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Sunday, November 13, 2011

It is because I'm black...

I never thought I would say this! (

When I envisioned coming to Ghana, I thought there would be a band of drummers and trumpeters playing jams in my honor. I envisioned dancers grooving to a cool "Akwaaba" hit...
Well, I really didn't think this would happen but in all, I did think that Ghanaians would be impressed and excited to have me "back" to serve the beloved country. Okay, maybe I did wish for a band... I digress.

Though the lack of a colorful band, I have been received very well. People I meet are excited to know that I am Ghanaian and interested in why I have come to teach. They are eager to throw some Twi my way once they realize that I can't speak it fluently. I think it's my charm that keeps them interested. Otherwise, I would just blend into the crowd of Ghanaians, possibly mistaken for a university student and not a foreigner. My fear of too much attention has been quickly thwarted because of one person....

My roommate: meet Andy. As in, Yaa Asantewaa Andy.

She is a PCV (Peace Corp Volunteer) and she teaches ICT on campus. If I did not have Andy here, I would die of boredom and loneliness. We share a great passion for puzzles, FanIce, and talking about annoying colleagues on campus. It's a great pleasure to room with her and experience Ghana together. In a sense, I needed her here with me. I needed the companionship and learning buddy.

Andy gets all the attention here. You know, the kind where Ghanaians stare longingly and at times, gape without abandon. The kids cry, "Obroni, Obroni*"; the adults, "Akosua, Akosua*!"  I don't even get a second glance. The kids marvel at the white person in town and the black girl walking next to her is... either just a black girl (Black American) or her Ghanaian escort.

It's kind of cool to be both:)

I have to muffle my laughs and at times, my grimaces, when they call me "Obibini-Broni**" or "Akata**".

Andy gets such special interest and attention from Ghanaians here that I am beginning to think that Ghanaians just have a thing for foreigners, but especially the white ones. Andy and I went out to town to buy some foodstuffs, the marketwomen immediately began calling out to her and bargaining. They would say something in Twi a little too fast and Andy will look at me with questioning eyes. I, in turn will have to translate... Funny thing is that I have to think fast because I'm kind of learning the language too! That's what I mean when I say my Twi seems to be coming from nowhere. It's interesting (another phrase Ghanaians overuse).

My neighbor's kids used to come over a lot to say hi and chit chat. They will sit down with me and I would give them juice and cookies and encourage conversation. It would be very difficult to get these kids to talk to me, they just seemed interested in the food. Anyway, of late, they have stopped coming by to see me... they come to see Andy. They will sit for hours with Andy and color in books and chat. They would talk to Andy. And at times, they would leave thank you notes for her, thanking her for the snacks and free time.


After all the juice boxes and cookies I have shared with them? Not even one thank you!??!!

After a quick moment, I only realized that I don't get such praise because... I'm black. No party here!

Go freaking figure.

This is by no means to rant against Andy or white people, it's more or less one of my Mabel moments where I write in the way I speak when I'm surprised at something. Imagine reading this in a voice that peaks the more excited I get. Overall, I'm okay with blending in. It's probably better for me.

*"Obroni": white man/foreigner in Twi; I think it literally translates like such: "abro" means corn. "Nii" means person" in Twi. Ama Ata Aidoo mentioned in one of her books that the term, "Obroni" translates to "a person with corn-silk hair"....
"Akosua" you should know from previous posts-- girl born on Sunday. A white person will be referred to as Akosua or Kwesi because whites are said to have brought Christianity, hence the Sunday reference. You're loving this history stuff.... me too.

**You already know what Obroni means. "Obibini" means African. Akata.... a reference term for African-American. I don't know the contextual history. Anyone?


Amy T. said...

1. I am very happy that you have a roommate with whom you can relate since you are both experiencing Ghana as volunteers. Boredom and loneliness are, unfortunately, gigantic parts of my experience thus far in Ghana. I cannot lie. I am very jealous of your situation.

2. I love the voice of your writing. I can clearly envision you saying the things you write. Nice!

Ama Kyei said...

Thanks for always keeping up with my blog!
Hey Amy, don't jealous me ooooo! Make the most of it in any way possible. Just don't get sick:)
And I am still trying to work on the voice for this blog, thanks for the compliment! It makes me feel better that some people like it when I'm myself on this blog.. Writing to the public is still kind of weird to me:)

eve said...

My mouth is agape .. probably because of my seemingly false notion of Africans as super culturally-conscious, historically-conscious beings who regularly violate human nature by elevating what's familiar over what's unique!

Well-written piece :)

Ama Kyei said...

@ eve- thanks! But in many ways Africans are super culturally/historically conscious beings. (I have some posts on that coming up!) In regards to how they feel about foreigners, it just seems that they would rather grovel at the feet of a white person to impress them and to show exaggerated appreciation, than to regard their own at times. I think Ghanaians just find the concept of African-American to be puzzling. It's like they don't know how to figure them out.

eve said...

Wait a sec Mabel ... considering history, why do you think some would consider the fact of African Americans puzzling? (I'm asking you to speak for others, I know!) They know for sure what happened between the 15th and 19th centuries :)

Maybe it's that they knew millions were taken "over there" but don't come across the "over there" people very often?

eve said...

Or maybe since America is still 70% White they somehow see America as equivalent to whiteness instead of realizing there are are 70 million people here who aren't White?

James Bash said...

@ Eve,
I believe it's also due to the fact that they live in a continent of "black people", and as soon as a foreigner comes into their midst (in this case, a white lady), they tend to react with a great astonishment. I grew up in West Africa as well, and as a kid, nothing surprised and excited my siblings and I more than to have a White person come into our house.
I have done some travelling for work, and last year I was in Tajikistan. I can comfortably say I was probably the only black person in the country, and all the people had the same reaction seeing me. I mean, they literally brought their cars to a screeching halt upon actully seeing a black person roaming their streets, or run from a distance to take a picture of me with their kids. I couldn't help but compare it to our reaction of seeing a White person, in some random part of our country.

Ama Kyei said...

@eve- Exactly. I think Ghanaians (again, I am speaking for the majority here) best associate America = white. They have trouble imagining that America is comprised of many nationalities and people with different backgrounds. For example, my roommate Andy likes to point out to people here that she part German and Italian (correct me if I am wrong Andy!). You should see Ghanaians reactions: "What? What do you mean? You're not American?" lol. Their whole world is shook at the thought of being more than American... lol
I know Ghanaians are aware of the slave trade and so forth but I think they have difficulty with making making the connection that Black Americans are and have always been ancestrally African. I don't even think Ghanaians can begin to wrap their minds around the growing populations that is Hispanic, Asian, etc.. in America.
What I have come to see is that the prestige of a foreigner is honored to the white foreigner above all others. And I believe it is because white people stand out so much in this society. To be black and from abroad is possibly of not much interest because, in essence, they are probably thinking, "You look just like me. You just got lucky."
I hope this doesn't deter any desire to visit Ghana or Africa! This is really just a personal blog for me to site my insight and experience whilst here. I know with time my feelings about certain things will change as I continue with my stay and pursue for understanding.
@ James, you beat me to eve's response but thanks for the input! How did you gauge the attention? Did it make you uncomfortable or did you just go with the flow?

eve said...

Thanks, James. And Mabel, don't worry, I certainly still do want to visit the Motherland (as I told you when we ate lunch at Southside a few months ago) ... I haven't been there since about 1774 :)

Ama Kyei said...

@eve: your return is long overdue. Come home please.:)

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