The Zig-Zag in my Mind

The last few days, I have loath myself for feeling something I have not felt in a long time – missing my father.

Michael was his name – he passed during the 2nd week of July 2011. I was on way from Accra to acquire visa for myself and 4 other people to Turkey for the World Youth Debating event. The weeks before that has been stressful – I was in the middle of securing my admission to the University of Amsterdam and University for Peace in Costa Rica and I had to sit the TOEFL exams. In the meantime I also had to be in Sierra Leone. The there were up to 35 interns over 6weeks that needed logistical support. Of course, I had my weeding to plan!

What did I do? I went to Sierra Leone, spent 10days in total to map out possibilities of setting up a programme (which by the way turned out to be successful as we launch in February 2012). I returned to make sure that the team of interns arriving over the period June-July had all the necessary support; then my wife-to-be was visiting and I had to fulfil that obligation as well – plan wedding, make payments, etc.

On the heels of that, my colleague (Emmanuel) and I had to deal with the mess of acquiring visas for our student debaters to Turkey. Emmanuel was with me while we were driving back to Cape Coast from Accra a distance of about 175km.

I was driving and tired as we drove that way earlier in the day because we had to make an 8am appointment at the embassy of Turkey. Half way to Cape Coast, I stopped to take a rest for 15mins – I am not sure how that works but I am able to sleep for that short time and get driving again. I excused Emmanuel, stopped the car, reclined my seat and just dropped…

Ten minutes into my sleep, I got a call…the call that carried the message “our father is dead”…. for a moment, all I felt was RAGE! How dare anyone wake me to tell me about death? Especially of my father? He never was there; why should I care? And I asked this of my half-brother – Joseph. Why could you not call me in the morning? This was 8pm. Then the calls never stopped…cousins who heard called…and I had to call my blood brother, half-sister and my fiancé among others.

For 30minutes, I raged and talked endlessly to Emmanuel who perhaps was thinking “what the f**K is wrong with my boss?”. Why did they have too call ME? Why? Why? Why did he have to die before my wedding in August? Why?

We drove safely to Cape Coast that night and in the morning, I wondered why I was annoyed? I still do not know why I was, neither did I feel the justification. He is dead and that is the end…but looking back after nearly 6months, I realised I was angry that I never had a father. I grew up by myself basically. All the memories of a father and son that I have of my father is one that makes me rage at his irresponsibility.


Michael Dressed as himself - Soldier

The Dressed Body of Michael

I remember once when he told me: “you are very bright. I will support you when you get to your higher education”. And bright as I was, I retorted: “have you ever seen a building without a foundation?” I was probably 10years or so.

I watch with glee on the streets when fathers care for their children…call them, send a letter and be a father. Not to their toddler son or daughter but to their adult child. Those are pictures in my mind that I had to create for myself. Pictures of reading a fathers card, letter, or having a conversation about who I am and what my family is. I have heard only from third persons. The family account of my family is reduced to snippets of conversations – one phrase there, a sentence here. My knowledge of the family is reduced to my first cousins and a few aunties and uncles. Indeed, I do not know all my half-brothers and sisters. I guess we are 9 or 13 am not sure. I only have one true blood brother.

This feeling and the images that zig-zag my mind are because it draws parallels between my son and I. I speak with him yet I sense that he misses me that the times we spend together are short for him more than for me. I get angry because I feel I am making the same mistakes that my father did.

I also feel the parallel between the relationship I have with my mother. I love her and I am very protective of her but only from a distance. She smoulders me with love and concern so much I stay away from her. I remember her tell me once – “you are the only child I always feel I am yet to understand”. This is a simple but heavily weighted  sentence and I think I do not know myself at all sometimes.

My mother is called Comfort and she is the personification of the name – Comfort…caring about others more than herself. Becoming the pillar of the extended family during the famine and economic hardships of the 80’s in Ghana. At one point, she provided meals and accommodation for 20people at a  time  – that is family. Another 10 or more friends of my siblings also bring their friends during meal times. She has done any business you can think of – from selling “provisions” to selling “koko” (a Ghanaian breakfast meal) to trading in foodstuff in the 80’s. She once run a restaurant for over 10years (where I guessed I picked my passion for cooking). She was rich – well, enough to care for half the extended family; paying fees, making donations, etc. I remember growing up counting money in our two bedroom rental. Up to 6 of us will sit in a circle to unfold and arrange the money. My job was to 2-cedi notes – they were ash/grey with some black (as I remember them). This was in the 80’s. We count until we fall asleep and wake-up counting. I wonder where all those monies went!

I sit back and I think I bonded more with my granny who we all called “Danye” – to mean “my mother”. I remember sitting and chatting with Danye. She told me about her political involvement during the pre-independence period. What she did to help and how she traded. Most of the things she told me collaborated some of the history lessons I had in school. But to hear it from my granny put more meaning to it and I value them more.

Danye taught me to be truthful as much as I can and to speak my mind but I should be aware that, it will make me few friends, it will make life tough but I will be a better person. I have travelled that path and yes, I can testify its not an easy road.

My mother Comfort tells me the same thing in a slightly different form: “Simon”, she says; “I have neither gold or silver to give you. I have only the truth. Speak that always, make that your focus and all will be well”. Those have always been her words every single time I visit her.  Yes, she did sell her gold and silver (some of it) to get me through to school.

I sense I need to speak more to Comfort; I sense there is a lot she wants to tell me. But my schedules and distance (me in Cape Coast and her in Accra) have made that difficult. But loosing Michael and realising that there was no relationship, I feel the need to bond more with Comfort; let her be a mother and not deny her the opportunity. This is not a new year resolution but a mantra I have to carry. (May be I will have a tattoo to keep reminding me).

Under the shadows of Michael’s death, was the wedding on 20th August after which he was buried on 3rd September. Ten days latter, I was on the plane to begin a new life as a student and a full-time husband in the Netherlands.

My expereince in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam has been interesting. My weekly schedule for the first month and half was: 5-minute walk to the bus stop then I take 80 to the small station and then catch the train to Amsterdam and then walk to my school. From the station to my school is 10 minute walk. In that distance of 45-60 mins from my house, I had very interesting experiences.

First, I discovered no one shares my seat in the bus, even when the bus is full and my extra sit is the only one available. I thought that was funny but then it happened on the train. I like to sit in the corners where you have 4 small seats – I usually end up with all the 4 sits to myself! Sometimes, people walk to sit and when they see my black face, they make a start and hurry on. Perhaps on the streets was more interesting. In the small alley-ways and on small side walks, from a distance, you see women tug their handbags away or old ladies hold ever so tightly to their bags. The thought at goes through my mind is: “Do I look that BAD?” Like do I look like a threat? Like a criminal? These are questions I will live the rest of my life not finding answers to.

I was not hurt because I understood the dynamics. Peoples behaviours are shaped by their experiences. Granted that more dark skinned people mug or steal or commit crimes. While I tried rationalising this the follow-up question what has any of these got to do with me? Again, a question without an answer.

I thought Amsterdam with its freedom of expression, diversity and what-nots, racism – either overt or implied will be absent but I was wrong. A black man is a marked man.

Step outside the comfort zones of your Caucasian friends and the world is shaped and defined by black or white, Asian or…. well, I am not taking a swipe at anyone one but if there is advise, the generation that are queuing at foreign embassies across Africa….its not all that nice here…just toughen your mind.

I get this attitude in class, with some admin staff, with some teachers. My one African classmate warned me about subtle discrimination and refused to believe him until something broke…..whatever that broke, I will reveal after graduation. It will be my story of a year in Amsterdam University.

So, zig-zaging on, I thought I will share some of the last few months with you. That death has a way of awakening us; sending messages. That the strongest of hearts melt and pour forth lives’ signature – tears. So I cried when I started this post on December 20th. As I write now, I have tear filled eyes. Yes, I miss  my father. I miss my granny who died at 110years. I miss the last few years of her life. I missed her burial. I miss my mother and the time I lost being a grown man;  not showing emotion and hiding from her love.

My commitment is to love my mother and make her know so in any way I can. Be a father to Enam in every possible way I know and forgive my father and make his “transgressions” a rod of measure that points to the lowest points I can sink to as a father.

I wish him a peaceful after-death. I breath now a new breeze and let go the past.

Michael, adieu. Fare thee well.


PS. Next I will be writing about my second working visit to Sierra Leone. I will be speaking to some prostitutes at Lungi and mingling in the night life of Sierra Leone’s airport town.

I will be uptown Bo and Kanemah and crossing to Liberia. Look forward to the tales that come up.(Oh, wish me LUCK!)

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