We Are All Ashawo

The parents decided to renew their matrimonial vows. She believed it was mainly to give mother her white wedding. Mother had never had it. They had gotten married. Mother and father. The law, the family, culture, and ancestors bore witness. All but the church did. The church meant a lot to mother. She often encouraged her to ‘put (G/g)od first’. Mother did not quite understand that putting (G/g)od first meant putting herself first. She was (G/g)od. If she was made in her image, she was Her. Mother always wanted the white gown. Patriarchal piety, purity and perfection performed for perpetuity. So, with four adult kids, the parents decided to have mother’s church wedding. 

Part of being the older adult daughter of a mother having a wedding meant running errands. Picking up. Things. People. Drama. Walking through an uneven erosion carved clay landscape and jumping over gradual rain-created creases which now served as dumps for urine, dirty laundry water, spit, puke, foul smelling water from washed cowhide, she made her way to the taxi station to pick up a guest, wearing a green and black checkered skirt hugging her hips and thighs, stopping just above her knees. She walked through the landscape that cut through the market saying good morning to the hairstylist who would twist and pin mother’s wedding weave and paint mother’s nails silver.  

It was morning. 7am maybe? Too early to be up on a normal day. Today was not a normal day, however. With the crow of the cock on early morning weekends came the sounds of salvation from men and women. Today, an average heighted man in a button up shirt and ill-fitting pants stood with a megaphone in one hand, bible in the other. His lecture on Christ-related salvation faded in as she walked towards the station. He was stationed there. He would always be guaranteed a home there, until perhaps he slighted the wrong person, or found a place that could turn around more collections. She walked up to walk by. Unprovoked, he customized his sermon about sin to refer to her and her green and black checkered skirt. “And wayward women who dress waywardly to be destructive…”. She does not remember what else was said. He knew nothing of her, the multiple selves she held. The many more she would become. She walked by fast to get the wedding guest.  


She’d returned to the country not long ago with a head full of hair and longing for family and friends she had missed. Relational strings had been stretched so far apart some broke, others thinned. Part of her return was to tighten and reinforce some of the stretched-out strings in preparation for the length of which they would be stretched out again. The arms of multiple mothers had held her little self, and their lips had called her ‘child’. Her not so little self would retrace those steps to extend her arms, now longer, towards her mothers. The town was structurally unstructured. It had all it needed. Unset within the colonial idea of order, it was orderly. A market, communal taps and outhouses, a lorry station, churches, schools, pharmacy shops, a mill and a place called ‘zongo’ known to host strangers to the land who over generations became indigenes. Some of the mothers descended from strangers. They lived in zongo. She would go into the zongo to show them that her, their child, was back and well and did not forget them or her sense of self. Her legs carried her towards the mothers. Her skin covered in hot red trousers and a cheetah print long sleeved blouse. As she walked, a child shouted towards her ‘ashawo’. The group around that child chorused ‘ASHAWO…ASHAWO…ASHAWO’.  It indeed was easier to be a part of something when it had already started, and children indeed can be mean devil-sent motherfuckers.  ‘Ashawo…ashawo…ashawo’ they continued. Silence came out of her mouth. She kept walking. They chorused until she was out of ear and eye shot of the hell-sent bunch. They knew nothing, absolutely nothing of her. Nothing about who she was. The various selves she was and would become. 


‘Achimota old station,’ she told the driver’s conductor. She had entered Accra from Asamankese. The easiest way to get around across the country was with public transportation. If one was lucky, they would have a pimped-up version of the traditional rickety pieces of metal which were usually notoriously reliable but often quite uncomfortable. The ‘western superpowers’ had declared a state of emergency, pissing their drawers because a virus was ravaging the world. Mostly their world because in Ghana, she’d noticed people were chilling. She covered her nose and mouth with a mask anyway. She was not trying to prove anything and could not afford to get sick.

Yeesssss Ohhh stayshin!” slapping the side of the bus to signal to the driver that someone was alighting at this stop. The bus slowed to a halt allowing her lower extremities an escape from three hours of stagnation. There was a last leg left on her trip to her apartment. She would use an uber. Comfort was always worth the money. Outside the confines of muddled breath from all the different bodies in the bus, fresh air, though still heavy with Accra pollution, was warmly welcomed. Unmasking her mouth and nose, her face revealed the nine pieces of metal that adorned her face. Five in one ear, three in the other, one in her nose and she contemplated a second in the same nose. To hold a second hoop. Two rings in her nose. Unprovoked, she heard, “ad3n y3de wok) bosom so anaa? Dien ne aso mu ade bebree yi!” Translates to “why? Are you to be dedicated to a deity? What’s with all these facial rings?” words spoken by an inconsequential being who knew nothing of her. What she was. Who she was. An inconsequential male being who knew nothing of the selves she had shed and the other selves she was slipping into. 


After perambulating with a taxi for a while, she found the beach her friend and his friends were at. It had been a long day. The sun was hot and she felt its stabbing heat on her bald head. Luckily having a baldhead also meant it got hot as fast as it cooled down. Something people with hair and weaves could not really relate to. She’d shaved it a few months ago. A few years overdue. Entering her last apartment she did not have anymore, she held the braids in her hair in one hand, a pair of scissors in the other and in front of the mirror severed the extended tresses from her scalp, regretless. The feel of water directly on her scalp the day she cleaned her scalp of any strand of hair was orgasmically divine. Is this what it meant when the spirit descended on, embodied and took over a being? She had no immediate interest in growing it back. It was just hair and unless she ended up with alopecia, it would grow back.

On the beach with the friends of her friend who now became acquaintances, she took off her black shirt which read ‘Feminist’, the black and green sweat pants she permanently borrowed from a friend leaving only the Fenty bralette and matching high waisted panties. Between splashing in water and jumping around like children, they decided to race from one end of the sand to the other. It had been a while since she raced. She was good! Had been very fast! She would not back down from the challenge to prove it. Matter of fact, she called it on. ‘On your marks, set, go!’ Her petite frame flew through the sand straightening with long strides closely behind a much taller guy who won. Coming down from the adrenaline of the race, one of the new friends spotted a village across a little oasis beyond the sand. 

“Let’s go there,” he said. 

“So they can call us ashawo?” someone responded gesturing to the clothes          they were all barely wearing.

“But everyone is ashawo oh! Somewhere wearing lipstick is ashawo. Wearing red is ashawo, doing your nails is ashawo, driving a car as a woman is ashawo, not being married and not being desperate to be married is ashawo, a woman with a tattoo is an ashawo, a woman with more than one ear piercing is an ashawo, the one with multiple piercings, tattoos, shaved hair and beautiful is Mami Wata. Charle, the list is endless. Charle everyone is ashawo somewhere!” 


According to urban dictionary: Ashawo is a Nigerian word (specifically yoruba) that means prostitute, hoe, home wrecker or slut. Its original spelling is “asewo” but it’s pronounced ashawo. Ashawo over time has come to refer to anyone…(mostly womxn) who is non-conforming in various ways. Since normality is relative, the definition of ashawo has become expensive to encompass anything anyone and their grandfather feel uncomfortable with. Ashawo has been used and is still used as a derogatory term to mostly attack women who have a mind of their own and march to the beat of their own drum, shekere and tambourine. Ashawo is wielded as a weapon to shame women who say, ‘I’ll do me’ in big and or even small ways. 

If both sexworkers and scholars are referred to as ashawo for who they are and what they choose to do, might we not reclaim the word? I mean, you cannot shame the shameless!

The moral of this write up is, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, YOU ARE AN ASHAWO SOMEWHERE.





To all my fellow ashawos, may we continue to be shameless! Aluta Continua!

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