In September 2012, after a remarkable two-week holiday in Ghana, I returned to Philadelphia--where I had lived for over a decade-- wholly convinced that it was time to head back to Accra for good. I turned in my resignation letter and dared not look back. I arrived in Accra, the land of my birth, on December 1. I had no clarity regarding my next career move; I was simply a Bohemian on a quest to find my purpose and passions. While I cannot pinpoint the exact reason as to why I made the sudden move, I'm convinced it was the right and only decision.
As chance would have it, Nicole Amarteifio, a school friend of mine I hadn't seen in many years, contacted me via FaceBook about a TV show she had been developing. The show, An African City, chronicled the love lives of five single women who had returned to Accra after a lengthy period abroad. Nicole, also a returnee, was convinced that I was the ideal candidate for one of the roles. Quite naturally, I had my doubts because I had never acted before. As much as I had a rather murky goal to take up a career in a creative field, acting was the last thing I envisioned.
However, it was an offer I couldn't refuse; the five protagonists--Nana Yaa, Sade, Makena, Ngozi and Zainab, lived various aspects of my own life. The "shame" of being a single woman in her 30s might have waned over the last few decades, but being a "spinster" still carries with it appreciable stigma and challenges to one's womanhood. An African City paralleled my experience of living back home as an unmarried 30-something.
For the most part, marriage in Ghana is still a critical part of a woman's identity. A day barely goes by where someone doesn't inquire about my marital status. Case in point, my aunt recently advised me to "pick a man, cook for him and figure it out." Who knew that marriage could be so simple?
In an episode of the second season, lead character Nana Yaa finds herself avoiding her aunts in restaurants so as to not be faced with the ever dreaded query about her marital status. Nana Yaa, like many of us returnees, is not opposed to getting married. She just doesn't see it as a requisite, and furthermore, doesn't want to get married for the sake of ticking a cultural box.
I too am open to the institution of marriage and its merits, however, I believe in companionship and love even more. Finding someone with the same values and humor is key. Where is the merit in flashing a ring and proclaiming that you're married if you can barely stand the sight of your husband? What's the point if you don't feel supported and protected?
In an episode of the first season, my character Zainab recounts how her family continually tries to set her up with men in an attempt to marry her off. That's far from hyperbole; I've been there. Negotiating your culture's expectations of marriage as opposed to your proprietary views on finding the right mate is a tricky challenge.
Still most returnees do not perceive their single status as a liability. On the contrary, we see it as a time for self-discovery, to commune with one's self, to fortify ideas and ideals, to travel. In fact, my new travel show Girl Going Places was born out of a dire need to explore my country and continent, and to understand and find what actually moves me.
The ultimate irony of it all is that my time in Accra as a single lady has afforded me the space for boundless spiritual growth and connection. It has also provided me with a unique serenity that has led me to be clear on what I want from a partner. I've been free to assess whether or not marriage is even for me. And if it is, what kind of wife, mother and companion do I want and need to be to be able to live the most fulfilling life possible?
Maame Adjei is an actress, presenter and producer who now lives in Accra, Ghana. She will be at Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia on September 3 furthering the discussion on how single female returnees are breaking boundaries and challenging the existential stigmas associated with being unmarried.