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When I lived in Nigeria I had a Ghanaian tutor, a strict disciplinarian whose humour was as flat as I thought his accent was. The week my father asked him to leave for dishing out harsh punishments, our house was broken into and my father lay his suspicion at the tutor’s feet. His anger raged for two days when, after I repeated his sentiments, he conceded it was not the tutor. Afterwards I began to tune into any talk of Ghanaians around me, and found that what lay beneath the words, beneath allegations and stories, was an old playful brotherly rivalry.
When I moved to England, I found this amplified in school cafeterias, churches, barber shops and football tournaments where it seemed an invisible line had been drawn over which we’d hurl taunts and soft insults at each other. In the decades after, I saw the quick-witted banter intensify and mutate on various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and return to the real world in the form of Jollof rice competitions held on the continent and in the west.
I saw similar relationships paralleled among Irish and English communities, Spanish and Catalan, Algerian and Egyptian and American and Canadian … but for those of us in the diaspora, the brotherly rivalry served a greater purpose; we used it to bond.
Members of minority communities need safe spaces to explore, practise and strengthen their traditions. Physical spaces are vital, but arguably, the mental spaces more so. Challenging and arguing with one another as we have, often leaves non-Nigerians and Ghanians baffled, but the humour and in-knowing of the rivalry served and continues to serve as a way of maintaining and making ourselves, where, like left and right hands cupped together, we would create, celebrate and guard something intangible, but vital.
In this Literary Highlife issue, you will find Nana Ocran’s “Building Memories”, an essay considering how the design and architecture of Ghana looks backwards to go forwards; Jumoke Verissimo’s poem “The Sisterhood of Wahala”, which explores twin experiences of journeying through the cities of Accra and Lagos; Ayobami Adebayo’s short story “Charcoal”, painting a vivid and emotional portrait of the darker side of our rivalry; Irenosen Okojie’s interview of the prolific filmmaker, dual-city-living Jenn Nkiru; and much more.
In the very spirit of our rivalry, the attempt is to celebrate, guard and pin down that intangible yet vital something that binds us, and that will keep binding us.