Prayers God Chooses Not To Hear

You have been taught that God is omnipotent and omniscient. You believe both of these things. You know what it feels like to have prayers answered, whether significant or mundane. You have had problems large enough that thousands of dollars were at stake, and problems as small as flies disturbing your sanity by buzzing around your room. You know how these issues have historically loved refusing to be solved until the moment you have lifted your voice in prayer. You have known from experience, at least since the age of thirteen, tasted and seen, the power and success of prayer.

A couple of years ago, The Problem made its way into your life. Its host was a man who became your best friend, whom you grew to love as yourself, to love more than anyone else in the history of your life, and for whom you would gladly sacrifice more than you ever thought you were capable of before you met him.

The Problem did not, at first, appear to be significantly different from the afflictions you were used to dealing with in yourself. Although you already believed the world and its human population had serious, serious issues, you still managed to underestimate the scale of The Problem. In the beginning, you thought about it in human, physical, comprehensible terms that drew direct lines from cause to effect, and consequently, to solution. It took you far too long to realize you were dealing with a demon, possibly a legion of them, that had no respect for human knowledge or authority.

You are in a love that is almost more than your body can take, and the object of your love is the primary victim of this demonic Problem. The Problem affects your happiness, your sanity and your functionality, almost as much as it affects his. Aside from the host himself, you believe the Problem cuts deeper into you than anyone else, even those who share his blood. This is your first experience of truly traumatizing love. After a year, you realize how much your speech and actions can’t cure anything, that his will and strength are inconsequential. You recognize that neither you nor the host, nor a soul on the planet, can do a damn thing about The Problem; it is beyond the scope of flesh-and-blood beings. This Problem makes all your past problems look like downright jokes. All your prayers, from the moment you were born till date, have been playground activities. What you are now facing is a minefield, situated right at the edge of a deep, deadly chasm.

Last year, the nature of your prayers changed. They became desperate where before they used to be solemn; loud screams where they used to be silent or at worst, fervent whispers. They became tear-filled where previously, all your messages to God had been sent with dry eyes that watched on as others around you seemed to have dams breaking forth from within them. You have never prayed like this before. You have never fasted with such dedication, pacing your room ceaselessly, sleep-deprived, and on an empty stomach, yet full of energy to plead with God, over and over again, to deal with this Problem you have come to realize nobody but Himself has the power to solve. You have never made such fervent attempts to bargain with God. It doesn’t matter, right now, that you have never had anything to offer Him, which He does not already own; nothing to give Him without His own strength flowing through you to complete the giving.

You have never, ever wanted anything more in your life, and this surprises you because you have never quite known yourself to be this selfless. Why does this Problem, which has next to nothing to do with you, feel like it is tearing you apart? Why does the death of your best friend feel like it will kill you? When did you gain the ability to wear someone else’s skin, their struggle, as your own? Your investment in The Problem’s solution is beyond rationality. It is still the love for the host, which refuses to stop growing, that is continuously trying to break you, pushing you into new frontiers of desperation every day.

But God watches you shake and writhe on your bedroom floor for several days, months, close to two years, in silence. You can’t help but wonder what is wrong, wonder what you are doing wrong.

You turn to the Word for answers. Your read Jesus’ parable about the woman who bothered a judge so much that the latter granted her request, just so she would leave him alone (Luke 18). You heard Jesus say, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off, I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” You try to believe, but can’t help but wonder, after years, whether you happened to misunderstand the true definition of the word “quickly.” Where is the justice you were promised? When will it sweep in to remedy the unjust arbitrariness of your best friend having been chosen by the Celestials to be a host to the stubbornest demons you have ever had the displeasure of encountering?

Over two thousand years ago, as evidenced through Mark 9, Jesus’ disciples were facing the same problem as you are—unable to cast out troublesome demons on their own. Your Bible tells you how some manuscripts quote Jesus’ response to the disciples’ confusion as such: “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” But when your fasting proves just as ineffective as your prayers on their own, you conclude that this kind of demon is even worse than those the disciples were dealing with back in the first century AD. You resort, once again, to helpless crying.

Your desperation soon turns into furious, manic anger. Nothing and no one on earth can abate it. The object of your fury—your God—is beyond the range of the pummeling you would love to inflict on Him. The fury breeds frustration, particularly because there has never been a substantial way to express your anger. All forms of rebellion you could adopt would invariably have consequences for you, without affecting Him in the least. There is nothing you can do but allow the anger to fester within you, turning your heart into refined steel.

Your prayers once again change form—this time, from long, drawn out supplications to curt commands (as if you have authority over God): “Fix it. You better fix it.”

The Problem progresses, unsolved, growing bigger than even you thought was possible. The host continues approaching self-destruction at accelerating rates. There is nothing you can do.

You have been taught that God is omniscient, so even when you lose the energy to pray, you know He knows what you are thinking, what you still want most in the world.

You have been taught that God is omnipotent, so you know that no matter how insurmountable the Problem may seem, He can solve it with a sentence as simple as “Let there be light.” You try recommending a phrase to Him: “Let the demon(s) be gone.” So, so easy for an omnipotent God, if only He would say it. He does not say it.

The only conclusion you think plausible, now, is that there are prayers God simply refuses to hear. With God, there is no “cannot.” There is only “will not.” And it seems He will not attend to you when you most want Him to.

This is it, then. You have grown tired of God. There is nothing more you are willing to engage. You are willing to break your resolve for one thing, and one thing alone: the solution to The Problem. If He does that, perhaps you can be friends again.

You are tired of everything and everyone. You don’t want any more encouragement from your friends of Faith. You don’t want any more motivational messages or stories about situations they think are parallel to your Problem, but are really, truly, not. You don’t want to spend a second more of your time trying to explain to confused, concerned, and ultimately unhelpful individuals, why you would go “so far” as to call the Problem a demonic affair. You don’t want to talk to anybody about your relationship with the host, or about how much it fucking hurts, or about any other matters of Faith. You don’t want to hear any more horse-shit about how this situation that you think is so awful might, in fact, be beneficial to any or all parties involved; you cannot see whom the death of the person you love most in the world might possibly benefit. His death will kill you. (Maybe it would benefit the people who already want you dead?) You are leaving everyone’s texts read and unreplied. They have nothing useful to say to you.

On several days, you cannot function. The Problem disrupts your life and your mind in too many ways to ignore. There is only one thing you want.

Solution or nothing.

Solution or nothing.

(Solution or death?)

(It is killing you anyway.)

But God remains indifferent.

-Akotowaa

Advertisements

SA Journal 4: The Foreignness Is Not Equal

This is something I complain about often: I knew who Hitler was, way before I knew what Hitler really did. It’s the power of heavily-circulated rhetoric. Even before you’re conscious of it, you’ve digested that if you have any sense in the world, you should hate him. I am still deeply disturbed that I didn’t know who King Leopold II was until the internet randomly educated me on him a few years ago. As I sit here in my room today, I detest Leopold several times more than I even care about Hitler, for what I think are obvious reasons. Not that I am trying to commit blasphemy or instigate some sort of Oppressor Olympics, but there’s a very important lesson in here.

I didn’t even know Zimbabwe’s colonial name was Rhodesia (and therefore had no clue who the hell Rhodes was) until I read Nervous Conditions in 2017. Twenty seventeen. I was nineteen years old when I found out. (If you knew the mission of the high school I went to and the variety of African classmates I went to school with, I think you would be a lot more ashamed for and with me.) Also, it was this very year that I read Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime (which is an 11/10 book, in my opinion), which presented Rhodes again, which is when I realized: yo. This guy colonized southern Africa, not just Zimbabwe. As you can see, I found out a lot of essential things at age nineteen. It amazes me how I was aware of the #FeesMustFall movement while it was happening, yet hadn’t ever heard a thing about the intertwined #DecolonizeUCT and #RhodesMustFall movements. If I’d known of at least the latter, maybe I’d have gotten wise a lot sooner than I did. Another lesson to be found here.

A year after finding out who Rhodes was, here I am in southern Africa again, with a lot more contextual knowledge of its history. Even though I haven’t been wise for very long, my first time in the Cape Town gardens with the group of majority-American study abroad students still stressed me all the way out because of the following incident: I expressed my incredulity about how a huge statue of Rhodes still stood right in the midst of the garden’s greenery, and insisted, quite vehemently, that it had to come down in the next few years. I was met, by several Americans, with a collective, “Huh? Who’s Rhodes?” reaction. When that happened, I wanted to sit down and cry.

It became even worse for me when my tour guide explained him to be “a really rich guy; owned a lot of property in Southern Africa; heavily involved in the diamond business—the DeBeers Company and so on…” I couldn’t help thinking that these were extremely kind and neutral words for a ruthless colonizer whose statue should have been demolished latest by 1995. Of course, such a mild summarization of Rhodes’ life and legacy produced reactions of, “Oh, okay, I see” reactions in everyone but me. Not “Oh my, what an evil man” reactions. I therefore considered the entire incident weird and inappropriate. It bothered me then, and it bothers me now. How many of these folks, I wondered, would leave South Africa with Rhodes’ name having already been half-forgotten and relegated to irrelevance in their minds?

What made it even worse than worse for me was how, a few minutes later, ignited by my comment about the statue having to come down, the conversation turned to the topic of all the decolonization attempts currently taking place particularly in American colleges; movements to remove statues and historical monuments related to racists or slavers, petitions to rename buildings that bear the names of notable bigots et cetera. I couldn’t help thinking, once again, “Okay, cool, but I don’t see how we were talking about Africa for thirty seconds, and now we’re going to spend the next half hour on America again.” I dissociated mentally from the conversation, not because the topic wasn’t relevant, but because of context and… everything else.

20180715_132225679_iOS

I think, sometimes, I get disproportionately annoyed at some things, at least in comparison to the gravity and scale of what’s actually annoying me. It stems from years of built-up frustration about how the foreignness between different people, histories and knowledge just isn’t equal. Back in high school, while studying human geography, I was surprised to find out that “Americanization” was considered a synonym for “globalization.” Now, I’m merely surprised at how surprised I was then. Cultural exchange, education, and the enlightenment they’re supposed to be able to produce just isn’t manifesting at equal rates in all directions. The history of the globe is a violent one full of intense power-plays, and it’s most obvious for me in these moments. But so is people’s individual obstinacy.

Here’s an example of something I think I overreacted to: I was eating at an Ethiopian restaurant a few weeks ago with some Americans who kept freaking out about how good the injera was, yet seeming to almost deliberately refuse to learn the word injera. They continuously exclaimed things like, “Yo, what is this bread thing?! It’s sooo good!” And I would repeatedly tell them it’s called injera, because it’s called injera and I would like it to be called injera in a very similar way that I would insist bofrot be referred to as bofrot and not “this doughnut thing.” My companions, that evening, would acknowledge that they’d heard me, and then, a second later, repeat, “Dude! This bread!” I would state it again. I would be acknowledged. A few minutes later, “Ugh, I don’t even understand why this bread thing is so good!” Then one or two would look at me sheepishly, half-heartedly asking, “What did you say it was called again?” And I wanted to sit down and cry. Effort matters. It speaks volumes about one’s disposition towards things other than oneself, when effort is absent.

Here is something I think I under-reacted to: Immediately after a UCT tour, a group of Americans were having a discussion in bleacher chairs behind me about how #DecolonizeUCT and #RhodesMustFall type movements weren’t really as important as people were making it seem, because yeah, sure, the past happened, but obviously none of would matter soon, now that we were in 2018, and people clearly aren’t as problematic now as they used to be. (I think it had flown over their heads that they were in a country that had only been democratic for a couple of years before they were born.) The entire conversation seemed to hinge on the false logic that people suddenly develop sense without anybody needing to protest, to fight inequality, fight for the right to be regarded as human, fight against systematic oppression. Because there’s definitely enough evidence in history of people magically developing sense with nobody’s help, right? *cue eye-roll*

The mad thing for me was how they were all agreeing with each other like, “Yeah, yeah, I totally know what you mean.” You’ve probably figured out by now that none of the people in the above conversation were Black. Listening to them, my hands were itching with the desire to backhand somebody one time. I settled for going on a rant to one of my new African-American friends who was sitting right beside me, about the shocking and complete disregard for context, the ignorance of their own ignorance, and their nonexistent knowledge of when to be quiet. Life is great.

Fun fact: about seventy percent of my Uber drivers in this city have been Zimbabwean. A significant percentage are Congolese as well, it seems. I’ve also been driven by a Burundian once. With these folks, almost as soon as I get into the car, they ask, “Akotowaa? I don’t know this kind of name. Where’s it from?” Ironically, it’s a different story with the South African drivers, who start chatting Xhosa or Zulu to me the moment I enter the car, and I have to be like, ei, paakyew, slow down for me, wai. It’s interesting for me that among Africans that I’ve been exposed to, there appears to be a heightened awareness to foreignness, and a consequent curiosity, when they are in countries other than their own. This relieves me.

One time, I was picked up by a Zimbabwean Uber driver who also immediately asked me where I’m from. I told him I came from Ghana, and he asked, “Where is that? Is it far from here?” That made me sad, but I proceeded to explain its geographical location to him. After he asked me to tell him more about life there, he said, “I’m from Zimbabwe. Have you ever heard of Zimbabwe?” And that made me even sadder. He seemed to consider it normal that a Ghanaian wouldn’t know of Zimbabwe. Another time, I was buying stationery from a shop at school, and as I was paying, the vendor saw my TwoCedi dashiki bag and asked me if I was East African. I denied and told her where I am from. And then I spent the next few minutes trying to answer all her questions about Ghana, a country about which she knew about as much as my Uber driver had. She apologized, at some point, for all her questions, because, “You know, over here, we just stick to ourselves and we don’t know anywhere else. Maybe a little Botswana, a little Zimbabwe, but the rest of Africa, we really don’t know anything about them. People like you are the only chance we get.” And I got sad. Just this past week, I experienced a similar thing with a vendor on campus, from whom I bought coffee. I had to open Instagram to show her pictures of Accra, because she was just insanely curious about this country she had zero knowledge of. It was kind of amusing, but you know, it also made me sad. The real tragedy, I think, is that every single one of these incidents would have disappointed me way more, had I not remembered that two years ago, I didn’t have a clue who Cecil John Rhodes was. The foreignness, mes amis, is not equal.

As a side note, something else that bothers me is that I’m an Africana Studies major who’s currently enjoying the opportunity to study Africana Studies-related things in an African country other than my own; yet it seems like everywhere I turn, I’m encountering non-students of this university (vendors etc.) who seem to want to know so much about parts of Africa other than SA. It just doesn’t sit right with me that people of a lower class than I am, are in the very same educational institution as I am, harbor the same curiosities about Africa as I do, but look at what I’m getting out of being here and what they’re not. Also, in my South African history class, there’s so much of the class’s content that nobody—neither South Africans nor foreigners—knew before being presented with the information through the course. So now, here I am, suspecting that I’m accumulating more random academic knowledge about South Africa than a good proportion of the South African population, and it’s just… an extremely weird feeling. =(

The foreignness is not equal, chale. At all.

-Akotowaa

SA Journal 3: Reflections on African Tourism

One of my professors here said, in the very first lecture—and I paraphrase only slightly—when white people landed on the shores of Africa, they did not see people. They saw resources, they saw nature, they saw land, all free for the taking. They chose not to recognize that real, legitimate human beings already inhabited this continent; if they had, history would have been a completely different story.

20180722_072210057_iOS

I thought about African tourism a lot, my first couple of weeks here, particularly within the South African context, and even more specifically, within the context of Cape Town. Naturally, a few touristy things have been part of my introductory experience to this city. But personally, speaking as an African from one of the most important countries on the continent when it comes to slave history and colonialism, I have been processing some of my experiences rather differently from many of my American counterparts who are also on this study abroad program.

In the first week, one of my RA’s led a walking tour through Cape Town city. For context, he is both South African and Black. I think he is a truly wonderful human being, and that he gave an effective and comprehensible summary of Cape Town’s history, as well as the explanations for some of the things we saw and places we passed through. I learned things like where festivals happen, where the Muslim population is concentrated, why South Africa has three capitals—random things like that. Since I was neither writing nor taking many pictures, a lot of it has flown out of my head through my ear. There are, however, a couple of things about his tone and diction at certain times that have lingered in my mind for a while.

A handful of times, he would say variations of the sentence, “It’s very, very difficult to talk about the history of Cape Town without talking about [race/colonialism/slavery].” These felt like apologetic disclaimers, which he gave in specific areas—like in front of the Iziko Slave Lodge or something—right before he would give us context about the place. Every time he said that, I wanted, but didn’t dare, to interject. I would have otherwise liked to tell him to speak the history as it is, without preamble, disclaimer, or apology, and especially not with repeated ones. I wanted to remind him that anybody else’s discomfort would not be his responsibility. Of course, I believe the reason the disclaimers even made an appearance is because the majority of this tour group was comprised of (white) Americans on the African continent for the first time. I can’t imagine that the statements could have been directed at anyone else. But, I mean, if we had all come to Cape Town to learn about the city, the country or the continent it’s in, then allow the learning to happen, even if (or, especially if) it would make most of us “tourists” highly uncomfortable. We should have been left to hold ourselves responsible for our own responses, without the need for him to mince words.

On at least three different occasions, he used the word “discovered” as he was speaking. Once upon a time, the Portuguese “discovered” the city, or the British “discovered” gold, or the Afrikaners “discovered” something or the other. For me, at least, it’s not like being presented with African history through this lens is a new experience; my colonized Ghanaian primary school education gave me enough of that to last me a lifetime, thank you very much—but all of us on the program were at least halfway through college. I would call us adults, if even very loosely. Surely, that calls for a far more critical mode of presentation than this?

I zoned out several times just reflecting on the semantics of “discovery.” I suppose, in a sense, according to the most literal definition of the word, it would be contextually accurate. However, that doesn’t automatically make it contextually appropriate. True, to discover is not to invent; it is to literally come into consciousness of something that is already there. But using the word does beg this question: To whom exactly was the newly “discovered” thing previously “covered”? Because if the answer isn’t “everyone,” we ought to think twice about centering the people it was previously covered to—as though the history of a place only began when They arrived. And so, we are back to the essence of this post’s first paragraph: when They came, were there or weren’t there already people here?

Touring an African city is great and all, but I would like to be presented information from the point of view of the not-colonizer, especially if the words are coming out of a native person’s mouth. Framework is important. Because, you see, whenever I hear “[European person/people] discovered…,” I translate it automatically to “[European person/people] saw a new opportunity to exploit/steal/colonize/manipulate…” Which is what I think tour guides should be saying. But I suppose the impartation of these words is usually a job guides are trying to get paid for, and employers might not think my proposed readjustment of the framework is very good for business.

This begs yet another question of centrality, given that African tourism is indeed a business. Which people are being centered as the users? Who exactly is the content (not the economic gains, although that too) of the tourism meant to serve? Because I suspect African tourism would look very different if it were being directed towards, for instance, other Africans. To an African, it is not necessary to explain what Africa is from scratch, babying your listeners; tourism might then be more like reading a paragraph aloud to someone than introducing them to an entirely new alphabet. So, I wondered, as I was listening to my RA speak, if or how his delivery might have changed if the tour group was made up of non-South African Africans, rather than majority-white Americans.

20180716_133000620_iOS

Also in my first week here, I went on a deeply disappointing peninsula tour, during which I spent most of the time sitting in a bus and listening to a bona fide Englishman drone on and on about Cape Town’s history. Yes, you read right: an Englishman. At first, I thought he might be an Afrikaner/white South African—which would have come with its own set of problems too—but then I know what an English accent sounds like. My suspicions were confirmed when he began passing comments such as: “Back in my part of the world…” or “When I first came to South Africa…” Ah, I just want someone to tell me how (I’m lying, o, I don’t want to know) an Englishman ends up being hired as a tour guide for, of all places in the world, a South African city?

As if his existence and presence weren’t problematic enough, during the tour, he said several, several things that made me stop and go, “Ah.” Most of his monologues were facts about Cape Town’s natural environment, or about the colonizers’ activities within Cape Town’s natural environment. We’re back to the first paragraph of this post again. When They came, were there people here or nah?! On the few occasions that native Capetonians came up, his comments would either be inherently inappropriate, or delivered in ridiculously insensitive ways.

“There was a shipwreck here,” he would say. “All the British sailors survived, and all the slaves perished.” And then he would continue like what he said hadn’t meant a thing.

“The Hottentots used to inhabit this area,” he would say, and I would think Oh thank God, we’re about to learn something about actual Africans. Then he would continue, “Unfortunately, they were exterminated.” That one really hit me in the chest. Is extermination a world you use for rodents, or is it a word you truly believe is an appropriate way to refer to the genocides your race committed? Trying to regulate my blood pressure can be a struggle as uphill as climbing Devil’s Peak. (Which I haven’t done yet, by the way. Eventually, chale.)

20180722_131542321_iOS

20180716_135843643_iOS

What, I think, bothers me the most about Cape Town tourism—and most attempts to sell or teach about Africa—is its willingness to center anything but Africans themselves. I know for a fact that there’s a lot to say about how Africans interacted with their own physical spaces, and that for no legitimate reason, these were things I was simply not being told. (The reason I know many things now is through the South African history class that I’m taking.) Passing by or through a Cape Town brewery, for instance, I expect to be told—in addition to how essential beer is to the Capetonian industry or whatever—about how local beer brewing culture was pioneered by African women in some of the tensest political periods of the nation. But, like, nah. My “tourism” of Cape Town hasn’t meant finding out about South African people, it’s meant going up Table Mountain, or learning about all the great Safari trips I could take—you know, if I actually had sika. I imagine, if I were someone other than myself, I might have been very comfortable with having spent a week in “Africa” and, upon going home, knowing that all I have to show for it are selfies of me with a baboon, me in a cable car, and my new knowledge of what a freakin’ dassie is.

20180716_135140621_iOS

 

The concept of tourism is itself very strange to me, primarily because it’s a business. African tourism makes me uncomfortable because it truly feels, sometimes, like voyeurism; European tourism makes me uncomfortable because it feels like paying colonizers money to be presented with the results of their massive exploitation of other people, which are being passed off as legitimate European accomplishments; American tourism makes me uncomfortable just because of globalization/Amercanization, and sheer capitalism. I’ve never experienced Asian tourism, but I know that at this point, I just sound like a dissenter who’s entirely unsatisfied with anything she comes across in life. So that’s great.

More journal entries forthcoming!

-Akotowaa

SA Journal 2: Overviews from a Mountaintop

I visited Johannesburg for a couple of weeks in 2014, so this is not my first time in the “Rainbow Nation.” It is, however, my first time in Cape Town, which feels like a significantly different place. My memory might not be serving me to excellently, but Joburg felt to me like an African city with an unusual proportion of high-rise buildings, and very, very cold weather. (I visited in southern hemisphere winter.) By contrast, Cape Tows feels, in many ways, like colonialism. I know that’s a strong statement. (Maybe.) Allow me to explain, through my overview of the city and my first impressions.

Cape Town is a city carved out of mountains, and in many places, it is visually stunning. Seeing the city from balconies, or from the top of Table Mountain, might leave you breathless. (Another not-so-great thing that takes my breath away is the hilliness of the roads. Since I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve sat in cars that seem to be going uphill way more often than they’re going down. Because of the incline of the streets, I often experience a sudden lurch in my stomach that makes me feel like I’m about to die, when cars almost invariably jerk backwards before they go forward and upwards. Don’t even get me started on what it feels like when a car parks halfway up a hill and I have to get out of it.)

20180716_134431076_iOS
Spider Kid on Table Mountain

In Cape Town, colors are vibrant, views are excellent, and walking nearly everywhere is a massive workout for your lungs and quads. Modern architecture—like apartments, malls and offices—are mixed in with old, European-style architecture like campuses or historic buildings. These contrasts, I think, are most obvious in town. Like, town-town, where things in this city mostly happen. I suppose this is one of the things that makes me feel uncomfortable; it seems as if the city itself isn’t sure what era it wants to be in. When physically bombarded with the landscape, it is not hard to believe that this country has only been democratic for twenty-four years. (In every other circumstance, remembering that fact is like, “Whaaat?!”)

The contrasts don’t end there. I walk down visually stunning, sophisticated streets and boulevards, which I imagine only rich people could possibly live on… and these streets smell very powerfully like excrement. Rat carcasses are not an unusual sight either. In the most affluent parts of the city that I’ve been to, I feel like I see a homeless person or a beggar every two feet. The gorgeous city garden, where it astounds me that I can find such a large number and variety of plants in a single place, has a huge statue of Cecil John Rhodes right in the middle of it. Do you understand? It feels like colonialism.

20180714_145539319_iOS
View from a balcony at the V&A Waterfront

Now that I temporarily live here, I can confidently say that Cape Town is not the place you should set as your destination if you’re someone trying to “experience Africa” for the first time. Or second time. Or third. A surprising number of Americans on the same study abroad program as I am, gave this as their reason for choosing to come here. Unsurprisingly, one of the most frequent complaints I’ve heard from them is, “There’s no African food!” I hear these things and laugh, but in a sense, it’s not that amusing. Cape Town is tailored for tourists. Only the cute, commodified parts of Africa exist here. (By “here,” I mean, of course, the places Cape Town wants tourists to see, not the townships or areas where large concentrations of Africans live.) I’m talking about gift-shop-type parts of Africa, like elephant earrings, or tote bags with Africa’s outline on it. Restaurants? They’ve got American, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Dutch—take your pick, tourist, to soothe your taste buds of wherever you lived before you came to Africa. African food? *in T’Challa’s voice* We don’t do that here.

I haven’t experienced many African cities, but if I had to be in a touristy place, I’d much rather have it looking like Osu’s Oxford Street than most of Cape Town.

20180715_132230316_iOS
City garden on a stunningly clear day, with a view of Table Mountain

On to lighter stuff.

A few random quirks I’ve noticed: the expression “this side,” which is probably going to find its way into my own vocabulary very soon. It means “here”; there’s hardly ever a literal “side” of anything that is being referred to. I used to be hella confused every time someone told me to “Come this side.” Now that I understand it means “Come here,” using the phrase often helps me appear to have assimilated, which in turn helps me avoid having the boring, repetitive conversation that starts with, “I can tell you’re not from here.” (My first week here, I swear I was just walking, and some South African bro approached me with those exact words on his lips. I refuse to accept that I simply walk like a non-South African. I’m going to assume it was my TwoCedi backpack that gave me away.)

Another quirk is the expression “just now,” sometimes “now-now.” As in Ghana, they don’t give any real indication of what time a thing is going to happen. If someone tells me they’re going to do something “just now,” I don’t even know how long I’ll be waiting.

A third quirk is also easy for me to understand because I know “chale.” Let me illustrate: “Hi / Catch you later / I agree / Thanks, bro / That’s a good idea / Yeah, I’m down for that” = “Aweh / Aweh / Aweh / Aweh / Aweh / Aweh” and so on. It’s really funny, and I also think it’s really cool. =)

Summary: My first impression of Cape Town is that it is strange, uncomfortable, and full of contradictions. It feels like a piece of the continent that went through something incredibly unique, even within the context of Africa’s “peculiar” history.

-Akotowaa

SA Journal 1: Moving for the Moon

I almost died last semester. You may think I am exaggerating, but my body, mind and memory completely disagree. I wish I could go into detail about why, but for one thing, if you’ve been following my life for the past six years, you probably know the basic reasons already; furthermore, words can’t seem to do anything justice. I have tried and failed to explain what goes on in my head. It’s okay. Let’s leave it. Some things don’t translate.

The over-arching reason I decided to spend a semester in Cape Town is to avoid a repetition of the near-death experience. To break it down further, I moved to Cape Town for two reasons. The first is that this is where my best friend is. Sometimes, he is the only sanity I can hold on to when my world is on fire. He has the power to make me want to tolerate existence just a little while longer. He is my Moon, occasionally the only reflection of light in the midst of the dark night that is my life. When we are separated by continents, not being able to run to him when I literally feel like I cannot breathe is an experience I never want to have to deal with again.

The second reason is that I was/am dead tired of America(ns). This one is a compound problem that I’m not sure I’m currently able to coherently articulate. I suspect the explanation will come out in snippets, in different pieces of writing over the next few years… or over the rest of my life. Suffice it to say, both inside and outside of classrooms (but especially inside) back in California, I was on the verge of screaming at someone nearly every single day.

The sub-reason of the second reason is that I didn’t think the region of the world I was in was doing my experience of my major (Africana Studies) justice. The Americanness of it all was too greatly obscuring the Africanness—which is what I am most interested in—and so I figured one way to attack the problem was to return to the continent. In many ways, I can say, now that I have spent more than a month at the University of Cape Town, that I am being proved right. It’s a bit satisfying. (But don’t think for a second that school has ceased to make me deadass miserable, or that I hate it any less than I ever have. Again, a topic for another post. Hopefully, it will come soon.)

Of course, my anxiety had to make an appearance, for absolutely no reason, on my first night in Cape Town. My best friend picked me up from the airport, and I was absolutely overjoyed to see him for the first time in over half a year. Why wouldn’t I be? I switched countries partially because of him.

We went back to his house and had a sleepover-ish thing, featuring Chinese take-away and a couple of movies. Although we went to bed past midnight, and jetlag did not apply to me in the transition from Ghana to South Africa, I still found myself awake between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m., staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning, failing to convince my fast-beating heart that I was not in a legitimate panic-inducing situation. I felt lost, confused, and angry at myself, possibly for the “stupidity” of my decision to switch countries on no solid grounds. Luckily, this was one of the more irrational attacks, because since then, I have experienced intense joy, worn smiles I thought my face had forgotten how to form, and remembered what overwhelming love feels like when it’s burning in my chest.

 

(If you are worried, like I am, that my love for my best friend might just kill me, please send help. And sense, so that I leave him. Because he is very stupid, and so am I for loving him. This is not a joke. Thanks in advance.)

20180716_123214080_iOS
#nofilter
20180721_214304883_iOS
The view from Tro’s house, which is not done even 20% justice by a bloody phone camera. =(

-Akotowaa

 

Beautiful Words Unlike Me.

It doesn’t always come out in pretty words. Sometimes, it comes out raw and untamed, hideous or insane. Or sometimes, just plain words that mean exactly what they’re saying.

But only the beautiful poems get frames. You say they help you heal; you claim you don’t need any help bleeding. The clots in the veins of your wrists beg to differ.

You like poems that scramble the word trauma so effectively, you can’t find it when you read. Poems that hold you at arm’s length like you are only the second person they considered while they were busy getting composed. Gorgeous poems that have me written as an afterthought, under stacks of photographs no-one will ever bother to lift.

I haven’t yet figured out why people love beautiful-looking things more than beautiful things, or why ugly things can sell so easily under beautiful packaging.

I get tired of pretty words as fast as I grow bored of princess gowns and airbrushed skin, or scrolling through pages of women who all look the same.

I like it when words look as plain as I do on most days. I like words I can understand, even when they are not beautiful. I like words that can understand me, especially when I am not beautiful. I like words that are like me. I like words that like me. I like words. Like. “Me.”

-Akotowaa

Where I Been? (A Spider Kid Newsletter of Sorts)

My name seems to have appeared in quite a few places over the past few months, so I thought it would be convenient to give my blog readers an update on all of them at once. I’m not usually this involved in things, so I don’t expect blog posts like this to be frequent. But, for now, here we go:

Writivism

A few weeks ago, I found out I was longlisted for the 2018 Writivism Short Story Prize. The shortlist was released yesterday and I did not make it that far, but making it onto the longlist means that my short story, as well as all the other longlisted writers’ short stories, are going to be published in an anthology by Black Letter Media later. So, that’s fantastic.

More on the Writivism initiative/competition here. You can follow them on Twitter as well, here.

WritivismLonglistBio
Photo via @Writivism on Twitter

Tampered Press

Poetra Asantewa launched a new art magazine in July, and for its first issue, she got a few people to contribute. My contribution was a very dissatisfying story that we can pretend is sci-fi flash fiction for classification purposes, highly augmented by some lit photography by Josephine Kuuire. The magazine is really refreshing in terms of layout, vibrancy, minimalism, collaboration and the general nature of its content. I highly recommend you take a read – it’s very short – and digital versions are available on the Tampered Press website.

TamperedPage
Photo via @Tampered_Press on Twitter (This isn’t my page, BTW. It’s a poem by Tryphena Yeboah and artwork by Kpe Innocent.)

Paapa’s Technical Difficulties 2

Paapa hMensa, a musical and lyrical legend whom I’ve met once (he probably doesn’t remember it, though, because I was entirely irrelevant then, and it was during his concert, so he was meeting a ton of people at once anyway), released the second installment to his Technical Difficulties EP series, and the title track features me! It’s a beautiful song, going perfectly excellently as it plays, and then I barge in and start talking plenty in the name of spoken word poetry, SMH. I also briefly introduced each song, so my voice is on literally every track.

 

The EP is amazing, it’s been on heavy rotation in my music library since it dropped, and it’s musically even better than its prequel. (Is the word prequel applicable to musical projects? I don’t know.) Paapa is a magician, because I don’t even understand how he managed to achieve that. No Heart Left, ft. M.anifest, is a favorite. You can find his EP on pretty much every major music distribution site. 🙂

#IFKR’s UHNI

The DJ duo, #IFKR, which is composed of Eff the DJ and DJ K3V, released a new EP yesterday, exclusively on the Ghanaian musical platform, Aftown. I introduced that EP as well, with a lot of talking in the beginning that feels very weird to hear because I wrote it years ago and hadn’t heard it for a while. The entire EP has been years in the making, and I can personally vouch for the true banger-ness of particularly Lie B3n which features Ayat, and, of course, the pre-released single Omi Gbono, which features Odunsi. You can find the link to the EP here.

 

Bonus:

I know a previous blog post has mentioned this already, but I compiled Kuukua Annan’s OTC stories into a single PDF and created a new site for the OTC project so ayyy check it out and tell a friend!

 

Okay. Dazzit. Spider Kid out!

-Akotowaa