Some of you know I'm in Ghana now, celebrating my son's graduation. What a blast it has been! When Tolu called ten days before the event, I had no idea I would be able to make the trip, but I found a flight on KLM and voila!
It never ceases to amaze me how you can be in one world and then you get on a plane and come out into a totally different world. The heat! Talk about oven hot! The smell of sugar cane and flowers! Many of us were sweaty, especially those of us who flew from the U.S. to Amsterdam the day before and didn't have a chance to shower before flying to Ghana, 20 hours in all! I look forward to United Airlines and all those companies flying directly to Ghana. It will be only 9 hours instead of twenty!
People don't realize that London and Accra are both on the same longitude. The Prime Meridian passes through both, so Accra is nearly the same distance from Washington or New York as London is. Yes, Ghana isn't that far away. Cultural difference is another thing all together! But let's back up a bit and talk about the flight.
From Washington to Amsterdam, I sat next to a woman who took half my seat with her weight. Now, I have no desire to persecute those challenged weight-wise (I've been there), but I can now understand why airlines demand that massive people buy two tickets. On an eight-hour overnight flight, I thought it most unfair of my neighbor to not only take the arm rest but half of my seat. Fortunately, the lovely stewardess had mercy and put me next to a lovely gentleman who must be the happiest American I've ever encountered. He lives in Virginia, is an IT executive, CEO of another firm, lives on a farm, raises his own chickens etc, and has a lovely wife and a very lucky one-year-old. Dad speaks a smattering of several languages and is determined to teach them to his son. What a lucky little fellow. The next leg of the trip, Amsterdam-Accra, is forgettable except for the last thirty minutes when I th0ought the plane would never land.
I emerged from Immigration and Customs and there stood the loveliest son in the whole wide world! He picked me up like I weighed nothing and I hugged him until I thought I'd cry. My wonderful big brother was there too. It was nine p.m., 87 steamy degrees outside and the car's aircondition waged a brave but futile battle with the heat. We got home to my brother's house where we ate cocoyam leaf stew with boiled yams which I washed down with icy guava juice, yummm! Did I mention that my sister-in-law was lovely and a great cook? That's how day one went.
Right now, I'm enjoying a visit with a friend. Stay tuned for more with pictures. I have limited internet access but will update soon!
It’s no secret that I don’t like cats, and yet whenever I’m in the vicinity of one, it immediately crawls up to me and settles onto my lap. No matter how many times I try to push it off, it comes back. In Ghana, a litter of cats settled into my garden and refused to leave. But lately, one cat has made me realize how honest cats are. They love to be touched. Only when they feel like it, of course, which can irritate anyone who feels a need to control others.
When Yasmine is hungry, she lets me know it, though she isn’t mine. She recognizes my car, doesn’t jump on me but just waits pointedly by her bowl. Then, when she has eaten to her fill and she would like to be stroked, she climbs into my lap and rubs herself against me. No games. Just purring and rubbing. She just isn’t a slave to anyone. I watch her and suddenly I get it; she’s just like me!
Like cats, all humans have a need to cuddle next to another human being. It simply feels good. So I’m learning to show compassion. When Yasmine’s owner is on a trip and she rubs herself against me, I let her settle on my lap. I stroke her and she purrs. I’m learning that cats are intelligent and choosy and sensual.
The Twi-speaking people of Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Benin, use proverbs to adorn the speech and make it rich. Among the Akans (twi-speaking people), the skillful use of proverbs is a sign of good breeding. Here’s a proverb that spoke to me recently:
‘εreba, εreba’ na eye hu, na enya ba a εnyε hu bio.
“It’s coming, it’s coming” is what is frightful, but once it arrives, it’s no longer scary.
In other words, news of an impending event is more dreadful than the event itself. Isn’t that the truth? So we are to stop fearing for the future or what lies ahead. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
I keep wondering why it's so difficult for me to blog sometimes. I get these ideas floating inside my head, but when I sit down to write, I freeze. I think the reason is cultural and generational.
In Ghana, you don't go on Oprah and pour out your secrets. Your relatives are liable to berate you and your friends shun you. In the history of Ghana, only one writer, Francis Selormey, has written a coming of age memoir and that was when I was in elementary school. He writes about growing up with a rather enigmatic and harsh father. The book was beautifully written though, and we came to see the father's love, even if we didn't understand him. Oh, people have written personal essays here and there, but not a full, tell-all memoir. Indeed, Meri Nana Ama Danquah, a Ghanaian writer, has written a memoir about a black woman's journey through depression. But Nana Ama grew up in America and has learned to be open about her feelings. And now, I've written a coming of age memoir. I even talk about sexual discovery; heaven help me! Hopefully, I can hide behind the fact that hardly anyone will know me or bump into me.
When I was in Wesley Girls' High School, the worst crime you could commit was make a grammatical mistake while speaking. It was not your teachers that made you miserable. It was your classmates.
An error in grammar was like firing a shot. You make a mistake and someone yells out "Bullet!" Girls duck under tables and yell "Well dodged!" so loudly that the cry is taken up in neighboring classes and everyone wants to know who this terrible person is. Such is the passion when the colonial language becomes sacred. St Peter might very well deny you entry into heaven if you make a mistake. And woe unto you if you're a teacher. You'll have a memorial long after you've gone.
My typing teacher once slipped and said:
"Let the paper faces you!"
She was doomed. From that point on, if we saw her coming, we yelled "Let the paper faces you!" We ran into hiding, laughing.
Another teacher said, "One, two...three; both of you, follow me." Ai!
The interesting thing is that some of this comes from our own language. For instance, I speak Fanti, and in Fanti, there's no gender in pronouns. So if I want to say "He is coming", I'll say, "O reba." (Actually, the letter is a C turned backwards, but I can't get it here)
'O' stands for 'he'. I'd say the same thing for "she." So when I'm speaking English, I tend to mix the two up. Not because I don't know the difference but because, psychologically, I think of he and she as one. I can't get rid of it. I've tried. It happens more frequently when I speak, though rarely when I write. My American-born children laugh at me when I tell a story. I get interrupted with "Mummy, I thought it was the man, now you're saying she", whereupon I snap, "You know what I mean!" Sometimes, the poor sods are genuinely confused.
So I find myself making a deliberate effort to think about gender. But when I'm excited, all bets are off. He/she bullets fly out of my mouth. Hearer beware. But yesterday, I felt so good when, at a Ghanaian church, the pastor did it:
"When the woman came to me, I looked at him and.." I looked at my daughter. We giggled. Now, the pastor was Ashanti, a people known for interchanging the "l" and "r" sounds in their dialect. The younger generation manages very well, but the older ones trip now and again. Without warning, he said:
"Let me erabolate my point further".
I knew I was in God's house and it wasn't his fault for saying erabolate when he meant to say elaborate, but I couldn't help laughing. With affection, of course.
As I mentioned before, in August 2004, I led a team of US science educators to Ghana on an expedition. What I could not have forseened was that one of them would die an untimely death four years later. The gentleman in the foreground, with rasta hair, Orlando Holness, passed away recently. He suffered from rhumatoid athritis and probably died of drug complications. He was a close friend who invited me twice to speak at his school, Lansing Residential Center for girls in Ithaca, New York.
Thanks to his efforts, I mentored two girls who became dear to me. Orlando was so committed to his vocation that he would not quit despite the special challenges he faced daily. He displayed my art work in his classroom and would always take me to the dinner and then to the airport. The last time I saw him was when I waved good bye to him after going through security. Standing there looking long at him, I had an urge to run back to him and hug him.
I wish I had.
And now, let me take us through what we did in Ghana. We had a blast! When we first got to Accra, we stayed at Erata Hotel (can't find the picture). Our flight from the U.S. was long, eight hours to London and six and half hours to Accra. If we had flown direct, it would have been only about 9 hours. The Prime Meridian passes through both London and Accra, so Accra is about the same distance from New York. as London is. Our first day was a day for resting and touring parts of Accra.
I figured I might as well tackle death in one post:) This is the mausoleum where President Kwame Nkruamah is buried. He led Ghana to independence in 1957. The sides of the monument are curved to represent the sword resting, a symbol of peaceful leadership. Ghana has been blessed not to have any civil war in its history.
This is a common sight in Ghana, and a tame one at that. At any traffic light, you're bound to see peddlars selling anything from drinks to, ahem, condoms. They lean at your windows and try to tempt you to buy grilled fowl, toys or doughnuts, anything at all. In this picture, the vendor in the foreground is selling "PK", chewing gum. The lady at the back is carrying plastic bags of plantain chips.
Time to share some pictures with you! This is Commonwealth Hall of residence from my alma mater, the University of Ghana, Legon, the oldest in Ghana. When it was established, the intention was to follow the pattern of the London system with schools like the London School of Business, etc. However, in time, it became a complete university though it has retained the original name. Out of the different schools sprouted other universites. There are now many universities in Ghana, but naturally, I think mine is the finest!
This picture was taken in 2004 when I visited Ghana as an International Affairs Specialist. I was accompanied by several U.S. educators featured in this picture. Stay tuned :)