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Monday, August 16, 2010

Bringing Powder Necklace Home

I just completed a 10-day tour in Ghana promoting Powder Necklace! It was a truly amazing experience. I was on radio, morning television, evening entertainment segments all leading up to the book launch at Silverbird Lifestyle Bookstore in Accra and for each event my mom & I gently discussed what I would wear.

For my first appearance on eTV's "Awake", I wore a Ghanaian print dress with flirty ruffle action on top. That got a nod of approval. But I got a partial side eye when I wore my cigarette pantsuit - also Ghanaian print - to appear on TV Africa's "Daybreak", but my mom let it go, as she did when I wore a Ghanaian print jumpsuit to a radio appearance and an impromptu television interview.

When I wore the woven batakari that once belonged to my Dad as a minidress, my mother was none too pleased. "In Ghana we don't wear it like that," she bemoaned, just as she has in the States when I've worn this same outfit. I probably should have listened to her and just worn something else because I got more than a few looks of confusion, surprise, even irritation in that get-up. My grandmother also gave my parents a talking to for letting me out of the house wearing it. Lol. Oh well, I wore it on the popular TGIF hosted by a tres cool cat who goes by his initials: KSM.

So come launch day at Silverbird I didn't want to show my mom the white buubuu I planned to wear. "In Ghana we don't wear buubuus for things like this," she reminded me when I showed up in the flowing white dress with embroidered collar. To appease her I took the pin out of my hair and let it fall in dolly curls to my shoulders even as I let my mom know a new Ghanaian was in the building.

That ended up being the refrain of this trip for me. In interview after interview I found myself defending/defensive about my Ghanaianness. I published the book in the States versus Ghana because I live in New York. Minus 1. I came to Ghana to launch my book even though I could have left the word to spread online. Plus 1. I attended secondary school in Ghana. Plus 1. I left for the States to go to college. Minus 1...

Wearing the batakari on TGIF KSM

Off camera, it was the same thing. When I tried to negotiate with a cab driver or a seller in the market - forget it. Even when I spoke the Twi or Ewe I could muster it was a mess. I was being charged the broni tax for not understanding that you don't wear a batakari as a dress for example.

That said, there were some things I didn't understand that worked in my favor. Apparently, at book launches in Ghana books are auctioned off. Nice! I was able to raise a good chunk of change for my alma mater Mfantsiman Girls' Secondary. My experience at Mfantsiman was utterly life-changing and in celebrationof its 50th Anniversary it felt great to be able to give back in some small way.

Speaking of Mfantsiman, returning to the school to commemorate its 50 years was a full circle moment for me in pretty much every sense of the word. First of all we stayed in the dorms and for two days I slept on a bunk and fetched water for my bath in the bathhouse. I almost left after day one as the, accommodations were a little too nostalgic for me. But once I reconnected with some old mates, I decided to get into it. Besides the dorms had vastly improved and we were staying in the newly built Yeboah House. An old dormmate remarked, "I'm so glad you wrote the book as none of the current students know what we went through."

Indeed 17 years later the school appears to be in MUCH better shape. There are two more dorms to alleviate the crowding and that well - the hideous well that we fought to fetch from in my day - has been broken down as there is no longer a need for it. Water tanks are all over the place - a few for each dorm. And water even flowed from the taps though water pressure is still an issue on some parts of campus.

The chapel is still the same size as it was when I was there, but they've added adjacent patio seating that seems to work okay for now. The dining hall is still the same size too so the girls eat in shifts. They've built sinks just outside the hall though so girls can wash their flatware and cutlery before heading off to classes or evening prep.

There's still room for improvement though. There are only 40 computers for nearly 2000 students and the computer room which was recently broken into is kept locked up. A student told me they only get in about once a week. How can these girls compete when they don't have regular computer access? Additionally, for all the renovations going on, many of the classrooms are in worse shape than they were when I was a student. As I walked the campus though I silently commended the unseen peeps who made sure those water tanks were put in place for the current students and realized that things don't just get better, we make them better. To that end, I'm committed to doing what I can to help make things better. I don't know how exactly yet, but I'll keep you posted.

On "Day Break" hosted by Esi Arhin

Anyway, my final event in Ghana was a reading that Binyavanga Wainaina helped hook-up for me with the Writers Project of Ghana, an awesome organization of Ghanaian artists that threw their arms open for me. I read a few snippets of the book on their radio show on Ghana's Citi FM, and read more at the Nubuke Foundationa really peaceful outdoor space where I'm told they have open mics and other art events in Accra. It was a highly interactive reading as the audience peppered me with tough and insightful questions. "Why'd you call it 'rural'?" "What did you expect to find in Ghana when you first came?" But not one person in the crowd asked me to prove my Ghanaianness.