Saddam Hussein introduced me to my best friend.
Not…. directly. But his was the hand of fate – that tipped the first domino – of the Rube Golberg machine – that set us on the path to each other.
“Saddam is going to attack. All the embassies are evacuating the foreigners, so pack your bags, you guys are leaving”
-Daddy. Jubail, Saudi Arabia. 1990
Everything kicked into high gear after that. No more bomb drills, panic rooms or gas masks. They were being traded in for the hazy quiet and safety of Tema. I was furious….simply furious. At having the adventure of my life cut short, at my Dad for subsequently announcing that he would be staying behind, at leaving my friends, but mostly at Saddam Hussein, for his chronic, epic, lack of chill.
The many casualities of our hasty departure included my Barbie and her red Ferrari. I mean.. just look at glorious machine. Sigh.
Losses deepened upon arrival at Kotoka, when my mother, brothers and i discovered that Ghana Airways had misplaced 3 of our suitcases. A thirty minute ride later, we were “home”…and i was already over it.
School was tough. Until that point i’d been mostly home schooled. I wasn’t ready for classmates, and they sure as hell weren’t ready for me. My first faux pas was arriving at school unaware that lunch boxes were no longer in vogue with the 8/9 year old set.
However, my gravest offense was upsetting the delicate class hierarchical popularity system, apparently based on dopeness of school bag, academic performance, flyness of hairstyle and frequency of trips abroad.
The rule book did not account for girls who appeared mid school-year, rocking neon pink Lotto kicks, talking funny, and snagging first place in class. Crowns got snatched, and tensions mounted. It was decided i “thought i was special”, and sentencing was passed. Exclusion.
Quite early on i found myself spending an inordinate amount of time in the library, feeding my dual Egyptology and Paddington Bear obsessions.
Over time, relations improved considerably, but the sins of yester-term still hung in the air. Then, a year later, i slipped up again.
I lost a needle belonging to a girl i shall call “Sara” ( although i should use her government right here so you know playtime’s over).
“Sara” ranked within the top 5 on the popularity scale, so this was a big deal. Naturally i apologized, and offered to replace the needle post haste.
“NO! I want that needle. My needle !”, she spat, as she grabbed a handful of my uniform, an infamous Ghanaian move known as ‘jossing’. Before i knew it, a crowd of kids were hooting and jeering at me, misplacer of precious needles. I went home in tears. As a repeat offender, this time the punishment was even more harsh: exile. It was becoming a habit.
(Shout out to the ONE person who broke rank at great personal risk and occasionally kept me company during my lonely lunches, since i was banished from playing ampe with the girls. Sheba..thank you! I’d give you my left kidney if you asked for it. Truly.)
Elsewhere, my Future Friend was dealing with troubling circumstances of her own. A beloved teacher had been (justifiably) suspended after a parent complained to the administration that their child had come home from school covered in welts from an overzealous lashing. Word came back that Future Friend was the “snitch” – retribution was swift and merciless.
Kids took to demonstrating outside her classroom window, with placards and chants of “We Want Mr. A###!” I found the colorful, beglittered placards strangely poetic,considering Mr. A### had taught Art. I wish i could say that the demonstrations were a half day affair, but the students showed a dogged determination that would have been impressive under different circumstances. Demonstrators rotated in and out as timetables allowed, and it went on for days. During this time, i’d see FF go by, with shoulders squared, and gait purposeful. And i admired her, this fellow outcast who refused to be cowed.
Then one day as i was doing the lonely walk of the contaminated after school, i raised my head and i our eyes met, she on a perfectly timed parallel walk of shame. I don’t remember who said hi first, but i know it was fate. We had lunch together the next day, and every day there-after. A bond forged in the fires of pre-teen hell and fueled by sweet tea and sandwiches: apricot for her, cheese and tomato for me. A bond that has held strong for 24 years and counting.
If this reads like a love story, that’s because it is. An ode to sisterhood and friendship, to growing up and going over. But most of all to finding the purest of silver linings in the darkest of clouds.
I hope everyone reading has that one person/people who makes it all better.
For Karina D.
Ps… this is me at my sappiest. Dont get used to it, because it wont happen again. lol