Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, a native Ghanaian, is author of the groundbreaking memoir, Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression, and editor of three critically anthologies: Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women, Shaking the Tree: New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women, and most recently, The Black Body. She is also a poet, public speaker, and radio commentator. Danquah divides her time between Los Angeles, California and Accra, Ghana.
The Other Afrik - West Africa - Ghana - International - United States - Travel
The Last Straw
Everyone knew that it would happen sooner or later, that despite my seemingly unshakeable optimism and avowed faith in Ghana’s ability to become an international force to be reckoned with, I would become frustrated. Ghana has real problems, people have been telling me over and over again since my return; the system is broken. “As no doubt you will find out when the sankofa vibe retreats,” a cousin insisted via text.
Truth of the matter was I’d already been experiencing that quintessential Ghanaian frustration on a daily basis. I’d felt it when I showed up at my seamstress’s shop to pick up my order only to discover the cloth hadn’t even been cut.
I’d felt it when I went to restaurants and encountered surly waiters and waitresses who behaved as though they were doing me a favour by serving me; waiters who, in response to my question of “Is there anything on this menu you do not have today?” would assure me, “Oh, Madame, we have all.” A good 30 minutes after I’d placed my order, that same individual would return to explain that, “Is finish.”
Ah, but these are minor things, I’d tell myself, taking a deep breath and laughing them away. My optimism and faith notwithstanding, in time I noticed that my tolerance for such things, no matter how small, was fast diminishing. It was becoming more difficult for me to brush these annoying encounters away, and sometimes I’d carry the frustration of it all with me well into the evening.
Nevertheless, I convinced myself that it was all part of resettling, of having to do too many things in too short a period of time, that I would reach a turning point and everything would fall into place. Ha! I reached a turning point, alright, one that spiralled me into a complete meltdown.
It was a Friday, one of those days when you wake up feeling as though you’re already spent, done with. The week had been taxing, full of obstacles. Every negotiation that should have been straightforward turned out to be a convoluted transaction. I found myself having to chase people to do the simplest things. I’d be calling them as often as a jealous lover and showing up like a stalker at their home or place of employment.
Looking back now, I realise I was overburdened; all that was left to break me down was the one proverbial straw. And, as luck (or Murphy’s Law perhaps?) would have it, the day was full of enough straw for Rumpelstilzchen to give AngloGold Ashanti a run for its money.
I was to meet with a prospective client that afternoon, so I spent the morning running errands and then preparing myself, organising my portfolio and CV. The prospective client, a high-profile personality whom I shall just call “Insensitive Lady” (I.L.), did not arrive at the appointed time. One hour passed, two hours passed and there was no call from I.L. Because the meeting was to take place where I was residing, even though I’d essentially written it (and I.L.) off, I could not quite shake that feeling of waiting, of being held in suspended animation. I tried to write, but was distracted by the sound of every approaching vehicle, thinking it might be I.L.
Next, I decided to chat with my friend, Ama, but getting through to her proved near impossible. I kept getting “network busy” messages, then messages informing me that “the number you have dialled does not exist,” or “the number you’re calling is busy,” until finally I got one message after another telling me that Ama’s heretofore nonexistent phone had now been switched off.
By then over four hours had passed since my appointment time with I.L. Still not a peep from her. I wasn’t clearheaded enough to read or write. I couldn’t talk on the phone because my mobile service was rubbish, and I never watch television. What else to do but eat?
I opened the fridge, pulled out a head of lettuce, turned on the tap to rinse off the leaves and….no water! I stared out the window at the big, black contraption with POLYTANK written in bold white letters on it. I was about to ask someone what the problem was but on second thought, I decided I didn’t want to know. In that moment, I just didn’t care. All I wanted to do was eat. A bottle of Voltic did the trick with the lettuce.
There was no can opener, so I asked the steward to open the tin of tuna fish for me. “Yes, Madame,” he said. I went to go grab my laptop so I could tool around on Facebook while eating my salad.
I returned to the kitchen as the steward was about to serve me my salad. I looked at the plate that he’d placed on a huge silver platter. The tuna fish was piping hot, with steam rising from its surface, and the lettuce was wilted.
“You microwaved my salad?” I asked, almost on the verge of tears. I turned and left before he could respond. Perhaps the day might get better, I thought, if I just left and started a fresh experience someplace outside. I grabbed my purse and dialled my friend K.C.’s number as I was walking to the junction. It was only after he picked up that I realised my face was drenched with tears.
“Nana-Ama, what’s wrong?” he asked when he heard my feeble hello. I didn’t even know how or where to begin. He microwaved my salad! I wanted to scream, but I realised how ridiculous that would have sounded. “Please come and get me,” I cried. “Take me away from here.”
Just the thought of seeing K.C. and spending an evening laughing with him, listening to him tell me, “You’re going to be just fine,” made me start to feel better. He’s the sort of friend who always travels with sunshine.
“Oooh dear,” K.C. sighed. “I’m ten minutes outside of Kumasi. I can come for you the instant I return to Accra Sunday evening.” Oh crap, I thought. After assuring K.C. I’d be okay, I hung up, feeling all the more deflated. Where could I go, what could I do to make myself feel better? I hadn’t yet come up with my Ghana list of what I call “mental health escapes,” places where one can go to chill, de-stress, rediscover the joy in life.
Suddenly, it came to me: +233, the jazz club in Ridge. I love that place. There’s always good live music and tasty chicken and pork kebabs. But other places have that, too. What I love most about +233 are the owners, The Brothers Oddoye—Nii, Sowah and Juni. They are the three most jovial, welcoming, mild-mannered and positive people I know in this country, and those characteristics are reflected in the tone they’ve set for their establishment. Yes, I decided, I needed to go to +233. I continued my walk to the junction to catch a taxi, completely forgetting that the section of Cantonments in which I was residing is where the ladies of the night linger, waiting for their customers.
A white man in a blue 4x4 slowed his vehicle almost to a crawl as he approached the junction where I was standing awaiting a taxi. He leaned into the empty passenger seat and peered out of the window, inspecting me as though I were one of those steaks in the glass-covered cases at Koala.
Ashanti pride mixed with Ga-Adangbe anger is a dangerous thing. I peered back at that white man with the intensity of emotion of every female ancestor who’d ever been disrespected or maltreated by a man. Then I started walking toward his vehicle, hands on hips. I saw the sudden fear in his eyes as he realised his mistake and he scrambled to put the car in gear and place his foot firmly on the accelerator.
Thankfully, a taxi arrived shortly afterwards and delivered me safely to +233, where upon my arrival, without my having to say a word Sowah greeted me with an enormous smile and said, “It’s always good to see you, Nana-Ama. Sit down and make yourself at home.”
And that is exactly what I did.
—To Be Continued.
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