Moesha Boduong, the Ghanaian Reality or a Disgrace to the Image of the ‘Honest’ Working Class Ghanaian Woman?

When I saw Christiane Amanpour outdoor her new show Sex and Lovearound the world, I wondered what grand plan lay behind the production of this show…

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9:40 something pm, my phone is buzzing with messages. The girls are upset over Moesha’s comments about Ghanaian women and their having to live off transactional relationships often with older men. Moesha is a Ghanaian socialite whose real profession is unknown. We either think she lives off her men or is employed in a day job that can not technically pay for her lifestyle so the sugar daddy or better put, the sponsor, fills in the paycheck gap. Chimamanda Adichie in her novel Americanah paints a vivid depiction of the complex socio-economic landscape in Nigeria while specifying the ambiguousness surrounding the economic life of one of her lady characters. The other co-protagonist of the novel, the man who is in love with the main character ends up marrying into a family mainly for financial reasons. Right from the middle ages until the twenty-first century, financial gain has remained a motivator of unions and relationships, Moesha’s declarations seem no different thematically from the allusions this paragraph has developed from.

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Screen Shot of South African article on transactional relationships and the spread of HIV/AIDS

My friend just returned from Nigeria and literally remained without female ‘company’ while away because he was unwilling to go along with the transactional reality that relationships are in that part of the world. Another friend recently returned from Cameroon and while asking him how his trip was, his words were that basic prostitution is out of hand. What in the world is basic prostitution? Casual relationships that dwell on economic gain was his answer. Wow, I said. Weeks ago, my eyes widened as I read this article about the blesser syndrome in South Africa. (Blessers are older men that literally bless younger women with HIV AIDS and money and condomless sex) As I drew comparisons between the facts the article presented and Ghana, I arrived at the conclusion that while the article portrayed Southern Africans as being more overt about their search for blessees and blessers, (because adverts were/are made on social media in search of younger girls to bless and older men who bless) Ghanaians are a bit more discreet in their ways I daresay mostly because of our religious hypocrisy but moving on, songs such as Ebony’s Sponsor among a host of other products of popular culture such as this episode on An African City shows us that the dynamic of sexual-economic relationships aren’t a new thing under the Ghanaian sky.

While I am not interested in determining whether Moesha was wrong to have said what she said or not, my focus rests on what Ghanaians are doing to empower women and renew mindsets so that people do have the need to rely on sugar moms or dads out of economic need. Logically, there is no way to dictate the lifestyle of humans but the more important thing is to realize the urgency that needs to come from issues like this. Our society is morally decadent and sexual episodes such as these are not the only things that we should be alarmed about. Being a Ghanaian has taught me that we are people that easily forget and make fun of every possible thing on earth. In addition, Ghanaians literally live with crocodiles yet scream in fright when we see lizards outside.

In a country where a minor can flash her naked body on camera while flies dance around her vagina and receive acclaim through viral shares and much laughter, in a country where preachers go to bed with members of their churches, hold entire services to demand the body counts of their members with much focus on how much members are bringing to the church coffers rather than a focus on the salvation of members, in a country where female singers get shamed over their choice of dress, in a country where full grown parlimentarian women get shamed over wearing body jewelery such as anklets, in a country where women sometimes often fall prey to sexual requirements to secure or keep a job, ( well this happens in our schools too ) in such a country, a country where if you’re a woman in a top position, people wonder if you slept your way up, paying little heed to your credentials, a country where self-acclaimed relationship experts and mariage counsellors hide behind morality and push severe and unrestrained sexism and remain justified, this is our country where scandals blow over quickly just to be replaced by other ones while we laugh and laugh, maybe it is time to ask what exactly we are doing besides laughing or hurling angry words at people such as Moesha while the truth stares us in the face. Ghanaians love to circumvent and address everything else but the truth and possible solutions. Maybe it is high time we brainstorm real solutions.

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Comments like this are refreshing because it is very much like that community with the dusty, bumpy, eroded road. One of the community members decides to tar only the portion of the road that is in front of their house while the dust from the rest of the road blows up and touches the same house that sits in front of the little stretch of tarred road.

Watch Moesha’s full interview here.

 

Silver Patch II

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Wax Prints

But women can put men in a net too.

Yeah they can, I mean we all can put whoever in whatever net we please..

Yeah, so I wonder why the story is so gender biased then…

That’s how we’re wired. We’re taught to think that way, I guess. I wonder if there are any stories in our society that paint vulnerability or compromise or suffering masculine…they’re all conveniently painted feminine, and I think this also puts some kind of pressure on men because they aren’t themselves. I imagine they go through the worst situations cos all this pressure makes it hard to be a man, I mean they’re human first before their sex comes into the conversation,..but I digress…

Yeah, I get you. I need to go though, we’ll talk later.

I could sense the irritation in Bibi’s voice. Her unnecessarily dry tone and the way she asserted the thought that men alone didn’t have the exclusive right of placing women in nets. We all can do it. She emphasized. You know I can put him in a net too right?!  I can get complacent too! Her voice broke and I knew she was probably already teary. I was wide awake now. Maybe the awfully cold analogy had triggered a nerve. Maybe she hated the depiction of vulnerability that came with the story. I’d gone and said the wrong thing with my big mouth. I wondered if this analogy had been the right move. I doubt Bibi considered herself some old beaten down and conquered saltwater fish. Though tense, I really couldn’t shake off the mental picture of Bibi in a net; – well she did kind of look like some creature to be quiet honest with that big head of hers. I stifled what would have been a resounding laugh.

Are you upset?

No, I just have a lot of things on my mind.

Well, I hope you keep in mind that you have the power to change your situation.

Yep, thanks, sis, I agree, goodnight.

She had hung up even before I could say goodnight back to her. I lay there looking at the ceiling and its white nothingness. I concluded that our minds were like this exact same white ceiling of nothingness. Imagine the ceiling remained unpainted for years. The colors or cobwebs that would form over the whiteness can be compared to our minds. Our cobwebs and cluttered minds fill with years and years of the reception of information. Good or bad. The information eventually determines whatever comes out of our actions and maybe lives. In retrospect, I’d heard a bunch of stories similar to the net story while growing up.

There was another one that told of a shimmery piece of fabric that wore and tore after constant use. The shimmery fabric was a person or more appropriately, a woman who had slowly and gradually lost her sheen from an abusive relationship. In the tale of the wax prints, the logic followed that the wax print would withstand the lashes of time if its owner was gracious enough to take excellent care of it. On the other hand, the wax print was destined to fade and whither if its owner forgot or worst still stuffed it in a drawer and went off in pursuit of newer print fabrics.

***

Bibi needed something, anything, and everything to distract and take her mind off the net man. She’d changed her WhatsApp display photo to an image with text that read; Starve your distractions, feed your focus. It was all too funny to react to. After the abrupt end of our last conversation, I preferred to let her be the one to come to me. I had to make sure to give her enough room to deal with whatever she was feeling. I decided I’d be kinder to her this time round. I had better have good things to say this time. No morbid fishes, no net analogies, no stupid references. I had to say something more meaningful, something more uplifting, something maybe cliché like oh everything will be just fine or something less implicating like oh give it time. I googled up ways to comfort or help a person going through a breakup. My search returned; Take walks, take up a hobby, go running. Utterly useless recommendations. The suggestions weren’t good enough.

Silver Patch I

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One hour to midnight. I’m half asleep listening to my cousin cry about her boyfriend and how she isn’t so sure she can get over him. I have good intentions. A part of me is on the phone comforting her, another part of me is asleep and yet a third part of me is very frustrated with the situation my cousin is in. The man or boy is probably fast asleep or nestled in the warmth of another woman. Not to be entirely pessimistic but flashback to a couple of years ago I thought men and women or to put it quite right, people, could stay faithful and true. Times where we could attempt to raise glasses in a grand and bubbly hope of a happily ever after. I was wrong. People were selfish quite honestly, and no amount of science or providence could explain why or how we had things in hand and still had eyes on other things. I guessed her boyfriend loved/loves her but sort of feels she’s entirely in his grip. I blamed it on complacency. He’s become complacent, I breathed into the phoneI said this in a matter of factly way.  It was midnight after all, and no one had time to spare mincing words.

He feels there’s no need to keep trying. You’re in the net hun.

What net?

The net…

I rolled to a more comfortable position and tried to help her understand what net I was speaking of.

Haven’t you heard of that analogy?

No. I rolled my eyes in disbelief. She’d never heard of that analogy. Interesting.

Well, I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Tell me now.

Sigh…

Grandma always spoke of a man at sea who stood aboard his vessel with impatience and a fiery determination in his eyes. He was literally and figuratively hungry for fish. Fish, any kind of fish, big or small, silvery or dirty black, scaly or scaleless. Fact is, he had to return home with a big catch. The sea was boundless and dangerous and he knew he had to take his chance because there was so much more to gain. The gain outweighed the inconvenience. The vessel rolled lifelessly on the undulating current. The man’s gaze was indifferent yet expectant. He had a dirty cup in his big chapped hands. He drank slowly out of it while keeping his eyes on the vast body of water before him. He stayed transfixed until he suddenly let go of the cup. He shook his head several times and shielded his eyes with his hands. He had to see for himself if he was actually right! Fish! Fish! Oh my God Fish! There was fish! The proof was a shiny silvery patch in the water ahead. He sped ahead and threw his net with a great fuss. The silver-gold lay right beneath the water’s surface. He waited. Held his breath and stared. In a flash, he began, tugging his catch back on board. The fish jumped and tossed and wriggled and gyrated. The man remained nonchalant. He’d gotten his catch, after all, and that was all there was to it. He’d been at sea and in pursuit of the fish for ten plus hours, he’d been stressed out and frantic, yet the fish was safely in the net and the chase was over. Mission accomplished, it was time to move on.

With love from East Africa

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Insert love eyed emoji

Crossing the Atlantic changes lives. I was less than two days in Rennes and partly stunned at my renewed sense of understanding of the word ‘overseas’. I was literally over the seas, I had traveled over the Mediterranean to this new place where 9pm still looked like 3pm and where everyone smoked and spat on the street corners. The dogs were more than the people and everyone automatically made a gurgly distinct sound in their throats when they had to pronounce the letter R.

I was in a completely different world and surrounded by very different people, ideas, food, and experiences. Everyone spoke so fast and public transport was unbelievably reliable. I stared at people on the metro and looked away when they looked back at me. Some people preferred to sit in a hunched bird-like position, huddled over their bags in a desperate bid to catch the last bits of sleep before they arrived at their destinations. Others stayed wide awake reading a paper or staring out the window. I’d come to know the tram line so well. Three more stops before we get to the University. I’d jump off energetically lest the door ram shut! On this vast college campus, I’d sometimes meet people that I felt not all that mentally in tune with. Small talk would develop into conversations, and these conversations would slowly plateau into dismal pleasantries. Later, I’d start avoiding people entirely in a frantic attempt to dissociate. Other times, I found myself in the company of people I thought were perfect! We had the same thoughts and impressions on a myriad of topics, we loved the same music, we agreed on what outfits looked good and which looked tacky. We would sit for hours on end enjoying the silence of our shared experiences.

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My class was full of Asians. I think I may have mastered the art of small talk at that point in my life. I ‘d ask the dumbest questions, like how did they make the chopstick not fall out of their grip and why they ate that many eggs. The White Americans in my class preferred to walk together in cliques. They drank wine with whatever little breaks we had in between class and maintained a close-knit group. They were here on a group travel sponsored by one of these organizations, AISEC or CIEE. My breaks were times where I had conversations with myself or someone from back home. I was lonely and mostly too cold to care for conversation or feel like I was missing out on the Asians out-of-the-world Tofu experience or the Americans’ wine drinking spree. I sat with my phone in hand on most days, close by the heater.

I had gloomy days for a while until I met Mandy. Mandy was American and she was in Université Rennes 2 through CIEE. She is originally from Kenya and full of life and laughter. She quickly became a representation of East Africa and opened my eyes to the possibilities of real life, real people, and experiences beyond the confines of Ghana. She had long black braids that came down to her waist. They were dyed scarlet at the edges and she was really tall;  about six feet and two inches and unapologetic about towering over our heads. She wore heels all the time! Heels and really short mini jupes. She wanted to get married thrice because she was unsure of the possibility of being stuck with one man for life! She was an outlier, funny and the perfect friend. Mandy reinforced the importance of travel and the acceptance and acknowledgment of different perspectives. I was Ghanaian after all and had known everything Ghanaian up until that point so meeting her was truly refreshing and very different. We went out at night in zero-degree weather and came back near morning, half asleep and holding our shoes in our hands. She lived with a host family and loved the family’s daughter Carla but hated their dog with all her might. She said the dog got hair on all her fine clothes.

Eight years after Rennes, I am still in touch with Mandy.Image-1 (4)

 

Baking Cakes In Kigali – Book Review

Image-1 (3)         In fast-paced texts that darted from phone to phone, Marina invited me to a talk that she thought I was going to be interested in. Yaa Gyasi was speaking at the University of Michigan and Marina thought I had to be there. I’d read and reviewed Homegoing and I was more than ready to sit through a conversation with the author. In between inviting me and both of us nursing the hope that my schedule would not be too crazy in the quarter of 2018, Marina asked me about Southern African literature and if I’d read a lot of it. I’d not read much. However, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace were books I knew I was going to reference and recommend for many years to come. Our conversation advanced and Marina suggested I read Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali. Days later, I screamed as I opened a birthday package from Afi. One of the books was Baking Cakes In Kigali!

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Afi’s birthday note read; ‘Because you love to bake, I hope you enjoy this read too’. xxx

Opening

The opening scenes of the novel present us Angel, a cake maker from Tanzania who lives in Kigali with her husband and grandchildren. Right from the very beginning of the novel, I get pleasantly surprised at how diverse the characters presented are. They are from Somalia, are Somali-Italian, from Kenya, Egypt, Britian, Uganda, Japan and the protagonist herself is from Tanzania; all of these characters are in Kigali for different reasons mostly professional. The novel gathers momentum with the subtle discussion of topics spanning serious topics such as the wrong perceptions surrounding feminism, stereotypes that different countries have about each other, the preference of male children over female children in some African communities and topics as banal as daily gossip erupting from the proximity of humans to each other. One of the scenes that left me laughing was one in which the object of gossip was referred to by a coded name only the gossips knew. The former’s secret name was CIA just because it was generally believed that contrary to the former’s claims to be working with an American organization, it was strongly believed that he was really working for the CIA. This act of code naming to facilitate gossip is so relatable and funny and adds that authentic feel to this endearing novel.

Work in Progress..

Book Review I, The Sympathizer – Viet Nguyen

I stared at the paperback and suspected immediately that the name Nguyen in Vietnam must be as common as the name Mensah in Ghana. ‘Ngu…yen’ I slowly stressed each syllable while completely throwing away any remote knowledge of the uselessness of some letters in some French words. Studying French for years had taught me better. Also how these Frenchies are able to ignore whole letters in words without pronouncing them all while still physically maintaining the letters still baffles me.

Anyway, so I finally found out later from my Vietnamese colleague (whose last name is also coincidentally Nguyen and who agreed to write a part of this post) that the name Nguyen is actually pronounced /W3n/! How interesting.

Outside the use of the Vietnamese war as the backdrop of this novel, the narrative explores topical issues such as identity in the transnational space. This post will discuss identity in the novel and will lean on the perspectives of James Baldwin and Amin Maalouf to draw contrasts or similarities to the main narratives and issues presented in The Sympathizer. I’ll also have my Vietnamese colleague Mailé share about growing up Vietnamese in America.

Through the introduction of characters such as Ms. Mori, the General and Madame and the Crapulent major who names his twin babies Spinach and Brocolli, the narrator makes riveting commentary on identity in the transnational space.

Ms. Mori is American born and of Japanese heritage. She is criticised for her inability to speak Japanese and her personal choice to visit Paris versus Tokyo for holidays for example. She believes that how she is perceived in society’s eyes is flawed because deep within her, she identifies as American, Miss Sophia, the opinionated American who isn’t to be fucked with.

On the surface, I’m just plain old Ms. Mori, poor little thing who’s lost her roots, but underneath, I’m Sofia and you better not fuck with me

The General is disillusioned at life in a foreign culture. He probably dwells on past glory to keep his already downcast disposition from taking an even steeper turn. He is forced into a life that bows down to his former prestige as General and finds himself wasting away until his wife explodes out of fatigue and anger at him for leaving all their responsibilities on her shoulders. He decides then to open a liquor store which gives him some kind of purpose in life, however in the midst of his life’s troubles, he remarks that

fair percentage collecting both welfare and dust, smoldering in the stale air of subsidized apartments as their testes shriveled day by day, consumed by the metastasizing cancer called assimilation.’

His wife madame, addition to dealing with domestic burdens has their young daughter Lana to deal with. Outside quickly realizing that in America, children talk back, Lana has acquired a taste for clothing that is distasteful to both her mother’s and culture’s expectations. Lana meanwhile has become more direct and less apologetic about the way she expresses her femininity.

The Crapulent major who names his children Spinach and Brocolli leaves room for questions surrounding the possible meaning or reason behind naming children vegetable names when he could as well have named them Vietnamese names.

Book Review, The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are,  we might bring new life to the Western achievements and transform them…

James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is a profound book that ponders race relations between black Americans and people of caucasian descent in America. James Baldwin also examines the role of the Negro in western society and touches on black identity and the importance of understanding and maintaining this ‘black identity’ in a transnational space that can be both confusing and potentially overwhelming.

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Why I Love this Book

While very direct and fast-paced, the narration feels like a conversation. He uses the first person and leaves the narration with an overabundance of commas. These commas give the impression of hurried speech that continues without the general literary pause that manifests itself in a full stop. He candidly talks about his experience and observations on life and living it ‘black’, so to speak in a particular western society which is America. He makes references to societal structures which are designed to keep one race atop the other and also critiques religion and its role in the nigger’s depraved condition.

The Nigger’s Social Condition

Through the use of double negative structures, James Baldwin reveals the hopelessness surrounding the black man’s condition. He paints a picture of his childhood where ‘you were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity’. He makes it more than clear that the societal structure built to keep niggers at the bottom was not only oppressive but restrictive. One in which mere effort could not suffice to deliver niggers…..that ‘the social treatment accorded even the most successful negroes//something more than a bank account// to be free// (because) it was absolutely clear that the police would whip you and take you in as long as they could get away with it…’  (Happens police brutality against isn’t a reality of the 60’s only…)

Religion,…the bane maybe?

One can not miss the overt presence of Biblical allusions in the book. Words like ‘Sin’,’Pharoah’, ‘Church’, dot the book which makes it hard to not conclude that the author is likely trying to explore certain issues in that respect. James became a preacher and soon grew uncomfortable with the extortive world of Christendom. Basically how money is taken from congregations in the name of God. In addition, James notes that the reality of most churches is ‘blindness, loneliness, and terror’ instead of faith, hope, and charity’. He satirizes the church saying that ‘ there is ‘no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing and all voices coming together and crying‘ yet in all this purging of emotion and the expression of genuine love for God, why did the white God ensure to let the blacks be ‘cast down so far?’ Needless to say, the Bible was written by white men. These contrasting ideas can help draw a subtle link with the manner in which colonialism was presented in Africa. Was it not with the Bible and was it not tagged mission work?

Finally, James mentions working as a preacher and compares being in the pulpit to being in the theatre. He was both behind and on the scene and knew ‘how the illusion worked’  including how to work on a congregation until ‘the last dime was surrendered‘ and knowledge of where the money for ‘the Lord’s work‘ went.

Conclusion

This book isn’t one of those books you read once. I think everyone should own a copy and refer to it as it is still very politically and socially relevant. I would say it is one of those books whose biting truth will occur and reoccur to you. Most importantly, it is okay to read a book and not fully grasp the depth of all it has to offer. Some books make sense only after years of reading them.

Withering Heights IV

I saw a Tee shirt on Instagram that said NAH. Rosa Parks – 1955. I was greatly impressed at how pieces of history were gradually and steadily being integrated into popular culture. Maybe I was going to get this Tee shirt and probably also attempt to help artists or visual experts work or draw inspiration from the long and bitter struggle for freedom over the years both in Africa and America for the negro….

perfect segue for talking about how reading James Baldwin had had so much of an effect on me. His Fire Next Time was brimming over with double negative structures. I mean, the most apparent reason for the excessive use of this structure was remotely tied to the admittance of the hopelessness of the nigger’s situation…

The word independence in Africa and the word integration (in America) are almost equally meaningless; that is, Europe has not yet left Africa, and black men here are not yet free – James Baldwin

It was a double negative life for me the whole week. Dinner with my Botswana people was fun…but for some reason, I couldn’t shake off the analysis of the relationship dynamics between white and black people. We’d come far and I knew people were now more sensitized and maybe exonerated of all racial bias….but then, wasn’t the subtle slave master, dominant dominee (if you like ) relationship still present somewhere? even in the most subtle way?… So this happened to me.

Previous weeks ago, I had a misunderstanding with a peer over something as basic as filling a tub with water. The peer was white and I wondered if her ‘concern’ for how I filled the tub was due to anything linked to my lack of logic or simple common sense.  I was livid. I wasn’t about to allow myself be micromanaged over something as basic as filling a tub with water.  Had post-coloniality left me sensitive to the point of extreme cynicism?

The tub of water was my no…

Withering Heights III

Does familiarity breed contempt? No. Sometimes it breeds recklessness…and that is the amount of recklessness I felt these men were demonstrating. I thought I was way past the age of being in a crowded space with wine spills and incoherent speech….not that I have a problem with the concepts of wine spilling and incoherent speech. We’ve all been there. At least at one point in our lives. But then it was more about the lax and wanton grossness of it all. These men felt they knew us. So there was no need for any type of stiff-necked civility. Which irritated me very much. I think we need to ‘try’, like just fucking try to be civil no matter how long you think you’ve known a person. I remember that night on the phone when out of the need to hear his opinion on an unrelated topic I asked; do you think men take stuff for granted when they get to know you in a more intimate way? His answer was; I think humans have the potential of taking everything for granted once they get to know you. And I guess he was right. We all do take things for granted all the time.

I thought she was weird. The main question was, is she weird or just different? And I remember frowning a lot on many occasions when after nearly two years of friendship she would still come and ask me for permission to use my stuff. Cherie, you can have it. I would say, why ask? Just take it. In retrospect, I respect the fact that she asked. I guess familiarity did not ease her into the comfort of taking boundaries and space for granted which I appreciate now.

So the men wanted to dance…and just like any human that abuses familiarity, the general unmentioned consensus was to dance regardless of if we wanted to or not. An assertive dialogue broke out over this. He thought it was about feminism, and I was just ready to explode. An implosive fit that left me in awe of how refusing to dance is tied to feminism.  I was in awe of how Feminism sounds like an accusation sometimes. Maybe I wanted to graduate this implosive fit to an explosive and exaggerated one but I knew better than to get involved with drunk pontificating men. Quite bluntly, I didn’t and don’t care much for feminism. Anything that ensures the sanity, respect and harmonious coexistence of the human race is what we all really want. I recommend everyone doing what floats their boat and if men and women choose to dance, or not dance, the recipient of that bit of info should be ok with it.