We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families

This book has a rather long and annoying title, but then the part about dying makes you wonder why anyone would want to inform another person when they’re going to die. Well quite apparently this book is about the Rwandan genocide and gradually explains the famous Hutu Tutsi conflict that would cause the Rwandan genocide.

The Hutu being the group that rose after years of feeling unjustly treated mostly for their appearance (since some person dropped out of nowhere and decided to point out the fact that Hutu people had predominantly African traits, a rounded nose, a stronger set frame and the works and the fact that the Tutsi looked foreign, unAfrican, lighter skin, slender, smoother hair, slimmer nose etc) so this basically caused the issue that brought the division and strife.

Childhood

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? – Langston Hughes

Years have a way of adding to the meaning of things.

One day you just wake up and you’re like “snap!, this is what this woman meant when she kept repeating this saying…”

Yeah so we sit in tiny school rooms and recite in oblivion, after all a letter grade is all we really need isn’t it?

And then there’s that part of the story where we fold little pieces of paper and throw them at our friends trying to get their attention. We grew too smart to allow carelessness to allow us get discovered.

-“psssst…look how big his butt is, why did he not chose pants that were a little less tight?!”

It was absolutely annoying to utter a string of words in all excitement and honesty only for your friend to stare blankly at you and say huh?

-“huh”?!

-“Oh boy”!

-“Are you telling me you DID NOT HEAR ALL I SAID”?!

-“Noooooooooo”….

-“Sigh”

-“Then write it on a piece of paper”.

-“Noooooooooo if it gets intercepted, we’ll be in big trouble”.

-“Oh well then wait till after class”

-“Sigh. The info will lose it’s relevance by then”

-“Tant pis”

-Mtchew.

“So what were you saying?” My friend now has the time to come back and ask useless questions. I give in anyway, just for the sake of conversation and a giggle or two. One of the things a teenage girl does is gossip. “So his pants were too tight and there was that bulge and he sat on my table and I had that mathematical instrument in between my fingers all the while! I really just wanted to pierce the skin beneath his zipper with it just to see what he would do”!

“Hehe”.

 

Dany Laferrier, The Enigma of the Return

Dany Laferrier’s the enigma of the return is a novel that is intimate and captivating mainly because of the emotions that are clearly projected everywhere in the novel. First of all it is very difficult to not make out the mixture of poetic and prose structures consistent in the novel. The poetic structure dominates the narration though since a few aspects appear in prose. The poetic structure is more than justified because as we all know poetry conveys strong emotions with the help of diction and even the way that these words are arranged, presented and chosen. This is a story of a tree uprooted abruptly from its roots because of dictatorship that exists in Haiti at the time when Papa doc reigns. The writer is forced to leave his country out of fear of being killed. He settles in Canada and has to visit Port au Prince suddenly when that call that every middle aged adult has to expect at some point in their lives comes through. His father is dead and he must make his way back to Haiti immediately. The story describes this transition in detail and focusses on how the writer feels about being away for so long. He finds himself constantly comparing Canada and Haiti bringing out a mixture of pain at having stayed away for so long against his will and nostalgia at all the things that made Haiti his first love. He also clearly shows a preference for Haiti stating that Canada is a vast land of cold that only a native can find their way through. I love this book for many reasons one of which is the ability to relate to all it contains from beginning to end. After having lived in a country that is not your own, every single thing you see upon returning home reminds you of your experience before your exit. The writer speaks of eating mangoes while bare chested. He also remembers to add that each smell, taste and sound transports him back to his childhood. ‘My childhood cuts through me like a knife’ and that is the beauty of specific memories that cannot be laid off because they are ingrained in us and gnaw at us until we give way to them dominating our thoughts and taking a hold of our emotions.   He speaks of sending his mother expensive plates which she keeps under her bed while still eating from a beat down plastic plate. His mother does this not out of hatred but out of a special reverence for a token from her son who lives in a faraway place. She only eats in these plates on special occasions. Growing up I saw my grandmother treat items sent us from close relatives in the west with this same reverence. In the midst of all this happening, Dany Laferrier feels he missed out on special moments with his nephew, sister and mother because he feels he has been away for so long. He feels a disconnect from everything around him and even remarks that ‘speaking creole isn’t enough to become a Haitian.’ That ‘you can be Haitian only outside of Haiti’ because the irony is that once outside ‘home’ you can boldly claim a national identity but then you come back and realize you’re not quite enough of what you thought you were. The separation that comes from migration creates deep holes that nothing concrete can refill and that’s the irony because money or gifts are not always enough to fill the gaps our absence leaves. Much like Simone Schwarz Bart’s Ton Beau Capitaine, money sent ‘home’ regularly did very little to strengthen a weak and emotionally drained spouse from caving into the urges of adultery.

Let’s Make Palm Soup Tomorrow

The afternoon sun beat the back of our necks; by this time mama was frustrated and hurled angry words at the ever slow to react chameleon Gladys. I chose to call Gladys a chameleon because of her slowness in everything. Chameleons always look around and take calculated slow rythmic steps as if unsure of the very ground they tred on. I wondered if Gladys herself even knew what a chameleon is. Gladys was the kind of girl I felt a mixture of pity and slight admiration for. At the age of thirty five or so, she had four children; two from one and the other two with different men each. I wondered every time I saw her being slow how exactly such a slow person could engage fervently in acts that ended in procreation. Who even told me acts of procreation had to be fast? I wondered if she was forced or partook of these experiences willingly; or if they were consensual. How did she not know to protect herself against four unwanted pregnancies? How could one person make such a mistake four solid times?! What exactly was she told each time she set out on the same path and how did she not realise all the paths led in one direction? At the same time, another half of me felt like I needed to admire such a courageous woman who though impoverished, courageously had each of her four children and never for once thought of an abortion. She worked as hard as her slow body and attitude could let her and earned an honest living from mama out of which she sent these four children to school, fed and clothed them and ocassionally paid for their medical bills. Mama had had enough of Gladys, I could tell from the looks of disdain, the ice in her voice and the way she related to Gladys. To say mama was satisfied was a lie and on several occasions, she settled on sending Gladys home only to rescind her decision. Mama was a demanding hardworking perfectionist who would’ve sent types like Gladys home long ago if it weren’t for her four children. ”Maame!” I was jolted back to reality by the sudden and urgent mention of my name.

”Maame!” the call came a second time and I was forced to abandon my midday musings in direction of the voice that called, ”Yes!” I answered back with the same urgency as I stumbled to the front of the shop. Mama’s shop sat on a piece of land, comfortably and competively perched between a line of shops whose owners came by in the day to sell off their products admist general banter, constant comparision, conversations about life, the economy and gossip. Mama was in luck because unlike the other vendors, she was a vendor of food, the kind of eatery that could neither be classified as a restaurant nor a basic table top food business and was therefore classified as a bar for eating, or in a local sense, chop bar. I hurried to the front to find a dignified looking man, bespectacled, light skinned and tall. The type that could dress/speak or act as modestly as possible but still looked affluent or content due to unexplainable reasons, it sure had to be one or the other. I mean, one couldn’t go wrong with associating a lighter complexion with affluence, dignity and all that is beautiful. It was what we were unconsciously brought up to believe. So much for negritude and all the abstract ideologies Senghor and his friends pushed. Everywhere in Ghana, men made not too serious but serious comments about how a light skinned woman was an asset because one could make her out even in the dark due to her radiant skin tone. This led to the common metaphor that came about as a result of the repetition of these lines. Light skinned women were now referred to as ‘’Akosombo Kanai’’the reference that stemmed from the comparison between light skinned women and Ghana’s source of electricity; the Akosombo dam. What was it really about being light skinned? Right from slave farms where lighter skin was favored and given easier work or kept in the house for the master’s special use to contemporary instagram posts that projected a sense of pride for having light skin  with the hashtag #TeamLightSkin, it was clear that Ghanaians still associate a lighter complexion with affluence, class and all that is good. And now, this Akosombo kania of a man! I chuckled slightly at this thought because he was not only Akosombo Kania, he was mulato, a term that Ghanaians crudely reduced to ‘half caste’. Half caste people while not necessarily favored in the West due to the question of their true racial identity were ironically favored and well looked upon in the Ghanaian society. As a half caste child, l was seen as one that was priviledged and special. The high school I went to growing up gave half caste girls the special privilegde of not cutting their hair short though all other students had to cut theirs short. A drop of white blood gave us the privilege pure black students did not have. In retrospect, that made no sense yet at the time it seemed like the perfect thing to do. Why was purely african hair fit to be cut while half caste hair wasn’t? That was a debate for another day.

‘’Maame meet Tucker’’ mama’s firm voice broke into my thoughts,…okay, hi…my voice trailed off, confused as to what title exactly to give this lightskinned man..was I to call him uncle Tucker or Mr. Tucker?..I thought for a second and decided to simply call him by the name with which he was introduced..of course, that was his name wasn’t it? There was no need to exaggerate respect by adding a title to a name that already sounded gallant. I always wondered anyway, why titles mattered so much, and why the overdone cloaks of reverence were cast on people due to status or priviledge…as if titles could lenghthen one’s life or provide food..These titles were many; from ‘’bossu’’ an adulterated from of ‘’boss’’ for a grown man who seemed to be in a better financial situation than the giver of the title to ‘’senior’’ also used for the same purpose. Ghanaians are just an interesting group of people who like their Nigerian cousins understood and knew how to adorn people with accolades and titles..mostly to their advantage There is also the bit about respect which makes Nigerians and Ghanaians use titles incessantly.

Papa Doc and the New BMW

We hadn’t seen papa doc in a long  while. Calls to his cell phone relayed the same old rehearsed voice message. He had accused us  of being users who called on him only when we needed rides. On those days, papa doc would listen quietly and depending on his mood, would give a brief harangue about our abrupt calls and the fact that he isn’t a taxi driver that we could have as and when we decided. We would swallow our pride and listen as he ranted with the hope that after the brief nkwasiasem, he would finally show up, and then after we hung up, we would wait hours and hours on end for his arrival.

‘Yes I will be there at 4pm’….

Papa doc would show up at 5 or even 6 amidst a flow of ‘je suis desolés’. On other days, he would appear defensive because after all, the car was his and he was the one giving us a ride. On other days also, he would arrive on time, drive us to our destination amidst love and conversation and general banter only for us to get there and for him to snap at us and create a scene about how slow we were being. ‘Hurry up!’ He would spit, ‘Hurry, I don’t have all the time in the world, dépêchéz-vous,les filles!’. Ei, so was this how life was?! A common ride could warrant this much disrespect?!. We thought we were women, who needed to be addressed as such, but really, where did ‘les filles’ come from?! Had we missed anything? Had he morphed into our dad ?! And did the change suddenly grant him the chance to call us girls?! We had had it and so we decided to buy a car too. It was that simple.We loved papa doc, but, love just wasn’t enough especially when you mostly got nonsense in response to help you wanted. We could no longer swallow the spittle and the words he threw in our faces. Papa doc himself had taught us a Senegalese word, ‘deng’ and this word was supposed to be used in reference to a punk. We concluded quickly that the teacher of the word deserved the word the most. He was indeed deng and no one could wrestle that title from him.

So on one bright day, well it wasn’t exactly bright, but then our good fortune made it bright enough  we decided on a car. We bought the Silver Ford and paid cash for it. It was such a delightful day and the birds seemed to chirp even louder. Progress! Ah such sweet relief! We could go anywhere, any day, anytime and all it took was consistent dexterity of American roads and a slight press of the accelerator. Victory, independence and dignity smiled at us and we in turn, hugged them back. No one could tell us anything! We were women of our own and we could do whatever we wanted…yeah thanks Queen B!  we had that hop to our steps and our Friday trips uptown increased. The only intimidating part was THE POLICE..they were bad news from hell and in the era of #blacklivesmatter -ing, we weren’t trying to get stopped, arrested or worse,- killed! So we had fun, but we were cautious, vigilant and responsible about it.

Had we told papa doc about our new baby? No. Had he noticed we had dogged him? Yes!

(..Dog, – a Ghanaian slang that means ignoring someone especially when you no longer have a need for them).

He sure had noticed that we’d dogged him and everyone knew about it thanks to his leaky mouth.  Since information had legs, this piece of juicy information about papa doc calling us users and slave drivers came knocking at our door days after he had said it. We went ballistic because guess what, we had called him endlessly to break the good news to him only for him to leave our calls unanswered and unreturned as always. This guy! We called him once again, and guess what? No answer. Days later on a calm Friday afternoon, we caught him in our parking lot! We literally had a huge free space for parking which meant that our friend had come all the way from his hinterland apartment to park right in front of our house without so much as passing by to say hello. And you say papa doc isn’t deng?! We pounced on him and nearly tore him to pieces. He had on a navy blue kaftan that looked starched and well pressed with complimentary slippers and that Taqiyah cap that he hardly washed. He looked dignified enough so we couldn’t rough him up but then for some reason, the stream of ‘je suis desoles’ came out and we forgave him and showed him our latest toy.

A week later, we saw a photo uploaded on Facebook by a worn out papa doc who was perched on a bicycle. The caption beneath the photo read;  ‘me and my new bmw’. The caption was both humorous and overly comprehensible;  Papa doc’s smooth Volkswagen had developed a fault and he was going to be carless for weeks to come. (Evil grin)…

Who were the bosses now?! 🙂

PS.Do not gloat on the misfortunes of your enemy friend

*       *        *

“The part of the towel you clean your bum with today could be the part you wipe your face with tomorrow; be nice” – anonymous

 

Papa doc II

Papa doc was Congolese, ebony skinned, bespectacled and immensely dramatic. We just loved him for his occasional constant awkwardness and pure heart. The thing about papa doc is that he has ultimately good intentions. Good intentions that make him want to genuinely extend a hand to friends in need but somehow, lack of planning, a lack of an awareness and respect for time, his overwhelmed life among a host of other unknown factors prevents him from being the truly helpful and optimal version of himself. There seemed to be a constant battle between his ideal and real self.

So on one pleasant Saturday, I entrust my precious plans into the loving plans of papa doc and what happens? He disappoints as expected. I once heard someone say that  expectations breed disappointment. I gave the saying a thought and decided I was no longer upset being that I was also to blame to an extent for not measuring my expectations.

Later that day, he offered to make up by taking me and my friend out to the Chinese restaurant that reminded us of home. Since an invitation to eat together did not directly translate into eating freely, we clutched our purses tightly and sped off in the direction of food with empty bellies and salivating mouths. We imagined the particularly fresh, seasoned and crisp taste of the chicken the restaurant was known for. Contrary to the usually grumpy and burdened waiter who often served us and acted like he was rather paying us for eating at the restaurant, we were met by a rather pleasant waitress who was clad in a neatly pressed uniform. She came up to us and after several negotiations of meaning, including modified Franco-Anglo and Sinophone accents twisted and beaten up in a melodramatic scene, our order was finally taken and our meal on its way. We ate and had a good conversation and expected to go the Dutch way after lunch.

‘Bill together or separate?’

‘Separate!’ My friend and I chanted!

In a bit, the crisp sheet that would spell the monetary value of our eating came in. We walked up to the cashier and swiped away. Papa doc remained motionless. Monsieur, its time to pay, let’s go man, aren’t you ready?!

Moments later, we arrive home amidst laughter and tears. Papa doc knew he had no money in his pocket, yet, he invited us to wine and dine. We ended up paying for him; in addition to good company and conversation and free gossip. In effect, he did nothing at all in the sense of making up for the earlier inconvenience. All this was too funny…but once again, he was our very own papa doc, so AGAIN, we will let it slide.

The Door

The house held its breath, the inhalation and exhalation ceased like a noisy TV set that had been muted abruptly. Abrupt, yes that’s the word ; and it hung in the air for what seemed like forever as I actually came to understand and fully appreciate its meaning.

Abrupt : definition-Sudden and Unexpected.

I was distraught and  visibly shaken. My friends had teased in the past about how I sounded like I was laughing whenever I cried ; how I wish this wail would actually transform into a cackle now.

He was gone. They returned from the hospital with the remnants of what he possessed; a cell phone, a book bag, a note pad with illegible writing which he kept as a contact book and other things I was too broken to take note of.

‘What happened?’ I asked in between sobs, ‘what happened to him?’ I asked again.

‘He fell’. ‘He fell’ was the inadequate response that returned my question.

The cell phone begun to ring and for a minute after the ring subsided, we all sat in silence leaving the phone to lie  lifeless as if hoping against hope that somehow its owner would suddenly appear and ask us to hand him his phone.

The Door II

Ghana is a vast country with more than a dozen ethnic groups which in turn have their unique idiosyncrasies and conventions. I am Fante, the year is 2014 and though I believe myself a true daughter of the land, I just found out that ours is a group that has an unwavering respect for the dead. Respect that is palpable enough to make questioning minds  uncomfortable and hence my predicament.

‘The door must be locked for a year’

‘What?!’, ‘Why?!’

‘That’s how it’s done. This is out of respect, it is only after a year that the door can be opened and mainly by an elderly person’

‘I see’. Was the curt answer that escaped my lips.

The door was subsequently locked and day in day out the mystery of the locked door occupied and assailed my thoughts. How could I avoid it when the door stared back at me no matter which entry or exit point I took in the house? By some twisted fate, it seemed as if the door had also begun to purposefully amplify my fears by looking darker and more imposing than ever.

On some days, I wondered if the occupant of the room came by to sleep in. This silly and unexplainable fear of what lay beyond the door was in part influenced by the help who claimed to have heard a distinct shuffling of feet; the same way my grandad used to walk. I dismissed her claims as ludicrous and still went on observing the door; more curious than ever; checking for tell tale signs of any life , activity or occupancy.

Over time, my relationship with the door moved from a mixture of curiosity and stale fear to resignation. A kind of resignation that made one throw their hands in the air and accept their unchangeable fate.

Whatever I did, the door was here to stay.

I couldn’t dismiss the fear and curiosity that gnawed at me. What was I even afraid of in the very first place?! A fear of ghosts? Ha! Who said they even existed? Or Had I read and watched and read too much Harry Potter to the extent that the dementors in the hooded masks seemed real?

I was a mess, I yearned to know yet was unable to ascertain my willingness to face whatever it was if it decided to face me.

Our Near Death Experience with Papa Doc

What makes one stick with a person though keeping their company can potentially bring distasteful consequences? This had been the third time that such an event had happened in the company of our bubbly papa doc. Papa doc had a car that was in the winter of its life. The car made a loud wheezing sound as it sped along the road. Of course, the car turned heads and I need not tell you about how many more heads it turned!  Growing up, I had learnt what an onomatopoeia was and had been taught also to associate the sound ‘vvroooom’ with cars. I only came to fully appreciate the meaning of this ‘vvroooom’ when I met papa doc, and his car..

‘Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down’ – Oprah Winfrey

I guess this quote explained the relationship we had with papa doc and his car; not to mention the fact that on one occasion we nearly got into an accident because unfortunately the prank papa doc tried to play on us turned into a bad joke. That afternoon, we took the Road not taken (Robert Frost) and decided to journey downtown with papa doc. Before we begun the journey, papa doc asked one of us to pray, this was quite unusual very unusual to say the least, yet as religious and unquestioning as we were, one of us prayed. After the prayer, Papa doc literally stepped on the accelerator and made a crazy zig zagging and criss crossing pattern with the frail car! Young, Ghanaian and frantic, all we did was shout ‘Jesus’, Jesus’ amidst pleading with papa doc to stop whatever prank he was playing.

Disgruntled and shocked, we questioned what the  intention of the stunt was. We had only a few more minutes to chastise him for playing with our lives when we realized that the car had begun to move rather slower and with less fluidity. We rolled to a stop in front of a small house only to realize that our suspicions were indeed right! We had a flat tyre! Sometimes, a ride on the bus is worth more than a million papa doc rides! Never again! We shall keep our loyalty for another occasion when it is under less fatal conditions.