I’m a Ghanaian woman, hybrid as I may be, but Ghanaian none-the-less. I have done everything a Ghanaian child of my gender was meant to do:
I got good (or decent) grades in school.
I never came home pregnant as a teenager.
I went to college and graduated with honors.
I got married.
I had kids (though not in the preferred order).
That was my path in life, and I walked it – although there were a few bumps in the road. Pre-marital sex and teen-aged drinking are just hiccups, as far as I’m concerned. I had the capacity to do much, much worse as a young woman. Anyway.
What was never expressly said to me was what type of man I should marry… only that one day I was expected to have kids and get married. I knew very early on that I wanted to marry a man like my dad. He was independent and jocular. He washed his own clothes and cooked his own food. He had a great sense of humor. He never let the house-help do anything for him that he couldn’t do himself… and there was NOTHING he couldn’t do. My father was (and is) a bit of an African male anomaly. And because of that, I knew I would never be able to marry a Ghanaian man.
But, God, did I want to.
I wanted it all: the house in Labone, romantic dinners at La Palm, Twi speaking urchins running arounf my terrazzo floored house, and the title of Mrs. Acheampong/Cofie/Mensa/Appropriate Traditional Ghanaian Surname. But in order to get that, I knew that I would have to kill the most interesting and droll parts of myself; and I would rather die ten thousand deaths than to NOT be Malaka Gyekye. I enjoy being me.
I can’t think of one Ghanaian man, not ONE, who is suitable to marry me. Not because Ghanaian men are not good guys – there are a handful of good guys out there. But truth be told, the three progressive, forward thinking men of Ghanaian descent are not interested in marriage, and not by a long shot. They want to play the field for as long as possible. I don’t know their reasons because I’ve never asked. Also, since everything in Ghana is intrinsically class based, I’d have no chance of ‘marrying up’ (we weren’t rich enough), and I certainly wasn’t going to ‘marry down’ (I’ve struggled enough, thank you!) All I know is that I knew if I wanted a chance at independence within this “institution” known as marriage, I’d have to look outside of my native shores. I knew very early I’d have to marry an African-American.
My first indication came when I was about 16. I was dating this guy and was asked to join a rap group to kick a verse for a competition at Labadi Beach. There I was, all decked in white with my combat boots and box-braids, ready to perform. At the last minute, my boyfriend strolled up with his pimp limp and told the guys in the group that I COULD NOT rap. As in he would not allow it.
“I don’t want my girlfriend on stage rapping,” he said.
Now, instead of these other guys fighting for me to get on stage (because we had rehearsed for weeks, after all) they simply said. “Okay, Joe.”
Huh? What did they mean “okay.” Who was going to fill in those 50 seconds during the song?
It was okay. One of the other guys could do it. Everyone knew all the lyrics after all. And that was when it struck me: if I was to continue in a relationship with such a guy, nice as he was, his first inclination would be to shut down my creativity if it made him uncomfortable AND there would be a whole cultural system to support his efforts to shut me down.
It was not a stretch to imagine. I looked at all my ‘aunties’ and older friends who had gotten married and was amazed at how miserable their lives were. Their spouses were ‘traditional’ Ghanaian men… very much unlike my father. They came home, food was ready, the wife sat by him and poured his beer and if he was so inclined, she cut his toe nails FOR HIM after he was done eating. I’m assuming they had impassionate sex afterwards. These women never smiled when their husbands were home.
I had long buried my longing for a good Ghanaian marriage (if such a thing exists) but had my feelings of the fairy tale I’d always dreamed up dug up again after a lengthy twitter conversation with @BronzeLily. She shared an article written by Stella Damasus, Nigerian actress, advising married women how to keep their men and keep them happy. It was an avalanche of bull shit; but a LOT of women think this way. You have to read the drivel to believe it. All this nonsense about keep a smile on your face when he comes home and don’t complain about YOUR day at work or with the kids. It’s something right out of 1930’s good housewives book. This kind of thinking transforms a woman into a phantom of her former self, and what’s worse, puts the onus of whether the relationship succeeds or fails squarely on the shoulders of the woman! Oh you have to read it. If you’re an intelligent woman you will NEVER want a (African) man. It reduces them to feeble minded sex fiends who want nothing but unquestioned female/spousal fealty. And even if that’s true – and in most Ghanaian marriages it is – these ridiculous “biblical truths” still painful to read, let alone accept, in the new millennium. In the age of the iPhone, damn it!
I hear Proverbs 31 is big in Ghana. It’s big in Black churches in the States too. I’m sure you’ve read it. It’s all about the industrious woman who manages to hold her house and business enterprises together. Her husband sits at the gate with the elders and calls her blessed. Now, from I understand, my Ghanaian female Christian counterparts have taken that to mean the woman should be responsible for running the house and finances so her do-nothing-husband can sit on his fat butt and praise her at the gates. On the other hand, we in the West view the Proverbs 31 husband as a man who is secure enough in himself to see his wife use her wits to increase not only her family, but herself. One scripture, two different interpretations, a whole heap of mess. The Proverbs 31 woman sounds happy. How many of my married Christian sisters in Ghana are happy? How many wake up feeling joy? And if she’s not finding joy in her marriage, it ain’t HER fault: it’s the fault of that man she chose to submit to.
Man. I am so grieved that my bloodline will eventually fade into American nothingness. Every time my children say “huh?” when their grandfather asks how their day went, it’s like a light being snuffed within me. But how could I sacrifice my soul for a Ghanaian marriage and all the crap that comes with it?