Christmas Colds, Sloppy Self-Service, And I’m Justin Bieber

Harmattan blasted through my windows and permeated my nostrils, leaving me hard hit and nearly unable to breathe when I woke up. I seemed to have been the only one affected in the house. I had gone to bed with a nasty headache, and I woke up with it faded, thankfully. However, I still couldn’t breathe. On 25th December, I was blowing my nose for about 12 hours straight. (Except for that one-and-a-half hour time I was unconscious, trying to sleep off that escalating headache.)

On Christmas Day, the house was filled with music. I had this super bright idea in the morning, before all the food stuff started: to make a Christmas playlist to be our season’s soundtrack. Why didn’t I think of this ages before the actual Christmas Day, you ask? To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps I was too busy sneezing and writing supplement essays to feel the festivity. So, I went ahead and speedily downloaded PTXmas (amazing LP by an amazing acapella group, which Ghanaian TV is constantly abusing) and, on a whim, decided to throw in Bieber’s 2011 album, Under the Mistletoe. Now even I was apprehensive about this one, because aside from my obsession with some one My World 2.0 song whose title I can’t even remember, I had more or less ignored Mr Bieber until Purpose (which is fire!). Fortunately, the Christmas album also happens to be pretty good, so no regrets there.

Later in the morning, after I had burned a CD and had the playlist successfully reverberating through the whole house, I sat in my room casually doing something or the other. All of a sudden, I was hearing my name being screamed out of my father’s mouth from the kitchen, as if I’d left some gas stove on and was about to burn the whole house down.

Wondering what on earth I could have gotten myself into this time, I rushed downstairs. He was pouring a drink or something, and as far as I could tell, nothing was burning. Then he voiced the matter of concern that had been so urgent he’d made me bolt out of my room: “Is that you singing on the CD?” he asked.

Of course not! I thought.

“No,” I said.

“Ahn. The way you were saying you were going to make a playlist, I thought you were the one singing.”

LOL

  1. I can’t sing.
  2. I don’t sound like Justin Bieber, who does not sound like me.
  3. Shall I suppose that the implication is that I sound male, or that Bieber sounds female? (You wicked people, I know your answer to this question.)

Anyway, moving on…I want to talk about a certain irony that exists in certain Ghanaian relatives. I won’t mention names, but some one Ewe auntie…Okay, okay, relax.

What really confounds me is how these people can be so irritating when it comes to mealtime, nearly abusing the children in the family. (The only kids in the house this year were my brother and I, and the big guy was asleep for most of the afternoon anyway, so guess who got stuck with all of the dirty work? JK actually, it wasn’t that bad.) But these family members are all about telling the young’uns to do this and do that, all stuff they could easily do themselves if they stood up. But maybe lifting forks and wineglasses to your lips is an extreme sport after a certain age, I don’t know. Effectively, those being commanded and sent eat last because they were previously too busy being commanded and sent.

Then suddenly, miraculously, when the meal is done, said family members are begging to wash the dishes because they “want to help”. And it’s not hypothetical, neither is it merely a courteous request they know will get rejected. They’ll persist. They actually DO wash the dishes. It leaves me utterly confused about our perception of helpfulness and service. If you wanted to avoid putting people through trouble, why couldn’t you do something as simple as fill your own glass with juice on the table within reach? Self-service is also service, right?

LOL. Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

-Akotowaa

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My Thoughts: The Red Tent

It’s been a long time since I wrote about a book. It isn’t that I haven’t been reading. I don’t know. I guess it’s just laziness. Anyway, The Red Tent was about 3 books ago. I’d never heard of it. My favourite English teacher (who has, in fact, never taught me) placed a bunch of books on my Kindle and so I picked one at random. (This is how I found The 40 Rules of Love as well.)

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Author: Anita Diamant. She’s American.

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Anita Diamant

Now I’m not sure whether he intentionally put religion-based novels on my Kindle or it’s just that those are the ones I happen to be picking. Well, this one is a story told from the POV of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah. Yes, the Biblical ones from Genesis. The only time I (and probably a lot of other Bible-story knowers) remember Dinah is from when she got raped and then her brothers circumcised every man in the town as punishment/payment for the loss of their sister’s virginity.

Now, I don’t know whether to call this a historical novel or not, because I’m not certain about how close to the truth historical novels have to be. This story has obviously been designed for fictitious purposes, not necessarily explanatory or informative ones. As such, it doesn’t seem to try to stick to facts (which we don’t, in actuality, know too much about, because Moses never went that deep) but is instead nearly loosely based on the people and events mid-Genesis. That’s all fine. I read on some blog or something a statement from the author, that her aim wasn’t to be historically accurate, but to tell a good story. And she did. =)

It was a book full of enough pain and hardship to make me uncomfortable – especially when it came down to matters of women: menstruation, pregnancy, marriage, heartbreak and all that. The “red tent” itself was the place that the women in Dinah’s family went to when they were on their periods. I thought it was interesting how women-centred the whole thing was, especially since it was set in a time where the dominant matter worthy of documentation was the life of the man. In The Red Tent, however, the men are really just background characters, among whom stuff happens, but life through their lens isn’t that important. Dinah, the child of Jacob to whom least Biblical attention was paid, is our protagonist, and the boys are mainly (at least from some point in the story) antagonists.

Now, there are some issues raised, concerning women – some discreet, some plainly depicted – but the story at least stays culturally historically accurate, in terms of the roles of women. There were mainly two kinds I saw in the book: housewives and midwives. But when the midwives weren’t delivering babies, they were being housewives. There were also the women in Dinah’s grandma’s anti-boy camp (she reminds me of Circe from The Sea of Monsters book, and thus probably the actual mythological Circe), but these were also minor characters.

I suppose most will not call this story a feminist one, but honestly, I saw it as such. It wasn’t so much a cry for equality, but more like a subtle highlighting of things that were wrong with the roles that women were expected to play and how they were treated.

This was a very good book, in a calm way. When I say good, I am not necessarily referring to the inherent quality of the writing but rather to how the book made me feel, as a reader. I didn’t flip out like I did with The Shadow of the Wind, for instance, and it didn’t make me glow like The 40 Rules of Love did. It was just nice, and naturally engrossing. Kind of like a lazy-day read. I had nearly forgotten what books like this felt like, so I spent too long waiting for it to get “interesting”. I forgot that there are books that actually describe day-to-day life, and not everything is as fast-paced as A Song of Ice and Fire.

It’s actually quite a profound story that gives you a lot of stuff to think about. Me, at a lot of points, I got scared just at the thought of being a girl/woman at that time and especially at the thought of giving birth. In that respect, it’s full of a lot of scary pain. =(

I like how the “rape” of the original Bible story was transformed into a fictional romance story instead. In this book, rape wasn’t even involved. It became a tragedy, full of unfair death – the most dramatic part of the whole novel, as it is also the most dramatic part (we have seen) of Biblical Dinah’s life.

But it was great! Full of creativity! And I really admire Anita Diamant’s skill. I just couldn’t understand how she could bear to vividly describe so much pain. If I had to write some of those scenes, I would just put my pen down/turn my computer off and start crying. I’m probably exaggerating – or maybe people just won’t react to the novel the same way I did.

Nevertheless, it really was a wholly beautiful story.

Favourite quotes:

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.”

Although this sounds pretty profound, I feel like it doesn’t apply to me. My mother and I couldn’t be more different. I don’t know what she’d accurately be able to tell you about me.

“The flavour of gratitude is like the nectar of the hive.”

Legit.

“Attending her sister’s births made her wish to become part of the great mother-mystery, which is bought with pain and repaid with an infant’s sparkling smile and silken skin.”

Given that I fear pain more than nearly anything, my reaction to this statement is mixed. Also, I have my own issues with bringing human beings into this world.

“You walked among queens, but you were alone.”

This was said in description of someone’s dream, but goodness, how profound it is! I feel like I can easily visualise it.

“Uttu went to the east, where the sun rises, but found the men had stolen the women’s tongues and they could not answer for themselves.”

Do I have to explain why this struck me? =(

“How could she find the courage to kill herself when she had no courage for life?”

The irony of suicide.

“I have seen my mother cradle too many dead babies,” she said. “And I heard Oholibama scream for three days before she gave up her life for Iti. I am not willing to suffer like that.”

Damn straight. -__-

“Only thieves come looking for business miracles.”

All of you people who be praying for millionaire status, I’m giving you side-eyes. LOL

“Our libations and prayers are of no more importance than birdsong or bee song. At least their praises are assured.”

This is in reference to religious attitudes towards a teraphim.

“Odd that he should not yet know how children stop serving their parents once they are grown. Even daughters.”

LIKE OMG YES! Why don’t they know?

“I am not unhappy,” she said. “Nor am I content. There is nothing in my heart. I care for no one and for nothing. I dream of dogs with bared teeth. I am dead. It is not so bad to be dead.”

May I never reach this stage of emptiness in my life – Amen.

“Death is no enemy, but the foundation of gratitude, sympathy, and art. Of all life’s pleasures, only love owes no debt to death.”

-Akotowaa

 

 

Fixing Education: A Response to Responses to Puppets

Aside from a lot of the good comments (thank you for loving it; your feedback is amazing! <3) one of the most popular vibes I’m getting is “Okay, so you’ve raised all these points about the educational system, but what can you do about it?” Encapsulated in all these questions are implications that I really just complain a lot and don’t seem to understand that this system is the best we could have come up with in our circumstances. You seem to be throwing the sarcastic question, “Well, Smartypants, have you got a better idea?” in my face, and implying that, for all my protesting, I myself do not have an answer.

I freely admit this: I don’t always have an answer. In fact, to paraphrase a tweet from Propaganda (@prophiphop), I’m much better at asking questions than answering them; asking difficult questions to make people (including myself) think is the basis of the art I create. Legit.

https://twitter.com/prophiphop/status/672833018210344960

One thing I find interesting, though, is how my “accusers” (LOL) have gone and jumped straight to my (very minor) theme about the educational system, when honestly, that wasn’t even the real focus of the novella at all. Ah. I’ve written a story about psychological manipulation, but all you want to say is, “Ah, look, Akotowaa is complaining about school again.” Insert eye roll. LOL. In actuality, I thought that scene was worthy of noting because the International Baccalaureate has in fact decided to take away the follow-through awarded marks from the mark scheme of mathematics. I thought the idea would spark some relevant discussion. And yes, I do believe the educational system is a political one. But let us move on from my myriad of complaints and focus on the answer, which I may or may not have.

Now I’m not about to lie and say I have discovered the cure for stupidity and I have a whole thesis prepared to deliver by mail to all the Ministers of Education in the world, full of solutions they had always been too stupid to come up with. What I do have, just like everyone else, is opinions. At the moment, there is no perfect educational system. In fact, there is no perfect human-designed system, and I highly doubt that there will ever even be one. So I obviously cannot design what cannot exist. I am also aware that any sensible educational system is not stagnant; it is always undergoing a bunch of reforms for the purpose of (maintaining the illusion of) improvement. As human needs change, the way we’re trained to provide for ourselves must change too. But it shouldn’t change into something worse than what it was before. I mean, I personally refuse to see what helpfulness could possibly come from ignoring follow-through marks in examinations.

On a systemic level, I could offer tons of biased suggestions which may or may not work. Examples:

  • Abolish examinations. They never accurately speak of my intelligence anyway.
  • Let’s write papers for our grades instead. Exams are now failing more and more to test knowledge and application and are now overly focused on how fast we answer questions in impractical (or what the examiners would like to believe are adequate) time limits. Writing independent un-classroom-ified essays/papers reduces the time limit pressure. But…with my experiences with coursework and Internal Assessments, it seems CIE and IB don’t understand how to get those right either.
  • Stop giving grades. They’re too quantitative for my liking. Perhaps they will continue to work for quantitative subjects. But for others, it’s an enterprise of judging fish by their tree-climbing abilities. (Metaphor credit: Albert Einstein. I think.) EinsteinQuoteIf you want a fair idea of the quality of students’ work ethic/behaviour, use qualitative things like teachers’ comments/report card comments, or students’ personal reflections or whatever.
  • Quit making things compulsory, so students can learn for the love of learning, instead of their rationale being that “it’s a requirement”. I laugh at the International Baccalaureate’s ridiculous attempt to persuade outsiders that their students are personally engaged with their work by adding “Personal Engagement” criteria to their assessment instruments. I swear to you, 90% of that content is student-fabricated lies, and some of the IB students I know are the most academically apathetic I have ever met in my life.

Now I could go on and on, but it’s no use. For one thing, someone can easily raise a bunch of counter-claims to all of my suggestions – which is fine. But the real reason my suggestions are of no use is that there is no point changing things on a systemic level if nothing is changed on the psychological level. Otherwise, everything will fail. Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean, with a hypothetical situation.

Say they – and they here is that vague, ominous god who makes all the academic rules – decide that examinations are no longer compulsory, and so you can do the course, acquire your knowledge and bounce. Most people who are used to the old system are too timid to take this risky option, so they carry on like it’s still compulsory. This is factor number one in psychological stagnancy. Now, some bold badass like Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, entirely fed up with the old system, decides to take this option and not write exams. She graduates and is looking for a job one day. (This girl is obviously not an artist, or else she wouldn’t have been looking for a conventional job in the first place; she’d have probably made her own.) No employer is ready to hire her, though, not because she doesn’t have the necessary skill and knowledge to do the jobs, but because they think that without a certificate, there’s a lack of evidence of her qualifications. Get this: they would rather trust a photo-copied piece of paper/digital image than a person’s demonstration of ability in real life. Hence, Ms Badass remains jobless. The employers’ mind-set is factor number 2 in psychological stagnancy. The third, fourth and subsequent numbered factors are the mind-sets of all the parents, attitudes of teachers, effects of the human environment, the willingness of international systems to globally cooperate etc.

Somehow, we’re always finding ways to complain about things some people would like to see as progress. Like me, I like liberal arts. I see it as progressive; yes, let me tailor my education to my specific desires. Yes, let me not be a genius in one area and a dunce in all the others. Yes, allow me to be culturally and ethically educated – what’s your problem, man? But there’s a whole cluster of people complaining that those kids who graduate with liberal arts degrees end up going into the world, not knowing how to do anything. Bruh. =(

I suppose the balance that we actually need to worry about his how to cross an education being useful to an individual with an individual being useful to society. But that really isn’t my point.

My point is that we can change the systemic factors all we want – but they will continue to be ineffective unless the way we think, as individuals AND communities, changes! So I have taken it up in myself to appeal to the psychological – and it’s not hard. For goodness’ sake, I’m a writer. Idea postulation is my whole life. I’m not just complaining through fiction. I’m asking questions, very plainly, trying to ignite people’s minds, and, if possible, make them question the way they think about things. Changing the world can begin by changing the right people’s minds. I’m working on appealing to the psychological to make it ready to fight or accept the systemic.

So there: that’s my explanation for not presenting a self-righteous proposal to Elizabeth Ohene or whoever is Minister of Education now or blasting certain people’s brains out. Thank you for your attention. Enjoy the story (or get upset by it – which seems to be working very effectively) aaaand peace out.

-Akotowaa

[If you haven’t read the story yet, you can download it here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bi0lsp7y0anrx8f/Puppets%20PDF.pdf?dl=0 ]

The Curse of Emotions

How shocking that a person like me would dare to call emotion a curse, right? How dare I blaspheme against it, when it is the very thing I feed on? But by now, the multifaceted nature of issues should be clear. Each coin has its two sides. In the same way, this apparent blessing can also be a curse.

We are the creatures who are cursed to feel deeply, and be touched strongly by matters of the heart. We are the ones who cannot help ourselves from reacting to things, whether ‘trivial’ or profound, even if we tried. And because of this, it is so easy to be misunderstood. It is difficult for people who do not react as deeply to comprehend why we do, and that causes conflict.

Why is the term ‘tortured artist’ so popular? Is it sheer coincidence that great artists suffer? Is it an unspoken rule that artists should suffer? Or, as some people suspect, do we deliberately force ourselves to fit the mould of the term’s criteria?

The values of society should be questioned, and I question them over and over again. The same adjectives keep being thrown about everywhere – in brochures, posters, presentations, websites – and whatever you apply or are a candidate for, those are the characteristics they want you to show. I don’t even know what they mean anymore. Levelheadedness is valued. Passion is superficially demanded. How far can the two coexist, and how fair is it to demand both out of one person, all the time? Levelheadedness is equilibrium. Neither hot nor cold. Neither freezing nor fiery – whereas passion is all that levelheadedness is not. I fear we may either be misusing or misunderstanding the word itself. Passion is, by nature, deviant from any median that levelheadedness rests on. What we forget is that, like every coin, nearly everything else has two sides. When you say ‘passion’ and mean intense devotion, you are not allowed to forget that it could also mean intense hatred – or any other emotion in the space below the equilibrium line. We cannot just take half of its meaning.

We are the passionate ones, and passion isn’t always rational. You look at the world and say passionate people are necessary, but are too scared to put us in positions of power, because it could be like handing nuclear weapons to terrorists. Like terrorists, we terrify you, because you never know what we might do next. At every moment, we are capable of euphoria. At every moment, we are also capable of depression. And so you call us neurotics.

Have you ever considered that we also terrify ourselves? We are unable to keep ourselves from reacting when it happens, and we do not know when we will do it positively, negatively, or when it won’t happen at all. And afterwards, when we don’t like what we can’t help, we cannot prevent our shame. When it works in our favour, we congratulate ourselves for speaking the matters of our hearts.

Though it is a curse of uncontrollability and unpredictability, ask around and see how few of the people who have been blessed with it would consent to it being taken away. We feel our emotions in different ways and, artistically, it manifests itself in different ways as well.

The emotion behind work is what makes it different. Everyone is fully capable of achieving mastery over some skill or the other. You can be a guru with lighting and make spectacularly aesthetic movies, you can string the most beautiful words together in a sentence that sounds like part of a music verse, and you can master breakdancing until people think you’re a freaking automaton. But it is never the same as when there is genuine emotion attached. And that is where the actual ‘passion’ comes in.

Passion is the spice of life. The unwillingness to accept all of its sides and corners could be the very thing that drives tortured artists off the edge.

-Akotowaa

[Note: I wrote this in March 2015]

It had always been easier to write about anguish…

It had always been easier to write about anguish. It was the most distinct feeling, even while being the most ambiguous. Either way, it pushed the words out, regardless of whether or not it all even meant anything.

The pain of it was riddling. It always was; impossible to figure out and incapacitating. It came over in waves, and it took only seconds for the tide to reach its peak. There was no warning. There was no solution. There was only emotion, which asked only to ebb and flow as it pleased. Such things could never be controlled.

The beginning of the wave stemmed from the shifting of tectonic plates deep within her heart. The pain was viscous, overwhelming, impossible to swim in. It rose like bile from the chest to the throat, strangling, ready to choke, further up to the nose, which rejected it – and sniffling was the result – and then to the eyes, which watered with emotion, and afterwards, to the head, which frizzled with painful discomfort. Anguish spread like a wave, like a virus. As a wise man said through a wise character, this was the thing about pain: it demanded to be felt.

Those unfamiliar with it would never truly understand how absolutely crippling it was. It required its own space. When her hand eventually cramped up from the writing, the only other options were the foetal position and the “knees-to-chest with arms wrapped around the calves” position. Neither was preferable. Neither was appropriate. But the worst part was the eyes. Those stared clear and true at nothing. Anguish incorporated the art of looking without seeing: of functional blindness. It commanded the monopoly of her senses like an attention-hogging toddler. Pain demanded to be seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled, stroked, to encompass completely. And she got mad when people did not know how to respect her space.

After writing till the climax where her hand ceased to work, the only remedy was to last it out. On lucky days, sleep claimed her. On others, the only thing to do was to wait for low tide; for the tyrant called pain to release its grips on her heart and promise to be back soon, to relieve her of her well-deserved comfort.

-Akotowaa

[I wrote this in July of 2015 – for those of you who are ready to begin bombarding my inbox and DMs with “What’s wrong?”s. I’m not ready to start explanations.]

The Real World

In the real world,
they tell me
the exam results will not determine my worth.
In the classroom,
they tell me
the real world cannot utilize me
without my exam results.
Now I feel
Like another printed certificate
Like flimsy, perishing paper;
a can’t-do-it-with
and a can’t-do-it-without.
So now I think the real world
is mostly based on fake things
and the realization of the illusion of functionality
has left me disillusioned.
I think reality really doesn’t exist;
My mind is more tangible to me than the real world.
But while you continue to play make-believe in this “real world” of yours,
you tell me that I’m the delusional one.
Funny.
You’re asleep in consciousness.
Wake up to your dreams.
-Akotowaa

How Do You Tell Her?

There are funny jokes. And then there are expensive jokes. Last night, she made a joke far too expensive to tolerate. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to laughingly tell a (formerly) long-time suicidal person, “Then go and kill yourself.” If emotions alone could kill, they would have taken a knife to her throat and stabbed her. But free from malice as Joseph fled from the sex – just run, before someone gets hurt. So I fled.

Yet, I feel uncomfortable, like there is a dam welling up in me, which I cannot hold back much longer. My heart wants to cut into her spirit and damage her to the core with cruel words. But sometimes, such as in this case, the truth itself is cruel. And it could possibly break her enough to make her change. I don’t necessarily want to do it in malice anymore, although that was the initial plan. Now I want to do it through love – but through hard love, through unpolished truth.

I want to tell her plainly that I have long since concluded that she is one of those people that is entirely unable to expand their minds large enough to contain empathy, a slave to systems that confine her. The last person I would ever want to talk to, the reason I always bypass her. That in my life and affairs, not only is she close to completely useless, but also I am incentivized to delete her entirely from my life. I do not want her in it at all.

I want her to know that if I ever do kill myself, she should know that she was a very prominent contributing factor; that she is very blindly and willingly part of so much that is wrong with the world, and so much that is wrong with people. How do you get someone to understand that your flesh hates her? (And that if I don’t kill myself is because sure as hell, she wasn’t worth it.) That every time you smile at her, it is forced? That you have grown weary of her one-sided, propaganda-filled conversation? That you wish that people like her didn’t even exist, and that you do not desire to converse with her ever again? That after every encounter, a dangerous rage swells up in your chest that is almost murderous? That if your flesh had its way, she’d already be madly hurt?

[Fun fact: this piece is a catharsis of my sentiments towards one woman I would indeed not want to exist. She is, in fact, the one on whom Adriana in my novella, Puppets, is based. If it was that kind of book – the dramatic tragedy kind – I promise you, I’d have killed her off already.]

[Update: I feel the need to add: please calm your nerves, readers. I’m not about to off myself. I’ve had particularly bad periods, but this isn’t one of them. This was written a while ago, mostly out of anger, not suicidal despair. Erm, so perhaps it would be useful to indicate on my posts when they were written. The issue is, I don’t consciously take account of dates. But thank you for your concern and stuff. I love you plenty. ✌🏾️]

-Akotowaa