TRUTH SHOULD BE IN LOVE AND LOVE IN TRUTH.
January 6, 2022
Hi, my name is Jenifer Kyeremaa, a 27-year Ghanian woman trying to survive and more in a precarious economy. I begin with this ancient African proverb, "Truth should be in love and love in truth." I'm open to love - again. I thought I had it once.
I decided to start this diary because I have a story to tell. Being open to love is part of it. It's not some Hollywood blockbuster story. I'm not looking for some torrid love affair that will tear me all up and force me to put myself back together. Not some disaster movie, have not met any people from another planet or dimension or ghosts. I'm just an ordinary young woman. But I have things to say that I feel other people should hear. That's why I'm writing to myself, and maybe others might want to listen in – to listen in on the conversation I am having with myself.
Never know, my mother used to tell me. You open yourself to one thing, and other items may come waltzing in. You never know.
It is difficult to find work in my country. By profession, I am a hair-dresser and stylist. I lost my last job because of COVID-19. Recently, I found a job waitressing in a Vietnamese restaurant working 10 hour days, five days a week for 260 GHS a month. It is low-paying hard work. I could make that much one weekend making wigs if I had the money for the tools. Also, there is still sexism in my country. Many Ghanian men don't have a lot of respect for women, sometimes demanding that they sleep with them to keep their job. But my country is more than some people's economic troubles or attitudes, on or off-line. It is a vibrant culture, and I read many stories, especially myths. I had a strong woman for a mother who taught me to believe in myself. From her, I learned that,
By hurting me, you're only hurting yourself. ...
If it's meant to happen, it'll happen. ...
Every problem comes with a solution. ...
Not every problem is worth stressin'
A clear heart is always less stressful. ...
Don't spread hatred. ...
Never let someone dictate your life. ...
Sometimes the best come back is none at all.
I want to share my story with thousands, millions of women worldwide to help them resist sexism, colonialism and any backward attitude. We are all in it together. An injury to one is an injury to all, woman or man, Black or White, whether you live in a precarious economy or a more robust one, whether in Ghana or the USA. We all need to make our world a better place for everyone freed from sexism, colonialism, or any other evil.
It's another hot and humid day in Accra, although January is the least sticky time of the year, as I get ready for one more 10 hour-long shift. I live in my late father's house. I'm lucky. Don't have to pay rent, and my stepmother pays for the electricity. Part of the will. Anyways, my room is mostly dark, but in the afternoon, at least there's sunshine. Nothing special, just a bed, some books; I don't have a lot of money for books. Surprising what you can readjust in bookstores and, of course, the Internet. My mother told me stories, myths, people in the West call them. She told them so often that the characters seem more alive than the real people around me. More real than real, that's funny, then, maybe, digital reality, the Internet. I saw the movie the Matrix. Who's to say what is natural or not authentic?
For work, I wear a costume with a texture like a lion's skin, tawny and chequered, with a fancy bar on top, a bare midriff, and then a skirt going down to my knees, with aquamarine trimming on the upper part and strips of it around my skirt. I think it's sexy; maybe some feminists might think it is sexist. I don't know. Different tastes in food, different tastes in dress. I do have a nice slim figure, with long dark hair past my shoulder, a bit ragged, and the costume does show off my modest curves,
Sexy or sexist? My mother taught me to believe in myself, and if other people have problems with me, well, that's their problem. I'm an attractive young woman, and what is most appealing to me is my belief in myself. I have a nice body, but I'm not vain. I'm not my body, at least not reducible to it. I'm for love. That's what my broken heart tattooed between my breasts say. I got it a few years back.
6.00 o'clock and the alarm rings. Time to get up, shower, get dressed, And smile for the customers. Most of them are pretty nice people. Sometimes I get a tip. Try to do your best. Not always easy if I have my monthly flow and my belly hurts. Life is like that, always a struggle.
Shower, eat some rice for breakfast, uniform and mask in hand, I'm off! Have to watch my money. I walk to work, my bar-restaurant is called for fun The Three Bird Bar. Don't want to get anyone in trouble by telling stories about them. Writers have pen names; this establishment has a pen name now. It is in Accra's central business district near the Makola Shopping Mall. Nearby is the statue of King Tackie Tawiah 1. Very famous, well-respected man. A thinker, a warrior who cared about his people. Reigned 40 years. He believed in traditions but was willing to change awful ones. I would have married him if I could. My type of man. My mother talked a lot about him very, very respectfully. I think she would have been happy to have been his wife even he had a hundred other wives.
He was looking straight ahead and dressed in a simple robe, sitting erect in a wooden chair; he was looking straight ahead. A piercing gaze. What's he looking at?
There's a big outdoor market near the mall. Starts early, noisy. People are shouting. 'WELCOME TO MALKOA MARKET: Keep the market clean. It's like telling life to be neat! No way, although I suppose you should try, life keeps overflowing; things spill out of the carts, Fruit rolls on the ground. Children run around. Shout, cry! Controlled pandemonium. Order in this chaos, though. Sometimes hearing a woman shout something reminds me of something I need to get. For those who want to be chic, there is a young man who converts your new Jeans into worn Jeans, making tears and holes, something my mother would never have understood. We didn't have much money, but I was always clean and dressed properly. Mother would have been shocked at anyone who wanted to wear torn clothing. "No beggars in this house," she would. Beggars wear torn clothes. That was the connection I made then, and I still think so. But fashions change even if true beauty does not. Yet, I was irritated by him and what he was doing. Irritated and interested. He was cute, clean-shave with a robust and tall body, lovely straight limbs, and an intelligent face with sharp, piercing eyes. A Zulu warrior type.
As for the rest of the marketplace - get everything you need here except for love. People are offering that too. Ghana has brothels, I must confess. I don't know whether you can buy honey in a brothel or anywhere else.
Ashawo. There is one not far from the marketplace. Have to be desperate, I think, to be a prostitute. I don't blame them. Our country has no social welfare net. Either you have a job, or you starve. Our government doesn't care enough. You have to sell what you can and if it is your body….I don't want to think about it. I'm not proud that my country has brothels. Other nations have brothels like France. If I had a lot of money, I would build a centre for Ghanian women. It would offer health courses, computers, self-help - anything that could permit them to earn a decent and honourable living. It's not their fault. Damned economy! That is the truth for the moment. Alas, that won't make me well-liked. "A speaker of truth has no friends," goes one African proverb. That's true not only for Africa.
In the marketplace, all sorts of good stuff are there – food, clothes, even a fortune teller. 2 Ghs for ten minutes, business success, love life, how the stars move, good fun! Some people take it seriously. The Malkova Market psychic is a wrinkled old woman now, at least a century old, and she must have been charming when she was younger, I figure. I looked at her close-up one day when she was busy with a client. Didn't see me, I think. Never knew about psychics. Strong face, determined, well-proportioned, sparkling brown eyes. She wears an Indian-like sari, a long, flowing yellow-green robe, even a green turban with some fake diamond stuck n the middle of it. Also, for effect, she plays the flute. Gets people's attention. When she speaks, she uses her hands, long flowing motion. Talks of eternity. Sort of creepy at times. Does she really talk with dead people, the spirits? Maybe when I'm older, I'll understand such things better.
I suppose she has to do something. Colonialism was by the British; they colonized Ghana. Made lots of our able-bodied men slaves. Depreciation of all the able-bodied men had led to low effort for income. And there is no heavy machinery working here. Most things are done with much energy, so old women and men are a burden for society!!
She's not a burden, though. Earning her own money. Satisfying the need some people have for talking with ghosts or spirits to know their future. Me, I'm not taken in. Anyways things aren't set in stone except for statues like the one I just passed now of Abiasuma King Tackie Tawiah I. He was a very good man and King. "Illustrious, progressive, and enterprising" that's what the words on the statue say. He made lots of money as a businessman and cared for his people, not like businessmen like today. He reigned from 1862-1902. A long time. Wow!
Very determined man. Wiry, thin, very energetic, someone is challenging to catch. Even tricky. He dealt with the British, who wanted him to invade another kingdom and steal another king's 'golden stool'. He politely refused. He stood to the British for his people. It's fitting that in death, he stands over us. Inspiring!
My country's name Ghana means Warrior King," During the 10th century, there was a real empire in West Africa. I come from a warrior people. Maybe that's why I have a temper. Some people might call me an Amazon.
I go past him. Life goes on, Fruit sellers cry out, advertising their wares. Stone statue. Looks down. Silent. You're dead when you live only in the memory of others. He's dead, but he lives on. I continue to the restaurant and stand in front of it: 'TASTE VIETNAM'. Its bold, brassy flashing bright letters at night proclaiming its dishes. Vietnamese caramelized pork. Red Ghanian Beef Stew. Eckoh, boiled plantain with eggs. Ghanian crunchies Beef Kebob. Have to be vaccinated now to enter restaurants, bars, sports stadiums. Most deaths now are unvaccinated people, who also occupy beds needed for patients waiting for life-saving operations. Just selfish! Vaccination won't kill you, but the virus can.
Outside the door, I put on my mask and enter, making sure to sanitize my hands using the dispenser just inside. "Make, (Good morning) I say to Boba, the chief, and who answers, Onyame a adom me hu ye (By the Grace of God, I am fine). He asks me in turn, and I reply, "By the grace and mercies of God!! My blood is circulating well."
A short tubby guy in his thirties, married with five children, he has a beard, a balding head. He must have won his wife through her stomach. He told me that I got the job last week after the interview. He gave me the eye, the once over. He likes me. Does he want to fool around with me? I see him cook, the air dripping with sauces, spices, meat sizzling on the grill. He mixes his ingredients, his arms move slowly, then quickly like conducting an orchestra with its changing tempo. He cares about his job. How about his marriage? Men can shut one thing off from another; women can too, but not as easily.
I was raised in a Christian bungalow and was informed from day one that it's evil to have sex with a man if you're not married. That's why my carpenter father and seamstress mother taught me. So I had that in mind, and I met a guy called Thug. He proposed to me for three years before I gave him the attention; I was 22 then (meaning he proposed to me at 18 years). He was our church instrumentalist, and I had sex with him. He had taken me out, had a lot of liquor and got me barfly. It hurt me, and I got a heartbreak tattoo on my chest when his parents took him overseas, and he called and told me it was over. Afterwards, I sold fried rice by the roadside. I used the money I made to get good teachers to show me how to be a good hairstylist, I learned, and now I can call myself a professional one. As part of that, I also learned to make wigs. I will get my opportunity, my place in the sun, and then I will shine!
Now I am a waitress. A plain name. People like fancy names and dress up their food with exotic sauces and spices. Does it taste better? To some, it does. Are they tasting the food or their pride? I don't think pride; false pride tastes very good.
My mother said to me that "People who drink to drown their sorrows should be told that sorrow knows how to swim." The same thing could be said about overeating. Food and emotions. We eat what we feel. Animals eat because they are hungry. Humans, that's a whole other story.
People are always hungry for something. Some people are hungry for God. That's ok, but I'm not sure about religion even if I go to church every Sunday, not every day. In places in Africa like Ghana, legendary known as the GOLD COAST, people consider religion first, more than anything else. They go to church from Monday to Sunday. They exhaust all their working hours in the church and create no jobs and no effort. Pastors and people who claim to be men of God and preach the word of God are the wealthiest in my country. Our leaders lodge in luxurious surroundings and cars, thereby taking care of their families. Only poor people suffer here because before someone is assigned as a military or any other government work, you have to pay a bribe to them. If your father is poor, you can't afford to pay for anything you want to be in the future.
I won't let that get me down. I am still young. Never say die. Never give up on yourself. My mother also taught me that. I've worked my ass off. I sold fried rice by the roadside and used the money I made to get good teachers to show me how to be a good hairstylist, I learned, and now I can call myself a professional one. Worked in Tuff's hair Salon before the disease.
I'm now in uniform ready to serve a hungry world even if I'm not exactly sure what the world hungers for. The bar-restaurant is in the central business district not far from the Malkoa market. At eight in the morning, some businessmen, I can tell by the way they walk in, having a late breakfast if alone or with others, planning for the next business meeting. Confident, smiling, open, friendly handshake. I'm not easily fooled by appearances. I can sense nervousness.
I go to a table where a couple of business types are sitting. "A leopard is chasing us, and you are asking if it is male or female?" I overhear one of them say in my native African dialectic. Ga. The two men are thin, and they remind of gazelles for some reason. Leopards chase gazelles. I greet them and ask what they would like to eat or drink. They order Hausa Koko and Choose (spicy corn or millet porridge).
I went back to the order counter and gave Boba more of a short-order cook in the morning. He takes some hours off in the afternoon. He then works again in the evening. He regales the diners with his unique contribution, combining Vietnamese and Ghanian tastes. A tall order. Boba had been a travelling man in his late teens and early twenties before he had done his duty for the species and had spent some time in Vietnam. An African, he had been a bit of a local sensation. All of Africa to all of Vietnam. Even complete strangers could come up and touch him to make sure he was real. He had a sense of humour about it, though. "All part of education. Knowledge is a garden. If it isn't cultivated, you can't harvest it," he said to me once as he was flipping some meat in the air, catching it, spicing it rapidly, and mixing up some salad. "To harvest anything," he added, "you have to get your hands dirty."
“Yeah," I replied and went to pick the completed order of Hausa Koko and Choose upfront. Harmony in the kitchen, better food make. G food, better sex – an old Chinese saying I read in a Chinese fortune cookie once. Food is fundamental to all animals. We, humans, make a big deal out of it.
The two gentlemen politely accepted their meal and tucked in. I could tell they enjoyed it, relishing every delicious morsel. They called me over to pay for it, and I took a credit card one of them gave me and tapped it against the machine, bringing back the receipt.
They said some things hurried, and one I could tell was reprimanding the other. At last, one of them, the man with the credit card, turned to me and said, "Young lady, I'm going to give you a tip. He who loves money must labour. By labour comes wealth. Poverty is slavery. My friend here, he thinks you might have tricked us, somehow.
My face flushed with anger.
“I don't believe him. To me, you look like a hard-working young woman with a future. If you ever want to get into the gold business, you look me up." Here's my card."
“Thanks, I said, still angry but politely.
They got up and left without tipping! That made me angrier, and I stuffed the card in my costume's tight-fitting pocket.
It was a long day, and the best thing about it was that it was over. I was walking home and saw that nice young man with his strong face and body sitting on a stool right beneath the statue of Ghana's great King. The young man was doing horrible things to good serviceable clothes; he was tearing, ripping, and stitching it back. Some people think it is so fashionable! The earlier incident of someone thinking I was a thief and now this! My temper boiled over, and my feelings got the better of me.
My limbs almost twitched with rage, just wanting to say what I wanted to say and not caring if I 'hurt his feelings.' I came right up to him and practically spat out in his face, "Why don't you make new clothes out of the old instead of turning the new into the old? You're very skilled." My voice was loud but still polite. Always be a lady, my mother told me.
He was startled and stopped.
"Because it's stylish, that's what people want."
"My mother always told me that you don't follow styles or fashion, but true beauty and love."
"Your mother didn't have to make a living."
"How dare you say that! She was a hard-working seamstress!"
The young man was convinced by the flashing fires in my eyes. I pointed up to the statue of
"You know he watches over all us Ghanaians, the spirit of the great king."
"Yeah," he replied not convinced.
"Yeah!" He was a great man, a great king. He cared for his people."
"We live in a democracy now, no kings or queens today. We rule ourselves. Have our Independence," he replied, pointing to the white arch of Independence Square built-in 1961.
"We don't rule ourselves if we're not ruled by the love for truth," I replied. "No matter how many arches we built in a million, billion Independence squares. We would still be slaves."
"Then who rules us?"
"I don't know; something that wants to dictate to us."
"You mean money. Are you crazy? You don't like money. I don't like it either, but I need it."
"I'm not saying, don't use money. Use it, don't let it use you. Make things beautiful, don't make things ugly."
"Sure," he said, and I was pleasantly surprised by his thoughtful tone as if I had wounded him. He wasn't a typical man of our culture, that's for sure.
"Alright, sister, you talking that way. I'll tell you this. I would start a shop if I had a bit of money, even one here in Malkoa Market. I would look around for discarded clothing, shirts, jeans, whatever that people throw away. Then I'd wash and fix them up so colourfully that people will want to wear them proudly and call it New Ghana Freedom Fashion; how's that!"
"NGFF," I smiled. "Have to work on those initials. That sounds good, real good, and I'll tell you something. Right now, I'm a waitress, my day job. Really, I'm a hairstylist and wig maker."
"Where did you learn to do that?"
"I worked off my ass selling fruit on the road after senior high school after my father died. All this litigation between my relatives and my father's first wife. I paid some lady to teach me to be a stylist and wig maker with that money. I'm a good one."
"I'll tell you what, sister, you can sell your wigs at my shop along with my clothes. I'll buy you some hair, and you can go to work. "Oh, my name is Mofeoluwa Cogar. I'm Nigerian, and my name means, "I love God".
I smiled mischievously and replied, "Who wouldn't love God? What's not to love?"
He smiled back, his teeth bright and pearly. "True enough." Then returning to the business at hand, said, "Do we have a deal or don't we, NGFF and wigs?"
"Deal," I said emphatically. He had impressed me with his thoughtful way of speaking to me. I told him my name, and we knocked elbows, not shaking hands in COVID-19 times.
Speaking of business, I thought, and I reached for that card from that businessman I had received in the morning.
"Here," I said, giving it to the young man, handing him the card.
"What's this?" he said, looking at it, examining it with great care. It was as if he wasn't handling paper but some mysterious, delicate fabric with which to make some superb costume. " “Something's written here."
"Really," I replied, "read it, please." So angry earlier, I hadn't noticed anything about the card those mean no-tippers had given me instead of a tip.
Mofeoluwa read it, "What is little for one person may be a great deal to another. Hey, there's something yellow on it. You know anything about that?"
"No, why don't you check it out?"
"Maybe it's gold dust or something. You want some of the money if it is?"
"We just made a deal."
"Supposing it's nothing but mustard that got on it?"
"Then, it's nothing. Put the mustard on a hot dog."
"Supposing it is something, and I say it is nothing?" he said, troubled as he now faced to face with a black-necked spitting cobra. Was that me?
"Then you would only be lying to and hurting yourself, as my mother said. You would lose the friendship of a good woman and a good stylist and wig-maker. Remember, you can't buy friendship or love. Don't be a slave to money. Enough Ghanians were slaves in the past."
Stung by my words, he hung his head. We were silent for a moment. He couldn't look up at me.
"I gotta go home," I said, "and make some supper for myself," and left him holding the card, his head down.
I was holding my heart in hand just a bit. Who knows what that yellow substance was on the card? You know who you love, but you can't know who loves you, I thought. Love is the real gold. I'm a slave of love, I thought and laughed to myself.
I had a dream that night, or maybe that young man and I had one? Was it a shared dream or two separate dreams merged into one? I don't know because it felt natural, whether reality is a true dream or your dream is your reality.
This is how it began. In the marketplace: Me and two other people: that young man who turned suitable usable clothing into rags and was considering mending his ways (pun intended)! King Tackie Tawiah I, the person, is no longer the statue. Maybe, in dreams, sculptures live again. The third person was that old woman fortune teller playing her flute. The young man was sleeping with these two characters, the King and the fortune teller standing over him, sleeping away quite peaceably by the looks at it. However, now and again, I could see his face twitching as if something was on his mind.
I could also see the stars far, far above in this vision. They were shining and whispering things. “Our destiny is written in the stars, my mother often said to me, “but you have to know how to read them. What was on the young man’s mind? If only I could read that.
My father was a quiet man. He spoke to the wood where he was working or his carving tools, rules, and hammers than he did to my mother or me. But he was a hard-working solid person whose presence breathed security and peace. He had inherited a house from a rich aunt and had a depth of soul that sustained him through hard times.
As for the young man, if I were speaking to him now, what would I say? "I wish someday I'll give you a kiss on the forehead and say goodnight to you. And then you'll take me in your arms and then I'll close my eyes." OMG!
The wise old King and the flute-playing fortune-teller were standing over him, and the King was saying accompanied by the music.
"Enter my son into your inner kingdom. The King and the subject are one because both are ruled by love and respect for each other. They are one and the same person. Transmute your fear into love. Close your eyes, and listen with your heart open to yourself. I will help you rediscover the wholeness of your soul out of the pockets of your fear raising your frequency so that you hum and sing in tune with universal melodies and harmonies."
The old woman fortune-teller was playing her flute, telling my young man's, I mean the young man's future, and who was not all that young and should be ready to marry and support a wife and a child. I suppose that she was telling his fortune musically. An odd way of fortune-telling, I must admit, but why not? Who knows your fortune and how it is to be said?
That was the dream, and I was excited by its weird truth. The dream itself was like a melody, some tune that I sang even after getting up.
January 7, 2022
6.00 am. Another 10-hour long workday. My first day on the job was certainly enjoyable. What would today bring? Doing my usual morning routine, I walked with more spring in my steps than usual. Nearing Malkoa market and already imagining the place's sounds and smells almost reaching out to me, embracing me with their sheer liveliness. Life, Adam and Eve in the Garden. What did our ancestors do with themselves all day? We all know what they did after they were expelled. In the garden, did they spend their time looking wild-eyed at all the marvellous trees that they could eat from except for two, the trees of knowledge and of life? I suspect they were or are two big branches from one big root. Not that I'm a preacher or anything, I waitress for a living and want to have my own place to be a hairstylist and wig maker. Is that so much to ask? But knowledge is a garden, and gardening is work. Ready to roll up my sleeves and sink my fingers in the rich, fertile soil of Mother Africa,
Finally, I come to the market and see my young man. Still, some distance off, he sensed my presence and looking up from a heap of old clothing, he waved his hand excitedly and smiled. It was a wonderful, beautiful smile welcoming me into a new world. Necessarily, it would have to be built out of the old one. No shortcuts exist to the top of a palm tree.