Kuukua and the Cavorting Cups

I like the beginning of this story particularly because it’s a foreshadowing of other things I plan to do with the whole On the Ceiling project. It’s (hopefully) more than just an 8-part short story series, although it’s that too. For this reason, I’m going to post a longer “sneak-peak” excerpt than I usually do. And click here to download the mobile-friendly PDF of Kuukua and the Cavorting Cups!

Click this link to find the first 4 stories in the OTC series. And without further ado…Back of Kuukua and the Cavorting Cups

Kuukua and the Cavorting Cups

I kept my eyes fixed on one spot on the ceiling to help me concentrate as I strained my abdominal muscles. My father’s weight was concentrated on my feet, his hands on my knees, steadying me as I did fifty sit-ups according to his count. Chale, this workout regime dier, he was trying to kill me. I’d never signed up for this.

I wanted to complain, but couldn’t, partially because I was panting so heavily, and also because I knew that if I opened my mouth to speak or took my eyes off the ceiling for even a second, I would lose concentration and collapse.

“…forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.”

My father released my knees, and I flopped to the ground like I would never rise again. The physical aspect of training hadn’t yet stopped being shocking. When I’d found out I had to go through training at all, I hadn’t known that intense physical workouts would be part of the package. For months, I’d been going through several strands of training – the kinds that didn’t leave me drenched in sweat and breathless. They’d involved community service, lessons in spider biology, and learning the secrets of the trades of my father and grandfather. But this P.E. strand had been as surprising as the method by which it was introduced to me.

It had happened a few weeks ago. During our lesson times, my father and I usually made our way to his workshop – our repurposed second garage – or sometimes, my grandfather’s “office” – the repurposed Boys’ Quarters that had been my grandfather’s makeshift chemistry lab for several years. This time, however, when he led me outside, we passed the garage right by and continued to our backyard, where, instead of explaining right away, he swung himself, surprisingly nimbly, onto a branch of our mango tree.

“What the hell!” I exclaimed, beyond shocked.

He ignored my surprise entirely, asking me instead, “Do you remember the story of Kwaku Ananse and the Pot of Wisdom?”

How was I supposed to be thinking about some stupid Kwaku Ananse story when I couldn’t even barb how my father was perched in a mango tree? I didn’t give a flying pesewa about Kwaku Ananse stories; they bored me to death, and I usually put more energy into trying to erase them from my memory than recalling them and their stupid morals.

“Daddy, how did you get onto the tree? Why are you on a tree?”

“Kuukua, focus! Do you remember the story of the Pot of Wisdom or not? Your mother and I read it to you before bed several times when you were younger.”

I was almost certain the baby Kuukua had tried her best to fall asleep quickly so she wouldn’t have to be put through the agony.

“I don’t remember.”

“Then I shall refresh your memory. One day, the spider-man, Kwaku Ananse…”

“You seriously cannot be trying to tell me a Kwaku Ananse story right now,” I said in disbelief.

“Kuukua, can’t you see I’m trying to teach you something? Just close your mouth for two minutes and listen, la!”

I sighed and pursed my lips shut. Maybe if I kept quiet, it would be over sooner.

My father launched into the story:

“One day, the spider-man, Kwaku Ananse, collected all the wisdom in the world and put it into a pot. He was greedy and wanted to keep all the world’s wisdom for himself so that he could use it when he wished and be the World’s Wisest Man.”

Well, in my opinion, it wasn’t very wise to believe that all the world’s wisdom could fit in a single pot. The story here had ended badly before it had begun.

“Kwaku Ananse wanted to hide the pot of wisdom where no one would find it. And so he decided to hide it at the top of a very tall tree. He strapped the pot to his front, against his belly, and proceeded to climb, but never got much higher than the ground before he slipped back down.”

Hoh. Common sense would tell you that climbing a tree with something strapped to your belly was a mark of true idiocy.

“But Kwaku Ananse’s son, Ntikuma, happened to be passing by, and saw his father struggling with the pot. So Ntikuma suggested to his father that perhaps it would be easier to climb with the pot strapped to his back instead. Ashamed, Kwaku Ananse realized that of course, Ntikuma was right. Once he put the pot on his back, climbing became very easy. But when he reached the top, he realized that it was all useless; for one thing, now that Ntikuma knew where the world’s wisdom was being kept, it was no longer Kwaku’s secret. For another thing, Kwaku realized he had scammed himself – for if he really had gathered all the wisdom in his pot, how come Ntikuma, on the ground, had wisely solved a problem he himself had been unable to get around? When he realized this, he was so shocked that he dropped the pot, and wisdom was once again distributed throughout the earth. And that is the end of the story as it’s commonly told.”

“And so the moral is what, that Kwaku Ananse is an imbecile who rarely realizes it until it’s too late?”

“Well, the traditionally accepted moral of the story is that no one man – or spider, or spider-man, or woman – can have all the wisdom in the world. But the conclusion that you just came to is what Ntikuma wants you to think.”

Ehn?”

“Have you ever heard the saying that until the lion learns to speak, the tale will always glorify the hunter?”

“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Much more than you yet realize. You see, until Kwaku Ananse himself is the one to tell his own stories – which may indeed never happen, due to the nature of things – the tales will always glorify Ntikuma. Now, let me tell you what really happened: one of our ancient ancestors, an Ananse from several generations back, started out as a talented trickster, just like the rest of us. He was clever, the best in the village at cracking puzzles, solving riddles and interpreting and inventing proverbs. Every trick he ever played, he played with his mind. But as he grew, he realized that it wasn’t only nyansa that could get you far in life, although it had done well for him and his ancestors so far. As the tale goes, he sought out all the animals of the kingdom and learnt the wisdom of their ways – in both mind and body – with patience and diligence, until he had wholesomely educated himself with everything wise he could pick up from every creature around him. One of these creatures, of course, was the Monkey, and the Monkey’s lesson was agility. Although this Ananse was patient as he tried to learn how to climb a tree just like the Monkey did, he failed often. And I imagine more than one person witnessed his numerous failed attempts to climb the tree – any one of whom could have recreated the story the way they wanted his falls and failures to be perceived. I assure you, our ancestor learnt agility successfully in the end, though unfortunately – and this is the case with most of our ancestors – he failed to prevent the spread of the… what do we call it these days? Err… ‘fake news,’ is it? Anyhow, since his generation, physical training has always been part of the wholesome Ananse training program.”

Go back to the top of this post to download the full story! Lots of love,

Akotowaa.

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And she’s back for the second half!

Making it past halfway of any project these days is a milestone – especially for me, with my artistic commitment issues and the tragic tendencies of vim to die. But we still in this thing! And OTC #5 will be ready for download on Friday, 29th September. 🙂

Making it more than halfway is as much of a relevant milestone to the reader as to the writer, so if you’re still with me, THANK YOU SO MUCH. If you left off somewhere, I don’t love you any less. If you never started… WYD, fam?!

-Akotowaa

Stating the Obvious (I Think)

I think everything I’m saying is obvious, but you never know in this world. In any case, things that are known don’t suffer from being articulated again. So, here we go.

As far as I can see, if anyone truly professes to be fighting for a cause that is in any way bigger than them, it is necessary to realize that exceptions simply cannot be the solutions to the problems. What we really should be making our main goal is not to be exceptional, but to be perfectly ordinary. Does that sound strange? Let me break it down.

A lot of the oppression and marginalization we fight is systematic. That means it’s all entrenched in our societies, which in turn means that there are definitions of normalcy from which the oppressed or marginalized are excluded. Progress is only made when that is no longer the case – when those we (used to) think of as the oppressed and the marginalized are included in this definition of normalcy.

For example, I, Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, am a Ghanaian, female student in a higher education institution. And, although we certainly still have a long way to go in terms of African educational gender gaps, the fact that a Ghanaian girl goes to college is not mind-blowing news. It’s not something for my country or continent to throw a party over. Several African girls go to college or university each year, and it is probably a noble cause to make sure that this phenomenon continues to get more and more normal as time progresses.

It seems to me that, at the very least, the societies I have been exposed to have developed some internal conflicts about the idea of being unique, exceptional, “other.” At the same time, minorities and the marginalized seem to be fighting to be recognized, liberated, integrated, no longer “othered.” I suspect we are becoming increasingly confused about “normal.” Do we like it or do we hate it? We despise normality for the things it excludes, yet the core of our missions at the very least should be achieving the status of normativity. This doesn’t mean changing ourselves to conform to existing definitions; most of the time, the trouble is that the thing that marginalizes us is something that is unchangeable about us.

I want to acknowledge that there are quite clearly moments when distinction is a necessity. As a matter of fact, I think it is crucial for difference to be recognized – and thus emphasized – even before it can be integrated. For example, black hair products, in a section distinct enough for black people to be able to find what works best for their natural hair colors and textures. The problem does not arise with the fact that something is labelled specifically by ethnicity but so usual, with the notion that white hair is “default.” “Majority” need not always be synonymous with “default.”

What I’m trying to say? Our mission is, or should be, to expand normal. It seems obvious enough, but frequently, our actions suggest that we’re not aware of this. We often praise exceptions not just for their merit but for the actual characteristic of being an exception. We are proud of someone who is “the only black woman in…” or “the only trans person in…” And then we’re so caught up in acknowledging the exception to ingest that the fact that our hero(ine) is an exception is troubling.

So. Be like Ava DuVernay. She’s lit.

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: Lagoon

Author: Nnedi Okorafor.

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I recently decided that Nnedi Okorafor is currently my favorite fiction author. Last year, right after I read Who Fears Death, I think I declared it my new favorite novel, and for sure, Onyesonwu (the main character of Who Fears Death) is my favorite fictional character at the moment, so it’s like Nnedi is just winning in my whole life right now. I’m trying to read all the books of hers I can get hold of, and since I’d heard so much about Lagoon already, I requested it from the closest public library. It was lit. So here, let me talk about several things I really liked about the book.

First of all, I loved that the main character was a middle-aged, married Nigerian woman with kids. This was unusual for me, not only for a novel, but for a science fiction one. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. Adaora (that’s her name) felt real and credible to me because of this. She was also a university professor (although her field, marine biology, isn’t one I’d consider quite ordinary for a Nigerian professor) which I know Nnedi Okorafor also is, and this made me happy, for goodness knows what reason. Also, she had a marine lab in her basement with computers and an aquarium and I don’t even know how you can get more badass than that.

The gradual revelation of the characters’ complexity was fascinating! I love background stories and things about people that are not always what they seem. On the surface, all the characters are rather unremarkable. It took the idea of random civilians to a whole new level because of how the characters’ careers were so diverse that it almost didn’t make sense what on earth they were doing together. Adaora, the protagonist, was a marine biology professor. Her companions, “Anthony Dey Craze” and Agu were a rapper and a soldier respectively. There’s an interesting way in which the extraordinary is composed of the unlikely placement of perfectly ordinary things. A story about a marine biologist, a Ghanaian rapper or a soldier would be a fairly normal one. But when all three are suddenly and randomly placed in the same context with a common interest, they begin to bring out the peculiarities in each other’s stories, while adding complexity to their collective story… and only when they were together did they begin to confess their supernatural fits.

They all had strange superpowers, and I loved it! All of their powers were quite logically related to their professions and that kind of blew my mind. I feel like that’s the best kind of superhero; the kind whose powers are not necessarily separate from their everyday lives, but which are rather part of their mundane realities.

Of course, I liked the onomastics. I love names. I think onomastics are my favorite literary device, if this thing can even be considered a literary device. I liked the emphasis on names in this story, the way Nnedi brought them to the forefront such that they were impossible to ignore:

“They all went. Adaora, Anthony, Ayodele and Agu… Adaora knew the soldier’s name now. His name meant “leopard” in Igbo. Her name meant “daughter of the people” in Igbo and she told them so.”

It was telling, how Adaora deliberated quite a while before settling on what to call her new alien guest: Ayodele. Have you ever heard of an alien with a Yoruba name? Nah, didn’t think so! LOL

The narration caught my attention. It was mostly omniscient, though it had a POV focus depending on which character was most relevant in which section. But it was the prologues to book sections and “interludes” that really intrigued me. At the very beginning, before Chapter 1, we had insights into the thoughts of a swordfish. Somewhere in the middle, the thoughts of a tarantula. And my favorite, near and at the end, there were first person sections from a character called Udide, who is the “master weaver,” the spinner of everyone’s stories, who lives underground beneath Lagos. Oh, and she’s the cousin of Ananse, hehee. Shout-out to spider families!

I felt like throughout the book, I could see Nnedi’s love for the animal kingdom shining through, and this made me smile. Something magical happens to stories when they radiate the author’s own loves. (By the way, the reason I know so much about Nnedi’s love for animals, particularly bugs – and her distaste for spiders, SMH – is because I follow her on Twitter. She has fantastic thoughts and things to share, so I recommend you do that too, even if you never read any of her books.)

I also really liked how easily I could imagine this book as an action/superhero movie! I don’t like comparison very much, but in my head, Lagoon’s movie is like a Lagos-based Avengers. (LOL, wait, the Avengers have been to Lagos! What if… Nevermind.)

Then. of course, there was the novelty. The aliens in Lagoon were the most unique kinds of aliens I’d ever read. Usually, I’m thinking of those cliché visions of small, bug-eyed creatures who can fly and whatever. But marine aliens? Creatures from space deciding to come through the water? That was different. They were shapeshifters too, capable of looking exactly like humans if they wanted, and that kind of reminded me of those aliens from the only episode of Star Trek I have ever watched, “The Man Trap.” If you know what I’m talking about, you know.

Lagoon gave me points to ponder about the reception of extraterrestrials here on Earth, and specifically in an African city/country. I noticed something fascinating among the characters: many of them chose to interpret the aliens’ arrival in a way that aligned with a worldview they already had. A lot of it translated into the religious. Two prime examples. The first is this pastor, Father Oke, who nearly immediately started to use the aliens to grow his brand, marketing their arrival as some agenda of God to bring even aliens to the Gospel. Another was of a fairly ambitious prostitute who already had internalized guilt about her method of income generation. And, in the course of the story, “she would become one of the loudest prophets of doom in Lagos.” There was a lot of relevant comedic religiosity in the book, only fitting for a story based in Lagos.

And lastly, I just want to say that in my personal opinion, “Anthony Dey Craze,” the rapper, the only Ghanaian character, the one with a superpower that manifested itself through his voice, which he called the “rhythm,” was the coolest character in the book, and one of the coolest characters I have ever read in my whole life. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Ghanaian, I promise.

I highly recommend Lagoon!

-Akotowaa

It’s Made in Ghana, and It’s Lit!

Hello there!

I have GREAT NEWS.

My friends have published a book! A real, actual, physical book, can you believe it? I’m so proud of Rodney Assan and Fui Can-TamakloeMade in Ghana is an anthology of short stories of Ghana, by Ghanaians, for Ghanaians – and whomever else.

Oh… and did I mention I wrote a foreword for it? (I don’t care what you think, I’m a published author now, because I have two paragraphs in someone else’s book ayyyyy!)

I’m just here to tell you to get the book! If you’re in Accra, it’s physically available at Vidya Bookstore, Osu. It’s also available online for purchase at madeinghana.storefoundry.com. I assume you can also contact the boys individually to get a copy if you want to.

MadeinGhana

So yeah, man. Get it, consume it, read it, drink it, love it, buy one for your bestie, your mother, your girlfriend, your grandpa, your schoolteacher, your pastor and anyone else you can think of, let’s goooo!

-Akotowaa

Half the Glory (a narrative poem)

We stood overlooking the city from a hill. After I had seen the world from a space station and galaxies in their glory, the awe stuck to me like the stubbornest kind of residue. It was through those lenses that I observed with the one beside me.

Presently, he said to me, “It’s so arbitrary, isn’t it?” And I was baffled so I repeated, “Arbitrary?” And he said, “Yes. That we, human beings, just happened.” He looked at me like he expected assent.

I realized then how difficult some find it to grasp the awe the universe brings.

I am a designer of words and worlds. I know what the afterglow of recognizing complex, beautiful art feels like. It is the same as recognizing the complex beauty in myself as I am designed.

I wondered how long he had felt like a product of an arbitrary process, like someone devoid of predesigned purpose, as something that might as well not have been, a likely mistake. Perhaps since the days before he self-identified as “he.”

In that moment, I could offer nothing. I could not assuage the sadness that came with the inability to process the awe.

All I could think was this:

There is a profound despondency in the blindness to wonder, in the rejection of intentionality. To see a perfectly designed world and to appreciate everything but its perfect design is to see only half the glory – if one can see even that much.

-Akotowaa

Dear Upcoming Creator/Artist

Dear Upcoming Creator/Artist,

I hope you find your target audience, and I hope you realize early enough who your target audience is even composed of. Some of us are fortunate enough to start our creative endeavors from a community we have long since been entrenched in. However, some of us have not. Some of us are programmers whose friends don’t give a damn about apps or code. Some of us are aspiring fashion bloggers whose friends don’t give a hoot about the concept of color blocking. Some of us are poets whose friends honestly care nothing for wordplay. Thus, your friends are not always your target audience – which is not to say that they can never be. But, I hope you realize this sooner than later: your friends are not necessarily your fans. And I know how painful it can be sometimes when it doesn’t look like your friends are giving you the support you think you should be getting from them. But you must understand that sometimes, they simply and innocently do not care, not because they dislike you, but because your interests and theirs don’t align. I hope you get over this quickly. I hope you realize also that your brand will never grow wildly if it is composed solely of your friends. Perhaps you should focus more on pushing your work to its relevant audiences than you should concern yourself about whether or not your friends are paying attention. If thou art a photographer, push to the photography lovers (not just the friends who want free profile pictures and the opportunity to add the word “model” to their bio). If thou art a musician, push thy work towards music lovers, and so on. Hopefully, in time, you will build a legitimate base of genuine admiration, as opposed to occasional polite smiles and obligatory retweets.

Sometimes you will have to choose between being real and being successful. I do not intend to condemn either side, at least not here. This choice will depend on what you entered your industry for. If you entered to get rich or famous or both, well then do what you got to do to get there; you can’t be a “sellout” if you were never anything different before your “sellout” phase, because there was nothing to be sold in the first place. However, if you came into your game with the intention of changing it, I want to let you know how likely it is that the opportunity to sell out will present itself to you many times, and in those times, you will have to choose. Although it may not be lucrative, I sincerely hope you choose to be real. But listen, and this part is extremely important: sometimes, being real and being successful may happen to you at once. If it ever happens, you need to hold fast to your integrity and shut your ears to the BS that is almost certain to start flying around. Some people get their highs off spreading rumors that all success is a result of selling out. But I need you to remember that there are people who do get successful from being consistently authentic, or likeable, or useful, or different. Thus, if you know for a fact that you have been what you are without compromise, don’t beat yourself up or give yourself crap about not “deserving” what you’ve gotten.

You do not need to be friends with everyone. Sycophancy lands you in trouble – and it may be covert trouble, trouble that the whole world does not see, trouble that they may even perceive as part of your success. Trouble comes in many forms: deals you can’t get out of easily, obligations you can’t refuse, collaborations with people you had no intention of ever working with, the release of products that do not align with your own brand or ideals, debt, and the list is never-ending. The people who propagate all the supposed rules of all our industries constantly harp on about “networking” – and while it is true that a lot of progress is dependent on relationships with people, you must know that they must be the right people. There ought to be no condemnation for attempting to get close to people who are already doing work that you admire. There is, however, much danger and tiresomeness in trying to get close to people because you’ve heard or seen that they are “important” in your industry. You may have nothing in common with them. Some of the most lucrative connections might also be the ones that require you to sell out. Additionally, in every industry, naturally, not everyone will agree all the time. You will lose yourself faster than you can blink if you go around trying to please every damn one – even those warring with each other, those who don’t like you, and those you disagree with. Don’t burn yourself out; learn to be comfortable with surrounding yourself with people around whom you are comfortable. (Note: being comfortable around a person or company is not equal to agreeing with them 100% of the time. Do not make that mistake either.)

It is very likely that there will be seasons. Seasons are as natural for the creator as they are for the weather. You may have peaks, where you are the hottest thing on the charts, or getting booked so much, you have to start turning things down. In such periods, it is as easy to get over-whelmed as it is to get complacent, or think you’ve finally “made it.” Thus, it might surprise you when, in a few weeks, months or years, the attention begins to dry out and you are no longer at the forefront. You may feel prematurely washed out, or irrelevant next to what appears to be a new wave of popular creators on the market. But don’t stress yourself out; no one act should expect to be the most relevant at all times. Instead of getting discouraged, use your time in the shadows to practice and improve on what you do best: creating. You can only market the same product so many times, or ride off the wave of your hit single for so long. At some point, you are going to have to sit down again, in solitude or with your team, and get back to trying to produce some excellent material. In your driest seasons, when it starts to bother you that nobody is paying attention, you should probably ask yourself, “Would I still want to do this if no one paid attention?” Your answer needs to be “Yes.” If it is not, you may want to re-evaluate your career choice as a creator. Let your dry seasons not shake you.

Don’t plague yourself too much about relatability. In my humble opinion, creating with the intention of portraying one’s personal truth is eons more important than creating “relatable” content. An obsession with relatability may lead to some of the most inauthentic content a person could ever create. And there is a reason why “mainstream” content is both as popular as it is and is insulted as often as it is: at the same time that people consume what the mainstream offers, they have an acute awareness of things that appear to be geared towards falling in line with some sort of trend or majority. I think, more than anything, the person whose relatability you should aim for the most is yourself. Because, as obvious as this fact is, you are a human being – and for just about anything a human being experiences, I assume there are other human beings that will be able to relate. You may think I have just asked you to do the very thing I previously told you not to do, but I entreat you to re-analyze it. Telling your own truth the way that you know it is very different from approaching from the angle of intending to create something “relatable.” For the former, relatability is a fortunate, treasured consequence. For the latter, relatability is the goal, and consequently, the content might be generic. Also, here’s a fun fact: not all humans have the same experiences, and there will always be people complaining that there’s some certain group to whom your creations are not valuable. I advise you not to care too much all the time. In line with this point, here are some wise words from Jayso:

“Listen miss me with the punning and the criticism

I be going ape on every take, that’s lyricism

What’s up with all these Cupid basic writers

Talking ‘bout your verses no dey mean a thing to trotro drivers

That be cool but who said I am right to rap for all you hypers

I am hyperactive lyrically

I write like it’s for cyphers.”

PS: the song the lyrics came from is “Pop Mandem” by Bryan the Mensah.

Remember that the industry doesn’t love you. And neither do the people. Whichever industry you’re in does not exist to be especially interested in your success. If anything at all, it is bent against you, set on your demise, like every protective being is bent on preserving their property or community as it is, and wary of allowing entry to strangers. If your entry and rise is too easy, it may be cause for concern; you may have to deliberate upon whether or not you’re being exploited and decide what to do about it, even if that ends up being “nothing.” Remember sycophants are real. The people who want to get close to you if they see you as famous, or with the potential for fame, are vipers. Don’t inflate from how much they gas you – even if the gassing is genuine. The industry loves no one, not even the people at the top of it. That being said, kill your ego, your sense of entitlement. It is not the duty of those higher up to pull up those lower down, although it is noble to support upcoming creators in whom one sees something worthwhile. And that’s the main thing: whatever you create needs to be worthwhile, and even when it is, you must still expect nothing from anyone. The industry doesn’t love you, but three things remain key:

  1. Mind your business (which is creating)
  2. Do your work (which is creating)
  3. Make good art (which is your business, which is your work, which is creating).

-Akotowaa