Before I write any further on my life in Ghana, it’s time to introduce the family. It’s a significant point of difference between Africa and the western world, that I could describe who I was staying with in the US in a sentence or two, but here in Ghana, it will take several pages. Partly this is because I’ll be mentioning them more than my US rels & friends, so I want to give a more detailed picture of who everyone is, but mainly because it’s a large extended family and a bit more complex than your average Australian – or American household.
Starting with the immediate circle of those who are visiting from Australia, there’s DadaK and his other children, ActionMan’s half-siblings. The oldest boy is 9, and I’ve decided to call him 50 Cedis. It’s been tough coming up with a name for him. I considered “The First Black President of Australia”, because I think he has the political skills and the charisma to be that. But even reduced to an acronym, TFBPoA is a bit of a mouthful. 5O Cedis, on the other hand, captures his present day interest in all things hip hop, (including the moves), whilst acknowledging the Ghanaian roots.
After 50 Cedis comes Abrantie, 7, whom I’ve introduced in an earlier post (Music for Gentlemen, May). Abrantie means gentleman, but I’ve been having trouble remembering why I called him that recently. Something about a soft centre?
The third boy, who’s 4, is G Ketewa. Ketewa means little, or junior, depending on the context. G. Ketewa is the littlest boy, although only in size. These Australian-raised Ghana boys all have huge personalties, and G. Ketewa certainly knows how to make his presence felt and has high expectations of getting the same rights as taller people. This expectation is continually frustrated.
G. Ketewa is not entirely a psuedonym, because some of the family here do refer to him as that, although of course they say his name, not G. Like both DadaK and ActionMan, Ketewa is a Monday-born boy (Kwadwo – pronounced Kwadjo), and like DadaK, he’s his mother’s third born son (Mensah). By coincidence this is the same as DadaK, and so instead of naming him after the prophet Amos, as planned, DadaK and Obaapa named him G, after his dad. This is a fairly common practice in Ghanaian families. Here in the family, G Ketewa is called Ketewa to distinguish him from his Dad and reduce confusion.
In fact there are four Kwadwo Mensahs in the house. ActionMan is one of them, because DadaK uses Mensah as a surname, and the other is a cousin’s child whom Nana’s adopted, but I’ll refer to him as Daniel. On one occasion, when one of DadaK’s nephews, who was named for him, was visiting, we had five.
Are you still with me? Hope that wasn’t too confusing! The family do have ways of managing this confusion, e.g. by using Ketewa, and in ActionMan’s case by tacking his other African name on and calling him Kwadwo Asiedu. I begin to understand why Ashantis have lots of names – in any given situation, there’s a range of possibilities to chose from, to distinguish an individual from others – and am glad that we stuck to Ghanaian naming practice when naming ActionMan.
Speaking of which, nearly everyone here calls the youngest child (Treasure) by her Ghanaian name of Maame Frimpoma, rather than her English name, which is mostly used n Australia. And I’ve started calling her Treasure in real life. I’m wondering if I should change it her blog name to Ohemmaa. Oheemaa means Queen Mother, and she certainly rules the roost here. The mothers of Kings, in Ashanti culture, are more important than their wives, because you can only be a King if your mother belongs to the royal lineage. As her grandparents were co-founders of the family village of Mensakrom (the name’s a coincidence), Treasure may actually qualify as royalty, if the village ever gets big enough to have a king.
Treasure has started calling me J___ Maame, which is very cute, and I assume it’s to distinguish me from all the other Maames in the house, not all of whom are mothers. But I’ll get to that.
The person without whom this establishment would not exist is DadaK’s Maame, Nana (means Gradnma, but sounds more like Mama than the Aussie ‘Nanna’). DadaK’s mission in life for many years has been to give his mother a more comfortable life and he finally succeeded when about five years ago she moved from the village into this house, which he’s been building (remotely) for longer than I’ve known him. However Nana of course is very old and so she needed people to move with her to look after her. Her daughter’s family moved with her, and also two young women she adopted.
These two women are two of the other Maames. As I mentioned, babies are often named after other people, and these two girls were both named Maame Yaa, after Nana. This gave her the right to adopt them, which she did when they were children. Maame Yaa Penne is 26 and I first met her as a ragged teenager in the village. She’s now chief cook and bottle-washer for Nana, making her soup and fufu separately each evening. She’s also a seamstress with a collection of stylish wigs. I’ve yet to see her natural hair, and perhaps never will. When I need to go into the city, and on the already numerous occasions when we’ve had to go to the clinic, Maame Yaa is often our guide and chaperone.
Maame Yaa Ketewa, as you will immediately guess, having paid attention earlier on in this post, is the younger of the two. She’s in her late teens and is an apprentice hair-dresser. She’s very quiet, but every now and then surprises me by snorting with amused contempt when someone misinterprets my English, and correcting them. She’s usually right too. Hiding her light under a bushell, that one.
Nana’s daughter, Georgina, is really the main boss of the household. In her early 40’s, Georgina is Nana’s only surviving daughter and her youngest child, so she is also a Treasure. One daughter died in childhood, the other as a young woman from complications in childbirth. I’ve stayed in Georgina’s home the last two times I’ve been to Ghana, and we both agree that her English and my Twi have improved since last time. She is a fabulous cook. Everyone younger than her calls her Serwaa, which means Auntie, even her own children, so I will too. To Treasure, she’s Maame Serwaa.
Serwaa’s husband, Akonta, who I mentioned in my last post, hasn’t been around very much because he’s been working with a trotro driver, Bra John, who also has a room in the house. Bra John usually lives in a village near Mensakrom and spends the week driving around that area. He took us to Mensakrom when we went on an overnight visit earlier this week. Every Friday, he and Akonta come home and unload plantains, red plantains, cocoyam roots and leaves and sometimes cassava and avocados from the roof of the trotro. Sometimes he leaves on Saturday, other times he spends the weekend here.
Serwaa and Akonta have five children, although strictly speaking, the two oldest are from Serwaa’s first marriage. Her oldest boy, Gyamfi, came to Australia with Obaapa and the baby 50 Cedis, back in 1999. He’s now 21 and a panel-beater in Sydney but he came back to visit with DadaK, so for the first time in almost ten years Serwaa has all her children under one roof.
Serwaa’s oldest daughter is Afia Serwaa, whose beautiful smile I first captured on film on my very first visit to the village in 1993, when she was 9 or 10. She’s now 24 or thereabouts, still has the beautiful smile, and braids women’s hair on the verandah for a living.
Serwaa’s next daughter, Martha, is 17 and waiting to hear her Junior Secondary School results. If she gets good marks she can go to Senior Secondary – only another four years in uniform! In the meantime, she’s looking after the small grocery store that Serwaa has up at the local shops. She’d like to be a journalist, but if all else fails I reckon she’d do well as a model – she’s stunning. Martha and ActionMan have a lively, flirtatious relationship and when not threatening to beat him, she has offered to braid his hair for him. However since The Haircut in Germany, there’s not enough left to attach hair extensions to, so he’s settled for trying on Maame Yaa’s wigs instead. And very fetching he looks in them, too. Martha’s own hair is short and natural – apparently this is compulsory for school students.
These two girls, along with the two Maame Yaas, do the bulk of the work around the house: sweeping, washing clothes, cleaning, fetching water, food preparation, chaperoning obrunis. Maame Yaa Penne even washed our shoes one day. None of us honoured guests have to lift a finger unless we really want to.
Next comes Owuraku (sound like O-rare-koo) ActionMan and I both have fond memories of Owuraku, because he is only six months older than AM, and last time we were here he spent a lot of time with us. On one occasion he walked several kilometres with us to a neighbouring village. I was impressed by his stamina, because AM demanded to be carried most of the way. They both remember this occasion, although they were only three or four, perhaps because we stopped at a farm to drink palm wine. Don’t worry, it’s not alcoholic when fresh from the palm. Or so I’m told. Owuraku and ActionMan have quickly re-established their friendship, largely based on a shared enjoyment of wrestling (with each other) and watching action DVDs.
Owuraku is a serious and likeable young man who, like the rest of the family, has a beautiful smile. Also like the rest of the family, he is alternately shocked and amused by ActionMan. AM’s friends and family in Oz will all understand this reaction. His ability to simultaneously annoy and entertain obviously transcends cultural differences.
ActionMan also has a great ability to play rough, and this is much appreciated by the two youngest members of the family: Obaaku, Serwaa’s ten year old daughter, and Daniel. A few days ago ActionMan came home from a visit to the Kumasi Cultural Centre (an arts & crafts consumer paradise), with a wooden pipe, a walking stick and a gorgeous blue tie & dye shirt. He spent the evening pretending to be a cranky old African man: hobbling after them, brandishing the walking stick and yelling in abuse in a reasonably convincing Ghanaian accent. “You bad children! I beat you!” He had everyone under the age of 10 running around the house in hysterics. That was all six of ours plus two of the neighbours, Boahema (aka Catherine) and Kwesi, so it was a pretty wild night.
So that’s it. 19 of us altogether, if you don’t count Boahema and Kwesi, although perhaps I should, they spend so much time here. So far, I’m enjoying it. It does get noisy and the children demand my attention a lot, but there’s enough quiet time to compensate and I can always escape to the internet cafe. Plus the secret of getting time to yourself, I’ve realised, is not answering when people call your name.