My Ghanaian Grandmother

My Ghanaian Grandmother
 Andinkra symbols watching over Talib. 

Andinkra symbols watching over Talib. 

AKWAABA!

Akwaaba. It means “welcome” in Akan, an indigenous language in Ghana. Travelers arriving in Accra's airport are greeted with a large sign with this word scribbled across it.

For me, being in Ghana feels like visiting your elderly grandmother who you haven’t seen in decades. This is how my brotha Danny, LegacyBros, described his experience with Ghana. She feels familiar and is super welcoming. You sense your parents in subtle ways. Her gestures and tones are comforting and, if homesick, they give you a sense that you are somewhat home. Though I still feel like grandma and I are getting adjusted to one another, I do feel like she loves me. 

Being in Ghana feels like being in your grandmother’s home. The scent and sights are somewhat familiar but there’s so much that seems frozen in time. The slower pace at which things get done are often frustrating. You want to complain and demand that she catch up to your pace but then remember that she’s been through some shit. Centuries ago her children were captured and shipped to distant lands. If that wasn’t enough, until 1957, European foreigners ransacked her home and stole what was most useful to her relatives. This has left her, the land and her people, struggling to catch up to a world that is not kind to elders and her kin.  

Being Afro-Dominican has helped in adjusting to this Ghanaian grandmother. The tropical humidity that brings out a magnificent glow in my skin, and the taste of her sweet mangos all feel like DR. Things like operating a propane gas stove and doing without water for a few hours, or days, are familiar to me. The Caribbean Gyal in me comes out as I board the tro-tros, Ghanaian versions of mass-transit on a budget. Dated minivans dash up and down avenues with a person, a "mate", hanging out the window shouting routes.  Though my lighter skin stands out like a soar thumb, I go into Caribbean mode and dance along to the city’s hustle and bustling rhythm.

 Tro Tro with a "mate" calling out routes. This system resembles what the Dominican Republic calls "voladoras" or "conchos"

Tro Tro with a "mate" calling out routes. This system resembles what the Dominican Republic calls "voladoras" or "conchos"

This Ghanaian grandmother also seems to be kicking my ass at times

It’s as if she is happy to see me but also disappointed at who I have become far from her presence.  My arrogance in thinking that I am somewhat immune to things that many Ghanaians work hard to make a consistent part of their daily lives is glaring. Our son, Talib, may have contracted malaria. Malaria is a curable yet deadly condition if not promptly tended to. The parasite is transmitted via infected mosquitoes.  Sad thing is that many people die of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lacking money, poor nutrition and/or inaccessibility to proper medical care are all factors leading to increased mortality rates.

Thank God that Talib made it through and was treated in time.  The day after he was discharged from the hospital we went for a second opinion. It turns out that this doctor did not think it was malaria; Talib did have a bacterial infection in his intestines. But because of malaria's high mortality rate, especially among children 5 years old and under, doctors here tend to treat any suspicious ailment as malaria. What a ride! This experience alone was enough to confirm that adjusting to my Ghanaian grandmother is going to take some patience and a whole lot of humility.  

 Talib and I chilling outside as he gets some vitamin D to help in his recovery. 

Talib and I chilling outside as he gets some vitamin D to help in his recovery. 

So far, it feels as if my Ghanaian grandmother is whopping my ass.  Not in vain but as a way to ensure that I not leave her home with the baggage I collected, from the conveyer belt, under the “Awkwaaba” sign in the airport. Grandma wants to make sure that I leave with a lighter load. She wants to fill my heart with the same peaceful pride that is quietly emitted from the auras of our Ghanaians cousins. She knows I am broken; she knows that I carry the trauma of the Middle Passage in my DNA.

She understands that living in a white supremacist culture, like the US, breeds psycho-spiritual complexes.  Each generation in the West seems to treat these complexes like precious heirlooms. They pass them on to the next generations as if a rite of passage. The trauma we carry is not glaring, but it’s definitely insidious. It seems to seep into most crevices of our lives. The trauma of enslavement has lead to self-sabotage in ways that only crabs in a barrel can understand. But we are prevailing. We are here. But it don't matter to my Ghanaian grandmother; she is not having it. No excuses!

Grandma is gentle with her discipline.

The lessons taught are rough, but the experience gained is priceless. I feel as if I’ve come from the US with a tornado in my heart. The slower pace that my Ghanaian grandmother’s home affords me gives me the time to sit back as the storm settles. What I am seeing is not pleasant. Years of anxiety, which I’ve tried drinking or smoking away, seem to have bubbled to the surface. And it’s scary.

Even though I am at my grandmother’s she doesn’t offer me the comforting things that I thought I needed to address the anxiety. The things I was using to further keep the sensations muffled. Comfort foods, train wreck tv, fast wifi, accessible night life.  As a result, I thought I resented my Ghanaian grandmother. I thought I hated her for being so rough and tough. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t chill on the challenges and be like the other places I’ve lived and visited. I thought I hated her because she didn't work. Her roads are not all paved and the electricity is inconsistent.

In recent reflection, I cried.  I thought about how cruel I was to want my grandmother to catch up. To catch up when she’s had shackles on her feet and the blood from her veins leeched out by both colonizers and malarial mosquitoes. To catch up to standards that are not the most humane yet are highly addictive. Standards that push us to consume in spite of the human and environmental costs.  US Americans often visit other countries and almost demand that the country cater to their bogus needs. I've often looked at these 'foreigners' in DR and judged them for their ethnocentrism. Without noticing, I was engaging with my Ghanaian grandmother in a similar fashion. And for this I ask her to forgive me.

Dominican tradition requires that we greet elders in specific ways. If you are more traditional, the younger person gets on one knee and extends their hands out for the elder to hold. All this while asking the elder for their blessings by saying bendicion or 'cion for short. Bendicion means blessing and you state it as a humble request. If shortened, the 'cion is followed by the person's relation ('cion... abuela/grandma, mami, papi, tio/uncle, etc). Modernized versions have the younger person simply, and humbly, requesting the elders’ blessings without kneeling. At this moment, I go back to the roots and kneel in front of my Ghanaian grandmother. I extend both hands out and ask for her blessings. This journey into her home has not been easy, but it has def taught me a lot about life and living. 'Cion Abuela

 Talib on his way to school. Just like a turtle, we carry home wherever we are. 

Talib on his way to school. Just like a turtle, we carry home wherever we are.