Ghana turns 64 years old on March 6. It’s a holiday I’ve celebrated ever since I was a kid. I loved knowing that I have roots in the nation that first gained independence.
As I’ve got older though, I’ve become less satisfied with the idea that a lot of my Ghanaian pride is defined in the idea of independence from a colonial power. I didn’t like the idea of framing my identity against someone, or a group of people that didn’t see my value. Or rooting it in this idea of gaining freedom, when I’ve always seen Ghanaian’s as free. We’re funny, wry, and…we make the best jollof (stop playing games Nigeria). My connection with this place that I’ve never lived in is visceral; it’s in my heart. I always stop on the street when I hear people speaking Twi, Fante, Ga or any other language that I suspect might be from the nation. I’m saying this as a person who doesn’t speak any of those tongues particularly well (or at all).
And yet, I don’t know it as intimately as I know the UK, where I was born. I’m not immersed in it’s zeitgeist. Sure I can follow people who are there, and talk to my family, but not growing up there makes me feel a tad removed from it all at times. Catch me on a bad day, I’ll feel some shame about it, which nearly happened when my daughter asked me to tell her about a Ghanaian holiday for a school assignment. If you read my last post, A Woman’s Work’, you’ll know all about those shenanigans.
When she asked me what cultural celebrations she could talk about, I froze… I thought about explaining what a Durbar was…but knew she couldn’t nail it in 4 sentences. Suddenly, my insecurities about not being ‘Ghanaian enough’ flooded my mind. Not being able to present her with an answer that felt modern, or not enshrined in colonial legacy made me feel shame.
But we were on a mission. “Call your grandma!” I spluttered. I doubted my mum would help her even as I said the words; mum often greeted my questions about who we were, where our people came from with a sharp side-eye and a flick of the wrist when I was a kid. I had no reason to think she’d be any different.
People, MY MOTHER SHOCKED ME. The suggestions came pouring out like water. Mum dug into her archives and suggested a festival about her own Ewe people. One that celebrated their arrival to what is now modern day Ghana. One that connected us to another part of the world: Iraq. I’d heard the story before (from a different relative) but it felt wonderful hearing it from mum. She had been such a closed book in my childhood. Looking back it probably had something to do with being stressed out with raising two children, working an exhausting job and being in a country that felt hostile most of the time.
As I listened to my daughter and mother talk, I felt grateful for the generational connection. That my mother was passing down our history to my child. I’d always thought it would be up to me to do it, but in that moment, I realized, actually I’d have a lot of help from the woman who made me.
Mingled with my joy was a little grief, though. That I didn’t get that from her when I was a kid. I wondered if I’d maybe feel less like an unmoored boat drifting between Ghana and the UK if she’d shared more of those things with me.
But in the end, it was joy that won out. The idea that my mum was passing things onto my children; she was still helping me. And I felt joy in seeing my kid build her own relationship with my mother, despite their physical distance. That connection reminded me that we weren’t removed from our roots, my kid and I are remixes. We’re just as authentic, we just look and sound a little different.