REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files. Who is numbering the dead?

There is partying in the oceans of this world. Long before it became fashionable for Syrians to join up, brothers and friends from all of Africa, fleeing lands that have ceased to be hospitable, drunk too much of the Mediterranean, ending up in eternal stupor from which there is no rousing. The world cared little about their party, as long as they did not end up on the other side. Gaddafi bargained them as fodder for Italian money and Europe did not flinch about helping them. They were the scum of the earth. Flotsam and jetsam of the sea.

The world noticed and Europe was roused after Syrians joined the party. There is a body that can be mourned and another which is unmournable. I have written poetry in the past for African refugees who died as they tried to reach Lampedusa. The situation has only worsened.

This poem is for anyone who will cross an ocean on this tiny ball of dirt called earth, in search of a better life. Live long!

Of Earth and the Sea, We Have Already Sung
We are people of the land
Our fathers did not swim
And neither do we.
Our only knowledge of water was rain
Our land was too dry
To court a river
Our eyes too dry
To shed a tear.

But we have been intimate with the sea
Our land has turned upon us.
What could hold no water
Has learnt to drink blood
Our land frightens us.

So we shall make new friends with the sea
We who have known no water
Shall be remembered as the men of the sea
We who only sung of the earth
Shall make new hymns for the water
And if there shall be any more singing yonder,
We who died in this crossing
Shall plead:
Of earth and the sea, we have already sung.

Mogadishu

Mogadishu

When I posted my first poem of this same title on Mogadishu more than a year and a half ago, I wrote in the introduction that I was writing three poems of the same title and had finished two. Today, while researching Ethiopian poets, I was carried into that dreaminess that East African poetry persuades. So I went back to Mogadishu, my capital of East African wanderlust.

This is a poem of some longing for a never-visited place. Though Mogadishu be far, one day we shall “pursue her across museums of the brokenhearted” and when we arrive, “show her our cuffs where her love burns a golden brown into our wrists”. Read that first poem and then read this.

I Think About You, Mogadishu
I want to be a part of you
To extend my hands where yours end
Sit at fireplaces with you,
And stare. Stare as we whisper stories of nothing.
I want to be that part of you.

If you would let me, I would hold you
Let you sob softly on my shoulder
Wipe your tears off my neck
If it will make anything easier
I just want to be with you.

I want to call you home
To belong to you. Be a part of you.
Run on your shore to stretched shore,
Show you off to the world.
This is my lover. This is you
This is Mogadishu.

But you say I cannot call you home
That you are no bed for me to stay
That you do not sleep when night has come
Your days are full of sudden flight
From yourself but also from me.
Why can’t I belong to you, Mogadishu?

I can drown in no ocean
But give me a saucer of your love
And I will drown.
Your love is red
too red for me
I love your love blue
Red with memories you want to forget.
Why can’t your love be blue?

I ask little, I expect less
I can sleep on the floor, I have nothing
Huddle in the corner
For the joy that in the morning,
You will be here.
Why can’t you love me like I love?

We have no need to think of food,
Our love is more than we can eat
Your name, our dish, my name dessert
We call our sweet names and we are full
Sugar pumpkin banana
Why can’t I belong to you?

We can forget all others who have been.
The strangeness of past loves haunts you
Shot, migrated, arrested, left you
And your tears from one heart many times broken
Makes a thousandth acquaintance with your face.

But let me love you and we will stay here.
If I can wake in the glint of every morning sun,
Careless of the night that may have brought death,
Careless of flight, careless of the gun
And just look upon your beauty
As you lie beside me, my lover and my home
Let the world burn around us
The only fire for which I care
Is the one that burns within us
Burns within me for you,
If only it would burn for me in you.
I think about you, Mogadishu.

Phillippa and I at Citi FM

Phillippa and I at Citi FM

On Sunday, I was on air with Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and some other artistes on Citi fm 97.3fm in Ghana, reading two poems. I wrote this response to the first and only Caribbean poem I have posted on this blog and I want to share it with you. Roger Bonair-Agard’s original poem How Do We Spell Freedom posted here and my Nigerian blogger acquaintance Ibiene’s How Do We Spell Nigeria, posted here, are exciting predates to this one that you should read if you want more after this.

How Do We Spell Ghana?
(for Roger Bonair-Agard)

We began to spell Ghana in 1957. In Two thousand and fifteen, this is where we’re at!

A is for Answers
B is for Black Star in the middle of a half mast
C is for cut, cut, cut! Cut the drama and the lights.

Who dared us dream of utopias?
Unrepeatable dreams dreamt only yesteryears
By a generation before us?
They were ready to manage their own affairs
We, are not!

So D is not for dreams.
D is for Deception.
D is for ‘Do you believe it’s the same Ghana?’
D is for Dumsor
And this is where we’re at!

A could have been for Akosombo
But A is for Answers cos we need answers now
Or even for Aboadze, Asogli or Akuse
But just give us Answers now.

Just yesterday,
Elite and De-light were two innocent pieces of grammar
But today you’re e-lite if you have not been Dee-lighted
And if you still don’t get it,
A is for Answers!

E is for ECG
E because, that’s just enough said
F is for FPSO
This one makes me laugh!

There was another Ghana nobody told you about
So G is not for Ghana, or which one do we mean?
G is for governments
And the chameleon-skin-type-two-sides-of-the-same-coin-none-better-than-the-other-whichever-one-you-have governments!

H is for Hospitality
Because you don’t want to know the state of the hospital.
I is for Independence
At the same time J is for Just a little dependence
Are we getting anywhere with this?
Because I just don’t know!

K is for Kwame Nkrumah, Osagyefo Emeritus
But let a man’s name rest
K is for Kofi Annan, Busummuru and a few other things
But please let a man’s name rest
L is for Lamentations
M is for morning off, till tomorrow morning, on!
And if you still don’t get it, remember
A is for Answers!

O used to be for Opportunity
But after we wasted it,
O is for Opinion
O is for the Circle we’re caught in, like a circus of name-calling and pointing fingers
P is for pointing fingers.

We could have the other Ghana back if we work for it
Q is for Questions, remember? Those questions for which A is for Answers!
R is for Rise and rise and rise
S is for the sorrow of all that could have been.
But there is a T for which
T is for tomorrow
And maybe because of tomorrow
D is back on for Dream!

In 1957 we learnt to say our alphabets
In Two Thousand and fifteen, this is where we’re at!

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers – Image via BooksLiveSA on Flickr.

I am happiest when I am able to make connections with other writers based on the work I do here on my blog. I should tell you this story.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers is one of South Africa’s acclaimed poets. I say South-African even though she is Ghanaian/Australian by birth. There’s story behind that. I’ll tell you a summary as I have it from her wikipedia page.

Phillippa was born to a Ghanaian father and Australian mother but was adopted into an apartheid-era white South African family when she was 9 months. She grew up to 20 before she knew she was adopted, and did not meet her biological father till years later. Her writing has reflected her obvious internal struggles of identity. Phillippa lectures creative writing now at Wits University in Johannesburg. She has published two poetry collections, Taller than Buildings and The Everyday Wife, among a host of other featured publications.

Well, back in January, having discovered this blog, Phillippa got in touch with me and we begun discussing literature and the common language of our poetry. After so many emails back and forth, guess what? Phillippa is in Ghana! And we are going to be on radio together on Sunday reading and talking poetry on Writers Project on Citi FM 97.3. That’s more exciting than I just made it sound..haha! Please tune in to us at 8:30pm GMT on Sunday 26th April or online at http://www.citifmonline.com.

And not only that! She will take Dr Mawuli Adzei’s writing class at the University of Ghana on Monday 27th at 3pm and then we have the German Goethe Institut hosting her for a reading of her works and book signings on Wednesday 29th at 7pm. Good immersion into the arts scene in Ghana, this should be. All times are in GMT. Thanks to Martin Egblewogbe and Nana Yaw Sarpong of the Writers Project Ghana for making all this possible.

Please tune in online to the radio event if you’re not in Ghana and attend these events if you are. I am happy when blogging jumps from the screen and translates into tangible realities of literary adventure. I will be back to share the fun with you when the week is through.

Azalia

This is actually pleasant news here. I have been looking forward to the advent of online marketplaces for the Ghanaian literary space for a while and I finally found a site that does just that. In the few years past, so many online sites have sprung up selling wares but none has been dedicated to books – until now!

 
The site at http://www.azaliabooks.com looks like the first book-only e-market in Ghana. I have spent a few days looking through their design and trying to navigate their site, for a feel of what they envisage. It may be some time yet before the site is stocked fully with books under all the different sections created, but see how much of a service they will be doing book lovers once they get it all together. For instance, I could not find any poetry books under their Poetry category but they have a structure which accommodates that expectation and which affirms that they intend to make those books available. It will be a breeze for local publishers and writers to have ready broadcast potential, and for readers to find new authors.

 
I have found that Nana Awere Damoah (@ndamoah), blogger at nanaaweredamoah.wordpress.com and one of the more prolific new writers has already signed up his books Tales from Different Tails, Through the Gates of Thought, Excursions in my Mind and I Speak of Ghana, among the non-fiction work. He looks like he will be an early beneficiary of any good results from hosting on Azaliabooks. He already has another book out from last month, yet to be launched and titled Sebitically Speaking.

 
We need many more of these, especially if they are to be dedicated to Africa and African writing. Azalia is a starter, with huge potential to grow. Thankfully, they have begun by getting the basics right: an appealing and easy to navigate site, compartmentalization, and global access by visa card and mobile money. Also, because I prefer to read on the go, it is handy for me that I can download and use the Azalia Reader on my Android devices.

 

If you have a minute, click here and get browsing. It will be pretty cool to have known this site long before it became big. And also for any aspiring poets and writers, getting your work out there just got marginally easier. Worth the support.

Roger Bonair-Agard

Roger Bonair-Agard

I share with you today the first poem to be hosted from a poet outside Africa. One of my resolutions last year was to find and review more poetry from the Caribbean and African Diaspora, considering our shared history. And it is worth it: look at the flag counter on the left of the page and you will realize that there is a good number of Caribbean visitors here, with Jamaica (JM) and Trinidad and Tobago (TT) especially ranking in the top. This poem by Trinidadian poet Roger Bonair-Agard (visit his site at http://www.rogerbonair.com and his blog at http://rogerbonair.blogspot.com), which he has given permission to share, is the first of hopefully many more to come. After reading it, you will see why I chose it. I post it here without review. (Copy Credit: here)

In recent days, I have shared it broadly on social media for its beauty and it prompted a rather brilliant response, “How Do We Spell Nigeria” from my Nigerian blogger acquaintance, Ibiene. The initial credit of exposure for this poem should go to South African poet and performance artist Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, who introduced me to it, being so in love with it herself. I will share a separate post on Phillippa soon, because she is coming to Ghana this month to consolidate and make new artistic ties, which events I want you not to miss.

Let me leave you to enjoy a beautiful dish of alphabet soup.

How Do We Spell Freedom?

In 1970 I learned my alphabet for the very first time, I knew it by heart in 1971.
A is for Africa
B is for black
C is for culture
and that’s where its at.

My mother taught me that from the way you see alphabetty at a time when
A was for apples in a country that grew mangoes
and X was for xylophone when I was learning how to play the steel band

Black wasn’t popular or even accepted then but I wore dashikis sent to me from Nigeria.
Super fly suits sky blue with the elbow patches sent to me from America
and sandals made by original Rastafari before weed and revolution needed fertilizer to grow.
My mother rocked bright saffron saris
We was phat 20 years too early and a thousand mile removed
My mother preached knowledge, hard work and how not to take shit.

D is for defence
E is for Economics

I wrote my first protest letter at the age of 3 to my grandfather for calling me out of the yard.
Spelling fuck you with an F-O-R-K U
Put it under his pillow hoping it would blow up and burn his hair off at night
wanted to get started on the revolution thang

F is for freedom
G is for guns
we gotta get some
we usually said

Evolved into 1979 and a revolution with a changing face
Bang Bang a boogie to the oogie ya up jump the boogie lets rock ya don’t stop
Black folks and brand names became entwined we reinvented dance and made wheels role… with a limp
Cuba had just told america he was Africa in Angola

K is for kings
L is for Land
we got to get it back
so we lost;
Jamaica to the IMF
Grenada to the marines
and Panama to Nancy Regan

Jerry-Curls became high top fades became Gumby’s became Cesars as Michael Jackson moonwalked his way into a lighter shade of pale.

My mother sent to America and she said go fix that.

K is for kidnap
S is for slavery
we usually explained

Cool became butter became phat
we lost our focus and our way just at about the time that black folk outside the nation discovered the dangers of pork.
So fat backs became fat blacks
pigtails became dreadlocks fades faded to bowlers
and Michael Jordan discovered the magic of a fade-away jumper…and endorsments

X is for the nigga who’s blind, deaf, and dumb
X him out we usually said.
My mother told me I should rewrite that
that X is for the nigga who needs to be re-educated, that a corporate job does not spell freedom Barry White is not racist flight
A democratic vote is not a revolutionary act
And as long as there is a sweat shop in Jakarta there is no difference between Patrick Yewing and O.J. Simpson.

H is for Huey
N is for nocturnal
T is for Tubman
M is for Marcus, Mandella, Marley, and Martin got shot 2 weeks after he told black folk to boycott Coka-A-Cola
and Jessie Jackson still scared of niggas with a purpose.

My mother taught me to respect men who stood by their responsibilities and their convictions
Men willing enough to join the fight but smart enough to survive it and see the signals.
God gave no other rainbow signs
said no more water
but the fire next time

J is for James Baldwin
the next time is now
and someone must learn to read the signs with me

A is for Africa
B is for black
C is for culture

and that’s where I’m at.

When the decision was made to split up Africa into countries demarcated by capitalist greed, whole families, communities and clans were left on opposite sides of the industrialist’s artificial curtain. My family is from the eastern part of Ghana – the old British Togoland – which voted in a plebiscite to join the then-forming new state of Ghana that was wresting independence from the British. This happened in 1956. My dad who was born in 1949, along with all current Ewes who were born before 1956, were born in occupied country. The Germans, after their defeat in World War 2, lost greater Togoland in two halves to the French and the British. My dad’s family, then in the British half, was united with the new state of Ghana under its charismatic leader Kwame Nkrumah after the 1957 independence declaration. The French allowed their other half of Togoland to stand alone, today’s Republic of Togo.

What this demarcation of Togo did was to take a people, the Ewe, and spread them thinner, across a third capitalist construct of state after Benin and Togo. The very fibre of what the new nations of Africa were to be built on, and what they have actually ended up being built on, has meant that the split Ewe communities of these three countries will grow up to be strangers a generation later. In the giddy years post-independence, there were calls to have Africans unite in the way they were before colonialist boundaries were enforced, only this time, under a political structure. This has not happened. The ensuing years of ebb and tide of this grand dream have lasted so undecidedly long as to have French shoots sprout over Beninois and Togolese Ewe, much the same way Ewe children of today’s Ghana will be caught speaking English with their parents at home.

I had a spiritual moment in 2013, on the first of my subsequently many transits through Togo while journeying across the continent. On my hour’s wait to catch an Accra flight, I strolled through a duty-free shop to get chocolates and such-like for home. It did not take long and I was soon at the counter to pay off and go on to check in. I speak rudimentary French, and at the counter, I made my initial conversations in French. The lady turned after taking my orders and to my fascination, spoke Ewe to other helps in the shop.

I had been away in Congo for 5 months. I had heard no Ghanaian language while I was away. I entered Togo with the awareness that this country was more spiritually close to my origins than the Ghana in which I was born. But I had not the faintest idea I will hear people in the airport speaking the language I speak at home. That, standing before, selling me confectionery, were probably a half of my family that stayed behind the industrialist curtain, borne out of capitalist greed and a mad scramble for this our Africa; and a plebiscite that chose the Gold Coast.

We concluded our transaction in Ewe, the sense of otherness more complete, that I could bring this language back across the border into the country from which we were first culled.

Since then, on my travels across Africa, I have stayed alert to the remnant spirits of our collective oneness, long before the colonialists separated us. I felt two of these again today in Congo.

This morning, another three weeks since I’ve been back in Congo, I spoke to an Ivorian. In the middle of our conversation, I asked randomly if he was Akan. After saying yes, he started speaking Twi. For a minute, I was baffled. There was absolutely no difference between his word choices, diction and inflections from those of any Akan on the streets of Accra. I indulged him. We went on and on. All along in my head and my heart, I fist-pumped at another spiritual reunion, a travesty on Ghana’s Western neighbour and us, that the Akan family had been split by these same boundaries. Every minute, I felt closer to this Ivorian when we spoke Akan than when he spoke English to me or when I tried to speak French with him. This is who we are!

On our way to lunch, my Congolese driver asked if I was from Ghana. He knew for sure because I’m quite popular as the only Ghanaian among a host of Nigerians and Congolese, but he had to start his conversation from somewhere. He struggled through his basic English, halfway a cliff where I met him with my basic French. At the point where our communication met, he made it clear he was descended from Ghanaians; that his maternal side, a family of Addos, had traveled to and settled in Congo where they married and never again left. He didn’t know the tree well, but he was related to famous showbiz personality now turned pastor Azigiza Jnr back in Ghana. When he asked if I knew Azigiza, I was more than excited to say of course!! But that response was, inside me, in answer to a burning question, ‘Did I just walk into a spiritual moment?’

Yes and yes. YES!! YEEEEEESSSS!!!! Yes!

I could have screamed.

Are we one across Africa? The blog address up here is afrilingual, connoting that I try here to be fluent in the language of our Africa. Welcome with me to 2015. Welcome to many more spiritual experiences of our oneness.

c

Dreamy shot of my driver and I. Connected over vast spaces, like all of us.