Friday, November 28, 2008

No One Teaches You How to Have Sex - Yoknyam's Response

Written By: Yoknyam Dabale

Thank you Esi for the essay on Sex, you touched some basis that I believe alot of us sometimes are afraid to discuss, this shows your willingness to take risk by writing your views!!

Personally, I never got the sex talk from home( Nigeria). As a matter of fact, my mother used to be upset whenever she saw me talking to boys my age, as a result the older I got, I became very distant to men. And then after terrible incidents (sex related) while schooling in Sierra Leone with couple of men, I decided to call them all evil....that being said, when I moved to the U.S in my early twenties, my body began to act up strangely and I didn't know what to do with that. At the same time, I was dating a wonderful guy whom I thought would be my husband but then again I didn't want to have sex with him since, my previous encounter with sex was all negative. My boyfriend then didn't understand why if I cared so deeply about him...but wouldn't share my body with him, long story short, he broke up with me after two years.

Now when I moved to Duke in 2006, I decided to take matters into my own hands, so I decided to do a research for one of my classes titled "Unlocking the Sex Code". In my work, I looked into ways sex is viewed in both the secular and religious world. The summary of my work is that: In the secular world based on the research survey I conducted, the result was fifty, fifty in this way: Fifty percent of people believe that sex is like any activity, that is to say if a man or woman is horny and the opposite sex is available to have sex, then that is fine. The other fifty believe sex must take place only between to adults who agreed on such act in a committed relationship.

The religious perspective , espcailly for Protestants (majority) believe sex can take place between two people who care about each other in marriage...but this view went further to say that if couple are committed to each other and are not married, yet hoping to marry each other one day...then sex is okay.) For Christian Orthodoxy, sex must only take place between a huband and a wife ( that is final). Their argument is that marriage is sacred therefore must be treated as such and when two people are married hopefully in church, then they have become the body of Christ, Hence the Holy Spirit will help then have sex in a more honorable way with out using each others body simply as orgasm producer ( my phrase here).

Now in the process of my research, I learned that Marriage needed to be defined... and based on my study I uncovered that marriage wasn't a sacrament of the church (universal church). Sex was then called a sacrament in the church in the late fourth century, even later than that...the church decided to make sex a sacrament because people at the time were wonton, so to control such behavior, sex was made a sacrament. Now you ask, where did the idea of marriage come into picture? Well, marriage was the local custom of the time, people married for the purposes of economical gain. For example: A wealthy family married a wealthy family so to keep money amongst themselves.

My work concluded with a fifty, fifty asnwer to the question I asked: Is it alright to have sex before marriage? according to secular and religious perspectives ( Yes and No).

I concluded my work by suggesting that: even though views on sex are diverse, it is important that people know what exactly sex is before getting involved. And some of the ways in which people could learn about sex is by 1. talking about it, espically to younger people who might only know sex through what the media is presenting them, and sometimes the media doesn't present sex as honorable as it should be 2. read books and articles on sex and relationship 3. Parents should make it their duty to educate their children 4. Adults should have public discourse on sex, espically in settings like the continent of Africa where people talk about sexuality but not necessarly SEX, 5. Talk about sex in manners that will present it as a good thing but sometimes would go wrong if treated carelessly. For example: When sex is done right,a couple enjoy the pleasure it gives physically and sometimes provide babies for those who would like to have them. On the other hand if sex is done wrongly that is without protection when needed, sexual transmitted diseases are going to come into picture such as HIV/AIDS, HPV, Herpes, T.B etc and that leads to death!

And finally, allow God to lead one's decison on whether sex-ing at a particular time is the right thing to do. For those of us who are trying to be faithful to our Christian call know that, as finite beings we are doomed to fall if God is not there lifting us up. With God by our sides we can handle our desires to have sex with some dignity.

Thank you Esi for allowing me to post on your blog, I am looking forward to seeing you again in America!!!!!!!

Consider yourself hugged and Happy belated Thanksgiving...oh my bad every day is Thanksgiving....hahahahahha


Letter to my Imaginary Childhood Friend

Dear Nyamke,
I heard you just had a baby! how grande. I am almost welling up. To think that only a few years ago, we were standing under the big tree at the Legon bus stop, without a care in the world! Time really does fly, and it carries us along with it to far flung places and in a way, makes us become. I am writing to you because as you have probably figured out by now, no one teaches you how to be a parent but in the end, our children will judge us based on how we interact with them, and sometimes the world will judge us based on how our children turn out and so I plead that you tread carefully. I thought it also expedient to remind you of our days in elementary school, and how in those days there were two kinds of parents. The ones whose children wanted to show them off and the ones whose children wished they'd die. Children have a funny way of thinking don't they? Still, I ask that you be considerate of your children's feelings and their frail personalities. When you find your wife buying her first pair of mum jeans, give me a call! I beg you.

Will you promise me that you will be the parent that goes for Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings? Be present at all the events. Don't listen to what s/he says about it not being a big deal. It is. It was for us, it will be for them. Be there for open day. Be there for the nativity play. Even if she's the donkey, show pride, when s/he brays. Show pride when s/he hee-haws, and even if s/he forgets that donkeys don't neigh, show pride when s/he neighs. She's only a child. At that age, it's cute. Enjoy it. Take note especially that I said you should show pride, as opposed to be proud. You need your child to know that you're proud of them. But do not embarrass your little one in the process. Do not be like that friend of ours whose father bellowed into the microphone..."That is my son, doing the high jump for section red...Kwabena jump jump jump, Kwabena jump jump jump". Kwabena had a tough time in secondary school because his friends didn't let him hear the last of it. hehe. Parents are often like hot pepper soup in the harmattan season. Either too hot or too cold. Never just right, but you can try. Oh, did i mention that you need to be there for those athletic games? Be proud of her for being part of it. No matter what we learn as we grow up, it's not about winning.

Nyamke, some people say that their duty is to be a parent, not their child's best friend. Are those two roles mutually exclusive? one wonders. As a parent, your duty is to guide. I'll be honest with you, Nyamke, because you knew me when I had bow-legs, you've seen me as I am, I can be honest with you. I don't see it so much as a duty as I think it is an honor. You get to guide your children, you get to teach them, correct them, affirm them...exciting stuff! One day, as I stood at the bus stop, waiting for a bus in Durham, NC, a man who was lame in one leg got off the bus. He looked like a hobo, i have to say with all the bells and whistles, you know what I mean...the raggedy clothes, the stubble and stench to boot. There were two children standing next to me. One was about ten, and the other closely following in age. When the man got off, one of the children started to titter. The other child, said to the one who had laughed in a stern disapproving tone, "It's not funny!" The laughter disappeared, and I was so proud of that child, I could have hugged her. I hope that your children turn out that way, Nyamke. You get to mold them, and teach them to respect people, to be good people. You’re a lucky s.o.b.

So by now it is clear that your job is not to be your child's worst critic. The rest of the world does that well enough. I don't think it needs much help from the parents. Let your children be children. Allow them to play, and learn. Allow them to not be the 1st in mathematics, general science, and music. As long as they are doing well, let well be good enough. Don't let best be the only spot they can occupy, for best is too narrow. Appreciate their other good points. Show them to be happy for their friends. I'm not advocating mediocrity, but I'll let you use your judgement. And oh, how could I forget! Please talk to them about sex. And talk to them early. Fifteen is too late, and don't be ambiguous when you talk to them. I'm not asking you to have "the talk" because hopefully, you will not be having just one talk. My hope is that it will be on ongoing dialogue about how they feel about boys, what sex is, as you encourage them to wait till they can negotiate safe sex before they venture. If you're religious, I suppose your reasons may be different but please talk about sex. Waiting for the day before your child heads off to high school to have a conversation about "bad girls and bad boys" isn't quite my idea of talking about sex. It's not that hard, Nyamke. I bet you and I could talk into the wee hours of the morning about these things. It's actually quite entertaining:)

I will end by asking that you let your children be themselves. If you can help it, don't let them become you. Not that you're not great. Your children are lucky to have you for their father, but they don't have to follow your footsteps exactly. Be there to give advice but let them be the ones to make the decisions and in all cases, be supportive. Be your child's biggest fan. Yes, Cambridge is dandy and I used to brag to my friends that my best friend goes to Cambridge but if they want to go to Legon, let them. In fact, let them be able to say they want to go to Legon. The Cambridge grads I know are no more competent than the legon grads who apply themselves. You know this! Your child doesn't have to be a doctor because you are one, Nyamke, and when they are old enough, your child doesn't have to marry a fine Nzema lass. Your child doesn't have to date only from "good homes" when we all know that what people mean by that has nothing to do with values and everything to do with social class. I stress this Nyamke, because you, like me, came from nothing. Where would we be if the the world had turned its back on us?

You know, i didn't realise how much i'd missed you until some okro mouth whispered the news of your new bundle of joy to me. Hmm, gossip, gossip, that same okro mouth told me that Gyekye also got married. It seems that Oper per per yaaa ma onyaa nye dEm bosombul yi* wonders! hehe. I will try to keep in touch more often. Say hello to the Mrs. I think of you often, always fondly.

* The part about Gyekye is in fanti and translates to: I heard that Gyekye (a girl friend of ours) got married. After her restlessness, and picking through the men as if to select the best, is this what she ended up with? This native god? Bosombuli is a sort of negative adjective which suggests the grotesque ugly depiction of the african man, as often seen in pictures from the slavery era.

Mrs. Woarabɔwodzin

Married. 50 years. Never wed in the western way. My grandfather, Egya Kwesi Amoaful remains same. My grandmother Maame Ama Krah remains same. Names remain same. My mother's parents. Matrilineal as we are. Nobody took nobody's name. Marriage was contracted. Marriage was legitimate. God, the Ghanaian God, was present all right. No rings. Just drinks and wills and mills of kin.

The Ghanaian man isn't stronger than the Ghanaian woman. She farms, she sustains. She is an ɔbaatan, which means not only that she feeds and clothes but also that she protects with her spirit and her strength. These days, she even pays the electricity bill. She has no formal schooling, which often also means that her common sense is keen. She is not having a battle between careers and family. That she can have them both has never been in question. That woman has a career that takes her far from home. She has always experienced other lands, in her search for food to bring to her community. They call this kwando. In that way, perhaps she is worldlier than her husband. She belongs to a fraternity of women doing same. So why the hell are you buying into the notion that you too, are weak? What battles do you have to fight now that our grandmothers have not already won? You have never been inferior. Nothing has been denied you. All you have to do is accept your powerful role. That is how our family has worked.The Ghanaian feminist fights not for equality with man. She fights for equality as (w0) man. She fights not for women, she fights for her race, she puts her children through school, sometimes having to sell her expensive African cloth which she has bought for herself.

Now you, why do you tell me that unless I have a "wedding", that unless I become a Mrs. X that our marriage is illegitimate. Unless I wear some frilly lace or satin gown, in the sweltering heat of Accra, and have some little children masquerade infront of me, there's nothing similar to it in my nature, my culture, that our marriage isn't marriage? Tell me, does the Ghanaian God (or any God) live in a chapel? That ceremony is to me the way that unfamiliar things can sometimes seem grotesque and farcical. Mrs. X. How does this title fit into the land from which we have come? It doesn't belong, my dear. There is no Mrs. X. There is just me and you and we are married.

Why do you think a translation of Mrs. is not possible in our language? In a desperate and unsuccessful attempt, they say Owurayer. But think, my dear, what does that mean? I will think for you, if your scholarship in the white man's land has overcrowded your forelobe with thoughts that bear no similarity to our way of life that you have become a stranger to the philosophy, language and thought of our land. Owurayer means the wife of owura. In the same vein, we could speak of Ewurakun, a title for a man meaning, the husband of Ewura. Now think again. What would be the equivalent of such a title in English? Mr.? Forget it. Mr. bears no mark of woman or the relationship to woman. Mr. exists without woman. Ewurakun, doesn't. Owurayer is not an exclusive title in the way that Mrs. is. This is our truth.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Letter to my Imaginary Sister

Dear Mena Araba Maahaw Wu,

Remember when we were growing up, Maame often used to mention that sɛ obi yɛ wo papa a, nna ɔahaw wo (tr: if someone does you a favor, s/he has worried you). At that time, I thought I understood what she meant. If someone had bothered to seek my opinion, I would have even determined that the English equivalent of that would be something along the lines of “one good turn deserves another” but Mena Araba, last weekend, someone made me realize that “one good turn deserves another” falls several rungs short of grasping what Maame meant. Indeed hom mma yɛnka dɛ sɛ obi yɛ wo papa a, nna ɔahaw wo dodow! Before I lose you, please don’t forget to send this to all our friends who want to know more about what life is like for a Ghanaian returnee. This is for them.

Mena Araba, do you remember the person I was before I left Ghana in 2002? Particularly was I the kind of person who would do things for people just to be nice? I ask because people here do that a lot, and I loved it until my arm was twisted to return the favors. Call it reverse culture shock. You see I had no plans for last weekend except to rest, visit the sisters in secondary school, hang out with the brother, and attend the second round of auditions for the play. But this was not to be when someone who had done me good in the past just gave me a ring on Friday and asked me for a favor. At first it seemed simple enough; I’m in Ghana, at such and such hotel, my phone battery is dead and I would like to charge it so I can call my wife. Can you please buy and bring me a charger? I agreed, happy to be of service. I drove to Osu, got the charger and found my way to the hotel. To my surprise, I was shown to his room. Okay, we make small talk, and just as I’m about to leave with the intention of returning home early and catching up on sleep, the man asks me what there is to do in Accra on Friday night. He expresses interest in seeing Ghana girls. Much as I didn’t feel like going out, I could not say no. This guy had no car, and if I left alone, would have no choice but to watch cable tv and sleep by 8 pm.

I took him out to Celsbridge, where we got some chicken and gordon’s sparks for him and some water for me. More small talk. He thinks Ghana girls look the same as Nigerian girls. Frankly, at this point, I couldn’t care less. The food is gone, and then the drama begins. This guy starts to suck his teeth to remove the chicken pieces stuck between his molars. That just about kills me, and me yamu anka asaase apae ma maakehyɛ’m (tr: I wished the earth would open up to swallow me). Just as I am about to die of embarrassment, he suggests we get back to the hotel so I can go home before it is too late. Big sigh of relief! Back in the car, he starts being a royal pain in the rear. This guy started directing me on how to drive. Change the gear, move to that lane, go slow, take it easy, move it. GRRRR! Mena Araba, you know those kinds of people who can’t seem to get it when they’re being irritating? I knew nothing better to do than to be mum and bear it. I thought I was going to drop him off, rush off home and just try to forget the evening but no... Mena Araba, it was as if the man was trying to punish me, as if to say dɛ tweon na ma ɔreba yi wo dze a, he politely asked me if I could come and take him shopping the next day so he could shop for his wife and kids. Upon hearing this, the part of me that likes to have my days belong to me so I may live them as I please died. How to say no? I couldn’t. Mena Araba, I am a cowardess! or is it cowardette? cowardrice?! she-coward.

Next day, after my play rehearsal I turned my phone back on to find a message from him saying he’d tried to reach me. Where was I? I drove straight to the hotel, where he was waiting with suitcases. Did I have to apologise? I did. Mena, you know I don’t like to pretend, but under the circumstances...

Mrs. Nkatsema (my little sister) had sent a message from school to tell us that ne kɔn adɔ akokɔnam (tr: she was craving some chicken). Imagine! Chicken! Not Gari, shito, or sardines! Was it that long ago that we were in secondary school? It would never have entered my coconut to stand in line and wait my turn to use the phone booth we used to have in Gey hey merely to ask for akokɔnam. Yes, Mena Araba, children of today have their own interesting demands. If it is indicative of what we should expect from our own children, then we are in trouble! Though I had sent her a response saying that if all she wanted from home is chicken, then she really has no needs at all, we both knew Id send her some chicken.

So after I picked up our Oga, we passed through Celsbridge again to get some chicken for the girls and for him. We sat at the entrance, waiting for the chicken and our man started misbehaving again. This time, he stuck his index finger into his nostrils and started excavating. Mena, I know what youre thinking. But we all do this? Yes, we all do it, but not whilst sitting in public, No, I would never be so at ease as to pick my nose with such abandon. Ebei! At this point, I migrated to the back on the pretext of visiting the bathroom lest anyone should pass and think I knew this man.

When the chicken was done, we paid for it, got back into the car for round two of the gauche exhibition. Mena Araba, remember when we were little, Maame used to insist that we chew with our mouths closed and noiselessly. At the time, I thought she was being too fussy, but now I have no doubt that she deserves her boba (tr: stone) (There exists an akan expression which suggests that a person be given a stone for being right in any argument) This our alatanyi was chewing like a bush man. To top it off, he bought some coke in traffic, drank about two-thirds of it and offered me the rest. Really, Mena Araba, where did I sleep that night? I managed to politely decline the offer, and after walking around the mall and getting some cloth for his wife, I drove him to the airport.

After I drop him off, I am so thankful for my newly found freedom that I turn to atlantis radio and blast some love songs, ghetto style at full volume as I drive back towards 37, through East-Legon and home!

I barged into our bright-blue, oil-painted living room expressing my displeasure (Yes, the old lady and pops need a crash course in interior design but after visiting many Ghanaian homes, I am confidently declaring it a national problem, worth a chunk of our 2009 budget). I complained that the man had taken my whole day. I couldn’t seem to stop whining, I told everyone who called me within that hour what a terrible day I had had. But you know the surprising thing? None of them heard me. Maame and Paapa thought it was a nice thing for me to do. In fact they don’t think I should have done it any differently. Walahi, this papayɛ abatra heaven dze, I no go do some again. tweakai!I mean, I can do good if it is for an old time friend and Im enjoying hanging out with the person, were making jokes, and so on. Then I dont mind giving up my day but not this! Mena Araba, no matter how I look at it, I dont think I can do this kind of good o, but I had to because I owed him a favor. Indeed, sɛ obi yɛ wo papa a, nna ɔahaw wo. How else would this guy have been able to so incommode me when we hardly know each other! I get the impression that Maame and pops and indeed many of the people I complained to would not be so worked up at all if they had been in my shoes. Has abrokyire corrupted me? How I wish to be fully Ghanaian again!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Up on Love

Imagine if you can, a couple that love each other absolutely. They know it in their hearts, they feel it in their bones. Yet they are incompatible in some fundamental ways. They fight, they make each other sad, and they may even believe as many do that that love is not enough. At what point does this couple say, enough is enough? My favorite movie of all time is "The Mexican" starring Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. They are exactly this kind of couple. At one point in the movie, Julia asks Brad this question, and Brad answers "Never". Many years ago I dated a man (as opposed to what? a fish? hehe). We disagreed more often than is healthy and grew increasingly gifted at making each other miserable. Once he excitedly begged me to watch the movie and listen to the answer to the question, when do you give up? He described it as our story. I complied and fell hard for the idea of never giving up. As it turned out, he didn't believe in what I had swallowed whole. He gave up on us some months later, but the message stayed with me; I'm still the kind of person who never ever gives up working towards having a life with the person (s) I love. What about you?

Monday, November 24, 2008

No One Teaches You How to Have Sex

You’re born, you grow up, become a teenager, avoid any sexual overtures from boys and men, you complete school, you find a job and then you get married while you’re still a virgin. These are some of the expectations Ghanaian society has of its girls and women. Maybe it is these expectations that make parents think they don’t need to talk about sex. Afterall, if you’re not going to be doing it till you’re married, why do you need a talk at fifteen? Mine certainly never talked about it with me. Did yours? It'd be interesting to see how many of us reading this actually got a sex-talk? The most I got was a brief (less than 5 minute) talk entreating me to avoid messing around with other girls before I went off to my all girls high school. hehe. Even that came from my aunt (Bless her!) and not my parents. That was all fine, until the hormones started raging and the boys started coming to my house. Then my mother expressed her worry that too many different boys were coming to our house. Still, no sex talk. The churches and schools helped to put me off sex; I saw too many HIV warnings, and heard sermons about fornication that managed to make me feel guilty even though I wasn’t having sex. In many people’s minds, mine inclusive, the sex talk is to educate the individual about sex in order to help them make an informed decision about it and to practice it safely if they choose to do it. But that’s not really the focus of this entry. I’m more interested in how Ghanaians (particularly the women) are being prepared to have sex, and maximize their enjoyment of it.

I didn’t know girls could masturbate till I was over twenty and out of Ghana. I never even chanced upon the idea that sex was something you did for your own pleasure as opposed to it being something you did to please a guy who asked. Now I was quite the curious woman, and so if I didn’t know this, chances are that majority of Ghanaian women don’t know either. Do Ghanaian women think of sex as something they need to be good at in order to have a successful marriage in the same way that many of them think they need to know how to cook well? The tricky thing is that no one teaches you how to have sex but somehow you’re supposed to figure it all out after you’re married. I’m not married and I’m not making excuses for cheating spouses, but it is possible that the woman who never learns to have sex, who does it only to please her husband, and to procreate, is the same one who will stop having sex with her man after her children are born. If a woman merely tolerates sex, she won’t initiate, she won’t actively participate, she won’t be appealing to her husband. So what we end up with is men like my forty-year old friend who is sex-starved, is trying not to cheat, but uh, at some point a guy has needs and will get it elsewhere if the opportunity presents itself. Even though more Ghanaian women could keep their spouses faithful if they showed a little enthusiasm, that isn’t why I’m interested in seeing a Ghana where women are sexually liberated. I’m interested in seeing women having conversations about sex, and sharing sex-tips because they want to enjoy it. Hint: Someone should please have a party for married women (and all who are interested) to come and talk about sex, share tips, buy sex-toys, giggle and just generally have a good time and then go home, and try their newly discovered techniques. If I knew this was in store, I’d be rushing to the altar.

I hope readers will share how they know everything they know about sex. Maybe it’s not something your mother can teach you, though I really don’t see why not. I’ll begin with how I know what I know. Here goes: I'm a big believer in the power of self-developed curriculum on sexual education, ya know, googling things like "how to make your man love you bed" . Check out the link for all the juicy tips aimed at keeping men chained to women forever. I used to buy cosmo, a long time ago, before my spiritual evolution and certainly before I discovered high literature. Hey, I'm not saying I didn't learn a trick or two from Cosmo, but much of my real education came from Google. No disrespect to uncle Friedman , but I don't need him to tell me that Google is one of the greatest inventions of our time because it was Google, not cosmo that taught me nearly everything I know about sex, and trust me, it's a whole lot. Yes, I'm bragging. People get advanced degrees and brag about knowing things that no one else cares about like uh quantum dots or hadrons, reconstruction algorithms, Yeats, how to write in the style of Rumi (ok, I made this one up but you get the idea). If you've invested time to learn about things we all dream of like hot sex, in my book, that should earn you some bragging rights.

I've been talking a lot about women but there's one thing I'd like to know concerning the men. So many Ghanaian men think/claim to be good in bed. Somebody's got to be lying right? Or maybe we should ask the Ghanaian women. Is your average Ghanaian man any good? Do they take the time to learn? Please correct me if I'm wrong but I suspect so many people are going around thinking they're so good, and not even taking the time to learn, and ask what they could improve when in reality, they're mediocre. If they're really as good as they claim, how did they learn? By googling like me or by experimenting with women from other countries (since Ghanaian women pretend they're not having sex) or were they just born with the skill? hehe. Of course all you can learn from Google is the theory and then you have to practice to really learn but assuming we’re going to put off sex till marriage, at least we would walk into marriage bursting to try out all these nifty techniques. I am alarmed to even think how I would have learned anything if I’d grown up in my parents’ time when there was no Google. Sure, there are books, but I’m probably not the only one who owns “The Complete Kama Sutra” and has never opened it. Google is just more accessible.

Can’t wait to read your stories! Sex is such a fun topic. It's a shame we don't talk about it more often. Spiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiilllll!

ps: Notice the sheer irony of my giving Google credit when all it does is direct me to sites like ivillage. I need to stop saying I found information on google when the more accurate thing to say is that I found it on sites that google directed me to.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The There is not There

I used to be the kind of person who talked about problems. I developed a keen sense of awareness, and a remarkable knack for perceiving many of the far reaching consequences of existing problems. Perhaps I am blessed to come from Ghana because here, we have many real problems and all one has to do is look to find broken systems, corrupt people, weak leaders, and many other things that need fixing. But after attending Smith College, one of the most socially conscious and politically active colleges in the US, perhaps second only in that regard to Wesleyan College right down the street in Middletown CT, where most students were passionately championing one cause or another, I changed.

I turned from one who talked about problems to one who talked about solutions. At the time of my transition, I was very active on a number of internet message boards, notably Ghanathink, Clubgh, and Odadee (Presbyterian Boys' Secondary School, Legon, Ghana) forums. One on of these message boards, I recall viciously lashing out at KSM after reading one of his articles in which he’d expounded further on Ghana’s problems. I felt that we all knew the problems and did not need anyone to explain to us the state of our own backyard. I’d expected more, more in the way of practicable ways of solving our problems, and was disappointed that Ghana was heralding a man who was not moving us nearer to the fixing things. At that time, what I was looking for was a KSM who talked about ways to move forward.

Time passed and like wine, I matured. In time I started to get dissatisfied with my own methods. I started to see the futility of talking about solutions. I no longer enjoyed calling up my friends to talk about what Ghana needed to do. Discussions with my boyfriend quickly disabused me of the erroneous notion that Ghana is behind in development because people in Ghana lacked ideas. I bought into his belief that there were people in Ghana who were even smarter than us, were better schooled than us, and had still failed to move the country forward because "the there is not there". When a Ghanaian man says "the there is not there", he means there is no cash. If one looked at the universities in Ghana, one could see that they had some of the world’s finest brains but how were they to conduct research, and publish papers when "the there is not there"? But in time, I moved away from that position also.

It is worth noting that Databank, the most respected company in Ghana received its seed money from a Ghanaian bank, and even though access to capital remains a major hurdle to be surmounted by would-be entrepreneurs, I am now convinced that chief among our liabilities as a people is that we lack the will to do, and we do not believe enough in our own power to create change. The real there that is not there is the will, not the cash. Several reasons account for this lack of will certainly, among them, poor financial planning on the part of our parents which makes them over-reliant on their children when they are no longer able to work. This saddles us with burden of not only providing for our parents but also for our siblings, and makes us more likely to remain in the stable job, instead of taking a risks that are required to start businesses or pursue careers that are less lucrative but which we are passionate about and in which we can be truly creative and exemplary. Just as many reasons account for our own lack of confidence in the power we wield to change the world. As an example, one big-mouthed friend of mine told me that I am able to take certain risks because I am a woman and therefore the Ghanaian society does not expect me to be a bread-winner. As a woman, I am not expected to build a house, or be financially independent. I’m not expected to purchase items on a list provided by a would-be bride’s family. Now that stung! This guy was unwilling to allow that maybe, just maybe, I have more gumption than he does and so he chose to justify his decisions by saying that the world expects more of him, never mind that he was speaking to a woman who had never showed a lack of ambition, who wants the house, the job, the respect, and will marry someone’s son and pay dowry if she needs to. But I need not tell you all that because you already know. My point is that the Ghanaian youth has headaches, but those headaches need not weigh us down. My friend did not believe he could do all that he wants to do if he lets go of what he currently holds and jumps into unknown territories. But, I believe he can!

Somewhere along the line, I stopped talking about solutions and I decided that I needed to implement, to do, to talk less and do more. If I say the presenters on some of the morning shows in Ghana are not articulate or interesting enough, I should be willing to step up and do a better job, or shut up and let those who will, do. My boss at my former job told me once that the world is not changed by those who can, it is changed by those who will. Of what use is it to the world that you can if you don’t?

So the next question that springs up in my mind is, how do you get to the point where you let go of all your fears and jump in? My answer? I don’t know. It is probably different for everyone, but I’ll share how I got to where I am. (Where I am meaning, I’m at the point in my life where I’m jumping into everything, doing what excites me, trying all that I’ve ever wanted to try and not thinking that I’ll fail but knowing that if I do, I can live with myself because I tried and I’ll have a basis for talking later). For me, so many things converged to provide me the will. I’ll share two for now.

The first is that someone insulted my pride. I’ve always been fiercely proud of being Ghanaian. Have always loved Ghana for the little things, but I lived in the US. One day a white American friend of mine told me to my face that Africans are always at the bottom of everything. Man! I knew that. This was no news, but to have someone else tell me that my house is dirty made me want so badly to clean it up that I upped and left. I don’t know if my being in Ghana makes any difference. Actually I’m pretty insignificant. People are still poor, and one person crossing the ocean doesn’t do much, but everyday I wake up, I know that someone insulted my pride and I acted. I didn’t stay and keep taking shit when I knew that America is at the top because people like me contribute to make it so.

The second is that at Duke I joined a small community of intellectuals and dreamers who were engaged in the spiritual search and who met regularly to discuss books, life and self-knowledge. I was heavily influenced by writings of Jung, Emerson (particularly self-reliance) and Krishnamurti among others. I wanted to lead a meaningful life, I wanted to be happy and most of all, I wanted to stop preparing to live and live. I’d already figured that school was getting in the way of my learning. I wrote essays about myself for myself, I wanted to know who I was. Who do I want to be, who do I love and how does every day of my life count towards answering those questions. The one that impacted me most was when one of my friends asked me, Esi, what would you do if you had six months to live, and I blurted out, without thinking, without having to think, that I would move back to Ghana. Her next question was why are you here?

How does being in Ghana make a person a do-er? It doesn’t, but it makes you confront the problems on a daily basis. When I was in the US, I just sat back and said Ghanaian movies suck. But only this week, I gave a man who has been an actor for over fifteen years a ride, and he told me in the one hour he was in my car, a lot of the reasons why Ghanaian movies suck. I kept asking, really? really? I had no idea of the issues but suddenly after meeting this man, the problem seems more real to me, and I ask myself who I expected to write scripts for the better Ghanaian movies if I until now have done nothing about it myself. Yes, I’m going to work on a script for a movie. Being here puts the problems right in my face and I can’t help but be moved to act.

One may wonder about the Ghanaians who have never left Ghana. Aren’t the problems in their face too? Why don’t they have the will? Some people do, and you’ll find many inspiring stories of people creating change in Ghana. I believe Ghanathink often tells these stories, but there is a pervasive acceptance of the status quo. Many of the young professionals seem too busy with their day jobs. At the audition that I mentioned in my last blog entry, I saw more of the same actors we complain about. As they say, if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. If we want to see good movies, we need more people who read blogs to audition. From where did we inherit this notion that highly schooled people are too good for Ghanaian plays and movies? Sure, we’re too good for the movies we have always seen but can we dream of a Ghanaian movie that is comparable to the best elsewhere and that we’re proud to be associated with and would consider acting in? Sure, why not? Ours is not the kind of country where children grow up wanting to be actors, and movie directors. At least it hasn’t been in the past and won’t be until we change that. That is our reality. So to develop our movie industry, since we don’t have a mass of talented people screening to act, we need schooled people to be versatile, to try things that they find interesting and be our James Bonds. Can you imagine what would happen if all Ghanaian actresses were KNUST graduates and graduates of the Ivy-League. We’d be better than Hollywood, and why the hell not?

How do I anticipate we will find the time to do all that? Well, you know what they say. Where there is a will, everything else is secondary. The only problem is that "the there is not there". Or is it?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A New Kind of Relationship

Confession. I’ve been spending way too much time being a beach bum which is why I haven’t written anything in so long. The beach really calms me so I go whenever I get the chance. Someday I would like to own a beach house in Ghana, so I can go to the beach at night, look at the stars, and allow my mind to take me where it will. At night it is especially beautiful. Besides Bojo, Kokrobite and Langma beaches (If you ever go there, you shd try their grilled lobsters) which are a bit far from the center of town, I have recently discovered 2 beaches in addition to Osekan that are conveniently located off Accra High Street and La, called Afia Beach and Tawala beach respectively.

Yesterday I spent a good amount of time eating some delicious jollof with fresh cabbage, kpakpo shito (peppery salsa) and pork chops at Don’s Place at Osu whilst watching the football match between Arsenal and Man Utd with about twenty-five professional men whose ages average about 40, most of them married.Testosterone levels were high, and the atmosphere reminded me inter-colleges sports competition popularly known as interCo. The men even broke into jama at one point, with dancing, beer-drinking and high-five-ing, and I was the only lady sharing in the fun, but I didn’t feel like an outsider as many of them high-fived me as well and included me in their conversation. A lot of them were Akoras (Old students of Motown (Achimota Secondary School), who had gone through the old educational system of the eighties). Since I’d been invited by an Akora and had already met one of the men there at my gym, I was sufficiently comfortable. My standing as a football amateur and the fact that I hadn’t the benefit of context prevented me from grasping why the match itself was so exciting, but still, their display of passion and camaraderie made me mildly jealous and I wished I were a part of this party and not just a one-time gate-crasher. Always looking for opportunities, it struck me what a wonderful networking opportunity this was, and I wondered if somewhere in Accra women too have a space like this to monkey about and have a jolly good time with friends. If there is, then I’ll accept that this is a boys-boys thing, and gladly join the women so someone should please point me to it. Not to perpetuate stereotyping but I hope it isn’t some lame let’s-give-each-other-manicures party. How would that be fun? If not, I’ll have to get into football just so I can have an excuse to hang out with these men and see where our associations might take us. As clichéd as this sounds, I’m trying to broaden my horizon. No, I’m not being facetious. Who knows if in time, I might even come to live and breathe football like most men in Ghana do?

What has the beach and this football event have in common? Older Ghanaian men and what our generation stands to learn from them. I’ll explain. I went to the beach one of these days with one of my new older friends. (Watch out for my next blog entry in which I’ll write about whether men and women can be friends in Ghana, or if, to quote the movie “When Harry met Sally”, the sex always gets in the way). There has been much talk about older men in Ghana and the sexual relationships they have with younger women. I’m interested in forming relationships with these men, because whether I like it or not, they are the movers and shakers around here and by virtue of the roles they play in business, I stand to learn a lot from them. The bigger question is: Can young women cultivate new kinds of relationship with these men so that we do not go to bed with them, but engage them in ways that make them continually interested in spending time with us. I say, yes, we can!

I was sitting on the beach, two days ago with one of my new friends talking about work, life and dreams and my friend tells me he wishes he’d had as much energy as I do when he was my age. He’s forty, married and has a kid, very worldly, speaks 3 international languages, and considers himself young at heart. Whatever my true intentions were, whether fishing for compliments, or whether I really wanted to know what he was talking about, I asked him why. He said that he doesn’t remember being excited about life and that he’d lacked direction. He went on to say that this time in my life is the time to experiment, to do the things that excite me and to be entrepreneurial and not worship the thoughts of old. He then told me that as we sat, he could walk away from everything he owned and start afresh doing something else. If his marriage crashed, he knew he could start afresh, but that many of the people he knows, his age mates are too wedded to the things they’ve built which prevent them from being creative, from living life, from trying new things. What he saw to be my advantage is that I’m starting from scratch, and have nothing to lose, so he advised that I try out some of the business ideas that I have and if I fall flat in my face, there’s still time to catch up, time to start again. I really connected with this guy in a big way, and I wondered if I was just attracting my kind or if it was merely coincidental that I should meet an older arguably wiser guy who should tell me exactly what I wanted to hear.

Before this, I’d talked to one other guy, an engineer and academic and unmarried man also in his late forties who had schooled and worked for many years in many countries. So I asked him, tell me [name], given all that you now know (he interjected “and don’t know”), what do you wish you had done differently? His response was that he’d taken his work way too seriously and that he wishes he’s led a more balanced life, had more fun, and made time to have a family. He said regrettably that he goes home to a computer.

Whilst in Nigeria, I had a chat with the CEO of a thriving business there during which I asked the guy who about 70 years is in age what it takes to be successful in Africa because I wanted to be more successful than him and before I’m as old as he is. He laughed, then told me he wishes he’s moved back to Nigeria earlier than he did from the US. The MIT PhD, now CEO advised that I invest a fixed portion of my income in stocks monthly, and forget about it and see where that takes me in thirty years. He also said that whether we like it or not, doing business in Africa is highly dependent on “whom you know” ...other places call it networking...and so the earlier you start knowing people, the better for you.

I shared this with a young thirty-some architect and entrepreneur who added, that yes, it is great to know people but he also advises being first rate. He said that in a sea of copy cats and a culture of mediocrity, one needs to set himself apart by being different, by thinking and coming up with creative solutions and in the long term, quality wins out. On the subject of work, life balance, this guy said that he measures the true success of a man by what his children say about him, and even more importantly what his wife says about him because only they know his character intimately. I wondered what my boyfriend and my family really think of the person I am and I had a renewed respect for my boyfriend because I think the world of him and not only because I love him or am with him. Remind me to ask him what the secret is.

Another guy, a doctor in his mid forties, and one of the few in his specialty in Ghana told me that I could be successful if my bosses supported and shared my vision. He said that in his case, he’d returned from abroad over ten years ago, excited about making a difference in healthcare as I am. But his bosses had not given him the support and the people he’d trained had made little real difference besides what could be seen in their own pockets. As we spoke, he has given up on the system. He now tries to spend much time with his children. He wished me well.

One other doctor and director of a health facility who had trained at Edinburgh and who thought I must be smarter than his son that he'd spent all his money to educate in Cambridge adviced me to take up golf. I laughed and said I thought it was a silly old men's game. He laughed too and said he thought so too, and that most golfers think it is a silly old men's game but that the connections you make on the golf course are priceless. So maybe I need to start going to play golf with my bosses. So much to do, so little time...

To conclude, I’d like to hear some of the pieces of advice you guys are getting from older folk. Are you even talking to older people? This is the first time I’m actively seeking advice from people and trying to learn from their mistakes and so far it’s been really enlightening. Of course I’ve also talked to one person who thinks he cannot be happy in Ghana and is looking to move out in a few years, so there is that perspective too. That is, those who feel the system is so broken that they’re better off going elsewhere to for example, live the American dream. We live in a globalized world afterall. But I’m not so interested in those stories. I’ve already decided that I’m staying here in Ghana. So now what I’m trying to do is talk to those who have made it here and see how they’ve done it. To sustain these relationships, I have to do more than just look pretty. I have to put in the time and effort to learn about football for example, maybe learn to play golf, and if I want to be seen as something more, perhaps a colleague, then dressing like a typical Volta Hall chick to these meetings isn't going to cut it. I recently got invited to join the Rotary Club. Thoughts?

ps: The other great thing about the older folk is that they don't frequent the same tired and unsatisfactory places like rhapsody's and celsbridge (save for the chicken). Who is coming to Ghana for christmas? I'll take you out to all the new places i'm discovering.

ps: I'm going to audition to be in Ebo Whyte's (Also known as Uncle Ebo, a leading playwright in Ghana) next play next Saturday. I heard it being advertised on radio and I thought, why not? Might be fun! wish me luck.