Sunday, November 1, 2020

Gone to Ghana

Fort Meyers Beach in January.  That virus in China seemed very distant.

2020 has not been a year for travel.  Just call me Captain Obvious with that hook.  

We visited my in-laws in Florida over MLK weekend and in Missouri as we came out of quarantine in May.  I flew to Ohio at the end of February for my mom's 70th birthday.  The kids and I also drove to Ohio in June and saw my family again in Hilton Head for a week in July.  And that's it.  I'm not complaining as we have been very fortunate to see our loved ones and have had gorgeous weather (and family visitors) this summer and autumn in Chicagoland, making it pleasant enough to be "stuck at home."   

Though I've done my fair share of complaining and eye-rolling about 2020, I have also looked for silver linings these past months.  Here's one ... through literature, art, and technology, I have visited Ghana--a place previously quite unfamiliar to me--twice this year.

Let me explain. 

At the end of last summer, I purchased a Goodman Theatre series subscription.  My daughter and I went to Theresa Rebeck's Bernhardt/Hamlet in the fall, which proved to be a delightful downtown outing for us even if some of play went over her head.  My plan was to take a kid or a friend to each of the plays in the series and then to take all three kids to The Outsiders musical in July.  Obviously, Covid-19 has been devastating these plans and, more significantly, to live theater everywhere.  One silver lining was that, in April, Goodman subscribers were able to stream a recorded performance of their next play:  Jocelyn Bioh's School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play.  Sure, it would have been more enjoyable to take the train to the theater and discuss the play with a friend afterward over dinner.  However, streaming the performance was more powerful than anticipated.  I locked myself in my room and traveled to Ghana from the comfort of my bed and was blown away by the performances and by the power of the story about friendship, beauty, and girl/womanhood.  I highly recommend if you have a chance to see it on stage or on your computer screen.

My next trip to Ghana came through listening to the audiobook of Peace Adzo Medie's His Only Wife.  This novel features Afi, a young woman from Ghana, who agrees to marry Eli, a man who is already in a relationship with another woman with whom he has a child.  His family disapproves of this woman and the pressure is on Afi to distract and win Eli.  This novel is absorbing.  The contrast between life in the city of Accra where Afi moves after her wedding--cell phones, expensive cars, huge malls, and high end fashion--with life in her home village--trading economy, burdensome daily chores--is striking.  It was interesting/inspiring to watch Afi navigate these different worlds, family structures, and ideals of marriage and womanhood.

The icing on the cake for this second trip to Ghana was that I was one of 75 readers selected to participate in a Reese's Book Club/Hello Sunshine virtual book club meeting on His Only Wife.  The meeting took place this afternoon over Zoom and was so wonderful!  Curtis Sittenfeld, one of my favorite authors, interviewed Peace Adzo Medie at the beginning of the meeting and then the rest of the participants were able to ask Medie questions as well.  I felt so fortunate to be there, to hear insights on reading and writing from two amazing authors and to learn from the insightful questions of other readers.  I know Zoom existed pre-pandemic, but it's definitely a silver lining that since March, most of us have figured out how to use Zoom and become increasingly adept at using it to connect.  I know the quality of the Zoom events I have "attended" has improved a great deal between March and now.  I wanted to share the pic I took of the Zoom that shows me on the same screen, Brady Bunch style, with two famous authors, but I didn't want to flex (kidding, that was the whole point of the pic) and also didn't want to have to blur out all the first and last names of all the participants.

I am by no means an expert on Ghana now (not even close), but I know more now than I did before and appreciate, more than ever, all the ways in which we are able to experience the lives and stories of women (real and fictional) around the world.  

*Final note*  Not that anyone cares, but I feel the need to point out that two authors mentioned in this post (novelist Curtis Sittenfeld and playwright Theresa Rebeck) have roots in Cincinnati.  Me too!