be our guest.

welcome

There we all are, sitting in our living room in our old house in Ghana, surrounded by endless laughter and fascinating conversations. My parents are there; also uncles, aunts, various relatives, and longtime family friends that might as well be kin to us, being that I’ve known them and have been around them for as long as I could remember. Some of my earliest memories involve evenings like this, where my parents hosted friends, family, our neighbors. The joyous faces and smiles. The gentle teasing and ribbing between my father and his pals. The beautiful women I observed reverentially. And the food. Ah, the food. Without really understanding it, my parents were establishing, for their children, a blueprint of hospitality. Things didn’t change when we settled in the United States. From our little apartment to the townhouse we later lived in, there were always people. Family, friends, relatives, all part of our immediate family of six. My parents never hesitated to help friends in need; if someone needed a place to stay, he or she was staying at our home. As I got older, it was incredible to see the generosity and love my parents showed to others.

This posed a bit of a problem growing up, however. Sure, my parents could invite loads of people over because they were adults and could do whatever they, the payers of rent, pleased. But their kid inviting other kids over without telling them?

nah

It happened more than once. I’m convinced my mother had moments of stopping herself from doing permanent damage to my hind parts. No worries, though: I learned my lesson at the age of 14. We won’t get into the details, but it was the last time I didn’t check with my parents first before making invitation. Believe me.

Here’s the thing (if you’ve experienced it or are experiencing it, you’ll agree with me): living alone is glorious. There’s really nothing like being the queen/king of your castle of one; laying about, doing whatever strikes your fancy. I moved out of my parent’s house and lived on my own in my first apartment when I was 24 years old. It was amazing. It was eye-opening. It was frustrating. It was the best. After that, there was an interesting journey of roommates and housemates and then moving back home when Dad got sick and then, a year and six months ago, leaving VA and moving to the Lone Star state and living solo once again. All that said, I’m happiest in the company of my own solitude. But I’m also the daughter of two people who kept that open-door policy we discussed above, and so it’s necessary to tell you I love a house filled with people.

I’ve hosted gatherings, game nights, movie nights, come-over-and-chill evenings (my personal favorite), girls-just-talking-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-early-morning events, etc. It’s thrilling to look around my living room and see people, to hear the laughter, to go deep into conversation. Last night, I hosted an impromptu dinner with friends. I actually cooked dinner–chili a la Square Peg–and we ate and watched movies and had a smashing good time. You can’t beat that on a Sunday evening. (But it was also nice when everyone went home and I resumed my relaxing spot on the couch and watching cheesy Hallmark movies.)

Can’t thank my parents enough for showing me how to love people, how to be generous, and how to say welcome.

What say you? Loner or lover of guests or both?

 

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World. Class. Chocolate.

ladies

Danai and Lupita. Okoye and Nakia. Africa and Africa. New Muse and Still Muse.

World Class Chocolate and World Class Chocolate.

When I was a little growing brown girl, I saw women of color in my home, in my community, among my relatives. But I didn’t realize that representation outside of that nexus was important until I was much older. A young woman is exposed to so much in the media, especially during those formative years where popular ideals of what’s “beautiful” take over and unleash their particular brand of power. I wish I had seen images like this when I was fifteen years old, y’all. I really do.

Nevertheless! I see them now. And I love it into infinity.

I also love that millions of little growing brown girls are seeing images like this, too.

Happy Friyay…

Adjoa on a Monday.

Ever since my early twenties, coffee shops have been my true love. Many a coffee shop had me inside of it; ordering a cup, listening to the beans whir in the grinder; hearing the quiet hum of conversation as patrons did everything from chat with each other to type away at their laptops for whatever projects they were working on. (I almost always think the laptop-bearers are burgeoning novelists.) When I worked at my dearly departed Borders Books (see memories here and here), one of the areas I was assigned to, other than at the register or the info desk or shelving books, was the cafe. There, I learned to make a variety of espresso-based drinks, recipes that I still remember all these years later. It was, in a way, my first foray in working in a coffee shop. And I loved it something awful.

Naturally, I’ve always wanted my own shop. So in my mind, my shop would be called Adjoa on a Monday. Adjoa is my Ghanaian day name for ladies born on a Monday. The decor would unsurprisingly be rustic-y with a French touch; the French part is me, as you know, but I’ve also grown to love the rustic idea for a while now. Funny, huh? This Square Peg, who favored not-busy, not-busy, super modern spaces now longing for burnished wood finishes and Mason jar centerpieces? Girl, people be changing…

*All images derived from my boo Pinterest.

Anyway, further details about AOAM:

  • Free WiFi. I love the idea of people inhabiting that space and working on whatever their working on.
  • Open mic nights. At Borders, I freely took advantage of sharing my poetry with audiences. That college student had plenty of spurned-love poems to share, thank you very much.
  • Themed evenings every now and again. Paris jazz spot Tuesday. Speakeasy Fridays. Etc.
  • An assortment of staffers of different ages and backgrounds. This one is important to me. When I worked at Borders, a true pleasure was working with everyone from fellow college kids to part-time History professors and everyone in between. It was amazing.
  • A mini-bookshelf/donate-a-book area. Because you know books have to be involved.

More ideas abound. Will it happen one day? Will I venture out and start my own business and finally see this coffee shop of mine with my own two eyes? *Kanye shrug* I’ve never been ashamed or shy to dream out loud. Perhaps that’s the first step?

What thing/idea/venture/adventure have you nursed for ages? I’d love to peek…share it in the comments below.

And now…

friday

💯

If you’ve been here for a while or recently stopped by to take a look at my little corner of the Internet, you know that I am Ghana-born, partially Ghana-raised, birthed by a Ghanaian woman and man, product of Ghanaian ancestry. Honestly, I’ve never wondered if there was anything else in my blood. I just never have. But one sees ads for Ancestry dot com and one gets curious. Even larger: I never met my paternal or maternal grandfather. Would a genetic test perhaps reveal a few things about them? Would genetics speak of them in some way?

I decided to find out. There was a sale on Ancestry so I took advantage of it and signed up to receive the at-home DNA kit to send back to them for testing. When the kit arrived, I was disappointed to learn that no, this wasn’t a Law-and-Order type of DNA test with a Q-tipped cheek swab. No, I would have to–ugh–spit into a vial. Side note: I believe, with all my heart, that spitting is ugh. So, yeah, the kit sat there for a while, ignored by me. Eventually, however, I got the nerve to re-open the kit and just do it, already. Conveniently enough, Ancestry sends you return packaging so I put everything together and sent it off.

The results came back to me a few weeks ago. Shall we discuss?

Pic

  1. Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, and Togo, oh my. Like I said earlier, This Square Peg never doubted the presence of Ghana running through her veins. But I’ll be for real: seeing Cote D’Ivoire and Benin
    yesss
    Girl, please. She knew she was 100% African.

    and Togo…WOW. WOW. So very cool and and intriguing all at the same time.

  2. 100 percent of something. A friend of mine remarked that she’s never seen results where someone is 100 percent of something. “You are 100 percent African. That’s really amazing.” Hearing that gave me life. Because it is amazing. I never needed confirmation of my genetic makeup, but seeing “100% Africa” above was just the coolest thing.
  3. French. Is it any wonder, dear reader, that I’ve been attracted to everything French since I was 12 years old? For reasons I’ve never quite understood? Could the presence of Cote D’Ivoire and Benin and Togo, all officially French-speaking countries, have anything to do with this longstanding amour? Can genetics determine devotion?
  4. Mama. When I informed my mom about the results of the genetic test, she responded with the following: “We don’t know anyone from there.” I laughed and replied that this wasn’t a list of people we knew, but rather what my ethnic heritage is.  She was silent for a bit, seeming to marvel over this information. I wondered if she was thinking about which one of our ancestors perhaps emigrated into Ghana
    Africa Map
    Photo courtesy of Africa Guide.

    from the three places, primarily Cote D’Ivoire. After all, if you glance at the Western side of my continent, Ghana is flanked on both sides by the other three countries. Anyway, I then mentioned to my mom that this could explain my abiding love for the French language (even though, real talk, I I speak Frenglish), a statement that she quickly agreed could be true.

  5. In the End…Other than wondering about genetics and DNA and the past and my forebears and on and on, life went on after learning my results. My curiosity was assuaged. I didn’t gain a wealth of understanding about the stories of the men and women I didn’t have the opportunity to meet. Nevertheless, it was just plain cool to add this new piece of information to the mosaic of me.

Have you ever done a test like this?

Feel like talking about it?

Can you hear the comments area calling?

Throwback Thursday: The Scowler.

SquarePeg1

Meet your Square Peg, a.k.a., me.

I found this photo in my mom’s “secret” stash of photos one evening last week. I should tell you that my mother’s things–her clothes, perfume, shoes, etc.,–have long fascinated me, which means that since I was little girl, sneaking into her room to see what I could find and gaze at lovingly remains a pastime. Don’t worry: I leave most things undisturbed. Except the clothes. Anyway, I love that she keeps hidden photos and mementos that we don’t have access to. When I found this, I snapped a quick photo and placed it back into its hiding place.

This was taken in August 1983 in Accra, Ghana. I was 4 years old. I’m 100% sure my Dad was the photog, being that he loved taking photos of his children and family, even when we were sullen teens and refused to smile.

My birthplace and my home.

That Mustang, which was my mother’s. (Yep, Mama Square Peg rocked a Mustang!)

Those fat braids. (This was obviously was my go-to style.)

That dress.

Those shoes.

That face.

Oh, that face. Most photos from back, back, back in the day rarely found me smiling. I was a serious kid. I discovered those teeth a bit later, as you can also see from that ruffled, picture day photo. Other ones are of me coolly staring into the camera, as if we’re moments from battle. Ah, memories.

Happy Throwback Thursday.

[Pardon the Interruption]…

…But I’d like to deviate from the daily Parisian round-up and share my new poem with you. Enjoy.

Birthright

Before I could even learn to appreciate you, I was desperate to shrug you off, this mantle that clung to the nuances of my dark skin like birthplaces and legacies.

You were the mirror I was ready to turn away from, the reminder that I was nothing like them; not mysterious and joyous, but something to point at and destroy.

And what of it?

Merely the source of special names and special people;

merely the home of my creators;

merely a rich, colorful center.

Before I could even learn to appreciate you, they informed me that I was simply a location hoarder, not real like them, just the holder of an address that was not worthy of me.

You were the mirror I intended to claim, the reminder that blood and culture can be whatever I want it to be; not a clingy shroud of shame, but something to be proud of and accept.

And what of it?

Merely the source of special names and special people;

merely the home of my creators;

merely a rich, colorful center.

Birth and death, accents and colors, time and memory: you are mine and mine alone.

Let them cajole and caw.

I bear it well and I bear it unaffected.

Like the solid stance of a landmass, a continent,

you and I cannot be moved.

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.

20140618-100910-36550076.jpg

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.