Ghana (Part 1): November 1, 2009

One of the most exciting experiences of my life was my first trip to my motherland, Ghana! My father is originally from Ghana and has family there. Since I was 8, my cousin, Rispah and I have been pen pals, writing letters, then e-mails, now Facebook messages. We’ve always been in contact, and in some ways I feel like we’ve “grown up together.” We are the same age, so we graduated school at the same time and shared similar interests. She has 4 brothers and boy was I ecstatic to FINALLY meet them. Would they be like they seemed in the letters and on Facebook?

Unfortunately, I only had one week to get to know my cousins and family members. I flew over to Ghana, after spending six weeks in a nearby Nigeria. That one week was one to remember. 

This post is the beginning of a three part series on my Ghanaian experiences. Each post was at one time an entry in my private journal. 

Meeting Relatives For The First Time

Words cannot express how happy I am to be in my home country.  My excitement has overshadowed the inconveniences of not having tap water, air conditioner, and consistently wiping sweat off my forehead due to Ghana’s heat, and riding along the country’s bumpy roads.  It’s a meeting the family members that has truly made this experience remarkable. I met Auntie Akusia and when I first saw her, she was the spitting image of my father. Amazing. And because I have my father’s eyes, I have her eyes as well. I love it. I said to her, “Auntie Akusia, I think we look alike.” And she said “Yes we do!” And that has been one of my favorite moments here so far.

Seeing my grandmother (Ma’ami) was really cool too. She didn’t say much but I could tell that she was very excited to see me. Perhaps she was so excited she couldn’t find the words? I haven’t seen my grandmother (father’s mother) in 12 years. So it was truly nice to see her. She looks the same. She is a bit older but I am happy that after 80 years she looks pretty good! I gave her gifts: earrings and undergarments. I really hope she enjoys it.

My other Aunt told me the family history. She couldn’t speak much English so my cousin, Rod, served as the translator. I learned that Ma’ami had other brothers and sisters. They were all from Obo, a village in Ghana. She got married at the age of 18 and moved to Accra. My father was born in Accra and because he troubled his mother so much, she sent him to boarding school. Haha, I didn’t know Daddy was as troublesome as my little brother once was.

Preparing, Cooking & Eating Foofoo

While I was visiting with Ma’ami, Uncle Kofi and Auntie Akusia’s daughter, Auntie Akusia asked what I would like to eat and without hesitation, I exclaimed “Foofoo!” Foofoo is a dish made from cassava, or root crop and plaintains. It is boiled, then pounded together until it is a nice even texture. She asked if I wanted to pounded? I said “Yes” because throughout my entire time in Africa I’ve been on the adventurous tip—trying new things—acquiring new experiences and being somewhat of a daredevil so this didn’t seem like much different from having any other experience.  I really didn’t know what I was saying “yes” to until I actually saw my cousin pounding it and Auntie Akusia shifting the contents in the bowl.

Wow. The pounding instrument that she used was slightly taller than her and she was about 5 feet 5 inches! And me, at only 5 feet 2 inches, you can only imagine how large that instrument was compared to my small stature. She pounded it, using her entire body, and I tried it as well. I grabbed it but the thing was nearly as heavy as me. It took more strength for me to pick it up than to actually pound the contents. It was a funny sight. My other cousin, Auntie Akusia and my other Aunt were laughing so hard they had to hold their sides to contain themselves. Well at least I tried. Haha.

I thought pounding foofoo was difficult, haha, boy was I in for a surprise when I tried eating it! I tell Rod and the others all the time that I really think eating foofoo requires skills. They think I’m trying to be funny. But I seriously think so.

First you have to have strong hands cause the foofoo is in a large bowl with soup and they are both extremely hot. It won’t taste good cool, so you have to eat it warm. You have to cut the with you index finger and thumb, make a pouch with the foofoo and place the soup inside.  Sounds complicated eh? Haha, you have no idea!! It was extremely complicated. I struggled with my hands the foofoo for a few minutes and then gave up. And resorted to using a spoon. Whew, made is so much easier!

Discussions On Africa’s Ill Media Portrayal

Over foofoo, we had a discussion of how Africa is ill portrayed to the rest of the world. I hate that. Africa is so much more than what’s portrayed in the medida. One of things that has amazed me since I’ve been in Africa is how diverse people are in language, culture, clothes, expectations etc. Referring to Africa as a country is sad because it underestimates the continent’s diversity. I learned that Africa is 200 years behind the US in terms of development. That cannot be true? Wow. I have some work to do!

Natural Hair Lover vs. Permed Hair Lover

I love changing my hairstyle. Since going natural in 2006, I’ve embraced a variety of different hairstyles: long, straight, curly, kinky, locs, and twists.  I recently decided to stop straightening my hair. I have to admit: initially, I was hesitant about the decision. Would men be attracted to natural locs and an afro? After much contemplation, I’ve come the conclusion that type of man who are attracted to me with natural locs are completely different from the men who are attracted to me with long straight hair. Bottom line is this: if a guy won’t approach me because he doesn’t like my natural hair, well, he’s not my type.

What better way for me to convey that difference to you than to let you read a script of me conversing with a Natural Hair Lover (NHL) and a Permed Hair Lover (PHL). The difference is quite evident. Enjoy and please have a sense of humor 🙂

NHL is rockin a Angela Davis tee, with an arm band that resembles the colors of Ghana’s flag – yellow, red, green, and black. His hair in long locs, that reach the mid-part of his back.  He meets me at my Spoken Word Night at one of my favorite spots in Richmond, VA called Tropical Soul.

NHL: Is this seat taken, my Beautiful Black Sista?

Me: Sure. There’s no one sitting there.

NHL: I have to tell you, my African Queen, I love my sistas sportin their natural hair (puts his “Angela Davis” fist in the air) All these years, the White Man has been trying to get you to hate yourself – that your hair ain’t beautiful. But let me tell you, my Beautiful Black Queen, you are beautiful. Your hair is beautiful. Don’t ever change it.

Me: Thank you. (Returns the fist love.)

NHL: So, my Beautiful Black Queen, what brings you to Tropical Soul this evening?

Me: Well, I love poetry and spoken word. You can find me here every Tuesday night. How about you?

NHL: I come sometimes. These are some positive Black folks. Too many White people trying to keep the Black man down. Too many. I’m just trying to be positive.

Me: Yes. Trying to look for the show. So what are you planning for the holidays?

NHL: I’m a part of the African Revolution’s Party. I don’t celebrate the White man’s holidays.  Christmas with that White Santa. Why can’t Santa be a Black Man?

Me: Gee, well that’s great sir. It was nice meeting you.

Permed Hair Lover (PHL) walks into Tropical Soul with an entourage of 5 other females swinging their long straight hair. They look like they just step off a set of a rap music video. He has his shades on, and displays a swagger like no other. We meet at Tropical Soul for Poetry and Spoken Word Night when he sits at my table.

Me: Hi, I’m Jessica and you are?

PHL: I’m Antoine. (Looks away)

Me: So you come here often?

PHL: Not really. She (points to the girl with the longest hair among his groupies) invited me this evening. Not crazy about being in places like this; I’d rather be hanging out in my mansion in Beverly Hills.

Me: That’s great. (Unimpressed by his boastfulness)

PHL: And one of my girls, she gave me this expensive watch for my birthday. I’m a balla. Haha.

Me: Wow.

PHL: Yeah, you know. Everyone wanna be like me or with me. So tell me what’s up with your hair?

Me: What do you mean?

PHL: (Touches my hair and snickers). You know this whole Angela Davis get up. Why don’t you just get a perm. You’d prettier if you did that.

Me: You mean straighten my hair like them? (Pointing to the his groupies.)

PHL: (Smiles.) Yes.

Jagged Little Pill: Soundtrack to My 20s

If I could choose any album to depict life in my 20s it would be Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.” Yeah, I know that album was released 16 years ago, but it is still relevant! There’s a song on that album that fits my mood at almost any given moment in my life. For instance:

When I finally meet the man of my dreams. He likes the same things I do. He understands and accepts me and my quirkiness. He isn’t swayed by my occasional outbursts. He thinks I’m great even when I’m being unbearable.  He possesses all the qualities that are rare to find in one human being. Then, he moves halfway across the world to be a PeaceCorps volunteer in an African country. In a turn of events, his new career require him to live in Africa permanently. You admire his tenacity, and his drive to give back, but you’re saddened by the realization that a relationship with someone across the Atlantic Ocean will not work.  Situations like this, I play “Ironic.”

When I run into the lanky guy who had a huge crush on me back in 10th grade. Back then, he was awkward; he sat in the back of the classroom reading Harry Potter books and playing with his pet frog. He wore mismatched outfits that were the topic of everyone’s conversation.  I run into him at the local mall. Only this time, he’s not lanky and awkward anymore. He’s handsome and refined. He’s funny; he’s a gentleman. He’s an engineer at a company in Atlanta and in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, he’s managed to hold down a full-time well-paying job. Now, he’s someone I want to date, I say to myself. Only drawback is, he always brings up the “time when” I wasn’t feeling him. He dangles words that I once said that he found hurtful like “Let’s just be friends” or “You’re like a brother!” in my face.  I meant those words on that day, but today, I want to take them back. Moments like this, I play “Head Over Feet.”

When stuff hits the fan. You’re tired of hearing what you should do from your parents, from your friends, and from your relatives. You decide to do it your way. And your way is to get in your car and drive away from your problems. You fill up your gas tank and drive as far as your gas tank permits. Alas, you can breathe. You can hear your own thoughts, your own inner voice. Freedom, and it smells and feels so good. In this moment, “Hand In My Pocket” bleeds through my speakers.

And when all is said and done. I’m lying in bed counting sheep and gazing at the ceiling. Reflecting on life and its lessons. Why I left the good guy – the one who would do anything in his power to make me happy – for the bad guy – the one who would do anything in his power to make himself happy.  How I should have listened to my parents when they gave me advice that was hard to take, that’s when I play “You Learn.”

Yep, Alantis Morisette, she knows the experiences I’ve had in my 20s very well.

What album would you choose to be the soundtrack of your 20’s? 30’s? 40’s? Or whatever decade you’re currently in?