Saying Goodbye to A Town Where Time Does Not Reside, Part 1

From age 4 to 18 I lived in the type of sleepy towns you read about in books, where people don’t always lock their doors, unless of course you’re us – the only non-white family around for many years. In that case your world is surrounded by Confederate flags in a state that was part of the Union but later became the central stronghold of the KKK, people who believe that immigrants are taking over jobs and that God does not call us to be in interracial relationships (but of course, that doesn’t mean their racist). A few months ago, I posted an article about how the people I knew in my childhood were friends of convenience and not true friends. I had someone reach out to me to say that article made them angry and that even if I thought that, they thought of me as a friend still. Nevermind that friendships do not work that way – that this man’s need to feel absolved from anything that occurred made him forcefully insert himself into my life. But the article rings true as it explains how as lone black children in white schools, you played with kids on the playground only to grow up and see the hatred they spew through social media and their lives.

Being in A Town Where Time Does Not Reside means you can be suspended in a moment to think, but it also means if you never leave, you are almost always suspended in these moments of the type of hate that has formed the foundations of this country. The type that people ignore because they think that racism looks like hooded figures burning crosses, and not the teacher who forces your mother to come into the school to demand that she holds you to the same academic standards as any other student. I’ve noticed that of the handful of true friends I do have from that time in my life, they have all left and found a world outside a sleepy one stoplight town. I’m especially grateful for my friend Emily who has been the type of friend who grows with you as you watch a nation disregard the lives of your brothers and sisters. I think of her comfort and happiness as the one white face in a sea of darker ones in my brother’s wedding photos, and I think of her strength in being willing to cutoff those who she confronts for their inability to understand that #blacklivesmatter.

See, there are those who message me to say they are ‘sorry’ for the constant loss of black life, and I have even been contacted by people who wanted to tell me that they wish they had been better allies when we were children. But I don’t need messages over a decade later or people who would private message me instead of publicly denouncing the anti-black racism of this world. No, I’m not scarred from my childhood. That town was filled with numerous anti-role models and those are sometimes just as valuable as role models. I have become all the things I wanted to ‘in spite of’ and ‘because of’ it.

My family began the process of moving in to a new home this past week. When I visit next month, it will be there that I stay. People have asked me if I am sad that I will no longer be going home to my childhood home. I laugh a little and shake my head ‘no.’ I’m grateful in many ways for that house and that home – but it was the world built within those walls that was home. My parents built a home in the midst of spaces that sometimes actively worked to break it down and passively often wanted to. With that love, they raised five children who knew what it meant to thrive in ways that we carry with us to every place we inhabit. As far as I am concerned, the best people that ever happened to that Town Where Time Does Not Reside will no longer be there. I will have no reasons to return.

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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.

Revisiting Lessons from a Cowardly Lion

The Wizard of Oz is one of those rare delights in which the movie is just as—if not better—than the book. And who among us who grew up with the story could forget the main characters—Dorothy, the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow—who were all searching for the Wizard of Oz to help them find something that they did not have or no longer had. But it’s the Cowardly Lion who so desperately wanted the Wizard to give him courage, whose storyline I thought about recently.

Over the weekend my sister and I went to see The Help, as we had both read the wonderful book by Kathryn Stockett. There are few books I would put on the same shelf as one of my all-time favorites, To Kill a Mockingbird, but upon further re-reads of The Help and a very well done movie adaptation, I think I’m ready to make some more room near that esteemed bookshelf. There’s a scene fresh in my memory from the movie, in which the pastor of the maids’ church says to the congregation that courage means loving your enemies no matter what they do, and not being afraid to do what needs to be done. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells Scout and Jem that courage is starting something you know that you have already lost before you started, but still seeing it through to the end no matter what. I used to sometimes have the thought that all the big chances to be super courageous had already happened in history—the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, etc. But we find our own courage—big and small—every day, under a multitude of circumstances.

Sometimes you don’t recognize how brave someone is until someone else points it out. One of my co-workers from my last stay in Ghana was from the Uganda branch of the non-profit. His dream in life was to move to America, so I told him the story of how my parents moved our entire family to the States. After I finished the story he exclaimed that he wanted to be just like my father. He said that my father, having less age than he (my co-worker) did now, had the courage and the vision to dream of something great for his family and then see it through. I had never quite thought about it in that manner before. I guess for me personally courage was born in locker-filled hallways and on the playground. The type of courage that teaches you when to let things go, blame people’s words on ignorance, and know when to speak up because sometimes too far was too far and too much had to be told down. The courage it takes to believe differently, act differently, and look differently. For one of my neighbors in Ghana, Evans, courage meant leaving his town for the first time and traveling to another city with me for his birthday. Evans is a generally shy, reserved young man. His mom had me over for dinner every night during my internship, and during those visits, I got to know Evans very well. On one of those evenings early during my time there, Evans made the strange request for me to become his personal motivation speaker because, as he explained to me, he thought that I was very brave and had a lot of self-confidence. Evans thought people in the community believed him to be slow and boring. I thought that was rubbish, but I invented nightly seminars in which together, Evans and I week by week discovered the wonderful traits that I always knew he had. And in that trip to Cape Coast, when the boundaries of his safety zone were pushed, I think Evans realized just how courageous he himself was. He even helped us get back home when all the buses going back to Accra were sold out and I had no idea what to do. It’s in those moments where you smile and realize that one of life’s little jokes is indeed like the statement that it’s not so much what we do that defines us, but what we find ourselves capable of doing when we least expect it.

The Cowardly Lion never needed the Wizard’s power. This proved beneficial for him, as the Wizard had no powers, as is true of so many false tools and people we pursue instead of our own inner strength. Though terrified, the Cowardly Lion stood ready to face danger. To me, courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear but rather in spite of fear. There are many things I’m nervous about as my fellowship year comes closer and closer to departure day, but I’m going to board my plane anyway. Because, at the end of the day, the lessons learned from a cowardly lion prove that courage, in large part, is standing up as tall as one knows how and thinking, in the words of Charles F. Lummis, “I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. All these things, sorrow, misfortune, and suffering, are outside my door. I am in the house, and I have the key.”