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How I came here

With two bags, two suitcases of clothes to be precise. 

They were overweight. Re-arranged at the airport. 

The lucky making it across the sea with me. 

Years of clothes, clothes that held memories I didn’t want to let go. 

Why so many clothes? You may ask. 

Have you been to those retail shops? 

A blouse costs 30 euros, 30 euros! 

Clothes are expensive. 

The last thing I want is my money running out on shopping sprees. 

But they were primarily summer clothes. 

Yes, two bags full of clothes for the summer. 

To dwell in a country of four seasons. 

A country where the winters are coldie coldie coldie as my son describes coldness. 

What was I thinking? 

Was I prepared for this new life? Or refusing to face it truthfully? 

I didn’t even have a winter jacket. My confidence drowned in the summer semester, typed boldly on my admission letter. 

“Why is it so cold?” I asked the administrator at the international students’ office when I arrived to register as a student. 

“I thought it is summer” I added. 

If she did answer my strange and stupid question, I don’t remember what she said. 

Here I was, expecting an April to be summer. 

Yes, the same German April that does what it likes to be sunny and warm. 

Don’t marvel, but that was the superpower I had. 

Things turning around my way and being just as I wanted, even the weather. 

Funny, isn’t it? 

When I look back, I wonder, what was I thinking? 

Why didn’t I check the weather? 

Why didn’t I ask what to bring along? 

I’d been to Germany before. Even that June, Summer had been coldie. 

Was my self-inflicted decision to return home only when I had finished my two years of studies what I was running away from? 

Maybe that was why I had packed two suitcases of tee-shirts, blouses, dresses, loafers and sandals for 2 years of summer, winter, autumn, and spring hoping, just hoping that they may all be summer for me. 

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Just Mercy

Last year I read The Sun Does Shine, a true story about Anthony Ray Hinton. He was held in maximum prison precisely on death row for over 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit. That story did a lot to my spirit. I cried. I was angry. I was blown away by the injustice in the justice system, mostly because the story was non-fictional. It taught me the power of hope. It taught me the power of the mind. It pushed me to look out for and support the Equal Justice Initiative, www.eji.org.

Here are my thoughts on The Sun Does Shine.

Since 2020, I start my year with David Goggin’s Can’t Hurt Me and Joyce Meyer’s The Battlefield Of The Mind. In the first week of this year, I picked up Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson while book hunting. I had bookmarked it last year as a want-to- read, but not really ready to read about more injustice and heart-breaking true stories. Seeing the book in the bookshop made it seem it was time to face the truth.

So, I picked it up.

Maybe The Sun Does Shine did prepare me for Just Mercy, I only cried once 🙂 while reading Just Mercy. I just could not help it, I broke down in the part about children on death row. So, I refuse to use this post to rant about the jailing and killing of black adults and children. But it is hard to now know this truth about the systems made to kill hope, and destroy lives based on the errors of society. Some children’s destinies have already been determined by the law systems even before they reach their adulthood – poverty, jail, then death.

That is just dark. Makes me sad, but Bryan Stevenson’s work gives me hope. It makes me realize it is possible to overcome darkness.

So instead of totally ranting, I choose to join forces with the heroes like Bryan Stevenson in my little way with my little light to help bring light to the places where evil brings darkness.

It’s really unfair that the US spends so much money on everything around the world, but the lives of US citizens who could contribute to the US but most importantly also see their dreams come true. People being made to pay extremely for being poor, black, or sick. That is bad.

In the case of the Walter McMillan, the majority of Monroeville would rather see him dead than benefit from all that he was to their town. Why were they keen, and the systems easily manipulated to kill people.

Evil is evil can’t fight that, it is senseless. It looks forward to robbing, killing, and destroying lives.

This book has made me stick to accepting that things really can be defined as being light or darkness.

Doing nothing about the injustice means choosing darkness. A lesson I only recently learnt.

But no matter how much darkness proceeds, light will win the moment we step up.

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Reading The sun does shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

“This is not fiction”, “This is not fiction” were the words I kept repeating to myself while listening to and reading this book. Anthony Ray Hinton is a man who was wrongly accused of two counts of murder and sentenced to death row. I have been emotionally battled in the three days of reading this story. I could not hold back the tears, the anger, the laughter, the joy this book embodied. In a place where hope is not meant to be nurtured, how do you find and keep hope and hold on for thirty years. What was the motivation of the state of Alabama in keeping an innocent man in jail? The scary part of all this is that the person who committed the crimes went on carrying them. What was the point to be proven? I realise the 80s was a critical period for blacks in Alabama where if black people could not be openly oppressed then the “legal” ways of lynching were devised.

The sun does shine has taught me to reflect critically on and appreciate the power of the mind. It is possible to not allow your physical or visible circumstances to kill your soul. If Ray had given up, his story would have never been told. Never give up.

“Hope to keep on fighting, to keep on living, to believe that you can change, or your situation can change. Remember none of us are the worst thing we have done, and right now, wherever you are, whoever you are, you can reach out to your fellow man or woman and bring your own light to the dark places.”

“I want you to know that I’m fixing to go. I’m leaving here. It took me thirty years to get to this moment. It may take thirty-one years for you. It may take thirty-two or thirty-three or thirty-five years, but you need to hold on. You need to hold on to your hope. If you have hope, you have everything.”

I’ve never been one for the death row because I believe no one is beyond redemption. This book makes that also clear. I need to be more supportive of initiatives such as Equal Justice Initiative. I think there is no greater calling then Byran Stevenson’s work, but then again, why does he have to be doing such work. Why should the state not be doing everything in its power to ensure no (innocent) human being ends up on death row. Justice should not be a preserve of the rich. Perhacs was never motivated by Ray’s innocence. Money was his motivation. He wanted to cash out on Ray and even render his mother homeless.

“To be sure, the death sentence must never be carried out in a way that allows the innocent to die.”

“They said it was a waste of time. A stay was granted one day before my hearing, and the attorney general said in his brief that I should be blocked from establishing my innocence because it would “waste three days or two days of taxpayer money.”

I like that the book gives voice to Henry Hays and how (black) hate is passed on from generation to generation. This is very well visible today, and I wonder the benefits this hatred yields for such families. Imagine how much black people could contribute to the US if they were not prejudiced by systems driven by hate.

“McGregor passed away, and he wrote a book before he died. He mentions me in the book and says how evil I am. How clever a killer I was. How he knew just from looking at me that I was guilty. I forgive him. Someone taught him to be racist, just as someone taught Henry Hays.”

May we not give up in any situation we find ourselves, but also remember to stand up to those who believe they hold the keys to our lives. May our lives be filled with people like Lester and Bryan, and never give up hope like Ray.

“Life is a crazy, strange mix of tragedy and sorrow and triumph and joy.”

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Finding my woman

It is so, that there are a thousand and one instructions on how women are to live. What women are to do with their bodies. What she is to do with her toenails to the tip of her hair. From the external to the internal organs, there are laws, regulations, expectations, and advice on how she is to look, work, be paid, behave, speak, date, and breath. And these come from every angle. The radical feminists, the liberal feminists, the conservationists, religion, family, the list is countless. For they are provided on the premise of aiding the woman navigate life. There is always something she needs to do or is not doing. And that is the reason women tend to inherit blame or are awarded the blame when situations like child loss, divorce, job loss, childlessness etc. happen. The general belief is that she could have done A, B and C to counter these situations.

Well, with so many voices telling me what I am to do with my body, my voice, my hair, my mind, etc. in which breath do I find out what I want? What I want, what I want to be, what I want to look like, what makes me happy? Where is the space to nurture those thoughts and fulfil the person God created me to be? As much as society has expectations, mostly outrageous I dare say, it behoves on me as a human being to find out my desires for my life. Do I have expectations of myself? Do I want to work because society expects me to? Do I desire children because it is expected of me? How many children do I want to have? To what extent and levels can I pursue formalized education? What can I wear today? As I ask these questions, I realise there are provided responses from concerned parties.

“What is the essence of a woman who desires no children?”

“A woman should not desire for much in her future, she will be provided for by her husband.”

“A woman does not dress like that.”

And these are statements that have literally flown into my body through my ear.

If everyone and society has these expectations of me, at what point do I start to live out my expectations? That is, if I have asked and know what my desires are. Am I leaning only towards what society expects, concerned about what will happen if I do not conform?

What do I want?

Do I really want that?

Or am I pursuing that because it is what is expected of my kind?

Great! When what I desire aligns with the world’s expectations of me.

But what if my desires do not conform? Will I still pursue them?

Will I keep finding my woman, even when I know I will be challenged and despised?

Down here, there are no easy roads, but better to be on the road chosen.

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What afternoon runs taught me

I enjoy morning runs, I believed they were the ultimate until I went on an afternoon run. My running goal for this year is 600 km. Though I am 70% in and with a good chance to reach this goal, I decided mid-August to commit more to the goal and be consistent.

Respect is what I have for people I see on a jog or run on a hot, sun-burning day. Only respect. Why would someone go on a run when the weather is so hot when they could do morning runs? Hello?? However, last week, I had to go three times on afternoon runs since those were the only time slots for me to get a run in. It was an experience. It was different. And this is what I learnt.

Morning runs are easier. The weather is right. There are many doing the same, and so I was never alone.

Afternoon runs on those warm sunny 25 degrees plus days are not easy. The body gets heated up. There was so much dryness in my throat. My body was pushed beyond its comfort zone. I had to convince myself to keep going. And it was not what everyone was doing.

Though I was uncomfortable, I was amazed that my body pushed through. So, my body can do afternoon runs, can survive afternoon runs. An interesting discovery. And until I put myself in this place of discomfort. I never knew I could.

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Hate Underlined

About two decades ago, when I was in Junior High School, I had a classmate who consistently provoked me. In a conversation with Kizito, a classmate, I complained to him about this classmate of ours.

“I hate this annoying classmate of ours”.

Kizito’s face blew in surprise.

He was alarmed.

“Never say that again,” he replied with the seriousness of a headmistress.

I asked him why? Because that guy was annoying. For one, he had punched me in the stomach for no valid reason.

Kizito asked me if I knew the meaning of hate?

He said, “When you hate someone, it means that you want them dead, to not exist”.

I paused. Well, that did make me feel sorry for saying that. I could not stand the guy, but I did not want him to die. In my need to express my dislike, I guess it had been translated by the use of hate as my desire to see him die.

Hate. The seed we plant in us and nurture till it bears fruits. Only it is a plant that sinks its roots deep into us and poisons us.

Hate. It is what we choose and justify based on the way others are. Luckily, there is always a reason to choose it.

Hate. It is what we pass on to our children, in hints, conversations and our crossing to the other side of the street.

Hate. It is why we fall sick. It is the poison we bury our soul in, so our enemy may die.

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How to plan a funeral in 10 days

About seven years ago, I got an idea for a book. It is about two friends, women, very successful in their chosen fields. I started writing excerpts for the book and have been working on it for a while. It has metamorphosized into something that looks rather like a short story but has an unsatisfied writer sitting at the other end of it. Each year I ask myself what to do with this piece. I intend to finish it, but seriously do not know how to mend it all together into  something someone would enjoy reading.

The heading in itself sounds odd, how to plan a funeral in 10 days. In this story or book, I am supposed to give the reader ten steps into planning their own funeral. Yes, you read that right. This has nothing to do with future plans to save your family from giving you a non-warranted and non-appreciated funeral. The story is about faking your death so you can have a life away from a demanding family and society. A society which keeps pressurizing you to do things you would rather not do while they in themselves contribute zero to your life.

Okay, before you begin to judge and say this is crazy, check this out. Last year while scouring the internet for inspiration for my story, I came across a very interesting news item related to my idea, which happened in real life in Nigeria. A 19-year-old girl faked her death to avoid financial pressure from her mother.  So, it did not turn out as she and her friends had planned, for they planned it poorly. The whole social media thing was a weak link in the equation. Now she lost her job and is seen someway bi by her family.

So, you get my point, there are many people living under the heavy pressure of performing to society’s expectations such that they would rather disappear into nothingness to avoid this pressure. But is this really a viable solution? Faking one’s death? Sacrificing all that is true to you and pronouncing yourself as dead, wishing death on yourself to gain peace. I don’t know. Not everyone is that strong, not everyone can do the “I don’t care” thing. Some people cannot say no to pressure and would rather crumble under the expectations. For some hiding is their refuge.

The thing is changing society and its expectations is possible, but hard work that takes time. And until then, what do we do? There are people living half of their lives because of financial pressure for people’s wants. People living in misery (some in jail, some dead) due to society’s expectations of marriage, children, or wealth. Anyway, until I figure out what I will do to this half-baked story, may we soon achieve mastery in staying focused and not allow society to wreck us into living only a quarter of our lives.

~ peace

~Nana Kesewaa Dankwa

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Why a good cookbook is just not enough

Instead of a college degree, according to an internet meme I recently saw, faith, a bible, and a good cookbook is all a woman needs. A bible can be purchased. Faith can be developed. Finding a good cookbook? That is the challenge of a lifetime. Okay, the internet meme is ridiculous because what a woman needs are what she decides she needs. A decision she requires no permission for or advice on. But this meme got me thinking. How much of my lifetime would it take to find an ultimate good cookbook? I define a good cookbook as one that caters to my dietary and cultural preferences as well as my values, and my unique sense of  creativity. Is this even a realistic expectation? Finding a good cookbook that encompasses all I have mentioned above will be a challenge.

I did not grow up with the culture of cookbooks. At home during cooking, I never saw a cookbook being referenced. My first experience with a form of cookbooks was in junior high school during the catering (vocational skills) course. These cookbooks were required textbooks and recipe compilations. My foundational cooking knowledge and skills were acquired from my mum, my sisters, and my cousins. Over the years, I have honed my skills with inspiration from friends, the internet, observing others and helping out in the kitchen. My first cooking experience at age 9 or 10 with the mission to cook waakye was a disaster. I learnt then that cooking was an avenue where one was to experiment, fail, and get better.

My first cookbook was a gift. A book on German cuisine in english. The second was also a gift. An American cookbook. The rest I bought or picked-up on the streets. Each cookbook I own is unique. I lean on them for new ideas and new knowledge. My favourite is a used book with the major German cake recipes. Baking is one of the skills I had little experience in until I moved to Europe. I love this book because it is simply structured and easy to learn from.

Indeed, cooking is an art. An art expressed by the uniqueness of its performance. Take my home and sisters as an example, though our cooking skills were nurtured by the same teacher(our mum), it is easy to guess who made what by the appearance, taste or even the clang of kitchen utensils. About a month ago, I video-called my cousin to teach me how to make kenkey. I could have called my mother, but I preferred my cousin because in my opinion, she highly carries the transferred knowledge and skills of preparing kenkey in our home. Over the many years we lived together she made kenkey on countless Saturday mornings. If I wanted tips for uncommon traditional dishes I would go to my mother. For tips on northern dishes like Tuo Zaafi I would go to my elder sister. I prefer these conversations, that impart the needed cooking knowledge and skills, to reading a book. So as one from a culture that heralds the transfer of knowledge in oral form and advances practice by doing, what are the chances of finding a cookbook that embodies these values?

Instead of a college degree, according to an internet meme I recently saw, faith, a bible, and a good cookbook is all a woman needs. A bible can be purchased. Faith can be developed. Finding a good cookbook? That is the challenge of a lifetime. Okay, the internet meme is ridiculous because what a woman needs are what she decides she needs. A decision she requires no permission for or advice on. But this meme got me thinking. How much of my lifetime would it take to find an ultimate good cookbook? I define a good cookbook as one that caters to my dietary and cultural preferences as well as my values, and my unique sense of  creativity. Is this even a realistic expectation? Finding a good cookbook that encompasses all I have mentioned above will be a challenge.

I did not grow up with the culture of cookbooks. At home during cooking, I never saw a cookbook being referenced. My first experience with a form of cookbooks was in junior high school during the catering (vocational skills) course. These cookbooks were required textbooks and recipe compilations. My foundational cooking knowledge and skills were acquired from my mum, my sisters, and my cousins. Over the years, I have honed my skills with inspiration from friends, the internet, observing others and helping out in the kitchen. My first cooking experience at age 9 or 10 with the mission to cook waakye was a disaster. I learnt then that cooking was an avenue where one was to experiment, fail, and get better.

My first cookbook was a gift. A book on German cuisine in english. The second was also a gift. An American cookbook. The rest I bought or picked-up on the streets. Each cookbook I own is unique. I lean on them for new ideas and new knowledge. My favourite is a used book with the major German cake recipes. Baking is one of the skills I had little experience in until I moved to Europe. I love this book because it is simply structured and easy to learn from.

Indeed, cooking is an art. An art expressed by the uniqueness of its performance. Take my home and sisters as an example, though our cooking skills were nurtured by the same teacher(our mum), it is easy to guess who made what by the appearance, taste or even the clang of kitchen utensils. About a month ago, I video-called my cousin to teach me how to make kenkey. I could have called my mother, but I preferred my cousin because in my opinion, she highly carries the transferred knowledge and skills of preparing kenkey in our home. Over the many years we lived together she made kenkey on countless Saturday mornings. If I wanted tips for uncommon traditional dishes I would go to my mother. For tips on northern dishes like Tuo Zaafi I would go to my elder sister. I prefer these conversations, that impart the needed cooking knowledge and skills, to reading a book. So as one from a culture that heralds the transfer of knowledge in oral form and advances practice by doing, what are the chances of finding a cookbook that embodies these values?

My aim here is not to share long notes on finding the (perfect) cookbook. I want to raise awareness to the skewed tone of that internet meme. Frankly, I will never find a cookbook that encompasses all I ever need. I can have many good cookbooks each fulfilling a purpose and have a favourite due to my preferences (which are often nurtured by the demands of the immediate environment). A book cannot incorporate the cultural relationships surrounding food creation nor embody the societal machineries of food. A cookbook is not even a thing in my culture. It is something that hardly comes up in any conversation. And so, woman in the context of this meme thankfully excludes me and my kind.

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The jar of dreams

Once I sat by my window watching the passers-by.

On the road, her presence made clear with each step the metallic shoes greeted the street with.

She had a brown bundle tied to her back.

Her brown copper hair, braided to her right side, refused to blend in with her colourful blue and green dress that flowed.

She was new, unlike the attention she attracted.

Her smile said she had been expecting this.

I abandoned my home and followed her.

I watched her take out all that her brown bundle beheld unto a mat on the floor of the town square.

There was a jar.

A transparent one that called for mine attention as well as the others too.

The jar filled with rolled papers.

She said it was made for the people who chose to dream. Each rolled coloured paper a dream.

Everyone went for the yellows.

I chose that too.

But it itched, the moment it grazed my hands.

I switched it to my pockets, and it poked.

I found it do no such thing with the others.

I asked her why and she said to change it.

I refused.

For it was what almost everyone had.

No one seemed to complain.

They were all so content, but me.

Then my roll began to fade and fall apart, for which I fixed.

I took it to the best, and they did their best.

I held on, and yet it seemed it was not mine to have.

It crumbled.

So, I asked her why?

She said, “you have a whole jar there, choose another”

She told me the dotted blue roll which none seemed to like could be mine if I chose it.

I listened.

The minute I touched the dotted blue roll, I knew it was mine.

It felt so soft and so at home in my palms.

It brought me to a smile no one could take away.

 

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On a Monday

Mondays are supposed to be the days when my soul supposedly has its day. This Monday and like other Mondays the world hated was different. For years, I had perfected the art of loving my Mondays. Writing out my week goals on a Sunday, going to bed as early as the doctor on duty on a Monday morning. The only difference was that I was not a doctor and could not be one. I barely made it through my biology class. I hoped I could have replaced it with something else. But the schools’ options for science students were limited. It was biology or nothing, not agriculture or economics. I remember sending a letter to my father to ask if I could change my course or maybe not register myself for biology in the final exams. The letter came back to me with a note at the top.

“Do not do anything of that sort”

So, I sat in those classes, unable to appreciate the point of being able to dissect cockroaches or frogs. Why did I have to subject myself to all that tissue and liquid for years to come? On this particular Monday, as I earlier told you, I had gone through my pre-Monday ritual, overcoming the heat wave the weekend had introduced to the week. I made it as early as possible to the office, early meaning the first to walk into the office space I shared with my teammate Abana. I was often the first to get in, for me, it meant, I had taken, somehow control of the day and not submitted myself to the curse of the Monday blues. My colleague, Abana who sat opposite me did not appear after an hour as his regularity had shown me. I took it that, probably, something had gone on at home. Abana had moved in recently with his new girlfriend and could not stop talking about how amazing the experience was, as well as how he wished he lived alone. I attributed it to that, a new attitude to rising up early when you no longer slept in bed alone.

As I leaned back into my desk, I noticed the blinking of the tiny blue light on his computer. It was on and in sleep mode. Surveying the room, I noticed that his blue leather jacket which I saw him leave in, on Friday, hang in the closet space we kept our jackets. That was strange. The weekend had been one of the warmest recorded in the past decade, thus if he had been here during the weekend, it was likely, he would leave his jacket behind. But he has not stepped into the office on a weekend for the past three months since his girlfriend arrived from the Netherlands to live with him. I stood up and surveyed the area he had built into his own office space. I found a pair of men’s leather shoes, nothing I had seen prior. But in the exact space he loved to put his shoes before slipping  into the office slippers, he kept in his desk drawer. I drew the chair back to allow some light into the space under the desk and be able to look closely at the shoes and maybe smell them. Abana and I had shared this office space for over five years and if there was anything I used to separate his things from mine it was the smell. I knew my smell and I knew his smell. The moment I touched the shoes I noticed I had stepped into something, thicker, stickier, it was blood. It was fresh. I let the shoe fall and rushed back, moving into the photocopy room to allow myself to breathe and calm down.

 

 

 

Inspired by the writing prompt:

What scares you a little? What do you feel when scared? How do you react?

 

Thanks to my writing partner – Neelashi for pushing me

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