transnational chronicles: a series of “poems” on the negotiation of identity when home means more than one place.
and while you break your teeth
to keep your tongue
and you seek healing
by stitching the gaps
they will spit you out
from the mouth
because you taste
don’t be nervous
you won’t even notice
you won’t notice the transition
from being ghanaian
to being african
to being black
to being person of color
don’t be nervous
you won’t even have to decide which you want to be
the choice isn’t yours
perhaps in this there is a freedom
and when you call your grandmother on the phone
and she asks when you’ll be coming to see her
you must lie and say sometime this year
even though you know
that has been your response
for the past
do it for her heart
-gofundme back home
i’ve always hated math
i’ve become a mathematician
calculating the number of hours between us
plotting how many oceanic galaxies it will take to get to
dividing the ventricles of my heart
and dedicating each one to a different
if you asked me what love is about 5 years ago i’d have told you something along the lines of it’s that feeling you get in your stomach when you lock eyes with that person who you’ve been getting to know. i’d have told you testimonies of a warm flood in my veins and a fluttering heart beat. i’d have told you it’s a mutual feeling.
if you asked me what love is about 2 years ago when i was in my first year of college, i may have answered with a laugh, giggled at your obsession over something that may or may not exist because we live in socially constructed realities, i may have pulled out my philosophy text book and flipped to the index to find the word love.
if you asked me what love is a year ago, i’d have asked you to be more specific. which kind of love? capital L or lower case? i would have asked you its root word, its origin, asked you to use it in a sentence because love is not one thing but everything. i’d have told you love is contextual.
if you ask me what love is right now, i’ll tell you it is seeing with your heart. it’s replacing your eyes with mirrors and seeing your self in them. it is a verb. synonymous with choice. it is an adjective. synonymous with unconditional. it is a noun. God.
the language of war
sounds like silence
sounds like i can see your pain
but i am too comfortable to care
sounds like hearts shattering
sounds like riots breaking out of the cocoon of
sounds like hyperventilation because
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.
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.
we all have it.
sitting in your stomach
that thing that if you sit quietly enough
you’d hear it whisper your name.
on certain days it almost feels like it’s going to explode
or crawl out of your throat
on others you find yourself frightened.
where did it go?
why can’t i feel it anymore?
did i dream it?
we all have it.
that thing that you feel like you should give a name
like we do all things we become accustomed to.
people always tell you how beautiful your thing is
how you should show it more often
all the while you thank them
all the while you are confused
you don’t see it
that thing that is all over you
out of your pores
and you look down
and you see your self
staring back at you
and it feels like
everything you’ve ever wanted to be
i write this from the comfort of my yellow walled room, on my bed at the window, with a bowl of fresh strawberries between my legs as the sounds of sweet sax and soft piano solos are filling my space with vibes. i feel my presence. is this what it means to be relaxed? the feeling of calm feels almost unnatural. a little unsettling after a year of nonstop thinking. after my brain has been marinated in words and formulas and code.
the season of unpacking. unpacking my thoughts. unpacking my experiences and the lessons they taught me. unpacking the weight of my self and sorting out the peaces to keep and the pieces to throw away.
a time of reflection and honesty. a time of unlearning stress and being comfortable in simply being.
perhaps that is why i postponed this long overdue post. to declutter and come to you from a clear mind. a position of reflection because mirrors don’t only show you what’s before you but also what’s behind.
i write this from between mirror and background, as i am right smack in the middle of my college career. two years behind me, two years ahead. i stand in a position of gratitude. grateful for the struggle. grateful for the hands that held mine as i weathered the storms and the hands i let go because our seasons did not align. grateful for my lowest points because in those moments God came through in the most unexpected ways and poured a peace that surpasses all understanding all over my life. God came through and talked to me through people. talked to me through repetition of words from people who are unaffiliated. talked to me through music and poetry and wind, carrying the same message: “trust in me”.
a friend asked me what i want from this summer. i didn’t know how to answer because i never expected a season to owe me anything. she rephrased and asked me what do i need from this summer. and i said peace and clarity. i’m starting to realize those come with the package of trusting God, trusting my self, and the journey.
in a couple of weeks, i will be returning home to Ghana for the rest of the summer. words cannot describe the feeling in my stomach. nine years later, i am going to reconnect with old friends and family who have experienced life while i’ve been gone without me knowing all the little details i love to know. that’s another thing to add to my requests from this summer: re-connection. with heaps of laughter and embraces and adventure.
i am looking at you and you are looking at me. our pupils are two fingers crossed together in prayer that this moment might last forever. i am learning the anatomy of your eyes. that shade of brown which makes me think about chai tea, the way that freckle in your left sits on the blue halo of your contact lens like the earth orbiting the sun, the way you blink with care. you are in the driver’s seat and i am in the passenger’s. we are not touching yet i can feel you. we are not saying anything yet it is so loud in here. loud with the rhythm of raindrops beating on the windows which are competing with my heart, loud with yours cheering mine on. i am looking at you and you are looking at me and we are not saying anything yet we are saying everything. we are not touching yet we are making love.