Such a simple question, often evokes a deep sense of dread each time I hear it. One winter afternoon, while at work, a man approached with his daughter to say hi. Today, the staff can wear business casual attire for the Christmas season. The man asked if I was from Ghana, because of the colourful signature Kente shirt that adorned my neck, but mostly hidden beneath this burgundy V-neck sweater (a combo that now seems more like an indicator for the percentage of Ghanaian I have left, rather than a confident expression of my cultural heritage). I said “Yes”.
But before he could say anything else, before he could transition to speaking Twi with me, or worse Ewe or Ga, some of the common languages spoken in Ghana, I attempt to explain that I left when I was still quite young, and grew up more so in The Gambia. But I was too late! He got in a phrase asking how I was doing: “εte sεn?” If I responded to this, by simply saying “εyε” or I’m well, it would be the beginning of a conversation I could not keep up with. I’d understand what he was saying, but finding the words to reply was a different story. With all these thoughts brewing in my mind, I stumbled to find the right word to respond. Realising what could follow after my response, I quickly reverted to what I felt comfortable with; and quickly explained my predicament.
Everywhere & Nowhere.
Each time I hear this question, often prompted by something I’m wearing or simply from someone curious enough to enquire about my background, I’m reminded that I’m neither fully Ghanaian, or even Gambian. And despite living in Canada for almost a decade, that option was completely off the table. It feels as though I inhabit this perpetual in-between state of nothingness. Being everything and nothing, belonging everywhere and nowhere.
This post is part of a series of blogs where I’m recounting my life experiences. In this particular post, the ideas I’m trying to get at go beyond my lack of local language skills. There’s much more involved that I intend on clarifying over time.
Listen/read my first long article here, which outlines my research and delves into my academic interests further.
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