This is a coming of age story that the African Women’s Book Club read a couple months ago. It would probably make a good young-adult fiction. The author is a friend of one of the members and we invited her for a book reading of this, her first novel. The book reading was held at Teranga, a delightful Senegalese restaurant in Boston.
|Click to go to publisher’s site|
The teenage protagonist, Lila, born and raised in England by a single mother, is in for a culture shock when her mother catches her at home with a classmate, a boy the mother believes will “spoil” her. She is instantly shipped off to Ghana and enrolled in one of the premier girl’s boarding schools where she recounts not so premier experiences such as a severe water shortage that leads the girls to preserve their dignity by acting not so lady-like. Just as she is beginning to settle down, she is yanked back to England where she experiences a reverse culture shock and before she knows it she is yet again shipped off to New York to live with her father and his new family.
As a Ghanaian who has moved back and forth from Ghana I could relate to Lila’s experiences. I lived in Germany during my formative years of 7 – 11 and begged to be left behind when I learnt that the family was returning to Ghana, a country whose memories formed in the preceding 4 years (age 3 to 7) were nearly non-existent and largely replaced by images of stereotypical African savages as portrayed in Western media. I attended junior high school (JSS) for three years and though the whole experience proved to be a fun one in my life, I always wondered about and anticipated the end of this trip.
So, when I heard my family was soon to move to New York and I would therefore not attend senior secondary school (SSS) in Ghana my heart lept and bounded for joy. I was so glad that I was to escape the mandatory hair cutting, the fetching your own water, the hand-washing of your own clothes, the hoarding, rationing, and begging for gari, kenkey, and shito (all of which I didn’t and still don’t like with the exception of “gari soakings”), the ridicule for not being able to speak Twi, and the homoing that all would taunt me with.
Dadaba (daddy’s child)! Lactogen Baby (Nestlé Lactogen is infant formula – I have never seen it, but apparently since I was much bigger, taller, and more developed than my peers I must have been brought up on it…when in fact it was all that good German wurst, döner kebabs, and mounds of Cadbury’s chocolate, yum!)! Spoilt girl! (in the Ghanaian sense, see above) Brofo! Your hands are too soft! Eiii, what kind of girl can’t sew? This your plenty hair, they shall cut it sakora (very very short ie. bald)! Just you wait until you get to S.S., you shall see!
So, yes, I was not at all surprised by the tales of secondary school life as told by Lila and the other foreign Ghanaians at the school in the book. At the same time when my own friends, the ones I made in JSS, who are not black obroni like myself (their term, not mine), talk about their time in these stellar senior secondary schools they speak of it with such fondness, I guess what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, right?