people in your corner.

We will redo the interview and hopefully resolve our technical issues, but since this was my first MOM interview with a real star, I felt it was important to archive it.When do things ever go smoothly for the MOM Squad anyway? (Answer: never)

Y’all have a great Sunday, ya hear? :)

Updated 5/29 with our second interview.

 

When is it a Woman’s Turn?

I just got one of those calls that set my britches on fire. You know the ones that have you seeing red and looking at your own partner/spouse with a side eye, daring him or her to “try that mess if they want to”? Yeah. That call.

I have a brilliant acquaintance who has a degree in engineering. She and her partner have been together for almost four years and have a child together. I care about both of them deeply, but he became my friend because she was my friend first. He’s a nice guy: hard working and dedicated, but not very ambitious. He is comfortable in his job and has no designs to move up, move out or move on in order to earn more. She on the other hand has her life and its trajectory planned out for the next six years; but now the unplanned has happened.

Because she has poured so much into her work and performed her duties with such excellence, the VP of her organization has singled her out to take on a position he’s creating based on her skill set. She is thrilled, of course, but hesitant to take the offer because it requires a move to a small town. She knows that her partner is comfortable where they are and would not want to move. I’ve seen this scenario too many times. Heck, I even lived through it myself! The man is comfortable where he is, and the woman is supposed to kowtow and abandon her ambitions for his benefit.

I lived with resentment for this very reason for almost three years, which is the only reason I gave her this tidbit of advice when she asked me thoughts.

“Don’t be like me o! If you get a chance, take!” The words could hardly leave my mouth fast enough. “There are so many women who have left America – and their husbands – to return to work in Ghana and make a life. It’s not like you’re leaving the country. If he wants to follow you, he can. If not, he can just get an apartment as you suggested. Why should you suffer and lose out on an opportunity just because he’s not comfortable with it?”

Ladder to successWhy indeed? There has been a long standing tradition in just about every culture that expects women to drop everything – to delay their hopes, dreams and ambitions until a man figures out what he wants to do with himself. It is rare that a man has the gall, compassion, fortitude or whatever you want to call it to put his woman’s professional needs above his own…even when she’s the major breadwinner in the family (as it in this case). It’s rare, but it’s not unfathomable or impossible, which is why I don’t understand this dude’s deal! Two women who have trumpeted the unwavering support they have had from their husbands are Ruby Buah, creator of KUA and Tosinger. Can you imagine your wardrobe without a KUA bag, or your playlist without Tosinger’s happy-go-lucky melodies? I mean COME ON!

Ooooh, I’m so furious! Every day I look around me and I see women who have missed out on fabulous opportunities because of the sacrifices they are expected to make for children, family, spouses and mates. It sickens me. What’s even more stomach turning is the amount of vitriol that women who chose to do the very opposite are subjected to. I have a small number of friends and acquaintances who took the brave step to initiate divorce when their mates had become dead weight, and for that they were rewarded with ridicule and scorn (never to their faces, of course). I say bravo to them! A woman’s burdens in this life are far too heavy already to compensate for the failings of a man or his tender feelings on the matter.

TSEEWWWWW…

There is an adage that says “Well behaved women rarely make history”. Let’s do a test. Grab a pen and paper and write down the names five prominent women. Go!

What were their attributes? Would you consider them daring and determined? What kind of obstacles did they face? Did they overcome them by playing meek and subservient, or did they attack and conquer them?

It’s already too late for me, but I’ll be damned if I let another woman live a life of mediocrity without putting my two pesewas inside her palaver. I’m so TIRED of seeing women walking down their individual boulevards of broken dreams, grinning and bearing it because this is what life for a “good woman” is “supposed” to look like.  My dear friend, if you’re reading this: Go for yours. The path to greatness is trodden by few. Don’t let ANYONE stop you from achieving and obtaining what is specially carved out for you!

 

Do you agree women are expected to make sacrifices for the benefit of others? Is it selfish for a woman to consider herself before her family/mate? What would you advise my friend to do in this instance? Better still, what advice would you have for her man? Discuss! ↓

Introducing: Noella Wiyaala. You May Thank Me Now!

The year was 1988. It was a hot day. I know this because we weren’t in the rainy season, and all days outside of the rainy season in Ghana have one temperature: hot.

There we stood; a ragtag mix of children with short-cropped hair, brown and beige uniforms and shoes shined with that wonderful black polish my father kept in his room and that I sniffed in secret pleasure when he was away. He had angrily forbid me from doing this when he walked in on me with my nose buried in the tin. I didn’t understand his ire then, but I do now. How was I to know I was getting high? If he had just told me I was taking myself down the path of becoming a crack head, perhaps I would have stopped. Or perhaps not. That polish DID cause such a calming rush within me…

What was I talking about? Oh yes. The choir.

Perhaps this was only something that was done in my Christ-centered primary school, but there was a fair amount of fakery that took place within its walls. For ages we had a “basketball court” with neither balls nor nets, a “soccer patch” with no grass or goals, and now we had a “school choir” with no real singers. There was an important visitor coming from abroad who was touring our facility, and we were tasked with entertaining them.

I forget the name of my teacher at that time, but by day he was our Technical Drawing teacher and – apparently – a chorus conductor by night. I remember when he selected me to be a part of the small “choir” he’d cobbled together.

“But, sir,” I protested, “I can’t sing.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said sternly. He then told me I would sing soprano.

Anyone who’s ever heard my speaking voice knows how absurd this notion is. I have always had a deep voice, and it’s only gotten deeper in adulthood. I wanted to sing tenor, but he forbade it. He instructed me and all the other girls (for ALL girls are sopranos in Ghana’s primary school system) to sing like this. “This” was a horrid imitation of the mewing of a sack full of dying kittens. He demonstrated how he expected us to belt out the words to the hymns approved by our school’s Director. Mr. Technical Drawing waved his pencil (he didn’t have a baton) and sang our phrase with the pitch of a man having the juice squeezed from his balls.

It was awful, but come presentation day, the honored guest clapped her hands in delight and it all seemed worth it.

This is the sort of training female singers in Ghana receive. As a result, we have a bunch of “artistes” who do not sing within their natural range and produce really awful music. We pretend we like it, they keep performing, and society suffers. becca-jesusWith the exception of Becca, Efya and Sena Dagadu, I can’t conceive of a single Ghanaian female artist whom I’d pay money to see, let alone buy an album from. That’s why I’m so blood excited to have been introduced to Noella Wiyaala.

 

 

Just look at her. Isn’t she stunning?

Noella-Wiyaala-3

Her voice, her look, her vibe…it’s all so very refreshing. Everything about her is a departure from the cookie-cutter commercial mold that many Ghanaian women in the music industry try to force themselves into. Just like an alto trying to sing soprano, it just doesn’t work.

I only found out about Wiyaala a week ago via Anita Erskine’s Facebook page. Her story is truly intriguing, and I mean that in every 80’s feel good rise-to-the-top-from-nothing reference possible. She comes from the Upper West region of Ghana, a part of the country which is renowned for its natural splendor, but still mired in abject poverty and social amenities circa 1772.

As legend has it, she asked her mother to allow her to sing in front of a local bar in Tamale where she did so well that a crowd began to gather and give her mother money. Add a trip to the big city, a promoter, a little sprinkle of the internet and the rest is history! If this doesn’t have the makings of a Crush Groove: GH edition, I don’t know what does.

Wiyaala’s latest hit single is an anthem for the Black Stars in commemoration for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. It has all the trappings of the success Shakira enjoyed with Waka Waka: This is Africa. Everything about Wiyaala’s performance of Go Go Black Stars…Goal! is right for the moment. Her look is modern and unique. The track has that thumping quality requisite for an anthem. And that voice! Good heavens.

Have you watched the video? Great. You may thank me now. J

So, What do you think of Wiyaala? Have any stars or causes risen to fame in association with football? (Or soccer for us Yanks) For example, I just learned about the #ProtectTheGoal Campaign that was trending on Twitter recently. It’s a cause to fight HIV/AIDS. Go ahead: Share and Discuss! ↓

Is Marriage The Silver Bullet to Ending Poverty?

There has been an interesting discussion brewing in social media about the benefits of marriage as they relate to “ending poverty”. It’s no mistake that this discussion is taking place now. We’re in an election year and politicians are pandering to their respective bases. Everyone, Democrat or Republican, wants to be seen as serious on the issue of poverty reduction, but as is to be expected, they cannot seem to agree on how to handle it. What’s even more frightening is that they cannot be seen as agreeing on how to tackle the issue. There’s a dirty word in Washington called “bipartisan”, and few politicians want to be called the “b” word.

The Heritage Foundation has termed marriage as “America’s #1 Weapon Against Childhood Poverty”, and for good reason. The statistics speak for themselves. Children who live in two parent households are less like to have behavioral problems and perform better in school. One in eight children with two married parents lives below the poverty line compared to the poverty of 65% of children residing in female-headed households. When you have a better foundation to launch from, it gives one the opportunity to build generational wealth. It takes three generations to build wealth: one to generate an idea, the second to perfect its method, and the third to propagate it.

The converse is true as well. A poverty mentality is generational.

Photo courtesy of Black Girls Code

Photo courtesy of Black Girls Code

As it relates to proliferation of childhood poverty, many have argued that this has more to do with the feminization of poverty than it has to do with the benefits of marriage. Women today make 72 cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same job. It is by no mistake that web designers and mechanics out earn daycare workers and teachers, despite the fact that neither job is more taxing than the other. Even in a society as egalitarian as ours (relatively speaking), there has long been a push to bar or discourage women from certain kinds of work or study – including math, science and mechanics – because it’s not considered suitable to their gender. It is only in recent years that there has been a push for STEM programs targeting young girls, especially African American girls, which I find particularly pleasing. No one has been more vilified and demonized for her poverty than the young, single Black mother.

It is well documented that poverty in the Black community was engineered by the American government. At its advent, it was stipulated that in order to get welfare benefits and social assistance, a poor mother had to be single with no male above the age of 18 (i.e. of working age) living in the home. Between 1960 and 1985 when the welfare culture exploded, under/unemployed Black males were driven from their homes to ensure the survival of their children. As a result, Black mothers took on the reluctant role of both mother and father and an entire welfare culture was created. It’s a daunting and humiliating experience. When I found myself pregnant and unwed with my first child, my first foray into the sordid world of welfare was to the WIC office on Roswell Rd in Sandy Springs. It’s as though every person hired in that office was screened for the ability to make a woman feel less than a failure, like she was born to be an intentional drain on society. I’ll never forget a blue and white sign that hung by the exit door that read “Get a job, so that your child will not be the next person on welfare”. I looked around at the young women: college students, retail and fast food workers, and para-professionals like myself, and wondered what they thought of it. For my part, I felt violently ill.

Isn’t it ironic that when a rural farmer applies for a government subsidy, he is not asked to put his wife out of the home to obtain it? Or when the CEOs of the banking and automobile industry went with cap in hand to the government for a bail out, they were not required to break up their families? But the government has no problem separating the families of the poor and colored. Interesting.

And no, we can’t blame this on one party or another. Both Republicans AND Democrats are guilty of the demise of the Black family. They created our nation’s dreaded Welfare Queens and crowned them with food stamps and SNAP cards. I wonder if they are proud.

It’s not often that I get to agree with my hardcore feminist sisters, but in the instance of marriage failing to be the silver bullet to ending poverty, I do. Marriage alone doesn’t end poverty: equality, education and opportunity do. There are many cultures in developing nations where marriage is a priority – the priority in some cases – and their poverty levels are far more abysmal than those of the United States’. If marriage alone could cure poverty, then all my sisters in the Serengeti would be flushed with wealth. After all, they marry them off young and circumcised, don’t they?

The best thing a woman can do for her family is to educate herself, travel, learn new languages and earn an independent income for herself. That is how we will reduce poverty in this nation and the world over. That is how we will build generational wealth…or self-sufficiency at the least.

The truth is we can do our best to manage poverty, but it will never truly be eliminated. Jesus said so Himself.

 

Mark 14:7 “You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me.”

Don’t believe the hype. Get married if you want to, but unless you’re marrying Ben Bernanke or Oprah, don’t assume for one moment that it’s going to zap all your money woes.

The Making of a Mother

My job as a recruiter demands hours of sitting and staring, dreaming up searching strings and praying that they unearth the candidate(s) that I’m on the hunt for. Oftentimes, a bad string can introduce you to the most unlikely of resumes.

My co-worker Darrin knitted her eyebrows together and with concern, blurted out the title of a resume that showed up in her feed.

“Lactation consultant.”

“Yes. Also known as ‘Nipple Nazis’.”

Darrin threw her head back and laughed wildly. A buxom woman with auburn colored locs and a set of very pretty lips, it’s hard not to join her in laughter.

“Girl, I ain’t never heard that before. ‘Nipple Nazi’, you said? Whooo!”

I nodded and cackled wickedly. Lactation consultants are very passionate about their jobs, I added.

“They can’t wait to get in there and get their hands on your titties.”

“Girl. It’s like they’re waiting outside of the delivery room with their little nursing kit and powder scented gloves!”

“I remember when one of them told me that learning to nurse a child would probably be easier for me if I was in Africa…because I’d have my mother, all my aunts and sister around me to teach me how to do it.”

Shemmice, who sits to the left of me, rolled her eyes and denied that anyone would ever say something so stupid. I promised her that it was said, and that they day they invented a machine to retrieve and record memories I would prove it!

Shemmice’s build is similar to Darrin’s, though she is more conservative in her dress. Instead of a loud, gregarious laugh, she often employs a soft chuckle to show her amusement. She speaks quietly as well, hardly ever raising her voice above an audible whisper.

“They can get pretty aggressive,” Shemmice conceded. “I remember one walked into my room and proceeded to unhook my gown without asking. I put my hand in her face like ‘this’.”

“You face palmed her?” I gasped as Shemmice demonstrated the action with wide-spread fingers.”

“I sure did,” she said quietly. “Didn’t nobody tell her to grab ahold of my titties. You touch me, Imma touch you back.”

Still waters do run deep indeed.

In that moment, something magical happened between the three of us. We were bonded and transported back to a delivery room and date that was most impacting for us. Darrin has one child. Shemmice has three. I have four. All three of us had delivered our children via c-section (which if you’re a Black woman in America is not by coincidence, but that’s a discussion for another day).

“Do you remember the first time you had to stand up after you C?” Darrin asked. She was about to launch into a missive about the pain that comes after the drugs have worn off when I cut her off.

“NO. Let’s talk about that first DUMP you have to take after you C!” I hissed.

We both spread our legs and gripped our cubicle walls.

“I may not have given birth vaginally, but I sure did have a baby out my ass!” Darrin roared. Shemmice joined her in contained laughter while I snorted.

One of these dumps is not like the other...

One of these dumps is not like the other…

“I took a picture of my deuce,” I revealed. When I was asked why, I was shocked. “I had never seen anything like it! It was massive.”

Darrin wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and leaned back in her chair, recounting how her daughter was born.

“I remember I was having contractions, but they weren’t nothing. I was so ready. The nurse came in the room and asked me how I was doing. I told her everything was fine! ‘But you’re having contractions’, she said. I told her yeah, I could feel a little something, but it was like a tickle. It wasn’t so bad. She gave me one of those ‘I hate you’ looks, you know?

Anyway, I ended up having to have a c-section because the baby’s heart rate had dipped down into the 60s. It was supposed to be 120 and above. They rushed me to the surgery room and took her. All I felt was this yanking and tugging…had my titties beating me in my face!”

Shemmice and I nodded knowingly.

“They did the same thing to me,” I said pensively. “Lying on that table is brutal with all the tugging, sucking and pulling.”

“They sewed me up and sealed my wound with glue,” Darrin added. “My doctor doesn’t believe in staples.”

“Same for me,” Shemmice said. “My line is a thin sliver.”

“I had staples,” I added mournfully. “They hurt like hell when they took ‘em out. I have a scar as thick as my pinky finger.”

Darrin and Shemmice were aghast. Using staples was absolutely medieval, as far as they were concerned. Of course, our conversation turned to needles – the epidural, to be precise.

All but one of my epidurals sucked. Darrin’s was a breeze. Shemmice didn’t have time to get an epidural for one of her deliveries.

“What?” Shemmice and I asked in unison. Unbidden, she proceeded to explain.

“I was feeling so sick that day. I asked my man to take me to the hospital and he did. Then I started feeling even worse when I felt like my water had broken. I asked him to take a look and he went almost white when he started yelling for the nurse to come it. I thought my water had broke, but I was hemorrhaging.

The doctor came in with a stack of forms and was yelling at my man ‘It’s him or her. You gotta decide now, now, now!’ They didn’t ask me about procedures or nothing. He signed the paper and they rolled me into a ball. They put four needles down my spine and took me into surgery. Can you imagine that? Six months pregnant and my forehead was touching my knees. I’ve been scared of epidurals ever since!”

I looked at Shemmice quizzically. She had 3 girls. I had never heard her mention a son. I broached my next question gingerly, afraid to hear the answer that I feared I already knew the reply to.

“Did the baby live?”

Shemmice nodded and looked at me with a smile tinged with regret.

“He did. For 17 hours.”

We each grew quite, reflecting on our private thoughts for a good while before returning to the world of Boolean searches and resume formats.

There is a saying that I read a while ago that says “The moment a baby is born, so is a mother.” For some women, connecting with their child begins even earlier, some as quickly as the moment they see a (+) on a home pregnancy test! Some women, by the design of biology or socio-political circumstance will never know the joy and heartache that comes with conceiving and bearing- and yes- possibly losing a child; but as my First Lady says “You don’t have to carry a child under your heart to carry one in your heart”.

Of course, my mind is always turned towards my sisters in Nigeria who will no doubt receive an outpouring of sympathy on this Mother’s Day as they continue to come to terms with reality that their daughters have still not been returned to them. I also mourn with the others who had their sons slaughtered in their sleep in their dormitories when all they wanted was an education and to make their mothers proud.

So today, I join the millions of other people saluting their mothers as I say “Happy Mother’s Day” to you all. They were brought to you from your womb or brought to you in the adoption office, whether they’ve been yours for 30-some years or for a mere 17 hours, they are and will forever be yours.

God bless you mothers!

 

Ghana: What’s the Use of #BringBackOurGirls When We Mistreat Our Women?

Someone copied me on an article written by Ghanaian President John Mahama which was posted on the online version of Ebony magazine. The title is bold, empathetic and pleading:

     Slaughtered Boys, Missing Girls: Who Stands Up for African Children?

I read the article without knowing who the author was. My heart swelled with pride. “The person GETS it!” I thought. Then I scrolled down to the bottom and was immediately stunned by the article’s creator. Ah, ah? John Mahama? How?!

My admiration was immediately transformed into irritation.

I am a mother. I am a civilian. I am politically agnostic, which means unlike my friends who have die-hard political affiliations, I find myself at greater liberty to judge my leadership by their actions, rather than their party colors and slogans. That said, I remain woefully under impressed by John Mahama and his performance as president, no matter how good he looks and smells. (And the brother is SO good looking. Anyway…)

As far as we know, it took John Mahama – who is now the head of ECOWAS – just as long to come out with a statement of solidarity as it took President Jonathan to do the same on the issue of the captured girls from Chibok. That was around three weeks. To his credit, Mr. Mahama seems to be on a serious media blitz to at least appear as though he’s engaged and sympathetic to the plight of not just these students who were snatched from their beds as they slept, but for all African children everywhere.

John Mahama challenges the global apathy towards the plight of African children is the tagline in the Ebony article. How ironic, when he and his party ran on promises built on the backs of children in 2012…promises of free school uniforms (rather than the free education his NPP opponent proposed) that have largely yet to be delivered! Tell me, who cares about African children indeed?

It’s not difficult to understand the molasses-in-January pace that West African governments have taken in rescuing these girls. I mentioned in previous posts that African girls and women – particularly of certain classes – are lowest on the social totem pole. And as egalitarian as Ghanaian society believes and perceives itself to be, we still exhibit behavior that is completely abhorrent in the area of women and children’s rights.

Have you ever been to Cape Coast Castle? It’s a sobering experience. The male dungeons are located deep underground, still dank with the stench of human excrement and fear. The women’s cells however are located above, one of which is located just beneath the governor’s bed chambers. Just outside the women’s cells is a courtyard with 3-4 cannon balls cemented into the stone floor. Guides will tell you how the most “undisciplined” slave women were chained to these balls and made to sit/stand in the sun for hours for their unruly behavior. Twenty minutes in the Ghanaian sun is enough to douse the fire in one’s soul, let alone hours.

It’s ironic therefore, that John Mahama came out with this article raging against global apathy for Africa’s children when Ghanaian women were physically abused for his sake just days before. I read with horror and disgust how a group of nursing students in the Mampong Midwifery and Health Assistants School were punished for carrying placards detailing their grievances during the president’s visit to the locale. The nurses – who have not received their contractual allowances – demonstrated peacefully with the goal of bringing Mr. Mahama’s attention to the fact that they have not been paid for their service. In retaliation, Mohammed Kwadwo Aboasu, MCE of Asante Mampong ordered these women (many of whom are wives and mothers) to kneel in sun for up to 45 minutes because “they had disgraced him and the school”. Then he seized their rice cookers so that they couldn’t prepare their own food, subjecting them to greater out of pocket costs.

Humph.

Are people actually shocked at the behavior of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau when those who claim to operate under the banner of lawfulness and civility treat women in this way? When it becomes a crime to demand wages you were promised? No wonder these militants feel so brazen in their attacks against women and girls when their so-called ‘betters’ behave no differently! A bully is a bully whether he’s armed with a gun or a microphone. At the end of the day, Mohammed Aboasu and Abubakar Shekau are slaves to their ego and soley concerned with exerting their will. The same applies to any man who would abuse power in this way.

So please Mr. President and all those who would compel me to be impressed with his fancy words on international media, let’s see to our own culture and assess our own form of terrorism before we go a-scolding others. Tell your cabinet, local leaders and the nation to treat all us women with respect. Show us by example that you value the lives of women, and not just with words. Or are we to continue to believe that the militants are right, and that a woman can be punished simply for seeking her education and all that goes in tandem with it?

Nursing-Trainees