Growing up, our house and most homes I visited had African art pieces. Most of the images were of women carrying things on their head, elegant women with beautiful babies on their backs. Or fishermen going out to sea. Art that reflected our lives as Ghanaians – hard work, enterprise, the need to juggle. It was obvious to me as I grew older that these artists were celebrating the strength of our women and their amazing ability to juggle being wives, mothers, sisters and everything that everyone wanted them to be. They were recognising the tough fishermen who had nothing to hold onto except their strength and faith when buffeted by storms and waves as high as buildings. We had lots of carvings, little wooden elephants, giraffes and small friendly masks that decorated the living room living side by side with hostess trolleys from England. I saw but I paid no mind.
When I turned eighteen, I knew deep inside me that I wanted to leave Ghana. I wanted to go and live in the United Kingdom and go to school. I had never travelled abroad before, but I felt like there was something there that called to me. As the plane descended into Heathrow Airport that morning in October 1988, I remember the dark, misty morning and being able to view London from the plane, the twinkling lights and the mixture of fear and excitement that filled me. My brother, towering over everyone at the meeting point and my friend who had written me many letters about London life waiting for me.
But this is not about London as I experienced it, the joys and challenges, this is really about what I have to thank London for – the discovery of self.
When I got used to taking the trains and venturing into shops, I remember going into a shop on the High Street called Habitat. I recall the smell and look of it and the strangely familiar feeling I had when I looked at the vases, fabrics, ceramics, wooden goblets and many other things that were very similar to what I had left behind at home. This time I looked, touched and realised that the pieces that I grew up with had become over familiar to me. Like an old love, I could not see the beauty anymore although it was there from childhood.
But in that space, that misty, frosty space with Christmas lights twinkling on the Oxford Street and the smell of the season in the air, I found beauty in my African-ness. I appreciated that I had come from a beauty that would be a part of me wherever I went. I was the juggling woman, going to school and working. I was the brave fisherman venturing out to a place where the waves could tower as high as a building. In that place of being a minority – I was very much conscious of myself and my roots.