The idea to write this came to me as I drove towards Baatsona for a shoot. My brilliant photographer in our logistical prep told me to arrive at 8am so we could get some of the morning light. Heaven KNOWS that is an ungodly hour for me…usually…when I am in the States. But I guess a lack of sunlight really fucks up your biological rhythm. This time, 8am did not sound as daunting. Without hesitation I said ‘agreed!’. It would have been only three days since I got into Ghana. Three days that reminded me of summer because the fufu was fufu-ing, the banku had its own stage time, kenkey was already the OG which of course I would wash down with some herbal tea (Yes, I am posh-esque like dat). Three days felt like summer because I fulfilled my chocolate contract with a three-year-old who somehow sat (almost) quietly for me to detangle her hair, her aunty (a past lover now friend) hugged me so tight I was grateful for her, their dog with whom I used to have a standoff rolled over for a belly rub like I never left. Three days felt like the whole summer because men rendering service had already begun asking to be my friend. I was stopped by two Ghana police men who decided to search my car for ‘drugs and ammunition’. The harassment is honestly something I have gotten used to as a non-conforming looking woman. I mean, how many typical Ghana girls have blonde hair, ten ear piercings, one nose piercing and walk around casually with brightly colored paint on their eyes. It did not help that my plates were DV.
When they pulled me over to the side, they got one thing right. The taller one actually asked ‘may I enter this side (the passenger side) of your car?’ WOW! Courtesy. That was interesting and coming from a man! I unlocked my car and he told me they were going to search for whatever the fuck they were going to search for. Since it was not my first rodeo, I stayed calm as I watched them do dumb shit and say stupid shit in Twi, a language they thought I did not speak. Thing is, I do not look like a Ghanaian so until I code switch to one of the multiple local languages I speak or someone sees a document with my legal name, no one can quite tell where the hell I am from. I love the ambiguity. I can sometimes do it for my gender expression as well and I smile when people, like the security guys at one Kumasi hostel, ask each other ‘oy3 obaa anaa barima?’ (are they a boy or girl). After interrogating me briefly on my two bags of moroccan mint tea which I am sure they thought was weed (like I am that stupid), and shaking my can of mints, the shorter one picked up my temporary license and upon reading my legal name, went ‘ah…you are an Ewe?’
I responded ‘yes’
‘3s3 Ewegbe ha?’ (do you speak Ewe)
Then the other one took my license from his hands and upon seeing my year of birth, said
‘Eii, ’93. Nas3 wei dier wo y3 abrewa oh. Wo ho na 3y3 f3!’ (wow! ’93 as for this you are an old woman, you are just beautiful).
Being born in 1993 means this year I complete a three decade cycle on this earth. Three decades I am thankful for. Three decades I am super excited to have survived. I have not always been mine. As I have grown into self, I have learned to appreciate what it means to learn about the different parts of me. To give care, compassion, grace, empathy, love, forgiveness and warmth to all the parts of me as I learn about them. This is the reason I chose to come to Ghana to complete the three-decade cycle. I needed to be in the place it all started. I needed to be on the earth I was birthed onto and sit by the source of the waters that thinned my blood enough to circulate to sustain my life. Thus the age thirty for me, was one of new beginnings. I recognize that I am growing older, but duhhhhhh…. It’s either we grow old or we die and I prefer the former. So for a police officer (who by the way looked like an oompa-loompa) to speak so derogatorily about my ageing tickled me in an interesting way. I was not angry, for to be angry meant my ego was bruised and it was not. What I felt more so walked the path of questioning. ‘Why exactly did he think it was appropriate to insult me so casually?’ What must have made his life so painful for him to try to exert pain without even knowing it? This youthful looking body that he compliments, he had no idea what it had to live through.
Bodily remnants of my past showed up the day after my arrival during (of all places) a spa treatment. Why the fuck would anyone feel anxious in a 7-hour spa appointment that included two different kinds of massages, mani-pedi and other kinds of the works? Well I did. As my technician touched my body, I paid attention to what my body was doing and how it was reacting. I paid closer attention to see if I could find any places where I could feel pleasure. (I am working really hard towards experiencing more of that, you know). I noticed that I did not feel much except the pressure or friction of where I was being touched. When I lost myself a bit and came back, I noticed my body’s default mode was tension. When I felt something, it was an interesting (not necessarily pleasurable) sensation at the base of my jaw which happened when my spa technician scrubbed the back of my leg. Particularly my knee. Paying this close attention to touch and sensation it dawned on me that for multiple reasons, touch has not felt safe.
As a child who wet the bed for longer than apparently she had to, I would feel the strike of a cane on my half naked body any night I made the mistake of enjoying sleep a little too much. In short, on numerous nights, I woke up screaming…literally. And it was not from bad dreams, but an actual living nightmare. After waking, if I said the wrong thing, or did not move according to the pace, or made certain mistakes, I would have hands on my face or the cane on my body. Touch never felt safe. Home never felt safe. So I ran. Ran to wherever I would find comfort. Wherever I was made to feel like I mattered. This was with people who did not always recognize they did not have my best interest at heart. Otherwise, why would someone old enough to be my big brother (who by the way is nine years older than me) put his penis in my tweenage hands? His space was safe, I would cuddle into him and he would touch me in ways that felt nice. I had no one to educate me on sexual intimacy that isn’t necessarily sex. So I knew sex was a big NO NO but everything else, well… So he would touch me. It would feel nice, and he would kiss me. That’ll feel nice too. I think when he put his penis in my hand…(let me remember correctly) when he reached my hands out to hold his penis, might have been when I stopped going over. He was not the first and he would not be the last.
For many years, my body was not mine. The compliments of having a beautiful body came through at times when I needed to hear I had value. The world that enclosed me was like a bubble of mismatched jigsaw pieces, forced to hold its shape under the threat of falling apart with the slightest breeze. My body passed through hands, a few times willingly, often unwillingly, by what Uju Anya on twitter called sexual coercion. My body was taken violently away from me in some cases and I had no one to protect me. I gave my body away willingly by separating my soul. After all, the body is only a vessel. Empty without spirit. Empty without soul. My body seemed like the only thing of value (which I worried about) that I had left to me… for a while. Everything else i.e. my mind and my will lol… were strong. Then I broke. Scattered over an average looking carpet floor in a beat up apartment. I stayed there long enough. My pieces would not disappear. So I took a broom and gathered the pieces of my body into a pile. With my fashion degree knowhow, I employed backstitches in piecing them together. Backstitches are very durable, and they take time. I began to keep my body in a way that protected it. I dressed in unflattering ways, I did not go out (also mostly because I was broke and tired lol), and I did not let anyone get close. My body was mine. My pleasure was not…Not yet.
The journey to my pleasure is only a few years recent you see. After working through removing masturbation as a sin from my mind, I made progress with banishing the fear of hell. I made it a point to play Sex-toy roulette with some extra money. Sometimes the toys are a hit-ish and often a miss. My peek-a-boo clitoris and my body’s current inability to feel much because I am on 10mg of antidepressant, does not help. But my pleasure is becoming… mine. So I probe, and touch, make love to, and fuck myself when I can. I seek out compatibility and partners/playmates who are willing to be patient with me. This does not mean I do not maximize giving them pleasure. To slack on their pleasure will be my streetcred in the sewers! I am finding out that I love to give and I actually enjoy giving pleasure. However, I look for people who will be patient to know my body might not respond to what they might be used to. I look for people who, above all, recognize my need to feel safe.
So, three days after my arrival, I got up around 7:15 am, rushing a mug of coffee into the car with some fruits in a bowl. I drove thirty minutes to go and ‘off kpanties’. I paid and drove thirty minutes to show all of my body, on my terms. I gifted myself the artwork that I am, to culminate three decades on this fuckedly-beautiful place called earth. Three decades of surviving…fearfully, living…anxiously, breathing…barely, to thriving…gracefully, living…thankfully, becoming…fully, expanding…freely, connecting…meaningfully, loving…fearlessly. HAPPY, FUCKING, DIRTY THIRTY TO ME. Let’s open a bottle of wine, pour some to the ground, pour some more in a glass, pull out our favorite toys and pleasure ourselves the fuck out.