Category: Short Stories

TO HADASSAH (IV) […and to jedidiah]

Long before I even thought I will ever possibly have you, I was in a really dark place, with my faith (in God) near non-existent. Among the many things I had taken to as escapes, I read incessantly. I closed the back cover of one book and opened the front of another the next moment without a break. That was until I read Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion Trilogy…that was when “Hadassah” fell on my heart. At that time, I did not know your father. Some years before then, he faced his own struggles, fought his own demons, and strove to find even a sliver of hope. He did find it…a peculiar thing to hold on to…a name… “Jedidiah”.

So desperately did he need to not forget this reminder that he added it to his pen name. The full story is his to tell. In his own words, “’Loved by God’ (which is what Jedidiah means) is a good reminder…to know I was loved by God despite what I was going through…served as a solace”. To David the King too, this name was a beautiful show of God’s mercies being new every morning. To have gravely sinned against God so and face harsh consequences as a result, and yet for God to be so mindful of him, as though he were the only human on earth is truly a wonder. God sending the Prophet Nathan to inform him of Solomon’s God-given name, Jedidiah [Jedid-Yah… beloved of Yahweh (God)], was him breathing calm over David, saying “you are still a man after my heart.”

I understand fully, why your father felt drawn to this name and what it symbolizes. He had no idea who I was at that time, but sometime later, he purposed to name his son this if he ever had one. And I, somewhere in the world somewhere on a path I could not have guessed would cross his, purposed to name my daughter “Hadassah” if I ever had one.

I could not but take a break after I encountered the inspirer of your name in that Trilogy, my daughter. Hadassah. She had a faith I could only dare to dream of and an impact on others’ lives I could only attempt to wish for. So powerful was her character and so meaningful was it to me in so many ways that I was moved to re-evaluate myself. It played a major role in what I will call my deliverance. After that first read, I have read it a minimum of three times more. Hadassah is a Hebrew name which means Myrtle Tree. The Myrtle tree by nature is evergreen and resilient in the face of the elements. It is a biblical symbol of righteousness and compassion (of God and the resulting restoration of His promises to man), and the character Hadassah embodies these qualities and lives out the meaning of this name thoroughly. I cannot wait for you to meet her.

When I found out I was having a girl, your father (who had come to read the Trilogy too) and I knew we’d give her the name. I was filled with so much joy, but it was not until I was pregnant with a boy, and again, we knew we’d give him that name, that the ‘coincidence’ of your names became apparent to me.

That one name fell on the heart of some random woman one day, and another fell on the heart of some random man another day. That these two random beings met and married. That what they purposed to do with those names became possible.

That the name that fell on the heart of the woman was Hadassah. That Hadassah is only mentioned once in the Bible (Esther 2:7). That it is the alternative name of one of the greatest women to have lived then… a Queen…Esther.

That the name that fell on the heart of the man was Jedidiah. That Jedidiah is only mentioned once in the Bible (2 Samuel 12:25). That it is the alternative name of one of the greatest men to have lived then…a King…Solomon.

Dear daughter…dear son…what a wondrous coincidence!

 My dear, dear, darlings…may your names be blessed!!


Too Much To Forget

Sometime last month, I got a call from a friend. We talked for about two minutes, mainly exchanging pleasantries, asking how the other’s daughter was doing and giggling intermittently, because somehow, we were both fascinated by our unique relationship. I met this friend about a year and four months ago, on the first floor general ward of the Maternity Department, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. It was the second time we had spoken on phone since we parted ways at the hospital. The other time we had talked was via Whatsapp chat where we exchanged pictures of our daughters, showing how much they’d grown. That day, after I hung up, I knew we’d be checking on each other for years to come. The relationship we have has a deep fineness to it that I will attempt to share in this write-up.

One dawn, sometime in mid-January of 2019, I was wheeled into this ward I speak of, my urethra throbbing from being bruised by the catheter that had been fitted. I had spent the night before that in the emergency ward. My ass-cheeks were also still smarting from the injections I had been given which had spread such intense heat through me that I eyed the nurse who I think was either not sure what “a little” means when she said “you will feel “A LITTLE” heat, or she had never had to take that kind of injection so she couldn’t have rightly warned me. As for the back of both my hands, the sight of them could tell anyone what they had suffered. I think that was the first time a grey cannula had ever been used on me, and I have had my very good share of cannulas. Also, that was the first time ever trying to find an IV line made me cry. Anyway, I think anyone would cry if they had to endure pricks and attempts to adjust a cannula while it is in your flesh, with massive waves of uterine contractions hitting you in short intervals. That said, grey cannulas in particular, were invented by Satan.

When I was wheeled into the ward, the first thing I noticed was a woman virtually naked, but for a green slip of cloth she held against her chest. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, and behind her was a tiny baby wrapped in another green cloth.  It was hard for me to focus on much but she immediately caught my attention. Between her bed, and the one after that which was also occupied, was an empty, freshly-laid bed. I was wheeled there, helped onto it, and I laid down. My “delivery bag” was placed under my bed, along with other stuff that was placed where they needed to be in my space. The male nurse who brought me left and I turned slowly to my side, facing this woman who had caught my attention. It was almost 4am, and aside one other woman who will come in the picture later, she was the only one awake. She was looking up at nothing, and I was looking at her. She had IV medication hooked, she’d occasionally doze off and will be startled awake when her head met her shoulder. There was nothing in her space. No bag, no toiletries…nothing. Her baby was fast asleep. She moved slightly, and the green cloth shifted. I saw the patch of brown plaster across her abdomen. Why was this woman sitting so uncomfortably at the edge of that bed, clearly exhausted, but not wanting to lie down? It was quite chilly. Why was she not covering up more? But there was nothing in her space, you see? I was not sure what to ask her, so I managed to reach down into my bag, and I pulled out one of the 6 old 2-yard cloths the delivery list had asked for. I held it out to her and she shook her head. I kept my hand stretched out, still not saying anything. “I will soil it,” she said in Twi. “I can’t give it back once it is soiled.” I assured her the cloth was hers now, and stretched my hand closer to her. She took it, stood up, wrapped it around her, and sat back down. That was when I realized the other problem. I reached back down and rummaged for a while before finding what I was looking for – a disposable bed mat. This time, she took it without protest, laid it on her bed, and stretched out. She was asleep in minutes, and I could not stop looking at her, my heart beating fast.

That was the first of 15 days spent in that ward, during which I connected with four other women. Woman 1 slept till it was visiting time later that morning. The few days that followed till she was discharged, I learnt she was 32, that the baby boy beside her was her 7th child, that that was the only child she had had to have in a hospital because having him at home like she had done for all the others had gone wrong and she had ended up needing emergency CS. I learnt that the fact that she had come in as an emergency was not the reason why she had nothing…she had nothing irrespective. I learnt that her husband was an asshole, and not from her mouth, No. I learnt that from overhearing him when he came to visit on day 3, holding a small black poly bag that contained a single sachet of This Way Chocolate Drink. He did not stammer when he complained bitterly about how each child came to him for not less than 5cedis a day before heading for school, and how at that rate he was expecting that this woman who could have died having his 7th child, needed to go right back to trading, immediately, once she was discharged. He did not bother asking how come she had a cup and bowl and a box of fruit juice next to her although aside him, no one else but her eldest daughter (who had brought some clothes for the baby and some money she had called her earlier to go take from someone who appeared to be a debtor) had visited, and none of them had brought such things. He didn’t bother asking her about the cloth she had over the dress she was wearing by then (which she had bought right there in the ward from women who passed through to hawk them). What he bothered to do though was to come in (empty-handed again) with a friend whose next comment after congratulating her on the baby boy was – “woawo nipa” (you have birthed a human being). He also came empty-handed, by the way. The morning of the day woman 1 was discharged, the reproductive health nurses pooled funds and paid for her implants. They told her it was in her best interest to not have any more kids. They also assured her her husband wouldn’t know about it. I will never forget her and the long hug she gave me when she said goodbye.

Woman 2 was one who also came in needing emergency CS and lost her baby girl. She’d stay up crying, and because food my family usually brought was too much for just me, I’d share with her…encouraging her to eat. She was so sweet, her mother was sweet, her husband was sweet. She introduced me to everyone who came to visit as “the one who gave me the jollof”. The first time I convinced her to eat, it was jollof. When we met again later during post-natal check-up, she ran to hug me and held my daughter so tenderly. She was discharged before I had her so it was her first time meeting her. We exchanged numbers but I unfortunately lost hers. I will never forget her and her gentle smile.

Woman 3 came into the emergency ward the same night as me, but was brought up to the general ward later. She had lost the baby. She was fiery, and we spoke only once, but I will never forget her face and the day she vanished from the ward, her bills unsettled. She never returned.

Woman 4 was the one I spoke to last month. She was the one who filled the bed Woman 1 left. She was the one who stayed longer than I did. She was the one I shared my “robb” with everyday cos we shared something in common – chronic pain. The night before my surgery, when I was having dinner after which I was not to eat anything else except water which I could only have before midnight, and then nothing at all after that, she helped lighten my anxiety. She christened the dinner “last supper” and laughed till there were tears in her eyes, as she warned me to better eat everything, because after that I was not going to be eating such a meal for days to come. She was the one who sat up chatting with me that whole night and clapped excitedly when I was wheeled back into the ward with my daughter the following night. She was the one I prayed with the day I was discharged and told her to better eat all of her “last supper” when it was time.

Woman 5. Oh, Woman 5! She was the one who was also awake aside woman 1 that dawn I was brought in. The nurses called her “class prefect” and she was the one who was asked to tell me how things were ran there in the ward. She was the one who would line up buckets of every one who was asleep when the hot water lady came around, and collect theirs for them. She was the one who would go take the remote control from the nurses’ station when it was time for Akrobeto’s The Real News on UTV, and other telenovelas I did not follow. She was the one who barely slept, never received any visitor, and walked to everyone’s bed to greet and ask how they were doing, every morning. She was the one who, after doctors’ rounds one evening, turned her chair to face the wall, bent her head down and cried. I could tell because her shoulders shook. I walked to her later and asked why. She was reluctant to speak. I told her she was the one who helped me adjust when I first came in there, and although we had never spoken much beyond the morning small talks, I found her presence comforting, and I was sure everyone else in the ward did too. That was when the dam broke. It turned out she needed to buy test strips to track her blood sugar levels consistently for some days so a decision could be made if she could be discharged. She did not have the money for the strips, and every extra day spent there meant her bill was going up. I was still talking with her when one of the doctors returned and told asked her how much the strips were going to cost. She was going to help her get them, and she did. She couldn’t stop crying by then. About 3 days later, woman 5 was discharged…but she could not go…not until after she settled her bills. She had to leave the ward, and I was not sure where she perched but she came around everyday for some hot water for tea. My husband helped with an amount, but she still stayed on another week or so, before she was able to leave. The day she did, we exchanged contacts. It was not until about 2 months later that we first spoke, and from then, we have kept in touch. We speak on phone at least once every month, consistently. Our conversations are minute-long ones on average…full of thank yous and God bless yous. Like Woman 4, I know for sure that we will continue to stay in touch; one not knowing that much about the other, and not bothered by that because what we know is enough and of such depth that knowing everything else can’t match.

We were all there at such vulnerable times in our lives for both similar and completely different reasons, helping each other even at our weakest moments. We were there, sharing in the life-bringing and deaths too soon; in the wobbly walks to the bathroom to prove that your catheter can now be removed; in the drip-stand-wheeling, and the sudden gush of blood pooling at your feet when you first get out of bed after surgery; all the in-ward strolls from one end to the other, and the passing on of the “class prefectship” from Woman 5, to me, then to Woman 4 when I was leaving. We were there when mothers who had started lactating will stealthily pump milk with their hands into a cup to be spooned up for babies whose mothers were waiting for their first milk – there where your baby starts wailing soon after you start taking a shower but will soon quiet down because someone picked them up and started rocking them back to sleep. We were all there…with so much heart…

too much to forget.




I cried with you when you entered this world. You were loud, your hands in the air, your legs folded up against your belly like a frog. They brought you to me and it wasn’t after they had taken you away to clean you that I realized I had vernix all over my hands and face from kissing you over and over. A baby girl, bright pink with curly black hair and a swollen face. My baby girl. I cried hard with you.

Before they were done stitching and plastering me up, the nurse who took you away came back into the operation room. She announced that your birth weight was low (2.4kg) and so they were prepping you for the Neonatal ICU. My heart skipped. I was already missing you. I wanted you by my side immediately. ICU? What was wrong with you? I looked up at the anesthetist to my right, Dr. Lorraine (God bless her sweet heart), questioning. She said something to the effect that you sounded loud and perfectly fine, so there was no need to send you there based on just your weight. I asked her again just to be sure; “they are not taking her to NICU are they?” “No, they are not, don’t worry.” I relaxed. Just a little bit.

Soon after they set me up in the recovery room, I started shivering violently. Even after I was wrapped up in blankets, and a steam tube was hooked underneath, I shook, teeth clattering, the metals on the bed clanging. It took so much effort not to bite my tongue. I was still starving. I had been starving for hours before the surgery, actually. It was getting much worse. About 20 minutes into feeling like I was freezing to death, the pain hit me from EVERYWHERE! EVERY TINY WHERE!!! As a person living with a chronic illness associated with chronic widespread pain, trust me when I say I had never felt such pain in my entire life! I was in pure agony and if my shouting (I couldn’t help it) was not a sure enough sign that I was dying from it, everything was beeping.

I overheard one of the staff in the room asking if they had seen my heart rate. I didn’t need to look up at the screen above my head that showed what she was referring to, to know that it was not good. There are two sides to this story, darling, because your father was right outside the recovery room, hearing me scream, as he waited to see you. Maybe one day he will tell his side. But at that moment, with all the chaos, I thought of you. I wondered if I was dying. I had seen you just once for barely 2 minutes, was I dying? I cried again.

They passed meds up each cannula on my arms and I do not know when or which one knocked me out, but when I woke I could feel my legs again, it was late in the night of the same day. I had been asleep for about 6 hours and the pain was gone. I was happy to learn that I was good to go back to the lie-in ward. I was happier to learn you were going with me. They brought you, swaddled in your white calico, and placed you in between my open legs. You started to cry and I caressed the top of your head, which was how far down my hand could reach. “Shhh…shhh…shhhh,” I said over and over and over, till we got to the ward, was transferred to my bed, propped up, and you were placed in my arms, already rooting.

I looked at you well, spotting your dimpled chin like your father’s. I looked at you, and discovered that you had an auricular pit you inherited from me. I looked at you and found that you had a sacral dimple too. I looked at you, with all these minor indicators of the delicate nature of growing you inside me, and you were perfect and absolutely worth it. And oh…I cried again!






Obunja was a tough place to work at. It was tougher for me, I think, because I was not mentally ready to be there. Of all my fieldwork days, that day I wanted to be invisible, yet no matter how hard you tried to blend in, you were instantly spotted as an outsider. I remember it was the first time I managed to doze off on our bike trip there (by that time I’d become a pro though, just saying) (and don’t try too hard picturing it, there was three of us on the bike, and I was squished in-between so…well…). I was tired and achy. The sun was too hot, it was too dusty, and my heart was heavy. Obunja was days after Damanko. I hadn’t recovered. My head was reeling.

Where the bulk of my respondents’ households were was quite a distance from where the bike guys dropped us off. That day, I was the only one starting off that far away from where the village begins. I put in my earphones with no music playing…walking…not looking forward to the next set of tombstones I was going to be sitting on to do my interviews…not looking forward to the talismans that hung in the doorways of most households and mud walls smeared with an ‘egg yolk + guinea fowl feathers + guinea fowl blood’ paste (yes, I asked) …not looking forward to flies that made the heat much more unbearable. Sadly, I was not looking forward to home either. If I could run, I had nowhere I was willing to run to. There was no remedy, and I had to pretend to be involved and interested and concerned, and I felt guilty and sad about it, but there was nothing I could do.

Obunja’s interviews thankfully passed quickly. More than half my respondents were all in a multi-household structure, and by 1pm I was first to be done on our team. It was a relief. I walked back to where we were to be picked up later that day, jumped onto one of the makeshift rest areas that most townsfolk in all of the villages we worked in made under almost every shady tree, laid on my back, and was lost in thoughts in no time. I was far off for almost an hour before a team mate joined me, bringing me back. “Oh, one respondent was looking for you,” he said. “I told him this is where we’d all converge so I’m sure he’ll come here eventually,” he added. I wondered who but I didn’t ask. I just nodded. I was in no mood to talk. About another hour later, a man rode up on his motor bike to our rest area and got off. I recognized him as he smiled.  I smiled back, reluctantly.

“Agya, metee sε na worehwehwε me” (Sir, I learnt you were looking for me), and he responded in his Kokomba-laden twi “Aane. Asεm kakra na mepε sε meka kyerε wo” (Yes. It’s a little something I have to tell you). I nodded for him to go ahead, after he’d pleaded I take no offence. “Wobaeε no, mehunuu sε asε obi pε sε wogyae akwantu a wowͻ so deda bi ne no hyε akwantu foforo ase, nanso anka εbεyε a, anka antu wo nan baako koraa mfa nni n’akyi” (When you came to my end, I perceived that it seems someone wants you to abandon some journey you are already on, to embark on a new one with them, but if you could, it will do well if you do not take even a single step in following them). A chill seized me, as I stared for a moment. His message to me was like an extension of my thoughts, and I wanted to ask him more, but I simply thanked him and added that I was not going to abandon my present journey. The gaze we shared was a knowing one. I knew he knew what he was talking about, and he knew that I knew. He smiled again, hopping back onto his bike. “Next time you come, I will gift you a fowl,” he said and then he was off.

I do not remember if my team mate had paid attention to the exchange, and I do not remember how it was between us two right after the man went. There were tears in my eyes and relief flooded my spine. I do not remember the old man’s face, but he brought me some assurance that I needed at that time, and someday later I may write all of it in plain words.


Obunja was many things, but most of all a turning point.

Pass the Frozen Peas (I)



Pain will send you off into restless sleep, interrupt it around the clock, wake you up, and have you sitting in the couch with a cold compress under your thighs at 7:25am on a Saturday, holding a cup of hot tea to the back of your left ear instead of drinking it. Everything is too bright, smells too strong, and you want to start donating your vital organs now. You curse the hunger pangs, then curse the nausea that won’t let you eat. The pain is already cursed…no need.

Anytime you are in such a bad chronic pain place, you have so much to write that you don’t…you can’t. Then there is the moment the pain that is doing like it wants to kill you stops and your body returns to baseline pain. You want to roll the feeling up and light it occasionally like a blunt because my, what a high! There is a lot you wish you could do because of this thing your body has become; one time it grants you permission to be normal, then the next you are crippled – nothing broke, nothing sprained, nothing battered, and yet you must pretty much be wheeled around to survive.

You read too much sometimes, you see? You think too much. You have been sick for close to a decade now and you still open your browser and type in words that unearth confusing findings that stare back at you, then begin to mock you. Sometimes you wonder if you made yourself this way. Some of the findings say that a possible cause of your body self-harming, is past trauma. You swallow the bitterness that bursts into your mouth and it gives you heartburns. Past trauma? You do not have enough fingers and toes to list them. Past trauma! This feels like the ultimate betrayal. Aren’t bodies supposed to heal? If they do not heal, aren’t they supposed to die? Yours wants to have its cake and eat it too, and it did not consult you.

This particular Saturday, your husband is away on a work trip and perhaps missing him has added up for a full pity party. You desperately want to talk to somebody…somebody else, not him. You want to tell them you’re stressed from delayed grieving and self-blaming. You want to tell them you are scared and bordering on obsessed after the miscarriage you had a month back. You want to tell them you have coddled the idea that the loss was as a result of your chronically ill body. You want to tell them that it is not the first time such a thing has happened and you wonder if your body is capable of holding life when it has consistently held yours dangling off a cliff for years. You have wondered if you are not expecting the impossible from a traitor.

The grief always sends you back to that night you woke up screaming from pain, hearing your husband call your name over and over. B! B! B! Him, positively scared he was losing you, and you positively convinced death had finally arrived. But it was just horrible, horrible pain once again. Then days later you started bleeding and you didn’t cry. You didn’t cry when everything escalated and you ended up in the hospital. You kept nodding silently to the details the three doctors that attended to you gave. You have the pictures from the ultrasound somewhere close now, everything just dark and blurry, nothing making sense. “An incomplete miscarriage,” they said. “Emergency evacuation of the remains,” they said.



Such unintended insensitivity.

Being alone this Saturday is not a good thing, but the silence is welcoming. It is almost 10am and you have only sipped a bit of the tea which is now cold. You have fresh fish and chicken sitting on your kitchen sink from the night before and you have no idea how you’re going to manage and prepare them. You haven’t taken your bath either, and you tell your husband this. “Forgo them,” he says, “I’m this close to tears,” you add. “Perhaps you should cry,” he answers. But you can’t even afford to do that. The strain of it will up your pain levels and everything else that comes with it. You remember the times you succumbed to tears and how miserable it made you and you take a pass. You lie back, whispering “Oh dear Jesus, dear Jesus, please let it stop,” and then close your eyes not expecting it to.


Photo Credit:

There had been one of those wind storms that day I worked on that side of Kpassa. It was painfully sunny one moment, and the next moment dark clouds had gathered which you could barely see because the wind had picked up so much sand and debris. Aluminium roofing sheets were part of the debris, and I was convinced one would come charging my way to decapitate me so I ran with energy I barely had, heading to the only house I could see in the outskirts, where I had walked to. As I ran there, I saw the woman. The scene was unexpected, truly. It was a sudden midday storm, and everyone was running for cover, but she just sat there, not moving. She sat there on her porch, staring out into nothing, as I ran into her compound and onto her porch. Then she looked up and smiled. “That happens a lot here,” she said, and the smile broke into a teasing laughter. She was amused by my fear, I could tell.

She had a scarf tied around her head, and her veil laid loose around her shoulders. She adjusted another stool just like the one she was sitting on and gestured for me to have a seat. I was grateful. I had wished she’d proceed to invite me indoors, seeing that it was still very windy, but she did not. It did not look like she was ready to move. She asked if I wanted water and I declined, pointing to the 1.5ltr Voltic bottle on the side of my backpack with I had placed between my legs after I sat. She laughed again and said “you don’t like our water, I know. But me, it is pure water I drink.” looking at me as the laughter faded back into a gentle smile. “I have been to Accra before. I lived and worked there,” she went on. I admitted it and told her why I always carried my own water around. She said she understood. She said she was not a village woman like that. I smiled too.

We fell silent for a while, and soon it became less windy and it started to drizzle lightlly. She sighed and shook her head. “This rain is going to do little to help the dust here. So much sand everywhere, it rains now and an hour later the ground is dry and dusty again.” I sighed my agreement. “Accra is not like that at all,” she added and I nodded, not in actual agreement. I then took out my list and asked if she could help me out with the remaining names I had on there, by showing me where they lived if she knew them. She knew none, but one. She burst out in harder laughter when I mentioned that familiar name and corrected me. “That’s me,” she said. “I’m on your list.” I was pleased. She consented to the interview and it soon began.

“No, this is not my first marriage,” she answered. “My first husband died.” Then silence again. “I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to go on?” Silence. “After he died, that was when I ran away. I had had 4 children already, and I had sent three of them to Accra, so I left for Accra myself with the youngest. I had a little money. My eldest child, a boy. He loves me very much. He gave me some more money when I got to Accra, and I started selling ladies’ ornaments. I was doing well. I wasn’t making myself like a widow o, you see.” Then she looked at me and sighed again “my family is an evil bunch!” Her mood grew heavier….dark. “You see, I was a very beautiful woman. I stayed my gaze on her for a while. She was still beautiful. “You don’t believe me?” she asked. “Wait!” then she shot up from the stool I thought she’d never vacate and went in. She came back with a picture of herself. “You can’t believe that was me, right?” I could. She was beautiful at the time as she was then. Perhaps, the only difference was that the woman in the picture knew she was beautiful. This one didn’t see it anymore. “I can see the resemblance,” I said and she sighed again, as if my answer had confirmed something major. “Yes, that was me then, and I would have stayed unmarried. But you see, my people thought I was into sex work in Accra. They thought that was where I was getting money from to dress so well, and live comfortably. They started insisting I remarry. They kept saying they will marry me off again. I shouldn’t have come back. I don’t know why I did. I believe I was charmed. I still am. How else would I be here with a man who leaves me with 2cedis to prepare a meal for him and expects to have the meal to his filling? How else did I end up coming back and never going back to Accra again, and then becoming like this? I am under a spell.” And she meant it…literally.

No, I’m not the only wife. Then she shouted a name. From the room behind me, a younger woman stepped out and she said something to her in their language. The woman went back in and brought out a stool to sit on too. “You see her? That’s the second wife. When he told me he was marrying again, I was not happy. But when she came, she is also here suffering too. She is not the bad person here. So we became friends. Now when he leaves, we both don’t care because we stick together. We are here. He will soon bring a third wife and we will befriend her too. He is the only bad one. We are all under a charm.” Silence. And it stretched. It was as if the storm had moved from around her, and into her. Perhaps, she carried it around every day. Perhaps that was why she had sat there unflinching when I saw her.

It was her everyday existence within.



Photo Credit: Tadadaaamm [Deviant Art]

 My mother tells me her mother used to always smell of menthol. As I rub some liniment over my inflamed knee, I imagine her. I never met Mama Loje, but stories of how fierce she was motivates me today. When my prognosis said I was going to deal with chronic pain, my mother said it again. “Mama Loje was always in pain, but never showed it. I only knew it was bad because she mixed the liniment into her body cream and that was how come she always smelt of it.”

They said a few months to her death, she fasted everyday, not wanting to die while owing days. Mama Loje was Muslim. They said she had never really been or looked sick. Sometimes when I think of death, I think of her and how she started doing her missed days at the time she did. She knew. Would I know too? I imagine her walking around bidding time and working to leave fond memories behind. Was that all she left behind? It must be a good way to die.

I complain of pain in the neck as I feel a migraine progress from prodrome to full-blown, and my mother walks up to me. “Let me do something my mother used to do for me after I was done filling our barrels with water.” She then cradles my head, chin in one palm, occipital in the other, and tells me to slump my shoulders. “Whenever I was done fetching water, Mama Loje will let me sit down and say ‘ah, o ti ṣe daradara, you have done well, let me ease the tension’, and she will do this,” my mother continues, as she turns my head to the right, then to the left, repeating the routine. It must have taken her way back. I smell of liniment yet again. Perhaps, I remind her of her, and as she turns my head here and there, she imagines I am her and now that she knows how much pain I am going through, she tells me to relax as she eases the tension. 


There are many questions I want to ask, but never do. Story after story, Mama Loje becomes superhuman and I yearn to ask. What about days when she was just not strong enough? What about mistakes she may have made and lies she may have told and scars she may have left? What about that scar, Mama? Was she the one who left it? Was she the one who carried you there, as a little girl, held your legs apart and watched them cut you where you were going to grow to bleed? You do not want to remember her like that, do you? Is it because she is an ancestor now? This must be what forgiveness is like….almost superhuman, Mama…but you are not.

Last night, I dreamt that like Enoch I was there one day and then I was not. And when I got to heaven and sat down, relief flooding me, Mama Loje became God and walked up to me.

“Ah, o ti ṣe daradara. You have done well,” she said,

and I woke up.




Aside Kpassa where we rented an apartment for the team, Damanko is another major town. It is just about the same size as Kpassa, and just as populated. Being quite a distance from Kpassa, we decided to lodge at a guest home so we could save travel time each day and get all our interviews done in good time.

Damanko was hot and dusty, with most households either rearing cattle or pigs. Not far from where we lodged was a huge park in front of a basic school, and past the park was a mud-pond. The pigs that wallowed in there were huge and loud. I don’t like pigs. I hated that route, but I had many respondents on my list beyond there. I had no choice.

Back at the guest home, there was no food. We had to cook our own meals. One team member had already had a bad case of diarrhea after patronizing one of the eateries there, so we knew we had to be cautious. It was a hard place to work. It got harder when power went out for close to a week and we had sandstorm after sandstorm. At night it would get so hot we would bring out our mattresses to the corridors and leave all doors including the main ones open. You’d barely get good sleep, and would have to wake up early and go find some water to bath with, food to eat, before heading out to field. I was homesick.

The afternoons became so unbearably hot, with the sun blazing, we had to work in the mornings and nights only. So, it was so for a little over two weeks. You’d find me, backpack on my back laden with soap for my respondents, cap on, earphones in, shades on, walking across the park, beyond the mud-pond to the northernmost part of the town. Then back. Then up there again. Then back. I would pretend I couldn’t see the pigs anytime I walked past them. The loud music in my ears ensured I didn’t hear them either. It was a hard place to work.

Damanko brought me face to face with realities I now realize I needed to come to terms with. Some events changed ideas I didn’t even know I had formed. Damanko broke me. It was there that I learned that I had actually been taking some privileges for granted. I learned that you cannot truly tell who you really are when you have not faced most trying situations. Other things happened, removed from the research work, that made that even clearer. There were days I couldn’t bring myself to be friendly with the people I met. I wanted to go in, ask my questions and get out. I was too tired to empathize…too aware of my depravity to feel anything else in the moment. It was hard.

One morning, on my walk up past the park, I forced my self to look at the mud-pond and slowed down. I even took my earphones out. Could I blame them for wallowing so comfortably in filth like they belonged there? They belonged there. Their nature is so. I was troubled and I wasn’t even sure why I was, on that particular day. Before then I had done a lot of observation and talking with my respondents, and taking note of things  about them. But Damanko was different. There, I considered myself in raw and honest ways. Maybe sometime much later in life, I will spill the details of it, but…

It was an awakening.



It had rained the day before we went back to Sibi Hilltop, and so it wasn’t as dreadfully dusty. It was a place I wasn’t too happy going back to because the first time, a tall, dark, cute-faced Konkomba man had followed me all the way from his house to the roadside where I was to wait for my teammates, with his elder brother, to propose to me through him. He’d swept his arm in the direction to my left, saying that all the houses there were his, and that he had acres and acres of yams. Some of the women had told me that the Konkomba men were fond of marrying with charms that kept the women blind to better opportunities and stuck to them. He’d asked where I lived because he wanted to send yams to my home either in Accra, or where I lived in Kpassa; sacks of yams. I figured that the charm was possibly in those yams, so there was no way I was going to take them. My teammates had tried to convince me to, but I wasn’t about to start fighting the urge to elope to Sibi.


When we went back that day, I was anxious about running into him. I remembered the way he’d leered at me, exposing his thoughts. Thankfully, I didn’t. My interviews had run pretty fast, because the women on my list were made up of women whose children were all above age five, one who had just two tods, and one who had none at all – she’d been married for just about a year. When I went to her home, it was her husband I found. He looked to be not less than 50 years old, and spoke to me respectfully and with smiles, which was not my usual experience with the men I encountered. He told me his wife was in her dressmaking shop further up the hill, and got a little boy to go show me. When I got there, there was a plump, short-natural-haired girl seated behind a machine, and some others in an inner room cutting patterns. I mentioned the name of the man and asked where I could find his wife. She smiled and said “me nono” (that’s me). She was 17. It took a few seconds to get over my shock. I wasn’t expecting to meet a teen. She told me she had no children yet. She told me her husband’s first wife had had 5 kids for him, and so she didn’t feel pressured to give him any children yet. She told me her husband set up the dressmaking place for her. She told me her husband understood. She told me she had a boyfriend closer in age. She told me she was on injectables. She left me absolutely unsure how to feel, and equally unsure how she felt.

I sat there for a while, finalizing the e-questionnaire for later submission, and watched her shout instructions to those in the inner room. She was the boss.

As I walked back to the church building where we had been given permission to rest when we needed to, questions ran through my mind. Was it her husband who had sponsored her vocational training? Was that how come he married her? Is it a better case of child marriage, seeing that he treated her with respect and she seemed to have things going her way? Was that her way? Was that what she wanted? Was she not just making do with what she had? Was the man any better because he was “understanding”? How could I be thinking that? She was a child! Why wasn’t I enraged? Why wasn’t her situation making me sad? Everything had been unexpected and had ran off-script. What do you do when the story is not so straightforward? I wasn’t feeling what I thought I was supposed to feel. It was unsettling.

I laid down on a bench in the church hall and closed my eyes, not wanting to contemplate the situation further.


Had she been charmed?



My teammates (5 guys and a lady), and myself lived in Kpassa over the two-month period, in a chamber and hall apartment, in a compound house (three other tenants). There was no bathroom or toilet inside the building. The bathroom was an open-sky cement-block three-sided barricade on the outside, and the toilet was a pit latrine, cemented over, leaving a hole through which you were expected to aim, no matter the nature of your bowel movement. Now I don’t want to tell you the torture it was to properly aim through, while suffering from diarrhea, which was a constant for us out there. I won’t tell you.

Our immediate neighbours were a young couple; the woman a basic school teacher, and the man was into construction, it seemed. After them was a young doctor who was hardly around, and then another couple, who socialised very little with us, except when the man joined us to play Ludo (of which I was the reigning champion, by the way).

I find myself missing how we became in such a short while. How it could get so hot, we’d spend more time out in the front of the house talking, than indoors. I miss the laughing and the teasing; the sparsely clouded skies in the day, and clear enchantingly starry skies at night – both dramatic in their own right. I miss the noise from children playing just behind the house at very odd hours (sometimes past midnight, I tell you! The other lady on the team was convinced they were spirits), and from singing and dancing from funerals that lasted up to a week, depending on how much money the deceased’s family wanted to show they had (I learned this from my neighbour after one particular funeral had lasted past three days and I’d asked).

I miss market days; yam market days and grain market days. I miss the few times we were delighted to find fresh tomatoes and other salad-friendly vegetables on market days (just twice, actually. The second time they looked so sorry, our excitement died almost immediately). I miss the driver of the only taxi that was in all of Kpassa, and the taxi itself. His name was Jerusalem (the driver, not the taxi) – Jeru for short. The taxi was so old, the fuel tank was a makeshift one made from a kuffour gallon, rag strips, and a pipe hose. The bottom of the car was so thin, we could feel the road under our feet whenever he went over the crudely done speed bumps that over-populated the rocky, dusty road from Kpassa to Damanko, and beyond. I miss his foul mouth! I miss all the Okada rider friends we made and our trips to the remotest parts and back (especially the times we either got thrown off the bikes or ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere or raced each other) and how over time the riders became our linguists at the community entry stages.

But of them all I miss that young couple who lived right next door to us. I miss how they’d step out, and not caring that the bathroom was out there and open-sky, take their bath together, talking and laughing. I miss how they’d have petty lovers’ quarrels in one moment, and the next moment, she’d be kissing him goodbye before he hopped onto his power bike and rode off. I miss how the boys on my team would jokingly complain to them that they were making single life more difficult for them. And were they not? There were nights they’d be so cosy out in the front, I’d pick the phone and call my man. They were a breath of fresh air. I miss how she’d confidently come knock on our trap door, open it to check what was cooking, and then go back in to bring a bowl for some. I miss the day I made jollof with beef and she shouted from the front of her room that whatever it was that was cooking, I couldn’t not give her after torturing her so, with the aroma. She didn’t know that after the second time, I always cooked with her in mind. Or perhaps she did. She was my favorite foodie.

The day she left for her mother’s because she was due in two weeks, she cried because she said she’d miss us, and she knew she wasn’t going to come meet us when she returned. She and her husband had become like a family for us there. The night of the day she left, the boys mercilessly teased her husband, telling him that they were all going to sleep with their palms locked between their thighs that night. They and him.

When we went in to sleep, one of them reminded us of the day we had argued with her about whether mangoes were fruits or vegetables.

She had insisted it was a vegetable. I remember how the back and forth had got so heated, the more silent couple even joined in. I remember the argument had started because she had brought home enough mangoes for us all and even more. We argued as we ate them. Being reminded of it had us in fits.

We laughed all over again and blamed pregnancy brain. At least it was better than coddling the alarm, knowing she was a basic school teacher.

We had already started missing her.

I think I miss those mangoes too.