by Nadia Owusu
Five years ago, all members of my extended family who could arrange time away from work and school flew to Ghana in order to attend my grandmother’s seventy-fifth birthday. I was the last to arrive because I was defending my graduate school thesis in New York three days before the party. This meant that I would journey from the capital, Accra, to Kumasi on my own.
I chose the leather-seated bus with a very large Lamborghini logo spray painted on the back of it, along with the inscription, “Dolce Vita”. My other choices were “King of Krunk” and “Let Jesus Return Magnified”, both with Ferrari logos. I was much too tired from my day-long flight to reckon with Lil John or the Second Coming.
The man taking tickets eyed me and my yoga mat.
“Where are you going?”
“What are you going to Kumasi for?”
“I’m going to visit my Grandparents.”
“Are you a Ghanaian?” he asked, squinting at me.
The woman behind me, baby tethered to her chest, sucked air through her teeth at this inessential exchange.
“Why are we standing here?” she asked.
“Yes, I am,” I replied, maneuvering past him and onto the bus.
I was weary of this constant questioning, in ways subtle and aggressive, of my claims on this country, this continent, this place where I was born and raised. In America, drunk guys in bars—made expert by tequila and entitlement—would vigorously argue with me that there was no way that I was really African. I didn’t look it. My English was too good. In Ghana, I was treated like a tourist by strangers and like an esteemed guest from another world by my family.
Yes, Armenia and Turkey are responsible for the shape of my eyes and the bump of my nose; and America has occupied my voice. But with my first breath, I pulled Africa into my lungs. Its spirit dissolved in my blood and sparked my heartbeat.
On the bus, I sat next to an elderly woman with kind eyes who was devouring a bag of kelewele. She offered me some and I accepted. Grandma always served kelewele to the steady stream of people who stopped by to say hello as she held court on her front porch.
This is my granddaughter,” she pronounced to her guests during my last visit to Ghana. “Charles’s daughter.”
Everyone nodded as though it had all been settled, then. My father had gone to America and the result was Grandma’s new house with marble floors and central air and this foreign looking daughter who couldn’t speak Twi.
I watched as the bustle of the capital was replaced by abundant green vegetation and red clay earth. I fell asleep and awoke in the hub bub of the market in Kumasi. Market women called out to potential customers, naming their wares.
Shoppers raised their voices in protest at prices that they deemed too high. Taxi drivers prowled for fares. A little boy rode through the market on his father’s shoulders, waving at everyone and laughing when they waved back. My father used to carry me through this market like that. As I hopped off the bus, it felt like coming home.
At the house, Grandma was on her porch arguing with the housegirl, Afua, who had forgotten to put a mosquito net in the room where I was to sleep. My Aunt Jane was sitting next to Grandma on a stool, pounding cassava to make the evening meal of fufu and groundnut soup.
“My granddaughter is not used to the mosquitos-oh,” Grandma said. “Do you want her to catch Malaria?”
I wanted to remind Grandma that I had already ‘caught’ Malaria twice. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t want a mosquito net. I didn’t want any special treatment. But my protests had never worked before, so I kept them to myself.
I kissed her on her cheek and squeezed her hand. I smiled in apology at poor, patient Afua.
“So, you have come to see your old grandmother. Your grandfather is asleep, but he will not remember you anyway.”
My grandfather had Alzheimer’s. Before he got sick, he would always call me by my Ghanaian name, Adjoa. Once, when we went to a hotel for lunch and the waiter wanted to know where I was from and what had brought me to Ghana, Grandpa looked at him as though that was the silliest question he had ever heard.
“She’s my granddaughter,” he said. “Can’t you see the resemblance?”
But, when I visited two years ago, Grandpa asked Grandma who this Ethiopian woman was who had moved into his house. My tawny colored skin and big-curled hair are common features of people from the Horn of Africa. I remembered the look on that waiter’s face. I forgave Grandpa the confusion.
“Are you thirsty?” Grandma asked, “I’m thirsty but Afua, useless girl, keeps forgetting to bring my drink.”
“Would you like some water, Ma?” asked Auntie Jane.
“Did I urinate in your bed? Why am I being punished?” Grandma bristled.
Auntie Jane looked confused.
“She wants a beer,” I explained. “When she says she’s thirsty, it means she wants a beer. I’ll get it. I could use one too.”
“Finally,” smiled Grandma, “a real Tuffour.”
Tuffour is her maiden name. It is also her highest compliment. She had never called me a Tuffour before—“American,” “sort of Arab,” her “precious half-caste granddaughter,” but never a Tuffour. Everyone chuckled at what was, to them, just typical Grandma. But I could barely contain my glee.
In the kitchen, I helped myself to a handful of kelewele. Then, two beers in hand, I went to claim my seat on the porch.
Nadia Owusu is a current student at Southern New Hampshire University's MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She is the winner of Assignment's 2016 Student Contest, and will have an essay featured in Assignment Issue #2: Warzone.