Tag Archives: Africa

Returning – 'The Return’ in ‘Year of the Return’

When I picked up Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a striking narrative of the Transatlantic Slave trade and its generational effects on one Gold Coast family and its journey from West Africa to America, I mulled over the title and wondered above all things why its title was placed in gerund form. After considering it for a bit, I arrived at these conclusions – that the gerund form indicates an active, continual and ongoing action. The use of any other tense and maybe the past tense for example, would’ve indicated a completion of an action. This completion would’ve been quite imprecise simply because the action of Homegoing, in this context is a harrowing process whose physical and spiritual significance and transformation begins from the past, revives the present and stretches into the future. The weight of going home to relive, connect or discover the origin of the Slave trade is too vast and unending an event to be captured with any other tense outside the gerund form. 

Gyasi’s novel ends with a return home to Ghana by the descendant of the long family line that was taken to the New World. The book ends on a beach. This year, the government of Ghana issued a public invitation to Black people living outside the continent of Africa to return home to discover their roots and heritage. A lot of the returnees, some of whom are pop stars such as Beyonce, Ludacris and Rick Ross, are in Ghana this December. Most of the time, returners visit the castles that dot the coast of southern Ghana. Social media accounts have buzzed with many photos of Black returnees who have mostly posed for photos in the castles, while verbalizing strong captions that embody the pain and also hope that the Transatlantic slave trade has left on their hearts. The castles have been visited by many prominent people including Barack Obama and were holding places of captured slaves while they waited to be shipped over the seas to the New World.

The Complicity of the Ocean 

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, the ocean and its role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade is highlighted. Hurston’s main character is held in a Barracoon on a beach on the shore of what is now Benin, while waiting to be transported over the seas to Alabama. Hurston’s character unlike Gyasi’s characters is not fictive. This character is a real life person who is asserted to have been the last survivor of the Slave Trade in America before it was abolished. He was originally from Nigeria and never fully recovered from the trauma and nostalgia of separation from his Nigerian village. Before Hurston’s protagonist boarded the ship that would bring him to the new world; he was stripped naked, carried in the womb of the ship just like all the other naked or barely clothed slaves transported from West Africa  and rebirthed into a different culture where their complete insertion, even up until today is worth discussing.

Returning

Chinua Achebe has spoken of the Supremeness of the Mother ; – his own Okwonko returns to his mother’s village because there is nowhere else for him to be when he is exiled and escaping from a place he thought was home; –  this year in West Africa, Ghana and Africa, the wheels of history are grinding louder in reversal and completion of a circle. The mother whose children were brutishly taken away, is receiving its returned children. The children who have nowhere else to go are seeking out the mother. Returning to Africa where so many Black people were lifted has begun a process of healing. The return home creates a new identity, a spiritual awakening and force that binds from the past, present and into the future. 


How the New ‘Aladdin’ stacks up against a century of Hollywood stereotyping.

This article is authored by Naomi Schalit and first appeared on the Conversation Blog. I reposted here because thematically, misrepresentation touches the African ( my area of interest ) as much as other minorities in their treatment under the Western lens as is portrayed by the author in this article. To read click here.

Should the Conversation surrounding Consent be Culturally Packaged?

This post acknowledges other relationship types but stays within heterosexual relationships for the purpose of this post.

 Whether we've ever copulated, intertwined, fucked or quite colloquially rolled in the sack, no matter the number of times, the act and its frequency simply do not translate into an automatic go-ahead that whoever is welcome without my consent!

My screen lit up. It was a simple link leading to a story of a young Ghanaian. He’d been reported to the police. His feet had taken him into the bedroom of his white female acquaintance who he’d had sex with. The woman had been asleep (read: drunk) and had obviously not been fully aware of the events that took place in her bed. I shook my head in awe and disbelief but mostly in awe.

…..She’d taken his name to the police despite the number of times they’d been together. Interesting…

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We sat in the auditorium waiting for the western experts to come talk to the local African students union about Consent. My temporary concerns were typically millennial; – I needed a source of power for my dying cell phone.  I needed to post highlights of the conversation to my Instagram feed. I needed to note down key points. I finally found a power station and then turned my focus off the device to the humans around me.

My friend quickly analyzed the seating arrangements in the room and compared it to the African society only we had seen growing up, and which, only we, could quite conveniently dare to analyze…The men sat up front in their burly suits, wearing their overall sense of self-importance around their necks like their stifling neckties. They carried equally bulky briefcases and wore shiny leather shoes that only they, could see their bloated self-reflections in. A pair of spectacles or two sat on tired noses. They were exhausted but determined to bombard the foreign experts with questions. ‘How dare you spoil our women with messages that will make them rebel? We’re here to cross-examine your intentions, first, it was feminism, now its consent,…’

Behind them was the matriarchy, we sat expectant, speaking in loud tones and ready to jump on anyone who dared hush us up. This was our time, we had a voice, anyone who wasn’t with it didn’t understand women’s empowerment, we were here and our objective opinions were valid.

Behind us sat the newbies, a mixture of men and women who weren’t quite sure of their contribution or place in the group.  Well, just yet…..Beside me, a male in his late twenties started to engage me in small talk surrounding the language of consent.

-Do our people really understand consent?

-I honestly don’t think some African guys understand the language of consent.

-Why?

-I mean,….consent is always mostly left in that messy place between let me convince them a bit more or let me reason out with them on why they should probably be doing x or y with me…

-But sometimes the women mean yes when they say no…..or what do you think? Really why do you think consent is one big blurry area in our part of the world? Aren’t our women ours?

Its many things, I would say a part of it comes from sexism and the different reactions to what a person does based on their sex. First, of, the concept of sex with enthusiasm begs many questions. Is this sex pre-marital or marital sex because we are schooled differently on how to react to these two types of sex. Sex education which is taught as a topic under the Religious and Moral Education course is full of Bible quotations and a tirade of do’s and don’ts. To summarize what we learn in this class, it simply remains at three words, –  ‘DON’T DO IT’.  Then, suddenly a person marries and is suddenly supposed to know what to do, or women become wives, remain pure and true while husbands daydream of that nasty mistress who was so uninhibited and knew just the right thing to do. Needless to say, women are taught to cater to EVERY need of the husband IF we want happy homes. Also, pre-marital sex is usually about sinning and asking for forgiveness later. The persons in question go in under a thick web of shame and guilt that sits on their shoulder, undresses with them and lays on the bed of fornication with them. Images of hell replay over and over and the sweltering heat of Ghana serves as a visual reminder of how hellish Hell will be if they do not repent. What enthusiasm will there be to show in a situation like that? Most importantly is the fact that the religious message surrounding sex is more severe on women than it is on men (read: through the backings of religion, women’s sexuality and not that of men’s is controlled). Maybe hypersexuality, zeal or interest is whorish. Maybe certain sex positions are not honorable enough for wives. Girlfriends and hoes are the ones that are deserving of being turned over like pieces of furniture, not pure wedded wives….. All these combative reasons and more, push women to indirectly show interest in ways that can be misleading. The idea is that even if I am interested, I would not want to be won over easily…Let me show interest, but let me not be over the top interested otherwise, they may think I’m a hoe…..

-Yeah because I know about that myth that says that she may be saying no but she actually means yes….so what do we really do then?

-No means no. Take the word for what it is and do nothing unless you are absolutely sure the person wants whatever is being offered. Yes, that is said in fear, under the influence of alcohol, under direct cohesion do not equal consent. Also, no matter the number of times you’ve been together, consent is needed for EACH TIME, even if she is your wife or partner or if you think you own them because you paid for them.

-….What if I’m the one she relies on for everything? Do I not deserve some love?

-Do you deserve or do you feel entitled?

-Do you speak of male entitlement?

-Yep,…don’t you think some males are entitled? Deserving something and being entitled to something are very different concepts…

-True..

-I was at a party and this guy wanted to talk to me, I was standing with a group and he walked up and asked for me to speak privately with him. I refused, and then he came back later to ask if I was ready this time. To show his insistence, he grabbed my forearm, ….was he deserving of or entitled to my attention?…..my friend got catcalled in the streets on her way home. She loves to show off her legs and she stands at about six feet one. She wore her mini jupe and set about her life’s activities. The catcalls were ignored but then she realized she’d soon gained a literal follower who was upset that she had ignored him previously. He pursued her until she got really frightened and called her mom. Did he feel entitled to her attention or did he deserve her attention?….

-That’s rough.

-Yep. She always talks about it…..I think she may need to talk to someone after this episode…

-The experts are here…

-I see them.

 

 

 

Book Review, – Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston

Foreword

 Barracoon is an enclosure where Black slaves were held for a period until they were transported to the New World.

Barracoon derives from a Spanish word, Barraca/Barracoon which is the same as Barracks in English.

***

In my review of Barracoon, one theme that kept resurfacing is the complete or gradual loss of the African identity in the New World. I further consider the role of water in this partial or total death to the African identity and the rebirth of a new creature that is never quite ‘there‘. A creature that is not entirely African nor American, in tastes, in manner, in thinking, for example; a creature that is neither considered fully African nor American, a creature that believes itself one thing and is perceived as something else, a creature that never fully fits here nor there, that creature that constantly possesses memories from both places, and that creature that has strong relationships and bonds formed in both places; – a creature trapped in the third space.

***

I considered the Barracoon, a cavern that holds/held people that would eventually go over the water. By extension, the Barracoon or any cavern or space that holds people who are destined to go over the water ( overseas ), including planes and ships, permits the association of the Barracoon with the idea of death and rebirth. A place of temporal hibernation/wait leading to a rebirth and death that happen simultaneously as a result of going over the waterCapture d_écran 2018-07-21 à 9.45.06 PM.

Water as a symbol of Rebirth, Death and a Change in Identity

It is a common thing for a dead person to be sent off to the other world with a gift or two such as a handkerchief or fragrance. In addition to referring to the world of the dead as the world across the water, in Ghanaian culture, crossing this water is something we believe each person would do in order to get to the other side, the world of the ancestors and the dead. Water in this sense may bear certain connotations to death. Similarly, the baptism of a person which is literally total or partial immersion of the individual into the water is a physical and spiritual representation of a change or a death to one part of them ( the carnal parts ) and a rebirth of a new person in Christ. In the same manner, Lepers have been asked to take a dip in the water to receive a complete turn around in their situations. A death to the sickness and a rebirth of a life free of the plague of leprosy.

***

Kossola, the protagonist, and narrator of this biographical account written by Hurston is torn abruptly out of modern-day Nigeria. Before he gets into the boat ( the Clotilde ) that is about to transport him and the other captives to the New World, they are stripped of their old clothes and asked to mount the boat in the nude. The stripping away of their clothes is symbolic of a loss. Boarding the boat, which will travel across the water to the other world, is equally symbolic. The water becomes a vehicle that facilitates a breaking away of that which is familiar and known and cherished and a movement toward that which is uncertain and deeply puzzling. The captives’ loss of their clothes is a larger representation of a loss of identity. The slaves are informed that their destination has a lot more clothes and therefore this dumping of their old clothes is a necessary move. The Clotilde journeys for about seventy days and upon arrival, the slaves are given new clothes which go to support the claim of a loss/death and gain/rebirth of different parts of the individuals all with the help of the water and a boat. This thought seamlessly rejoins the claim that water is a larger connotation of a death, in this case, of Kossola and the other slaves’ identities and an attempt to immerse/ adapt/ be reborn in a totally unfamiliar terrain.

The Conflict of Duality, New Names, and the African Identity

‘In de Afficky we gottee one name, but in dis place dey tell us we needee two names.’ (so they give their children two names so that ) ‘one name because we not furgit our home; den another name for de Americky soil so it won’t be too crooked to call’ (the other name for the American soil so that people in America will not have a hard time pronouncing the name).

Kossola’s need to satisfy the African and American demands of a suitable enough name that sort of takes both geographical locations into account is a larger representation of the constant fluidity of identity that is shaped by presence, be it spiritual, mental or psychological in these two geographical places. This desire to be here and there or have a life comprising of elements from here and there is the ensemble of the identity of a person dwelling in this third space. Kossola is in America yet gets transported many times over to Africa as he tells Zora his story. Kossola’s sons who are born in America have African and American names, Kossola himself comes to be known as Cudjo Lewis because the Americans are unable to adequately pronounce the name/his name Kossola. Listen to this episode of Jesus and Jollof podcast for a better understanding of New names and the third space.

In addition, Kossola regards his family with love and pride, yet the society he finds himself in views him and his family as  ‘ig’nant’ savages. Kossola and modern-day Black Americans constantly deal with the plague of being doubly conscious; that is, the belief in the worthiness of oneself and conversely living under the imposed and sometimes invisible obligation to perpetually prove this worth or deny all the perceived and imposed negatives of who you are.

‘All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.

Derefo’, you unnerstand me, my boys dey fight. Dey got to fight all de time.’

Different Spaces and the Difference in Values, Beliefs, and Practices

Marriage 

‘Derefo’, you unnerstand me, after me and my wife ‘gree ‘tween ourselves, we seekee religion and got converted. Den in de church dey tell us dat ain’ right. We got to marry by license. In de Afficky soil, you unnerstand me, we ain’t got no license. De man and de woman dey ‘gree ‘tween deyselves, den dey married and live together’

Kossola gets married after he gains his freedom from slavery. He lives with his wife for a bit and then converts to Christianity and is told in church that living with a woman without a license or without having gone to church to make the marriage ‘legitimate’ is wrong. Ghanaian marriages, once traditionally done are considered legitimate yet it is interesting that over time, church weddings or white weddings, aka western influenced weddings have become more popular than or more positively viewed than traditional marriages.

Hierarchy and Age 

When Zora visits Kossola, she presses for information and is in a great hurry to hear all the details surrounding Kossola’s transition from the Bight of Benin to Alabama. She attempts to rush him through his narration concerning his past life and takes his story about his family lightly. When Zora tries again to rush him through the story of his fathers and to the juicy details surrounding Kossola’s own life as the last slave to have journeyed from Africa to America, he tells her that in Africa, we have a regard for older people and are unable to speak of ourselves without acknowledging our elders.

‘Where is de house where de mouse is de leader? In de Affica soil, I cain tellee you ’bout de son before I tellee you ’bout de father ; and derefore, you unnerstand me, I cain talk about de man who is father till I tellee you bout de man who he father to him, now, dass right ain’it?

Religion

‘Yeah in Afficky we always know dere was a God; // we doan know God got a son. We ain’t ig’nant – we jes doan know. Nobody doan tell us ’bout Adam eatee de apple, we didn’t know de seven seals was sealee ‘gainst us.’

Kossola’s mention of these lines is powerful and a constant reminder of the differences in perception of many things including the ever-delicate topic of religion.

Sense of Community 

At many points in the narration, Kossola’s words illustrate the communal nature and the mentality of concern and brotherliness of the African. On two occassions, he mentions that the community comes together and builds a house for individuals. Also, the community converges and builds a school and church for its use.

 

Conclusion

Though I loved this book for the power of its addition of a detailed and human account to the whirlwind of blurry abstract and impersonal historical information there is, a few statements caught my attention that opened up questions for consideration.

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  1. Why does Zora state that people who live outside the influence of machinery are primitive?

2. why is  Christianity equal to civilization and paganism directly implied, also as primitive?

Credits for word definitions, Google.

Dehumanizing Africa. Why Topography and Animals remain at the Forefront of Conversations

When Taiye Selasie‘s Ted heralding the need to ask questions about where one is a local and not necessarily where one is from played over and over on my phone, one thing stuck with me; the fact that certain places scream positive connotations while other places project only negatives. Duh! We all know this, don’t we? Scarier still, is the effortless prejudice, deep seated and often indelible impressions that remain in our minds due to the aforementioned connotations. These specific thought processes have become as natural and as normalized as a white cloud in a blue sky. The fact that France for example, represents opulence and sophistication while an African country or the whole of Africa  represents depravity is accepted with no challenge. The fact is, Africa represents depravity. The other fact is that, outside the continent’s poverty, it is also celebrated for its topography, its foliage, its resources, its animals, aka the wonders of Africa, which by the way are disporportionately emphasized over conversations surrounding the continent’s diverse peoples, its languages, its cultures and traditions, its amazing rich history, its food, its music and indeed all the positives of Africa’s humanity. 

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a colonial story set in Congo, portrays one of the many examples of why Westerners or non-Africans have a geographical rather than an anthropological interest in Africa. Marlow, the story’s protagonist is British and has a palpable obsession with the Congo river. He describes the Congo river as a sinuous snake that he could simply not take his mind off of.

“The snake had charmed me”  –  Marlow

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An Illustration of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The story essentially holds a plot that features silent Congolese characters. While the pervading atmosphere in the narrative (outside of course its pejorative title) remains solidly tied to darkness, barbarity, and chaos, this story is a representation of the colonial truth that the world is more interested in Africa’s non-human wonders than its human wonders.  Animals and landscape are given a larger platform than its peoples. Marlow’s obsession with the river and the amount of time dedicated to the description of it versus the blatant silencing of the African characters in the novel speaks to this fact. Today, that overarching geographical rather than anthropological interest remains.

***

Spring was still in the air, yet the heat and its staleness made me hasten plans to a water park and resort in northern Ohio. The water park had the tagline; America’s Largest Indoor Water Park. It seemed exciting and very welcoming. The Kalahari water park in Sandusky Ohio bears the name of a desert in Africa that touches three Southern African countries, – Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. I wondered how many of the patrons of the water park knew that. I was not too sure if the water park was supposed to be a representation of the whole of Africa or if the entire park was actually representative of just Kalahari; the Southern African desert . Hopefully, the president, if he were to ever visit, would probably know that this water park shared the same name as a desert in Namibia and not Nambia. I decided to go to the company’s website to try to understand the real intent behind the questions I had. A cursory glance at the basic info about the park showed me these lines;

Kalahari Resort & Conventions are full service vacation destinations including meeting & convention facilities that combine America’s largest indoor Waterparks with the magic of Africa. 

The whole of the entire African continent’s magic was small enough to fit into a building full of impressions of the animal kingdom. That was impressive. Wooden giraffes lined the hallway to the elevator, wooden elephant head masks covered lighting, the front desk people were dressed in game reserve guide outfits (tan/khaki shirts and pants), and my favorite, the gorilla and leopard paintings that hung right across from my bed and right on top of my head in our hotel room. The resort’s mantra was Authentically African. The resort was supposed to be the representation of Africa to the average American patron.

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The Glorious Image I woke up to

This post was tucked safely in my drafts because honestly, I imagined myself too busy or too full of many reasons why I could put it off until a better day. Sitting chin in hand staring at a million open tabs on my pc was a better deal. One of those open tabs was coincidentally on the New York Times website.Capture d_écran 2018-06-27 à 9.55.28 PM

This article looked like a good read so I dug in, however, I’d gone ahead far too quickly. In the introduction was these two lines.

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I read the article to the end and decided it was meaningful yet remained undecided over the weight of the double ‘m’ alliteration. I repeated the words ‘mystical mountains’ to myself. Was I being too critical or was there really nothing else that distinguishes Cape Town, its people or culture or anything else short of its ‘mystical mountains’? and later its ‘flimsy democracy’?

***

I sat through an undergraduate class and listened to their final presentations. They, (mostly Non-Africans ) had been in an overworked three-month long geography of Africa class ( which though hosted by the geography department did not typically treat geography per se, but topical issues such as Slum Tourism, Poverty Porn, Security, History and finally, Health and Development)

I was amazed that out of the wealth of subjects presented, not one of the presentations had an anthropological theme. They were all either about Animals or the topography of the continent.

Here are some of the topics presented –

Deforestation (in Africa)

Participatory Mapping ( Drawing of accurate maps for Africa)

Lake Chad 

African Elephant and Human Interaction    

South African Cars

Conservation of Kenyan Wildlife Reserves   

***

 

Is Wifey Status an Achievement?

Background

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has advocated for writing in African languages because how relevant is African literature if we write not in our native tongues but in the language of the White man? While I have my own opinion on this line of thought, the other subjects of discussion that come up after the former are conversations surrounding which audience African writers cater to? Is immigrant literature African and how much of Africa is projected in these stories that are told predominantly from the West? Even bigger is how an African writer gets published and who decides what goes into their story so that if publishers wield so much influence and power, then it goes to say that if an African writer publishes in the West, then the Western publisher more or less owns and determines what or how certain parts of the African story gets put across, that is if they do get put across in the very first place. As we all know, the West has written Africa’s story in multiple ways and continues to impose suggest ways they deem fit on Africa. By extension, I remain curious about how influential Africans push certain messages and how such messages, in turn, get interpreted by other African minds.

Issue

Chimamanda Adichie questions on her Twitter about why Hillary Clinton decides to place ‘Wife‘ before her other titles on her Twitter bio. I stare at this screenshot and I edit thought after thought after thought. First of all, why can’t she self-describe as a Wife? Wouldn’t that be her sole prerogative? Second, I want to know more about why Chimamanda is engaging with Hillary. Not that she can’t, but really, what is this about and if it is about what I suspect it is, then how many more African women are waiting or wanting to engage with Chimamanda who haven’t yet had the chance? (Refer to previous thought about who the new African writer’s target audience really is) What I believe though, from listening to Chimamanda speak countlessly is that she is suggesting that Hilary’s self-description as a Wife negates her other accomplishments. That, it is almost as if her other accomplishments come second to she being a Wife so that in a more overt sense, being a Wife is the main calling of a woman. In addition is Bill Clinton self-describing as husband above other things online?

Thoughts

Outside an African writer engaging with a non-African which I am in no way saying is wrong because of course everyone is entitled to their choices, I am more concerned about this concept of feminism and how individuals feel the deep-seated need to impose views on others. I keep maintaining that this concept is not a one size fits all and neither is it a term that Africans should embrace while thinking oh my God, I just discovered something surreal. Good news is that before precolonial times, while Europe’s women were still disenfranchised, African women were leaders in their communities, serving as heads of state, queen mothers, queen sisters, chiefs, female husbands, warriors, and contributing to their economies, through substantial work. Your mom is probably the best example of what feminism means to you. Yet, the West had to once again come tell us that hey, this tag is what you need to make all your outdated attempts official. It sounds almost as if someone would walk to my grandma and tell her ‘hey mama, this Vibranium in my hand is the key that will make you a better woman’.

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By all means, Feminism is a great concept, however, let us not be quick to jump on it while implying that before it, we had no understanding of it in our societies. Doing this only reinforces the idea that the West civilized and saved us from our primitive ways and set us straight on the path of life after rescuing us from murky waters. In addition, if a human deems it fit to self-describe as Wife above other achievements, so be it, who said because I am feminist I can’t be a Wife? Or that being a Wife makes me any less a feminist? In any case, Wife, as defined in the African socio-cultural context, can either be a female who is married to the family of her husband, in that sense, she is a Wife,theirWife, and she can be called thus by either male or female member of her husband’s family without it being language that is in anyway derogatory or implicitly suggestive of possession or ownership, it may simply even in most cases be a term or endearment or a demonstration that the family accepts her totally as a member of their family. In the West though, where concepts are generally more legally than socially interpreted, a Wife is simply and more narrowly, the woman a man legally lives with as a lifelong partner. From these two definitions, we see that different spaces have different conceptions of ideas. Western feminists have different motivations that characterize their fight than African feminists. Even in a western society such as America, a white feminists motivations and concerns will hardly be the same as a a black or Hispanic feminist, why then do we simply assume that Western feminism with its highly nuanced points of concern will be the same antidote for African women’s issues?

***

While progressive movements are helpful, let us as Africans be critical of how and why we adapt concepts. After we do that, let us subjectively interpret it for ourselves according to our specific contexts. Then after that, let us endeavor not to impose what we believe is right on others.

Conclusion

If the issue is with Hillary placing Wife first, this can be looked at differently. From a position of strength, this fore mention of Wife can be interpreted to mean that as a woman, you can achieve it all without having to deal with the all-or-nothing mentality that society often drums in our heads. Women can be ambitious and career driven and still be Wives or succeed in their romantic ventures if they meet supportive humans (being that heterosexual relationships do not necessarily define our times) who share the same values as they do.  Maybe listen to Alicia Keys’ SuperWoman again.

Barack placed dad on his bio above everything else. While his and Michelle’s has been a presidency that has humanized the White House the most largely by its depiction of the intimacy of its family set up, his use of dad, I believe has more to do with the contradiction of the usual perception of Black fathers’ absence in the lives of their children in America. Ultimately, there is always a reason, and our concepts aren’t the primus inter pares of what the world needs to do, a word to the West and influential Africans.

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My Love and Hate Relationship with Portuguese

Placing this in context 

My professor looked me squarely in the face and said, you speak French, yet that isn’t enough, really,  I think it’s time for a new language and I believe Portuguese would be a good fit for you.

Among many emotions to choose from, I felt nothing. I agreed totally with him; I had French as a second language….. and I’d had this conversation with myself before and had stayed tentatively between admiration and envy of people who spoke a third or forth international language. Though I’d imagined and hoped I’d take on another language, somehow there was a disconnect between my wish to do so and what I actually did in real life. Even as I continued to engage in wishful thinking, I never for once considered Portuguese. Portuguese for what?! My considerations were Mandarin Chinese or Spanish but most likely Spanish. Portuguese seemed a bit too steep and irrelevant and mostly unattainable.

On the first day of class, I was completely lost! I was so lost it was so funny: luckily I made out my name in the target language and kept my ears open for more information. The class was entirely in the target language and the professor was talking so fast. So much for teacher talk! Teacher talk is a technique used by language instructors as a buffer against falling back on the native language all the time. The biggest attributes of teacher talk are a slow pace of speech and using very basic vocabulary or cognates. Introspectively I thought about my French language students and how frustrated they likely got when I rushed through a lesson expecting them to know what I was talking about.

6am.

6am. I’m doing homework while questioning myself over this lofty decision. I should be ready by 8am so I can get to work in one piece but the truth is, once I get to work, there’s no way I can do personal stuff. It’s either I finish this homework or go to class once again feeling low and upset over not having done homework. I hate the feeling of irresponsibility that comes with not doing what I need to get done. At the same time, the feeling of accomplishment and confidence that comes with completing tasks is the kind of sentiment I’d rather have all the time. ‘Do something your future self would thank you for’… this thought stayed in my mind so I completed the homework and went off. It’s been a sleepy week already but at least I can rattle off some Portuguese verbs;

Acordar – to wake up (my favorite because it sounds like ‘ak)daa’ in Akan which means child)

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My Homework sheet that I took a screenshot of and sent to my aunt; her response was, “Good luck with that”

Comidar – to eat

Chegar – to arrive

Ficar – to stay

Falar – to speak

Fazer – to do

Viajar – to travel

And I know how to conjugate these and a few more in both the present and past tense…isn’t God wonderful? 🙂

The Grammar 😐

Most regular portuguese verbs end with the letters AR . ER or IR this means that these verbs will have different and specific endings when they’re conjugated. Though different, a previous second language helps me envisage these differences and the need for some kind of technique for keeping these verbs and their different conjugations in mind. It gets overwhelming though, but then our brains are capable of so much more than we can imagine. Any person who grew up in Ghana would tell you about a time in their lives when they did some mad random guessing on a multiple choice answer test or exam of some kind; normally, the student in question would sing a made-up song while gingerly pointing at the various answers available. Once the song ended, the particular multiple choice answer the song ended on would be decided as the best answer. It was more like musical chairs, same analogy as sitting on the chair closest to you when the music stops. I used to do that a lot! Oh, my! A whole lot, because I was mostly clueless or too afraid to pick an answer and go with it; I relied on chance to take me through. Did it work? Well, sometimes it did. Other times I’d say the Hail Mary prayer while doing this and leave my choice at the one that my finger rested on once the prayer was done. Mary wouldn’t fail me though, would she?In all of this though, I learned to trust my memory. Afterall, I wasn’t as blank as I thought I was. I noticed that outside the random crazy guessing game, the one thing that happened was that whenever I concluded on an answer and came back to change it, the previous answer was the better one. This taught me to trust my memory ( and maybe instinct ) and choose unwaveringly.

The Post Colonial Perspective and Personal Musings

Doctor Negash would quote me, Franz Fanon;

The colonized intellectual, at the very moment he undertakes a work of art, fails to realize he is using techniques and a language borrowed from the occupier. He is content to cloak these instruments in a style that is meant to be national but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism

Sitting through postcolonial theory classes have made me feel weird about my foreign language pursuits. Or maybe I’d probably have to read Fanon well to fully understand the way I really feel about this. However, does my speaking foreign languages have anything to do with my loyalty to my heritage as an African? How well do I speak my African languages? I think I am as fluent in  Fante as I am in French or English or as I will eventually be in Portuguese…but then, Fanon says again that ‘no innocent, shame-free cultural production is possible after colonialism; not even after decolonization‘…and that reminds me of the glaring links between Fante and Portuguese and to a larger extent Akan! Voltar is a verb in Portuguese that means to come back…does it have any link with our Lake Volta and our Volta Region? Bread in Fante is ‘Paano’, bread in Portuguese is ‘Pao’, shoes in Portuguese are called ‘Sapatos’ shoes in Fante are called ‘Asopartsee’, the word bucket in Portuguese is ‘balde’. In Fante, the same word is ‘bokitse’ never mind that the letter ‘d’ when reproduced phonetically in Portuguese is ‘dji’ so there is a huge possibility that the word has been adulterated to sound like what it is today in Fante language…. ‘no innocent, shame-free cultural production is possible after colonialism’…maybe the quotation haunts me….no innocent shame-free cultural production is possible after colonialism... and I still have questions;…..how authentic will my work be? Will it ever be possible to write my story or live without a trace no matter how small of colonialism? Indeed, the traces are everywhere, not just physically, case in point the Cape Coast castle where I literally grew up but even in the most abstract sense….. and now they occupy my linguistic dreams.

It is such an enlightening experience learning Portuguese not only for linguistic and cultural gains but also as a key to personal rediscovery of history. There’s no way some vocabulary words in the target language will escape me when I grew up hearing my grandmother tell me those same words no matter how adulterated in Fante.