I Haven’t Been Writing Much Because I’ve Been Depressed

I suffer from infrequent bouts of depression. This should come as a surprise to no one. I’m an almost 40-year-old African American woman who is living in a time of state sponsored violence against Black people, a possible Trump presidency and Super Gonorrhea for which there is no cure. So yeah, I have dark days.

This most recent bout has lasted for two weeks or better. I don’t really count the days anymore. I just wait for the depression to lift. As a woman who suffers from a mood imbalance, I consider myself lucky, oddly. I know a handful of people who have to live with clinical depression. For them, there is no “waiting it out”. Medication is the only way forward for them. They have to follow a dedicated regimen of therapy and pill taking…just to function. It’s difficult to admit, but for some, depression HAS no cure, because it often exists in tandem with other mental infirmities that require their own special attention. As evidenced by the presence of my 4 children, 2 of whom were conceived while I was on The Pill, I am not very good with following a prescription regimen. So yes, even though I go through these phases several times in a year, I do consider myself fortunate that I suffer the sort of “mild” depression I have endured since I was 12. Are thoughts of suicide considered mild? I dunno…

source: favim.com

source: favim.com

I’ve never seen a therapist for my depression, because Black people and Christians don’t need to seek the assistance of therapist. All we need to do is draw on our reserves of Ancient Black Strength and Jesus and the problem should disappear on it’s own. If your depression persists, it’s probably because you’re not praying hard enough or spent enough time considering all that the ancestors have gone through to bring you to this comfy point in your life – a life where you get to while away your days in front of a PC, listening to people opine about how and why reverse racism is actually a thing, or if women didn’t want to get raped they wouldn’t be outside after 8pm. We have a (half) Black president and a tax-free back to school shopping weekend coming up. What in the world is there to be depressed about, Malaka?

What indeed?

As I am always compelled to do, I searched for reasons for the depression I was (and still kind of am) experiencing. I tried to call to memory the causes. The screwed up thing about my sort of depression is that there often is no cause, at least none that should be big enough to warrant my staying in bed all day and sullenly stabbing at my dinner, but this time I was able to pinpoint a few. The most immediate one was loneliness.

In moving to South Africa, I completely underestimated what a negative impact being severed from physical relationships with my friends would be. I knew coffee with MX5 of Tuesdays was important, but in these 3 months without her have revealed that those dates were vital. I miss cackling with Frances for brief moments after church. I miss kickin’ it with Tia. I miss the exciting world of art that Tosinger ensnared me in. I miss my friends. I especially miss my sister. Acquaintances are great, because this awkward politeness has gotten old really fast. I wasn’t made to exist without strong, meaningful, female relationships. The husband and kids can never be a substitute for that. The time difference between our two continents has only helped with the isolation I’ve been experiencing.

Because I was feeling so isolated physically, I turned increasingly to social media for a panacea. This backfired, horribly. There is a direct relationship with increased twitter use and the chances of encountering codswallop in the form of the Internet troll. The trolls then found my blog, and my comments section, naturally. YOU don’t see the mean, senseless and hateful things people write in the comments because I don’t approve them anymore, but I have the unenviable job of scanning and trashing their disposable rumblings. A colleague suggested I just disable comments altogether, but not wanting to cut off a link between myself and the readers with whom I have an actual relationship, I cut the comments off automatically after 24 hours. It usually takes that long for a troll to gather his reinforcements. I then cut back on my social media use.

Funny thing about that. There is also a direct relationship with my social media use and book sales. Because my voice was largely silent on Twitter (RTs do not count as a “voice”), my book sales plummeted. And by plummet, I mean do not exist. I haven’t sold a SINGLE book in August on any of my retail platforms. This did not help to alleviate my depression.

So by now, I’m convinced that anything I write is either going to inspire a hateful comment or be a waste of time because it’s not earning me anything…so I just stopped writing altogether. Instead, I baked.

I baked cookies.

I baked cakes.

I also read books; some amazing, some not so much.

I bought fabric and a glue gun and watched YouTube DIY accessory videos.

And then I had to eat all the deserts I’d baked which led to rapid weight gain, which made me what? Come and claim your prize if you said: ‘More Depressed!’

Then I started comparing myself to other people. People are always trying to knock down Lydia Forson. Why didn’t I have her grit and tenacity? Why doesn’t my middle finger function as quickly as hers? Or Serena Williams. Look at all the hate she gets from all angles. What is the writer’s equivalent of an EAT THIS clap back twerking video? And WHY don’t MY thighs look like that?

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Another cookie.

The more I fretted, the less I wrote and the more convinced I was that I was a crap writer anyway. Me? A crap writer? Had I actually thought this thought? This had to be the devil! Did Jesus hear Satan say this? Why hadn’t He come to deliver me by now?!?

The good thing about God is that even though S(H)e never shows up when you expect S(H)irm to, the timing is always right. For me, God showed up in the person of Sharlene Appiah, who called me on Tuesday out of the blue. We didn’t talk about anything that should have particularly made my depression lift…but it did. Something in her voice just broke it for me. And then I wrote about Usain Bolt and fried plantain.

I don’t know how long this good feeling will last, but I’m grateful for it. I don’t know if I’m back on a writing streak or not. All I know is that for today, #AmWriting. For today, that’s going to have to be enough.

Do you ever suffer from depression? Is it difficult for you to open up about? If it is, you should check out Bassey Ikpi’s Siwe Project on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You’ll find an embracing, supportive community and resources there.🙂

FW6ooh7X

What I Smelled When I Saw Pictures of Usain Bolt in Bed with that Brazilian Student

As I’ve mentioned on many a previous post, I grew up in a suburb of Accra called Labone. It’s hard to believe looking at the area now, but there was once a time when rents were reasonable and a lower middle class family such as mine could afford to live there. The house I lived in was demolished and is now home to a branch of Zenith Bank.

Any-freaking-way, there was a dude that used to live in the boy’s quarters of the house across the street from us called Dada. Dada’s exact function in service to the white man (the manager of an Accra based Swiss company) was unknown to me, but he was my dad’s jesting partner and errand boy. If one needed the other, they would simply whistle a specific tune and wait for a response, which was usually almost immediate. It was an audible Bat signal, if you will.

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Being on such congenial terms with my father naturally made Dada feel chummy with my siblings and me, and he chose to express his familiarity by playing ‘area boy’ games with my brother and making lewd comments about the development of my and my sister’s bodies. The first time I heard the words “natural bobbi stannap” (where bobbi = breast and stannap = stand up, a nod to the perkiness of unspoiled, teen mammary glands) were from Dada’s lips. On more than one occasion, he assured me that it was alright for me to come and visit him in his room one day, instead of him coming over to our house all the time.

It was an offer I politely, firmly and frequently declined. I didn’t know what shenanigans Dada had plans in his room, but even at that tender age, I knew enough to know that NOTHING good would await me in that boy’s quarters room. I couldn’t put my finger on it then, but thanks to the Internet, I now understand what type of creature we were dealing with in Dada. In Twitter terms, he’s that niqqa who employs Hotep science to advance the idea that there exists a “natural attraction” between 25 year old men and 15 year old girls.

Selah.

So anyway, I’d avoided going to Dada’s room for months…maybe even years before it finally happened. My streak of luck had run out. One afternoon, my dad stood whistling on the veranda whistling for Dada in vain, getting no response.

My father grunted an irritated “Ah!” and placed his hands on his hips. He grimaced and furrowed his brow, the urgency for whatever required Dada’s unique attention becoming more apparent with every passing minute. I had only ever seen Dada return with waakye or several balls of kenkey – of which he happily partook at my father’s insistence, so I suppose Daddy was hungry that day.

Finally, he could bear it no longer.

“Malaka! Go across the street and tell Dada I’m looking for him!”

I looked up with my father with imploring eyes, but said nothing in response besides a dutiful “OK.”

The white man had ferocious dogs at his house. Dada had made several comments about my breasts, which were by this stage a solid B-cup. Somewhere in the city, a chicken was being slaughtered and in being put out of its misery, was in a better position emotionally than I was at that moment. Nevertheless, I soldiered on an ambled across the street under my father’s watchful, expectant eye from the veranda.

The dogs were sleeping, so I got by them easily enough. Boy’s quarters are always at the back of estate houses, so I found it quickly as well.

“Dada?” I called tentatively. “Dada?”

I whistled their unique tune and waited. Dada’s voice responded behind one of the two doors.

“Yes?”

I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed it open.

“Hey, Dada! My dad said…”

And then that’s when it hit me: A powerful, musty, musky scent that weakens the senses and causes the knees to buckle. I had no idea what it was, but seeing as Dada and the toffee seller were smiling sheepishly back at me from their shared position under the sheet of his bed, I could only assume they were responsible for its creation.

It smelled like fermented corn.

It smelled like anger.

It also smelled like triumph.

It smelled like wet booty and broken promises.

It smelled like something I wanted to forget.

Dada, the toffee seller and I stared at one another for what felt like the totality of human creation. I can’t recall who broke the silence first, but I informed Dada that my dad needed him and fled, the scent of the room still clinging to my nostrils, my clothing, my hair…

And THAT, dear Reader, is what I smelled when I saw the picture of Usain Bolt and the Brazilian Student when their pictures began circling around social media. Now that I have 4 kids and a long forgotten number of sexual encounters under my own belt, I know that what I smelled in that room so many years ago was the unique aroma of coitus. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the quarters that Bolt and the Brazilian shared for the night was pungent with it.

Source: Facebook. And why do you have your romping pictures on Facebook? Foolish girl!

Source: Facebook. And why do you have your romping pictures on Facebook? Foolish girl!

Coitus and fried plantain.

Coitus and lies.

Coitus and the pharmaceutically smell of prophylactics.

Given that this is Usain Bolt we’re talking about here, the scent of coitus was likely accompanied with the thunderous sound of flesh clapping, slapping and striking flesh.

I don’t know, of course. I’ve never slept with the man. But I imagine that the experience is…electrifying. (Get it? Get it? Because bolts of lightening? I kill me!)

The mind is a powerful thing, dear Reader. It can form associations with things that seem so basic, so elemental to one person and elicit a violent response in another. Like cotton fields to white folk versus Black people. White people can ride past a cotton field and marvel at how pretty it is…how much it resembles snow. They just want to frolic in it! Black people drive past a cotton field and hear the crack of many whips. They feel the scorching sun. They marvel for a moment and are compelled to whisper thanks for freedom. The more passionate amongst us may drive past a cotton field and throw up a middle finger at it.

Associations, you understand.

Likewise, I see Usain Bolt and this duckfaced chile in bed and I smell bodily excretions and thrice-used Frytol.

Source: WestAfrica Cooks

Source: WestAfrica Cooks

 

PS: I’m sorry if you’ll never look at plantain the same way again. Like I said, the mind is a powerful thing…

There’s an American Woman Walking Around Plett with a Vibrator in Her Handbag

Honestly, I forgot it was there.

Just wait! Let me explain.

August is Women’s Month, and last night I went to our school’s annual ladies get together: Fabulous Women. Fabulous Women…what? Dancing? Eating? They said, “Haibo! We said ‘Fabulous Women.’ Finished! You just buy your ticket and come. And so I went.

The event was hosted at White House and catered by Nguni, two of Plettenberg Bay’s most iconic brands. Walking in there was like being in a medieval Viking fairy tale. The room was lit by ornate wrought iron chandeliers, the light of which reflected off of shiny, sable wood floors. 20-foot long dining tables were adorned with the colors of fall – rust colored foliage and wild berries of blood red.

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It was definitely intimidating, but there was a cash bar that aided more than a few women with their quest to secure liquid courage. Many of them became far more sociable with a mojito in their hands. Soon the room was filled with chatter, albeit polite and tepid.

The guest speaker for the evening was a local entrepreneur whose name I didn’t catch. She’s the owner of Elixir Skincare, an essential oil and aromatherapy line produced in South Africa. The importance of this will become apparent enough and soon.

Elixir Lady had set some jars of some of her potions and lotions at each guest’s seat – scrubs, facial oils, lip balms and heel repair serums. She told us to dig and play with the items before us as she spoke passionately about the benefits of essential oils. One of those benefits is how they positively affect mood. If I had to guess, I’d say there were about 100 women in the room, each releasing an aromatic cornucopia at different intervals as they scooped out product from the jars. Within minutes, the atmosphere in the room was altered. It was charged, electric. Women were gasping and “on my!”-ing and touching each other everywhere. It was like participating in an opium-fueled stadium rave…but without the vomit and ever-looming threat of death. We were all glistening and oily and smelling and feeling good. What was even better? Some of my favorite TV characters were in the room!

I felt GREAT. Better than I have in a long while… Which is how everyone in the room found out about the contents of my purse.

A few lucky women (I was not one of them) had numbers stuck to the bottoms of their seats. Those numbers afforded them gifts or vouchers to redeem at stores all over the area. There was more (moderate) shrieking and polite applause as ladies went up to the MC (known as the Mommy of Ceremonies) to collect their prize. The Mommy of Ceremonies broke the momentum by asking each woman to pick up her handbag and counting the items inside.

“Please raise your hand if you have 5 or more items in your hand bag.”

Hands shot up all over the room.

“10 or more.”

“20 or more!”

“25 or more?”

There will still a few of us with our hands raised. Eventually the MC reached the 65 item or more mark. One girl stared me down menacingly, as if to doubt the veracity of my claim that I had such an enormous haul in my handbag. I mean…come on. I’m a mom for FOUR kids who just moved here from Atlanta. I have at least 65 merchant cards and snack bags alone in various parts of my purse! I confidently kept my hand raised until I and two other women were instructed to come to the podium to prove we had as many items as we claimed in our bag.

I unzipped all my compartments and began to empty them onto the table. Chop sticks, a fork, a shot glass, 3,000 receipts and a sanitary napkin made an appearance. And them something blue tumbled out…something I hadn’t seen in quiet a while.

“A vibrator…? Dude. I have a vibrator in my purse!”

A sampling of the many items in my bag.

A sampling of the many items in my bag.

The MC turned red and her co-host did a back bend, slain under the weight of her disbelief and laughter. Vanna White was there handing out prizes for the raffle. I saw her whisper something to the co-host, who whispered something back which then prompted Vanna to double over in laughter.

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I was rewarded with a bottle of wine and a bag of body scrub and body potion for being one of the winners of this challenge. Score!

As the number game continued, the MC broke the pattern again by asking if “the woman who had worn her animal print thong to the evening’s event would please stand.”

That’s when Brienne of Tarth got up, dug her hand into her backside, hollered “Whoop whoop!” and revealed the top of her we albino leopard thong – to the horror and amusement of all in the room.

Brienne_Mother's_Mercy

“Ooooh, no!” gasped some.

“Haaaa HHHAAAA!” chortled others.

Brienne ain’t care. She ran up and claimed her prize letting haters hate and choke on their bobotie.

indexI was engaged in conversation with Doris Day, my daughter’s new teacher when I heard Mommy of Ceremonies issue a dare.

“If there are any ladies brave enough to come up here and sing…”

I pulled out my chair and leapt to my feet. “ME!”

“But you haven’t even heard the song yet!”

“It doesn’t matter. Me!”

banoomaint-2f6a636e544229fMy friend Divyanka Tripathi stared at me wide-eyed. “Can you sing?”

It was more of a statement than a question, probably borne of the stereotype that ALL African Americans can blow…and play basketball.

“Girl, naw I can’t sing,” I replied. And then I ran to the podium to get the mic.

“The song choices are I’m Too Sexy and Rochelle.”

“I don’t know Rochelle.”

I’m Too Sexy it is then!”

Now, to be quite candid, I don’t know the words to I’m Too Sexy either – which I announced unabashedly, because as I said I was feeling GREAT by this time of the evening – and proceeded to croon a list of things which did not match me in sex appeal.

I’m | too sexy for these seagulls | too sexy for my jumpsuit | too sexy for this twist out…

White women went screaming everywhere, caught up in rapture. Is this what it’s like for the brothas? If so, I get it. You can be TOTALLY mediocre and be the darling of the party. And the darling I WAS.

…Or at least I was until Axl Rose’s twin sister came forward and gave a raunchy rendition of Rochelle, a Euro-pop rock ballad I have never heard and am not likely to hear again. The judges couldn’t decide who sang the best (or worst) so we split the prize: a hamper from some boutique and another bottle of wine. YES!

AxlRoseTeasedHair

By this time, all these teachers were turnt up. They’re ready to let loose. Someone has my purse and is discretely showing my vibrator to anyone who cared to look. 7/10 women cared to look.

Just as I was preparing to leave, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The tapper is the co-host for the evening.

“You are SUCH great fun!” she gushed. “Would you open the dance floor with me? It wouldn’t be right if you didn’t.”

I stared at her with tears in my eyes. No one has EVER asked me to open the dance floor. You know why? Because it’s on the list of Black Things (cornrowing, wrapping hair and singing) I can’t do! Did you think I let that stop me?

You shoulda seen your girl flopping around that dance floor. My new friends were flopping with me.

After I exhausted myself, I went home with wine, essential body oil, tissue and my vibrator, all of which Divyanka Tripathi’s mom told me should “make for a really good time with my husband.”

A few people have told me they’ve heard I’m an author, which is surprising because I’ve only mentioned it to two people. By next week, I expect that my butcher will greet me with a sly smile and make some cunning comment about meat and electronics.

Awkward Open Letter of Commiseration to President John Mahama

I can’t believe I’m about to write this…but what they hey. Carpe dat diem.

 

My Dearest Excellency JDM| President of the Fourth Republic| Father of a disputed number of children| Dead Goat | “You Mean As a Human Being?” Asker| Charmer of panties off Real Housewives of Atlanta.

I greet you.

I know I haven’t hollered at you in a while, but when NDC foot soldiers threaten your family, it kinda makes you sit back and reevaluate all the things you once believe about Ghanaian decency and integrity…and intelligence, quite frankly. But whatevs. I’ve got some stuff I have to say – some stuff you koraaa, you know in your own heart yourself.

Before we get into any heavy lifting, I want to offer you my condolences for the loss of your mother. I know that the bond between mother and son is one of the strongest known to man, and I’m sure she was very proud to see her baby boy rise to the highest position in the land. I was really happy to see that the opposition allowed you to mourn in peace without resorting to barbaric tactics like making wild accusations that you killed your mother ahead of the elections to garner the sympathy vote. With how crass politicians of all stripes are in Ghana, I wouldn’t have put it past them. In terms of conduct, the run of the mill Ghanaian politician circa 2016 has the appeal of the underbelly of a sewer serpent a quality that serves the nation poorly. I hope in your next term as president, you will call for more circumspection among your ministers.

Oh? You’re surprised to hear me admit AND congratulate you for winning the 2016 election? Why should you be? We all know that your party will win…not that y’all deserve to. It’s not fair, but it’s life. At 2pm today, there is a woman in Asia today that’s going to abort her female fetus because she just got paid and girl children are “useless” in provinces all over Asia. That girl fetus ain’t deserve to die, but it powerless to stop it, isn’t it? You are the Asian mother and the Ghanaian public are the fetus. There’s nothing we can do but wait and see if the abortionists – in this case, a metaphor for your cabinet – are going to destroy us with forceps or fire. We live to see.

So, about your ministers. Dude. You GOTS to call these people to order!

I once said that like George Bush, yours is the public face of private failures. Did George Bush ruin America in a vacuum? All by his little self? Absolutely not. There were all kinds of departments and agencies and individuals behind the scenes responsible for the messes that were made of American lives. Likewise, every time the lights go off, or a child dies in a hospital that has no beds or the stench of a rotting lagoon washes over the population, we blame John Mahama. Not John D. Mahama the man, per se, but what he represents…which is failure, incompetence, and corruption. But you know what? I’m about to admit something that I never thought I would…or could.

Maybe, Mr. Mahama, MAYBE none of this is your fault. Maybe the people who you’ve surrounded yourself with won’t LET you be great. Maybe you’re not strong enough to buck against the political machine that has ruled and ruined Ghana since we became a democracy.

This notion was confirmed when I – nay the WORLD- saw the top brass in the NDC signing a petition to compel you to invoke article 72 and press for the release of 3 radio presenters who threatened to rape, murder and maim our nation’s Supreme Court Justices. However, I first realized it when Hannah Tetteh inadvertently revealed that she don’t know what’s going on in the presidency and vice versa.

Remember the early days of #BringBackOurGirls? Remember how distraught many Ghanaians were that you – our nation’s leader – had not reached out to Nigerians to commiserate with them and share in their heartbreak? Hannah told us on twitter that it didn’t work that way…that the president couldn’t just release public statements like this and that you MIGHT in due time. But then, what did we see a few days later? I’ll tell you what! It was an article on Ghanaweb that announced that you in fact ALREADY had written a letter of condolence and support to Nigeria’s president, and showed us that it was dated in early May 2014. It was then that I knew that your ministers don’t know what you’re up to and you’re just as blind to their activities.

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Like no. Look at the Oye Lithurs. You got Tony up in your office telling you NOT to jeopardize your legacy, the perception that Ghana is indeed a place that operates under the rule of law and the integrity of the presidency by invoking Article 72 for the benefit of three radio hoodlums. Right? And then what is his wife busy doing? Signing petitions to compel you to do that very thing! What madness is this? I wonder how dinner went at their house that night…

 

“Nana! You’re tripping! Have you taken leave of your senses? Have you forgotten your duty to uphold the law?”

“Tony! You’ve got to understand! It’s just ONE woman’s sexual assault we’re talking about. We have to think of the PARTY first!”

“My God, woman. What is wrong with you?”

“I’m feeling good. AND, I’ll have you know I lost an additional 10 lbs on the SlimFast plan today. You wanna have sex?”

“Well…yeah. I guess. Since you’re looking all good…”

And then Tony Oye Lithur puts his Lithurlettes in Nana Oye Lithur…or he puts them in a bag. I don’t know how old folks handle their contraceptive business. All I DO KNOW for sure is that you, my president, are left holding that bag. That’s right. Tony and Nana (and Valerie and Hannah) get to get off, skeet their perverse pleasure and you have a slippery, gushy mess on your literal and figurative hands.

 

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Your ministers don’t respect you. They never should have put you in this position. Just like dumsor. I’m now certain that you gave a bunch of money and power to someone who was supposed to fix this crisis, someone who you trusted to deliver on time and who in turn promised you they would, and summarily failed. And why weren’t they scared to fail? Because it’s not their face and legacy on the line. It’s John D. Mahama’s. History will judge you, not them.

Sir, I went to Ghana International School, so I know a little bit about sabotage. Them kids are ruthless and will not hesitate to destroy your reputation through words and deeds. I see it from where I sit, and so should you: There should be no doubt in your mind that you are surrounded by people who do not have your best interest at heart. You know whose interest they are looking after? NDC foot soldiers.

Foot soldiers bring crowds.

Foot soldiers make noise.

Foot soldiers are propagandists.

Propagandists, in a country where education is crap and theory of knowledge is a luxury, bring votes.

And who gets those votes? Your ministers…who have the gall to sit at Flag Staff house and mock the citizenry who protest for clean water, a living wage (or wages in arrears) and employment.

They get to retire in cozy, off the grid houses in the Volta region, while history will have written down as a clueless buffoon who couldn’t solution his way out of a polythene bag.

I had so much hope for you, John. I remember when you were VP and were featured in a documentary about plastic and its negative impact on our environment. I said “Here’s a man that gets it! If he were ever president, he’d FIX this.” Instead? Ghana’s environmental issues got worse and is now labeled as the 7th most polluted country in the world.

Your MPs should be shielding you from harm, not driving the bus that is going to roll over you. You need to have a come to Jesus and the ancestors meeting with them. I want you to succeed, because I want GHANA to succeed. NDC ideology doesn’t mean jack spit in a nation where folks can’t afford 3 meals a day and kids are graduating high school reading at a second grade level. Where politicians can’t reason and have to resort to violence to settle scores and differences. Where is the reason in pressuring the president to pardon three anarchists because 3 months in jail is “too harsh”? Could that perception of harshness have anything to do with the fact that Ghana’s prisons are squalid hellscapes that violate human rights provisions? Did you see Seth Kwame Boateng’s “Left to Rot?” I know you have a lot on your plate, but it’s worth knowing that this is the sort of cancer your government is presiding over.

Anyway, I gotta run now. They are reading the results of SA elections and it looks like the DA is taking over, much to the ANC’s chagrin.

Have a great weekend and have that talk with your people before the elections, wai? Don’t let them treat you like Nigerian jollof. You are GHANA jollof, demmit. No one deserves to be treated this way.

Yours truly,

Malaka

Who is Worth Protecting: Vaginal Hierarchies in the Age of Oye Lithur

When well-meaning women beholden to archaic traditions lovingly perform barbaric acts like holding their daughters down and slice off their clitorises with rusty blades or yank them out of classrooms to sell them into marriage, women like Nana Oye Lithur spring into action. It’s not that the former group of women gave birth to bring intentional and perpetual misery to their female progeny; it’s just that these traditions represent the way things have always been done. Better to disfigure and maim your girl than to allow her to face the consequences of promiscuity. Better to trade her in marriage to a responsible (older) man who can look after her better than you ever could with so many other children of your own to consider. Better to take her out of school early – before she crafts lofty dreams and hopes that she will never realize because she is, after all, an African girl.

These are just a handful of examples of the harsh realities that many women – particularly the poor – face in Ghana day in and out; scenarios that women like Nana Oye Lithur, Ghana’s current Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, have dedicated their lives and talent to changing. It is the type of work that wins you international recognition, kudos and accolades. Working to abolish harmful traditions and as well as the laws that give these customs fertile ground to flourish is a noble pursuit. It is also one that makes sense, given that the ideas about female ability and worth – rooted in opinion and nothing more – have morphed over time yielding more favorable results for women.

Nevertheless, in countries like Ghana, these notions about the inherent inferiority of women’s worth doggedly persist. A woman’s body and sexual past are fair play – or more accurately, a war zone – on which to lob attacks to score political points. Chauvinists like Ken Agyapong unabashedly assert that prominent women such as Charlotte Osei earned their positions by trading in sex. Misogynists like Dela Coffie say that champions for social equality like Lydia Forson are voices from a brothel. Jokes about raping women, violently taking their virginity, stripping them naked in public and/or beating them in the process abound, from the mouths of those who carry the title ‘honorable’ and the frustrated street sweeper alike. Mouths and minds who see women as enemies and not partners equally tasked with bettering the nation. And still through it all, women like Nana Oye Lithur have been on the forefront of this cultural fight, shutting down those who so casually desecrate the bodies of young girls and women with both the pen and the penitentiary.

She has advocated for harsher punishment for rapists.

She is a human rights lawyer and a child advocate.

She has just signed a petition asking the incumbent president to release three NDC propaganda mouthpieces who threatened to harm, murder and rape the Supreme Court judges with harm, rape and death over their handling of the case on the credibility of the current voters register.

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Policy analyst Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby has called Oye Lithur’s action “incongruous”, given her background. I should say so! There are certain women who have signed this petition for whom it does not register shock. Akua Donkor is among those. Madam Donkor is the type of woman who represents the outreach field that Oye Lithur ought to be converting and bringing to the light, not following into the slimy muck. Akua Donkor is a political opportunist who uses gimmickry to give herself relevance. She is not the type of person one looks to reflect thoughtful analysis or understanding of the law. She is a tool used by the majority party to harvest votes from a large swathe of the population that has been undereducated, underserved, and underrepresented in governance. Her views about women’s rights are not nearly progressive enough. So while it is disappointing that she would sign a petition to call for the immediate release of three reprehensible, irresponsible rogues who called for the rape of Justice Georgina Wood and the murder of her colleagues, it’s not entirely surprising given the base she panders to.

But for the Minister of Social Protection to do so? It beggars belief.

Nana Oye Lithur is not an unintelligent woman, which means that there is some carrot waiting for her on the other end of this disgraceful action. Unfortunately, as does just about everything in Ghana, the general consensus is that it boils down to partisan politics, which has allowed so many women of strong repute have allowed themselves to be aligned with such a disgusting action. Among those named are Hannah Tetteh, Valerie Sawyerr and Prof. Naana Opoku Agyeman – all NDC stalwarts. The answer to your unasked question is “Yes”. Georgina Wood was appointed by the rival NPP government. Apparently, Justice Wood’s party affiliation is a scarlet letter, a stain repugnant enough to preclude her from protection under the law according to this cabal of classist women over 50.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Now we have to ask ourselves some serious questions about when, how and why we protect women’s bodies in Ghana. The village girl in remote outposts garners immediate sympathy. It’s her face, after all, that is plastered all over glossy Oxfam and Save the Children posters. Her face and her plight are a commodity that feeds and funds NGOs and line ministerial pockets. It is to the benefit of the classed gender activist to be seen supporting this caliber of victim. But how about women whose shared political values do not match your own, who draws her living from a wallet funded by the might of the elephant rather than the shadiness of an umbrella, or vice versa? Of what value and are the attacks against her? Do they illicit the same sort of horror and indignation? It would appear not. Such a woman is no ‘mere woman’ at all…she is political opponent foremost, and therefore worthy of destruction.

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This is the hierarchy to determine which sort of woman deserves sympathy, protection or support in Ghana when confronted with the threat of assault, and it’s one that gets converted and altered depending on the audience. Until we can come to the conclusion that ALL women deserve equal protection under the law, we will continue to hurtle down this dangerous and divisive path that harms every woman – the vulnerable and powerful alike in the end. It is merely a refining of the vicious notions we have lived under and striven against for so long.

For the top brass in the NDC – a political party whose early leadership has on its record a responsibility for the killings of the Supreme Court Justices Cecilia Koranteng Addo, Frederick Sarkodie, and Kwadjo Agyei Agyepong – to now call on the president to pardon three media personalities who have called for a repeat of those atrocities betrays a level of disrespect that defies all reason. It is vile, cruel and beneath the dignity – and humanity – of these once-respected leaders.

 

Europeans Never Came to Africa for Slaves

In our Junior Secondary School (JSS) history books, we learned about names, dates and places on the African continent that were so distant that they might as well have been on the moon. We learned about the importance of Fernando Po, the Bight of Benin and our own Cape Coast castle in Ghana – all essential to European trading activities in West Africa. We learned that the first Europeans to come to West Africa were the Portuguese who were quickly followed by the Dutch. They came to trade guns and beads for gold and ivory. A few centuries later the rest of Western Europe joined the fray, only now they needed a new commodity to trade in order to satisfy their labor needs in the New World. So we learned that the Europeans traded (and raided) for slaves.

 

They began to trade in slaves.

 

The more I meditate on that statement, the less I find that it is true. The Spanish, Portuguese and the Dutch (and the British, and the French, and the Belgians, and and and…) didn’t come to Africa for ‘slaves’; they came for People.

 

They came for men, women and children.

They came for men with deep belly laughs and high-pitched caterwauls when they mocked the women they loved.

They came for crafty little girls who liked to do cartwheels when they thought no one was looking.

They came for 10-year-old boys who raced around the village in contests to determine who was swiftest.

They came for women who loved to eat cocoyam and hated the sight of snakes.

They came for youth who were in the middle of courtships, who had stolen kisses and risked forbidden touches at sunset.

They came for grandchildren who were the pride of the elders, the blessed fruit and the evidence of their years of dedication to the values that their clan upheld.

They came for artisans, metal workers, weavers, hairdressers, midwives, farmers, fishermen, noblemen and noblewomen.

They came for both the princess and the pauper.

They might have come for the drunkard too, but he wouldn’t have survived the middle passage so they spared him by putting a bullet in his head and/or chest.

They came for friends who were on the cusp of settling an old quarrel.

They came for architects who designed and oversaw the building of magnificent cities in the Songhai Empire.

They came for scholars and they came for griots.

They came for the holders of ancient history.

They came for the warriors and they came for cowards.

They came for shy little boys and brazen little girls who grooved to the rhythm of drums that could imitate the sound of water.

They came for the drummer.

They came for the spiritual and those who mocked the afterlife alike.

They came for women who loved nice things and men who loved to compliment women wearing nice things.

Europeans never came for slaves. They came for people like YOU and ME.

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But because our worldview of Africans is so completely Eurocentric – that we can sit in classrooms and learn about these events as if they were just events and not the horrific lived experiences of people we all have a kinship to – we can confidently and comfortably rattle off dates and the names of forts for a passing grade. Has it ever occurred to any history student in our Ghanaian schools (if they even still teach history any more) that the people who were captured during the genocide and kidnappings were never slaves to begin with? How do you ‘trade in slaves’ from the African coast when these men, women and children all lived free? Africans that were abducted from the continent did not become slaves until they set foot in Europe or the New World, where they (and their descendants) would be become chattel. It is when that slave owner in Charleston or Kingston stripped an African of his/her identity, swapping the name Mansa for a meaningless appellation like Platt. The process of becoming a slave is not complete until a person’s humanity is completely ripped from them. The terrors unleashed in so-called seasoning camps in the Caribbean where men and women were broken to insure compliance and the horrors of torture cells on Butler Island and plantations all across the Deep South are what produced generations of slaves. To quote a line from LeVar Burton’s reproduction of Roots ‘You don’t buy a slave. You have to make a slave.’

Malachi Kirby portrays Kunta Kinte in 'Roots'

Malachi Kirby portrays Kunta Kinte in ‘Roots’

What we learned about – what the Europeans did when they forced millions of Africans onto floating death traps and what we continue to refer to in common parlance – was a brutal, mass forced migration, not a ‘trade in slaves’.

Our ancestors and abducted kin were people whose lives mattered. Lets honor them as such when we discuss their plight.

Not Just in Africa: A History of ‘Hyenas’

An article on BBC about a man hired by a community in Malawi to have sex with children went viral this week. Eric Aniva, the man featured in the story, is locally known as a ‘hyena’ and is paid approximately $6.00 to have sex with girls once they reach puberty. The members of this community, and others across Malawi, believe the ritual cleanses the girls and has the added benefit of protecting their families from the wrath of the gods. If the girls refuse, their families could be stricken with pestilence, crop failure and/or death.

As these published pieces often do, this article elicited much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth by anxious Africans terrified of earning the reputation that we are ‘primitive’ as a continent, willfully bucking against the glories and benefits of human evolution. They swooped into the comments section on social media to condemn the practice (rightfully) and cry out to God, wondering when-oh-when we would see the light and be saved from our backwardness ( to my surprise). You can read the entire BBC article HERE

source: bbc.com

source: bbc.com

Beyond provoking an ick response in me, this article served as a reminder of trivia I’d picked up some time ago. Eric Aniva was not the first ‘hyena’ I’d read about. The first time I’d heard about a man using his erection to ‘cleanse and protect’ the community was in the church. Yes, you heard that right. In Jewish, Roman and Greek customs, women’s bodies were considered ritualistically unclean. Her menstrual cycle – or any issue of blood – was considered an abomination.

We women bleed for all kinds of reasons: when we’re on our periods, when we’re stressed, when we’re giving birth, when we lose our virginity. That last order of business was what powerful, despotic men were most interested in…and somehow successfully convinced entire communities that their personally handling of that particular women’s issue was in everyone’s best interest. Church leaders persuaded (and eventually mandated) that every new bride be brought to the priest – God’s representative in the earth – in order that he dutifully deflower her. You must understand; his phallus was consecrated and therefore protected from her demonic first blood. Now, voila! No more Bloody New Brides in the realm for newlywed hubbies to have to concern themselves with.

It was kind of like a magic trick, except in every instance the trick ended in rape.

The practice of powerful men using their influence and authority to coerce women and girls into having sex with them is one longer than memory. It cuts across race, cultures and continents. The privilege of droit du seigneur – the right of the lord – is well documented and was practiced across medieval Europe. It gave feudal lords, land and title owners, men of noble birth and other rich scoundrels the legal right to have sexual relations with newly wedded brides on the first night of their union. You might recall the scene in Braveheart when King Longshanks gathered all his noblemen to discuss Scottish malcontent and the uprisings mushrooming in the north. He said,

“Perhaps it’s time to re-institute an old custom – prima nocta. First night. If we cannot route them out, we’ll brrrrreed them out.”

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Or something like that.

Point is, prima nocta was a real thing and poor red headed girls all over Scotland were made to spend their wedding night with some unctuous, obese English lord. *Shiver*

The English adopted prima nocta from the Romans, who had invaded and conquered Britain under Caesar. It was all fun and games until these jokers took the practice to a whole new level, when lords began charging men a fee for the ‘privilege’ of sleeping with their new brides. Men who could not afford to pay could not marry.

In the end, all this pretense about using old man cock to ‘cleanse’ a woman’s body, ward off potential evil events and the imposed idea that this is all very honorable comes down to one thing: Agency.

Who owns women’s bodies?

If we were to track the timeline of the human experience as a whole, there are only faint whispers of time when women have ever truly belonged to themselves. Cultures where women were given the same rights and privileges as men – including sexual agency – have been destroyed by crusaders of Abrahamic religions and replaced with the gender disparity we see now. If you’ve ever wondered why ancient Egypt was considered such a den of iniquity by the modern church, I would hazard that the culture’s permitting a woman the ability to rule as a Pharaoh would be a good place to start. And yet the land of Egypt served as a safe haven for prophets, kings and even young Jesus Christ Himself for a time.

Say what you will about feminism, but the movement has given young women and girls a powerful tool: the right to say “NO”. Where women are concerned and when I think about the church, Islam and the shadowy, ubiquitous myth known as African Culture, I think about obedience first and foremost. But rights? That’s somewhere down the line long after go and marry, if it even makes the list at all. Speaking as a former Muslim and a born again Christian, I confess that I have had to unlearn and reject almost everything I’ve been indoctrinated with as far as my gender is concerned.

When we teach young girls that they have the right to say no, we give them authority. They should be able to say no to female genital mutilation; no to dropping out of school in order to serve male whims and destiny; no to hyenas who are paid to ravish them just as they are entering womanhood’s doorstep.

That brings me back to my surprise at the responses of a good many people on Facebook who typed out their cries to God, pondering when things in Africa will change. The answer to that is simple: When WE decide to change them.

When we decide that women are full human beings.

When we decide that girls are not objects that we can physically mar for culture’s perverse pleasure.

When we decide to give women their place as influencers – not just through tokenism – in society.

When we decide to educate not just ourselves, but our communities about the benefits of a healthy, thriving female population and the positive generational ripple effects.

All of this requires a dynamic shift in power structure. What did it take to end this practice in churches, fiefdoms, kingdoms and remote outposts? Was it easy? Doubtful. The dominant classes do not relinquish their hold on power easily.

Even in different parts of the continent where we think we’re doing okay with gender politics, there is still room to grow and improve. I think about Africa and the type of girls self-proclaimed progressive men raise, but would never marry themselves. Girls who are assertive, intelligent and driven make impressive daughters but are not considered wife material. Now why is that? Perhaps this is a hyena tradition of a different sort.