It was 6:50pm when I got off the 1 train and walked up the steps, welcomed by a light snowfall and the bright flashing reds, whites, yellows and blues of Times Square. I never would have thought coming out of the subway on a fairly cold night could be so magical, but it was. For a whole week I was walking around the city wearing a years-old pair of glasses because I had broken the glasses I usually wear. I could not see far away, I could not see people’s faces, everything was blurry. I walked around blind to all the details of the world.
This past Wednesday, right before I headed to Dance to Unite’s Teacher’s Workshop, I stopped in Downtown Brooklyn to pick up my new glasses. I really wanted to get them before the workshop. I cannot describe the feeling of being able to see after feeling so disconnected for a week, so when I walked past Times Square it felt so magical to see so clearly. I start off sharing this story because as the year is coming to a close, I feel what happened is symbolic of how I have gained a lot of clarity over the last few months on who I want to be in life, what I want to do, specific goals I have, and how much I want giving to be a part of my life.
Rewind a couple of hours before, I was getting off the 4 train at 183 Street on my way to Ebe Ye Yie, a Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx. I fumbled with my phone trying to get the GPS to work. No luck. I followed the numbers to 2364 Jerome Avenue and stood in front of the restaurant for a few minutes.What am I going to say I thought.
“Hi, do you have plantains and okra?”
“Hi, um do you have Kelewele, no..no just say plantains”
I went inside and asked the woman at the counter for the food I wanted. She didn’t have either, but she had okra soup. I told her I didn’t want soup and from there I stuttered an order, sounding confused. Awkwardness set in. Her husband came out and I finally gave in.
“I’m going to a gathering tonight where people are bringing food from their culture” I said.
” Oh you’re Ghanaian?” asked the woman.
I quietly gave an explanation about being half Ghanaian, without telling my life story, and how I was not raised in the culture, which explained my lack of knowledge about Ghanaian food. They became gentle and suggested I buy Waakye, a popular street food in Ghana. I felt relaxed enough to ask how to pronounce Waakye and the name of the restaurant (which means ‘it is done’), just so I wouldn’t butcher it when I told everyone about the food at the workshop. The man continued to say they were from Kumasi in Ghana, of the Ashanti and spoke Hausa.
As the food was being prepared I panicked because of the whole situation. Here I was in a Ghanaian restaurant about to provide Waakye for the workshop and I did not know much about my country. Hmm…my country, can I say that? I was so stressed, I did not take time to reflect on how it was my first steps toward learning more about myself and thank goodness the first step was though food. There is a long back story to learning about my Ghanaian identity; lets just say I’m opening up more and more to something that as been blocked for a long time. There are many different cultures within Ghana, but right now I want to learn more about Ghanaian culture as a whole.
I do want to acknowledge that I mostly identify with being African-American (and do not use my father’s last name, Oppong) because I have grown up in the culture and in the United States my entire life. I could have brought a soul food dish, but when I was thinking about what culture to represent, I wanted to explore that unknown part of myself.
It’s amazing where life takes you! I don’t know about any of my readers, but lately I’ve been involved with things that I consciously and unconsciously avoid.
I’m excited that my dance adventure has led me to explore Ghana’s food culture!
stay tuned for Part 2…