Foreign Exchange Love

Photo by Cindy Leah

What happens when two independent people with volatile egos, who do not always understand each other decide to be in a long-distance partnership?

“You will remember that one time you came back from the US and we went to Kasoa to buy fresh fish from that woman. When I offered to pay 150 instead of 250 cedis for the fish, you exclaimed ‘oh my dear, 250 is okay’ siding with the woman against me…”

Excerpt from a letter written by dad

In mom’s head, the amount mentioned by the woman who sold fish was not ridiculous. Afterall, the cost of her world was in dollars. Fifteen years ago, she thought and spoke in cedis. But she left, and cedis changed to the NEW Ghana cedis. She’d missed that train literally and cognitively. The conversion between three currencies, the cedis she knew, this new Ghana cedis thing, and the dollar, was no joke. One million old cedis, a lot of money then, is only a hundred cedis now which roughly converts to ten to fifteen dollars. That’s not a lot of money?! It was a reasonable amount for fresh fish! You would not find THIS much fresh fish in the US for fifteen dollars. The woman deserved her due. Afterall, she used to be a market woman too.

In dad’s head, mom did not get it! She doesn’t live here so she wouldn’t know but could she at least let him take the lead? The economy is wild and things are expensive. She used to be a market woman and should know better. NO correct African accepts the very first price a trader gives for their goods. Why? Are they mad? These traders expect a bargain and when you do not bargain, you reek of ‘the abroad’. Did she also forget that he is still the man of the house? Why is she making him look like the apathetic one of the two of them? 

So I ask again, what happens when two independent people with fragile egos, who do not always understand each other, decide to be in a long-distance partnership? This is a question I have had to ponder. Years later, dad will refer mom to the incident with the fish seller in Kasoa. I found the letter and all I could think about was, “damn…these people never really knew each other!”

For years  I was not sure if my parents were married. I knew they had my siblings and me but we never had a traditional double-parent household. My parents had to live separately because they had jobs in two different regions. I was either with mommy or daddy or visiting daddy with mommy. Sometimes dad did the visiting when he could. But something was not right. Something was off. As a young child, I had seen my mom crying in our flat a few times; as an adult, I still saw the tears. One time, I saw some woman who was not my mom in dad’s room. Mom fell sick shortly afterward. Years later she will admit to me that she did not have an enjoyable marriage. She spent most of her married life separated from her partner, my dad. Years later between her tears and lamentations as things were constipated hard in “the abroad ”, she would cry out for help. Wishing her partner, my father was here with her. Despite having witnessed these lamentations from childhood, my mother carried her honor as a pious woman as a banner. Her biggest bragging right was that despite these difficulties, she ‘kept’ herself. It made sense. Our world is very unkind to women, especially married women living away from their husbands overseas. You do as much as hug another man and the wrong person sees it, you are doomed. My mother had a lot to lose. Despite her longing for physical expressions of love and company, she wore her loneliness and loyalty as a crown. She carried the hell out of this crown and best believe you could see its sparkle. From a distance, however, I saw my mother’s neck contort from the weight of the crown. Truth is, the crown was in reality, a barrel of bricks. She would never admit it! I doubt she even noticed it.

All my life, I normalized not having what I needed in partnerships. The intimacy I crave – to be touched, kissed, held, to sex, to be held the fuck down and sexed proper, cuddled, to converse with someone whose eyes I can look into, to have the capacity to have my butt smacked by my partner so I can smack their butt right back, read and sing to my partner. I normalized giving partners freedom while restricting my freedom knowing DARN well that among my many selves, there is a ho who wants to come out and play sometimes. Even worse, I tied this ho down with shackles of shame, guilt, and piety. I normalized all this because that was the norm around me. The world I moved through. Long distance marriages. My parents did it. My grandparents did it. My aunties did it. One aunty is still doing it. A couple of cousins are doing it.

One can never comprehend life outside of what they live, even for married people. So long as you do not live or frequent where your spouse or partner lives, there is no way in hell you will understand life through their eyes. To make matters more complicated, even those living their lives do not always understand their life because shit keeps changing. The economy and foreign exchange rates are easy examples of how volatile life can be. One moment fifty cedis is a lot of money (five hundred thousand to be exact), the next time it can barely buy you decent waakye with fried fish and eggs. So of course, a traditional African man might feel his ego bruised when his wife chooses not to bargain when that is the norm. When frugal is their way of living. But he is also upset because he knows his wife is struggling in ‘the abroad’. All is not peaches and the unicorns are not shitting rainbows and pots of gold onto her plate. He has heard her lament. So why is she then not trying to be cost-efficient? 

As I read letters between my parents, I realized that as time passed, they drifted further and further apart. Not because they did not have love for each other, but they were both evolving in their own ways. The worlds around them had demands which rewired the way they thought about and saw life in general. Above all there were needs – physical, emotional, sensual, spiritual and sexual needs – that neither could give to the other. One might have found a solution to some of these needs but if I honestly have to mention who suffered the most from this long-distance marriage, it would be my mother. Not only did she stay loyal in the marriage, she lived in a place with no community. My dad had us. He had his family, he had my mother’s family, he had people with whom he could frequently speak multiple Ghanaian languages, without having to buy international calling credit. He was home! At least for a while he had all this…until we (the kids) got our visas approved and had to leave. The US embassy denied dad his visa and his ego would not let him reapply. So again, I was with one parent. Not both.

I am a product of long-distance relationships. I have participated in long-distance relationships. That has been my normal. Like my parents, I made do with alternative ways of communication. Now we have options. Facetime and things. These are great but there are needs video calls and texts can never meet. As we take every waking breath, we become different selves. The longer my parents stayed apart, the more they became strangers to each other. I can affirmatively say that my parents were two people who had love for each other but did not know how to love each other because they became circumstantial strangers to each other.

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