Monday, September 7, 2009

What Is In A Name?

At my mother’s inaugural, she talked about the peculiarly Ghanaian habit of having 50 names: the school name, Christian name, pet name, home name, nick name, and sometimes hidden name, all this before the surname. The school name is the name on your school’s register, the Christian name is what you get at baptism, especially true of Catholics. Your home name-what they call you at home- often a day name. Your hidden name- you don’t really hide it. Its just so deep into the arrangement that it doesn’t come up in casual introductions. It is considered your “real” name. Then comes your surname and finally your nick name. So you have Clarence John Kofi Abaka Egyir Sackey alias (SWAGGA). Add to this length our puzzling hobby of rearranging the names every so often for no particular reason. So that John Abaka Sackey, Clarence Kofi Sackey, John Egyir Sackey, Clarence Kofi Egyir Abaka Sackey are all the same person. We all laughed as she talked about the kind of confusion that this causes. I don’t know about others but I haven’t done anything about my own name puzzle. My trip to the bank this week gave me reason to remember this lecture and this time not with a chortle.

I always encourage my help to save. We open an account and they deposit however much they want in it every month. I got a new girl two months ago and last week I finally got round to taking her to the bank. As she is illiterate I had to help her fill the form. That is when I discover that the young lady I know as Maame Afia Nyarko is not called Afia at all. In fact she is not even Akan. She is actually called Fatima Iddrissu. I felt really rather betrayed. When I hired her I asked her name and she told me Maame Afia Nyarko. I assumed ‘Nyarko’ was her surname. It could as easily be her middle name. Its one of those few unisex Akan names. She did tell me she was Northern but was born and raised in Kumasi and I was content to leave it at that. So I guess it serves me right if I learn her real name only thanks to a bank form.

I’ve since been reflecting on our relations with domestic staff. Guess what? I find I don’t know the name of my father’s watchman beyond Razak. His gardener is just Divine. I know his housekeeper’s full name. But I don’t know where she lives and she’s been with them for 3 years. My gardener is Alhassan. My nanny has a guardian here in Accra whom I know. But beyond vague hand gestures and area names, I have no idea how to find her.

I don’t know that this bad behaviour is typical of Ghanaians/Ghanaians with domestic staff. I do know that it is typical of me. Usually I know the names and surnames of my help. I take a picture of them so if they ever go missing –or run away with my children- I can make an effective report. But I think now that perhaps I am not sufficiently informed about who they are.

I wonder, is this a remnant of the trusting nature that small town life has bred in all of us? Or just a lapse in vigilance and courtesy? These are after all people who come into contact with my family, my person and my food. One would expect me to have a more vigorous screening system and a bit more interest in their life stories. Whatever it is. It has to go. It is great folly indeed.

As if to drive home the lesson, she ran away only a few days later. Since my aunt had asked me the day before her great getaway if I knew she was pregnant, I have taken that to be the reason for her hasty departure. But the point it makes is this. Had she ran off while alone in the house with one of the boys, could I have found her? The answer is no. I didn’t know her real name till only a few days before. I certainly didn’t know where she went off to on her day off. The person who found her for me didn’t know her either; she was referred to him by a work colleague, on a construction site. Where would I even have begun?!

A scare - even to the foolish- should be enough. And indeed it suffices for me. Pressed as I am these days for time, I will go with Veronica soon to her aunt’s house. And when I find a replacement, I will do the same with her too. It’s a wonder and blessing, we’ve escaped tragedy for so long. But from now, it’s a new order. I am going to invent a screening and tracking system so tight the CIA will want it. It’ll take some work around here. But no worries, I’ll get around the obstacles. If ever you hear I’ve helped the Police track my former staff who stole my headgear and ran off to hide in the Wassa area, know that is wasn’t by sheer luck.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Giving unto Caesar

This post was written largely in response to AB's comment about the last post. Perhaps I do not make my meaning clear or perhaps the situation is not appreciable in an abstract context. So this post is meant to make the purpose and meaning of the last post clearer.

I was brought up saying a million thank yous a week. My parents demanded and still do a sign of appreciation or gratitude for every gesture, every gift, however minute. They used to say that just because they bore me didn't mean they owed me. It is, as a result, part of my expectation that my actions receive a sign of appreciation from its beneficiary.

A rich father ought to leave his wealth to his only child. He ought to, but if he chose so, he could leave it to his cat. A macho man who sees a thug punching a young girl ought to come to her rescue. Nothing stops him, however, from keeping on his journey. The truth is that just because a person ought to do something doesn't mean that they will or even that they can.

Vodafone is running a promotion the grand prize of which is a million USD, a fully furnished Trasaaco house, and a 4 x 4 with a driver for a year- no mean prize that. Being a Vodafone subscriber, I have registered to participate and why not, I could use a million bucks. Law school even in GH ain't cheap.

Let's suppose that you too were a Vodafone subscriber participating in the promo, as was your unemployed brother. Let's suppose again that the omnipotent computer at GHhana Telecom picks your number as the grand prize winner. But you are out of the country on a week long business trip and they are unable to reach you. So as per the terms of the promo, another number is picked and it happens to be your brother's and you get home just in time to share in the good news. You in fact did not need the million dollars; you have a good job and are rising steadily, unlike your brother who could use a few coins to jingle in his pockets. Yet if you can say your joy at your brother's luck will be so complete as not to admit one shard of disappointment, then you are truly noble; an exceptional being. I think though that you will not find many of your ilk to hang out with.

When I say that my elder sister's conduct has inspired respect, I say it with utter sincerity, and I do not reference it to her feelings, or even inclinations, merely to her actions. Even my friends were to a mild extent irritated with me for getting married and pregnant in one tidy blow. Their mothers all griped about them not having done the same. "Look at Mammie eh." One mother asked me to talk to her daughter to emulate me in the presence of said daughter. Being a disinterested party at that wedding, I was in able to see how awkward the silly comments that she couldn't put down as deserved were making the situation for the elder sister.

I feel then that my elder sister's genuine pleasure on that occasion is not a thing to be taken lightly or for granted. I only regret that I assumed, rather than appreciated, her being that way. And my assumption was right. But I honour her that she was both capable and willing to do that which she ought to have been able to do. She would not have been the first person not to. We all fail at some point to do that which we ought and sometimes, its not because we don't want to its because we can't.

It is not for nothing that we, Akans, say nyimpa ye adze a ose ayeyi. When a person does a good thing -reason or obligation notwithstanding- he deserves praise. My sister did as she ought and it was a good thing. It is meet then that I should honour her.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

True Colours

I have acquired a new and profound respect for my elder sister. I see her in a very different light or more to the point from a very new perspective and it has sown in me a a deep admiration for ‘me nua panyin.’

As I have mentioned earlier, my sister and I had a rocky relationship until only very recently. Much of the friction and angst of this relationship was because we are just very dissimilar. Our positions on most issues are so different that some abrasion is almost inevitable. The maturity that comes with age, childbirth and sojourning has led to a softening on both sides and a friendship that I must confess is nice to have.

Yesterday I attended a traditional wedding. The second child was getting married and the first who is older than my sister is single. There seemed to be great esteem for Esi that she could so celebrate Ewurekua’s good fortune when she herself remained unmarried at the dangerous age of 34. There was also unspoken consolation. The weight of that pity was palpable and I admired Nana Esi greatly for being able to keep her smile sincere the entire ceremony. Even I was smoldering under the pressure of it. Someone actually said to her that if her sister had children and she didn’t, it didn’t matter. Her sister’s children were hers too.

My wedding and the days preceding it came to mind. Many times someone who had just been informed I was to marry would accuse me of jumping the queue. Someone even asked my father in surprise ‘ah, Kwaku you are allowing this? The first born hasn’t married yet. How can the second born do that?’ All of us were miffed by such stupid comments. My father came up with many a sarcastic gem in response to these statements.

Later my sisters and I would discuss this or that person’s idiocy, talking like that. Never once did I, through in my wedding prep haze, see, even sense, the pressure that pity/outrage put on her. I didn’t feel it. It disappoints me that I didn’t for I am usually quite perceptive. I didn’t get even a whiff of it then. But I certainly felt it yesterday.

I wonder how Nana truly felt when she had to tell others of my marriage. It is to her eternal credit that all my memories of her in that period were of her happiness and excitement at my blessing. And she worked hard to help make the day special. I wish I had had the wisdom to see clearly exactly the magnitude of the gift she had given me. I would have been more appreciative.

When her reticence would have been most understandable, there was none. I do not know how she felt. Maybe she was just mildly irritated by the comments, maybe deeply so. Maybe she wept inside or maybe she was dismissive of them as they deserve. I thank her for not letting that mar my occasion. I wish I had been sensitive enough to be more than just irked.

It is amazing the clarity of your vision when the scales fall off. Many years we fought over the most trifling of things; who put what where, whose fault what was and who wasn’t being nice. It is ironic indeed and a rousing ovation to her that I should learn so great a lesson on magnanimity of spirit from my sister with whom I have had the most self-centred disagreements. Nana mbo! Both for the spirit and for the lesson, me da ase pii

Friday, August 14, 2009

Out Of The Hands of Babes

Kindergarten cop! That’s the name of the movie. Remember that? The one in which the cop becomes a teacher for some flaky reason or other. It was rather fanciful I recall, I may be wrong. It is to the only Schwarnegger movie I've enjoyed. Anyhow, the reason I’ve been thinking about Kindergarten Cop is that there was one line that stuck with me verbatim. That scene where he asks the children what their parents do for a living and the twins say ‘our mom says our dad is a real sex machine’.

It was a cautionary tale to be careful what we say around children. They mayn’t understand but they can certainly repeat. Now I don’t just think its funny; I relate to it. I had my own ‘real sex machine moment’ recently.

Kofi was in a meeting with his carpenters on our porch. They were accounting for the monies he had given them and everyone was rather serious and focused. I was taking a shower. Vin was sleeping, Dovie was in our room playing. I came out of my shower whistling happily. Dovie had left the room I noticed as I got a move on with my primping. Towel dry, deodorant, body lotion and then I turned to the bed for the panties I had taken out to wear. They were nowhere to be found but I could have sworn I had taken out a mint green pair and put them on the bed. Never mind, I shrugged, pulled out another pair and went back to dressing up.

Finally, satisfied with the day’s look I came out of the bedroom. From the sound of it, Kofi was taking a call in the driveway and Dovie had gone out to the patio. I went to fetch him so he wouldn’t bother the carpenters. I stepped onto the porch and there was Dovie waving his hands around, talking gibberish and wearing around his neck my mint green panties. He was also holding out to one of them something he wanted him to have. It turned out to be a pink pair of panties, mine naturally. I have no idea where he got them from.

The poor carpenter, embarrassed to his very core, was trying to get him to at least put his hand down and take the pieto out of his face. ‘Thank you, Dovie, good boy, take it to Mummy’ he said. ‘Gye’ Dovie replied.

He was even more embarrassed yet relieved that I happened outside at that particular moment. Me, I was mortified. Why would any son of mine want to hand a carpenter my underwear? A pink one too no less. ‘Hey Dovie bra’ I called sternly. ‘Na’ he said, which in doviespeech means ‘no’ and rans off. We spent a few annoying moments running around the porch, he and I, and looking ever sillier.

Eventually, I caught the little brat. I took him indoors and regained possession of my underwear. He is only a baby, not even two. i couldn't smak for that. but my inclination to smile at him after that stunt was considerably diminished. The little bum didn’t so much as fake a repentant expression. He just went blithely on with his play. Very ‘o well. If I can’t have your pieto, lets see, what about your hard drive?’ Ugh!! There are times when I want nothing more than to give him a crisp spanking or yell at him. But I know it wouldn’t be fair. He was just being his age and gender.

I took a deep breath, exhaled audibly and sweetly said ‘Darling why don’t you go and play with Papa’. As he will come to recognize in time, the more I want to smack him unfairly the more saccharine the ‘go away’ is. That one was baklava sweet. God I could have killed him.

In the end I composed myself, as one must when she has no choice, and went back out to the porch and the carpenters. ‘Gentlemen’ I said, ‘how are you this morning?’ ‘Fine Madam’. ‘Good, glad to hear that.’ I put a book on the table for Kofi that he didn’t need and exited quickly, but regally, I like to think. I’ve avoided them since. I can’t wait till they finish here and move on. They should hurry up with their work and go and position themselves on somebody else’s porch. Damn Peeping Toms!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Those Lovely Family Visits.

Kofi likes to visit members of his extended family. And he likes to do so spontaneously. We live within fifteen minutes of about eight of his aunts/great aunts. And they love it when they get to catch up with the next generation. This is all very good except for one thing: he likes to take Dovene with him and he likes to grab the boy in whatever state he is in and off they go. When I am around for these spur-of-the-moment trips, I insist on changing Dovie’s clothes and making sure he looks nice. Kofi always grumbles about me wasting time and spoiling the fun. ‘He’s going to his grandmother’s house’ he says, ‘its his home. He doesn’t need to get dressed up.’

That’s what he thinks. Doesn’t he know that every woman is judged by her child’s appearance? If he leaves our home looking ragged and goes out with his Dad, people will snort at what an untidy, dirty woman his mother must be. There may be the casually critical comment. ‘Mammie really shouldn’t let him do that, you know’. If the people he has loved and looked up to all his life, think ill of the son he adores and takes pride in, it won’t be long before he starts, like them, to see how its my fault he is not what they expect him to be and soon that will become a source of tension between us.

Kofi doesn’t realize it, but even how he himself dresses reflects on my womanhood. Is his shirt crumpled? His shoes unpolished? That could only mean one of two things: his wife is a slob or the marriage is on the rocks. The number of times and places he and I have indulged in public displays of affection rule out B as the choice and make A the obvious answer.

It is rather a leap, this conclusion, and in my younger days, I argued the responsibility of the individual for his appearance and cleared the wife of any complicity in the event of her husband dressing poorly. These days, I can see how that theory came to be. I am not necessarily in agreement with it. But I do see the how of it.

Here’s a typical the-wife-who-cares-makes–an-input scenario: Kofi is going to a function. I am lying on the bed as he dresses. He goes to the wardrobe and picks out a pair of pants he wants to wear. He puts them on and goes back to pick a shirt. “Mmmm!” I say in tones of disappointed surprise, as he starts to pull it over his head. ‘Mmmm, this one dze, change it ai. These posh pants and this shirt… I beg’ He defends his choice and I respond, ‘ah well. As for me I don’t like it but if you do… ah. [shrug].Its your body to clothe as you please.’ He then wears the shirt a minute longer, turns around a time or two in the mirror and takes it off. ‘Yeaah. This one is nice’ I say admiringly, when he changes it.

I recollect an occasion my father wanted to go to a funeral in a black shirt. It was a nice black shirt, really quite posh. ‘Ah! A proper Ashanti man going to a funeral in a shirt? O no!! This one die…tsk tsk tsk’ my mother said. “The shirt won’t change my Ashantiness’, my father replied. ‘It may not change it, but does it reflect it? Why, are you not from the heart of Ashantiland? Ah!! Anyway, this is Accra, we are not too particular here. I suppose it won’t matter what you wear’ Daddy did not wear the shirt. ‘Your mother is doing ‘abeisem’ and won’t let me wear my new shirt’ he said grumpily to us as he left in his cloth. So I guess its not unreasonable to presume that the man’s wife’s tastes are skewed or she doesn’t give a toss, if he’s not looking good.

To save my reputation, I play ‘our mother killjoy’ and pause every impromptu outing to attire the young gentleman properly. I make a conscious effort for him not to look dressed up. I like to encourage them to think that they were just hanging out on the sofa, and out of the blue, Kofi shouted to me in the back, ‘baby, we’re going to drop in on grandma’ and off they went.

My mother liked frills, I did not. I recall feeling foolish at many a ‘casual dropping in’ that were made in frilly dresses no little girl wears at home-you know the kind with lace in front and puffed sleeves. I always felt it made it seem like the ‘casual’ visit was actually a really big deal to us and that we prepped for it, a thing which remains to date in my mind, uncool. I made a solemn oath to myself not to do that to my children. Of course with boys, that a breeze to achieve. T-shirt and a nice pair of jeans and its an impromptu visit.

Kofi has no reason to be nervous about how his son looks. He is with his family. I do. I am an in-law; a relatively new one at that. I am still on trial. My in-laws are very nice and obviously like me which makes it a whole lot easier. But I still put in quite a bit of effort. I feel I have to; to keep them impressed with me.
I sigh with relief at the end of every visit that went well. My son did not throw tantrums and make me look lax with discipline or break an expensive glass piece and embarrass me or refuse to be sociable and force me to make apologetic explanations. We have passed this test. I am still a good mother. For a little while- until the next test- I remain ‘that lovely girl’ their son married.

There being no rest for the wicked, I don’t get to relax when we go to my family. Here too I stand before the jury, albeit a more forgiving one. Am I really a daughter to be proud of? Or am I disgracing them before their in-laws? Am I passing on the values the family holds important or am I raising a brat? All these piercing questions will be answered by how my children look and how they behave. As I am of their flesh and blood, neither my mother’s eight siblings nor their partners, nor my father’s numerous cousins will hesitate to tell me precisely what they think of me and my brood.

Surprisingly- or perhaps not- this does not make it a strain on my nerves to visit them. After all what are they going to do? Ex-communicate me because my kids broke their rare 18th century Ashanti pot? They shouldn’t have invited me; they knew I had a baby, or they should have put it away. The worst they can do, really, is to cluck disapprovingly. While I try to impress them with my motherhood mastery, it is more to earn compliments than it is to prevent disapproval. Clucks are not exactly fearsome things.

I enjoy time spent with our families. I usually come away from these encounters with a warm flush inside. Its nice to be surrounded by your own people, to feel part of a unit bigger than ourselves and to be reminded that ours is just a small branch of a large, sturdy, tested tree. It is nice also that thus far our children always draw compliments for us both from my family and from Kofi’s. Even so, I am looking forward to the day when I no longer need to try, or when I don’t care to.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Final Authority

The final authority in Ghana, it turns out, is the husband. His jurisdiction stretches from all matters domestic, through country/town of residence, past his partner’s career decisions, dipping into the places she frequents, all the way down to her choice of clothes. He is a powerful man, the Ghanaian husband.

I use the authority mine wields in society shamelessly. If I don’t want my children to do something, I declare that their father doesn’t approve. The reason why we don’t eat Ghanaian food often is that my husband doesn’t want to. The fact that I’ve never really eaten palm oil on an everyday basis in the last 15 years is never mentioned.

I wore my hair natural and short –secondary school- style on my wedding day. For weeks before the day my mother harangued me that it was not a nice enough hairstyle to wear for my wedding. One morning she tried to draw my father into it on her side. Eventually, Daddy responded, ‘maybe it is appealing to her husband’s eyes’. That ended it. Mummy responded grudgingly, ‘ah well’ and not another word was uttered about it.

I’ve airily passed off short skirts and plunging necklines as Kofi’s preference so many times, it is now an autopilot response. That always decides the matter and all objections are visibly swallowed. It amuses me so. And I must confess; occasionally I don such a garment for the express purpose of watching words stick in a disapproving craw.

This week I tried something, hoping it fell within the mandate of the Husband Regime – and it did! I called a domestic assistants’ agency I’ve used before. They asked in the most politically correct terms if I had religious or tribalistic prejudices I wished to indulge and I answered no. So I met and interviewed a young Muslim woman. Though I wasn’t impressed with her, I accepted her because I needed someone urgently and told her to come the next day. But later that evening, I rethought the decision; I wasn’t impressed and my instincts told me she wouldn’t stay. I found her too socially active to enjoy the restrictive life of a housekeeper and too money conscious to think it worth it.

I called the agency manager and told her untruthfully, that I couldn’t accept the girl because my husband was not comfortable with a housekeeper of a different religious inclination. She was most understanding and told me not to be apologetic. If my husband didn’t want her in his house, that was that then. Another would have to be found.

Because it works so well, I can’t decide whether every other woman is doing as I am, or if truly marriage in the older generation’s perspective and context does indeed swear the husband into such power. I don’t know many married women who are my peers. So I can’t compare notes or testify whether they also hold the husband’s authority to be so decisive. I receive a lot of advice- admonishment too- from older women, usually acquaintances of my family. (It never ceases to amaze me how people of such casual connection feel entitled to counsel or reprimand me about how we have chosen to live our marriage.) Whatever the nature of the suggestion, Kofi’s support of my method invalidates it.

Sometimes- as in the case of the rejected girl, - I feel bad about carelessly dragging Kofi’s social respectability through the mud. In that instance, particularly because he is not religiously agitated in any way. When I mention it to him, he is not upset. He has asked me once if I realize that judgment is passed on him as a result of my buck passing. I said yes, and explained that it was shorter, easier and often more likely to secure cooperation than patiently explaining or defending myself. He said nothing and appears to have accepted it as the price of being a factor always to consider in my social universe. Or so it seems to me.

And factor to consider he is. Among the tedious details of being a married woman here is the weight of being constantly conscious of your husband’s image. Everything I do reflects on him. How I danced at the club last night can be a source of embarrassment. The ring I don’t wear has sparked plenty of speculation. And oh, did I accept a drink from a man? What a horror that could be. I don’t think it egregious under those circumstances to borrow his influence every now and then to wrest some slack from a dogging community for myself.

I wonder if divorce rates will be up when our generation is in their thirties. It wouldn’t surprise me. What a burden! To wake up suddenly in a terror zone where you no longer count. Just because you got married, your husband’s feelings and your children’s ‘good’, as interpreted by the society, are the ruling forces of your life. Your interests, preferences and pains, are snorted at and you are expected to ‘toughen up’. Meanwhile across the gulf, is your husband. Society can see no wrong in him. He is free to indulge his every whim, in fact he is encouraged. If said whim comes with details, he can pass them on to his wife to sort it out. After all what else would she do with her time but bemoan her state.

Every now and then I feel a twinge that gives me pause. I am getting my way by assigning it to Kofi but I’m also giving the impression that our marriage works the way theirs do. Instinctively, I want to dispel that notion, set people straight. We have a marriage that actually aims to make us both happy. Our marriage cares about me too ok. But then I’d have their tongues wagging on my case again. It annoys me to appear to have fallen in line after being all my life a militant youth. It annoys me more, though, to live on the defensive and I’m not sure that it is a point worth fighting the system to prove. It is a slur on my insurgent reputation. But I can’t beat them, so I’ve joined them and it’s a shame but it works.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Garten Fit For My Kinder.

This week I have been nursery school hunting. On Monday, I grumbled about there not being a service I could search to find the nursery schools in West Legon and then just call them on the phone to ask my questions. ‘Why do I have to go all that way and waste my time driving around to find and look at schools I’ll eventually reject? O Ghana!’

This is a popular format for complaints about life here. First the complaint, then the proposed solution, then ‘O Ghana!’, then you start the navigation of whatever tedious process you were complaining about. At no point need you decide to do something about the source of ire. That’s not part of the procedure. If you do, great. But if you don’t, that’s fine too. I didn’t, of course. I grumbled, I said o Ghana! Then I hopped into my car and went kindergarten hunting.

Because my babies can’t talk, picking a school is a big issue. I will never know truly how their school works and how they are treated; they can’t tell me. So I’d rather err on the side of caution. I was lucky the first few days to catch the schools at times when their heads were out. The last days I tried to do so deliberately. This gave me a fair idea of how the teachers spoke to the children. In one school as I was walking out I heard a teacher yell at a kid, ‘Hey, fi ho ko! stupid boy. Look at his hard stomach’.

If the Head was out, I would be asked to wait and speak to a teacher. I learnt much about the quality of staff this way. ‘Well me, I don’t know much. But I will avyse you to came back tomorrow. By den, de madam hersef will be in or if not de secretary will comes’ a teacher told me in another school.

I’m wary of schools that tag ‘international’ or ‘Montessori’ onto their names. That is code speak for ‘we charge an arm and a leg and if we can manage it your two front teeth’. There was a school that claimed to be both ‘international’ and ‘Montessori’. That sounded like the loss a lot of body parts. I had no intention of checking it out till my dad made me feel bad that I was exploring only cheap options. ‘These are your children Mammie. They are all you have. You shouldn’t hesitate to spend on them. Go and look at it. If it is good and you can afford it, put the boys there. Their foundation is critical. After all what can you spend on that is more important than your children’s health, food and education?’ So shamed into feeling like a cheapskate I put it on my list and dutifully went there.

It is a purpose built nursery school which is nice. Most preschools in this city are tucked into an extension at the back of the house, the garage or the boys’ quarters. When I saw the compound, fenced in with a high concrete wall, the gate marked ‘Entry’ manned by a uniformed security guard; I knew it would be expensive. I went in to see the principal and speak to her.
A pleasant looking middle aged woman informed me in good, clear English that the ‘administrator’( not the usual ‘headmistress’ or ‘proprietress’ ) was not in. She could answer my questions if I didn’t mind speaking to her. I didn’t and was offered a seat. The first thing I noticed when I sat down was a notice written with a marker on a blackboard in the corner. It said, ‘today’s rate is USD 1: GHC 1.4280’. That’s when I should have left. I remained seated though I had made up my mind already. Not only was the bill in dollars but they wrote a daily rate?

Felicity, she said her name was, finished penning a note and came to sit with me for our chat. How old were my children? They would be in the same class. And with that sentence she provided me my first non-financial objection to the school. I do not want my boys in the same class. Being 11 months apart, of similar proportions and a noticeable resemblance, they are often thought to be twins. Even with one now learning to crawl and the other running on two wobbly legs, people do not think it odd to ask if they are twins. I do not want that to be compounded by them being forced to become classmates.

Then I asked about fees. Preschoolers pay $270 a term as well as an admission fee of $200. No they would be on vacation in July. But the preschool department would be open for the convenience of mothers. At an extra cost of curse. It was as yet undecided. I would also have to pay PTA dues of $30. That brings it to a round sum of $500 for each child. ‘Right then, thank you.’ ‘Won’t you leave your details please, we’d like to get in touch.’ ‘No, don’t worry about it. I’m shopping around for a school that’s in session in July. If I don’t find one, I’ll come back.’ ‘O ok. then, goodbye.’ ‘goodbye.’

As I walked down the exit route, I passed by the preschool classroom. It was a nice large classroom. Otherwise it didn’t look much different than many of the kindergartens I had been to earlier in the week. There were 5 children in the class and a teacher who was leading them in singing ‘Polly put the kettle on’.

500 dollars! For ‘Polly put the kettle on’? Who doesn’t know how to sing ‘Polly put the kettle on’??!! I was not so much daunted as disgusted by the price. 500 dollars a term for preschool education, in a country where a1000 dollars a month makes for a cushy job?! $15,000 a year two income families are considered middle income and you want to charge $500 for preschoolers! You have got to be kidding.

Now I know that is the range of GIS, Lincoln, Faith Montessori and many other schools in the city centre. That doesn’t offend me. They make no secret of the fact that they are targeted at expatriate communities that can afford it. Also, they are full blown schools, not just nursery and kindergarten. Furthermore, they are in town, where the children’s parents work. West Legon is a middle-high income residential area. Few people work there who earn even $800.
I think that’s what really annoyed me. You want to sit in a neighbourhood where upper middle class people live but do not work, set up a school their older kids cannot attend and charge 500 dollars to teach preschoolers ‘Polly put the kettle on’.

I’m sure its working for them. There are after all 5 children in that class and two in nursery so they must be doing okay. Maybe its just because I am not rich that it bothers me. Maybe if I were, I would think nothing of the cost. I don’t think twice about the GHC4.50 I pay at Celsbridge for the grilled thigh of a chicken that costs 10 cedis in the market. Maybe there’s nothing amiss and its just poor people talk.

I’ve settled on a crèche two junctions from my parents’ place. I wouldn’t call it a posh preschool. But its decent. The woman I spoke to says their fees are ‘seventy Ghana sidis’ a term. This pronunciation of Cedis [pronounced CDs) is a pet peeve of mine. It just irritates the living daylights out of me. Otherwise she spoke well and was pleasant. They too sang ‘Polly put the kettle on’ while I was there incidentally. And they sang it well.

The school is not in session in July but they will have vacation classes because of the really small babies. Years ago, before motherhood came up, I found vacation classes for such little children a stupid extortion measure. What have they learnt in class one that is so overwhelming that they can’t take a break and have a real vacation? Today I find myself nodding approvingly when the lady tells me they will be having vacation classes because of the young ones.

I’m going to save those 500 dollars that would have given my boys a posh kindergarten experience and use it to put them through the finest quality elemental education that Ghana Sidis can buy. I’m certain between their devoted parents and their top notch primary school, we’ll be able to teach them to pronounce it properly.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Prepping Up

For the third consecutive year, I am making preparations to go to law school. This is the final time. I have told my husband and parents that three is the magic number. Peter denied Jesus 3 times. God called Samuel three times. The devil tempted Christ with three tricks. At our naming ceremonies, the call to virtue is made three times. Three is the magic number. If something gets in the way this time, God is telling me something and I’m gonna listen. There’s a path for me but it is not the law. Why my being a lawyer is so important to all three of them, I’ll never quite know.

As for Kofi’s insistence on Law school, I am not complaining about that. More often than not Ghanaian men have issues with their wives having more academic qualifications than they themselves do. He has no intention of going back to school but insists I should not only do the Bachelor of laws but also a Master’s. We’ll see. I’m taking it one degree at a time for now.
I use the phrase Ghanaian men not to single them out as particular offenders but because I cannot speak intelligently about men of other nations. I don’t want to cast the ‘mbarimah suban’ (that’s typical male behaviour’) net only to be shamed by a discovery that Indonesian men are the exception. But I digress. That is not today’s topic.

For a third year I’m readying up for law school. Each year the pressing issues are different. And their scope reminds me how much I have grown in the intervening period. In 2006 when I first started talking about ‘going to law school next year.’ My primary concern was my campus accommodation. Komla, then my boyfriend, was excited that we would be sort of living together. Once I was officially on campus, I would be free to spend nights even weeks at a time living in his house without the parental drama and damage to my reputation that would attend doing same from my parents’ house.

By the time of the first instance of preparation, I was no longer going to be resident. My concerns were now managing my new marriage, school and delivering my baby at exam time. The second year, my concerns were managing school and my young baby and delivering my second baby at exam time. This year my concerns are coordinating and managing my children’s daytime activities, my schoolwork and setting a routine that is healthy and sustainable for my young family. I’ve come a long way, I have. From being excited about living with my boyfriend to being excited about nursery school, it is quite a journey.

Having thought it through deeply, I decided their nanny is wonderful with them. But I am going to be away the whole day every day. It is human nature to take shortcuts and cut corners if nobody ever looks. She is 22 and has a ‘secret boyfriend’. Or at least she thinks it’s a secret. There was a dramatic change in her when the man arrived in her life. She was still good with the kids but lord the attitude! This girl started giving me major ‘I am woman too, not a little girl’ attitude. At first I laughed about it with Kofi. As we say here, it is an adult that we haven’t been before, not a child. The things of girlhood and early womanhood, I have done them all before. I was amused at her and the insolence that is unique to a woman who has just found herself a man. It got out of hand though and eventually fed up with it, I told her that if she had found a boy, I had found a husband, she should watch herself or she would be out of a job and accommodation soon. That ended it and we’re back to normal.

Why tempt her to become a bad person by leaving loopholes too delicious to pass up on using and abusing? Let them go to kindergarten I decided. Then I will be dealing with an institution. They are easier to manage. I need the daycare to be near my folks’ place. They live seven minutes from my university, I live an hour away. The grand plan then is to drop them off in the morning at kindergarten, go to class, pick them up when they close, and drop them off at my folks till I am done.

To give my nanny a skill and certificate of some sort and because she cooks like a dream, I am putting her through catering school. I do it also for the not quite altruistic reason that it keeps her bound to me for 3 years at least. Her school too must be near my parents’ home.
So the final summary of the school time routine goes like this: in the morning I drop them off at kindergarten, Korkor gets off and catches a bus to school, I pick them up when they close, drop them off at Grampa’s, their nanny comes there after she closes to mind them, makes supper for our household and packs it, when I’m done, I pick babies, nanny and supper and we go home. Hah. I’m tired already. The next few years are going to be something else.

I want the boys to start a month before I do. That way, I can spend the first few days with them at school and help them make the transition smoothly. It also means we will have established a working routine by the time I start. Then after I have been at school for a month and settled in, their nanny will start her course.

The plus side of this juggling act, I have decided will be that for the next few years, all my weight battles are sorted. My tummy, still three inches bigger than I want, will shrink and become perfect from pure ‘ahokyer’. I can chuck boring exercise routines out the window and stick with cardio. Kofi snickers that I will be busy and I will come crying to him, ‘I’m tired, I want to quit’ and he will tell me sternly that if I quit he will put ginger in my bottom. ‘Go and do your homework! I’m going to party.’ And the best part, he says, is he knows when he comes back, exhausted and on a high from his partying, I will be awake, studying or as we students say, mowing.

I probably should check if that is still the slang term in student circles. The idea that I am now one of those married, with kids, commuting, ‘mature’ students, I found so blaah in my undergrad days tickles me in a slightly embarrassed way.

It is really an adult that we haven’t been before, not a child. Had I had an inkling of the ‘mature’ studentship ahead of me, I might have been less dismissive when I spoke of how boring they were. I might have made friends with a few, just to get some pointers on how they were holding the balls up. They were for the most part staid, I’ll say in my defense. I only hope that the weight of my responsibilities and the demands on my time don’t turn me into the ‘mature’ student my single classmates use as an example to say, ‘these married students, they are so boring, so old!’

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I have been lax about updating this blog for a good while now. I've been writing but for some reason haven't got round to sharing those thoughts.

A casual check here today showed me that people have stayed though I got lazy and new readers have joined in. and I am shamed by my conceit in thinking it was my blog to ignore as long as I pleased. Tomorrow I will update.

Friday, April 10, 2009


April ’09

Gladys has left. She came to the big city in search of glitz and money and the life she will live with us just doesn’t cut it. There isn’t much of a social life, there is lots of work and too many new things.

I don’t blame her. The last few years of her life have been spent idly or at the very least on her own schedule. She used to sell ampesi (boiled plaintains) in Obuasi. Then she stopped and spent her days in conversation, waiting for her guardian to find the money to put her in a trade or training. Eventually bored with the wait she came to Accra to seek her fortune.

During her first week here, I had a lot of errands to run with the children so we went out a good number of times. She reported herself happy to the aunt who brought her to me. But the happiness didn’t last long. Her second week was spent all at home. The third seemed to be going that way too. On top of which there were so many things she didn’t know how to do or use that I expected her to master.

Early Wednesday morning she came to me and told she wanted to go. She preferred work in a ‘chopbar’ or some other eating place she said. After work, she could do what she liked and that was more her style. We agreed she would leave on Friday. But her aunt asked me to let her stay till Sunday when she would have the day off and could return her to their hometown. She didn’t say it aloud but we both knew what she meant. She didn’t want to be responsible for her niece falling into prostitution. She wished to wash her hands off her officially and let the burden of her lifestyle in the city be upon her own head. I understood and told Gladys I would pay her on Sunday when her aunt came for her.

Ordinarily, when someone lives or works under my authority and they want to leave, I feel bad that I must have driven them away and I reexamine my interactions with them to be sure I am not the reason for their departure. I didn’t do that with Gladys. As I told her aunt, I had never lost money in my own home until she came into it. Within a week of her arrival more than two hundred dollars disappeared from their secret location. We are expanding our house and there are workmen about. They could any of them have taken it, I accept that. But they have all been working here for over four months. I have never lost any money.

So I couldn’t help but be more suspicious of her than of the old faces. And she had the irritating habit of not admitting it when she didn’t know something and would keep me waiting until I asked irritably about it then I’d discover she didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t sad to see her go.

I imagine it wasn’t all peaches and cream for her either. Being wrong and ignorant so often is unpleasant and can make a person feel insecure and unhappy. Veronica has harsh opinions of her employers before me. They were her first job. First jobs are hard on these girls. They are full of instructions, new lessons and new gadgets; impatience, irritated tones, raised voices and rules. I told myself I would get used to Gladys. She would pick up and we would get along famously. I didn’t really believe it but I like to think I give people a fair chance. So I braced myself to stick with her another few months at least and hoped I got over my hostility or that she gave me honest cause to sack her. Fortunately I’ve been spared the burden.

Finding somebody else can take over a month. I have gotten lazy from having two efficient women who know what I like manning our little station. Until I find and train somebody else, I will have to knuckle down and help out with the work. I’m not looking forward to that. But thank goodness Gladys has left!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

One Goes, Another Comes.

January 09

Gladys has arrived in my household. She is replacing Christina who went away for five days for a funeral and later the same day she returned, was picked up by her uncle for a ‘purifying prayer session’. I gave her a day off for the prayer session. She called me the next day to say that, according to her uncle, it would take two weeks. My original decision was to fire her. But then I thought of her. She is a good girl: a young, simple soul with a good heart and few options. She does not give me much trouble. My children like her, I like her and she has little ambition or foresight of her own. I worried that if I sacked her, she would go to some other person who is not as nice to her help and who has no thought to her future and may live all her life hand to mouth or in want. So I waited the two weeks she asked and then another week. It has been a month and half now and there’s been no news from her. Having no other choice, I have sadly replaced her.

Her people won’t let her come back. For what reasons I do not know. I was told earlier by my aunt that some of these girls’ have relatives who do not wish them well and so shouldn’t encourage too much contact between her and her uncles. Maybe, another woman told me, the person who has executive authority over her has a child who has become a wastrel and will be damned if this fatherless child will do any better. I didn’t think that anybody would be so pettily motivated and so contrary to all the advice I’d received, I gave her a week off to visit her hometown at Christmas and made sure she had presents for everyone. I thought she would be homesick; this was her first job.

Once more I’m bending to the wisdom of the ages. Christina’s departure, it seems is a case of something close to this. She has been sent back to the village and left incommunicado. She took only two sets of clothes with her I’m told because she expected to be back overnight-or perhaps to throw sand in our eyes. And still has money with me. Neither her aunts nor uncles will pick up when Veronica or I call them. I feel a little responsible for what has happened to her. I should have let her be homesick. According to the theories I’m hearing it was her apparent prosperity that caused the ‘sikin pain’ that led to this pass.

I don’t need her help desperately. This is not why I’ve been trying to find her. They are not that difficult to find househelps. And as she didn’t even know what a mop was when she came to me she takes nothing irreplaceable away from my house. But she is endearing for both the goodness and simplicity of her mind and soul. So I wish she had stayed so I could have helped her make the most of her life.

Now instead she will spend her days in one village or another waiting for her uncle to find the money to put her into a trade or some form of training. She will wait vainly and then in disappointment turn first to one man then the other. By her third child, she will be old and tired from never being quite able to make ends meet. But she will also be unable to leave to find work, for who will mind her children and that will be the end of whatever good track she could have been on.

I wish for her sake she would shake off her uncle’s hand and do what’s right for her. She is, after all, the one who pays all her bills. The uncle does nothing for her and should not have any say so in her life. But she is village bred and the traditional moral authority of his position as her father’s inheritor holds more psychological power than her financial independence has.

Gladys is very happy to have got the job. She is 22, recently orphaned, with a 6 year old son, an irresponsible ex-husband and no skill. She came from Obouase, where her family settled to Somanya, from where they hail, from there she intended to come to Accra to seek her fortune. Her aunt whom I had tasked with finding me a replacement found out about her ambitions on a funeral trip there. Now here she is.

I feel terrible about Christina. She acquired quite a number of clothes in her eight months with us. She deserves to be able to take them with her. I was working on a Birth Certificate for her. It is now ready and lies in her bag. I do hope they will at least let her come back to get them. And she has money with me; money we were saving to open an account for her. I have told her people that I won’t give the money to anyone else. I want to put it in Christina’s palm myself and know that she got her due. I’m sure they would have come for her stuff already if they thought they could get at the money but knowing they can’t squander it, makes the prospect of facing me less worthwhile.

I do not understand why help and their families behave in this odd manner. She’ll be back tomorrow, then silence, then no one picks up your calls till you lose interest and find some other eager broke person desperately seeking employment to fill the position. Is it not simpler by far to say to me: I don’t want to work here one second longer. Give me what you owe me and let me be on my way’? It would certainly be more beneficial. I would have given her a farewell bonus. Instead they spent time meeting and thinking up stories they could use to come for her. How utterly pointless. I don’t run a prison. My gate opens to admit but it also opens to release.

I miss the oiled smoothness of my house run with two well trained staff. I also miss her. Otherwise, I am no worse for her exit. But she, is dramatically so for leaving. I hope her life works out for her. I hope her happy eagerness is not corrupted by an unnecessarily hard life into cynicism and despair.

Gladys is fresh from the village and completely untrained, as Christina was. It will be a long and often trying process to bring her up to par for my household. But she is determined to learn. The life her cousin has in our house has convinced her to win my approval and she is glad for the good luck she has had. O well. We have a saying in Akan, that it was the sudden death of the rich man’s goat that made the poor man’s soup full of with meat.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ode to 'The Fine'.

January ‘09

I have tried varied ways; stern tone, joking tone, cajoling tone, displeased tone, lengthy explanations, everything but a can-can routine to explain to my girls that I hate being pressured to spend money. I like to be informed when things are running out, not when they are gone. I hate being told ‘Maman, there’s no fish’ ‘Maman, the boys don’t have any milk’ I really, truly hate that. I believe strongly, and have shared this belief with them, that only two professions afford a person the luxury of such an uncharted life and random spending; drug dealing and thievery. I have assured them also that they will be the first to know when I take up either trade. I will however insist that they ply it with me.

Still absolutely nothing got through. Week after week I would have my cheery mood dashed or a testy one aggravated by one or other of them, small voiced and sheepish-looking, telling me that there was no gas, no pork, no onion, no formula. It is never things you can do without till tomorrow either, like say oats or vinegar. No, it is always immediately pressing. It also always requires me slotting in a route I had not intended to use. No matter which way I was going, they manage to find something I buy in the opposite direction to demand. I buy diapers at the Mall and formula in Mammobi. If I were headed for instance to Legon, it could never be diapers that are we are in sore need of, it would have to be formula. Lord but it annoys me! I asked them once in the most patient of voices, ‘do your eyes roll upwards as you mix milk?’ ‘no Maman’ said Christina. ‘No Maman’ said Veronica. ‘So how is it’, I asked, ‘that you always seem surprised to be scraping the bottom of the tin?” I got a lot of foolish giggles but not a single coherent answer.
My life might have rolled along down this irksome path indefinitely had I not found a splendid cure. One morning as I was approached with yet another outstretched ‘we’ve ran out’ palm, I announced that it was the last time I was picking the tab on their irresponsibility. Thenceforth we would plan our every purchase; either with my money or theirs. If they told me something was going short, we had planned with my money; I would pay. If they let empty cans hit the bin before I was told, we had planned with their money; they would pay.

Not two weeks later I’m sitting behind my PC, enjoying the voyeuristic pleasures of Facebook, when Christina comes up to me. She bears the glad tidings that Vini has run out of milk. ‘Well then’, I say, ‘we must buy some and since you tell me after its finished and before my admission that I have indeed set up my own little cocaine academy ore become Mansa the Dread Highway Robber, you must have had this on your budget.’ I made each of them cough up GHc7.50 and we bought the milk. I then thanked them profusely for feeding my son, purely to rub it in. How they sulked! They spent several days with a weight in their gait and a glower, all of which was water down my back. I was not at all daunted. When I received the next shopping list, it came with the notice ‘Maman, we’ve just opened Vini’s last tin but one.’ I smiled to myself. As we say here, otwiaala!

Some time last year I bought a set of twelve glasses. They lasted about two months. Kofi bought us a new set, also twelve. They lasted three months or something like that. One evening, looking at the last two glasses we now possessed I grumbled crossly about wastage, and a conspiracy to embarrass me when I have guests. It was my fault, Kofi told me, because there was no punishment for such carelessness. Why exert yourself to avoid it when all you need do is utter an apology afterwards. It needn’t even be sincere. I saw his point.

We had read about Bisphenol A leaching into warm milk from plastic bottles and had promptly switched Dovie to glass. In the pre-Vini preparations, Kofi had had to buy some more since the girls had not left unshattered even one for Dovie to pass down. ‘They cost 4 cedis each’ I told the girls, ‘you break it you bought it.’ That first month they broke three. When I paid them I presented their bills. ‘You owe me eight cedis for bottles and you owe me four.’ I didn’t deduct my due at source. I gave them their total earnings, then made them hand over my bottle money themselves. They were very amused. They thought I was just making a point until I pocketed the money and walked off. The crestfallen look on their faces was too delicious to describe and its memory even now entertains me. I heard one ask the other if I was really going to keep it. I didn’t catch the answer, I didn’t need to. Of this I am certain; smirking hasn’t been this much fun in years.

We use a set of eight I bought at the Mall currently. They are very large and I love them. Kofi has infected me with a hatred for ‘drinking out of thimbles’. The more like a cauldron a glass is, the fonder we are of it. These ones hold about a half litre each and are therefore greatly loved. A watered down coke on ice- twist of lemon if possible (it adds even more to the look than it does the flavour) - has never looked colder or more able to quench thirst, I assure you. It has been four months and I haven’t lost a single one yet. Our elders say advice does not change people, only trials do. It appears also that the only thing that dries slippery hands is bills.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speak no evil

January 09

The boys are bonding well. This pleases me greatly. Dovie has taken to his big brother role easily-far more so than I was led to anticipate- and I make a conscious effort to not make either one feel too special. In my zeal not to make Dovie feel replaced, I was starting to give him far more attention than Vini got. But because I didn’t let my help touch him- he was too young- and I took care of him myself, he hadn’t started to feel it yet. Fortunately I caught myself before it became our set pattern.

Dovie has, after a slight ripple in the waters, gotten used to me or his papa playing with his brother. To my amusement he has yet to understand or accept that his grandparents are Vini’s too and gets a bit put out if they seem too enthralled with young Master Vini. When the baby cries, Dovie often pats him on the back, or will rock him in his bouncy chair. He used to beat on Vini a lot more till his father started doing unto him as he had done unto his brother. He would smack Vini’s face and Kofi would smack his. He’d cry, we’d hug him and that would be the end of it. He soon stopped thinking it was fun to whack the kid. I still occasionally have to scold him for hitting his brother but all in all we are in a good place.

I am lucky that my son was so young when his brother came along. I’ve thus had a chance to learn some things that I would have paid heftily for if Dovie had been older at no extra sweat. Top on the list of these is the effect the careless talk that abounded before Vini was born would have had on him.

‘Look at you, playing so happily, mwah, you don’t even know that you’ll be dethroned in a few months poor boy. Mwah, mwah mwah.’ ‘You go on and cling to your mom and don’t let me carry you some. In a few months she won’t have a moment to spare for you then you’ll see’ ‘O Dovie, why are they dethroning you so quickly, your mean parents.’ They didn’t mean anything by it. It was only thoughtlessness that made them speak so. No one expects it to damage the child. But I shudder when I think how it would have affected Dovie had he understood more language then.
Even if he had had no strong objection to the existence of his brother, being constantly told by so many people of so many walks that something dreadful would follow the baby’s arrival would definitely have made him- as would have anyone else- rethink his generosity.

I was slightly annoyed by the suggestion that I would neglect Dovie because of Vini. But partly because I didn’t want to make strident claims and find out that everyone was right; there was after all only so equally a human mother could love her children and partly because I was a little shy to take on people who I know are full of good will for me and my family, I let it slide. By the time the potential impact dawned on me and I decided to put an end to such talk, he had heard a good number of calls to resentment. Luckily for us all he didn’t understand a word of it. He was too busy trying to figure out why heeding a ‘bra mummy’ could sometimes lead to a hug and other times to the loss of that fabulous new toy he’d picked up from the corner and was just about to taste.

Now that Vini is here, everyone seems to have lost interest in this topic that, only months ago, was pressing to comment on and a good thing too! Lately Dovie is ever surprising us with his comprehension of language. If those careless words were bandied about now, though he might miss the nuances the words have picked up in their evolutionary journey, he certainly would get the general message. I’m thankful I did not have to tell the adults; people, who are mostly good parents themselves, not to say things they must have said a hundred times before with no obvious catastrophe ensuing. And there’s nothing like slapping somebody down to kill their joy in your children. I’m glad, so glad I was spared the necessity.

But like we say, if you pass by someone’s window and hear them advising their child, stop and listen, you might be the wiser for it. So this lesson I’ve learnt, luckily only as a concept, I pass on to everyone who would hear. Do not let anyone tease your child that their unborn sibling is replacing, dethroning or usurping them. The cost is steep, the effects permanent. If they can’t think of anything genuinely harmless to say, let them take a cue from Dovie. ‘tja’ and ‘na na na’ can be the foundation of some very deep conversations.

Never again another Tylenol through my lips!

January 09.

I’m a worst case scenario imaginer. It is not that I’m a pessimist. It is that I have a wildly hyperbolic imagination. It can take anything, however innocuous, and blow it up into a catastrophe that would make the stoutest heart quiver. For instance if I call someone important to me four or five times in one evening without getting a response, I break out in a deep fear that something horrible has happened to them; they have had an accident or are alone and unconscious in their car by the wayside or in a bush. It could never be simply that they were asleep, though it was only eight or that they just didn’t feel like talking to me.

I had a boyfriend once who cheated on me. After a good deal of brouhaha and cartloads of hurtful words in both directions, I decided to give him another chance. Only, thenceforth every time he didn’t pick up his phone I envisioned him with the other woman telling her how much he loved her and asking her to be patient; he would dump me he just needed time to break it to me gently. Within twenty minutes of dialing his number I would be furious with him, and poised to leave him. When we met or spoke, I would bring up the ignored calls, looking for signs of deception, so I could walk. Often he would respond with something like ‘I was still in that meeting’. –the presentation of which I had helped him work on -or ‘O sorry baby I was asleep.’ Then whoosh out would go all the hot air and I’d be weak from the pent up anger, but would play it cool so he would have no inkling what had just happened. If he went out of town I imagined they were hosting a first anniversary party at a hotel and all his friends were there. I was the only one who didn’t know about them in all Accra and was therefore a standard joke. Again I’d plan some elegant yet melodramatic way to dump him that would make the list of the ‘top ten ways to dump your man.’ Eventually the tension of such a high adrenaline life got to me and I got out.

The point I’m endeavouring to illustrate is what a James Bond my imagination is. Imagine then, if you can, my utter horror and the madly spinning flight my mind went into when early Tuesday morning last week, I came back into my bedroom from a quick dash to the car to find Veronica –my help- taking half a 500mg tab of Tylenol from a smiling Dovie’s mouth. To this day I do not know how it is I didn’t go into cardiac arrest. He was sitting sprawled on the floor with the bottle of easily a hundred pills lying scattered around him. I grabbed him and, in a most un-first-aidy move, held him tightly to my heart crying ‘o Dovie, o God.’ When I remembered the urgency of time, I stopped squashing him and looked into his mouth. I considered giving him water, then decided against it. Some poisons require water but others milk, and yet others orange juice, I recalled foggily from a long ago Girl Guide Camp. I didn’t want to complicate things so I left it alone.

Kofi came back from the cafe and I told him. He said quietly that that was how a childhood buddy of his had lost his hearing. ‘he’s little o, he’s so little’ he said in sad grave tones looking at Dovie. I don’t have to tell anyone who knows me even a little that I promptly started crying. ‘Dovie.’ I called. He ignored me. ‘Dovie! Dovie!’ I started freaking out and went to him shook him ‘Dovie’. He looked up puzzled touched a hand to my teary cheek and smiled. ‘tja’ he shouted and went back to his game.

The boys had a weighing appointment so I had planned to make one trip of it. Dovie would see the doctor then we’d go and see the nurses for the weighing. After learning about the hearing loss incident, I began worrying that it had been the wrong thing to do; that I should have left with him immediately and come back later for Vini. I said a quick furious prayer that it be not too late.

Poor Veronica. I called for her. She didn’t respond, I called again, no response. I yelled her name out like a drumroll and when she got there I turned to her, a volunteer for the weight and stress of my fear. ‘why do you always make me shout for you, do you think I’ve nothing better to do with my energy. Who told you our neighbours like to dance to your name. Ah I’m sick of you.’ I yelled. I rushed us through the dressing up and hopped in to the car and driving a little too fast, a subdued Veronica, worried me, sleeping Vini and a happily playing Dovie set off for the clinic.

There was nothing the matter with him. It seemed he hadn’t eaten any. He had only just managed to put that half in his mouth when Veronica came in. A baby reacting to a drug, I was told, did so within seconds of consuming it and left one in no doubt as to what was happening. I was so relieved I had to sit down. My knees were weak.

It is true that I had left the bottle on the dresser but he really shouldn’t have been able to reach it. I’m willing to swear a week ago he couldn’t have. That’s the trouble with babies, they grow so fast that some of the changes are nearly imperceptible to one in constant contact. It was not physical development that gave him access to the pill bottle; it was an increase in mental capacity. The bottle was indeed too far out for him to reach. But the bottom drawer was slightly open and his smarter-this-week-than-last brain told him that if he used it to climb up he would get to it. And it was right.

Practically everyone in the clinic, nurses, the doctor, the pharmacist, the receptionist, other mothers, ventured to tell me not to put bottles on low shelves; to construct a wooden cabinet box and put it high up on a wall, never to leave him alone in a room with pills or bottles. It grated; all that admonition, it burnt. I could feel me get prickly inside as people gave me how to be a good mother advice. As if I didn’t know how. I already have a medicine box alright. Mchew. But I couldn’t say a word. If I were doing it so right, why were we there? How did he end up with Tylenol in his mouth. So I stood by smiling through gritted teeth and saying ‘o I say. Children; take your eyes off them for a minute…’

I was happy to get home. He was fine. It was over. I sent Veronica to buy me a coke with more money than she needed and when she came back, I sheepishly told her to keep the change. It was my way of apologizing. She had had such a bewildered look on her face. And indeed, what had she done? Had it not been for her, Dovie might actually have had time to bite into the pill. She really hadn’t deserved the yelling. Though she is in the habit of pretending deafness, she knew we were going to the hospital so had packed the boys’ bag and gone to change when she was summoned with the bellow.

Dovie, like they promised at the clinic, is right as rain; full of energy and joy and hearing complete. Veronica has since been restored to glory, I’ve outlived my shame and all is quiet on this front. Lately the exaggerator is being put to better use. No longer am I wasting energy worrying that Kofi has had a flat on a deserted road when his phone’s off. These days me and my imagination expend our energies exploring the possible dangerousness of every little thing invented by man; matchsticks, pens, pen tops, even padlocks. When Kofi tried to take my lip gloss from him the other day I nearly said ‘o let him have it what harm can it do.’ At once my imagination answered. An event flash of Dovie with my lip gloss thick on his eyelids holding one eye shut, and being prepped for emergency surgery and I quickly agreed with him. ‘Give me that you’, I said, swooping down to snatch it. All his protests and tears didn’t so much as move a cord in me. How could they, filled as I was with smug satisfaction that I had thwarted the eye disaster that had surely been coming.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

only fools never change their minds.

Having been thoroughly scolded this weekend by all manner of persons for the folly of exercising my freedom to end my blog, I’ve come to see the wisdom in their viewpoint. Even I have to admit it sounds a tad silly to say I closed it to start another when there’s no tax on the number of blogs a person can have. Plus my children really do comprise roughly 70% of my fascination with being alive. So I will start that other blog soon. But I’m happy to announce that I’m still learning on the job.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

curtain call.

Thank you everyone who ever read this blog for not crushing my belief that my children are exciting and I’m fascinating and all that. Thank you for the pleasure your caresses to my ego have given me. I hope you each get to enjoy the depth and dimension that parenthood adds to your existence. I am closing this blog now.

I intend to start another soon. I want to do something with all the random thoughts that pop into my head. Although I’m sure I will yap about the oddest things, I hope I can have your company there.

A Human In His Own Right.

December ’08

Vinyo is a handsome baby. Everyone says that. Not that I could think any differently even if a report from the World Independent Commission on Beauty stated the contrary. But it is still nice to be part of the majority. A lot about his looks reminds me and everyone else of Dovie. They look quite alike. I thought it cute initially that everyone remarked how like his brother he looked. But it didn’t take long before it began to irritate me.

People would exclaim that he was Dovie’s brother indeed and then either do a quick compare and contrast essay or stamp everything about him as ‘he is really Dovie’s brother’. For instance the fact that he is a big eater confirms that, ‘he is really Dovie’s brother’. He has dimples, again because ‘he is really Dovie’s brother’. ‘Where is he?’ ‘He’s asleep.’ ‘O he is really Dovie’s brother’. ‘What beautiful hair he has, he is really Dovie’s brother.’… It is making me wonder what I ever did to make the whole world doubt my fidelity to my husband; I feel almost relieved that that particular secret concern seems to have been put to sleep. Of course no one is saying how he really is Kofi’s son so it is possible all I’ve proved is that my children share a father and not necessarily that I have taken ‘forsaking all others’ to heart.

Dovie is a handsome boy, a darling, everything a little boy or rather a big baby his age should be. I would be the first to shout it from the rooftops. But the subjugation of Vini’s personality to his is completely unacceptable. It is early yet, when he is older his own traits will be established. I feel though that if I allow this ‘Dovie’s brother’ nonsense to go unchecked and unremarked it will be so deeply entrenched that he will always be assessed in reference to Dovie. ‘He’s a good athlete, unlike Dovie.’ Or ‘he doesn’t do as well in music as Dovie.’

No observation made about Dovie was preceded or followed by a comparison. He didn’t have to be fair unlike my ex boyfriend’s son or smarter than Kofi’s one night stander’s daughter. He was just fair or smart or cute or funny. And Vini deserves the same. He is no less complete a baby.

I am not saying, never anyone dare mention both their names in the same breath. I have no objection to any comments about the similarity in looks. ‘They really look alike’ does not offend me. It is ‘he is really handsome, just like Dovie’ that does. Why not ‘what handsome boys they are’? What’s wrong with ‘your sons are heavy sleepers both’? Why must his personality stand in relation to his brother’s?

Some things are difficult to refrain from commenting on I concede. It is impossible not to notice that both my babies are big boys; that Vini is bigger than Dovie was at his age and his face is a different shape than Dovie’s. But that’s where it stops. Behavioral comparisons will not change what they are and will only serve to make them resentful of each other and the makers of said juxtapositions.

And I will not permit it. I refuse to have my sons made to feel insecure or inferior just to satisfy somebody’s desire to share an idle observation. I have officially outlawed comparative statements among my peers. I have yet to find a respectful and tactful way to do it with the adults. I’m working on it. I’ll soon come up with something.

I was a shy child and I was clumsy. It was not too difficult to acquire complexes. The unintentional unkindness of being compared with my nimbler elder sister, tidier cousins, less talkative peers soon took its toll. I am the only left handed person in my family. I have 2 sisters, 23 cousins, 1 nephew, 7 uncles and an aunt and not a one is left handed. But thanks to my old folks, I have always been inordinately proud of it. They never let people bully me. Despite the negativity attached to the left hand in our culture they found a way to make me unashamed. In class one, my teacher tried to force me to be right handed and it soon began affecting my work badly. I was failing miserably at right-handedness and the anxiety of facing another day of failure was making me lose interest in school and schoolwork. As soon as my mother found out what was going on, she descended on the school authorities and told them to stay away from her child. ‘God made her left-handed’, she said ‘and God doesn’t make mistakes’

I myself am sometimes guilty of the sin of comparison. Occasionally I catch myself thinking ‘Vini is stronger than Dovie was at this age’- like it makes a difference to anything. When I do, I chastise myself severely. So I recognize from my own experience that it is not always easy to avoid the greater than/less than speech. But I am making conscious effort and anyone who wishes to be part of their life better make one too.

I will stand in defense of my children’s distinctiveness. Anyone who tries to warp their self esteem and confidence, even if by accident of careless talk, will feel the unrestrained sharpness of my tongue, famed even when tempered for its acidity. The exception is with the adults. This method cannot be applied to them without social sanction both for myself and for the children I am using it to protect. For them I’m polishing my tact. When such statements are made, I will politely but firmly state my displeasure. If it is dismissed airily as complaints by the young often are here, I will not make a fuss. I will hold my tongue. Just be sure you say your fondest and most earnest goodbyes when the kids are leaving you. Chances are you will never see them again.

Breathe iiin…aawwttt

December ‘08

My sons are away this week. They are spending it with my Uncle Alex and Aunt Margaret- with whom I used to spend weekends as a child and who happen to be the sitting president and first vice president of the Dovie-is-a-wonder foundation, a not-for profit organization based in Tema. Everyone tells me how lucky I am to have such help; they don’t know how right they are. I am; I truly am. They have been wonderful. Not only do Dovie, and now Vini as well, spend days at a go with them being overindulged, overfed and adored, Kofi and I also get the royal treatment whenever we are there. In fact we spent the first 3 weeks post-op with them and were waited on hand and foot; a major factor in how it is I recovered so quickly and so completely. It is, without a doubt, because we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us that we stand tall.

So this week I’m traipsing around Accra masquerading as a young, single, childless woman and I’m loving it. It has been a delightful and most effective way to de-stress. Of course, the delightfulness lies primarily in it being an impermanent and voluntary situation I can reverse with a simple hour long drive. I doubt I would be rhapsodizing were it otherwise. The time our sons spend in Tema has proven very good for our relationship. My husband and I are all over each other. Sharing a space without our children takes us back to our dating days (when we lived in iniquity and the wicked pleasure that is bestowed by vice). That revisit gives our relationship a shot in the arm that helps it to thrive. With nothing to distract us from ourselves, we get a chance to enjoy each other thoroughly. The first night we didn’t go anywhere or do anything special, we both just slept- a full night’s sleep, what a total luxury!

This week I feel so free. I can walk faster without the baby hanging in front of me, I can go to the ‘corner-corner’ retail heaven where I shop in Mammobi, and I can go out and do everything I have to super-coordinate when the boys are home spontaneously. Its divine. Being frazzled and bothered takes away a lot of the joy in being with your children. So whenever I need me time or we need us time, I send them off. While they are gone I get to refocus on what’s great about them and miss them. Often some incident will inspire a wave of ‘child-sickness’ that makes keen the desire to bring them home, and by the time they get here, we are both in love with them again. (This time it was a Pampers ad with newborns and a cute toddler at the mall.)

The first time I took Dovie over to Tema, he was three months old. All week I was excited he would go away. I was too young to be held hostage by motherhood I said. I intended to celebrate to the full my temporary relief from my responsibilities to this very demanding master. Kofi and I made great plans of chilling, clubbing and sex and couldn’t wait to get them underway. But when the weekend finally came along and I took him over, I found myself unable to leave. I dallied till it got late and Auntie Maggie actually asked me to go home, at which point I began to cry. I cried all 20 some kilometers home and by the time I parked I was bawling. That first night was spent in a swirl of self-pity and loneliness and melodramatic misery. Kofi, to his credit, rallied and tried to seem to be having fun but Dov’s absence was so tangible he couldn’t keep it up. Eventually he abandoned the effort and joined me in the pits of gloom and we spent the first night extolling the incomparable virtues of our son.

By the time we woke up though, we were both better and starting to feel keyed up by the possibilities the weekend held. Not having to get up to feed or change or soothe during the night did a good job of drying my tears and cheering us up. We spent the morning just lying about taking pleasure in being alone together. Then, naturally, we moved on to said ‘great plans of chilling, clubbing and sex’. I cried again the first time the holiday extended from a weekend to a week.

Now though I’m a pro, an old hand. I can take them there, give a kiss to each, hop in my car and bugger off, singing all the way to Accra. I no longer need to spend a few days psyching and bracing myself to send them away. My decision to ship them off this time was made impulsively on Tuesday morning. So completely at ease is my family in my Uncle and Aunt’s home, bless their hearts, that I didn’t need to give even an hour’s notice.

Aside from the restoration of connubial privileges, very little I’ve done in this breather week is in and of itself exciting or fun but I’ve had such a blast doing them. I’ve painted parts of the walls in the bathroom, much to my help’s amazement- no madam paints anything, least of all a bathroom. I’ve wrestled Kofi (shocking poor Veronica nearly out of her wits – the boss and madam are ‘fighting blows’), I’ve followed him around on some work errands and just generally fluttered around the city like an unfettered bird.
Kofi has missed the kids in an o-I-wish-they-were- here way. I haven’t, not yet. I miss them in a pleasant what-lovely-children-we-have way. But because I have now learnt to share my children, because I know, accept and feel no shame in needing time off from being the central force in two little people’s lives, and because Uncle and Aunt are so very good to them, I don’t waste much of my holiday time thinking about them. I use it for what it is intended; I think about me.

By Sunday, I will have missed them sorely in a-come-home-to-me-my-children-let-me-hold-you-and-never-let-go way. Typically, on the morning of their return, I bug Kofi from the moment my eyes open for us to set out. ‘Aren’t we going to get the boys, its getting late’ I whine. Yes, I do have the time of my life on my holidays. But I enjoy their ends perhaps even more than I enjoy their beginnings. I will be as glad to be with them in 2 days as I am that I am not tonight and they will have a better mother for it.

The First Anniversary Of Grandparenthood Jam.

November ‘08

Having finally accepted that I would not budge on the birthday party issue, my parents decided to have one for Dovie themselves. They told him-not me- to call up all his friends and invite them to a jam on the Saturday after his birthday. Unsurprisingly, they said it to my hearing, seeing as that is far more likely to yield result than a ‘two-man’ with Dovie. ‘Mum, he has no friends’ I said patiently. ‘Just you wait and see’ she replied airily, ‘we’ll have the best children’s party ever’.

During the week of the party, I saw and spoke to my parents about four times and each time there was some comment about how fun the party would be and what a bore I am, preceded or followed by a snort. On Saturday, we turn up dutifully outfitted for a children’s party. Daddy is supervising the canopies, Mum has blown up balloons when we drive in. The kitchen is stocked with paper plates, Styrofoam cups, balloons, pop-out whistles, toffees, chocolates, biscuits and a big blue teddy bear cake. She even had the food catered. She also told every invitee to bring a child along. There was every indication that it would be a great children’s party. I was humbled and touched by how much effort and expense they had gone to mark my son’s first birthday and anniversary of our parenthood. And I was almost ashamed that the children’s party for Dov was, contrary to all I’d sworn, possible.

Uncle Alex and Auntie Maggie were the first to arrive at about one thirty, with no child in tow. Then it was two, then two-thirty, then three. At nearly four we gave up the wait for the kids and set up the cake table. Then surrounded by grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, Dovie cut his cake or rather his parents cut his cake and he crumbled the parts nearest him. At about six, the first children arrived- they were 11 and 12. Dovie had, as to be expected, exhausted himself and was fast asleep. The greatest children’s party ever ended up having six children –with only 2 being under 10.
We did all have a blast though. After the cutting of the cake, it was renamed the first anniversary of grandparenthood jam and became an openly adult party. All pretense of interest in the token six little people was given up. They were left to amuse themselves and the party broke up into generational caucuses; the grandparents out on the lawn, the parents, uncles and aunts in the living room and the token six running around.

Even though I was proven right about the childrenlessness of the party, I am very glad my parents did what they did. It was heartening to see that all these older people would clear their day because of us. Indeed it was a very nice reminder that here, people are members of groups, nobody stands alone or with just their nuclear family. Everyone has a clan of family and near family with whom they belong. I found a warming comfort in the certainty that our joy was theirs too and that they could all be counted upon in our times of trouble to be our net. Of course, that also means all these people will at some point annoy us with unsolicited advice or insist that something we have decided not to do is the only way to ensure a child’s mental health. Still it is very good feeling, a worthwhile trade-off.

To some extent, all the people who came are good for our marriage and the stability of our home. Not because of any grand contribution they will make to it but because they will be concerned and disappointed to see it dissolve. While this is not enough to keep me in an unhappy marriage, it certainly holds sway over my parameters of what is forgivable. I suspect the same is true for Kofi. The concern for the equilibrium and happiness of the children of a union is very Ghanaian and is manifest largely in the social support and subtle pressure young marriages receive. It is a trying thing indeed, the process of convincing all the parties who helped the union to be formalized to aid in its dissolution. One has to be very unhappy or much wronged- which interpretation in these parts often does not include adultery- to get support and help.

Like all Ghanaians, we too are a part of a complex setup defined as family and not determined by blood. The many presents Dovie received and the party that broke up shortly before midnight attest to that. While the visual reminder of said network has neither convinced nor inspired me to resolve to have 1st birthday parties for my second son and any yet unborn children, it has made sharper my understanding of our place in the great circle of things.