Today I want to thank Juliette who brought the Slice of Life Challenge to our Community School in Accra. It is because of her that I was forced to record my stories on most days this month. Often, I wrote quietly typing by a small lamp by the front door trying my best not to wake anyone. Kojo is a light sleeper and senses when people are not where they are supposed to be. Lola loved the opportunity for quiet time to sit and purr on my lap soaking up the heat from the computer screen. Inevitably, Kojo would wake up at some point running down the hall with his eyes half closed and his hair standing in a mess in search of his missing mommy. The story would sit half-written until he had fallen back asleep. I would write the rest or revise what had already been written in my head while I sat watching him sleep again.
I am thankful to Juliette who has helped me find a place for my stories and has allowed me to pack up a piece of Ghana to take with me. Kojo, Kojo Daddy, Lola and I will be leaving this red-earthed, warm and fertile land in a few months. Kojo came here when he was three months old. He was serenaded by Celestine and Grace who sang to him in beautiful harmony the songs of their youth from the Volta region. He was fed milk that tasted of groundnut soup, pineapples and papaya. He was given the name Kojo because he was born on a Monday. Vovome rolls off his tongue easily.
We have countless photos of our time here in Accra. We’ve been carefully collecting them to show him when he’s older. Until this opportunity to write every day in March, I never realized how many moments cannot be captured in a simple snapshot added to a growing cameral roll. On March 30th, I am content knowing that my walks with Kojo in Abelemkpe will live on. After all, Kunga would have never agreed to be photographed. You can’t hear the woody pods looking at a picture of a Monkey Thorn tree and Evon and Grace’s beauty lie in their movement not in a still image. The stories I have written are also self-portraits. I hope that when Kojo is old enough to read these he will see the beauty in both the story and the story-teller.
Thank you, Juliette, for challenging me to write everyday. Thank you to Radutti, Tenkoranmaah, Kelsey Corter, Amanda Potts, Karpenglish, Edifiedlistener, Terrierol, Anita Ferreri, Pia Allende, Marina, Sylvia and the Slice of Life Community who stayed up late with me commenting thoughtfully on my posts and sharing the splendor that exists in other neighborhoods of the world. Thank you to Abbayayo, Ton Ton & Stryko for complaining when a new post was not waiting for them to enjoy with their morning coffee.
Finally, Kojo Daddy, thanks for lovingly renaming our sofa arm chair by the front door The Blog Chair.
Right as we passed, he stepped out of his dusty, black Toyota and smiled. “Hello, my boy. How are you? Where are you from?”
The conversation began and Kojo was captivated by the broad space between his two front teeth and the distance between his wrinkled eyes. The grey hair atop his head seemed to be growing at different rates which made the outline of his head a bit blurry.
“How do you like Ghana?”
I told him how lucky we felt to be surrounded by caring people. I explained how walking slowly here feels safe because everyone knows everyone and looks out for each other. There was a kindness radiating from him that invited me to keep talking. “Do you live here?” I asked.
“This isn’t my house. I’m visiting my brother’s wife. She’s been a widow for a long time now.”
Kojo and I still had questions but we said our nice-to-meet-yous and see-you-agains and continued on our walk.
On our way back from visiting the deserted digger filled with rain water, we saw him again at the back of his car with a few older boys who were helping him empty the trunk. There were bottles of water, cases of juice and boxes of soda. He stopped me.
“Come here, please.” He waited to continue until the trunk was empty and the boys had gone inside.
He then proceeded to deliver his story. “I have brought drinks for the upcoming family meetings. You see, my brother’s wife has just lost her son unexpectedly. Tonight, she must tell her grandson what has happened because he doesn’t know yet. She’s been keeping it from him until today. I am here to be with them. Others will be coming from far away to start making arrangements for the funeral.”
The news hit me heavily. We had stopped many times to stare at the dog sitting on their roof not knowing the stories that were unfolding inside.
He didn’t ask for anything from me. His story was simply too heavy to sit inside him alone and so he gave me a small piece of his sorrow. I imagined how that young boy would react upon hearing the news. Would he scream and run, sit shocked and still, or cry loudly into his grandmother’s arms?
Here, people take care of each other. No one is ever really alone. Soon, there would be other family members arriving, distant relatives alerted and they would all deliver the news to their neighbors and friends. Each of us would carry a bit of the burden and the load would be lifted ever so slightly from the young boy, his grandmother and the kind old man with wide eyes and bushy hair that stopped me to ask about my son.
Hurriedly we walk anxious to hug Kojo Daddy when we get home. When we get to the gate, I am still undecided whether to share the man’s story with him or carry my part of the load all on my own.
The call to prayer begins so faintly. You have to be still and stop breathing for a moment to sense it. Kojo hears it first. His face is wet with sweat and marked with his own dirty fingerprints from playing ball on the oiled stained concrete.
“It’s late now.” he says.
I recognize my own voice in his. That’s what I say when we are out and it’s time to start heading home. It’s usually my reply when he asks to walk down another street or visit somewhere that is too far to go-and-come before dark.
I wonder what time feels like for him. I can tell that he has begun to read some of the signs around us.
Kunga’s flip flops are discarded and he is leaning comfortably in his chair.
The fire is burning on the empty lot next to the goat on the corner.
The woody pods from the fallen tree are making music in the evening breeze.
Mayaa’s tailors are brooming the colorful scraps of cloth from the day’s work.
The smell of bread from the bakery is rising from it’s brown walls.
Evon is tirelessly braiding the top rows on her last customer’s head.
The girls are gathering at the water post with their empty plastic containers.
Margaret and Frida are working together to carry the heavy fabric display case inside.
The street lights are sparking and turning on dramatically one by one.
Majid is leaving his guard post and Patrick is lacing up his black boots.
The kitchen window is wide-open and Kojo Daddy is preparing dinner.
The white-clad singers have closed the back gate and the small church is quiet.
The bats pepper the sky and force our contemplation upward.
We start walking back home without saying a word to each other. I wonder what time feels like for him.
Two large piles of dirt, one grey and one brown, change shape daily. They sit in front of our noisiest neighbor. Metal against metal. Hammering, pounding, sawing, sanding. Massive music from petite speakers.
From our bedroom window we can only see a metal structure slowly rising from the trees that block the rest of the action. When we pass, the numberless grey gate remains stubbornly closed. The sounds only provide vague clues to what mystery lies inside. If no one is around, we dance to the music mimicking the playful rhythm. We accept the unknown and then move on.
Today, without notice, the most remarkable clue appeared. From two welded iron poles hangs the most delicately crafted sign. The name KAGYAH is carefully cut from a metal slab positioned perfectly on a piece of cherry wood. Underneath, in all lowercase letters the word “bespoke” is burned into the wood. Balancing on the other side is a craftsman’s collage of coils, circles, and keys surrounded by a series of carved lines. Another piece of polished wood stapled together by an iron star dangles like an encore underneath.
Bespoke means custom-made, tailored or personalized. It’s the opposite of mass-produced or ready-to-wear.
To our delight, a light turns on that illuminates the letters from behind. It was worth the wait. It seems that this sign was specially made for us.
There is a street we walk on just to see the dog on the roof. It doesn’t seem so strange now because we’ve seen it so many times. We use “dog on the roof” as a location marker as we decide whether to take a left or keep going straight at the junction.
He is there today sitting on the warm clay tiles. I lift Kojo up so he can see his distant gaze. His head looks as if it is floating in space. A few people pass us by as we stand looking. No one seems to find his presence as magical as we do. The rest of his body is hidden behind the slope of the roof’s surface. He sits remarkably still although he recognizes our attention.
There are many stray dogs in the neighborhood. Kojo doesn’t yet recognize the difference between those that are loved and those that are lost. From where we stand, we don’t notice the fear or despair in the dog-on-the-roof’s eyes that we see in the others we meet.
I wonder if the occupants below notice the footsteps every evening as he somehow gets onto the roof and finds his sunken spot. He rests there without sliding down with nothing but the birds to watch out for. From there, the evening activity in the neighborhood is his to enjoy. The smells that reach his canine nest must deliver many fresh stories each night.
We look again in his direction to let him know somehow we understand. We don’t want to give his secret spot away so we nonchalantly look at the many dog-less roofs around us and continue on with our walk.
On Saturdays, Kojo gets a different view of the world. Perched on his daddy’s shoulders he looks out from way up high. He no longer has to worry about the uneven ground below him, the misplaced stones, or wet tar. He feels the steady, strong pace that moves him along through the familiar sights and sounds of our neighboring streets. He can see clearly above the fences, into windows and past gates that are usually out of reach.
Kojo Daddy, as he is known, has no fear. He moves freely past borders, across busy streets, and interrupts conversations I am not able to. It’s hard for me to keep up. I watch as they pass the beauty salon. Evon comes out with a big smile to meet Kojo’s Daddy. I can tell she has been wondering and making up stories about where he might come from or whether he exists at all.
We make it to the big mosque minutes before the call to prayer. Kojo and I usually wait and listen from across busy Tro Tro street. Today I watch as Kojo Daddy, bravely crosses the intersection and tramples on the stone path at the side of the mosque. With Kojo on his shoulders, he peers into the mosque in search of the muezzin who sings everyday perfectly off key. His faithful song reaches us through the amplified speakers even when we are out of sight. Kojo Daddy talks to the men washing their hands and feet.
The speaker sparks. The call to prayer begins with a soft vowel from deep inside the throat. Kojo and I have visited the mosque countless times. We never get that close. Kojo’s position allows him to see inside for the first time. The man with the yellow striped football jersey, sips some water, clears his throat, takes a deep breath and begins. The notes are so familiar but tonight they seem to be strung together differently.
I stand at the intersection of Tro Tro and Manhia Street. The smell of cumin from Tasty Mabel’s fried fish is carried along by a cool breeze from the hill above. I see the profiles of both Kojo and Daddy illuminated from the lights inside the sacred space. Kojo is looking out at the world today from way up high and, at this moment, so am I.