I have grown comfortable navigating the Ghanaians streets alone. Sometimes I recklessly wander to see how far this black body can go unnoticed in a land of familiar shades. On the morning of June 21st, 2018, while the rest of my peers ate breakfast, I left an hour early. My initial plan: arrive at University with enough time to sightsee. I know of a library just down the road; some restaurant students regularly enjoy; the letters “KNUST” cemented into the campus scenery. I did not indulge these hotspots. Rather, the trotro I boarded took an elongated route into the heart of Kumasi. The original 20 minutes became 45 and I, with no data left on my cell phone, disconnected from the entire group. Sometimes I recklessly wander but this took me by surprise. Ghana keeps me on my toes more so than I can appreciate in the moment. Here I sat with a foreign tongue and pocketful of loose bills. I remember the conversation where Dr. Helen Cho introduced the term “sensory overload.” How our American education relies so much on visual interpretation we neglect the other four senses. Lost in the inner-city of Kumasi I began…
21 June 2018
No matter the clatter of tire and pothole.
Sit next to the window.
Frame glossed black or spotted rust,
a polished finish.
The small handle glued mid-way down the left side.
This will slide the window closed.
This will remove the stench of gasoline fumes.
Not the flare of irritated nostrils or a man
who will approach with ashen eyes.
Yellow-rimmed and swollen.
A limp stare to secure some pocket change, or just a gaze from anyone
who has not grown weary of his begging
reflection in the dust-freckled frame of the closed window.
Do not stare back.
Mimic the passengers seated in arms-length.
A woman dressed her counterfeit
velvet, or Andinkra patterns.
Gowns with headwraps to match. A man
with an expensive wrist and grip on her
upper thighs sat neatly under a lapful of a week’s livelihood:
Banku and Quail eggs. Tucked tightly under stainless steel
the quiver of fingers and empty palmfuls
woven into prayer.
“Baame. Mame sica.
Help me. Give me money.”
See their lips move.
Hear none of the wailing.
Offer only what an American tongue can:
a crooked smile, a mouthful of empty blessings.
Maachi. Good morning. No thank-you.
Slide the window closed and keep moving.
-Maurice J. Norman
I have lived in rural spaces my entire life. Waxhaw, North Carolina then Davidson College, North Carolina. I do not know city life other than my commutes to Charlotte or week-long travels to some of the major cities. Alongside my education I have engaged in community service at homeless shelters. I know of those without two cents to their name. But my hometown wraps them in southern hospitality to best the best of our ability. My experiences with homelessness has always attached itself to a shelter, or a systematic, volunteer-based care. It wasn’t until late high school that I began to contextualize inner-city homelessness. But even so my visits remained community-service based and scarce. However, I paid attention to those on the concrete; those who yell; and grab; and beg; and remained ignored by the crowds of passersby.
I am a country boy at heart.
My southern hospitality has no place in the city.
Kumasi, Ghana is the first city I have lived in.
Through my travels in college, I have seen several more glimpses of abject homelessness. Nonetheless have never lived near it. Therefore, I cannot desensitize myself to a narrative still unfamiliar to me. The hour I spent in the inner city of Kumasi allowed me to clearly understand how poverty presents itself across the globe. I have seen the same conditions present themselves in New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. However, I have never been as frequently exposed to them than now. I share this experience with my peers and many of them, from Michigan, Miami, Houston, recognize the similarities to their hometowns. I cannot begin to know what they have seen. But I question what this discomfort knotted in my chest means, and or if I want it to last. If one day I too will lie back, slide the window closed, and keep moving.
Homelessness in Ghana: file:///C:/Users/acer/Downloads/Amade-GraftAikinsandAngelaOfori-Atta2007JHP125.pdf