To life!

Back in 2005, when I shipped a container, it involved me showing up at the harbor with the agent, navigating various fees and finally opening the container. Much to the dismay of inspectors, I didn’t even have a car in it. What was I thinking wasting all that money and space, just to make sure I could ship a bunk bed, a baby grand, and my precious books?

There was no money to extract from me. They asked my daughter to open her box of rock collections because they couldn’t believe she shipped little stones. They harrumphed and took off. (If you have space in your container, invite others to share space and cost!) When I shipped a car a year later, apparently bunched with other cars on ship’s deck and exposed to the elements, it was a much cheaper affair. The car arrived intact and was ultimately delivered to my house by my fabulous agent. (kiss, kiss, agent!)

The shippers don’t always tell you the following, so beware: when you arrive at airport customs in Accra, ask to fill out a PUBD form, Passenger Unaccompanied Baggage Declaration. Just because you’re flying while your container rocks on the sea is no reason not to fill the form at the airport. I forgot this time around. If I had gone back to the airport, within, say a matter of two weeks or so, it would have been okay. But I found out about the form after a month. It was a nightmare I’d rather you didn’t experience. Not only will you pay a penalty, you’ll be subjected to the most painful bureaucracy, traveling back and forth between a customs office outside the airport known as Aviance, and airport customs, then immigration, then back to Aviance, pay the penalty and finally get to fill out the blasted PUBD, all yellow and delicate like onion skin.

A new development (new to me, anyway) is the need for a tax identification number, for which you get to be a guest of the Registrar General’s building, a veritable zoo of buzzing, circling petitioners and overworked administrators. Might take a day or two of your time. Might I suggest you keep your Ghanaian passport updated if you have Ghanaian or dual citizenship? Gone are the days when officials bestowed benign smiles on you, saying, “Yes, you have an American passport but we know you’re a Ghanaian. We understand that sort of thing. Your name is Ghanaian, you speak Ghanaian and act Ghanaian. Welcome home, akwaaba!” These days, your Ghanaian-ness is not a given. After all, there are non-nationals who cheat the system and buy passports, so the government isn’t yielding.

If your passport has expired, arguing that you yourself have not expired won’t fly. It won’t earn you a national ID card nor a Ghanaian tax identification number that will save you from paying taxes on your old tv or craigslist couch you insisted on shipping. You will pay taxes on your fingernails, if possible. So, update your Ghanaian documents, okay? Now, it makes no difference if you’re shipping a car. Foreigners and Ghanaians pay the same taxes. Rather exorbitant. (Try to get your quotes or estimates before the following Tuesday, because every Tuesday, the rates change. Rates are pegged to the dollar, and curiously enough, they never go down. Pay quickly!)

Before I forget, insist on the ship giving you an original Bill of Lading so you can claim your belongings. Although Ghanaians tolerate e-tickets when it comes to airplanes, e-documents are still viewed with suspicion. Pay no mind to Mr./Ms. American shipper who blithely emails you an electronic copy from his or her iPhone. You’ll endure calls and admonishing from your Ghanaian agent who will urge you to call your shipper for a DHL delivery, or send a telex authorizing release from the ship upon indemnity of blah blah blah that will leave you weeping into your pillow. Especially when the USA shipper doesn’t understand what the fuss is and won’t even take your calls or respond to emails. Of course, all this is avoidable if you ship door to door. More expensive but probably worth the avoidance of a migraine and desperate phone calls to America, listening to someone say press 1 for this and 2 for that while your cedis or dollars tick away to the annoying music in the background.

Shipping door-to-door provides a hassle-free experience. You just send a container or boxes through a company/agent, and prepay duties, charges, etc. That way all you have to do is show up at the warehouse to pick up your belongings. Some will even deliver to your house. Now, isn’t that lovely! And when you do get your car and you’re cruising past the tro-tro minivans, you’ll admit it’s worth it!

Two rapes. A true story.

The graduation party was in full swing. Music thumped from a hi fi. The guests were dancing, arms raised high, bodies swinging from side to side. Mary had agreed to attend the party for two reasons: the graduate was her friend, and the party was hosted by a diplomat from the Gambian High Commission, a man she called Uncle John; a soft-spoken man whose niece was her best friend but had traveled. I went to the party because I loved to dance, and any chance to do that was all right by me.

Uncle John proved to be a generous host, making sure there was plenty of joloff rice, fried meats, and chicken. He sat to the side with a quiet smile, a glass of wine in his hand. The guests, mostly university students sipped beer and wine but no one was drunk. Mary didn’t drink alcohol, yet as the evening thrummed on, she felt tired. It was way past midnight and we had spent the day at the beach chasing waves.

She told me she wanted to sleep so I said, why not ask Uncle John for a place to lie down?

She did.

Uncle John gave his quiet smile from the round, almost baby face, and led the way to a bedroom. 

When Uncle John came out I asked him if Mary was okay and he said yes, she was resting. Then he went back to sitting with that quiet smile on his angelic face. After a while, I asked if I could join Mary and he pointed the way.

I found her rigid, cold and silent. I called out her name, shook and shook until her words fell like blocks of ice: Let’s. Get. Out. Of. Here.

We hailed a taxi and she huddled over, flinching when I touched her. Finally, hiding under a blanket, her tongue loosened for a second time.

His six-year-old daughter lay curled up on a smaller bed next to a larger one, fast asleep. Uncle John’s wife had taken the baby to Gambia to visit an ailing mother. Mary was grateful for a bed. He made sure she was comfortable and then left. At the door, he turned off the light, opened and shut the door. Mary closed her eyes, but suddenly, he was panting. He hadn’t left like she thought. In a flash he was on top of her. She was so shocked she lay completely rigid. The whole time, she was thinking it wasn’t happening, that the man she thought of as her uncle was not hurting her. She wanted to cry out but her tongue stayed glued to her mouth. It was over in seconds. He got up without a word, neatened himself, opened the door to shaft of light and shut it behind him.

I cried .

She got pregnant. She had an abortion. She hated herself for the abortion. She hated the man who got her pregnant. I deplored the evil act that turned a mother’s natural affection murderous.


In 2007, while living in Ghana, Akos was a hairdresser who came to my house every two weeks or so to do whatever I needed done to my hair. She was funny and pretty, with skin and white teeth. What I loved about her was her punctuality. In a country where time is largely ignored, it was refreshing to find a girl who showed up at two p.m. when she was supposed to be there at two p.m. One day, I sat in my parlor waiting. I noted that Akos was twenty minutes late.

I called her and got a muffled “I’m on my way.”

I waited.

Another twenty minutes and she gave me another “I’m on my way,” this time sounding very busy and flustered. An hour later she was still on her way. Two hours later when I had given up and was about to head for the tennis court, the gate bell sounded. I opened the gate and my hand went to my mouth. There stood Akos, blood oozing from a gash in her cheek, that beautiful cheek with the curve of the letter S. She was snuffling like a child, panting, unable to speak.

I took her inside, cleaned her face and tried to stop the bleeding. Sobbing, she told me a male friend tried to be more than a friend. When she said no, he slashed her with a knife, forced himself on her. And no, she wouldn’t go to the police. In Ghana, many women would rather die than face an interrogation regarding rape. All I could do was love her through it, tell her about God’s love.

She didn’t get pregnant; she was on the pill. A nasty keloid across her cheek and breast are what remain outwardly of that day. 

I have lost touch with her and don’t know how she is coping but this is what I know: To violate a body is to do anything to that body without permission, to do anything to that harms the body. Violence is just a noun, and violent just an adjective.

Of the two women, which rape was violent? The one that didn’t cry out, that froze, was she less violated?

All I can feel is a wretched sorrow for both women.

And devastation for the life terminated.

I’d love to hear from you.

Now here’s what makes a teacher proud, a student who is passionate about her subject, in this case, Government. A highschooler is so confident about her knowledge of the constitution that she has taken exception to some comments by Senator Bachmann. Therefore she wants to challenge the senator to a debate; how about that!

Read the student’s articulate and respectful letter. Regardless of one’s political leanings, one has to admire a gutsy and refreshing girl.;_ylt=ArtgtmV898TgCMgI6WoHyuhH2ocA;_ylu=X3oDMTR2dmVmbzJjBGFzc2V0A3libG9nX3RoZWxvb2tvdXQvMjAxMTA1MTMvaGlnaC1zY2hvb2xlci1jaGFsbGVuZ2VzLW1pY2hlbGxlLWJhY2htYW5uLXRvLWNvbnN0aXR1dGlvbi1zaG93ZG93bgRjY29kZQNnbXBlBGNwb3MDNARwb3MDNARzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrA2hpZ2hzY2hvb2xlcg

I don’t trust politics and I stay away from it, but this issue has got to me. Just in case you know nothing about it, Uganda has basically decided that anyone found to be homosexual deserves  to die, so long as there are witnesses to the deed.

The dilemma for most people is that fighting for the equitable and humane treatment of fellow humans makes them feel as though they’re supporting a lifestyle they object to. But let’s stop and think about this, shall we?

First of all, you can’t legislate morality. In many countries, abortion is illegal, yet people practice it. Sodomy is “forbidden” in Virginia, but I daresay people do it. What is the police to do, install cameras in every bedroom in the hopes of catching culprits? And who is going to monitor the policemen’s bedroom? And members of congress/parliament? And the president?

The Ugandan law is dangerous on many levels. People will be killed for no good reason. If a person can be killed for being gay because it’s wrong, why don’t we kill all thieves, anyone who cheats on income tax, liars, red-light runners, speeders–anyone who commits any infraction?  Which one among us is a perfect human being?

The proposed gay law is the beginning of vindictiveness, irrationality and genocide. Anyone can bring forth false-witnesses and accuse someone of being gay and have the person, at least, jailed for years.  What better way to get rid of your enemy?

It will alter human interaction in the country. In many African countries, women hold hands with women, men walk with arms about one other. That innocence will be lost.

Most of all, the message is that homosexuals are less human and should simply be eradicated. Oh my! In the face of all this, should we be silent? Salem witch-hunts, ring a bell, anyone?  Hello?

As a teacher, you look forward to that last class of the day. After it ends, you’ll slide into your car, put on the shades, turn on the music, and roar down the highway to the tennis court. But first, you’ve got to handle a class of loud, middle-schoolers.

Unlike first or second period students who come in cold and half asleep, six-perioders are very much awake. They’ve had lunch and gobbles of candy. They’ve frustrated a few teachers. This is their last class. Deliverance is at hand. After class, it’s the bus, and then home to watch tv or hang out with friends and pretend to do homework.

The precious two or three studious ones enter quietly and early. They don’t need to run because they didn’t stop in the hallway to giggle with friends or spend minutes in the bathroom primping themselves.

The rest burst into the classroom laughing. Shouting. There’s the last lollipop someone is trying to suck on. Some boy is carrying a girl’s books. Some chasing others or getting chased. Three, sometimes, four musketeers clatter in, shouting in Spanish. They throw open the door and fall into their chairs. Then begins the plot to take you off track.

Ms. Adjapon, can we sing Papa Pinguoin?

No, I like the other one, Bisous Eskimos!

Ms. Adjapon, it’s hot in here!

Is the air on?

Can we go outside?

Sit down and do your warm-up, I say.

Aww, Ms. Adjapon! Can we go outside?

They bang books. They mutter. Someone asks, Did you bring bread? I’m a fool for kids, always bringing them bread and cookies. But once they settle down, no class is more lively, ready to speak, write, sing and dance.

So, you’ve all finished your work?

Love you guys!

The recent killings in Northern Nigeria is reminiscent, to a smaller degree, of the Igbo killings prior to the Biafran War. Then, as now, it was sparked by politics dominated by ethnic affiliations. Sure, the perpretators insist it has nothing to do with ethnicity, but it is difficult to accept that when southerners in the north are incinerated after a southerner wins the elections. Not all northerners are engaged in the horrific images rolling through the internet, thankfully. Unfortunately, writers have shown what happens when prejudice takes over reason.  

When Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun came out, there were those who wished she hadn’t resurrected the past. It’s over and done with, the critics wailed. Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them was dismissed as useless. One wishes it were less than authentic. The stomach-turning events are all the more unbearable because they are narrated from the point of view of children.

It is a sad fact that history is considered worthy only when it’s on CNN or ABC’s World News, not when an African tries to tell his story. Often, the detractors are none other than fellow Africans who would rather forget. But we need to learn about history if only to give us pause when we find ourselves sliding down the same muddy slope. Africa needs the wise of the continent to use their words to force people to examine their world. Let’s read, learn and prevent another era of Luxurious Hearses rumbling towards the south with decomposing cargo, and of retaliation from the south. And for goodness sake, you leaders who claim to love your countries so, when you lose elections, just make a graceful exit, will you?

You’ve got to love his name, President Goodluck Jonathan. These days, with world-wide economic problems, he’ll certainly need some good luck, along with expertise, to energize Nigeria’s economy. If indeed the elections are fair, it will be refreshing in an era where the presidency is achieved through grab-by-force. More here…

I couldn’t help chuckling at this, disinfecting one’s self to visit the dead. How do you contaminate someone who is dead?

Here is to wishing all North Koreans a happy day!

When you were battered by your boyfriend and you left him, you told the media you wanted to be a role model for the young. You wanted kids to know that it was not okay to be knocked about. And now, what’s with this: “Sticks and stones may break my bone but whips and chains excite me…” ??? By all means, it’s freedom of expression. Sing to your heart’s content. But, s’il te plait, be not a role model.

Oh Lord, no. Not another woman who drowns her children in the Hudson. Here’s a woman who is “attentive” and caring, so what drives her to do something that heinous? What sense of desperation? What hopelessness. Can we reach out to help someone who might be in trouble? Could the children have been saved? Was the mother hiding a lot? I can’t think of anything worse than innocent children betrayed. The one child who survived, how is he going to go on? Child, listen, baby boy, it’s not your fault. It’s NOT your fault! You are going to recover, you hear? I want to find you. I want to hold you.  I want to wrap you in a blanket, sing you to sleep.