America the beautiful

Every morning, its embassies around the world are packed with people who want a shot at the dream. Boundless wealth; unbelievable power; unfathomable influence – there is no country quite like the United States of America. Yet practically any time that this superpower makes news, it is for a tragic incident that leaves the world questioning how a country so advanced can be so primitive.

America currently ranks fifth in the list of countries with the highest number of executions. Thousands of American citizens are on death row. The fortunate ones are sometimes exonerated by DNA evidence but the unlucky ones like Troy Davis are executed before DNA or justice can prevail. Some people may respond by saying “at least America is not some Third World country that performs Female Genital Mutilation nor is it some Islamist state that practices Sharia law”. I couldn’t agree more, but, even by the most generous standards, March 2012 has been a bad month for America’s reputation. In Afghanistan, an American Solider, likely suffering from PTSD, killed seventeen innocent civilians in their homes. In California, an Iraqi woman was beaten to the bone. The note tagged to her body read “Go back to your country” – A few days later, her soul returned to her maker. America the beautiful?

In this country where money talks, their financial industry was rocked by a cri de coeur from a high powered investment banker at Goldman Sachs who boldly stated that Goldman generates profits by ripping off its clients. In this same land of Oscars and Sundace, Jason Russell, a well-intentioned director made a video about the notorious Ugandan rebel, Joseph Kony, and received severe backlash about the contents of his documentary. Russell could not withstand the pressure and suffered a nervous breakdown. Xenophobia, financial scandal, hysteria about a Youtube documentary, it can’t possibly get worse until you watch the Tuesday special of Republican Presidential candidates debates and hear grown men arguing over antiquated issues like a woman’s right to choose a few months after America withheld funding to UNESCO because the organisation voted in favour of a Palestinian statehood. America the beautiful?

Before you answer that , you have to overlook the egregious foreign policy mistakes and acknowledge how America has improved the world. Their unwavering commitment to liberty is a benchmark the rest of the world admires. Americans invented electricity, the car and medicines to treat serious diseases. It is home to luminaries like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King who have impacted the world beyond description. America gives millions in aid to poorer countries. They have Peace corps and NGOs who are genuinely doing good work around the world. America the beautiful? Most definitely. You need only look at incidents where there is a global crisis, be it an earthquake in Haiti or Tsunami in Japan, to see that no other country responds with the kind of empathy and generosity that America does. Even the polarizing Kony 2012 video generated five million dollars to end the struggle of Invisible children. America the beautiful? Absolutely! Then, you hear the story of seventeen year old Trayon Martin. A boy walking in an affluent neighbourhood in Florida, gunned down for being armed with skittles and an ice tea – red, yellow and green skittles went flying in the air, his blood drooled on the pavement. Another black boy who will not get a shot at the American dream. America the beautiful??? Rest in peace Hoodie

Losing my hair

I have lost my hair. And I mean All of it. At first It was traumatizing because my hair is not just my crowning glory – I am unabashedly in love with my hair! Some have hot legs, great breasts, strong arms… I have had fabulous hair. The kind of hair that made people stop me in the streets and ask what Remy number I was wearing. I would tell them it was real. They would rake their fingers through it to feel for tracks. I would smile at them and say “I told you… I get it from my mama.”

But now, it is gone. How ? From serious over-processing and colouring – so it started breaking. From the root, I might add. I looked so horrible that one Saturday evening, I staged an intervention. Alone in my bathroom with my mirror as the only witness and a pair of scissors as the enforcer, I got to work. In ten minutes, the floor was a carpet of brown wispy strands and I looked like a porcupine. I was sad, but strangely, not devastated. I guess it was because I realized that it was not just about hair. It was about different things going on in my life.

Things that I love more than my hair are changing, shifting, disappearing… but if my hair is any indication of the future, then I am hopeful. I am seeing new growth. It is stronger, thicker and richer than what I had before. I treat it differently too. I no longer use the harsh perming creams that I used to marinate my hair in. I have switched to texturizing which leaves a gentler impression on my tresses.

It is short and fresh. It does not draw stares or comments like it used to. It is quiet around here, but I have come to terms with that. It is the quality not the quantity. Of course the length is gone and I can’t even hold a pony tail. Well, unless I pull out the comb, the brush, pins, black gel, structuring gel, Stay-So-fro spray, then polish it with Sulphur 8 and press it down with a scarf. The final product is laughable, but it has taught me a HUGE lesson in humility and after 30 years, I have finally let go of my ridiculous attachment to my hair. Not to mention everything else in my life that is susceptible to split ends and breakage. I have God to thank for that. Now tell me, what is your hair story. Remember, it is not about hair at all.

A year of living generously

When the mother of bestselling author Lawrence Scanlan died, he and his siblings decided to establish a scholarship in her name for the School of Nursing at the University of Toronto. Later on when Lawrence heard of a 10 million dollar donation to the same university, he felt compelled to research philanthropy. What ensued can be found in the engaging pages of the book ‘ A year of living generously dispatches from the frontline of philanthropy’ where Lawrence dedicates 12 months to volunteer at 12 different organizations which are advancing social justice in their communities. What started as a remarkable way to honour a loved one’s memory led to a wide scale demonstation of generousity by one man. From Kingston Ontario, through Costa Rica and then to Senegal, Lawrence rolls up his sleeves to serve the under represented and underprivileged, and he did so with an eager attitude and an open mind that leaves both writer and reader forever changed. I highly recommend that you pick up the book ” A year of Living generously’ and watch the followup interview on AmmazingSeries. Scanlan’s commitment to a socially just world may very well motivate you to start your own acts of kindness in communities at home and abroad.

Happy.Thanks.Giving

Happy thanksgiving. If these three words are devoid of any meaning to you, then perhaps you share the sentiment of Majorie whose husband is suffering from leukaemia. She was so thankful when his brother Sam turned out to be a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant.

Sadly in the final stages of medical tests, their hopes were crushed when the doctors found out that Sam also had leukaemia. What does Majorie have to be happy about?

It is a particularly hard day for Bertha and many other military wives who share the quiet anguish of husbands who marched to war only to return in flag draped caskets. They leave behind a world that misses their presence and families that need their comfort. The Berthas of the world go through the motions of daily life only to lie awake at night wondering what they have to be thankful for.

What do you have to give when like John, you just descended from the lows of reduced work hours to the pits of unemployment. John like many fathers you know, has been laid of from work. The celebrations of this day will have to be scaled back to accomodate the lack of income.

These are some of the sad realities of Thanksgiving. However, even as flags fly at half mast and pink slips lie on the table, we give thanks from hospital beds, motel rooms and living rooms alike. I hope that today and the days aheads, you are able to step out of your personal preoccupations and knock on your neighbour’s door. She could be a Majorie and your smile would be the brightest part of her day. Call a friend, she may be a Betha and the sound of your voice will fill a devastating void. Before you start your turkey roasted festivities this season, invite a family to join you for dinner, you would be saving a John the shame of not providing a warm meal for his family to eat. Through these acts, we will be acknowledging that Thanksgiving is more than a holiday. Rather, It is a state of being where we remain thankful for children that are born everyday and the kindness of strangers. It should really be day where we are reminded to continue to pray for peace, health and healing for a broken but resilient world. My dear friends, happy thanksgiving to you and all your loved ones

Curing my quarter life crisis

Smack in the middle of a delayed quarter life crisis, doubts of what I should be doing with my life raced through my head. To make matters worse, I kept stumbling on overused cliches like ” Do what you love” and “Follow your passion”. Obviously this was a sacrilegious mantra for an African immigrant who grew up knowing that you show your gratitude to your parents by going to a good university and studying income-generating subjects like Economics. When you graduated you work for a Bank. If you were unhappy about your professional compass you enrolled in an MBA program. You don’t entertain lofty ideas about ‘passion’, what ‘sion?

Against my pragmatic instinct, I allowed myself the luxury of uncovering my passion and I realized that I LOVED talking to people and hearing about their stories. Once i came upon this revelation, I had to explore it. I desired to create an online forum which would allow me to share amazing stories that would inform, entertain and inspire. I called it AmmazingSeries. Although AmmazingSeries was a deviation from the linear requirements of my life as a Financial Advisor, I quickly adapted to the creative and unconventional demands of my newly found gig. Unfortunately, as different web designers plunged me into an emotional roller coaster of delays, doubt set in and fear took over. I feared the consequences of putting myself out there. “How dare I call what I was doing a talk show when this was the path of seasoned journalists and hollywood elite. ” I self berated. I mulled over how people will perceive me, but most of all, I was afraid of failing. But with a dash of rebellion and a boost of encouragement from friends, I dug into it.
What I lacked in experience, I made up for in an unbridled enthusiasm to learn. I have read more about coding and DNS severs than I care to remember. I often work until the wee hours of morning and I have developed a tan line where my laptop passes heat freely onto my thighs. I raise my glass to anyone who has their own business, blog, clothing line etc. because I can attest to the stress, frustration and dollars that goes into launching your dream.

Nevertheless, you cannot be dissuaded by the challenges. Waste lies in the hearts of those whose fear of failure prevents them from even trying. Cory Booker had this post on his wall ” never be afraid of trying something new, remember amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.” Go ahead launch your passion. It may start slowly, but even Google had a Beta version, and Twitter existed 3 years before it became a hit. Know that the reward you reap from living the life you have always dreamt of will surpass any obstacle you face.
In July 2010, when AmmazingSeries was finally outdoored, I was relieved and excited. The crowning moment of my hard work came when I interviewed the Reggae artist, Gyptian. I remember pushing through the crowd to get a good shot of him. I still remember camping out at the concert and then at his hotel, determined to get my interview. When the moment arrived, I could literally feel my body pulsating to the rhythmic tempo of his Partois. As my body of work expanded, I proceeded to do what all nouveau entrepreneurs of our days do – set up a Facebook page. I did not realize how hard it is to grow your base and I still remember when I had 4 followers ( so when you see a page with more than 100 fans, please clap for them, it is not easy). That being said, If you want to put a smile on my face, suggest Ammazingseries to your friends and follow me on twitter.

This article was originally featured in www.boakyewaaglover.com visit it and enjoy her refreshing perspective

Prisoner in my own home

Part of assimilating into a new country is to learn how to speak their language (check), adapt to their cultural code of conduct (check), and respect their holidays…ermm not quite. Let me explain.

Eventhough I live in Toronto, I show my dedication to the entire North American continent by celebrating holidays in the respective countries. I celebrate Canada day on July 1st and Independence day on July 4th, I celebrate 2 Thanksgiving days; the Canadian one in October, and Black friday in the US ;) . There is only one holiday I seem hesitant to celebrate – Halloween. Why? because it is tedious and requires that you walk in the cold. In the month of October when people fuss over whether they are going to dress up as villains or strippers, I know for sure that I will be donning my annual ‘prisoner in my own home’ costume. No mask is required for this costume, you just have to turn off all the lights in your house and not respond to the door bell.

This year I promised I was going to change. I planned to show some love to the neighbourhood kids who chase after balls under a moving car and don’t even greet adults. My sister, as if she read my mind, bought a bag of chocolates 3 weeks before Halloween. The bag boasted about 94 delicious treats including Crispy Coffee my favourite, and good ole Smarties. On the night of Halloween, I called my Nigerian neighbour to invite her children to come trick or treating. No, she said, they are going to church for Hallelujah night. No Halloween night for her babies. Evidently like some Africans, she believes Halloween is a devil worshipping holiday. Where we are from, we take witches seriously, you can be burnt or stoned for calling yourself a witch. We certainly don’t entertain ghosts and make graveyards out of our lawns. Our cemeteries are feared. If you don’t believe me, visit an African cemetery, and you will find it to be the least littered place on the whole continent. But maybe Africa should adopt Halloween. In Canada alone, Halloween generated about 6 billion dollars in 2009. When you add up the amount spent on candy, adult’s costumes, children’s costumes, pet costumes you realize that Halloween is a big economic deal. If Africa became as enthusiastic about Halloween as we are about Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s day, it could be the economic boost we have been searching for. Imagine you go to your Nairobi neighbourhood and tell the family next door that on October 31st, you will be a witch and you will be hanging ghosts on trees… You won’t be laughing when the local Pastor, sprays your house with holy water and slams some exorcistic slaps on your forehead.

But I digress. I was not about to be discouraged by my Hallelujah Nigerian neighbour, I was going to celebrate Halloween. I dashed into my cupboard, reached for the bag of chocolates and found an empty box. What? Had a ghost visited my cupboard and inhaled 88 out of the 94 chocolates? There goes my plan to finally participate in Halloween. I turn off the lights, insert the ear plugs and hope the blasted bell will stop ringing.

Letting go

 There comes a time when the former things do not measure up and you have to sign divorce papers or change employers, relocate or remarry… all to welcome something new into your life. I have arrived at that precarious intersection where I have to let go of my synthetic diva Millicent. It seems trivial, but I promise you it is not. If you don’t know the back story, Millicent is my 16 inch yaki #2 wig. She is a convenient disguise, and a true timesaver when I have to dash out of the door for an interview.

When I first started wearing Millicent, the reviews were mixed so I conducted an ‘independent’ survey on whether Millicent was a vavavoom or a vavadoom. The majority of the votes concluded that Millicent was a vavavoom. However, a few weeks into that historic vote, the tide has changed and even the lovers of Millicent are now saying she has got to go. As I ponder over the importance of appearance versus convenience, I remembered what I say when I see bad clothes happen to good people, “do they not have any friends.” So if you are one of those who has been disappointed with my tresses, please know that the problem is not that I lack friends, the issue is that I am deaf and bold. My deafness prevents me from hearing their advice and the boldness deflects their criticisms. But at this moment, I don’t know if my defences have been weakened, or my eyes have been unscaled, cause I have also arrived at the decision that Millicent has to go.

See, I had become attached to Millicent the same way you grow to love frumpy clothes or 1 minute noodles. They are a quick and convenient solutions to a big problem. And my problem is because I do not have to report to a regular work schedule, I have ignored my hair. As a result, it has grown detrimentally long. It appears unmanageable at a glance but with a bit of attention, it could be restored to its former glory and star in a Pantene commercial. So I have decided that I am letting go of Millicent and all that she symbolized; convenience, laziness and misplaced courage. I am going for a haircut to get rid of the dead ends in my hair and my life. This includes bad sleeping habits, midnight eating et al. What do you need to let go off? The on again off again boyfriend? Academic laziness, financial nonchalance, emotional eating…If I can let go of Millicent, trim my split ends and realign my focus, you can also let go of the dead weights in your life.

Love
Amma

Immigration – the unspoken pain

Today I am airing a snippet of our private and painful conversations. You know, the ones punctuated with helpless hmmms, pregnant pauses and resigned silence. The conversations are about Papers. no, not the ones creating a mess on the table but the one creating a mess in your life. Their government names are work permit, H-1, F-1, J-1, work permit, student visa, green card, landed etc. I bear the psychological welts that come with chasing visas and being out of status, but I also know so many people whose lives hang on the hinges of their immigration status.

To the lucky few who carry the passport of the G7 and are oblivious to this dilemma, a visa is not the corporate company that levies 19.99% interest on unpaid debt. It is a much sought after stamp in your passport which permits you to travel to a country or work/study in a country. The importance of this stamp was so etched in my pschye that in college if there was a fire alarm, I would never leave the building until my well hidden passport was in my hand. “Oh Amma you are so funny” they chuckled. Little did they know that it was no laughing matter. I knew that my visa-decorated passport was a prized possession because across embassies in Accra, Nairobi and New Delhi, people line up every day to find out if their visa applications have been approved. Not everybody is escaping abject poverty to leach on the luxuries of the developed world. Some are coming as international students, others are coming for holidays, others have been recruited by foreign companies to work for them. Without fail, a good number of these applicants will be rejected on some frivolous grounds. Recently, a relative of my was about to embark on an all expense paid trip across the world. The Canadian Embassy denied his visa because ‘he had little reason to return.’ “What?” He retorted, ” I have travelled world and I now live and work in Ghana.” “Well you have very little net worth?” Yes, because they are 24 years old! Would you expect a 20 something year old Canadian to have a house and 2 cars?

Out of the ones who finally make it across the pond, some live comfortably, others have returned to their home countries, as for the rest, a turn of unfortunate events has transformed them into ‘illegal aliens’. Get to know them and you will acknowedge that the life of an ‘illegal alien’ is burdensome and their problems are plentiful and painful. Some created the problem by not leaving before their status expired, many are true victims of their circumstances. They are out of status because their employer assured them that they would help them complete their work permit but later decided that they could not. Others have seen their work permit expire, but because of the current job market, they are unable to renew it. Some are seeking political asylum, others came on a student visa but because of the job market, have not been able to find a job to get a work permit and be in status. There are those who are without legal immigration status because their parents brought them here when they were mere toddlers and with the expiration of the parent’s visa, all are out of status.

To rectify the issue, people pay thousands of dollars to marry someone with a permanent residence status. It is supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement which turns sour when the ‘legal’ party decides to take advantage of the ‘illegal’ one. They milk them for additional miscellaneous expenses such as medical bills, exorbitant phone bills, cable and other utility bills. The ‘illegal’ one suffers silently, only to find out that the person is no longer eligible to file for them because the ‘legal’ one stopped working months ago. Serves them right you might say. These are people who have broken the law and deserve deportation or any other consequence that befalls them. Very few can relate to an immigrant’s private pain cause they end up losing more than they bargained for. As relationships crumble and self esteem drops, some pack up and return home, others keep waiting for immigration reform or a miracle.

When you are out of status, your daily prayer is that something tragic does not happen back home to confront you with these morbid options: Do I go home to pay my last respect to my loved one and risk not gaining re-entry to my source of bread and butter or do I stay back and always carry the guilt of not being a pall bearer to one so deserving… These are only a few of the daily decisions that hammer through the minds of an ‘illegal alien’. Before you judge them, walk a mile in their shoes and you just might respect them.

The Easy Button

I am looking for the Easy Button (EB). I need it to help me write an article, run errands and cook 4 different kinds of meals. But before the day ends, I would press the EB prior to calling Sony customer relations and press it again to deal with all the irritables lining up for me. To my chagrin the easy button keeps evading me. I have searched high and low, I cannot find it. I am now convinced that someone has hidden it from me. Please send it my way before I expire.
Wouldn’t life be great with a shiny red button to help you cruise through difficulties. You would apply for the EB same way you apply for a driver’s license. An instructor would put you through a series of tests and when you pass, tadaa…, you get your own Easy Button. The only caveat is you can only apply for the easy button if you are 21 or older and you can only use the EB 5 times in your lifetime. This means you will have to think about whether you will press the button to rush the delivery of your pizza, or if you car is about to get towed. You may want to save it for important moments like when you are entering a custody battle, your home is about to be foreclosed or if you are facing a life threatening condition.

Disclaimer: The Easy Button does not make problems go away, it just makes it easier to deal with them. Exhibit A. You hate Mondays. Pressing the easy button on Sunday night will not make Monday disappear, it will make it easier to deal with it. Why do you wince? I said an easy button not a Miracle button. In some rare cases the EB will come with a remote control which allows you to fast forward, rewind or pause. Exhibit B. You want a break from reality. You just hit pause and it will allow you a joyous, uninterrupted moment reading AmmazingSeries. Serenity now. Oommmm