The American Dream

I came home. My brothers and parents were there at the airport, balloons in hand. We had a nice little family embrace. “First things first,” my dad says, and he whisks me away to a Target or Walmart. I am completely overwhelmed. He hands me a cart. “Fill ’er up. Get whatever you need.” We start at the hair product aisle and all I can think is, I don’t need any of this. I pick up every bottle and smooth my fingers over each. My dad is getting impatient. A black father and his two children recognize me. He backs up his cart. “Maria! Welcome back! How are you?” Eh! It is good, I’m managing. And how is it? He looks at me slightly offended. His toothless daughter laughs and her brother smacks her on the back of the head. “Well, it’s good to see you home,” he says with a nod and goes on his way. I’m hoping my father isn’t behind me, that he didn’t witness me talking to a black family with a Ghanaian accent. He is. I am completely mortified.

“You know what, take your time,” he says. “I’m going to do my own shopping.” I reach into my pocket and dig out my beat up Nokia phone. The screen is blank, this phone won’t work here. I’ll just be right around here. You know, when you’re done. But I’m really thinking, Don’t leave me.

I need a break from product. I turn the corner, and as I do the room suddenly gets eerily bright. I have stumbled upon the candy aisle. Small colorful and neat packages, all in order, all in their place, they are going on for miles. They are magnetic, I can’t help but walk towards them. As I get closer I start to feel dizzy.

We have rows of food here in Ghana too. Yes, we do, at market. Rows of stacked tomatoes, rows of stacked ochre, rows of onions and ginger. Sacks overflowing with sugar and flour, rice and beans, each with a woman sitting crossed legged behind it, yelling “Salamingapa, allibasa, allibasa! (White lady, onions, onions!)” “White lady! White lady! Won’t you buy rice?” And to each I’ll say Na Da, the market greeting. “Mariam!” one cries. It’s a line of red cross women, those ladies stick together. Antire! Na Da! My students are peppered everywhere. Sahada is frying local cheese, Nuhu is selling telephone units, Zuleha and her little sisters are selling waist beads. “Madam,” they all say “How is market?” The sun is too strong today, I respond, trying to hide under the same thatch that covers a pile of pure MSG. I continue to try to process the chaotic colors, smells and sounds.

I pass rows of second-hand jeans and shirts and satin pajamas. “White lady, this one for you!” I pass an elderly man selling fetishes, piles of metal rings and coins and shells, and a few cow tails. I pass a medicine man who promises me fertility if I take a shot of black goo. I pass Musah, who is fixing shoes. His supplies are in an empty pancake mix box I gave him. Hey Moose! He pretends he doesn’t know me. Moose! How’s market? He’s chewing on cold pieces of tofu on a kebab. Fact: Musah likes tofu more than his own mother. “It’s okay.” Alright Musah Naa, see you later.

And I weave my way to the back of the market, almost tripping over a few goats. There they are. Crates of oranges, bananas, avocados, and watermelon. I fill up my market bag for less than a couple of bucks. I pass tables piled with bread, covered in flies. The drummers have caught up with me. They surround me and my heartbeat matches that of their drums. A man serenades me with his ancient song, in a high-pitched shrill. He bounces from one side of me to the next. I stick my fingers in my ears and shout Godfadda, nka loury! (Sorry, no money!) I duck away. I pass a row of spices, I don’t even know what most are. Sacks of earthy powders, all smell like Ghana to me.

I then pass some men hacking away at a massive hunk of meat. The air is thick with the smell of animal flesh. There is a neat line of jaws and hooves and ears. I hold my breath and leave the marketplace. Outside, women are selling chop. Na Da! I say to Azara’s older sister, who is selling rice and beans. I am standing a few yards away and I pivot to leave. She puts her hands on her hips and scowls. She doesn’t want me to leave until she gives me enough food to feed a small family. She fills a plastic bag with rice, throws on a few tablespoons of oily pepper sauce, some furry chunks of goat meat and spaghetti. Mma, nawundesu (Mamma, thank you). As I go, the sounds of drumming and dancing and bargaining and goats being whacked with sticks and megaphones broadcasting deals and women yelling at children all die down behind me.

But here, here in my dream, there is no smell. If I were blind, I would never know the endless bags of chocolate and gummi bears that are before me. No sound. Not even elevator music. A woman slowly strolls her cart across the aisle in front of me. She turns to me and smiles and the sound of the wheels of her cart are echoing all around me. My head feels heavy, it may topple over. The perfectly white shelves, holding perfectly neat rows of packaged sweets start to spin. I swallow and my knees give way beneath me. The store is swallowed into a black hole and I faint.

I awake in my dark cement room, trying to catch my breath. The smell of burning groundnut shells consume my nostrils. The crickets outside my window are making a hell of a racket. I stare up into my helicopter wings of a fan, which reminds me where I am.

And I feel safe.


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