The Beauty of the Brothel

On the rare occasions that my sister and I find ourselves in dire economic straits, we typically joke about finding a pole and working it to make some quick money.

“I can be flexible when I need to be.”

“I can make this jelly roll.”

“I bet you dudes would pay us NOT to dance anymore.”

Then we erupt into a fit of cackles and figure out alternatives to solve our fiscal problems. My sister has a Masters in Physics. I’m a decent writer. Between the pair of us we can tutor or edit an article for pay, and none of that pathetic pole work becomes necessary. There are many women who are not so fortunate. Either by design or circumstances of birth, women all over the world are compelled to perform sex or sexually suggestive acts to ensure their survival or for the survival of their families. With a few exceptions, they are universally scorned for it by their communities.

The stain of that scorn and ridicule is often so terrible that many women who have never engaged in sex work find themselves paralyzed by the thought of being associated with it. Calling a woman who strives for any measure of respect in her sphere of influence a whore, prostitute, ashawo or any variation of the term is a very powerful silencing tool, primarily used by men to attack women who dare to buck the status quo. Here is are examples of two such attacks against Yvonne Nelson and Lydia Forson during the #DumsorMustStop campaigns.

NDC lapdog and blogger, Dela Coffie wrote an open letter to Lydia Forson in response to her comments about President Mahama’s performance in which he concluded:

 “I am not sure if this your frequent throwing of tantrums is a menopausal irritability or a midlife issue. Whatever it is, I am sure President Mahama is ready to take an advise on morality but certainly not from a brothel.”

The bigger question for men like Dela Coffie is how they would know what is in the mind of brothel dwellers unless they frequent them and are therefore well acquainted with ho’ philosophy?

Yvonne Nelson also received a call from a man who attempted anonymity (he was later found out) when he called her on the phone to verbally abuse her. Listen to how he possessed he sounds as he calls her ashawo (prostitute) repeatedly.

All this because she wants to hold the presidency to the promises he gave during his election campaign.

There are numerous instances of men insinuating that a woman has done sex work and is therefore somehow less human. Watch as two of Ghana’s most popular boxers, Ayitey Powers and Bukom Banku slander Afia Schwarzenegger in this video.

mugatuIt’s hard to make out if you are not familiar with the accent, but Ayitey Powers (the one dressed as the Mugatu from ‘Zoolander’) declares that even if Afia was the last woman on Earth, he’d never sleep with her. Ewww. The impudence of the man… to assume that any woman should desire to sleep with him because he feels entitled? Kai!

No one wants their work or existence debased by the idea that they may have had to “reduce” themselves by having sex for pay, especially in societies as conservative and patriarchal as Ghana and the American South. And yet many of our most beloved and influential members of the global community have had to do just that to get a foothold on the pedestals we’ve placed them on. Many of the world’s most talented people have either had to work in a brothel or were born in one.

To support her child, Maya Angelou took a variety of jobs including dancing in night clubs, cooking at a cafe, removing paint at a dent and body shop, and serving as madam and sometime prostitute at a San Diego brothel. She was later ousted by the Army because of her connections with the Communist party and smoked weed to dull the pain of her rejection. She would go on to attempt to secure more “respectable work”, but when jobs were few and far between, she engaged in illegal activity including selling stolen clothes for a drug junkie and work as an exotic dancer.

Maya-Angelou-Dancer

Richard Pryor, the comedian whose style influenced the work of many of the world’s greatest, was born in a brothel. It was owned by his grandmother and his mother worked in her establishment. Pryor’s storytelling ability was developed based on keen observations of men who came in and out of the brothel and pool hall he frequented and who used vulgarity like poetry devices. Had it not been for those colorful characters in his life, there would be no Pryor…the anti-Cosby.

 

** FILE ** Comedian-actor Richard Pryor is shown as he performs in 1977. Pryor, the caustic yet perceptive actor-comedian who lived dangerously close to the edge both on stage and off, has died, his ex-wife said Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005. He was 65. Pryor died of a heart attack at his home in the San Fernando Valley sometime late Friday or early Saturday, Flyn Pryor said. (AP Photo, File)

 

On the way to Larteh by way of the Dodowa Road, there is a “spot” known as Tamara’s. I always wanted to stop there for a drink, but my dad and my uncles forbade it. Their justification was that Tamara got the money to build her establishment by doing “sexy dancing” in the ’70s. Why punish the woman for that? She used the money to build a business, instead of pissing it away on booze and babes like the average politician does! (This is a plug for Tamara’s, if you ever find yourself in the area.)

The urge to slut shame women based on her need/desire/obligation to do sex work is not a new one. It even goes back to Biblical days when Jesus was ridiculed for allowing a harlot to wash his feet. But guess who helped Joshua conquer Jericho? Rahab. Rahab the harlot did that when she let down her rope to help his forces to climb into the city. Not a pastor or an archbishop…a whore was instrumental in executing God’s plan.

In the melodrama Devdas, the main character for whom the film is named says this to the courtesan Chandramukhi, who finds herself smitten with him on sight.

“You are a woman, Chandramukhi. Realize who you are. Mother, sister, wife, friend. When a woman is none of these things, she is a whore.”

devdas-wallpaper

And yet it was that same ‘whore’ who pulled Devdas from the gutter and the same one whose halls he came crawling to when he needed reprieve from his pain from a broken heart!

The list of celebrities and public figures who have done sex work before their rise to the top is virtually endless. Jenny McCarthy, Joan Crawford, Pam Anderson…even Sylvester Stallone (acted in porn) and Al Pacino (traded sex for room and board while a struggling actor) have had to use it to survive.

Granted, there is an acute difference in the way we view Black bodies – particularly in Africa – and those we ascribe whiteness when it comes to having done sex work. We could look at the differences in the rewards and revulsion Kim Kardashian and Montana Fishburne have endured for that. That’s a political discussion for another day. But the next time someone calls a woman a whore, or denounces your ideas as having coming from a brothel, thank them! From where I sit, prostitutes are the bravest, most talented and selfless women (and men) that we could ever hope to commune with.

 

Raffia Reinvents Ancient Elegance

“I have an anecdote about one of the reasons our fabric means so much to me. As I mentioned, my father was in the Foreign Service. It is a rule that Ghanaian diplomats must wear Ghanaian national attire whenever the Embassy hosts an Independence Day party. In the early 1980’s, my family lived in Copenhagen. Our first 6th March there, my father wore Kente cloth slung across one shoulder in the Akan style. He was cold and uncomfortable the entire time. He never wore Kente again. The following year, he wore a thick batakari smock outfit complete with pantaloons and a cap. It was a tiny rebellion but to him, it made sense. It was warm, he felt comfortable and it was still a handwoven outfit – just not from Bonwire.” – Madonna Kendona-Sowah.

“***

Mark Twain once said that “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” I have always loved this quote. I affirms my long-held belief that if you ever want to know anything about the attitudes that a person holds about him/herself or how they view the world, one has only to take a quick glance at their clothing. I can tell a lot about a person simply by looking at their shoes, but that’s a conversation for another day. Today, we are talking about Raffia – an exciting a relatively new company that is revolutionizing Ghanaian fashion with an old classic.

Madonna Kendona-Sowah founded the company in 2013 after she looked around and realized that there was an element missing from Ghana’s mainstream fashion industry: there were no Northern textiles featured in any of the country’s shows and glossy magazines. There certainly weren’t any being shown on the international glossies either. That’s when Kendona-Sowah seized the opportunity to change this.

Madonna Kendona-Sowah

Madonna Kendona-Sowah

I’m personally glad she did, because I have to be honest: fashion in Ghana has become quite dull. We’ve seem most of the stuff on the runway in one form or another for decades now. Vlisco wax print is ubiquitous, kente even more so. Every collection features a backless dress, a mullet skirt or an asymmetric frock done in bold (imported) print or non-indigenous textiles embellished or fringed with kente. . It’s all very pretty, but it’s been done. To quote Edna Mode from The Incredibles, “I never look back dahhhling! Fashion only looks forward!”

To most Ghanaians, the North remains a mystery. Those of us who were born and live(d) in the capital were discouraged from including the Northern region in our travels for exploration. We were told “It’s too far” or “There is nothing to see in the North anyway”, indicating that there is nothing of value that comes from the North. A quick investigation into some of Ghana’s most beloved delicacies shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Southerners love Hausa koko and waakye, both imports to the coast from the North. Chinchinga (khebab), shea butter, kola nuts and a host of other gems that enhance Ghanaian life that we have yet to fully appreciate all come from the region. It only makes sense that the next big thing in fashion should come from one of its children.

 

Please talk about yourself for a bit. What is your Ghanaian heritage?

 My parents are both from Navrongo in the Upper East Region. I was born in Accra but raised in Europe and West Africa because my father was in the Foreign Service. Prior to launching Raffia, my experience of the North was sporadic visits to see my grandparents but I have always had a very strong sense of belonging to the North. I’m very proud of my heritage.

You’ve chosen to use raffia as the medium for your designs. Ghana is usually associated with kente and/or VLISCO wax prints exclusively. When did you realize there was a void in fashion?

I’d like to make a quick clarification before I answer this: the fabric is actually called “Gonja cloth” because of its origins in Daboya, in the heart of Gonjaland in the Northern Region. I chose the name “Raffia” as a metaphor for how something that is seemingly unremarkable in its raw state (an analogy for Ghanaians’ perceptions of Northern Ghana) can be used to make something beautiful.

Back to your question: I wore Gonja cloth dresses to my Master’s graduation ceremonies in 2010. My Ghanaian friends and relatives saw the pictures on Facebook and were so surprised that the fabric could be made into something other than “kaba and slit”. I was in the US then so it didn’t hit me until I moved home the following year and saw that while the smock had been popularized, most designers were working with wax prints. It wasn’t until 2013 that I saw this as an opportunity to do something different but meaningful with Gonja cloth.

Who or what inspires your fashion choices and design concepts?

The French designer Isabel Marant’s old professor of hers once told her to only design clothes she would wear herself. I think I tend to start from there.

For both collections, I focused on simple, elegant silhouettes. The Gonja cloth is of spectacularly high quality and I like to think it speaks for itself so I tried not to overwhelm the fabric with busy designs.

For the second collection I was inspired by the leading ladies of Hollywood’s Golden Age – I have always loved the clean lines of their clothes and their effortless sophistication.

raffia 2

The North is usually associated with poverty, neglected and lack of opportunities. However we’ve seen stellar personalities in business and entertainment (Wiyaala, Nuong Faalong, Sangu Delle, Blitz the Ambassador, etc) come from the area. Do you feel that there is a renaissance occurring in the North?

Absolutely. I think our parents’ generation worked hard to assimilate in the Southern urban areas because the South was where everything was. Our parents had it harder than us – they had strong accents, completely different values, even the foods they ate were different. Now we – their children – are realizing that we are the only ones who can bridge the gap by working to provide opportunities for people there, by encouraging other Ghanaians to visit and see what we’re about and by changing perceptions about the area.

What are your future plans for your company? Would you like to see raffia (the material) go as commercial as say wax print or batik? I think wax and batik are losing their excitement because they are used for everything from shoes, to hand bags to briefcases. Do you think raffia will become as ubiquitous? Would you be sorry if it did?

My priority now is to grow gradually and in the right way. We want to increase our customer base in Ghana and abroad so we’ll work on more trunk shows and getting more retailers. Another priority is to get a retail space in Accra.

No, I think the appeal of the Gonja cloth, like Kente, apart from its craftsmanship is its exclusivity. I don’t think Gonja cloth will become pervasive because it is expensive to make and difficult to work with. Kente is still very much a luxury fabric – even the advent of printed Kente didn’t change that. I’m confident that Gonja cloth won’t lose its value.

A skirt from the upcoming collection

A skirt from the upcoming collection

If you could dress ANYONE in your brand, who would it be and why?

I would dress Solange Knowles – she’s chic and edgy. Everything looks good on her- she throws things together that otherwise wouldn’t work and somehow pulls it off. She has a wonderful sense of style and I would love to see what she would do with one of our pieces.

 

Oh.

She didn’t want to say she wanted to dress me…but it’s okay! When you guys are drooling over my new, exotic threads this fall, you’ll know where I got them from. (You can thank  me now.) Learn more about Raffia, visit http://www.raffiagh.com or @raffiagh on twitter.

 

 

 

 

Development and Decay: The Blame Game Changes Nothing When the Flood Water Rise Again

There are a couple of things about Accra that the casual observer will note and that the average pupil is taught about the typography of Ghana’s capital city:

  1. Accra is situated in a coastal plain
  2. The city is 91 meters elevation above the sea level
  3. Accra – and other coastal villages and towns – are vulnerable to sea level rise brought on by climate change
  4. Accra sits in a watershed area

 

With rampant and disorganized urbanization on the rise, these and other factors make Accra and its environs the perfect candidates for flooding. The soil in the coastal plains is primarily made up of red clay. Loamy soil is found to the north in the temperate zones (Ashanti Region), while there is more sand and clay in in the arid North. Each of these zones requires a specialized network of specific materials to best suit soil and typography types. No one in Ghana’s government has seen to the sewage and drainage needs of the cities and towns that dot the country since Kwame Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966. Tema – the ONLY planned city in the entire nation – remains a testament to Osagyefo’s vision and penchant for foresight. Unlike Accra, Tema does not experience flooding when seasonal rains fall twice a year.

nkrumah overthrow

The reasons for Accra’s epic failure are numerous and manifold. Since 1966, the country once (and still) ruled from the capital was mired in a series of coup d’états and counter coups. For 30 years, one military dictator after another sought to fatten himself and his cronies on the fat of the land and the suffering of the people. Money meant for development and public works went straight into private Swiss bank accounts. Instead of focusing on planning for the future, Ghana’s leadership was fixated on “strong man” politics and showing opponents where the power lies. Meanwhile, the metropolis continued to grow, both in terms of population and private infrastructure, but there were never any funds dedicated to expanding the municipal utility grids, an epidemic the continues today. There are families in Haatso, Adenta and Kasoa who have never enjoyed a shower or washed a dish with water provided by the city. They rely on boreholes and/or water trucked in to fill PolyTanks on their premises. This is not how a modern city is meant to operate. These are the fruits of corruption.

On the eve of June 4th, 88 mm of rain fell on the capital city. Buildings not built to code collapsed. A Goil filling station leaking fuel exploded, killing 73 people on the spot. Some estimates say 100. All over the city, there were children – sometimes whole families – swept away in the flood. One trotro driver interviewed by CitiFM held back tears and fought for composure as he named 5 friends who died right in front of him. Before the waters had receded and before we had a chance to bury the dead, the blame game began.

Government leaders like, Mayor Oko Vanderpuije, were swift to point the finger at the citizenry, stating that it was those who built on waterways that were the cause of these floods. With the backing of the presidency, he has begun to tear down the homes and businesses of those who have found themselves the unlucky scapegoats of this draconian campaign. What the Mayor and others have failed to address and acknowledge is that in order for a person on business to build on a waterway or flood zone, they had to get city approval at some level. Whether that was under the table or with a certified document, land was sold by someone in authority. Rather than tearing down buildings, the Mayor and the President would do well to tear down the rot employed in their respective offices.

Citizens were quick to point the finger back, reciting a history of promises over the last 3 years that Accra would never flood again. Some went so far as to unearth newspaper clippings from 1988 citing the same flood events, followed by the same recycled promises.

Next, we pointed the finger at one another. We are the ones who drop litter on the ground. Non-biodegradable plastics wreak havoc on the environment, and when the casually discarded items choke our sewer system, they compound an already detrimental situation.

The fact is, there is plenty of blame to go around. Blaming the government and vice versa isn’t going to solve this problem, and if the citizens of Accra and other major cities do not take care, we will be singing this same song and sipping on the bitterness of our present tears in 6 months when the rain comes again.

We will not get a new citywide (or countrywide) underground sewer system by 2016. That’s an unfortunate but real fact. There are short term measures that we can take though. The first that MUST be tackled is the plastic that covers the beaches, roads and major gutters in the metropolis and outlying areas. Ghana must also refuse to become a dumping ground for the world’s e-waste. Computer hulls, motherboards, towers and wires are not biodegradable. They are not just poisoning the soil, they are poisoning our people and changing the nature of the soil, making it more water retentive. Those found funneling e-waste into the country must be held to account.

We have to ban plastic. Look to Rwanda for proof that the Ghanaian CAN (and must) do away with this scourge. Once it is banned, we can then focus on re-purposing the plastic that litters our shores and wetlands. It can be used as building material roads and houses and even clothing/accessories. Many of the Ghanaian expatriates who fled Ghana during the great Brain Drain era in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s ( during the coup and democratic reformation eras) would be happy to lend their scientific expertise, if only they felt welcomed to do so. There is no need to go to Germany for “brain work” – to quote General Mosquito – when we have loads of smart and knowledgeable Ghanaians (at home and abroad) who are itching to do their part to help the country be great again.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, we MUST have scheduled and reliable rubbish collection provided by both public and private sanitation companies. Because let’s face it: we can talk about educating the masses against littering and calling on the government to desilt waterways and gutters: but unless there are stop gap measures on the front end to ensure that plastic and other rubbish is disposed of responsibly by ALL, we are just kidding ourselves and chasing our tails.

cgw3amlyyt_gutter

The greatest irony of the flood is that it exposed all of the corruption Ghanaians in the middle and lower income classes have been agitating against for the past year or more. Officials rarely take notice of demonstrations unless there is property damage, violent crime or loss of life. Protestors did not have to lift a finger to destroy property. Flood, fire and wind obliterated the gas station of the unscrupulous owner who did not have his building inspected for leaks and up to code. It is heartbreaking that so many people died as a result of the type of negligence that is rife in every system in the country. Some may recall when the multistory Melcom shopping center collapsed and the horror that ensued, carnage that was rooted in the same negligence with regard to building codes in much of the capital city.

The flooding disaster in Accra was avoidable. All of the evidence has born that out. But it is not unique. Kumasi also experienced similar flooding in February of this year. The root causes and reasons are the same: there was no city planning and no soil consideration. Kumasi is a Garden City without any gardens. There are few trees to absorb the rain, as they have all been cut down. Water needs somewhere to go, and it is within the Ghanaians power to direct it.

We are not ants. There is no reason that Ghanaians should scatter and perish when it rains.

 

 

 

Flood and Fire, Blood and Bone

“Mercy, where are you?”

“I’m in a lorry with Aba. The rains are very heavy. We aren’t moving.”

Obodai grunted on the other end of the phone. Mercy could tell her husband was trying to be strong, but his voice quivered a bit when he said, “Just get home as soon as you can. I’ll meet you there.”

It had been 2 hours since the rain had started. A slight drizzle which then transformed into a persistent, steady deluge had brought the entire downtown area of Accra to a halt. The traffic jam had started from Circle. Mercy shifted in her seat and looked behind her. The never ending line of cars looked like a bloated octopus, growing a new limb with another car, truck and trotro materializing from the outside of the city, each filled with desperate people trying to get home. The only thing moving in this fetid brine of surging gutter and rain water was the water itself. The vehicles were stagnant.

Aba, just 2 years old, was listless and hungry. She pawed at her mother’s face, defiantly reaching for Mercy’s hand bag to fish for snacks.

“Aba, there is nothing for you to eat in there,” she whispered harshly. “No…no! Stop crying! We’ll be home soon. We’ll see our house and daddy soon.”

Aba would not be placated. The other passengers stared at the two, some with compassion, others with irritation. The driver’s mate – a pimple-faced boy of no more than 15 – was rude when he informed Mercy that he would either have to silence the child or get out. No one objected to his decree. Mercy was miffed.

“Driver, y3 b3 si aha (we will get down here),” Mercy said. The mate opened the door and let her and the squalling child out, slamming the metal door behind them with a bang.

Water fell from the sky in buckets as it began to rain anew, beating Aba and Mercy mercilessly now that they had found themselves outside and on the road. Suddenly, a chorus of screams cut through the air. The knee-deep water in the roads had begun to swell, the bloated octopus coming alive. It waved its tentacles shaking off unwanted pieces of itself, distorting its body as it tipped over vehicles filled with frightened human beings. Mercy watched as the lorry she was just in tipped over, its terrified inhabitants scurrying out of narrow windows for escape. She did not see the driver’s mate emerge. She trembled as she dug into her shirt for her phone. Only one bar left.

She spoke haltingly to her husband. “Obo. I had to get down from the car. I am going to see if one of the buildings will allow me and Aba to enter. The battery on my phone will soon finish.”

Obodai was full of questions, but Mercy begged him to wait until she had found shelter so that they could talk properly.

“I’m carrying Aba. I have to go. Pray for us.”

“Okay, okay…I will pray. I will see you soon.”

“I love you…”

*Click*

The phone died, cutting their conversation prematurely short. Had he heard her? Never mind. She would tell him again when this ordeal was over.

The water now had reached the middle of Mercy’s thighs. She was a petite woman, who stood at 5 a mere feet in the kitten heels she infrequently wore. But they were strong thighs, tempered by years of walking on Accra’s beaches and frolicking at the coast. She considered water a friend. In all her 23 years, she had never seen a buddy turn to foe so quickly.

Mercy trudged through the sludge and surging water, making a direct a beeline for one of the formidable business buildings at Circle as possible. She was now crossing the bridge at the outdoor market’s edge. A dead cat floated by her, shrouded by a halo of trash – cheap plastic imports from China and India, Indomie packets and a plethora of polythene bags. These were the hallmarks of progressive and modern Ghanaian life. She ignored whatever it was that was clinging to her calf, refusing to imagine what it could be, and shifted her daughter on her back. Aba was much calmer, now that they were outside of the stuffy lorry. Despite the chaos, the toddler began to coo.

“We are almost there, Babs!” Mercy heaved. This was more for her own exhortation than it was for the child’s.

To her disappointment, the office buildings were locked up…darkened by dumsor and void of human life. She assumed all the workers were now stuck in the traffic she had extracted herself from. What to do now? Walk.

Mercy sighed and kicked off her flip flops. This was higher ground, but still pretty deep as far as she was concerned. She felt her body weaken from being exposed to the elements for so long. Aba had stopped cooing, and was now breathing heavily. Her baby had gone to sleep. Good.

Now back on the road-turned-river, she paused to consider which direction she should take, resting her weary forehead against the side of a concrete wall. It collapsed. A brick slammed into her temple, disorienting her. There was a shriek, maybe two…Mercy could tell. All she knew was that Aba’s comforting weight was no longer on her back. She had to find her daughter, but where?

Dizzy

Dizzy

Dizzy

The world existed in colors and sound she had never seen or heard before. In cobalt blues and orangey-reds…her vision veiled by dragons and fire. But where was Aba in all of this?

“Mama!”

Ah! There she was. There Aba was amongst the swirling, Milo brown water, bobbing like a newborn light. Mercy scooped up her child and held her to breast.

Dizzy

Dizzy

Dizzy

“You see? You see, Aba? I told you we would make it home. Now let us lay down in our bed and rest.”

 

When the storm subsided and the waters receded, Mercy and Aba’s corpses were discovered the next day.

 

flooding*This post is a tribute to the unknown mother and child discovered clutching each other after the June 3rd Accra Floods. Out of respect for their humanity, I am not posting their picture here. May their souls and all of those lost in the devastation rest in perfect peace.

 

My Phone Fiasco: How I Won and Lost $2.3 Million in a Matter of Minutes.

My phone rang. It was an unknown number. I answered it anyway. You never know if that call is going to be a publisher or an agent ready to discuss a new book deal, or someone who had borrowed money in the past calling with an apology and a check. I answered the call eagerly.

“Hello?”

A female electronic voice answered on the other end.

“I know you hate receiving these kinds of calls, but are you depressed, down and out today? Would you like prayer right now?”

*Click*

If you know I hate receiving these types of calls, why then would you autodial my number and force me to be the recipient of such calls? I went back to watching ‘Vikings’ and daydreaming about that elusive book deal. And then it struck me: I had been receiving several of these spammy calls quiet frequently in the past few weeks. This had never happened before. Had my number somehow made its way into some weird version of SalesForce without my knowledge? If so, how had it happened?

Believe it or not, dear Readers under 25, there was a time when everyone with a phone number was ‘listed’. Oh yes! If you knew how to read in alphabetical order, you had immediate access to anyone’s name, address and phone number. All of that information was stored in a papyrus holy grail. It was called the White Pages. I remember the glee I felt when I got my first landline phone. A copy of the White Pages showed up at my uncle’s house a few weeks later. With trembling fingers, I thumbed towards the center of the book to search for it.

Gyekye, Malaka. 123 Whatever Street I lived on, Columbus OH 43216

What bliss. It was comforting to know that anyone who needed to find me could do so, simply by looking up my name in the White Pages. When the process went digital on Google, it made the experience even better! Remember when you could plug any phone number into Google and it would give you both the name and address of its owner? How convenient was that?

My, how things have changed 20 years later. The idea that anyone can find locate you geographically with little more than 10 numeric figures does not inspire comfort. It’s scary. It’s scary because like we always do, human beings screwed up a good thing by abusing access to information. The early 2000’s saw telemarketers disturbing families at dinner and door-to-door solicitors terrorizing stay at home moms and off-duty truck drivers during the day. We made sure there was legislation to protect people from being “found” when they didn’t want to be. But you can’t always safeguard yourself from that event, nor lock yourself away from humanity completely, can you? I learned this the hard way.

Yesterday, I got a call from an unknown number. It was from Jamaica. I had just gotten off the phone with a friend vacationing in the Virgin Islands not 30 minutes before, so I assumed she was calling me back and some weird routing defect had directed her call through Jamaica.

“Hello?” I said warmly.

“Hello!” a jovial male voice said in response. This was not my friend. Ah well.

“How are you?” I asked politely.

“Very well, thank you for asking,” the man said exuberantly. “My name is Mr. Whatever from Jamaica, and I’m calling from Publishers Clearing house. I am calling to tell you that you are the winner of today’s weekly drawing of $2.3 million dollars AND a pearl white Mercedes Benz.”

I snort laugh in response. Then I settled into my sheets to get more comfortable.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes! You are today’s winner! We will be showing up at your house today at 3:30 to present you with $2.3 million dollars AND a pearl white Mercedes.”

“Wow.”

“So tell me, how are feeling, knowing that you are today’s winner?”

I grunted. “Well, I guess I’m a little confused, seeing as how I’ve never entered a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.”

Fortunately he had an answer to my query… a glowing orb in the form of an explanation that would demystify any confusion I might be feeling.

tele“Well ma’am, we took your information from places where you shop – grocery and clothing stores – entered your information into the drawing database you are today’s lucky winner! So again, tell me how you are feeling knowing that you have $2.3 million and a pearl white Mercedes?”

“I don’t know,” I cackled. “I guess I could tell you for sure when I see a check.”

“Yes…but ma’am…you are today’s winner,” Mr. Whatever from Jamaica said. “How are you feeling?”

Ah ah. What was this preoccupation with my feelings? I grew suspicious. (Oddly, I had no reason to doubt him before.)

“Are you for real? Did my sister put you up to this?”

Mr. Whatever from Jamaica grew solemn. “Ma’am, I would not call you to joke or lie to you. You are today’s winner. How do you feel, knowing you’ve won?”

“Okay! Fine. I’ll be here at 3:30. If you’re for real, tell me: What’s my address?”

*click*

Herh! He hung up on me. Oh my God! Oh no! I had just blown my chance at collecting a $2.3 million check! I quickly dialed the number back, forgetting I had disabled international calling on my phone in 2010. Crap.

But this guy paa…who did he think he was dealing with? If I was a Johnny or Janet Just Come, he would have had my address, email, birthday, bank account number and last 4 digits of my social within minutes. But I have been in America too long o! I’m unswindle-able. That, coupled with being raised by a Master Swindler mother, has left me near impervious to the swindle game. No please, you can’t get me.

But for ALL my confidence in my Swindle Repellent abilities I slipped up somewhere along the line and I know exactly when and where it happened.

On a visit to my local health and nutrition store, I went to pick up some liquid B-12. I decided I wanted a different brand and did an exchange on the same visit. A middle-aged, pudgy white woman decorated in moonstones and 50 different piercings asked me to write my name and phone number on the top of the receipt. It was an odd request, but I did it anyway. Maybe this was some return procedure. Whatever. I even joked with her.

“Don’t go selling my number now,” I smiled.

She looked at me like a deer who had found itself ensnared in a bramble patch and said, “What? Oh no! This is going straight to the corporate office!”

2 weeks later, I started getting these weird calls. Humph.

The point of this whole story is this: Be on your guard. Don’t give anybody anything. If you have brown eyes, tell the enquirer that your eyes are blue. You can’t trust nobody out here these days…not even the old lady selling peppermint oil and pure honey sticks.

 

Are you a swindler? Do you have 419 tricks up your sleeve? Why don’t you confess your sins and your crimes here? We may judge you…but it won’t be anything less than you deserve.

Oh! And if you get a call from 876-505-4314, they probably don’t have a check for you. Just a friendly word of cautionary advise.

 

Marital Bliss: Year 19

Written by: Julia Nelson, friend, philosopher and master fruit smoothie maker.

So I keep seeing all these articles and blog posts with titles like “Ten Things I Never Knew About Marriage,” or “Eight Things They Never Told Me About Marriage,” or my favorite: “Four Thousand Three Hundred Things the CHURCH Never Told Me About Marriage or About How You Have to Get Someone to Water Your Houseplants When You go on Vacation or They Will Die.”

I realize that Dean and I are extremely blessed to have been married for 19 years now without murdering each other or resorting to mood-altering substances stronger than coffee. But I am not sure this is due to the possession of any special wisdom that is being systematically withheld from the non-blog-reading population. To my eyes, 99 percent of the deep insights shared in these marriage posts boils down to:

Marriage takes a certain amount of effort
You have to, like, care about the other person

I kind of think these truths would be a tad obvious to anyone who has had extended contact with another human being. Yet week after week, extremely earnest articles continue to valiantly debunk the myth that marriage requires no effort or concern for the other person. It almost makes me want to write a parenting article debunking the myth that the diaper is supposed to go on the baby’s face.

I realize that the fact that many people do not grow up with a good model of marriage is a real problem. But honestly, wouldn’t that make you go into it with lower expectations? I see two possibilities here:

People are willfully disconnecting themselves from all of their life experiences and basing their marital expectations on what they absorb from television, movies and crappy romance novels.
There is some widely read, but wildly inaccurate marriage article out there that I must have missed.

We all know #1 is more likely, but in celebration of the 19th Anniversary of the Day We Tried to Feed Several Hundred People at Our Wedding Reception on Plates that Were, in Hindsight, Way Too Large, I thought I’d have some fun with #2. So without further ado, here is my attempt to recreate the Original Myth-Perpetuating Listicle on Marriage, Deceiving Millions and Providing Blog Fodder for Centuries to Come:

Have you never had a sibling or a roommate or interacted extensively with another human being? Great! Here’s your comprehensive guide to Marriage Truths that will prepare you to find profound revelation in thousands of generic marriage articles for the rest of your life:

The qualities that make a great boyfriend or girlfriend in a movie—extreme hotness, quirky personality and wild displays of emotional intensity—always translate into the stable, responsible, reliable behaviors that make humans tolerable for more than five minutes at a time.
Since all human beings are raised with identical habits regarding money, cleanliness and daily routines, you and your spouse will find that your lives will easily and automatically mesh together.
The day of the wedding is far more important than the decades of living together that will follow, so you should definitely spend all your time, energy and money on that.
Marriage causes a cosmic shift in the soul of your spouse that will transform someone who has been an entitled narcissist his or her entire life into selfless and caring human being, all because of YOU.
Marriage also causes a metaphysical change in your own soul whereby all of your dissatisfactions with yourself or your life will instantly evaporate. Should any of these dissatisfactions reappear, they will automatically be your spouse’s fault.
Living with someone for the rest of your life means that you will never run out of things to talk about, so you should definitely marry for looks. Also, once you get married you start aging backward, so you will both actually get hotter as the years pass.
You will be so hot, in fact, that you should feel free to gain 4000 pounds and become generally unpleasant.
A lifelong commitment to another human somehow causes there to be fewer dishes and clothes to wash, less clutter to pick up and less hair in the shower drain, so you will never, ever fight about housework.
Staying up late with a little human who poops and pukes all over you puts everyone in a really good mood. Look for your relationship not to be challenged at all during the early years of parenthood.
The society-wide rejection of gender-stereotypical roles means that men are now able to tell the difference between a tub that has been thoroughly cleaned and one that has been briefly Windexed and to know intuitively that fingernail clippings do NOT belong in the armrest of YOUR WIFE’S CAR.
Furthermore, the rejection of the idea that the man should go out and earn a living while the woman takes care of the house means that NO ONE actually has to do either of these things. Just focus on enjoying each other’s company and the bills will somehow get paid and the house will somehow get clean.
Also, don’t worry about your kids. The Village will take care of them.

By way of disclaimer, I am not suggesting for a moment that all marital problems are related to items on this list. Some are exceedingly complicated and tragic, and I don’t pretend for a moment to understand them. But the good news is that if you do experience less-than-perfect feelings related to items on this list, nothing is (necessarily) (very) wrong! You are just a person who married another person. (Better luck next time!) And people—in case you are newly arrived on the planet—are great, but they can also be the worst. (Although as a general rule, adult people will fare better in marriage than overgrown adolescent people who still think of themselves as protagonists in a Taylor Swift song.)

I realize I have probably had an easier journey than many. I married an easygoing, kind, low maintenance man (I highly recommend this course of action). And I like to think of myself as an easygoing, kind, low maintenance woman, given to the occasional spontaneous panic attack, lest my easy-going man become bored.

Dean and I are also not overly ambitious in our marital aspirations: we feel no need to be a cool couple, a powerful couple, or a couple who makes their own organic toilet paper from fibers grown sustainably in their yard. Most weeks, we aspire chiefly to be a couple who remembers put the recycling out on the correct day, whose children are preparing for some sort of useful adulthood.

Is this settling for too little? Is this not bold (or “radical”) enough? Year 1, it might have felt that way. Year 19, it feels pretty frickin awesome.

beach

Help! My ‘Torso Beads’ Are Too Tight and I’m Afraid…

“Hey Malaka! What are the credentials for wearing Krobo waist beads?”

“Have a waist, I suppose. I dunno. I’m not Krobo.”

“Ah.”

My younger cousin from my American side of the family was the one making this inquiry. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and to my knowledge, has never been out of the country. Now, she was asking me about waist beads…Krobo waist beads, specifically. What had piqued her interest in this particular region of Ghana?

Krobo is a small town in the Eastern Region of Ghana, and as far as I am concerned, is an enduring bastion of our fast-fading culture. Krobos are known for hot girls, hard work and elaborate beadwork. Still, the do not hold a monopoly on bead making/wearing in the region, so I was a bit miffed that my cousin did not inquire about Akuapem waist beads. I suppose it’s because Larteh people are more famous for their juju than their accessories.

Anyway.

My cousin’s inquiry gave me pause, and made me reminisce a little about my own waist beads. Even though I’ve worn traditional beads at some point in every stage in my life, I began wearing them consistently back in 2002 as a nod to our ancestral beauty practices. On a visit to Ghana in that time, several women of my parent’s generation were quick to share their disdain and disapproval for the presence of the beads around my waist.

“This is something villagers do,” one woman spat.

Ah, ah. It wasn’t her waist, and she didn’t buy them for me. I resisted the urge to spit back at her and roll my eyes, instead nodding like the “good African girl” my father silently implored me to be in public.

My favorite waist beads were crafted by an old woman who lived in Osu behind Kikiriki Kitchen. She had strung some for one of my best friends in colors and shapes I had never seen before. She even had 3 or 4 gold spun beads strung on the line, which had such an alluring and hypnotic effect that I have to confess that it was nothing but pure envy that took me on the perilous trek over a 20 foot wide gutter bridged on either end by a rickety piece of wood.

“Her beads are not cheap o,” my friend warned in advance. “She is a master bead maker.”

“Oh, it’s just beads. How expensive can it be?” I scoffed.

The elderly woman greeted us with the cool of a woman who had seen and done it all. A halo of curly grey hair crowned her round head. She was in no particular rush to service us. I liked and disliked her instantly.

“Where do you want your beads to sit?” she asked.

“Here,” I said, pointing to the top of my hip. “I want them to sit low.”

After I had been measured and fitted, the old lady named her price. I balked, but then I remembered that beads were once a unit of currency and a measure for one’s wealth and status in the community. I empty my wallet and stare imploringly at my friend.  I think I still owe her money.  It was well worth it though. I have always loved those beads.

It is those same beads digging into my torso today.

Yes, you heard that right: The beads that once sat demure and seductively across my hips are now cutting off my circulation around my rib cage, digging into my skin, causing me nightmares in my sleep. And it’s ALL my cousin’s fault! If she hadn’t gone poking her artsy, inquisitive nose into this aspect of our culture, I would have left this vainglorious past with my waist beads buried in the past! You see, I took the beads off in the middle of my first pregnancy and haven’t thought about them since. After Aya was born, I got another set that were strung on elastic, but I never considered them quite as beautiful as the ones I’d gotten in Osu so I stopped wearing them, too. But once my cousin asked about (Krobo) beads, I fished them out of my jewelry box, inhaled and slipped them over my head and breasts. Now they are STUCK.

I can’t believe how much my body has changed! The transformation has been radical, and not for the better. They always tell you how having kids changes your body, and I have accepted the man hairs on my chin and chest, the feet that have grown in both length and width…even the kangaroo pouch that is the hallmark of four C-sections. Am I now expected to accept that my torso in 2015 holds the same dimensions of my waist 15 years ago? Heaven forbid!

While trawling through Poka Arts’ images on Instagram, I came across two images that sum up my demise perfectly. No, no. Look! It will help you understand my struggle.

Me, before my first kid:

photo 2(1)Yeah, I believe my body is a temple… but I pretty much eat whatever I want. It’s all good, because I work out 3-4 times a week and I play in a Gaelic football league. But you know, whatevs. Ooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of your chocolate ganache? Can I have it?  I’m going for a run later. No, silly! I don’t “diet”. I don’t need to. LOL!

Me, after all my kids:

photo 1(5)Yeah, I believe my body is a temple. I try to eat a plant-based diet, primarily…but then I get super hungry and end up eating pizza for breakfast…and lunch. Look, I just like to eat pizza. It’s quick, it’s easy, and the kids like it too! I try to work out whenever I get the chance, but I’m usually busy stressing over the kids…which leads to more stress eating. Oooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of that chocolate ganache? I have a PTA meeting coming up because one of the girls roundhouse kicked another kid on the playground. It’s okay. I’m going to cry myself to sleep later. Maybe the pain from my tears will mask the pain of these beads digging into my back…

Nevertheless, I was happy that I could at least get my favorite beads onto my body, even if they weren’t fitting me in as appealing a manner as they once did. I excitedly sent a picture to my sister, anticipating her approval and matched excitement.

photo(16)

“What is this?”

“These are my waist beads, Adj! I haven’t worn them in years.”

“Why do they look so tight?”

“…Because they are tight.”

“I don’t think our ancestors intended for them to look this way.”

“Look. Just be happy I can get them on, okay? You always outchea jackin’ up my high.”

She floods my inbox with celebratory emojis  – illustrated applause, confetti and champagne glasses – and then goes silent. I hate my sister.I am looking miserable.

Marshall offers to lift my beads over my head if I would agree to simultaneously smash and lift my boobs so he can slide them over. I refuse. I hate the pain these beads have caused me, but I loathe the idea of them defeating me even more.

That’s all I have to say about that. Until memory becomes my reality, my rib cage beads and I remain ever yours!