on mapless road trips

when my dad called G and i this morning to get ready for church, our first response was to groan because we were still tired from last night’s New Year’s Eve party which we got home from around 3am. we washed our crusty eyes and dressed lazily in contrast to how we usually like to slay to church.
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on the gift i gave myself

i can’t remember the last time i stepped on a scale before this week. i stopped weighing myself sometime during highschool because i realized it started taking over my mental space. i wouldn’t say i had an obsession, but i would spend a lot of time looking in the mirror sucking my stomach in and then relaxing to compare the difference and then repeating. weighing then exercising and then repeating. i wouldn’t say i wanted to lose weight but i would spend a lot of time thinking about what i would eat and how much.

to break this habit i decided to delete my tumblr account which was perpetuating my idea of what a healthy body looked like as i scrolled through picture after perfect picture. it was hard and i found myself finding new avenues of consuming that form of media.

i think i finally stopped when i got to college and didn’t have a scale at my disposal. i stopped because you know.. out of sight out of mind. and that happened to work for me. i chose to make the long walk from south campus to north campus instead of taking the bus so i felt like i was getting my daily dose of exercise and i even joined a dance team for fun. as the semesters went by, i’ve gotten more busy and have stopped making these small efforts.

this week i went to the hospital for a checkup and when they did the routine weight check, i stood infront of 3 digits that shocked me. there’s no way i weigh this much. granted, i haven’t weighed in a long time so it isn’t fair to compare the past to the now but in the past couple of days i’ve been troubled by these 3 digits even though i know i’ve normal weight for a 5’1 20 year old.

this year i spent the most i ever have on gifts for others. a friend asked me what i’m gifting myself. i was taken aback because i didn’t quite know how to answer. what did i give myself this Christmas? why wasn’t i on my own list? what do i want from myself? what do i need from myself?

this year i’ve decided to gift myself some slack. some slack for not being “in shape”. some slack for not meeting all my goals i set for this year as a new year is about to begin. some slack for not having perfect grades. some slack for not knowing what i’m doing with my major or after graduation. some slack for being spiritually stuck. some slack because i deserve it.

my plans hereon to stay in shape include acknowledging my own beauty and realizing that my worth is not in 3 digits. it includes consuming body positive media intentionally. it is eating when i am hungry and not worrying about how that affects the scale. it is to exercise not because i want to change my body but because i love it. because it feels good to get that adrenaline and boost of energy since i often feel tired and spend more time napping rather than living.

in retrospect, i’ve lost more emotional weight than physical weight over the years, which is the weight that really matters. i’m the happiest i’ve been. i am more introspective than i’ve been. i am more self loving than i’ve been.

what are you gifting yourself this season?

e.

on being back: triple consciousness

“you know that isn’t going to do anything here, right?”
i stared down at the white letters on my black shirt that read “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.” it was the day following the murder of Alston Sterling by police officers in Baton Rouge. when i heard the news the night before, i retreated into a state of silence. the usual question “again?” didn’t touch my lips. i was simply quiet. and i slept in hopes of escaping. i slept not because i was tired but because i felt the weight of a thousand pounds on my heart.

it was different this time. it felt different this time around that i wasn’t in the midst of the turmoil. Continue reading

on being back: notes on communication

note 1. Ghanaians have a unique culture when it comes to communicating with each other. it is not uncommon for your uncle or your grandma or your friend you just met yesterday to call you every day just to check on you and say hi. so it took me by surprise when i would receive calls hourly that weren’t exactly for any reason other than to hear my voice. i quickly learned that my asking why the person called was kind of rude and embraced the love.

note 2. they say majority of human communication is nonverbal. i’d say Ghanaians are experts on that. during conversation, you’ll most likely hear a series of dramatic oh’s and ah’s and eh heh’s and other sound effects that make up the soundtrack of our expressive dialogue. these sounds may sound random and meaningless to the outside ear but a Ghanaian knows the difference between a long drawn out oh and a short staccato oh. The sing song of our voices are reminiscent of musical chords. like music, we communicate moods with tones.

note 3. “broken english” aka pidgin is the preferred language with millennials. i consider it a legitimate language because of its complexity and nuances that encompasses words from different languages mixed with english. it’s poetic to me how there is no regard to different tenses. past is present. future is present. it reflects the general relaxed carefree nature of the people. the way we don’t take things personally. the way we talk carefully like we’re tasting every word. the way we walk slowly like our destination is just around the corner.

note 4. language is linked to societal perception, class, and status. some international schools continue to ban the use of local languages and promote the use of english primarily within the classroom. students can even be punished for speaking local Ghanaian dialects. although it isn’t as common today, this rule isn’t surprising for a country previously colonized by the British. the mentality that “proper” english is the most respectable form of speaking still persists because liberation is still relatively new. a people can be decolonized but the decolonization of the mind and societal systems is its own tedious process.

e.

on being back: dumsor

dumsor is a different kind of silence. a hear your neighbor’s chickens’ crow and morning birds sing songs kind of silence. your thoughts become an audiobook that you feel is being broadcasted for everyone can hear. lights out in Ghana is quite the unexpectedly expected surprise. you know it’s coming yet you can’t help but grunt when you’re in the shower and all of a sudden everything goes dark and you’re worried about where that wall gecko you’ve been keeping an eye on might be currently.

when i was younger, the frequent power outages meant fishing for the flashlight and sitting with grandma and grandpa as they told us stories. everything stops yet it’s the start of a new world.

this time around, though it doesn’t happen as often,  it holds a different meaning to me as i look at it from squinting eyes that haven’t yet adjusted from the sudden switch from light to dark. Continue reading

on being back: the journey

the plane was huge — about the width of my bedroom at home and as long as a highschool hallway. my heart leaped as the clouds swallowed us whole. the huge buildings below became ants, and the highways became drawings etched in sand. i’ve always been fascinated by how thousands of pounds can fly in the air so effortlessly without falling. in that moment, i thought to myself: is this real life? am i really going to be home once again?

i sat beside a middle aged woman whose smile eased my nervousness as a gentle hello rolled off my lips. i must’ve had first-time-traveller plastered on my forehead because she asked me whether i was going to Ghana for the first time. i told her no, and how i was born there but haven’t returned in about a decade. she’d also only been back once since she left and she was returning to bring back her children with her to the states now that she’s graduated nursing school. i was in awe at how a mother could have the strength to leave her children behind to go build a life for them elsewhere. “They don’t really know me that well since they’ve lived most of their lives away from me.” her eyes were time machines going back to the last time she held them. “i’m excited to finally have all of us together again.” i was silent. i learned recently that some emotions don’t have to be put into words because words will never do them justice so i chose to smile with her and share in her excitement with all of my spirit, confident that she felt the loving energy i was sending her way.
(11 hours later) as the pilot announced our arrival, i beamed and leaned over my new friend who had the window seat. we both remarked at how Accra looks from above — like a painting of an artist who doesn’t believe in rules or uniformity. when we parted ways, it was as if i’d known her for a long time.
stepping off the plane, the humid air hugged my skin like a blanket and the air felt thick and damp in my lungs. rainy season was upon us and she wanted to make herself known.
after claiming my luggage, i kindly avoided the various “helpers” who wanted to help push my heavy cart. my parents’ voices echoed in my ear warning me to deny their offers because they wanted money i did not have. on the way out, i was stopped by a man who wanted to check my bags. “i’m only curious to know what you have in there,” he said in a mischevious manner. i didn’t see anyone else’s bags being checked so my paranoia mixed with anxiousness kicked in, which caused my hands to shake. “why are you nervous? now i’m really curious,” he laughed as my sweaty hands searched through my jungle of a purse to find the tiny keys to the lock on the bags. “open it” he repeated in a less than playful tone. a few moments after i’d finally opened up my bags, we both seemed to blush as the item he was checking for turned out to be my box of feminine products. “okay i’m satisfied, you can go now.” i forgot about the thickness of the air as i let out a deep relieved sigh. whew. travelling alone can be scary when you look 12 and lost in an unfamiliar place.
i felt like the most important person ever as my cousins embraced me with kisses. they remarked at how much i’ve grown and how i look like a replica of my mom. i was overcome by their beautiful spirits and the conversation flowed like water; as if there hadn’t been oceans and tides and tides between us.
i slept the day away to recover from jetlag and i ended the day with a treat: nothing says welcome home better than a bowl of banku and okro stew (with crab!! AND SNAIL TOO!!!)

i’ve been asked several times how it feels to be back. i learned recently that some emotions don’t have to be put into words because words will never do them justice. but “whole” comes the closest. i feel whole.

e.

on being homesick: sankofa

Sankofa – a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as “to go back and get it”.

this is me fetching a memory in hopes that i might not lose it. in hopes that transcribing it into words will allow me to live infinitely in these moments.

i remember the gate. brown and rusty with glass spikes lining the tops of white cement walls on both sides. i remember morning mist of uncondensed rain and dog barks interjecting the sound of rhythmic thuds of wood hitting wood, the occasional pause when the fufu pounder stopped to wipe the sweat off her brow — the song of home; a lullaby a young me took for granted, a melody an older me sings to herself so she might not forget; a harmony that tugs at my heart’s strings in a game of tug of war between where i was grown and where i now sit in a vase.
i remember lights out and Anansi stories on the porch with grandma, and negro spirituals with grandpa. I remember stealing sugar cubes and powdered milk from their house next to ours and mixing it with gari and water. a sickly sweet mixture i digested with pride in my secret corner of the compound behind green leaves as tall as my body and raw aloe vera grandma would rub on our mosquito bit legs.
i remember fat jellylike wall geckos and colorful lizards. each breath they took would inflate their small bodies in a pulse as they paused, seeming to be consciously acknowledging the sounds and vibrations around them, contemplating the next move their webbed feet would make. i was never able to hold back the urge to startle the little peaceful creatures, and always took pleasure in seeing them scurry away into grandpa’s garden. i wondered what they do back there. if they had little homes with families between the flowers; how they gave birth and how they knew which were male or female since they all looked the same to me. the stories they’d tell if we could understand them.
i remember mango trees that stretch to the heavens in my great-grandmother’s front yard. i remember my special technique. i’d bite a small piece of the skin off from the smaller end of the mango and suck out the sweet juice, as much as i could till the skin hugged the seed within. then i would attend to the flesh, i’d peel off the skin and eat the soft fruit around the seed till it was a pale almost-white yellow color. at this point i’d have made a beautiful mess and i’d lick the leftover juice off my fingers with a satisfactory smile.
i remember watching Spanish soap operas on tv with the women of the house, screaming to each other when the show came back from too long commercial breaks. i yearned for long curly hair like Esmeralda and rosy cheeks like Rosalinda. my sister and i would emulate them, doing grown women things like purposely moving our hips while we walked and took swigs from imaginary cigarettes, exhaling sex-appeal. we were perplexed by the wonders of adulthood; too eager to grow up, too eager to be European, too eager to join this world outside of ourselves only to find out there is nothing here on the other side but dreams of wanting to go back to when we dreamt that dream, dreams of stopping our past selves.
i remember looking left then right then left again before crossing the street, and jumping over wide gutters on the sides, just to prove to myself that i could; that me and my small legs could. i remember walking with my cousins down that road to return glass coca-cola bottles for coins, and buying fresh bottles. i remember the sweet sparkling taste of cold Muscatella, and seeing who could burp the loudest among my sister and i. we laughed with our souls. i have yet to find a happiness as innocent as that.
i remember the yellow and white checkered uniforms and fun car-rides to school in the back seat with my best friend, the kind of best friend that others assume you’re sisters, the kind of best friend whose home was your home and your home was her home.
i remember the love.
yet
i don’t remember the day i told that best friend i was moving to America to live here. i don’t remember how i felt when packing my bags to move everything i’ve known for a new beginning. i don’t remember the names of my neighbors or the last words i said to my great-grandmother before we departed. i don’t remember walking around one last time to absorb the scents of home; the sounds of home.
so i write down what i do remember. in hopes that i may return again soon. but i am afraid. i am afraid what they say about home is true. that the sounds i remember have changed not only chords, but genre. tales of corruption and modern day colonization. tales of improvement with epilogues of backward thought influenced by western ideologies. of the brain drain– the evacuation of doctors, engineers, and intellectuals; the one which i am contributing to as i sit in my vase reminiscing to times when i was merely a seed.
i am a tree. uprooted. with my roots reaching back home like fingers hoping to grasp on to familiar soil before it slips out of my hands. before it slips out of its own hands.

e.

on context: i am become love

following the detonation of the first atomic bomb in the summer of 1945 in Hiroshiima and Nagasaki, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists behind its creation, remarked that the impact of the bomb reminded him of words from Bhagavad Gita: “now i am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” he was commenting on the human capability of chaos, of killing, of ending worlds. upon coming across these words for the first time, it has since formed ripples that have spread to all the corners of my thoughts. i am become death. ..i am ..become .. death. some argue the quote is better translated to “i am become time, the destroyer of worlds.” the interchangeability of time and death in this context strikes me as somewhat scary somewhat beautiful. i think the interchangeability suggests that time brings about death and destroys worlds –the worlds of the people who have kissed the lips of death. i am thinking about what we do to escape these grappling hands of time –what we do to escape death. we fear death because we fear nonexistence; we fear not mattering. naturally so. yet i believe that we live on through others. we live on through what we leave here behind when we depart. we live on by the legacy we create. we live on through those we love, by loving. perhaps each time we love, we create a new world between the one we love and ourselves. therefore loving is a kind of escape from the tick tock of our own life’s clock because through love, we exist in another’s world — infinite worlds if you were genuine enough. so i choose love. and when i look upon this world from another realm, i will be reminded: i am become love, the creator of worlds.

e.

on learning: bananas

i took a class that changed saved my life. african literature. it was about everything but literature. it was about God and Love and Spirituality and Knowing. it was about the intersectionality of race and sex and how experiences are shaped. it was coming to know that we in fact don’t know anything. it was about everything but literature.

it started like this. my professor walked into the room with a banana in his hand. he stood at the podium facing us. “can i eat this?” he asked us. and we responded yes as if it was a question; as if to ask why he needed our permission. He asked why it was okay for him to eat it and we told him because it is delicious and good for one’s health; if you listened closely, you could almost hear the undertone of “duhh” in our voices. He began to peel the yellow skin slowly, strip by strip, carefully as though not to disturb the fruit within. he then held up the banana with the pride one holds up a trophy, and made his first eye-contact with the thirty something eyes staring at him with raised eyebrows. then he took a bite out of the banana and nodded his head slowly, eyes closed while he chewed, in that way we humans do when something really hits the spot; for me it’s the comfort i get from banku and okra stew. a few seconds later he held up the peel and displayed it up and before us it like he did before. “now, can i eat this part too?” we justified our no’s with the reason that it is illogical to eat the peel because it is not tasty and it is not nutritious. he retorted that we said the inside was tasty and nutritious. with that, he asked his final question: “so, are bananas a good thing?” he told us to remember this, and that we will revisit this concept throughout the course.
it was about everything but literature.
yeah, we read books. but the stories were merely a mirror to look at ourselves in the form of characters, and in that looking we judged their actions. in that looking we realized that perhaps we dance with the same demons we ascribe to others. perhaps we play the music. perhaps the abusive father on page 5 is acting on the same motivations that we act upon. perhaps that seemingly strange pagan ritual demonstrated on page 64 mirrors a tradition of your own beliefs. perhaps, like a banana, a person is not fully good or fully bad, but rather the combination of both. it is what makes us human. it is what makes bananas bananas. because peels don’t make a whole banana unhealthy, in fact a peel-less banana is a rotten banana.
we asked all the hard questions in that small room on the second floor of that yellow brick building. “who are you?”  “do you know God?”  “how do you know?” we seasoned the walls with silence after each question we thought we knew the answers to. we marinated the air with unspoken thoughts: am i only a woman, my ethnicity, and my name? yes, i do know God. i talk to him all the time. i know because the Bible explains who he is. i know because of Faith, and faith is believing anyway without solid proof.
i came to meet my own biases in my responses and as i write this i am thinking about how different my responses would be today. today i know that what makes me who i am is not only determined by who i think i am, but also who others think i am. Today i know that the real question is whether those two people are the same person, whether those thoughts align. i came to know that i was as unaligned as the floorboards of an abandoned house. i left the class on a journey of aligning, and on a mission of reconstructing that house and inhabiting it too.
i came to realize that my concept of God was a biased filled doughnut that made me sick when i finally had to take a bite of it. i was left with the aftertaste of uncertainty, yet a hint of relief and excitement lingered because i can now define God for myself. and on this journey i am finding God to be more beautiful than i ever imagined.

e.