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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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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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Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

On this day as most people remember fathers, I seek out time to write something about you and to you.

I strongly believe you will read this. Now that you are no longer limited by your body.

Not that today is the only day I have thought of you. That would be impossible.

I carry you in every breath of me. I literally look at you when I look at myself.

This letter wants to find out how you are doing. I am sure the limitations of the body with its sicknesses and pain cannot find you anymore where you are.

This letter is also a way of me finding some form of contact with you.

You and I were not always the best of friends.

Truth be told we were never friends.

You were my father and I your daughter.

You did what you believed was right for me and for society.

You had your own way of loving me and I my own expectations of love from you.

I broke your heart several times and yours mine.

Looking back, I question my inability to relent and accept you wholly as you loved. To accept your ways of loving. And to accept the fact that it was how you knew best to love.

Everything I am comes back to you.

All the skills and values you instilled in me from day one  till you left I use each passing day.

The distance between us had taught me how much I am just like you and how much I loved you.

It had taught me to love you more and learn that love means accepting you for all you were and are to me.

I wonder in moments when I am by myself how different things would have been if you were here.

What advice you would give me and how you would prefer me to live at the moment.

I have lost your fatherly protection and humour.

But your sarcasm, your resilience, your fighting spirit and zeal for learning thrives in me.

I love you dad. Take care and hope to see you when I cross over to your side.

Your daughter

Nana Kesewaa

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Why I love morning runs

Why not right? Mornings are cool. The birds are singing. Most of the people I meet on the run, are happy, sharing morning compliments. The sun is shining on my face. The cool breeze cooling off the warmness of my forehead. Morning runs are cool. It allows myself and my thoughts engage in conversation. And a place or state where I get ideas for just about anything.

I started running about a decade ago, in Accra. It was a challenge! I remember Sena coming for me from his house at dawn. He did, well not literally, push me out of the comfort zone (of my bed). For someone who had offered to help, I felt he was enthusiastic, more enthusiastic than I. He was patient. A trait which has made him a great personal trainer.  After those episodes and on my own, running still did not come naturally to me. I went running when I felt like. Once a month or twice a week. And each time it was tough, pushing myself to finish what I started.

In Weimar, I would run as the weather dictated, only during the warmer seasons.  My first 5k was in Weimar. If I ever did a 5k in Accra I would not know as I never used Apps to monitor my distance or speed. Speed and distance were not the goal. Using Apps like Runkeeper helped my pace and how further I run. The furthest I have run was 22km in April 2020. It took me 2 hours 40 minutes and 57 seconds. I was really proud of myself for that feat. It made me ask myself what else could my body do if I pushed it? I am looking to run a marathon someday, probably on my own or in a group. That is a cool goal. I can tell everyone proudly I have ever run a marathon. You know what a much cooler goal would be? To get running to be a natural thing to me. As natural as eating and sleeping.

So why do I love morning runs? Not only because they are cool but also each time, I leave the house in the morning for a run, it is a form of recognition, self-respect, and self-honor to my set goals. It is an act that says I did not just set those goals or daydream them, but I am putting in the effort to be that vision I desire. I do this also because I am not your average running girl. I am black, weigh about 90 kg and about 5.11 feet tall. Furthermore, I’ve never seen anyone like me out on a run in Ghana nor Germany. So I rep and protect my uniqueness on those tracks. I’ve over the years learned a lot about myself running. Most importantly that running is not just physical exercise, it is a mind battle. Even today, each time I step out for a run I engage in a battle. But guess what I get better at winning this battle each time.

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40 days to 36 : Three things I have learned.

At a very earlier point in my life, I assumed there was a life stage where one came into full knowledge of who they were and what they were to do on earth. I thought as the child I was. I have come to discover in the later days of my life how finite but infinite life is. I have come to learn that there is nothing like the approved way of walking this life journey and there is always something new to discover each day if I let myself. As I forge toward 36, I am amazed at how the last five years have been the most transformative years of my life and then again amazed to learn that I still have many years of learning and transformation before me. I am almost 36, just about 40 days more. It has all happened so fast like a blink and then again taken so much time. My gratitude goes to God Almighty for the blessings of health, wealth and love I have enjoyed till date. If I were given the chance to share three things, I have learned living life, especially in the past decade, it would be the following:

Do not judge others: During my first visit to Germany in 2013 to my uncle, I remember commenting several times on my cousins’ non fluency in Twi. I found it astonishing that their parents had been unable to pass on this heritage to their children. Today, while braiding my hair, my first meeting with Mina, my hairstylist, flashed through my mind. She has three teen-boys. All born in Germany who speak little Twi. During our first meeting, though I was a younger mother, I recall giving her (unwarranted) advice on how she could raise her children to speak Twi. As I write this, I shake my head at my ignorance. Why was it so important to me then to comment on how others raised their children and what and what they passed on to their children? And what makes this even more ludicrous is that I am also raising a child in the same environment unable to implement this advice or critique I gave others. Unless you stand and share the same situation with someone, it’s best to keep quiet. And if you did really share the same load, you would probably not be critiquing. Because often the judgments we pass on others come poking back at us, asking us to walk that path too.

Mind my business: Minding my business has brought me a lot of peace over the past year. Though it is still something I am learning to do. I mind my business. Focus on me and all that I am and have to be, and avoid making a fuss about what other people are doing or how they live their lives. Minding my business also means not yielding to the pressures of society to be someone or meet an expectation. If I say I have achieved this in its entirety, it would be a blatant lie. But my vision is to walk this journey immune to the pressures or trying to live like others and being appreciative of what I have.

Loving myself is not as easy as I thought: Each day,  I learn something new about myself. However, in the past years, I have learnt to be kinder to myself and to learn to accept myself but work on improving myself. To believe in me, to believe in my ideas, to accept my mistakes and to seek to be better. I tend to push pressure on myself, which I may have acquired in my early years due to the desire to be of the top three, five or ten in class.

I am getting there to this person, the better version of me, each day. It is truly humbling and scary to know that a greater person that the one I met today when I looked in the mirror is still hidden inside me. I yearn earnestly to meet that person soon.

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