Author Archives: Malaka

My Personal Choices From My Previous Life Lived in America Have Come to Haunt Me in South Africa

*Note: This is not a lament, nor am I disparaging my host country. These are simply musings based on my observations.

Today as I sat in the lobby of the local branch of Standard Bank and found my senses assaulted by the glare of LED lights that bounced off the newly waxed floors, I felt a small wave of nostalgia wash over my feet. (Not enough to engulf me completely, you understand. I do enjoy this new life on semi-permanent vacation.) I was reminiscing over the days when I worked in a corporate environment just like this one: One that required me to slip into pinstriped trousers, a conservative blouse and side- part my permed hair before scooping it into a ponytail. In those moments, I missed looking and feeling important. I missed office chatter. But above all, I missed my check.

The only thing I love more than living in semi-permanent vacation mode is a fat, direct deposited check.

The husband and I were there to add my name as a co-signer to this new house account. In the past and with a job at which I spent 40 hours a week, I was a regular contributor to that account. And then with the birth of each additional child, each needing more attention at home and daycare costs depleting the entirety of my earnings, I volunteered to sacrifice my 8-5, my 401K, my health insurance and in-depth analyses of America’s Next Top Model with my co-workers in order to stay at home with the kids. That’s how I joined the ranks of the SAHM’s in 2008. Being in the bank in a different country brought all of those memories of that decision into focus for some reason.

Let me not fib. The recollection wasn’t “for some reason”. It was for a very specific one. As I was being added to the account, it was incumbent upon a very sweet account manager to ask me a series of questions in order to determine my eligibility.

Do you have proof of address? (I didn’t, because my husband’s name is on the lease of the house we’re renting, not mine.)

What is your occupation? (Self-employed, I said confidently.)

In what industry? (Literature. I’m an author.)

For how long? (Since 2009.)

And what is your monthly income? (*Crickets…* I’m racking my brains to provide this woman with an answer, but all I keep seeing is the big fat $0.00 in royalties because I’ve sold NO books this month. And the crickets just keep on chirping…)

It is at this point that my husband snaps me out of my deer-in-the-headlights trance and informs the Sweet Account Manager that my monthly income is the same as his: $x,000. I make a wise crack about what’s his being mine and we all laugh. The uncomfortable moment seems to have passed, but it hasn’t. All I can think about is how I’ve failed the cause of women everywhere because not only have I earned no money this month, but I CAN’T earn an income here because I am an immigrant/expat on a volunteer visitor’s visa. A host of historical wrongs smack me in the face, unbidden and unwelcome.

I was reminded of the indignities women in the early part this century have had to battle; limits put on them based exclusively on their gender and marital status. The moment harkened back to the Depression Era when the dependency of marriage was taking shape, as societal attitudes about women working outside of the home were so negative that it affected federal policy. (Section 213 of the 1932 Federal Economy Act prohibited more than one family member from working for the government, barring many married women from federal employment.) Sitting there with my husband benevolently giving me access to HIS money in what is frankly HIS account, I was reminded of the horror stories I’d heard about married women being unable to open up lines of credit without their husbands approval, and single women precluded entirely. I thought about immigrants, both legal and undocumented who all have the very human instinct (and need) to earn a living in order to provide for their families….or damn it…just keep themselves occupied during the week, and all the laws that prohibit them from maximizing their (and my, now that I’ve joined their ranks) potential.

None of this internal struggle was my husband’s fault. We discussed the implications of becoming a one-income home and I’d made the choice voluntarily. It’s just that when you’re covered in smashed bananas, watching Yo Gaba Gaba(!) in 2009, you don’t see yourself in a newly built bank tussling with these emotions in 2016. I didn’t realize how much I was affected until I was interviewed by a PhD doing an analysis of non-conformist Ghanaian feminists later on this evening.

I was explaining that if I were forced to categorize myself, I’d call myself a “womanist”, rather than a “feminist”. My issues with white, liberal feminism a la Patricia Arquette are well documented. The Good Doctor seemed rather miffed that I would not call myself a feminist until she assured me that she was not. Out of nowhere, she hit me with:

“Do you work?”

The question sucked the air out of me. Again, it was as if my absence from the traditional workforce diminished my value. A value that’s intrinsically tied to a paycheck or summons to meetings in Prague or TedEx Talks or whatever activities women/feminists of “worth” engage in.

I muttered that I cannot work because I’ve just relocated to South Africa.

“I can’t even sweep the street for pay.”

“Oh. So you’ll just have to be a stay at home mom for a bit,” she said. She took the tone of someone who’d just discovered pond scum on her lover’s scrotum and advised him to wash it off. “Well, since you’ll have plenty of time on your hands, there are some Black feminists works you should read. I’ll send them to you.”

I resisted the urge to cackle at the notion that I’ll have – or will ever have – “plenty of time” because I’m a SAHM. I opted to thank her instead.

At the end of the day, I recoil at my present reality because I KNOW how tough it is for women who have been out of the workforce to re-enter after a certain period of time. It is assumed their skills have atrophied and therefore make more of a charity case than valuable contributor to any corporation’s cause. I’ve seen their resumes rejected and have in turn been instructed to reject their resumes by my recruiting manager(s). I’ve seen them come in and struggle with opening an Excel document after being given a shot a position. I’ve seen them escorted off the premises because they’ve oversold themselves in the interview and it has become apparent after 2 days that “this isn’t going to work out”. What becomes of these once promising lives…women who can’t open lines of credit or bank accounts or Microsoft based programs because their earning potential is no greater than $25.00 a month selling homemade hair gel or books about trapping things in baskets for that matter?

 

You tell me.

 

I peddle books on Amazon and StoreFoundry.com

The Saga of my #Lost(GhanaMustGo)Bag

*Please make this go viral. Tell Richard Branson and the SAA CEO that they can keep everything else. Just please return my First Lady hat unharmed. The white hat never hurt anybody and deserves better than this!*

gmg

Travel is often difficult. It is made even more so when the carrier responsible for transporting you, your loved ones and your luggage loses any one of those entities. (My brother was one lost for 36 hours while flying as an unaccompanied minor on KLM when he was 6.)

Fortunately, none of my children found themselves misplaced during our transit between Atlanta and South Africa, but the airline(s) DID manage to lose the ONLY bag containing ALL of my shoes, my First Lady hat, my pale blue pashmina, my Blue Magic, my wide tooth combs AND my professional grade flat irons. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love my shoes.

This tale of woe continues here…

 

Has an airline ever lost your bag? What was the eventual outcome? Surely by NOW they must understand why so many people are reluctant to stow their luggage! It’s a black hole down there.

Patriarchal African Men: Learn to Cook Your Own Food and Fulfill God’s Will for Your Life

source: somalispot.com

source: somalispot.com

When my family moved to our long-term rental in Labone, the area provided all of the creature comforts that a girl of nine would need. There was a shady tree under which to shoot the breeze, a kiosk across the street that sold toffee and Malta when you could afford it and there were nice, and wide tarred roads on which to ride your bike if a girl was fortunate to own one. My sister and I were such fortunate girls.

Funny thing about bicycles: their tires always seem to go flat at the most inconvenient moments. Fortunately for us, there was a pair of enterprising young men who operated a tire repair “shop” of the corner down the street from our house. Peter and his brother What’s His Name would happily patch the punctures in our tubes for a few cedis very two weeks. In time, I began to see a pattern: Our tires would be stout and good as new for about 5 days, after which they would develop a slow leak which would then require the two brothers’ attention in addition to what was racking up to be a fair amount of our money in exchange. Finally, somebody in our house had had enough of those particular shenanigans.

  • A tire repair kit was brought from America.
  • My father showed us how to remove the bolts and separate the wheels from the frame.
  • Superior patches were applied.
  • The three of us learned to inflate tires with our new pump, and in teaching us these skills in basic mechanics, our parents saved themselves dozens of cedis in the long term and planted a seed about the perception of our abilities as girls and the realities concerning gender roles, by extension.

If you haven’t gathered by now, the rudimentary lesson is that ability and skill have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with training.

You can’t train a man to grow and uterus and give birth, but you CAN train him wash his own clothes. Likewise, you can’t train a woman to impregnate another living being, but she can certainly learn to engineer some new software or solve complex equations. (Not too long ago, it was a firmly held belief that math and science were “boy subjects”, because girls did not posses the intelligence to allow them to excel or operate in these areas.) Really, the only thing that differentiates a man from a woman is the tools required for human reproduction. Neither sex is holier, smarter or more/less compassionate than the other. Feminism tells us this. Common sense tells us this. Even the bible that patriarchal African men delight to thump the population with tells us this. And yet; I don’t know what it is about the typical African male that makes him so obdurate when confronted with this basic premise.

source: whisper.com

source: whisper.com

There’s just this ONE idea that this breed of men remain completely moored to, and it’s that cooking is the exclusive domain of women. Married women in particular. In fact, it is vehemently asserted by pastors and playboys alike (who can forget Dag Heward-Mill’s lament and brain-itching church camp chant about Ghana Girls’ inability to fry an egg) that if a woman doesn’t/won’t/can’t cook for a man, she is no “real woman” at all. And she must be a feminist. And feminism is of the devil.

Yesu Cristo. You don’t spend your days planning meals, boiling rice or pounding yam and suddenly you are a Satan worshiper… Because toiling in the kitchen is the only way to exhibit “submission” and harmony in the (faux) Judeo-Christian African home. If you are such a man using the bible to shame, antagonize and needle women into adhering to something that is contrary to her nature or core beliefs, I am here to help us all. I believe you will be blessed when you, Patriarchal African Man, not only can but SHOULD be cooking for yourself and your family. The one thing standing between you and your destiny may be a coal pot, a spatula and a word from God. That said, I bring you:

 

GREAT CHEFS OF THE BIBLE

 

There were once two brothers: Jacob and Esau. They were twins. Jacob was favored by his mother and kept close by her. Esau was a hunter and a gruff man, beloved by his father. As you might recall from your children’s bible studies, Esau was the older twin and was therefore the rightful heir to his father’s legacy (and fortune). Well, things didn’t work out for ol’ Esau because his hunger got the best of him and he didn’t have the patience to cook his own food. You pastor is always telling you not to sell your birthright for a pot of soup but what he neglects to tell you is that your manifest destiny is in learning to cook your own beans in the first place.

Genesis 25:29-33

29 One day Jacob was boiling a pot of vegetable soup. Esau came in from hunting in the fields, weak from hunger. 30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red soup, because I am weak with hunger.” (That is why people call him Edom.)

31 But Jacob said, “You must sell me your rights as the firstborn son.”

32 Esau said, “I am almost dead from hunger. If I die, all of my father’s wealth will not help me.”

33 But Jacob said, “First, promise me that you will give it to me.” So Esau made a promise to Jacob and sold his part of their father’s wealth to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and vegetable soup, and he ate and drank, and then left. So Esau showed how little he cared about his rights as the firstborn son.

The story ends with a prophesy that Esau will become Jacob’s, Jacob becomes Israel and his people prosper in the land for a time.

 

See? If you learn how to cook your own beans, you can get a new identity and become the father of a whole nation of filmmakers, jewelers, bankers and high end fashion designers to boot.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider the Levitical priests of the Old Testament, or as I like to call them, the OGMs: Original Grill Masters.

The Old Testament is full of burnt offerings: rams, bulls, turtledoves, goats, and sheep without speckle. They would make a great sacrifice of flesh, sprinkle some blood on the altar and the presence of the Lord would fill the temple. Don’t you, Patriarchal African Man also want to be a bringer of the presence of the Lord? Don’t you want to bring comfort to those you presume to lead and call yourself head of? Learn to dress and grill meat!

Finally, you know who else was a great chef? Jesus. You heard me right: Jesus H. Christ used to cook for those he loved. And I’m not talking about that one time when he blessed a small boy’s lunch box and feed 5,000 people with a few morsels of bread and koobi. I’m talking about how he prepared food for his loved ones.

John 21: 7-14

The follower whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Peter heard him say this, he wrapped his coat around himself. (Peter had taken his clothes off.) Then he jumped into the water. The other followers went to shore in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. They were not very far from shore, only about a hundred yards. When the followers stepped out of the boat and onto the shore, they saw a fire of hot coals. There were fish on the fire, and there was bread.

10 Then Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went into the boat and pulled the net to the shore. It was full of big fish, one hundred fifty-three in all, but even though there were so many, the net did not tear. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat.” None of the followers dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, along with the fish.

14 This was now the third time Jesus showed himself to his followers after he was raised from the dead.

Christian African Patriarchal Man: Are you better than Jesus? If Christ could grill fish and serve bread, what law prevents you from doing the same? Or you are not a disciple? See your life.

The bible says in Ephesians 5 that:

28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies. The man who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds and takes care of it. And that is what Christ does for the church, 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 The Scripture says, “So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.”

Why are you so averse to taking care of your own body? You want the body to take care of itself while you do what…watch Man Utd all evening? My dear fellow, take up your cross AND your spatula and stop this behavior. Your unwillingness to learn to cook and leaving the task exclusively to women to cook is ungodly, plain and simple. If you don’t care enough to explore her feelings on the matter, at least be selfish enough to consider how your brutish laziness looks like sloth and rebellion in the eyes of God. And then repent.

Selah.

 

 

 

Sabona! Greetings from the bottom of the World!

One of the greatest thrills of international travel is observing customs and human quirks that are foreign to the observer. If you can’t travel internationally, however, people watching at the mall provides you with similar rewards. Recently, I’ve found myself absorbed with greeting rituals. From dap, to a simple handshake, the ubiquitous Black nod or White folk’s tight-lipped half smile as they pass one another in the park, it’s all totally fascinating to me.

A few days ago I found myself in the midst of an awkward greeting ritual during my early days in the country. I passed a fashionably dressed man in a stairwell. We made eye contact. I smiled.

“Sabona”, he said in a creamy baritone.

“‘Sup”, I replied awkwardly.

CONTINUE READING HURR….

Why I Let My Girls Jump In the Frigid Pool Waters at the Holiday Inn

We were stinky. We were cranky. We were happy to have the cylindrical flying ship that had borne us from one hemisphere to another at our backs. Finally! We were in South Africa!

After making small talk with the man at the reception desk at the Holiday Inn in Jo’burg and tipping our very happy porter R50 (about $3.45 or the price a one piece meal at KFC), I instructed the girls to get washed up so that we could go to bed.

“But we’re hungry,” they said.

How could they be hungry? We had just spent nearly 24 hours doing nothing but eating, sitting and watching outdated films! Whatever. If they wanted to stuff a few more items down their already engorged colons, so be it. The sooner we ate, the sooner we could get to bed, and the sooner I could get my swollen feet elevated.

Dinner was a buffet that night. There were two types of rice, a curried fish, some sort of red meat in gravy and a spicy chicken. The vegetables were oily and the salad fixings were dull. But the desert table? Whew! That was on fleek! I allowed the girls to have their fill of sugar, knowing that I’d regret it later. It didn’t matter. We were outchea now! In the middle of a mouthful of chocolate pudding, Nadjah spied the hotel’s outdoor pool just beyond the lobby’s glass doors.

“Can we go swimming tonight, Mommy?” Her voice was sodden with hope.

I sighed, mentally running down a litany of reasons why it was completely impractical and utterly unlikely that they would be swimming that night. Finally, I decided to allow them to employ reason and self-determination, rather than enforcing my own will.

“Go outside and put your hands in the water. If you think it’s warm enough, then yes. You can go swimming.”

Nadjah’s jaw scraped the floor. She asked me to repeat myself. I obliged, to the disbelief of all.

“Really?” said Aya, her voice a squeak.

Yes. Really. I assured them that it was okay. The three girls walked hastily to the pool to test the waters while I waited at the table, knowing what the verdict would be. It was 56 degrees in Johannesburg that night, which meant the water was no warmer than 50 degrees. That’s mighty cold. The receptionist had already informed them that the pool would not be heated, but they were welcome to swim if they wished. They rushed back to the table with their discovery.

“It’s COLD!” they whispered loudly in near unison.

“Are you still going to swim?”

Initially, they were all down to take the plunge until Nadjah changed her mind. She would rather sit in the room and watch TV, she announced.

Really? You’re just going to plant this ridiculous idea in your sisters’ heads and then back out? I see how it is now.

Aya and Liya were still game. They rushed back up to the room and changed into their swimming suits, swathed in the hotel’s enormous white towels to guard against the chilly air. I followed behind, taking one apathetic step after another. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and rest my swollen feet! However I knew that if I were patient, the elements would do the work of getting them back into the room for me.

Aya was the first to leap into the water. She broke through the surface with a mighty splash and let out a yelp when she re-emerged. Liya followed after her, screeching as soon as her feet touched glassy water.

“AAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!”

“SSSSHHHHHH!!!!” I hissed. “You wanted this! Don’t yell and disturb the other people resting!”

They giggled and reiterated how COLD it was. I leaned back in my lounge chair, stifling my laughter until the exercise became futile. I don’t know what was so amusing about watching my children punish themselves again and again by submerging themselves in the frigid liquid, but I was thoroughly entertained. (I suppose it’s for the same reason we laugh when the athletically challenged darn near destroy themselves on America’s Funniest Home Videos or Ninja Warrior.) We weren’t out there for more than 5 minutes. 5 minutes of self-flagellation was enough for my girls to test their limits.

As we re-entered the hotel, we found ourselves subject to stares both quizzical and disapproving. It was for that very reason that I allowed my girls to do something as “foolish” as jump into the pool on a mild winter’s night in South Africa.

Because Black people don’t do that sort of thing.

Because ‘Black girls don’t swim.’

Because Black girls should have more moments to live carefree.

Because my children should not find my reactions so predictable.

Because their father never would have let them.

Because their grandmother would disapprove.

Because I don’t remember if my own parents would have let me or my siblings.

Because they were perfectly safe in my presence.

Because everyone should have fond memories of a crazy incident or daring do.

Because they were not afraid to try.

Because they should never fear a challenge, especially one of their own making.

Because it was out of character.

Because we outchea.

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SAA and the Franken Air Hostess

source: Pintrest

source: Pintrest

“What do you mean that I cannot speak my language? If I want to speak my language, I will speak it!”

Our flight had taken a scheduled detour to Ghana’s capital – Accra – where the cabin was being cleaned by the local ground crew and a new set of meals, blankets and headsets brought on board to accommodate new passengers. I stood in the aisle, gazing out of the windows at Kotoka International’s arrival terminal and the numerous mansions that had sprung up all around it. They looked out of place, cuddling the tarmac so tightly. They bothered me, but something else had me ill at ease.

In the early moments after landing I was dumbstruck by a sensation I was experiencing. Or a lack of a sensation, I should say. I was shocked by the absence of a need to bound down the rolling stairs and run pell-mell towards to arrival hall in a desperate bid to get “home”. My pulse was surprisingly steady. My breathing easy. I demonstrated none of the physical reactions of a person who missed home, was close to home and yet so far away. I exhibited none of the frustration and sadness of being kept at bay from a desired target. What was going on here? When did the sight of Accra inspire such little arousal in me?

I didn’t have time to examine my (lack of) perplexion further. A woman’s shouting had drawn me from my thoughts.

 

Continue Reading Here…

Pictures of Muhammed Ali For You From My Dad

The Greatest, the Prettiest, the Butterfly AND the Bee. There was no one – no one! – like Muhammed Ali.

The world lost yet another icon this week. Muhammed Ali, born Cassius Clay, died at age 74 surrounded by family and friends in a circle of love. His daughter Leila said that his wouldn’t stop beating for 30 minutes after all his organs failed. Doctors had never seen anything like it. He died like he lived: full of surprises, showboating and awe-inspiring.

Physically, Ali cut an imposing figure and was as lightening quick with his tongue as he was with his jab. I never knew much about Ali, except that my dad and everyone my dad knew loved him. That means I too loved him by proxy. However, I never studied him as a historical figure or researched facts about his life. I don’t have any fond memories about what Muhammed Ali meant or affected me personally. It would be disingenuous for me to say that he inspired me personally, though I know he inspired millions. I desperately wish that that was my testimony. The more a read of him, the more of a loss – a retroactive missing out – I feel.

At least I have the memory of certain Ali-isms being quoted with regularity in our home…or at least, one phrase in particular was: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. (The phrase once uttered obliged the speaker to skit and shadowbox in the moment.)

I grew up with these pictures of Muhammed Ali in an album that my father kept proudly stashed on a bookshelf in our home. I vaguely remember friends of his dropping by the house and exclaiming “Ei! Kwasi! Where did you take these pictures?” My dad would smile mischievously in response and tell the query-maker not to worry about it.

That long forgotten and oft repeated moments didn’t mean until just now when he Whatsapp’d me and asked me to share these rare photos with my friends and readers. I asked him how he procured the shots. The answer shocked me. This my father! And here I was thinking I was wild in my youth. This rogue old man was even more the rogue in his 20’s.

You also want to know how he got these pictures, eh?

Don’t worry about it.

What you are looking at are pictures of Muhammed Ali during his visit to Ghana in 1964. He met with President Nkrumah and Asantehene Prempeh in Accra and Kumasi. I once read that he wore kente cloth wherever he went and insisted on being addressed by his given Akan name whilst in the country.

What a class act.

Please peruse and feel free to share these pictures on all your social networks in celebration of a true son of Africa. If someone out there can digitally clean them up, don’t forget to redirect back here so we can all see!

 

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