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 (Part 2)
“The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.”-Maureen Dowd, American author and columnist.
The other day my friend, Shum, said to me, “Sometimes I wonder if you’re going to make it. You just get so frustrated and let things get to you.”
He’s right. I’m not one to keep a stiff upper lip. I can be temperamental, prone to dramatic displays of emotion. Then, too, in stark contrast to my independent, no-nonsense demeanour I can be alarmingly fragile, bursting into tears over seemingly trivial things like, oh, microwaved tuna and missed appointments.
I’ve been back in Ghana for two months. Already my frustrations are many and I realise they’ve only just begun. What’s funny, though, is that the reasons I am so certain I will persevere are the very same ones other people list as reasons why they believe I might not. They view that emotion (or over-emotion, some might argue) as a weakness; I view it as a strength, a way for me to unpack the luggage that I inherit during my day-to-day travels so that I may continue the remainder of my journey unburdened.
There is a quote by Vincent Van Gogh that I’ve always found comforting; it’s about the importance of confronting emotions: “But are not this struggle and even the mistakes one may make better, and do they not develop us more, than if we kept systematically away from emotions?” On second thought, Van Gogh may not be the best person to quote on this subject seeing as how, for reasons that are still being debated by historians and critics, he became so overwhelmed emotionally that he lopped off part of his left ear.
My evening at +233 was deliciously relaxing. I ran into Eilo, one of the fabulous gals in my small circle of Accra sister-friends. She’s an Irish woman who has managed to hang on here for 16 years and build a beautiful, satisfying life. I didn’t go into any details about the week I’d had, a week that ended with my being stood up by my prospective client, Insensitive Lady (I.L.), cheated out of the experience of eating my would-be Salade Niçoise, and mistaken for a hooker. I just enjoyed being in her presence.
Eilo and her partner ended the night early. Having successfully shifted my mood, I left shortly after—just minutes, I am told, before a serious girl-fight broke out at the spot between two well-heeled members of the unofficial Real Housewives of Accra. (Can you imagine????!!!!!) From all accounts, this fight was a straight-up, old-school mano-a-mano involving a drink being tossed in one woman’s face, a champagne bottle being knocked upside the other woman’s head and the both of them having to be taken to hospital.
At the risk of sounding like anything other than the humanistic peacemaker I oftentimes imagine myself to be, I have to admit that when I heard the news about those belles in full brawl what I felt was an unmistakable schadenfreude. I haven’t laughed like that in weeks, maybe months.
Finally, I thought, some passion in this place. Somebody saying “Enough! I’m done taking this crap!”
One of the most disconcerting aspects of my return has been my never-ending attempt to dive below the surface of that legendary Ghanaian hospitality. It’s a special brand of courtesy and kindness that is lovely and charming for short-term visitors but can feel downright rude to returnees who are used to a more direct and forthcoming approach.
People here (not everyone, thank goodness!) can be polite to the point of passivity, opting to tell bald-faced lies rather than speak the truth for fear that they might offend. Ask a direct question, you’ll get an indirect, noncommittal answer complete with downcast eyes and a bashful smile. Answers like “Oh, somehow,” “Hmmm, I can’t say,” “Yes, yes, any moment from now,” “Well, let us hope so.”
The only people who seem to freely speak what they feel, especially their displeasure or frustration, are the taxi drivers who drive erratically and illegally and then insult everyone else for not following the rules of the road, and the market women whose very visage of obduracy leaves little doubt that if you cross them, they will cut you.
Everyone else will simply smile and resist eye contact as they tell you whatever it is they think you want to hear. They will tell you that your clothing will be ready for pick-up by Monday when in fact they have no intention of even looking at your cloth by then, let alone sewing it. They will tell you to stay where you are and wait for them because they are coming right now when in fact they are just sitting down to order and eat their lunch.
They will tell you they couldn’t do X, Y, or Zed because of traffic, because of body pains, because of malaria, because they didn’t have credit on their phone, because it was raining, or because it was their birthday. One of the previous times I lived in Accra my gardener asked me if I could give him a bonus because it was his birthday, forgetting completely that he’d already collected a birthday bonus from me a few months prior. Likewise, my friend’s housegirl’s father died twice in the same year.
The only thing I find more annoying than this sort of passive-aggressive behaviour is the complacency with which it is greeted. “This is Ghana,” people will shrug with resignation, as if that should be explanation or justification enough. “That’s how it is here.”
I’ve been accused of coming with my “American ways” and unrealistic expectations. My frustrations are ridiculed, dismissed as a function of my newness. Really?? Since when did the expectation of honesty and straightforwardness become American?
This is not Ghana and there is nothing anyone can say to make me believe otherwise. Why should we allow our country and its culture to be defined by deception, laziness, mediocrity and a lack of consideration?
Ghana is the fire that was The Big Six. Ghana is the passion we saw on the football pitch during the World Cup and just recently in the Ghana-England friendly at Wembley. Ghana is people like Anna Bossman, Kwesi Owusu, Audrey Gadzekpo, Herman Chinery-Hesse, Nana Yaa Omane-Peprah, Panji Anoff, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Pak-Wo Shum, Joe Osae Addo, Fred Sam, Anne Sackey and a host of other people too numerous to mention in this limited space who bring a level of excellence, pride and innovation to all that they do.
I do not, for a second, believe that most Ghanaians are not as frustrated by the daily doses of inconsideration, injustice and incompetence with which they must contend. I think many people just swallow it and swallow it until it becomes too much to bear, until they are burdened with that last straw, and then they either implode or explode. By implode, I mean this: internalised stress is the root cause of certain life-threatening physical conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, and other forms of heart disease. By explode, I mean a wife who tosses a drink in another woman’s face or something equally as indicative of being way past fed up.
As for me, I’ll settle for a space in between the two; allow me my minor conniptions and humour-tinged complaints. I’ll let people like I.L, who gave me some lame excuse the next evening about her mobile battery dying and not being able to contact me, tell me what they will and then I, too, will say what I have to say.
No need to wonder, Shum. I’ll make it, alright; I’ll definitely make it.
This article was published in Ghana’s Daily Graphic on Friday, April 8, 2011. Article may not be republished without written permission from the author.
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