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!


  1. Really funny piece!
    Hey, you are definitely better than me in the exercise of patience.
    With this capacity to absorb pain, you are surely on your way towards becoming fully Ghanaian again.
    Wish you luck in this adventure.

  2. Wow! From a literary perspective, it's one of the best pieces I have ever read. It has humour and wit aplenty!

    About your experience, I know many peeps (including present comment-maker) who so find it difficult to say no, even though it inconveniences them. It's a lifelong learning experience, I guess.

    This one is so very good, you really ought to publish it on paper, somewhere!

  3. Hi Woarabae, for the lack of finding an email address I write in this comment, to invite you to submit a fiction story to StoryTime.

    Have a look around at the site and see what you think. As you will see although ST doesn't publish daily or even weekly, the stories are well worth reading and there is a nice diversity in it's selected authors and genre's. It also has an active Facebook StoryTime Group and Page where we run ongoing collective stories amongst all sorts of other things. ST is intended to be all about the writing process, we endeavour to encourage fiction writing as a multi-purpose means to improve writing ability and exposure. We also have several published authors and professional writers members to aid and assist both new and established writers.

    I look forward to your response.