Wound Care

While I was living in Ghana after college there was a line in a book that really spoke to me (An Imperfect Offering) that said “No scars, no stories, no life.”  My body has its fair share of scars, the majority from a dog attack at a young age that left me with 32 stitches spread out along my left leg, arm, and back. But one of those scars came from that year in Ghana during an October trip to Togo and Benin with my friend Mette. While getting off a motorcycle taxi, the driver’s balance slipped and the exhaust pipe pressed against the inside of my right calf, the pain searing through me like the slice of a knife. Our tour guide put toothpaste on the burn, trying to ease the pain until we got back home to Ghana. I cried on the sidewalk as he smoothed the blue paste across my leg. I was worried it would leave a scar, and I did not want to be marked. I did not want to have to always account for this story or have a story developed for me in the face of obvious markings. So I remained hopeful that a temporary salve could permanently heal a deep wound.

When I got back to my home in Ghana, my boss George, who I was living with (he and his family) at the time, caught me fussing over my wound. I was trying to find a quick way to stop the cycle of puffy skin and pain and ugliness. I had found some ointment for cuts and bruises and burns in my emergency kit and was trying to lather it on while trying to figure out which bandage to put over it. George smiled at me and told me that we had an aloe plant growing in the backyard. He told me to take a short walk to the back and find the plant, then break off one of the leaves, cut it open, and smooth the fresh gel from the plant over my burn. Only then should I gently wrap the wound. I wanted to know how long it would take for everything to heal and if I would have a scar. He laughed and told me to just take my walk to the aloe plant each day and let time and my body do the rest of the work.

That’s not what I wanted to hear, but I diligently put the aloe on my wound each day and gently wrapped it, and eventually I forgot to count the days. I stopped trying to hide that I was hurt from others, and instead focused on the process of healing. Time was only marked by the change in the look to my leg. I had to trust that I could heal, and I had to let go of the desire to choose quick, temporary fixes. In the words of Mary Oliver, I had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

In a singular moment in Togo I feared that I had been permanently and irreversibly scarred. And in many ways I am. But not in the same ways that I once thought. The scars have faded, but I know that they are still there. I cannot escape the words of the story that they tell that add to the spaces of my life. I continue to be the sum of every moment that has marked me. “No scars, no stories, no life.”Just like my time in Ghana with the aloe plant, I purposefully walk the paths toward my healing, making my own salves that I know will let me naturally heal the pain and fade the scars into beautiful lines of living.

 

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Close Encounters

black women breathe

flowers, too.

just because

we are taught to grow them in the lining of our

quiet (our grandmothers secret).

does not mean

we do not swelter with

wild tenderness.

we soft swim.

we petal.

we scent limbs.

love.

we just have been too

long a garden for sharp

and deadly teeth.

so we

have

grown

ourselves

into

greenhouses.

-Greenhouses by Nayyirah Waheed from salt.

Last night I went out with a good friend of mine I have known since middle school. We decided to dress up and hit up the town, which for us is our not-so-large city of Indianapolis. The night was going really well, and I was in a great mood coming off of a good basketball game, great conversation, and a pint of my favorite beer. We were enjoying ourselves at Revel, this nice lounge spot, dancing and meeting new people, when we decided to check out a few spots before we settled in for the night at one place. We headed down the road to Bartini, which ended up being a great choice for a better DJ, and we quickly found ourselves covering the dance floor to some of our favorite jams. As we were dancing, I noticed a white man (colloquially speaking he would be deemed as “white trash” where we are from) leering at us, but I naively believed that if I just paid him zero attention he would go away. This was untrue. After a few minutes he came right up against my back and cupped then slapped my ass.

For me, the fun immediately stopped and even though the music was still playing, all I could hear as I turned around to face this man was my own anger, loud in my head. I walked right into his space and pointed my finger at him and told him if he ever laid his hand on me again I would break his hand with my index finger. While some might thing that was a violent threat, I have to pause and say something:

I have tried it all.

All of it.

The reactions have been the same which is why I so often opt now to say something in the moment–especially if there is sufficient crowd around. I have done the ‘Oh, I have a boyfriend. He’s in the bathroom’ to the fake engagement rings, to the polite smile and no, as if I was apologizing for luring them in with my potent powers, the same kind men will actually talk about when they claim that a woman was begging to be raped. I won’t apologize for being; for existence. I have never been here for any of those types of men.

And this man just shrugged and smiled at his friends who also smiled at the situation, with mirth in their eyes, amused at this girl who had dared to say something. My friend and I moved away from the location, ceding the space as women of do, as they know the  consequence of not doing so is to be punished as the perpetrator themselves. This man then followed us to the back of the bar and tried to approach me once more, and again I stepped up to him and told him to not even look in my direction. He walked out the door. At this point, I wanted to be far from this location, and we decided to leave and return to Revel. As we walked down the street, we saw the same man standing on a railing outside another bar as if he was waiting on us to pass. We quickened our steps to pass without any type of engagement, but as we passed the man loudly declared that i was “that black bitch.” I was not even surprised by this introduction of race, as I knew it was coming, and had always been at the back of his mind. I told him that if he was going to harrass me so much, that he could meet me at the end of the railing to face me (my mother would certainly admonish me for this, as she did when I went after a man who stole my phone). He started laughing and said he would tell the cops, an element he must know would not make me feel safe.

But #IfIDieInPatriarchalCustody I want you to know that ‘black women breathe flowers, too.’ That the trope of the strong black woman eclipses the truth that she is looking for water too.

We continued to walk on. I was never going to fight him. Not when the ring would have been the public spaces that are his stomping grounds. As my mother reminds me, ‘Do not enter the ring prematurely.’

Last week I wrote a piece with my friend Jesika Laster about silence when it comes to the negative treatment of black women, especially in regard to our bodies. Tonight I am reflecting on that piece once more, and what I have often written about in my pieces: the objectification of women’s bodies in public spaces (which can often run into their private spaces as well). It goes like this: a woman puts her clothes on and she walks out into the street or walks around in a public building, and suddenly becomes the property of everyone else around, especially when that relationship is so rooted in history that has been manufactured to repeat itself.

There was a post I saw several weeks ago about how when women want to get away from men who they do not like, they move away from them, create their own spaces without them. However, when men encounter women who they ‘dislike’ they often do everything to be around them, coming into the spaces they create, harrassing them, and threatening them. When I read such words, I vividly remember and am transported back to my year living in Ghana when one of my co-workers stalked and threatened me to the point that I had to move so he would no longer know my location. He would text my phone and say that I was no longer in America and no one would come help me, and he would come into my room at night and have his way with me. He would text me with threats on my life, and he had verbally assaulted me on more than one occasion. All this because I had rebuked his advances. And my boss would not fire him, even after I showed him these pieces of evidence. He was afraid that this co-worker would go hurt himself if he did. (My boss eventually felt deep regret for his inaction.) So I alone stood (with one close girl friend) at the police station filing my reports. I went to work and prayed that I had timed myself going to the office in a way that would avoid us being left alone or running into each other. My life was the one that had to be disrupted for committing no crime.

One year after I had left Ghana, that same co-worker wrote me to say that he forgave me for the lies I told about him, and hoped one day I would be able to confess what I had done so I could go to heaven. It is a wonder that these type of men do not choke on their own egregious views of the world. But then again, so much of it is upheld in daily practices and systems and institutions. My encounters in which I expose or confront this…those are viewed as the infractions.

When a Piece Reads You

It has now officially been over a year since I graduated. May 26, 2011 seems like a lifetime ago on some days, and on other days I can remember distinctly the way the sun felt on me as I posed for millions of photos as if it were yesterday. For the majority of the past year my life has been shaped, often erratically and forcefully, by my time abroad. Perhaps it is better to say that so much of my daily thoughts and actions have been sprinkled with the magic of times spent on distant shore. As I type these words with a blanket wrapped around me on one of the couches in the living room of my parents’ house, I can’t help but think of how different my life is now. Not different in a bad way, but rather just another type of exploration and a calmer source of adventure. But everything I experienced I carried back with me. I would never stay within the baggage allowances of my flights if they had to measure my heart, heavy with the mixed feelings of departures, or my brain, bursting through my head with new ideas and pictures and ways of living. I have been sorting through them since I returned to America.

About a week ago I read an article online entitled “What Happens When You Live Abroad.” There were so many parts of the article that I found myself nodding along to that I felt as though the article was, in fact, reading me instead of the other way around. I wanted to pull out some of the passages I especially felt connected to:

But one thing that undoubtedly exists between all of us, something that lingers unspoken at all of our gatherings, is fear. There is a palpable fear to living in a new country, and though it is more acute in the first months, even year, of your stay, it never completely evaporates as time goes on. It simply changes. The anxiousness that was once concentrated on how you’re going to make new friends, adjust, and master the nuances of the language has become the repeated question “What am I missing?” As you settle into your new life and country, as time passes and becomes less a question of how long you’ve been here and more one of how long you’ve been gone, you realize that life back home has gone on without you. People have grown up, they’ve moved, they’ve married, they’ve become completely different people — and so have you.

I remember before I left for Ghana, I had a conversation with my friend Roxanne, who is often on the move, about how she coped with the feeling that even though she was having her own adventures, that the lives of those she is not with are going and moving forward without her. I did not live abroad for several years, but still there was the feeling of missed connections and missed events. For me, four of my five college roommates moved to New York City and the other moved to a city where we had other friends moving there as well. They often run into other friends we made in university, and through photos and anecdotes, this fact is chronicled for me. And a small part of me worries that I will become the stranger at group gatherings. You know—the one that everyone vaguely knows what is happening to or where he or she is in the world. But I keep in touch and get better with each month at ‘being there’ even when I can’t be there.

Still, the last line of the paragraph rings truest. The greatest change that happened during my fellowship year was the changes that happened to me and not just the world around me. On a smaller scale, I recall having these thoughts when I came back from my semester in Madrid. I was back at Harvard for the spring semester of my junior year. The parties were the same, the workload was the same, and almost everything was as if I had left it in a time capsule. I had changed, but I had come back to a place that was vastly unchanged. The new and challenging environment had forced me into a new stage of my life. Those new stages can happen anywhere, but for me, it was stretching the very core of my being. I have probably only spoken to three close friends in depth about the type of living that requires you to spend hours contemplating thoughts and getting to know yourself in new ways. I have discovered much of what postgraduate me is capable of doing and being. This passage speaks to how I feel:

Walking streets alone and eating dinner at tables for one — maybe with a book, maybe not — you’re left alone for hours, days on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You start talking to yourself, asking yourself questions and answering them, and taking in the day’s activities with a slowness and an appreciation that you’ve never before even attempted. Even just going to the grocery store — when in an exciting new place, when all by yourself, when in a new language — is a thrilling activity. And having to start from zero and rebuild everything, having to re-learn how to live and carry out every day activities like a child, fundamentally alters you. Yes, the country and its people will have their own effect on who you are and what you think, but few things are more profound than just starting over with the basics and relying on yourself to build a life again. I have yet to meet a person who I didn’t find calmed by the experience. There is a certain amount of comfort and confidence that you gain with yourself when you go to this new place and start all over again, and a knowledge that — come what may in the rest of your life — you were capable of taking that leap and landing softly at least once.

It is time for a new phase of my life to begin. On Friday I leave for Miami. Another move to another new place where I will know less than a handful of people. There will be more meals alone and more building new relationships and meanings to the word ‘home.’ These two sentences in the article are probably the ones that struck a sharp chord in my heart when I read it. I cannot think of truer words to share to summarize what my mind has processed during my time in the town where time does not reside. They are the words that remind me how much potential Miami has for more journeys, more loves, and more events that remind me just how durable faith is.

It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones. The people that took you into their country and became your new family, they aren’t going to mean any less to you when you’re far away.

 

A Return to the Town Where Time Does Not Reside

“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

 For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I’m feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I’m feeling sad, it’s my consolation. When I’m feeling happy, it’s part of why I feel that way.

 If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget, part of who I am will be gone. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well. ”

–Frederick Buechner

 It has now been a week since I boarded a plane at Kotoka Airport and pressed my face against the airplane window until I could not see the lights of Accra anymore. I am not particularly fond of airports and Kotoka falls near the bottom of the list of comfortable journey facilitators. Its cold walls, though, seemed the perfect setting for the rushed send-off of a shared bottle of Coca-cola and a quick kiss and hug before the waves of travelers pushing against a small door leading to immigration swallowed me whole. Even the inevitable tears felt rushed by angry security workers. But unhappy traveling aside, here I am snuggled on the living room couch of my family home, trying to put words to the feeling of beginning again.

I have been met on all sides by the familiar questions about how it feels to be back, am I going through culture shock, and if I miss being there. I think some of my friends have been surprised at how easy I find it to talk about adjusting back to life here or wrapping up things in Ghana with my project. The fact is that it has not been difficult. My close friend Matt thinks that some might view how he and I live as being emotionally detached. I could see how one could come to that conclusion. But it would not be anywhere near the truth. I love and care very easily and very deeply. However, I also treasure the curious beauty of an ending, as my friend Roxanne so beautifully blogged. I savored the last days in Ghana with visits to my favorite parts of the city, eating all my favorite foods, and spending as much time as possible with loved ones. I savored and I memorized and I remembered.

I have always found a special truth in Buechner’s words about remembrance. I especially love the part where he writes, “For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost.” When I remember the people who have touched my life, I feel as though they will never be lost to me. I hope they feel the same way about me. I want to believe that I have left my mark on my patch of red dirt in Ghana. Even if just for a little while, I want to believe that my fingerprints have imprinted the hearts of those I met. My students kept repeating to me that they would never forget me. I hope they never forget what they learned. And I know that I could never forget them, because in that small classroom all 38 of us embarked on a new journey together, one in which I hope will last a lifetime. I don’t think forgetfulness can easily take over, though. Anytime they act out their lessons, they will be remembering me.

Sometimes when I reflect at the end of a journey, I come to the conclusion that I am the sum of all the places I have been. I think that if I forget the memories created there, that like Buechner wrote, part of who I am would also be forgotten. So I am treasuring the start and the end of my time in Ghana, and memorizing the details of a fellowship year filled with love and learning. And there were times that it was so hard and nothing like what I imagined it would be, but as I learned to ride the rollercoaster, there came a time when I could throw my hands up and smile in anticipation of the drop ahead.

But I also have something else to thank for this ability to seamlessly transition from one place to another. The other factor is that I returned to Belleville, my home, and a town where time does not reside. Here, time freezes and I am able to soak in the sun of the countryside and breathe the comfort and relaxation into every pore of my body. It would be impossible to not embrace this bubble of rejuvenation. And I am grateful to it once again. I know it will massage and comfort me as my body and my mind begin to unpack everything from the last journey. And I am sure some writing and photos will come forth as well.

Azonto

Since I arrived in Ghana there has been one dance craze that has dominated the music scene. Music is even made specifically for the dance. It’s called azonto, and most Ghanaians can barely remember what popular dancing looked like before it. There’s a bit of controversy over the origins of the dance. Guys in Tema and guys in Accra both claim to have started it. Formerly it was in the form of dirty dancing, but not known as azonto until the artist Sarkodie’s song ‘You Go Kill Me.’ Sarkodie is originally from Tema, but the guys in Ashiama originally did the dirty dancing, which is a part of Accra. The dispute has yet to be settled, but all agree that azonto’s roots are 100% Ghanaian. It has since evolved away from dirty dancing, and is mainly danced solo. It is so mainstream that it is even danced in churches. Because of the type of moves involved in azonto, it can be adapted to almost any type of music beyond just those created as part of the dance craze. There is also certainly an attitude involved in dancing azonto, from facial expressions to a message one might want to send, such as a guy asking a girl to dance with him. The craze even spread beyond Ghanaian borders to countries with a strong Ghanaian presence, such as the UK. While I was in Ethiopia, I met a girl at our hotel in Addis Ababa who asked me if I knew how to azonto when she found out that I was living in Ghana. I was so surprised!

I am proud to say that I have mastered a fair share of azonto moves myself and immensely enjoy the music associated with it as well. Here are some videos of dancers and the musicians showcasing the moves and the music:


 

 

 

Like Candy from a Stranger

Most of us have seen the public service commercials about it and have learned about it from our parents and at school. DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS. And especially when we are young, we are told not to go with strangers and never take candy or other presents from them. They just want to lure poor, unsuspecting children away for often horrible reasons. We don’t worry about those scenarios much when we grow older. It would be a rare occurrence for someone to try such a trick on an older child and certainly not an adult. However, here in Ghana I have often recalled those lessons from childhood.

The scene is like this: I am walking down a street or waiting on the side of the road for a tro-tro to come along. A man—sometimes young, other times old—slows down in his car and tries to get my attention. He then tries to say a few lines he thinks will make me think he is trustworthy. An example would be a middle-aged man driving up to me and saying he is a minister and wants to give me a ride to the junction since it looks as though there are not any tro-tros coming my way at this time. Instead of candy, also, sometimes I get promises that they are going to go eat and I should join them. I used to talk to the men to get them to understand I do not want to go with them, but now I have taken to ignoring them and walking faster or turning away. It may seem rude, but I know that 97% of them have nothing positive in mind.

My commitment to this stance led to a comical event last Friday. I was walking towards the roundabout to catch a tro-tro to the Accra Mall and I was walking fast, as I am even more bothered by the men on the road when I am in dressier clothes, when it happened. As I was walking I heard a male voice say ‘Hello, young lady.’ I quickened my steps. But then I heard the voice say, ‘Hello, Delia.’ I immediately recognized the way the voice said my name. It was George. I stopped, turned around, and as soon as our eyes met we started laughing and hugging. George knew exactly what kind of guy I thought he was and we both thought it was very amusing to meet on the road like this. I guess I have to watch out for the 3% good ones sometimes too.

Island Adventures

This past Saturday I threw aside stress and dusty Accra air and planted my feet in the warm sand and beautiful scenery of Ada, Ghana with Fred. The area is comprised of several different islands, that house many different resorts and a large casino. It was a wonderfully relaxing day filled with good food, lots of rest, dancing, and music.

Patriotic trees
Old school boat ride
At least the boat had lifejackets
So many lovely palm trees

Showing off serious hula hoop skills