“Ma!” We always called her Ma even when our own mother was around.

“Do you have a shawl for me to wear over this?” I asked pointing to the outfit I had chosen to wear to my cousin, Kofi’s, engagement ceremony.

“Is that what you are wearing? That shows too much skin!” She remarked disdainfully, the left corner of her mouth turned down.

“I didn’t pack any kaba and slit. I didn’t know about the engagement.”

Grandmother was always sizing me up. It didn’t matter what I wore, she always had a comment ready when I emerged from my room. I would come home from a day of shopping with a high that she would deflate almost immediately:

“You bought that? How much? What a waste of money!”

Or I’d come out of the room after severe moments of hyperventilating over clothing choices and hear:

“What’s up with your hair-do? That skirt shows too much of those calf muscles you inherited from your mother. Button that shirt all the way!”

When her health began to decline, she became even more difficult to reason with. She would wake up, light a candle and say a whole stream of prayers, and then proceed to plant herself in the pathway of all activity at the house. This vantage point ensured that she could always comment on any activities going on in the entire house.

“Oh no! You are not wearing that leaving my house! No grandchild of mine will be called ashawo!”

“Grandmother, just because I am wearing jeans and a tank top doesn’t mean I’m a prostitute!” I’d cry raising my high pitched voice an octave higher.

“Yoooo! Ko. S3 obi fr3 wo ashawo, m3mba mba k3 kyer3m!”

Me? Propositioned? Hardly! I was one of those Catholic school girls who was on the up and up, complete with a promise ring to Jesus and Bible verses in my back pocket.

“Do you have a shawl for me to wear over this?” I asked, repeating my question, carefully skimming the border of rudeness.

She reluctantly dug out two stoles from her wardrobe. The colors clashed loudly with the skirt I had chosen for my cousin’s engagement.

“Do you have anything else?” I asked getting slightly irritated knowing how much stuff she really had.

“How about this?” She held out a four-strip traditionally woven Kente stole. Kente cloth held the distinction of matching everything even when it clashed.

“I think this will do,” I said, smoothing out the stole she handed me.


 “Ma, medze stole aba,” I said to her later when I returned from the engagement.

“Do you want to keep it?”

I shook my head.

“S3 me ma hon bi,” confirming that she had given us each a four-strip stole when we first left for the US.

“I still have mine.  I said, fingers crossed behind my back, hoping she wouldn’t ask of its whereabouts.

I hadn’t seen the stole in the four years since I had moved to the U.S. I was too busy assimilating.

5 thoughts on “The Kente Cloth

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