It’s a sad thing to happen at this time of year, but AM’s grandmother in Ghana died on Christmas eve. DadaK, not wanting to spoil Xmas, didn’t tell me until the end of our family BBQ yesterday. What a brave man. I couldn’t have done it. I had wondered why he kept telling me funny stories all day – I guess it was to keep his mind off it.
So it’s good that we went to Ghana when we did. AM will always be able to remember her. The grandma who liked eating cows foot soup, waved her walking stick at naughty children and didn’t care who saw her without her top on.
I’m glad she got to meet him again before she died. (They blew bubbles together in Mensakrom when he was four). Nana was more tolerant of his outrageous daring than of her other grandchildren – he was the only one who got to ride in her wheelchair. She found it pretty funny that he wanted to give her hugs every time her saw her. She thought he was very handsome and said he was her husband. This is a form of Ghanaian endearment I can’t quite get my head around. He had to give her 5 cedis when we left, because husbands don’t go away without leaving their wives some money.
Nana was funny, forthright, generous and strong. She had two husbands, but reckoned the first one was no good. She bore eleven children and lost six. She has more descendents than she or I could count. In the 1940s she and her second husband (DadaK’s dad) and some friends hacked out farms and founded a village in the tropical rainforest of Ghana where they farmed cocoa, plantains, cassava and cocoyam. She was a devout Christian and sang hyms to herself in the afternoons. She liked boiled peanuts, etoh, dokono, palm nut soup and mangoes. No-one seems to really know who old she was.
The children all told me “don’t eat with Nana, her food is yucky”, but sometimes I did, and it wasn’t. She liked having company when she ate, it meant a lot to her. She’d always keep a morsel of meat for Daniel, the great-grandson who was in her care. She’d secrete it under the lid of her cup until he next bounced into the room.
In spite of her having no English and me having very basic Twi, we communicated fairly well about the basics – what foods we liked, where people were, had I showered yet, would I buy her some tea bread, etc. For more complex conversations I’d rope in family members to translate, with varying success.
She was bedridden, I think because of a stroke, and in a lot of pain. I’d give her a massage most nights with the hot ointment DadaK told me to bring from Australia. She was depressed about not being able to walk, so I’d listen to her about that. I hadn’t really expected to slide so neatly into this daughter-in-law role, but I liked it. I find it a privilege to get to care for my elders at the end of their life. But it’s not always easy.
In Australia there are a lot of services for older people. Sometimes this is necessary because they have no family, so being old here isn’t easy either, but combine it with family support and people can age more comfortably. My father is showered every day by a community nurse. He has a state of the art walking frame and the backup of physiotherapists to make sure he uses it properly and maintains his strength. He even has someone come in to clip his toenails. In Ghana all the care falls on the family, and it can be a burden. In Nana’s case there were several people to care for her, but they were very tired by it (people in pain can be very cranky and demanding). And because they’d moved away from the village where she spent most of her life, there was no-one to come and just be her friend. Church members wouldn’t come by because she cried too much when she saw them. Grrr. What kind of christians are they?
I bought Nana a wheelchair but she couldn’t go anywhere in it except the bathroom. The corridors were blocked by water barrels and the yard outside was uneven. Even if they’d fixed that, the roads were unpaved and eroded, virtually impassable even for cars. The wheelchair made it easier for her daughter Serwaa to get her to the shower, but it didn’t give Nana much more freedom. No zipping up to the shops for a browse and a chat on a motorised chair, like people get to do in richer countries. I think of her as the invisible face of poverty. Children are probably most affected in poor countries, but spare a thought for the elders who suffer behind closed doors.
So these last couple of years have been difficult for Nana. She wanted to go to God and now she has. May she rest in peace.