Friday, February 24, 2012

A Baby is Born. Justin Who?

The mountain village of Aburi, where I lived and taught school in the 1980s. The character of the town hasn't changed much, though change has come: now most houses are equipped with water tanks, new-home construction is thriving,  and cell phone towers compete with the baobabs. Aburi is also home to a thriving arts center, hosting a community of woodcarvers and a music recording studio built by Rita Marley. 

Back in Aburi, a baby is born. Friday, Feburary 3, about 3 pm (GMT). Traditional name: Kofi, the day name given to males born on Friday. Son of Bernice and Alex, brother of Ohenewa, 12th grandchild of Godfried and Connie. 

Babe in arms. With father Alex and sister Ohenewa.

With Kofi and his mother Bernice and nana, at the maternity ward in Mampong.

A few days before Bernice gives birth (the sonograms have confirmed it's a boy), I am sharing a meal with her 7-year-old daughter Ohenewa, whose father Alex was my student when I was teaching school in Aburi (Alex is now a science teacher and heads the science department at the same school).

Chowing down with Ohenewa on grandma Connie's signature dish: omo tuo and groundnut soup, with chicken from the family coop.
I first met Ohenewa (meaning "queen" in Twi, the primary language spoken in Aburi) when she was 3, and just starting pre-school and learning English.  On this visit, she seems all grown up, reading fluently from story books to her younger cousins and adopting me as her sidekick. We visit her uncle Jonas's pig farm, go shopping with her other uncle, Richard, at the new ShopRite supermarket in Accra, buy masks at the woodcarvers' village. She likes wearing my hat and wrapping my scarf around it, and taking my camera to snap her own photos. Her handling of the camera is impressive; I had recently bought it at B&H in New York and am still trying to figure out how to operate it. Ohenewa masters the basics in about two minutes. Turns out she's a budding photographer. 

"You're going to be careful with that camera, right?" On the road to Accra. Photo by Ohenewa.

Street scene on a rainy afternoon in Accra, through a car window. Photo by Ohenewa.

Mini-mall drive-by, Accra. Photo by Ohenewa.

Art shot. Photo by Ohenewa

Connie, Ohenewa's grandmother, has prepared our lunch -- omo tuo (rice balls) with groundnut soup. As we quietly eat lunch together, I initiate some girl talk. What does she really think about this new brother of hers on the way?

She flashes her big brown eyes at me, shrugs, and takes another bite.

I try again. "Ohenewa, I have a very important question to ask you.

"If you were the one who decides what name to give your baby brother, what name would you choose?"

Ohenewa thinks a moment, then shyly smiles.

"Justin Bieber," she says.

I drop my spoon. "How do you know Justin Bieber?"

"I have seen him singing on the tv," she says.

But of course.

"Do you think he's handsome?" I ask. 

Ohenewa shakes her head. "He is 16 years old," she says. Handsome is clearly a word for grown-ups.

I try again. "Do you think he's cute?"

"Yes," she agrees, "he is cute."

Later, I recount our conversation to her parents. They laugh, but are clearly bewildered. 

"Who is this Justin Bieber?" Alex asks. 

"He is a young pop star," I explain, "who is loved by little girls all over the world." I tell him about my 12-year-old niece and her friends, all "brides of Bieber" who have added his surname to theirs on Facebook. I remember my third-grade self, having fierce debates with my friends about who was cuter: Paul (Beatles) or Davy (Monkees). Some things never change, I realize, no matter when or where you are.

"He's from Canada, not the U.S.," I quickly add, hoping they don't hold America solely to blame.

"Hmph," says Alex, clearly unimpressed. Justin is a nice enough name, he agrees. But "Bieber"? 

Not happening.

With Ohenewa and cousin Nana in Aburi, 2007.

With Ohenewa and cousin Nana in Aburi, 2012.


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