Fat, Ideal, Fat

I was about 13 or 14 years old in sewing class in JSS 2 when Ms. Rockson gave a lesson on body types and how to dress them appropriately. I was called to the front of the class along with other students for her presentation. I got tagged with the “ideal” body type. Not so fat, not too slim, just right. That description of my body filled me with so much pride because it gave me the sense of my efforts paying off.

You see, when you have been called obolo or told you’re as round as a ball of kenkey fairly often by your family members with 2 slim older siblings and cousins who were all very slim too, it makes you feel there is something wrong with your body. Never mind the fact that you were not obese or even close to it but the fact that as a baby and toddler you were heavy made those names stick. Feeding the unhealthy perception of your body and an obsession to be as skinny as possible.

When I lived with my family in Accra, those comments about my body were far and in between, so I was not that concerned. Not until I moved to Takoradi to stay with my extended family and then they begun to sting. I was also on the cusp of adolescence with a few unwarranted advances coming my way which I absolutely hated but for some reason gave me the endorsement I needed that I looked good and had to stay that way. I started looking up how much my favourite celebs weighed and what their measurements were so I could keep up. This was about when I was 11 years old.

That obsession with being as slim as the celebs with the perfect weight got me to reducing my portions and eventually having a bottle of malt or Fanta cocktail with a slice of sugar bread as my meal for the day on weekends. At school, I resorted to only having bananas and groundnut and occasionally when I could not ignore the hunger pangs, I would get a couple of fried sausages and ice cream. That was all before my school introduced the school feeding program which meant eating at school means no food or when forced, very little food after school.

I didn’t weigh myself during those years so I couldn’t really tell whether or not I was in track but I felt fat and I hated myself so much that I would not participate during PE because I thought I would jiggle so much and my classmates would make fun of me. This weird relationship with food went on until my graduation from JSS where my aunt took my measurements for my grad kaba and slit and commented on how lean I’d gotten compared to my previous measurements. I remember weighing myself then and I was 55kg/121lbs. Seeing those numbers felt like a mama I made it moment. But I still had the small voice in my head telling me I was still fat.

On I went to the boarding school, a co-ed high school. Which meant more boys. The first year was kinda ok. Dining hall food was terrible and I did not have the most provisions wise so I knew I was not going to gain weight (something my aunt had warned me of before leaving Takoradi for school). Then during the holidays before second year, I found out my boyfriend at the time was cheating and I had been diagnosed with PCOs. I vowed to make myself as unattractive as possible to the boys at school (not like they had been paying attention to me before anyway but yh). I started eating everything and anything. Felt like I had been starved for years and I was finally getting the chance to feed myself. I would have a bowl of cornflakes or wheetabix or cerevita before morning dining where I would go ham on whatever porridge they served stuff myself with bread – especially on days we got freshly baked bread from the pantry. The dining hall prefect was in my dorm and sometimes asked me to come to her table when dining was over and I would take more food from her table and wolf down. Same with afternoon dining then after school, I would go to Aunty Oko after siesta and eat two bowls of jollof with egg and sausage and salad and spaghetti and I’d still be ravenous so I’d go to evening dining with a bowl to smuggle food out after eating there to have either before prep begun or after prep in the dorm with my school mother’s protection as she was the house prefect.

My mum returned during second year to have her wedding in Ghana and she was surprised at how fat I was. Everyone suddenly couldn’t stop about talking about my weight. Instead of being happy for achieving my goal of getting fat so guys did not approach, I now felt disgusted at myself. I cringe now when I look at photos of myself at the wedding.

ByThat was my heaviest at 83kg/183lbs. I was on medication for PCOs and the gynaecologist had mentioned the pills could make me fat. So then I blamed my weight gain on the pill and stopped taking them and went back to my starvation diet.

In third year I lost some weight and dropped to 65kg/143lbs. But if I had had the wrong image of myself even when I was “ideal”, hitting 83kg ensured I would forever hate myself. My weight since third year of high school has been between 60kg-67kg depending on how much exercise I put in. I have tried to maintain a healthy relationship with food and not overthink what goes in but all those years of willingly denying myself of food makes it hard sometimes and it is easy to fall back into that routine.

Each time I look in the mirror naked, my first thought is about how much fat I have in my stomach and how gigantic my thighs are. I try to exert confidence during sex but I shrink inside, wishing I was smaller and sexier. I don’t get to enjoy the moment because I keep thinking to myself, “hold in your stomach, don’t let it jiggle”. My thighs get raised and my cheeks burn with embarrassment because, “omg they are probably so heavy”.

I know BMI is a shitty measurement but I have a normal measurement and I keep telling myself to not worry so much about my weight but hey, body dysmorphia is a bitch. I wholeheartedly want to be happy in my skin. I don’t want to pick at it and complain all the time in my head about how perfect I could be. But no matter what I do, I still crave the “ideal” body I once had – even though I did not appreciate that then.

I have years of unlearning ahead of me as well as years to love on myself. I really hope I get there someday even if it’s later than sooner. But truth is, once you have a fucked up idea of your body it never goes away. You’ll self destruct and almost heal then destruct again.

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Post graduation (yay?)

I was a part of the 4 years experimental SHS programme but I did not complete all 4 years of senior high school. I believe in somewhere in my 3rd year of school (I really do not remember the timeline anymore), I sat for the Nov-Dec exam with little to no preparation as there was a possibility of me leaving the country soon. A couple of months before the WASSCE exams, I left for the Netherlands and had to apply to uni ASAP. I had no idea whatsoever how the education system here worked. I knew I did not want to continue with a study in Business but the only bachelor programmes I could find in English at the time were all Business related. I had initially selected General Arts (because I had lofty dreams of being a journalist thanks to Emma Morrisson of TV3 whom I had admired since I was about 5 years old) as my programme of choice for senior high school but then we had to redo our school and program selections and my dad insisted on going with Business bla bla and as the meek child I was, I cried in my room and changed my choice.

Anyway, so here I was thinking I could get back on the journalism path but alas I had to go with International Business and Management Studies. I thoroughly hated my time at uni. Modules were of no interest to me save for Political Economy of Latin America, Economics, SAP and all the marketing related modules. So maybe it was not that bad but do you have any idea the grief the others gave me? I felt like I was failing on a daily basis. I kept telling my sisters I was going to quit school as soon as the 2nd year started. I even went as far as looking into the possibility of transferring to University of Ghana and perhaps picking up a different major. But of course, everyone close to me kept telling me it was going to be over soon and I had to stay the course but I felt like I was dying with every lecture, assignment, group project, exam and eventually my dissertation. There were days I would sit in the library and cry instead of studying.

I genuinely believed I was not going to graduate with a sufficient GPA so I begun cutting off friends. The “shark” they knew from primary to shs was no more lol. I felt like such a disappointment so I deduced if they did not hear from me, it would be much easier for me to deal with not living up to their expectations. Isolating myself only made me feel worse and angry most of the time. But I did graduate and when I saw my GPA I was shocked (the grading system is slightly different in Europe – well minus UK which is pretty much on par with the American system. We are graded with ECTS and you only get to know the GPA equivalent when you graduate.)

You’d think it felt like the anguish of 4 years had been worth it but no. I was pleased I had a decent GPA but I was so exhausted I felt empty in a way. Living up to expectations, struggling through a major you have no interest for is absolutely draining. But now, I have all that behind me. It is time for me to show my face again. I suppose my friends will take me back now with how swiftly the congratulations rolled in when I shared pictures of my graduation. But perhaps, I am not worthy of their friendship anymore, who knows.

I do know one thing I am really glad for is that I have this all behind me. Maybe I will pursue a Masters or a second Bachelor in something I am absolutely interested in. Or I may just slave away in the corporate world (if it will ever take me in) until the end of the world or my death – whichever comes first.

I hope other kids won’t be as docile as I was and struggle mentally at school. I also hope parents get to understand their children’s lives are not theirs to live and let them make their own choices regarding their futures.

We are what we create and consume

On the heels of Samini’s request to the MUSIGHA president to propose to government that our airwaves play 70% of Ghanaian content and have Ghanaian artistes have a 50% representation at international events hosted in Ghana raises the question about if we are producing content worthy of this.
Now I most certainly do find this request to be laudable but the irony was not lost on me that president of MUSIGHA once released a song which encouraged rape culture in Aboa konkonti baa. As well as this song may have been produced, which had us all dancing and singing along to for months on end, the content was highly predatory. Remember the lyrics : “wei deɛ osua minyim sɛ osua nanso ɔnoa na mepɛ”?
How is someone with problematic content going to ensure that others produce worthy material for consumption?
Rape culture has been encouraged for years in our society. Young girls are on edge from the moment they are conscious of their bodies. Some are even abused before this realization of men being abusive materializes in their minds. And with music being that accessible, if the messages in them encourage that, then we will probably never overcome the rot within our society.
Interestingly, not much was said about that particular song and many others by men which sexualize women. On the other hand when women such as Mzbel and most recently Ebony make music expressing their sexuality, they are branded as negative influences and promiscuous. Bear in mind, their music have never hinted at harming the opposite sex in any way unlike their male counterparts but they get the most backlash. Our hypocrisy and the need to shut women up as a nation are truly amazing.
I do hope that Samini’s request gets approved and I also hope that this will not be limited to artistes from the south of Ghana only but will include all artistes whether or not they sing in Sisaala or Fante or Ewe. We all need that representation on our airwaves. We are not a most certainly not a monolith to have us all exposed to a specific type of music.
Music does not have to be religious or political only to be considered as good content, neither does it have to be predatory and problematic. MUSIGHA should most definitely ensure that artistes get as much publicity as possible both within and outside our borders. However, they should be mindful of the content they put out which is a reflection of us as a society.

Change, a myth in the Ghanaian society? 

Sometime in 2010 when I lived in Takoradi, there was this pretty huge house next to my grandparents’ which was a bakery. The lady who owned the bakery had some of her workers stay in the building. They would often wake up at around 4 am in the morning and get to baking and goodness, their sugar and butter breads were amazingly delicious. Getting a loaf of bread fresh out the oven and slathering margarine in and watching it melt upon contact was such a delight. And then pairing it off with a creamy cup of hot chocolate was heaven. On one Saturday afternoon there was an unusual ruckus going on next door so my cousins and I ran to our balcony to find out what was happening. One of the workers had apparently been stealing money from the owner and got caught. Almost all the other men in that building proceeded to beat the culprit with any and everything. He was pleaded with them to let him go and instead call the police but it fell on deaf ears. It was not until he defecated in his pants before they left him because apparently when one is badly beaten and soils himself then he was close to death.  He was then left bleeding on the floor. The closest I had gotten to such cases was tales from my classmates in Classes 2/3 when I lived in Accra who would often describe one thief or other getting lynched. I was so shocked witnessing that.

I am pretty certain we are all aware of the atrocity that was meted out to the late Capt. Maxwell. I personally did not watch the video because I did not need to see evidence of what was done. I was initially pleased to notice everyone was crying out against mob justice but the more people talked about it, the obvious it got that the outrage was because the victim was an innocent and dare I say a member of the upper class hence he garnered more sympathy. I live in a predominantly Ghanaian neighbourhood and the conversation initially was, “Aww nti obi ba na y’aku no yayaaya sei. Galamsey a mopɛsɛ mo yɛ nti mo se ɔyɛ ewi” and swiftly went to “Ye sua no nyinaa, sɛ yɛ kye ewi a yɛbo no na yɛdi tyre ahye no anaa sɛ yɛ sa no coaltar”. For a moment there I was impressed and thought we were changing our attitude towards mob justice only to get disappointed in a hot second. You see, they acknowledged that the late Capt. did not deserve his death but because the perpetrators are guilty they deserved to be lynched and burned to death, missing the point that mob justice is simply wrong.

What will it take for Ghanaians to understand that justice is not theirs to be meted out whether or not they believe the culprit to be guilty? What will it take to simply hand the suspected persons over to law enforcement to do their jobs? There are reasons why we have systems in place to maintain law and order in our societies. What good does it do to anyone to take away the life of others for a crime? Why don’t we strive to help these people reform and potentially be better citizens of our societies. Inciting fear and violence has never deterred others from committing crimes and it is not about to now. Our conversation has to shift from he was innocent and therefore did not deserve this to no one deserves this regardless of their crimes. It is an honest shame what happened and unfortunately will continue to happen unless we make the conscious effort to honour and respect the lives of everyone. May he and all the many others who have lost their lives through mob justice rest in peace. 

…part Ahanta

You may be familiar with my post Part Guan…  where I talked about my Guan heritage. It’s about time I shared my other half too. Here it goes.

Years ago, slave catchers were allegedly directed by the Asantehene to travel further up north to capture people who were sold to the Dutch as slaves. Most of the captured people were from Bonoman. A farming family of eight somewhere in Techiman, five sons and a daughter aged between 22 – 14 years decided that to keep their children from being captured as slaves, they would travel south and live with any family who shared their clan name of Anona with the parrot as their insignia. The parents stayed behind as they were old and the slave catchers were interested in the young. The children walked for days until they came upon an Anona clan along the coast in a town called Ɛkawfo dzidzi/ Kafudi (nothing came up in my Google search but if you know the right spelling for this town let me know) in present day Central Region. This clan was made of fisher-folks which made the children feel out of place as they were from a family of farmers. They were then advised to go towards the west and after days of walking, they happened in a town called Apowa. However, the brothers decided to leave their younger sister behind to rest from their long journey. The chief of Apowa took them in as he was also of the Anona clan and offered to give them a piece of land to farm on. The brothers stayed on the new land for five years, always saying to themselves that they had left a family member behind whom they had to go back for, “Yee ko gya obi wɔ ekyir”. This eventually became the name of the land they lived on as Kegyabir/Kejabir. During their sixth year, the brothers went back to Apowa for their sister only to learn that the chief had given her out to marry as she had turned of age. These brothers are the ancestors of the father of my maternal grandmother’s.

Back in the day in Busua, the order of the day was that if someone happens on a piece of land, the owner and the stranger would have to fight and who ever wins takes custody of the land. A few siblings were on their farm when they heard a group of people approaching. They consulted them and learned that they were of the same clan (also the Anona clan). They came to a consensus that instead of fighting, they would live together and make the original siblings the Safohenes of the land. However, one of the siblings did not like the idea of sharing their land with these new people and moved away to a land called Mpohor (which was initially “3hɔ dzi wɔnkɔ hɔ” because it’s far off from Busua) and became the first settler and subsequently the chief of the land. This was so that his family would have the sole claim to a royal stool. However, my great great great (not sure how many greats that is) grandmother on my maternal side is a descendant of the siblings who remained in Busua.

Badu Bonsu II (chief of Busua) was a descendant of the siblings and other people who settled in Busua. Badu Bonsu II and Kwaku Dua I (chief of Asanteman) were good friends who used to go to war together. Kwaku Dua I gave Badu Bonsu II the nickname “Ahantan” because he was apparently full of pride and thus referred to him and his subjects as “Ahantanfuo” which eventually became Ahanta/Ahantafuo. The land belonging to the Ahantas stretches from Busua to Takoradi (I would name all the towns if I could), but thanks to Edina kokonsafuo who traveled to Takoradi and eventually settled there; they snitched on the inhabitants to the Dutch who would capture them making the natives move further into the hinterlands. Thus now people seem to not know that Takoradi is for the Ahantas and not a Fante land.

I love how our people named towns often with specific messages. I forgot to mention that Takoradi orginates from “3ta dua no ase” which was a huge tree the first settlers lived under. Beats me how it eventually morphed into Takoradi. If you are a fellow Ahanta, I say to you, “wo ho deɛ na?”.

Dear Body 

Hi there, this is your present day 22 year old body with some much needed insight for you. 

Remember when Lydia was taking your measurements to sew that kaba and slit for your after BECE thanksgiving service? You were pretty vain then mostly because Mrs. Rockson had said in class once that you had what clothes makers would call the ideal body type. 

It was by no easy feat you had achieved that body. Your younger pictures disgusted you. You had a big belly which really was not an issue given that you were only a child and had not hit puberty. You would look at them and hear all the times some of your family members called you dɔkon or say that you were as round as a ball.  Gradually feeding the insecurity within which eventually got so intense, you nearly stopped feeding your body. 

You’d sometimes lie that you weren’t hungry and having a bottle of Fanta cocktail with a bit of bread all day was quite enough. Or a bunch of bananas would be your meal for the day when looking for a much healthier option. When pushed, you’d insist on the smallest portion possible just so they would stop calling you fat. But they never really did. 

Anyway, back to when your measurements were being taken. I don’t remember your particular measurements but I do recall your excitement at having a tiny waist finally. She actually said to you then, “ei atwe papa”.  So you weighed yourself and you were 53kg! But that wasn’t quite good. Surely you could lose 3kg, you mused. However, you looked great in the kaba and slit she made for you. 

Just when you had gotten comfortable with your body, you experienced your first heartbreak. You thoroughly hated boys in your fit of pain and fed that with food. What were three plates of jollof from Aunty Ɔkɔ? You’d wolf them down at a go and still want more! Your life basically revolved around books and food then. A few comments were passed about your weight but you weren’t bothered. You thought to yourself that it would be a repellent to guys anyway so that was a win. 

Until Ma’s wedding. When she said with a bit of shock that you’d gotten fat and doubted you’d fit into the dress she got for you. So you took to the scales and you were pushing 88kg. Then it dawned on you how much you had let yourself go. If ever you had had body issues, hoo boy, it returned tenfold. 

You wallowed in self pity for a while then decided to work out which you hardly did much of. Your old eating habits saved the day. Lost 23kg and maintained your weight till date. 

There are still moments when you wish you could go back to being 53kg, but you’re gradually learning to love the body you’re in. I wish you had not been so hard on yourself as a prebuscent girl. That you had not let others commentary on your body get to you. In all these years, not once has your body failed you. No matter how much you weighed. I wish you had appreciated and loved yourself unreservedly. We’re almost there now. Hopefully we’ve got a good number of years ahead and I promise to be better to you. Fat or not, you’ve served me well and I love and appreciate you. 

Baka ano

“Nokwar no nye dɛ na ɔnndɔ boy no”
“Ah ntsi ɔbaa no dɛn na boy no se w’atsew n’akoma no?”
“Wɔse me nyim mpo a? Ame dze ma me tsee nye dɛ na basiaba no ne abrantie bi hyehye hɔ dadaw ehu.”
“Mmm na abadze si?”
“Na abrantie no yɛ dem boy yi no yanko nanso na no suban nyɛ.”
“Ɔno ntsi na basiaba no gyaa abrantie no a?”
“Biribi dɛm. Dɛm boy yi a ɔwɔdɛ ɔyɛ abrantie no no yɔnkɔ no kɔsɛe abrantie no pɔtɔɔ ma basiaba no.”
“Ei iyi yɛ yanko a? Dɛ ma Kwabena Kwabena kãe – ɔnyɔnko a me ne no bɔ nkosua tafer. Hmm!”
“Onua kã na kã no biom oh! Saana boy no n’anua wɔ mu ntsi na ɔyɛ dɛm.”
“Ebei oh! Brother man annyɛ adze koraa.”
“Ɔkɔ yɛ dɛ boy no eyi basiaba no efi ɔhaw mu ntsi ohu no mɔbɔ na ɔma boy no gye dzii dɛ ɔdɔ no.”
“Ɔyɛ asɛm oh. Na sɛ ehu no dɛ w’aboa a ɔno nnkyerɛ dɛ daada boy no dɛ ɛpɛ no.”
“Nkyɛ boy no nso ɔfata no. Ekyir yi dze basiaba no hwɛ a onntum nnye boy no nnyɛ bibiara nti ogyaa no.”
“Ɔtwea”
“Boy no suu dɛmaa. Ɔkãe mpo dɛ onntum ndɔ basia biara biom.”
“Iyi dze akohwesɛm a!”
“Na ɛkã no dɛm. W’anndzi bosom ebien mpo yɛ nkɔtse a, boy yi re bɛ war basia bi!”
“Nkyɛ me kãe!”
“Sisiara mpo dze, ɔne ne basia fofor no awo.”
“W’amma ne sisiw annda kakra mpo.”
“Gyae rough no.”
“Ntsi sister no asem no haw no a?”
“Ooh aha. W’anya sikani bi awar no wɔ nkran sesiara.”
“Nedze yie paa.”
“Papa. Awo dze yɛ nyɛ no ntsɛm nkɔ fie. Adze resa.”
“Boa’m na munsua bokitii no na yɛnkɔ.”

Sore Thumb

Being painfully shy and introverted, finding twitter was such a joy for me. I had made an account when I was in high school in Ghana but suddenly I was in Amsterdam with no idea how to assimilate and make new friends.
But then I connected with a number of Blacks in the US on twitter. I reasoned, who better to understand my plight as a black girl in a white society than them? I felt I pretty much experienced the same things they did albeit continents apart.
Gradually, I realised I just didn’t and couldn’t “fit in” with them. As similar as our experiences may be, we are different. I am African. Simple. They are African Americans. And our histories may be somewhat intertwined. I may share their pain and anger and frustration at a lot of things. But I don’t necessarily have the right to comment on their issues.
On the flip side, I was getting hit with “You’re not Ghanaian anymore”. I was being shut out of my circle. I only had to observe from afar.
It made me so mad.
Now I often feel I don’t have a community and that I’ll probably never have one. My best shot may be distant affiliations but never really belong.
I’m Ghanaian, I’m African, I’m black and I’ll always stick out like a sore thumb even amongst people like me.

Sea

I had seen pictures of myself at the beach when I was a toddler but I had no real memory of ever going to one.
I would travel to Takoradi every now and then and feel drawn to the stretch of ocean along the Elmina Road.
But when I was an adolescent, my sister and I decided to go to the beach.
We lived with our grandparents but we didn’t tell them where we were going to.
I can’t describe how excited I was. For the longest time I have felt attracted to the sea.
Getting into this vast body of water with no swimming knowledge.
What lay beneath it apart from the fishes? How far did it reach?
The waves were rough and hit hard against my body. But I loved it.
We got home and my grandma was upset.
“Wɔ nam hen ma mana wɔreba fie?”
“Yɛ kɔ po ano”
“Mma wɔnnkɔ hɔ biom! Ɛpo no nnyim wɔn. Obotum dze wɔn akɔ”
But where will it take us to? I wondered. She was fretting over nothing.
Or maybe she wasn’t.
Maybe she had inherited the trauma of losing family who were transported over the sea to lands unknown. Branded with hot irons, their freedom taken from them. Forever detached from home.
Maybe all that had been passed down over time was to not go near the sea because it would take you away forever.
Maybe I shouldn’t trust the sea because it can easily seize my freedom.
Or maybe it’s the only way I can stay connected to cries of mothers, children and men.

Under the Udala Trees

image

(Because I’m participating in the 2016 Africa Reading Challenge. Do check it out!)

If there’s a book I’d love to see a movie adaptation of, it’s this!
This book points out the injustice the LGBTQ society in Nigeria face with the hatred shrouded in religion.
I also love how it touches on the gender roles we’ve created in our society that a woman’s duty is to marry and bear children. With a preference for sons, of course. Because what use is a daughter who cannot pass on the family name?

Although Ijeoma’s father seemed like a liberal, progressive thinker, he lost his life during the Biafra war. Her mother didn’t deal well with news of her daughter being a lesbian and proceeded to pray the devil out of her daughter because that was not what God had intended when creating man and woman.
But as Ijeoma mused towards the end of the book,

The Bible itself is an endorsement of change. Even biblical covenants change: in the New Testament, no longer the need for animal sacrifices. Change. No longer the covenant of law, but rather the covenant of grace. Change.

Everything changes. People change. We can’t forever force our belief down onto others. Everyone has to live their truth. Maybe soon there will be a change. Where ones sexual orientation won’t have to be hidden. Where people won’t have to endure domestic abuse because they can’t be with the ones they love. Where people can make their choices and no one will blink an eye.
Homosexuals are not abominations. They are simply people who love. And it’s way past time we let them love in peace.