Guinea Foul in Defense of the maid

Dominique Strauss Khan is a free man grace à la dexterity of a high-powered legal team or the checkered history of a hotel maid from Guinea. As the story has been told, on May 14th, a maid entered suite 2806 in the Sofitel Hotel. A sexual encounter ensued. He says it was consensual, she says it was forced.

Public sympathy seemed to be in her favour. The New York Police swiftly apprehend DSK and jailed him in Rikers Island. He resigned from his post as head of the IMF and hired the best legal team money can buy to defend his innocence. The tide changed. The media pounced on the defendant. They released pictures of her and even insinuated that she may be HIV positive. As the weeks grew, they found inconsistencies in ALL her accounts. Her bank account, her tax account and her immigration account.They uncovered that she has dealings with dodgy people who deposit thousands of dollars into her bank account. They found that she lied about being gang raped on her INS form, and that she reported a lower income on her IRS form to live in low income housing. These inconsistencies have shredded her credibility and now nobody believes her.

Dominique Strauss Khan is now the victim. His reputation has been sullied. He lost his job, and possibly a chance to become the president of France. What has been forgotten is his checkered past. In 2008, he was reprimanded by the IMF for having an affair with his junior, a Hungarian Economist called Piroska Nagy. In 2002, Tristane Banon accused DSK of sexual assault, and according to the book Sexus Politicus, DSK has a long rap sheet of women who have felt sexually harassed by him. His allies come to his defense. They are powerful men in the media and in politics and they are quick to point out that DSK is a seducer, not a rapist or a liar. The maid on the other hand, has no allies powerful, or otherwise to come to her defense. She is from a small village in Guinea called Thiakoulle. When she was still a teenager, she was made to marry her cousin and became a mother and a widow soon after. With no formal education, she moved to USA in 2002 and applied for asylum. The events of May 14th have put her under the scrutiny of the media’s microscope, and she can not stand tête à tête with the powerful DSK. Her reputation has be devastated, her immigration status is in jeopardy, her accounts frozen, her family back home besieged with interviews. She remains in hiding.

Perhaps she does not deserve my sympathy, but she has it. She did what many of us have done before: she lied on a document and it has come back to crucify her. No one knows what went on in that room but the accused and the defendant. Maybe in the days to come she will recant her story and apologize. Maybe her lawyer Kenneth Thompson will reveal the promised forensic evidence of a violent sexual assault so the world will know that she was indeed violated. But she is not talking to the public. One of the few people she has been in contact with since the incident is a jailed boyfriend. In her native Fula she explained: “Don’t worry, this guy has money, I know what i am doing.” Except that she did not. DSK is now a free man. Free to eat pasta and truffles in New York’s finest restaurants. Once again, the maid got screwed. As the french would say, Merde!

Some dreams don’t come true

Now that the countdown has ended and the confetti has cleared, I realize that I miss Oprah. Like really, really miss her. When Oprah first announced that she was going to end her talk show, my inbox was flooded with messages. Even my boss called to see how I was coping. In the last four years, my colleagues at the bank had become accustomed to the fact that I set my lunch at 2pm, so I did not miss an Oprah show. For four years they mocked this routine, so it made sense that they jokingly anticipated my mental breakdown.

The final show aired on May 25th. I absorbed my final moments with my mentor with a calmness that surprised me. Sometimes, I took notes but during poignant moments; I reached for my camcorder to capture her smile or her sagesse. I did not cry. It felt complete

Everyone has their icon. A rock star or celebrity who you love so hard that you are convinced they must feel it and thus love you back. For multitudes it is Michael Jackson, for others it is Nas, Beyonce, Billy Graham or Youssou N’dour… I have always loved Oprah. For as long as I can remember she has been my rock star. In fact, had my mother allowed me to stick posters on my wall, I would have plastered it with all things Oprah. It started when I was 12 or 13. MNET, the South African cable provider, began airing episodes of Oprah in Ghana. Unfortunately, it was in the afternoon, so I would rush home from school in time to catch the segment called “remembering your spirit.” It was my favourite part of the Oprah show and the first tool that connected me with my soul. The segment was later cancelled, but the seed had already been planted. Over the years, I sought to expand my knowledge with book club favourites like ‘Seat of the Soul (Gary Zukav), ‘A return to love’ (Marianne Williamson) , ‘Getting the love you want’ (Harville Hendrix) and ‘A new earth’ (Ekchart Tolle). Oprah was accused of new age demagoguery, but I knew they were wrong. For me, the teachings in these books created a thirst for the word of God and a hunger to align myself with God’s purpose for my life. When Oprah laid out her ‘pay it forward challenge’, I challenged my bank and my clients to donate school supplies to 3 orphanages in Ghana and the results were phenomenal.

I learnt so much from watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. She told me that nobody can complete YOU and that using cheap shower gel scums the bath tub. She taught me how to make my first Thanksgiving Turkey. She taught me what is worth holding on to and what to let go of. She awakened me to the power within. Once, Oprah taught her audience how to make pomegranate Martinis for a cocktail party. I went out and bought vodka and the pomegranate essentials. I planted her favourite hydrangeas in my garden and mailed an invitation for her and Gayle to visit my home in Toronto for pomegranate cocktails. They never came, I downed the vodka. It was not the first time I had written to her Oprah and it would not be the last. I continued to send letters, emails and even video submissions hoping that one day, I would get the call to be an audience member. I believed it was going happen. In the final hours when the countdown to the final show narrowed to single digits, I still believed. I had a powerful inclining that the call was coming…

Sometimes she would appear in my dreams. I am in her bedroom, we are having a conversation. I don’t remember what it is about, but it is as beautiful as the white linens we are lying on. I wake up only to close my eyes to continue the dream. But no matter how tightly I squeeze my eyelids, I can’t roll the dream into reality. Some dreams don’t come true, but Oprah often says “God can dream a bigger dream for you”. I believe her. The hydrangeas I planted have blossomed into a beautiful bush envied by the entire neighbourhood. When the summer is over, I cut long stems of the flowers and place it around my home. It is a constant reminder of the woman who taught me so much. To my sister-mother-friend, TV is not the same without you. I miss you. I pray that the road ahead is sprinkled with roses and your favourite hydrangeas, but above all, I offer you 20 years of indescribable gratitude.

Marry a White man

“Marry a White man, they treat women better. They are more affectionate, they cook, clean and help with the children. Look at my palms.” She pantomimed, unfurling both hands. “Look at how callous they are. If you marry these African men you will be subjected to a lifetime of Fufu pounding and Banku pressing. Take your uncle for example, he will not touch yesterday’s leftovers with a broomstick. Serve a White man1minute microwaved noodles and he will wolf it down and not even complain about the missing goat meat. Amma, look at my palms are and take heed.”

Even before my aunt’s words started ringing in my ear, my early opinion of the White man had been shaped by carefully crafted Hollywood images. If he was not an action hero scooping women from burning homes, he was caressing her face in a long drawn kiss. Mr. White man was glorified in movies like Pretty Woman where he showed the depth of his heart by showering a prostitute with love and affection. The White man was elevated to the level where even their Ghosts were romantic, refer to Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The silver screened African man on the other hand, was a polygamous non-hero. He was unfaithful, ungrateful and uncaring. He bore minimal traits of romance and tenderness and if he held a woman, it was at a funeral scene, or to throw her out of her marital home. In real life African homes, most mothers perpetuated the image of the man as a disciplinarian and a no-nonsense provider. A handshake from a husband is considered as affection - anything more is saved for behind closed doors. With movies, music, proverbs and history on my side, I had subconsciously formed the opinion that the road to happiness came from marriage to an Obroni.

Then I moved to Toronto and met a married, church-going, white couple. In public, they were as perfect as Brad and Angelina on a red carpet. He was respectful, attentive and punctuated his sentences with a kiss on her lips. In private, he was brash and distant. When his sharp tongue was coated with a shot of vodka, he was exceptionally abusive. He would deliver searing insults and castigations at his wife until she sobbed. It did not matter that she was the one who cooked, cleaned and gardened. It did not matter that he depended on her to unclog the toilet or change a bulb, he remained remarkably unappreciative. Here, before my very eyes, the epitome of my perfect couple disintegrated. Like many of the women I called auntie, ‘Angelina’ also continued to stay in her marriage. She explained that after marrying 4 times and changing her name 3 times, she had little faith that another man would be different. Angelina was just a disillusioned with men as many African women are. Clearly, unscrupulous men can be found in any continent. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been now been inducted to the hall of shame of high profile names who cheat on their wives. If you need more examples, look no further than Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Khan, John Edwards, Francois Mitterrand, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Larry King, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Jesse James, JFK… Not forgetting the unmentionable surnames of Ghanaian women who married white men for the wrong reasons, only to encounter the fate of their Ghanaian counterparts.

There are a few good men, but then again, anything good is hard to find. It is hard to find a good hairdresser, a good school or a good church. Heck! I am still trying to find a good doctor who is taking patients. As banal as it sounds, anything good is hard to find. A good woman is hard to come by and although a good man does not come easy, they exist. My friend Cherie’s parents are from Jamaica. Her father is loving and dependable. He is also a faithful and affectionate husband. My friend Renee is married to a wonderful Ghanaian man. They have one child together who is my goddaughter. Spend time with them and you will want to get married. He does not lord over her and she does not manipulate him. Theirs is a true partnership not a fairytale. He admits that after 11 years, he knows that marriage is not easy, but he and Renee choose to work at it. He tells me that Vajayjays are thrown his way at a discount and for free, but he refuses to double dip because he knows what he stands to lose.

My auntie Eno is married to a quiet and unassuming man who has not known any other woman in the biblical sense. He is easy to please and attentive. On Saturdays, he can be found washing the dishes and eating Cream of wheat. He does not engage in acrimonious fights with his wife, rather, they work in tandem to put food on the table to feed their 5 children. For 30 years, they have shared a bond so endearing that I had to ask my aunt to spill her manipulative secrets on how she got such a good man on lock down. Without blinking she said “Even before I knew him, I was praying him into my life.” The praying never ceased. They have prayed their way out of a tiny apartment to a big house. They’ve prayed through public transit, unemployment, hysterectomy and more. To this day, they continue to pray. So there you have it my dear readers. It is not race, religion or culture that makes a happy union. It is prayer.

Disclosure: This article is faith based, but if you don’t work on who you are, no amount of prayer can help you.

Stephen Lewis

I was perhaps the only person living in Canada who did not know who Stephen Lewis was. I first heard of him when I went to Uganda, as part of a daring mission to gather positive stories out of a continent often besieged by poverty and political unrest. By the time I arrived in its capital Kampala, Uganda’s growing notoriety on homophobia and albino killings made me doubt if good news even existed in the country.

That was until I saw a sign for Reach Out Mbuya. Reach Out Mbuya is an out-patient HIV centre supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. I could tell you that it provides HIV testing, anti-retroviral drugs and counselling to affected people across Uganda. But the truth is, Reach Out removes the burden of shame and stigma that HIV patients carry and replaces it with hope.

I still remember Justine. When I was told I was going to meet an HIV positive beneficiary of the centre, I expected an emaciated bag of bones waiting to die from AIDs. I was surprised to see a healthy looking mother of 10 who lives and works in Kampala. Indeed, the confidence in her stride and the optimism in her eyes contradicts the stereotypical image of the HIV positive African. Justine is a community activist, an educator, a caregiver to dying patients and the primary provider for an entire family. Thanks to the support she receives from Reach Out, Justine refuses to be ostracized or hampered by her HIV status. She is the epitome of what Reach Out calls ‘Positively living’.

Since 2003, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has funded over 700 initiatives in 15 countries. It has become a lifeline for many grassroots organizations by granting them funds to provide care, education and treatment to people suffering from HIV/AIDS. In May 2011, the foundation organised an AIDS benefit concert called Hope Rising. The concert brought together like-minded philanthropists like Angelique Kidjo, Alicia Keys, K’naan etc. to raise funds for this exceptional organization. My enthusiasm and passion for the work that Stephen Lewis is doing cannot be fully expressed in this brief request. It is for this reason that I hope you wilI visit and see how you donate. Here are excerpts of the Hope Rising concert

Interviewing Hugh Masekela

When he belted out the ballads, I began to cry. I did not know the meaning of the Xhosa lyrics, but the depth his tone emoted made me understand the yearning that South Africans must have carried as they migrated from townships to cities. The musical was aptly titled Songs of Migration. It featured an ensemble of great South African actors like Gloria and Bosman, yet when the limelight expanded on Hugh Masekela, I understood why he is considered Africa’s Greatest. The music exploded and he began to gyrate and rotate like he had no bones in his body. I could not believe he was 77 years old. With dexterity, he swayed, ducked, and charmed the crowd until the sound of our ovation echoed in the halls of the Market theatre. I waited patiently for him in the theatre’s lobby.

As soon as the lady with the blonde streaks stepped out of his embrace, I lurched forward to hug him. He flinched backwards. “I am allergic to synthetics.” He explained unapologetically, pointing at my extensions. Reading the disappointment on my face, he elaborated. “It is not personal, I am simply allergic to the chemicals and the synthetics.” Unabashed, I persisted “I just saw your show and I love you.” Before he could respond, I rumbled on. “I know you have a crazy schedule, but can I have a sit-down interview with you?” As I rattled details about how hard I had been working to meet him, his lips stretched to form a weary smile. “Ok, lets see what i can do.” 4pm the next day, we had a date.

He strutted on to the set in black Adidas shoes, a leather satchel strapped across his shoulders. I tried to still my trembling fingers as I unfastened the tripods. I was a nervous wreck until he drew next to me and showed me pictures of his granddaughter on his Blackberry. The sight of this legend beaming with indescribable love made me so comfortable I started to call him uncle Hugh. Hugh Masekela (to the rest of you;) is unpretentious about his fame and his mark on music. However, when it comes to Africa, he is passionate about the need for us to look inward to draw inspiration from our culture. He stated this consistently without being preachy or condescending. He even added ‘colourful’ exclamations like ‘bullshit’ to emphasize his point of view - that just tickled me.

19 minutes later, it was over. Uncle Hugh joined his cast for rehearsals. I hauled my equipments over my shoulder and trotted along the cobblestone pavement. Above the animated street chatter, I heard someone call my name. I cocked my head to see Hugh Masekela sitting at the theatre bistro, beckoning me to join him for afternoon tea. “Where are you going with those tripods sticking out of your bag?” He queried. I answered that I was about looking for a bus to Sandton Mall. “My dear this is Johannesburg, you are an easy target for a senseless crime carrying those cameras and tripods.” Before I could voice my complacency, he was on his Blackberry calling someone to escort me to the Bree bus station. By the time the kind escort arrived, Uncle Hugh had changed his mind. He took out 200 Rand from his wallet and asked the gentleman to hail a cab for me. Touched by his kindness and his protectiveness, I leaned over and kissed him on both cheeks. I had been dying to do that. He cupped my face in his hands: “Be careful my daughter and take care. ” We hugged. This time he did not flinch.

Facebook depression

FOMO (aka Fear Of Missing Out) is a rare strain of depression caused by unbillable hours spent on Facebook. FOMO is triggered by clicking on megapixels upon megapixels of glamour, fun and entertainment absent in your life and abundantly evident in somebody’s of FOMO are self loathing, despair and finally, abject misery. Self loathing sets in when you compare and contrast the realities of your life with somebody’s choreographed kodak moments. So whilst you don’t remember the last time you blew out a candle, John just uploaded 103 pictures of his birthday party which featured a Louis Vuitton cake and the most beautiful people you wish you knew. As you prance around in your flannel pyjamas breast feeding your 3 year old, Rosa shared photos of her beach vacation. You look at the results of Pilates on her thighs, you see the friends, the smiles, the joy… and you reach for a cookie. You are in despair.

When you thought things could not get worse, you receive a news feed from Happy Mommy. Whilst your 5 year old rugrat can’t blow his own nose, Happy Mommy just posted that her 3 month genius just spelt ‘dinosaur’ . Life is so unkind. Before you could wallow further, your thoughts are interrupted by cousin Kwame. His status reads “Thank God, for my cup runneth over.” And why wouldn’t it. His page boasts of a Harvard undergrad, a Stanford Masters and pictures of a sprawling mansion. Life has truly been a friend to some and an enemy to you. How else can you explain why you keep struggling to make ends meet when others are bathing in success. Tears swell in your eyes, you reach for another cookie and soak in abject misery.

When you are done, you can reach for anti depressants or you can wake up to the realization that Facebook is not an accurate reflection of life. Notice how nobody shows a picture of themselves just after they popped a pimple or after a fight with their spouse? Well it is because with Facebook, you can censor what people see and know of your life. For example, If you go to, you will see a 2010 picture of a lovely girl who has the whole package. Focus on the picture and hate yourself. When you are done, scroll down and check out the real deal as of April 24th 2011.

Scary stuff huh? Now I hope you know better than to judge yourself through the lens of Facebook. Happy Easter y’all