difficult names.

When I was a teenager, I lied about my name. True story. (Oh, irony.) My old friends once asked me what my middle initial, “O”, stood for. I didn’t tell them the truth. I didn’t want anyone to know my very African middle name. I had visions of them balking and laughing and eyes widening at the mixture of consonants and vowels. I didn’t want that. The mocking and bullying because of my looks and being from another country in my early adolescence had done their damage–I didn’t want anyone to know a thing about my African birth/heritage and name. Since I was in a different school system now, different from the earlier grades, I could lie like a rug and basically create a new identity. And that’s what I did.

New middle name: Olivia
New birthplace: San Francisco, CA

Regarding San Fran, I took the fact that my mom, sister, and me visited the city when I was about 4 years old and ran with it. Anyway, my false identity worked for a bit. I allowed that my parents were Ghanaian but I maintained that I wasn’t. I wanted them to be convinced that I was thoroughly American, almost in a rabid attempt to destroy that little girl that walked into her new school and was gawked at when the other kids learned that she was from a whole other country. And then it happened. An application for something I filled out and happened to leave on my desk in French class. One of my old pals/classmates glanced at it. I remember him asking, pretty loudly, at that, what happened to my middle name. Isn’t your middle name Olivia? he asked. Everyone else came over to peer at it and saw the “k” and the “y” and registered various looks of surprise. Wishing for the ground to open up and swallow me didn’t work. So I blamed it on my little brother. “Oh, I think my brother was doodling on the application and decided to play a joke on me.” Everyone laughed; they were already pretty familiar with the antics of my 6 year-old brother anyway, so the lie was accepted. They moved on. I, however, felt the lie in the pit of my stomach. (Side note: it’s amazing how certain moments in life direct us in the future. Notably, in my short fiction, I write a lot about people fighting particular truths in their life and the repercussions that come. Art really imitates life, huh?) I’d like to say that it all ended there; feeling sick over the lie inspired me to change and just tell the truth about who I was. Uh, no. I was 16. This was high school. It didn’t end there. I even told my counselor, who would be announcing my name at graduation, to merely say the initial and not the name. Her “but it’s beautiful” fell on deaf ears.

Alas, it wasn’t college that I started questioning myself. Why I was going through all these hoops to hide myself? Why was I condemning my heritage when people around me vocalized their wish to identify with an actual culture? (Honestly, I consider my time in college as four years of straight, unrelenting epiphanies about myself.)

My middle name came from a wonderful woman who was like a second mother to my dear father. I was named after her. It’s the name of this here blog (the address above). When people ask how to pronounce it, I say it slowly, just for the sake of hearing my name repeated back to me. But really, nothing compares to hearing my middle name spoken from my own lips and falling in love with that sound over and over again. I only wish I had fallen in love sooner.

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Umbrellas.

Unlike Southern California, it really doesn’t rain in West Africa. With the exception of the Harmattan season, where I have sweet memories of my mom gently rubbing lip balm across my lips to protect against the dry, windy weather outside, nothing really disrupted the hot, sunny days back home. Imagine the interesting reaction me and my sister had when we witnessed actual seasons upon moving to States. Months after we arrived, we saw our first snowfall. There’s a picture somewhere of the three of us (me, sis, and little bro) outside our first apartment, bound in tight, wool coats and knee deep in snow. Anyway, all that said, snow wasn’t rain.

Oh, rain. Like this lady, I don’t care for it. Not only because it’s wet and messy and sad and wet, but because every rainfall reminds me of my issues with the umbrella. I recall my bestie watching me struggle to close an umbrella while trying to get into her car one afternoon–without getting wet–and, after finally getting in, hearing her say, “Aw, you don’t know how to use an umbrella, do you?” I know how. I just don’t do it gracefully. I fight it. I grapple with it. I get wet. Can you blame me? I had to get used to a brand new object! Come on.

This morning, as I prepared to head outside, I almost shook my fists at the heavens. Rain. Which meant the umbrella.

Care to read up about that pesky item you carry in your purse (or murse)? Here you go.

Umbrellas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Umbrellas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir

 

 

We Need to Talk About This.

okyerewa.com

So it’s no surprise that I’m quietly freaking out about this. You know I love her. Here’s why I’m happy with People’s choice this year:

1. Does my Lupita (because she’s mine, really) need a magazine to declare her beautiful? No, she doesn’t. But this is icing on the cake. Such sweet icing.

2. We’ve seen Halle, Beyoncé, etc., on People’s cover. This time I’m looking at a gorgeous African woman who’s wildly different from the “status quo” of beauty in our society at large. I feel like making her fufu and soup to celebrate. I.love.it.

3. Another highlight in her terrific year. It Girls come and go, but I genuinely can’t wait to see what happens for her next. Yes, I’m a fangirl and I don’t care.

4. Ah, look at that smile!

Excuse me while I pump a few fists in the air, won’t you?

The Unmarried African Woman. (shudder)

Some of you know this woman. She’s your sister, your friend, your fellow cubicle dweller who insists on playing 70s soft rock on her Pandora station, your daughter, your cousin. Some of you don’t believe that the fact that she’s an Unmarried African Woman (UAM) needs to be capitalized, or even an issue. And if that’s you, then you’re surely not African.

(I’m aware that other cultures may experience similar discussions and silly opinions about their unmarrieds and singletons, but my vantage point is mostly African, so I’ll be commenting on my personal experience)

The truth is, this particular community doesn’t understand mid-30s and singleness. It’s not in the DNA, ya’ll. It is not. Marriage and family are the very center of lives and culture. And this isn’t a criticism, by any means. I’ve come to a place where I can look at everything with humorized (not a word) irritation. Sometimes, it’s just pure humor and downright laughter. Anyway. This is generally what I hear as a UAM. Get ready…

  1. Is Your Daughter Waiting for a White Man? This is an interesting question, huh? My mother was asked this question by a family acquaintance about yours truly. (The question in its entirety was, “Is your daughter waiting for a white man? Is that why she’s not married yet?”) Stunned by his question, she very succinctly informed him that her daughter was waiting for the right individual for her, and she wasn’t about to just marry anyone, white, black, or green. Go Mama, huh? When she’s not suggesting I marry someone who just needs to be “polished” (more on that later), she’s definitely on Team Square Peg. Anyway, I suppose he took in the fact that I’m your atypical African woman (read: Americanized, which is a completely subjective term), raised in the suburbs and speaking with her accentless Valley Girl twang, and assumed that I’m waiting for my white knight. Who knows? Who cares?
  2. I know the PERFECT Man for You. No, you don’t. You don’t know me. We’ve spoken two times. Literally. Let that one die.
  3. He Just Needs a Little Polishing. I get that one quite a bit. The future man in question apparently just needs a little varnish provided by me and my lurve, and he should be fine. It doesn’t matter that he’s typically seen talking to himself in a corner somewhere, or laughing at a private joke that only he and the invisible person next to him have shared with each other. Hey, I get that in a relationship, both will be enhancing one another here and there. I embrace it. But that’s a lot of polishing, ya’ll. He (they) needs medication. Not me and my varnish.
  4. So, Is Attraction Important to You? Nope. As a UAM, I definitely want to meet a man who looks like the creature from the black lagoon. No big deal. After all, I’m only getting older, right? And who wants to be vain and superficial? Bring it him on. (But don’t, ok? Don’t do any of that.)
  5. Perhaps Your Standards Are too High. Soooo, we have standards for the car we want to buy, for the pizza we want to eat. And don’t tell me you don’t get hot if they add anchovies when you asked them not to. This is forever. I have standards. Hopefully, so does he.
  6. Honorable Mentions. Don’t marry a short man (Mama), and don’t marry a man with a big head (also Mama). Those are my personal favorites. The reasoning behind these caveats are usually followed by curious African anecdotes that I never fully understand. But I love hearing them.

I’ve no doubt that some of these interesting comments cross cultural lines, but there’s just something about a crotchety African woman telling you that you need to stop being so picky. Kinda feels like home.

Can’t imagine what I’ll hear when I become a MAW (Married African Woman). Sheesh.

how not to be ignorant about Africa.

We won’t get into exactly what inspired this post, only that its absolute necessity is imperative. Shall we, then?

africa
Image courtesy of Free World Maps. Link here: http://www.freeworldmaps.net/africa/

  1. Africa is a continent. Not a country.
  2. When something weird happens in a country within the continent of Africa, it does not represent the entire country where it happened, the people in that particular country, or the people that live on the street/town/city where the weird thing happened. It is an isolated incident, borne from the choices that particular individual or group made.
  3. When someone is from Africa, do not assume that those sad commercials in which flies mill about the crying faces of starving children with distended bellies applies to them and/or represents where they came from. Yes, abject poverty and starvation exist in Africa, but the assumption that all Africans either lived in abject poverty or came from such is ridiculous and inane. Even if they did, how about not assuming?
  4. Disney’s The Lion King. I can’t even. That Swahili in the beginning of the movie? Is not the universal language spoken on the continent. Stop asking Africans what it means.
  5. Speaking of asking Africans random questions, it is 2013. We live in a Google world. There’s likely a library in the vicinity of your home. If you have a question about the continent, kindly research it on your own.
  6. I am proud to be an African woman. I am also an American woman. The fact that I do not have the dough to regularly visit the country of my birth does not diminish the fact that it is the country of my birth, or that I am proud of it.
  7. Oh, you thought this was just about the ignorance of non-Africans, huh?
  8. Ignorance is universal.
  9. Believe that.
  10. We all possess a level of ignorance about things we don’t understand. Rather than relying on age-old prejudices and/or foolery, take the time to sincerely find things out. You will be happier and the possibility of major side eye coming from me will be significantly reduced.

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