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.
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.
There is a quote that I think I ever saw, paraphrased says “if the only contribution you will make is to tell who belongs and who doesn’t, you may well be part of the problem”. I probably made that up because I have been searching the internet for the quote. Can’t find it. This phrase has popped up several times in my head since I had a conversation with a friend who is persistent in his claims that the issue with Ghana is the church. In his opinion: Ghanaian Christians are to blame for the current state of the nation. I find it challenging in such arguments to present an objective opinion as I am Christian and have benefitted immensely in my personal growth and career from the church.
In our conversation, my friend claimed that if churches were for the good of the nation, why did they not offer their services for free and why did they charge fees for the education or health care of Ghanaians. My counterarguments were that the church needed money to run these institutions, pay teachers and health workers, procure state-of-the-art equipment, etc. My friend’s opinion was that if the church could not run these as free public services financed by the offertory raised during services, then churches should close down. We had to end our conversation because apparently, we both had taken our stands on the subject matter. As he could not convince me otherwise, and I could not convince him otherwise. We ended with each other respecting our opinions and forging on in the thoughts that best served us.
Later, pondering over the arguments, my mind settled on the Akan adage: which paraphrased says “when you point one finger at others, remember the rest are pointing back at you”. It is a very easy thing to point a finger at others. An easy thing to blame others, to quickly identify the misfits and non-conforming in society. I think the part we remain blindsided to is that the other three or four fingers point back at us. Another Akan adage says, “it is only the mislead who says they are referring to others but not me”.
I return to the quote I started with, in the context of the conversation with my friend, and ask why is it so necessary for us to find scapegoats? Why is it so necessary for us to segregate? Why is it important to invest so much time and effort in justifying others as the problem? A wise person once told me “your criticisms are a reflection of yourself“. The things you are quick to identify on others are only a reflection of yourself, and often have nothing to do with those persons.
Some time ago, in a country or in many countries, leaders, groups, people, arose and said this and this particular groups of persons because of this and that are the reasons we are having hard times in this country. So, the solution for those people at that time was to get rid of them. Get rid of the institutions, get rid of the persons, like how we do with pests. Unfortunately, these strategies have been repeated time and time over again. The identification of fault in persons and groups situates the person doing the identification as faultless. Without blame. I call it “blame and sleep”. Blame others and go to bed. Let them fix themselves and all will be good. Because I am good to go. There is indeed a lot of work in getting ourselves in order. No matter how much a pig bathes and polishes up, it has no right to call its parents dirty. Because it was in this dirt it was nurtured, in the dirt that it became who it was, all-knowing, powerful, and sparkly.
There is great courage in accepting oneself as part of the problem because it is only in that step, we find out how we can be part of the solution. It takes a lot of humility to accept to be the cause of a situation even when you are.
On a run, there are many things that cross my mind. My mind cautions me to take many aspects of my life seriously, especially my writing. I get many interesting ideas when on a run. Most of my ideas for literary pieces came during a run. However, much fail to show up on a white background in black fonts or on any background or in any fonts at all.
Today, my thoughts questioned the definition of intelligence, who is deemed to be and who not? Who defines what intelligence is and on what premise is this built?
As a black woman in a predominantly white biased field of academic research and living in Germany, I am still learning what intelligence means. I say I am learning because I think intelligence is subjective. In academia, I think, the whole principle is to prove who is the most intelligent. Whose ideas are priceless, and who is a genius?
The question again is who decides? I think the environment decides, the institution, wealth, the nation, all those factors are contributors to deciding who gets heralded as intelligent or not.
Let me go back into history to make this more practical and easier to explain. When whites invaded Africa, in their reports back to their supervisors and country people. They claimed to have met savages, untamed, unintelligent species, which in a way was “objective” because the definition of what was acceptable, human, and intelligent was theirs and not the Africans.
I am not even going to talk about modern-day slighting of the intelligence of persons of colour. That will be for another day if ever. A recent conference I attended had over 70% of the keynote speakers from Europe but mostly from the US. I asked myself if these were the only ones who could speak to the subject or were they the ones we wanted to speak to the subject? Was there none from other continents who could speak to the subject or present other perspectives as well? What would such a conference look like?
Intelligence is subjective. I think what counts are: knowing what you know, validating your thoughts as solid and equally contributory to the needed change in the world regardless of how financially sound your institution is or which school you attended. Because at the end of the day, even a Nobel Prize does not guarantee a stamp of intelligence as much as what you perceive of your ideas and thought processes.
The Fire Next Time [Wikipedia Link] was my first book by James Baldwin. It is kinda sad that I discovered him this late. But I am happy I eventually did and The Fire Next Time was my first.
It was also my last book for 2020.
It blew my mind in many ways with its wisdom and insights into black Christian [religious] movements and race in the US.
Here are some quotes I treasure:
Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him. This is one of the reasons that he became so holy.
You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.
Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
What others did was their responsibility, for which they would answer when the judgment trumpet sounded. But what I did was my responsibility, and I would have to answer, too
One cannot argue with anyone’s experience or decision or belief.
How can one, however, dream of power in any other terms than in the symbols of power?
If one is permitted to treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them to endure, and, since the entire race has been mysteriously indicted, no reason not to attempt to destroy it root and branch.
Whoever debases others is debasing himself.
White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want.
Maybe this comes as a surprise, but one thing I looked forward to moving to Germany as a student was the chance to odd job. Apart from it being a thing of satisfying curiosity, I needed the money especially when the seven thousand euros begins to run out. I was privileged to get the job connection through a neighbour of Barbara, my first German friend. Finding one had been tough particularly in the first months when my German was little to nothing. I recall a telephone convo to a packaging company and the shrill feminine voice at the other end explaining how they reserved employment for persons with fluent German skills on a job that required no verbal abilities. ☹
I did not become a housekeeper instantly either, I had an interview (in my broken German) and received confirmation later. I worked in one of German’s top hotel chains but officially employed by a hospitality agency. I did receive hotel employee benefits like lunch, joining in employee events and sorts.
I was on that job for a little over a year. I dare say, this job has been like no other. For one, it has been the only job that required my physical investment to a 100 percent. Though I did learn a lot about how the hotel industry works, I gathered some life tips on this job. I share below of these, four things I learnt on this job.
Did you know it is possible to clean a room in 15 minutes? Yes, you saw that right, in 15 minutes, to the standard required! So, until I went through this process of training as a housekeeper, cleaning was a thing I reveled in. There would be music playing, dancing, etc. basically cleaning at home, could take a chunk of my Saturday mornings. However, working as a housekeeper, I marveled at how fast cleaning tasks could be done and the little time it took to do them. Cleaning a room for new occupancy (check-in) with a single bed can take 15 minutes (some experienced housekeepers do this in less) with training. This means laying the bed with new sheets, cleaning the bathtub (or shower), wash sink, & toilet, wiping surfaces & floors, throwing rubbish out, airing the room and vacuuming. All that in 15 minutes. Can you imagine that? I couldn’t in my first days. So, the trick, I learned, was to be mindful. To be present in and on the tasks at hand. Get in there, do what you need to do, get out. No time for mind wandering. Time is essential on this job. Concentrate on the task at hand, get it done, think later, or you might take too much time on tasks and even forget to clean something.
2. The value of time
As I said time is a key essential on this job. I learned to appreciate time better on this job. Each keeper receives a varied allocation of rooms per workday dependent on season, experience, check-ins, room-type, etc. So, when I get 15 rooms, I may have 7 check-ins which means I would have to lay 7 to 14 new beds and clean the room as if it had never been occupied. If the 8 rooms were stay-ins, I would lay the beds (change sheets if dirty) and clean the room. I would generally have 6-8 hours to get this done. Since check-ins are the priority (get paid more), I needed to apportion the needed minutes for a room, get them cleaned before check-in time which was 2 pm. Respect, in this job, was gained by getting rooms done quickly, in time, and to the satisfaction of the supervisor (quality control). I checked the time each time I entered a room finding the difference in the time I spent and learning to recover from rooms that took much time.
3. Are Gyms not overrated?
Being a housekeeper takes a toll on literally every part of the body. You need strong arms to lay beds to standards, bend multiple times, squat to check under beds, back and shoulders to push those trolleys, run in and out of rooms. There is so much movement and you are literally standing for most parts of the working day. This job made me lose weight without a gym subscription. In the beginning, all I did after work was sleep. After a month or two, I felt stronger with lesser fatigue. Though the cleaning chemicals were a minus, the work was a sure test of my physique. It is a job requiring a lot of physical exertion and did help me unwilling to get my physical body stronger.
4. Empathy and Respect
I wish this had been something I learned before this job. This position gave me a hands-on insight into housekeeping. It is a challenging job mostly done by women, migrants, and persons with low societal status. The experience left me with respect and awe for housekeepers. They literally are the backbones of the hotel industry but as always never get the due recognition, never seen, never heard. It is hypocritical that I say I realised this after being a housekeeper because there is no need to walk in someone’s shoes to be empathetic to their situation. We can be kind, respectful, and empathetic when we choose to.
So, the next time you are in a hotel, kindly remember, yes, you paid for the room and have earned the right to let your pets sleep in the bed or throw toilet roll all over the room. But also remember that the more time a housekeeper spends in cleaning your room, the less money they make. What stays with most housekeepers are the acts of kindness, tips yes of course! And the people who lay their beds, clean after themselves, there are people who even leave written notes of gratitude with smileys. Yes, those are some of the acts you never forget when you have a day with 24 rooms to clean. I will also never forget my colleagues, some of who have had only this job their entire lives and will till they retire. They were some of the kindest-hearted women I ever met. They helped me a lot in the first months. They did show me a lot of kindness which warms my heart when I think of them.
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