One of the greatest gifts I have allowed myself to receive in my life are the reminders that I find of things that I need to recall or remember. Sometimes a word, a conversation, a photograph. I just have to be ready to listen.
Last night I went to a celebration in Oakland in honor of Ghana’s 60th anniversary of independence. It was a wonderful night filled with reminiscing about trotro adventures, changing neighborhoods, favorite foods, and lots and lots of jollof rice. I was especially impressed with the young man sitting next to me who knew every Ghanaian song I was referencing based on a simple description of a few words or what someone was wearing in the music video.
On the way home my driver was a friendly Nigerian man, probably in his 30s. As the ride continued across the beautifully lit Bay Bridge, the driver expressed to me that people often ask him where his accent is from and that it was a way of them reminding him that he does not belong here; that this was not his home. The emotions in his voice rose as he talked about people who could never understand his sacrifices, and who had spent their whole lives in their geographic bubble. Such subtle reminders of how one views you is usually coupled with an inability to see the true nature of oneself or the other person.
In Citizen, Claudia Rankine describes this as, “For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person…you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such langauge acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all thew ays that you are present.” As an immigrant, such language about accents and ‘where are you from’ are language acts that exploit a perceived difference in the way someone looks or talks. The point of such visibility being that it is necessary to paint the exact outlines of difference. My driver went on to describe how he does not pay any attention to ignorance that comes from ignorant people. The refusal to engage in those language acts creates barriers toward exploitation. And I return to the wise words of my driver, reminding me of all that has made me that so many can never catch a glimpse of or understand. Clint Smith writes in his poem “what the ocean said to the black boy”: they call me blue because they don’t understand how the sky work/they call you black because they don’t understand how god work.
We must continue to create our armor against the exploitation of language acts bent to take that which makes us strong and use it to mark us ‘other.’
It isn’t a secret in Africa that Nigerians have the worst reputation. Most of us have probably heard of the infamous ‘Nigerian email scams’ and if you have been to West Africa you probably have not escaped someone saying that the country was much safer until they started getting Nigerian immigrants. But my weekend trip to Nigeria with my host sister Ekua proved to me again that you don’t always find what it is you have been told you would find. My time in Lagos was nothing short of a relaxing, almost spa-like, holiday getaway weekend.
The wedding in Lagos was for George’s oldest daugher’s husband’s sister, Sola. It’s okay if you have to reread that sentence. Basically, it was the daughter of the Baiden’s in-laws. Ekua and I stayed with one of her brother-in-law’s friends and that guy’s brother. They were great and picked us up from the airport, and from that moment on gave us anything and everything we wanted or needed while we stayed with them. They were some of the best hosts I have ever stayed with, and went above and beyond to make us comfortable.
Sola and Tolu’s wedding was very beautiful. The colors were aqua and wine, so those who came to represent the bride or the groom wore those colors, and were also given a patterned lace to make their outfit from for the day. Sola did not know I was coming, so she had only sent the lace to Ekua, but Ekua gave me a little bit of her extra lace to accent the neckline of the dress the seamstress made for me out of a wine-colored material. This was my first full traditional wedding in West Africa, so I had to have some of the actions explained to me, as there are many parts to it. For example, one part involves the groom prostrating himself in front of the bride’s parents three times, while also putting money into a basket. The money is a type of dowry that is a token amount for what has been the ‘up-keep’ of their daughter over the years. That amount cannot truly be quantified, so there is just a traditional amount established. Another example is that the groom’s family writes a letter to the bride’s family and a member of the bride’s family has to do a bit of a performance (dancing) before receiving it to read. After the traditional wedding, the bride and groom changed into more western style wedding attire and danced their way into the beautifully decorated reception hall. And there was SO MUCH FOOD at this wedding. It was like food came from a magical well that just kept pouring, and it blew my mind because there were hundreds of people at this wedding. Probably about 600 or so. There was an assortment of fried rice, soup, chicken, beef, several types of meat pastries, and a multitude of different types of drinks from sparkling wine to orange juice. Apparently weddings in Nigeria are one of the biggest events they hold and they are always quite a spectacle.
Area for the traditional ceremony
After the wedding our hosts took Ekua and I to a live taping of a show called Project Fame, which is a bit like The X-Factor. It was really great to see behind the scenes of the show and then see the show we saw live shown the next day on television. Sadly I don’t think the camera captured us. Then, because I had mentioned pizza, the guys took us for some of the best pizza I have had in a long time. I definitely devoured it fast as I have not had pizza since moving to Ghana. The next day we saw more of the city, watched football, and then went to stay with the newlyweds. I have never stayed with a new couple after their wedding, but the bride and groom wanted us to stay with them, so we spent our last day with them, seeing their new place and drinking wine and filling the room with lots of laughter.
When the trip was done, we were sad to leave. My favorite part of the trip, though, was definitely how at the wedding the bride’s family made me feel like I too was part of their family and had me in their photos too. It was a really special feeling. I don’t now if I will ever be back to Nigeria, but I certainly enjoyed my time there, especially the people.