Sunday, December 12, 2010

No smoke is forever.

After the light from the candle goes out,it's proceeded by a smoke. A tentative look assumes the smoke will be ever-present. It's strength is only dependent on the strength of it environment. Harsh winds keep them silent. Sooner, everything dies out and a new beginning dawns.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When Cattle lead a man

Poor leadership is ignoring realities for fantasies and allowing your responsibility to be taken by others. One must see leadership as a response to society's need for direction and courage. The leader must lead with passion and determination to a successful end.There's no hiding behind the crowd.if you fear the cries of the cattle,then you cannot be a herdsman.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The truth about Fufu

Perhaps, if there is one reason why we refuse to adopt a less laborious way to pound fufu, it is because we believe it is worth the sweat. For those Ghanaians who eat fufu, they love it to the morsel and the toil of preparation seems fair effort for the yummy reward.

Of course, one is aware of these modern, pre-made innovations but frankly, what has powder got to do with it? Fufu is about boiled tubers and topam-topam, that’s all.

In Ghana, we express serendipity by saying that ‘fufu has fallen into soup.’ One does not wish for a more palatable situation. Whether done with yam, cassava, cocoyam, plantain or combinations of these, fufu provides a delicious, full meal for many Ghanaians. It also allows us to show our zest for life.

Just consider this: a sweaty encounter with an ‘asanka’ of fufu, overran with hot, delicious soup- crabs, snails, fish and all. The ginger and pepper and prekese gets the nose to run, still the swallowing continues unabated. While the right hand is ferrying the fufu in, the left hand busily wipes the sweat, the phlegms and the tears. Occasionally, the soup trickles from the palm down to the elbow but the mouth still follows this and actually sucks the drip at the tip of the elbow…

This may not exactly be your style but that is what the love of fufu can do to folks. For those who don’t like it (how saaaad) sorry, but you can’t be helped here.

Fufu is important because it is one of the most widespread staple foods in Ghana. From the coastal belt through the forest regions to Savannah-land fufu is a staple in its various forms.

Boiled tubers are pounded until they turn gummy, soft, and uniformly textured. But there is a price to pay. Fufu preparation takes much time. It is energy demanding and produces noise.

Owing to these reasons, fufu is not a meal that one person would ordinarily prepare. At home, fufu effectively becomes a family affair. Contrast this to a saucepan of rice prepared for the family.

All day long, each person can come and dish their portions. Not so with fufu. By constitution, fufu goes bad in a couple of hours. (Some people try to preserve by placing salt on top). What this means is that the food must be faced and cleared like the football penalty event.

In Ghana the day most associated with the fufu phenomenon is Sunday. There isn’t much activity and everyone is home. Fufu thus becomes a ceremonial dish, much like the English family’s Sunday Roast Dinner. Because of these connections, when the Ghanaian says he or she is looking forward to the weekend, fufu is likely to be part of the motivation.

In rural or traditional societies, however, fufu is a daily situation. Indeed, there are communities in which (like bird song at sunset) evenings are marked with a symphony of fufu sound splash blaring from every household.

Fufu pounding comes with a skill set and style of its own. It involves repeatedly thrusting the pestle into the mortar. The complementary technique has to do with massaging or moderating the gummy paste in the mortar with the bare hand.

The moderation involves, adding up boiled tubers one at a time, softening with water, turning and removing lumps (Lumps are a curse and disrupt the smoothness of the fufu eating experience). The skill set also includes regulating the intensity of each pestle hit. Like a choir director, the moderator instructs the pounder to hit hard or land softly. Finally, the moderator smoothens the fufu, cuts the portions and serves them out.

How fufu turns out depends a lot on how it has been moderated. The one in charge must understand the dynamics of tubers. For instance, some turn out fantastic when pounded hot. Others only do well when pounded cold. (With boiled cassava the general rule is that the colder and drier it is, the more elastic the fufu).

The position of the fufu pounder is to stand facing the moderator (who sits on a low stool). The technique is to hold the pestle with both arms. With eyes glued to the mortar, he raises it up and brings it crashing into the specific spot indicated by the moderator (actually, where the moderator’s fingers have just left). Call this the game of ‘follow my fingers.’

For those who wonder why there is no hand crashing in this enterprise, the secret is simple. Rhythm. Fufu pounding is all about rhythm (actually, fufu swallowing is also about rhythm). This is what ensures that the hand of the moderator is not flattened because right from the first pestle crash it is established when the hand can get in and out of the mortar.

At chop bars where giant pestles and mortars are used, it is common to see fufu macho-men punctuate each hit with a moaning refrain.

Sometimes, their manly sweat drip down to flavour the fufu. But hold it, if you intend to complain to the Food and Drugs Board. A number of Ghanaians surveyed eating fufu at the restaurant confessed that they still respect the pedigree of chop bar fufu. When the soup is prepared by a man, then we’re talking something quintessential.

In Ghanaian culture the stance of the fufu pounder is determined by his relationship with the moderator. Fufu pounding protocol demands that a junior must be upstanding and hold pestle with both hands.

However, when the pounder is of a higher social status, eg. a husband, he may sit and pound. He may also hold the pestle with just one hand.

The fufu pounding process does not always follow the two-person model (known also as ‘fufu-one-on-one’). There are those who have mastered both techniques of pounding and moderating and can single-handedly merge the two talents. Call this one-person operation ‘Automated Fufu Machine’ or ‘aworka’ in local parlance.

AFM requires a high level of efficiency and synchronisation. The person sits using one hand to hold the pestle in the middle while the other hand does the turning. method also requires sharp psychomotor abilities and a mental balance. In our society, individuals skilled in AFM, are taken for granted but they are an asset to the nation.

Finally, there’s the format where fufu is pounded in a giant mortar.

Up to about six people stand round the mortar with pestle in hand.

Here, there is no moderator, (that would be murder, won’t you say).

At a signal, each participant hit rhythmically at the mass of boiled yam. This is the ‘Pestles of Mass Destruction’ technique. The PMD method pertains in northern parts of Ghana.

For many enthusiasts fufu is life. It’s life attributes are typified by the mortar and pestle which are analogous to the copulation that leads to procreation. The pestle is not only phallus shaped it actually simulates its piston action. The mortar is feminine, the one with the vital opening.

Pestle expends the energy to thrust in and out while mortar is imbued with soaking the pressure. Together, both implements help each other to consummate the task thereby releasing tension.

When all is done, the pestle is no longer needed until the next session. Meanwhile, the end product lies in the bosom of the mortar just like a new baby issues from the woman’s womb.

There is a trinity of unspoken rules governing fufu. Firstly, it must go with soup (not sauce, not stew, not gravy). We mean soup in the unadulterated Ghanaian sense. Fufu without soup is like a groom without a bride.

Rule two: fufu must be swallowed. Nothing can be uglier than watching someone chew. D.i.s.g.u.s.t.i.n.g.

Rule three: fufu must be eaten with the fingers, all the time and all the way. Don’t forget, the fufu encounter also involves portioning and rounding up each morsel, lapping up soup, breaking bones and cutting fish. The fingers can perform all these smoothly. Simply put, fufu is a hand-y affair. Using a cutlery is an aberration. (Time to bow your heads in shame, all you who use cutlery) For clarification, one is allowed to use spoon, to scoop the soup.

When it comes to how folks like their fufu it’s not quite a simple affair. While some prefer the fufu swimming in soup (Island Delight), others like it separated from the soup. But it goes beyond that. For some, the type of fufu desired actually squares up with the type of soup. The permutation may thus go like this: light fufu with thick soup or thick fufu with thick soup.

Because of the emotional attachment to fufu over the generations, there is a body of habits and myths that have developed round it. For example, in Ghanaian society, when someone owes you and you visit to claim your money, there is nothing more irritating than to catch the person pounding fufu (how dare you?).

Connoisseurs believe that when it is very well pounded fufu is able to breathe. According to experts this breathing phenomenon occurs between the time fufu has just been pounded and before the soup comes.

After fufu has been pounded it is a taboo for the mortar to be left in the open and touched by dew. Also, to avoid seeing a ghost, one does not wash the face with water collected from the mortar. And, oh, pounding an empty mortar is tantamount to pounding your mother’s breasts.

Among certain communities it is believed that those who you don’t eat fufu have their mouths and lips formed differently (now that you know you may go ahead and examine the mouths of non-fufu folks).

People rent houses based on the fact that they are allowed to pound fufu. In selecting homes some people prefer to live downstairs so that their fufu-life will be happier. This is because some landlords do not allow pounding while others do but only before 6 pm. If you are a die hard fufu fan you need to find out about the fufu policy before renting a new place.

Fufu is special in a number of ways. All our main meals are prepared hot. Uniquely, fufu comes cold, but this is palatably neutralised with the hot soup that mandatorily accompanies it.

Fufu offers a natural body building opportunity. It is said that before gyms came to town, fufu was producing machomen for free. Also related to its exercising benefits, some communities encourage pregnant women in their last trimester to pound fufu. It is believed that this ensures easy and short labour.

Fufu is good, it is smooth, it is filling. There are those who eat it in the afternoon and they are done for the day. Others have it in the morning and eat nothing until supper. Some claim they need the fufu dosage like a medical prescription. If they don’t eat fufu in a day they have not eaten. Deprive them and you will be infringing on their human right.

All said and done, fufu is not only about finger licking and tummy filling. It also has an elevated place in Ghanaian folklore.

According to a local myth, the fufu story is central to the creation of the world. This legend goes that in the beginning the world was close to God. And the world was good. There was peace, love and joy. The creator provided rain and shine in favourable measure.

God also provided mankind’s other needs. The air was pure and water was sweet. Rivers overflowed with fish and crop harvest was three times a year. When the earth tried to quake or the wind blew too hard, the Old Man was there to take control, for he lived close by.

His home was in the clouds which hanged virtually at arm’s length.
All was well until man discovered the taste for fufu. Unlike Adam’s Garden-of-Eden apple, fufu was a serious staple food. It was delicious, satisfying and most importantly, smooth to swallow. In fact, compared to apples, fufu was worth losing paradise for.

According to the folk tale, man’s obsession with fufu pounding marked the beginning of his problems with the Old Man. Each time the pestle was raised, it pushed the clouds away from the earth. Each time the pestle came down heavily, God shuddered in horror. This went on until the creator became further and further removed from mankind.

Today, God lives high upstairs and hears our prayers less. Whatever the lesson of this story, we still have to thank God for the gifts of life. This includes fufu.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Rabbit Experience

I have been living in Linz since March, 2010. It's a nice city with great surroundings. The city is close to many beautiful cities in Europe including Budapest, Prague, Vienna and Munich. Linz is in the Upper Austria state of Austria. The Upper Austria state boasts of several beautiful mountains and industries. If you love sight-seeing, i bet this is a place to visit. Great mountain views, nice lakes and rivers, good environment and above all, an increasing cosmopolitan people.

My summer was enterprising as a Scottish family who were on the their way for a month vacation invited me to stay in their house for summer break and help care for the family pets; two rabbits.

Whiles growing up in Ghana, i spent some of my holidays in Takoradi, where family friends had reared rabbits. Our holiday afternoons were spent running around the hutch since we were not allowed to touch them. After many years, i had them as pets for 5 weeks in Austria. I was going to touch them as much as i could and watch them as long as i could. :)

It was a great experience! Rabbits are very lovely, sweet and funny animals notwithstanding their stubbornness. I spent lots of time reading about them, firstly to get to know their behaviors. I surfed the Internet hours and hours for almost three days reading about rabbits. I could have easily passed a veterinary test on rabbits.

Female rabbits are called doe are rather soft and obedient compared to their male counterparts, also called buck, according some internet sources. I found this to be true as the doe was really soft and yielding to directions unlike the buck. The multi-purpose rabbits' hutch is on the grassy surrounding in the house's compound.. I opened them daily for about 2-4 hours depending on the weather conditions.If it rained, i didn't allow them to get out of the cage. This keeps them neat and also prevents them digging holes. Beware!

The Jackie experience: The buck goes by the name Jack; he is super-active and acutely stubborn. He is the first to run out of the cage and purposefully begins chewing the fence, which is normal of rabbits from what i read. One day, i returned from University only to meet an empty cage. The rabbits had escaped. Confused as i was, i knew they'll return. However, after half an hour had gone by, i decided to shout their names, Jack hopped out of the neighbor's nicely planted vegetable farm. Standing afar off, he glared at me and seems to be shouting, I'm Free!I'm Free! Few minutes later, the doe came out from the same direction. Thankfully, they didn't cause any havoc to the neighbor's veggies.

I called the doe and she hopped to me. I lifted her into the cage and left Jackie to roam about. It seems the more freedom, it had, the more difficult it became to control Jackie; a naughty doe. He didn't want me touching him and hopped around, from one spot to another. Oh Jackie! When darkness fell, he went to stand beside the cage in an attempt to get inside. On realizing it, i helped Jackie into his cage. Well, i spent the afternoon till evening relaxing whiles preparing for some exams.

Rabbits!Rabbits!i guess everyone needs a rabbit especially a stubborn one,just to keep us!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Home is where soup is

"Soup is not a child’s play.

It must not be served in a cup

Nor without meat or fish

Soup must have pepper

It must never, never have sugar

No, no, dear, honourable compatriots. The above prologue is not at all directed at you. The target is all those (particularly in Western society) whose concept of soup is far from that of the Ghanaian. See, these people have ideas about soup which are dangerously funny. How, for instance, can one add sugar or alcohol to soup?

The above verse is also inspired by an encounter I had with Nora a few years ago. Nora is a lively, bouncy German woman. Like me, she was also a student but with engineering focus. One day, Nora was drinking this yellowish stuff in a cup. When I asked what it was, she said soup. Then she asked if I would like some. Soup in a cup? When will people get serious?

This episode happened in Europe and must not bother us. However, the way we are adopting western lifestyles, it would only be a matter of time when some of us would start showing similar disrespect to soup. It is no secret that many among us feel inadequate when we see others sit at table with half a dozen different dishes.

Compared to ours, theirs appear grand. What with starter stuff, main dish, sauce, vegetables, lamb and the works. But do not despair, countrymen and women. With us, it is all in the soup.

In Ghana, when the dining table is laid, it is typically a tale of four items. First is the main dish; usually, Banku, Akple, Tuo Zaafi, Fufu, etc. Next is the soup bowl. Then there are two sets of water; one for washing hands, the other to be drunk. End of story. In the event of an earthquake, the one item most likely to be saved is the soup bowl. This is a Ghanaian instinct. Simple.

I could continue this yummy discourse without defining what soup is. Heaven knows the Ghanaian does not need that. We all know soup when we see one. But for the reason that other people may be reading this, let us go ahead and provide some standard explanations.

What is soup? Philosophically, soup is what makes the Ghanaian say ‘I haven’t eaten all day’ simply because all he or she has had did not contain a soup item. Soup is what makes people look forward to going home after a long day’s work. Again, soup is what gingers up nostalgia for homely, far away places. Finally, soup (especially, when taken hot) is what helps critical minds to form opinion on serious issues.

In the average Ghanaian home, the phrase ‘what’s for dinner?’ is functionally out of place. The question is: ‘what soup is doing the backing?’ For us, the chief meal of the day is supper, with the main dish usually constant. Soup, then, is what makes the difference; bringing colour to our dinner table.

Matters of soup are rather serious affairs. For instance, business folks who understand the psychology of soup do not sign a bank cheque after a good soupy treat. In Ghana, people marry because of soup. People divorce because of soup. For both the man who gives out the ‘chop money’ and the wife who prepares the meal, the forum for accountability is the evening meal. This is the moment of truth, with soup being an important indicator.

The issue of soup is the issue of serious recurrent investment. When Ghanaians complain about the effect of the economic crunch on their food budget, they are significantly talking about the cost of soup. Fact of the matter is that there is no telling how much a saucepan of soup is worth. One cannot say the same for Banku or Fufu, or rice, no matter how perfumed it is. A bowl of soup, by virtue of its richness, can be ten times more expensive than its main dish counterpart.

Although there are different types of soups the structural fundamentals remain the same. Irrespective of what soup is being prepared the following ingredients are must-include: fish and/or meat, pepper, salt, onion and water. Other leaves, nuts and vegetables are added to determine character. Therefore, we have palm nut soup, groundnut soup, Kontonmire soup, etc. But for all these soups, vegetables such as garden eggs and okra (Why do we say Okro in Ghana?) could be added to form the ‘support squad’.

Some people can be ambitious and go for an experimental mix. There is thus a combination of palm nut soup and groundnut soup (nkatibe) or groundnut soup with Kontomire soup ("Nkatinkonto") or even a mix of all three, namely, groundnut soup, Kontomire soup and palm nut soup ("Abenkatinkonto").

Also significant, though of no less importance, is the inevitable question of light soup. Big issue. Light soup, also known as 'Nkrankra', is like the basis of all soups. In deed, the subject matter of light soup is one which requires thesis or dissertation treatment. Some people refer to it as ‘fisherman soup’. The Nigerian equivalent is ‘pepper soup’ while the Japanese answer would be ‘misoshiru’.

A thing about light soup is that it is one soup that can be taken on its own. A diner can walk into the restaurant and ask for light soup, neat and straight. No other soup enjoys such patronage. Also, for those recovering from bouts of alcohol intake, light soup is a sure cure. In contrast, an attempt to treat hangover with other soups may fail.

The impressive thing about light soup is that it is so versatile. Indeed, local gastronomy experts believe that all soup come from light soup. The reverse of this logic is that you can have your light soup and easily convert it to palm nut soup or groundnut or okro soup. Such an overhaul doesn’t go against the dynamics of these soups nor does it contravene the national constitution. Do you have light soup and you want it converted to groundnut soup? Don’t worry. Just introduce groundnut paste.

Light soup enthusiasts believe that at the onset of fever, what one needs is not really a doctor. What does the trick is hot, spicy, garden eggs-stewn, dried fish-enriched light soup. Those who doubt the medicinal side of light soup should wait until they have been beaten wet and sore by the rain. Hot light soup restores sanity in seconds.

In biblical retrospect, if Jesus Christ had raised that dead 12 year old child in Ghana, the scripture in Mark 5:43 would have read: ‘And Kwaku Yesu said unto the parents, ‘‘behold, offer thy little girl a bowl of light soup.’’’

When it comes to the structure of light soup, there are two schools of thought. Those who make a meal out of it (the pun is accidental) and those who cannot stomach it (this one is intended). For those who do not like the makeup, their main bone of contention is that light soup doesn’t amount to much. They find the soup too light to be taken seriously. To them, palm nut soup or groundnut soup are not only more filling, they have got character.

But all hope mustn’t be lost. The remedy for anti-light soup folks is simple, a thick light soup. Yes, thick light soup. See, though light soup can be as light and transparent as water (and still maintain its integrity), it can also be made as thick as gravy. This is actually food for thought. But that is another kettle of fish.

Critically, the meat or fish that is used to prepare, goes a long way to flavour and define light soup. The following are thus distinct in their own rights: goat meat light soup, cow meat light soup, bush meat light soup or fresh fish light soup (a personal favourite).

Beyond light soup and others already mentioned, there is another variety of soup. This is what one might call the eclectic or ‘everything goes’ soup. Eclectic soup may begin with a small, innocent bowl of stew. After a day or two of consumption, new ideas crop up. The stew is watered to assume a soup form. More fish or meat is introduced. Then fresh vegetables are added. As the days go by, groundnut paste, okro and even boiled beans may all find their way in. The group of people who are likely to be guilty of the eclectic soup are college students on campus. Other prime candidates are bachelors who do their own cooking.

In Ghanaian culture, learning how to cook soup is part of a girl’s rite of passage to womanhood. The main setting for picking up the skill is home, usually, from a parent. Soup making involves mastering other related skills such as seasoning, grinding, frying and par-boiling. Over all, the talent of soup making requires a high sense of timing and ingredient proportioning.

Once soup is prepared and ready, what it can be eaten with is only a matter of pragmatism. Soup is game with Banku, Fufu, Kokonte, Kenkey, Tuo Zaafi, Rice and Gari (The "eba" range). In the case of boiled yam, plantain and the like, soup must advisedly be thick (for the good of the game).

The virtues of soup are accounted for in folklore as well as in pop culture. Our folk tales and proverbs reflect the importance of good soup and its implication for a woman’s fortunes in marriage. In the Highlife song entitled ‘Asiko Darling,’ Snr. Eddie Donkor speaks of two women fighting for his love. Whilst one rival was using romantic sweet talk, the other was using the power of good soup to advantage. Also, in Okomfo Kwadee’s ‘Adjoa ye me yere, Yaa ye me mpena’ the singer complains of difficulty in choosing between his mistress and his wife. He expresses this dilemma as he sings out the strength and weakness of each rival. What makes his frustrations worse is that both women make delicious soup.

How soup is taken has its own set of home-grown protocol. In Ghana, while the main dish is served separately from the soup, some people prefer to drop the main dish into the soup and transact ‘business’ from one direct source. Both techniques have their merits.

Soup is not only eaten with a main dish, it is also drunk straight. By Ghanaian table etiquette, soup drinking takes place after the meal. A woman whose soup is drunk after a meal is a happy woman. To top up a well eaten meal by drinking soup is a compliment which says ‘it’s a pleasure to have your soup.’ In some homes, it is bad manners to leave the table without drinking the soup. Some men actually use this as a weapon. When they feel peeved and proud, but are not brave enough to skip the entire meal, they leave the soup. In such a situation, the following may ensue:

‘Why, my dear, you have barely eaten?’ says the concerned wife.

‘Woman, didn’t I eat your food, what else do you want?’

The way soup is drunk is an art all its own. To date, the three established formulas can be described as ‘spoon to mouth’, ‘bowl to mouth’ and ‘hand to mouth.’ Like the name suggests, spoon to mouth is simply using spoon to drink soup. It has the element of decency. ‘Bowl to mouth’ also means raising the bowl to the mouth and sucking the soup in. The advantage here is that a lot of soup can be drunk at a time.

The last, ‘hand to mouth,’ is not only the one with the most variations, it also requires the most skill. The first step in this technique is that the fingers are aligned to prevent the soup from leaking. The centre of gravity is lowered to form a little crater in the palm. The scoop machine thus formed is dropped and soon the soup collects in the hole of the hand. This is brought up gingerly and sent straight into the mouth. None of these methods is illegal. An approach which is futuristic is using straw to draw soup like happens when drinking soft drinks.

There is no doubt that we love soup in Ghana. But let’s take our eyes a little beyond our borders and note the soup culture of other countries. As it turns out, it is not everywhere that soup is king. Even in our West African neighbourhood, not everyone gives soup the attention it deserves. Take Burkina Faso,I once visited a friend in Ouagadougou. For three days we had fun, but on what? Grilled meat and Brakina Beer. At night clubs I was wise enough to snack on boiled eggs which kept me sane. When I was leaving, I could tell my Ouagalais pal was pleased with himself. I never went back and never told him why.

How about Nigeria? Well, thanks to their videos we know that soups such as ‘orgbornor’ and ‘egwusi’ play vital roles in their nation building efforts. In Togo, too, I know they pay their dues to soup. Whilst doing boys school at St Paul’s, we had the habit of sneaking across the border to drink in delicious Lome soup along with yam fufu. I couldn’t forget that, same way I couldn’t forget my sixth form grades.

For East Africa, I cannot vouch for them because I have lived with a Ugandan who didn’t know what pepper is. (How unlucky can some people be?). Across Central Africa, I think they might be good at soup, especially, in the green leaves department. Just consider the muscular built of Cameroonian footballers and you would know that soup definitely has a role.

As for the soup credentials of North Africa, I wouldn’t even go there. Bottom line? African unity cannot be achieved on the platform of soup. Way forward? As soup-eriors in continental liberation, Ghanaians must continue to cherish their soup culture and make our nation great and strong.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Efie ne fie: The Illumination

This note has been a long time coming. So much so that were I not to make full use of the opportunity to vent out months of astriction, I would do myself a disservice. The most apt description I can think of to describe a retrospective look at the situation is the feeling of having a veil pulled over your eyes, perhaps akin to what it must be like everyday for a woman in a muslim nation. I must have been wearing a niqab for about 24 years.

I made the independent decision to leave my home country for 'Aburokyire' to get a graduate degree. While it was a choice I made freely and only too willingly, I cannot admit to it having been a comprehensive one or even a practical one. Barely crossed the one year mark being away and I cannot imagine the amounts of resolve people who spend years away from home must muster.

The first of many 'culture shocks' that the US throws at you is the fierce and almost combative claim people have on their independence and individualism. The feeling of constantly being in competition with others is a constant oppression even when it is not tangible what the prize is. I have to conclude that the constant sizing up is both a means and an end, it is a way for the individual to feel accomplished in the most rudimentary of ways if one can convince themselves on whatever incoherent level of a claim to superiority. From a distance, I had admired the trait of Westerns to go it alone, swim against the tide *add whatever other cliche fits here. Up close, it is a less than enviable quality. The culture makes reclusion a wonderfully attractive option, it also creates an easy route to marginalization and discrimination. And it is no wonder the extent to which those constructs are very poignant in the society.

I do not claim to be an extrovert, anyone who has met me would agree that I am more reserved than most. In the States however, I find that I have taken introversion to heights Freud might have been fascinated with. It is not the easiest thing to put in words, suffice it to say there is a difference between being alone and 'being alone'...if you are Ghanaian/Nigerian that's probably good enough for you by way of explanation.

Recently there was a short succession of suicides at my university during the mid-semester week of exams. Like everyone on campus I was greatly distressed for both the students and their families, but what mostly dawned on me was the fact that I could relate, I understood what could drive people to such lengths. That frightened me... that I understood. I am quite sure that I do NOT want to 'inadvertently' understand such things as motive for suicide.

Is the grass a greener shade and are the streets lined in gold in America? Most emphatically no, at least not from my personal experience thus far. In Ghana, I experienced lack and poverty but I have only been introduced to hunger since I have lived in the States. Ironic. To wake up hungry, take a shower and get on a bus, go about the day's tasks and come back home at night still hungry. The extent of financial hardship preventing the purchase of a single meal was a novel experience good ol' Yankee introduced me to.

The thing about being in a country that is not yours is the gradual stripping away of your sense of self-validation. I shall attempt to expatiate. We all have a sense of who we are, a story that you tell yourself about yourself. It's sort of an outline you expect to gain more substantive pages as you interact with the world around you. A problem arises when the story you have in your mind contradicts that which your experience portrays such that you have to strip off and rewrite the narrative. The average American is largely influenced by stereotypical thinking and unmotivated for the most part to expand their knowledge beyond the shores of their great land (in and of itself this is understandable, considering), so a foreign accent, idea or opinion elicits a reflex reaction of sorts. It is easy to begin to see one's self in a diminished capacity in accordance to what clouded lenses reflect.

I must say that it has not all been gloom and doom, 'abroad' has not been all rotten oranges, on the contrary the benefits have far outweighed the detriments in my mind. (Disclaimer: This is not to say that I shall not board my Kotoka flight with vim when the moment arrives). I have never felt more African than during the last year. It is as if the more invisibility society imposes the more of a counteract being able to identify and conform with my roots presents. It has been a sort of private defiance if you will. I have not done as much research into issues affecting my home country as I have since I have been here or felt a real sense of empowerment and belief in the ability of the individual to alter destiny. I have been unceremoniously stripped of my imbibed belief in the treasures of aburokyire that most people in Ghana just seem to believe without examination. It has been a most enlightening experience.

Oh, to delve into my new appreciation for family may take another note entirely. To summarize, they say you don't know what you have until it's gone and they must have sojourned to Yankee to arrive at such a revelation.

People, what is interesting is that I used to think I was alone in my experiences, I would say to myself "toughen up, the world is hard" and it is. But the kicker is that there are hundreds of international students who deal with the same issues. Even though my contact with fellow Ghanaian students in the States has been mostly limited to electronic communications, they always find a way to air their grievances. Lo and behold their struggles are mine, comments like "we dey inside", "small, small", "e go be" come up all too often. Most of the dreams we packaged and flew with us to JFK have become sand to gusty winds of disillusionment.

So then, to join the returnee wagon, or not? A very important young voice in the Ghanaian blogoshere Ms Esi Cleland seems to have retraced her steps with grand success, however countless others have not. The question in reality is not as cut and dry, investing one's time, money and self into an endeavour creates grey areas. Ultimately that choice must be made with the least damage to one's psyche.

Alas, this sad fate awaits thousands of the best and brightest from Africa who leave their home countries with stars in their eyes and lofty dreams in their hearts. I will not attempt to become immersed in a debate about brain drain or take a stand that people should not leave home to begin with. Because in my case it took leaving for me to get to the point I am at now.

Surely this is not the tale of every African immigrant but I believe it to be common enough in varying degrees perhaps to deserve a voice. And if African culture teaches anything it would be the value of community, there is indeed a strength in unity and I feel obliged to beat on the drums in recognition of this. If I must conclude with a morale to make this rant more cohesive and/or comprehensible, here are a few things the old folks say that capture the idea succinctly: "All that glitters is not gold" , "Sankofa".

**Afternote: I am not one for regrets and I believe that life is as much as about the journey as it is the destination. Therefore, I can only look forward to perils that make for a most enlightening adventure, but more and more the waves shake and break and carry me towards where I began. Efie ne fie...

--- Marie Nkiru Selali Onuoha---

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Haunted By Beauty

I walk about the busy streets and see the myriad faces amidst their duty
The damp air and acrid scent of the sweltering proletariat
Vivifies my sensibilities with a repugnant reminder of the workaday life
But somewhere in the crowd, an enrapturing face arrests my sight and I lose all sense of self
Sometimes it happens in the dawning hours of the day
As I make my way through the hustle and bustle to till the hay
At other times it catches me at dusk as I stride home after a laborious day

But even more timely, it happens in the awkward moments
When I am least accustomed to expect it
Just when I feel my soul sinking beneath the heavy load of existence
A pleasantly beauteous face flashes a captivating smile
A beatific scene throws me into a state of rapture
Or a melodious voice from somewhere says ‘hello’
And I am pierced and wounded anew!

Pierced by the perennial ache that stalks me day and night
Wounded in heart at the exact spot where you wielded your magic
Wounds that opens up to reveal my familiar assailants
The unyielding trio who break through the iron bars of my hardened heart
To wreck a havoc of extreme pleasure and intense pain
My fractious soul is flooded with a molten torrent of Longing
I find myself immersed in a lava of Nostalgia and swarmed by a deluge of Desire

A Longing for what might have been – An increase being; A rest in your arms
Nostalgia for those few and rare moments when I was afforded a tiny glimpse into your soul
Desire for a dream… a hope… the whisper of a thrill… a promise
A promise of something yearned for in my younger years; that remains unknown still

In such moments of merciless assault from Longing, Nostalgia and Desire
I am swept in an ocean of memories and fantasies but in the noise of the waves
A silent voice reminds me that all I’m really missing is you
Oh yes! I am haunted by beauty; I am haunted by YOU!

--- Daniel Ekow Arhin Buckman. ---