Ghanaians can be very annoying people. We believe our opinions are dearly sought after by everyone and we share them freely about whatsoever, whenever and to whoever the inclination hits us. This is especially true of people’s appearances. When we want to call the attention of a stranger we yell out their most obvious feature. HEY RED (fair person) BLACKIE! I SAY BLACKIE.OBOLO (fatso) [CLAP CLAP CLAP] O-BOLO-O! AKI-TI, AKI-TI-BO-GE (shortie) and we mean nothing by it. How else would we pick you out from a crowd of strangers? If a fat person eats in the streets, someone is sure to say ‘hey you’re still eating?!’ or similar. Nobody thinks for one second that you will be offended, and if you are another will tell you snappily that what was said about you is true. To our mind, falsehoods are terrible but the truth should not be found objectionable. I found our nosy tactless ways maddening until I got pregnant.
Then I discovered how nice it can be to have perfect strangers notice the most obvious thing about you. ‘Old lady’, random people would jokingly call if I was walking, ‘come sit here and rest your feet.’ In the banks they would smile and say ‘bofti/ aberewa, come up to the front’. I didn’t spend much time in queues. Acting on a craving one day I went to Papaye-a fast food joint- and ordered some food. It is generally a very busy place and it was a particularly busy day. I asked the waitress how long it would take because I was weary and wanted to know if I could wait. She said ‘never mind’ and entered it. When the next order was ready she called it out then explained to the guy that the pregnant lady wanted the same thing. ‘Let her take it’, he said, ‘I’ll wait.’
One afternoon we stopped to fuel up at a Shell station and I lied to Kofi that I was going to get some water. I got some chocolate and nkatse cake-peanut brittle then picked up a small bottle of water for cover. At the counter, the girl entered the water, entered the chocolate and then refused to enter the nkatse cake. “It is not good for a pregnant woman to eat so much sugar. Do you want the baby to be ill? Go and put it down!” she ordered imperiously. And I did. It felt so good being important to my whole society that I did.
The most precious of these community love experiences for me though happened when I was about 8 months pregnant. I woke up one morning with swollen feet, a headache, a piercing pain down my back, heartburn, muscular pain, nausea and pain in my hips. On top of which Kofi and I had had a fight. I was feeling absolutely miserable. It was a Saturday, Kofi was meeting some clients and I hitched a ride to spend the day at my parents. His clients were both women; an elderly Ghanaian and a younger European. The Ghanaian woman took one look at me and said ‘it gets better my daughter, I swear it does’. I burst into tears.
I’ve learnt to appreciate so much about my community since I became part of this motherhood club. I’ve learnt to be less impatient with what really are just minor flaws in our social interactions and to be more helpful to strangers.
Today I went to the clinic and I saw a woman with a baby about 3 months old. She had come alone and was trying to eat while holding her baby. ‘Shall I hold her for you’ I asked. She smiled a heartfelt smile of gratitude and said that would be very kind. I’m sure it was nice for her. What matters to me, though, is that I enjoyed it. Her child was not one of those especially cute babies that everyone wants to hold- unlike mine-I barely paid her any heed as I held her. But all the time I held her I smiled, reveling in the knowledge that I was giving to this unknown woman a piece of that warm feeling that was given to me when I least expected and most treasured it.