Happy Holidays! Many wishes for a wonderful celebratory season for you. I am on a self-appointed creative retreat here in Ithaca, with Bae but we do have our individual studios and only meet for meals or to regroup. It has been wonderful so far. My VONA sister introduced me to this place in September when she came up here. When I’m doing these things, I always think, why don’t I do this more often, and then I think: the money! But then I think I do find money to do frivolous things so why not invest in my art. In any case, I have arrived at the computer determined to pen one more essay before the end of the year seeing how tardy I was with the whole writing process this year. I have written not one blog post since April. I have been busy living, yes but I think I have also been affected by the world in a way that I hadn’t acknowledged fully. From the usual police brutality to the hate directed at various groups, especially trans folks, to the situation at our south border, to rape and killing of women who don’t respond to being catcalled, and to Ebola resurfacing again in the Congo. How could anyone remain unaffected? There is an emoji on my phone that has emoji Kuukua holding her nose from the stench of the thrash that is 2019. I am not quite sure I’d bag the whole 2019 and hold my nose on my way to the dumpster, but it was a rough year for a good chunk of the year. The year did have its moments of reprieve when something wonderful happened and I was just so thankful to have been witness to it, recipient of it, or the benefactor. Those are the moments I wish to focus on and give thanks for.

Bae and I went on our first trip as a couple to Montreal. It was freezing cold and icy everywhere but we rung in the New Year on the heated rooftop in Vieux Montreal and had a lovely time taking selfies and drinking champagne, and later making a Tim Horton’s run for hot chocolate and donuts. We listened to Michelle Obama’s book on our trip. So much fun! On our way we stopped to see some friends of mine from when I lived in Potsdam. I think I’ve known for a long time so showing Bae off didn’t make me as nervous as it had with my past partners.

Bae and a few of my students and new friends in Central, NY helped me celebrate my 42nd birthday in February. It was a lot of cooking but you all know how I love to cook and host. I had such a blast, and when I looked at my pictures from that evening, I myself couldn’t believe I had just turned 42. This year Universe willing, I want to go putt-putting and go-cart racing and just plain do kiddie stuff with whichever of my adult friends will come with me.

In March the depression hit and I had to go away for a little while. I probably should have been hospitalized to stabilize me but once again, I managed to survive this tour. There were days while I was away that the call to self-harm was so strong, I thought for sure this was it. It was Bae’s first time with the illness and I think she did an amazing job supporting me through it, although I’m sure she was happy when I was back to my normal self again. Somehow going away in those months is my attempt to isolate, to not let anyone see the madness and to not be a burden. This tends to be a usual response when the illness hits. Bae did not let me isolate. Through this season, Bae and I grew closer and built a stronger bond and I dare say even though she is probably still dreading February-March, she does have a better understanding of how mine manifests and what she can do this time around.

Halfway through the winter/early spring I learned of a food hall opening in Syracuse, NY and I threw my hat in the ring seeing how the Cameron Mitchell one had turned out to be a huge disappointment in Columbus the previous year. There were a series of meetings, an interview, a taste-test and business classes to rush to after work each week. We had a great run trying out for the market with pop-ups that were well attended and sold out and with our debut at the re-imagined Vegan Festival. In the end however, I withdrew my candidacy because I finally came to the realization that I cook to feed people and to engage and interact with them, running a food stall would not allow me the flexibility to do so to my heart’s content. I prefer to hold pop-ups, to teach cooking classes and do demos and to share my love of my culture and its food with everyone who allows me.

In the middle of my candidacy I decided that I would make that move to Syracuse. I’d been courting the city since I started trying out for the food hall. It took about 20 apartments before I found the perfect one. I moved the last week of July and have loved every minute of it since. Of course this meant a 90 minute commute each way to work back at my former institution but the joy of living in Syracuse, a bigger and more diversely populated, albeit heavily segregated, city wasn’t clouded by the commute. I began to search fervently for a job and although it took a few months, I landed two within days of each other and had to choose. I think I chose well. I currently work at an institution in Syracuse and I couldn’t be happier. My first year in the Central NY area was bogged down by my terrible work environment in Aurora. I love going to work now. I am challenged sufficiently, given latitude to do my work, and have the most compassionate supervisor since I was at Simon’s Rock. It has made the last two months of the year almost make up for the ten months that preceded it.

This year I also was awarded a residency, first one in 7 years. I’d been away from my memoir for 7 years and I definitely felt it when I arrived in Taos, NM as a Kimbilio fellow. I had a great experience but I didn’t come away with any burning desire to finish the memoir right away. I got good feedback and I am sifting through those. What I did want to do and was reaffirmed to do was write, and I have met up with some women friends of mine to do just that. One from a Meetup group and one from Kimbilio.

In the summer and early fall, Bae and I took each other home to meet our respective families. It was an event to behold. I think we were both very nervous about the meetings but also instinctively knew that we had made the very best choice in partners and our families immediately saw how happy we were and got on board. Neither one of us has any particularities that made us stick out; we both fit right into each other’s families so easily that it felt like a dream. I still smile when I think of our trips. My sister said it felt like she had known Bae all her life. It was just that effortless.

Finding such love late in life has been pleasantly surprising. I watch Bae and I continue to grow, soften our time and life filed jagged edges, and just plain revel in the fact that someone loves us as best as they can and is continuously doing more to make their best better. After I lost David, I don’t think in my wildest dreams I thought I could find someone to love me for all of who I am and someone who would make loving and being in a relationship almost effortless. I’m not saying we have a perfect love but it’s working so well for us, sometimes I pinch myself or text Bae at random times to see that she is still there and won’t be going anywhere.

For most of my adult life I have been anti-marriage and hated the idea of being tied down so it comes as a surprise to me to be so certain that this is who I want to spend the rest of my life with. Bae is always trailing behind and I’m always rushing ahead full steam, but she gets there eventually and sometimes I wait for her. So I am waiting for her to say it’s ok to ask her. Waiting for her to be ready to say that proverbial yes.

Towards the end of 2019 tragedy struck my sister and her husband and they are still in recovery mode and planning for their new normal. This left me devastated and certainly fearful that I too could experience tragedy at any moment. As much as I dream of a traditional Ghanaian wedding replete with all kinds of kente and lace in brilliant shades, I dream more of being able to see my lover and make decisions about her care or my care if life throws us a nasty curve ball. My heart is with my sister and her husband and I know that that is on my mind, but the fact remains that marriage is merely a piece of paper that guarantees certain things to anyone who carries those particulars. Bae and I have already made our commitments and made our intentions known to each other so it would be a big party with our family and friends, (who doesn’t love a good African party?) and a piece of paper conferring those rights. I have always told her I would like a Frida and Diego arrangement minus the extra marital affairs of course, with that bridge between our respective homes and taking turns sharing our spaces but still having those spaces to ourselves if needed because at this stage in our lives, our spaces matter so much. We are past roommating and bunking and we are both borderline intro-extroverts so sometimes we just need to retreat for a while. In the meantime I am enjoying this #maturelove! No one could have warned me that this would be so transformative as my friend put it the other day. Because we have lived half a century in her case and 95% of a century in my case, already, we know what we want and we are learning each other and learning how to ask for what we want and need as kindly and gently as we can manage it. It gets better with each try though.

Chef Kuukua at the #saltcitymarket pop-up photo credit: Maranie Staab

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