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
“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 →
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.
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 →
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.