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Purple Squirrel in a Pathfinder

A purple squirrel is a mythical creature; a being of lore. Something that has peculiar characteristics (like purple fur), but for the most part can still be identified as a squirrel. It’s kinda like a unicorn.

Last Monday a woman in black cloth and a black hajib approached me at my kids’ school in Adenta. She looked ‘African’ (but certainly not Ghanaian) but before she even spoke, I knew there was something American about her.


Why was she standing next to Aya’s and Nadjah’s teachers? Why did they nod in my direction as I approached? What was that white envelope she was holding? This was all very strange.

“Good afternoon,” I said to the group. 

“Good afternoon,” they replied.

The woman in black was staring at my face, half smiling. Me? I was just confused.

“Please, this lady said she was looking for you,” said one of the teachers.

The woman in black spoke up quickly.

“I was reading your blog…”

You were reading my blog??”

“Yes. A friend of mine in California directed me to it, and I said I HAVE to come and meet you.”

How the heck did this chick find me? In Adenta of all places?!?

“Your blog is hilarious!” she continued. “I read one of your pieces, and realized our kids came to the same school!”

“Wow… What a coincidence,” I said in amazement…and a certainly level of concern. I mean, she could be crazy as a bed bud for all I knew.

I stood there listening to her as she spoke, regarding her cautiously. I still wasn’t too sure how this woman with a mix of Ghanaian, Northerner and American accents in local cloth was able to find me on the internet. I mean, she looked like a market queen – like she should be directing small girls to go and buy and sell tomatos…not reading blogs.

“My name is Khadija,” she said.

“I’m Malaka.”

But then, you already knew that, didn’t you? I thought.

After a short chat, we exchanged numbers and I hopped into my waiting taxi. Her children hopped into a massive silver Pathfinder. Ei.

The next day, my new unassuming friend called me to chew the fat (as much as you can on Ghana’s cell phone plans). She wanted to invite me for lunch. We went to a half chop bar/ half restaurant establishment with blue cement walls to eat. As we sat down to meal of jollof rice, salad and chicken – you know…’gentleman food’ –  we talked about everything. Life in Ghana and what it takes to adjust and survive here dominated the conversation. She told me that she was really happy to read about my experiences and observations during my short trip here.

“It let me know that I wasn’t crazy!” she cried.

In the midst of conversation, I discovered that my very obviously Muslim friend was indeed Black American, and had come to Ghana to raise her children in fulfilment of a promise. After much turmoil, she’d built a home and was preparing to start a new school. She regaled me with tales of survival that had me ashamed that I considered $4 paper towels and the harvesting of rain water to bathe as hardships. I told her so.

“You have a maturity about you that I just don’t posses,” I admitted. “Yeah, I’m a woman…but you are a WOMAN.”

“Ehh? Is it true? A ‘full woman’, as they say.”

“That’s right!”

We both laughed. Khadijah likes to laugh.

Over the course of the next week, we saw each other just about everyday this hajiah and her Pathfinder. Everyday, she gave me a tidbit of information that shocked me. Among the tales of juju that had directed at her,  stories about her insane ex-husband, and the treachery of both the Ghanaian businessman and layman that is always trying to cheat the next person, it was the revelation of where she was from that had me stuck.

“Girl. I’m from Compton,” she said when I asked her where in America she was from.

“Compton. You mean ‘Compton ‘Compton?”

“Yup,” she said with a broad smile.

Suddenly, we were discussing Snoop, hip-hop and car shows.

“Did you ever think you would be in Ghana talking about asymmetric bobs and hydraulics with another woman?” she asked with a laugh.

“Oh yeah. Sure,” I replied. “You can have these conversations in Ghana. In Cantoments, in Labone, in Osu…among Ghanaians who have been abroad. But not in Adenta. Not with a Black American woman dressed as YOU are, who is from COMPTON!”

Have you heard of such before? You haven’t! That is why Khadija (which is obviously not her gob’ment name) is my purple squirrel.

This article has 7 comments

  1. Ekua

    I am actually the friend that had told her about your blog. I some how came across your blog on facebook when I was supposed to be “working” (it was during the summer and work was slow at my job). A friend of mine had commented about an article you wrote discussing the woman that killed her kids. Anyways, I’m glad that you were able to meet.

  2. nana ama

    I always knew your writing will make you famous! Now pray, enlighten those of us who don’t know what/where Compton is? Is it like, ‘those cheats in Ghana would have thought twice before trying to hoodwink a sistah from Compton’, sort of place?:):) Good on her for taking them on, and winning!

  3. Manman Chimawu

    Hi Nana Ama, greetings on your blog. I don’t often read blogs bc they tend to have the same shallow analysis of Accra/Ghana. The problems I see, which is evident in your blog as well, is the over exaggeration of Accra/Ghana as different/foreign/exotic and by extension worse than other places. Let me introduce myself.I am Haitian. Lived in the US and now living in Ghana for the past 5 years.I was a study abroad student at Legon in 1998. I speak Twi, not bc I wanted to,but bc the language was easy for me to adopt. Ghana is not my ancestral home. I am a historian on Islam in Ghana. I home school my children in the mornings and lecture at Ashesi University in the afternoons.
    That said, here is where I think your analysis failed Accra/Ghana and added to the general whining about Africa and life in Ghana. I hope this does not sound harsh.
    In Purple Squirrel, I think you missed the difference between how this American woman was able to live more Ghanaian than you. First you did not do your homework before coming to Ghana. You came as a foreigner/American. You came willing to live the life as “other” for the 3 weeks or so of your visiting. And why wouldn’t things be expensive? Where else in the world could you visit, living a life in limbo, and not have it expensive? When visiting a place, we let ourselves just spend, as oppose to living as frugal when at home. I would have cut cost by cooking meals, for one example. Eating out is bad everywhere, bc they cannot offer you what they dont have. You like to eat vegetables, then cook them!
    You did not come to learn as much as possible in your 3 weeks to make your life better for being here.You came with the same old ignorance present in the US (I assume you are coming from America. Sorry if wrong and sounding harsh; English is not my first language.)
    As someone who have not lived in a country for a while, I would have contacted people in that particular country who were living as I would like to live. I would have asked questions such as where to shop to get the best deals. I would have sent a general email to a list serve about where to get organic products.I would have posted a status on fb telling people that I am returning to Ghana with 3 children and need places for them to play, where we can eat on the dime, and everything else to make my money stretch and last. I pinch my dimes!
    Secondly, I would have realized that shops selling imported processed foods will always be expensive, as they are ANYWHERE ELSE! There is nothing exceptional about buying $4 tissue roll in Ghana, which was most likely not made in Ghana! Imports are expensive and location matters. Buying regular water bottles in Costco costs less than buying the same in a supermarket on the upper west side. (I was screwed royally before finding this out.)
    Your daily routine was expensive bc you decided to take individual taxis as opposed to renting a taxi for the month you were here for a fraction of the cost. This is the kind of information that only flows from people who are living in Ghana, with similar background as you and living as you would like to live. They have part of the answers as to how things are done here. I rented a taxi for a month in 2005 for 40, 000 (old cedis), 4GHC today.
    I am also a member of the African American Association and provide newcomers/visitors/settlers information on housing, work, networking, etc. Depending on older family members, who lived at a particular time, and not really present in the newness of the now, is not often as helpful as you would think. I also noticed that Ghanaians who left in the 80s/90s have a perception that they are coming back to the same country. Ghana’s GDP is one of the world’s fastest growing. The wealth in this country makes the 1980s/90s period look like a different country completely.
    I don’t think such blogs help dispel the myths or the negative perceptions about Ghana. I think they add to it especially because they are coming from “homegrown” people. What is missing is an analysis of the situation based on all the options possible. What could you have done differently? Accra is an abstract entity managed by individuals, like all other cities/countries. Realizing how similar it all is will allow you to better plan when visiting anywhere, than assume its going to be too different for you to control.
    OK. Far too long and I am forgetting some of the points I wanted to make. Hope we can meet when you come back, which you should. You owe it to Ghana!

    • Malaka

      Manman, you assume far too much. My first reaction is to be aggravated and annoyed by your preachy tone, but I will refrain from instinct. I lived in Ghana from age 8 to 18 before leaving to go to uni in the US. I come home every few years for holiday. So, the sharp rise in the cost of living from the last time I was here in 2008 to today was a jolt. Yeah, I could have done all the things you mentioned and saved some money, but I didn’t you live and learn.

      Thanks for the advice.

  4. Manman Chimawu

    How do I press delete? I did not mean to annoy you.

  5. David S.

    Okay, Manman I’ll admit, I stopped reading your comments after the second paragraph or so. But I’ll still say this. Lighten up. Malaka is simply expressing her day to day thoughts in a blog. This is not an analysis, or an argument for or against living in Ghana, it’s just not that serious. She’s just blogging about her experiences and frustrations.

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