Soap Opera 101

There are people who say you can’t learn anything from watching the soaps. They say such fare is frivolous, ridiculous and completely over the top. I am one of those people. I can actually hear my brain cells frying each time I watch the Days of Our Lives.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that a lot of the things I know today, I learned from watching the soaps when I was a kid. For example, almost everything I knew about the legal system as a kid came from typical soap opera episodes.

Thanks to Santa Barbara, I knew what a subpoena was long before I learned to tie my laces. I also knew that a capital crime was one that could get you executed (courtesy of Days of our Lives). The phrases “Objection, Your Honour!” and “Overruled” were as familiar to me as homework, and all my friends could quote the Miranda Rights. The Bold and the Beautiful educated me about DNA, paternity tests and custody battles, and introduced me to the wedding march, wedding vows and wedding crashers, as well as adultery, incest and alimony.

It was because of soap operas that I figured out where babies came from years ahead of the awkward videos we were shown at school, and that I developed a firm belief that the truth always comes out in the end. Soap operas gave me faith in true love and sexy lingerie, but made me wary of maternity wards, twins and anyone wearing black leather gloves or a massive ring with a strange symbol on it.

My exposure to in-vitro fertilization came courtesy of Sunset Beach, my first encounter with a non-stereotypical gay character happened with Isidingo, and Generations opened the door to advertising accounts, pitches, campaigns, and upper-class black people who drink orange juice with breakfast. Every morning, too.

The Sibeko Family on Isidingo

The Sibeko Family on Isidingo

How clever I felt when kids whispered that kissing got you pregnant, and I declared smugly, “It does not!” Everyone who watched the soaps knew that two characters had to roll around naked in satin sheets before babies were written into the script. Duh! And, naturally, all soap watchers are familiar with the terms “ulterior motive”, “vendetta” and “ultimatum”. At ten, my vocabulary was second to none.

It’s rather incredible to me that I manage to maintain my disdain of the soap opera industry despite all the wonderful (and not so wonderful) ideas it put into my young head. Honestly, if it weren’t for Brooke Logan I’d never know that it’s really creepy to sleep with all the men in one family. If it weren’t for the Bradys of Salem it would never have occurred to me that if I really love someone I’ll be able to “feel it” when he’s alive and trapped on a desert island, even though I saw his body go up in flames.

I would never know that nice guys (and girls) don’t have to finish last, after all. At least not in soap opera world, where all the sweetest people are in love with each other and all the evil people (who also happen to be exceptionally good-looking) have to resort to kidnapping and blackmail in order to get their hooks into decent partners. Oh, if only…

Home and Away revealed that people in Australia walk around in bikinis and shorts all day, sans make-up, baring freckles, spots, love handles etc…and everyone still thinks they’re so hot. The show also made me realize, for the first time, that children can’t age sixteen years in three seasons. No, those folks age in real time, baby. They’re betting on a seriously dedicated fan base. God Bless Summer Bay!

But nothing trumps my enviable soap-based medical knowledge. Years before McDreamy’s hair won Meredith Grey’s heart, I knew all about blood types, rare diseases, mysterious skin disorders, cancer (the number one killer of soap opera characters), bone marrow transplants and miracle cures. I watched as tireless doctors who specialized in every condition under the sun pronounced people dead, only to have them rise from the ashes. I was initiated into the world of unattended scrubs, slippery scalpels and super-fast surgeries, and experienced vicariously the infamous awful hospital coffee.

There’s no doubt in my mind that soap operas remain the most outlandish form of entertainment in existence. Fantasy novelists have nothing on the folks behind Passions and Days. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that my years as a reluctant soap fan have done wonders for me. Thanks to the ageless stars of these shows, I now know that when I’m fifty and looking forward to my first grandchild, I won’t look a day over 25.

Roots

People like to talk about roots. As a child I felt deeply connected to mine, very much a part of everything and very much influenced by that. As I got older I realised that other people had a different way of seeing things. For them, heritage was determined by great-grandparents and traditions passed down over decades, skin colour and facial features, traditional costumes and foods and cultural practices.

And because I, Ghanaian/Nigerian/Motswana/coconut, didn’t fit into one of those carefully constructed boxes, people told me I was lost. Rootless, miserable, cut off, cast adrift. I didn’t feel lost. I felt wonderful. But if people keep telling you there’s something wrong with the way you are, you start to believe it.

I tried to find a box to squeeze into, but none of them worked. If I picked one thing, it negated everything else that I am. At some point I stopped trying to be what other people thought I should be; for one thing they couldn’t make up their minds, and for another I had been perfectly content until I started listening to the voices around me. I stopped trying to talk like my friends. I stopped trying to make others feel comfortable at my own expense (for the most part). I went back to my roots, the roots that kept me grounded and dictated my principles.

You see, while some people are dedicated to the roots their ancestors put down a mere hundred-odd years ago, I go further. My roots go beyond Botswana, Ghana and Benin, where my clan originally came from. They go way, way back for thousands of years, then tens of thousands, right back to the cradle, right back to the source. Past Nubian queens and Egyptian pharaohs, past fallen angels and biblical gardens, right back to the dust, the ashes, the clay – and the hand of God.

If you want to talk about roots, you’d better be clear. We all have the same roots, primordial roots, the ones that emerged from the seed of humanity and, as far as I’m concerned, the ones that count most. I have millions of ancestors and I honour them all. I’m not going to celebrate 1% of my heritage and leave out the other 99% just because it’s complicated. I celebrate everything that contributed to my existence. Not just the colour of my skin, but the fact that I have skin at all. Not just my flat forehead but the brain beneath the skull and the neurons in the brain. Not just my genetically inherited shape, but my flesh and arteries and bones. Not just my bloodline but my atoms, every one of which was once something else, long, long, ago. And not just the wisdom of the ages but the spiritual consciousness, the awareness that makes all wisdom possible, the breath and voice of God that animates it all.

I’m from Ghana, born in Nigeria, raised in Botswana, educated in South Africa, influenced by America, taught by Britain, fascinated by Egypt, drawn to Japan, and all of that is incidental. I’m a child of the universe, the descendant of Ewe chiefs and desert tribes and faded, long-gone dictators, the seed of selfless heroines and anonymous martyrs, religious leaders and sociopaths, racists and freedom fighters, murderers and healers, defilers and caregivers.

The history of the human race is my history, every war, every triumph etched into my bones, every smile and heartache locked into my DNA. I have a scar on my soul for each misstep and a twinkle in my eye for every “Eureka!”
How then can I possibly reduce myself, my life, my heritage, to a handful of years, a drop in the ocean? It seems, to me, madness.

My roots run to the centre of the Earth, all the way to creation. That’s where my story began. So now I have to wonder…is it possible that I am not the one who is lost, after all?

Second Skins

I hate skinny jeans. I have nothing good to say about them. They are unflattering and impossible to get into and out of. They were obviously designed by skeletal humanoid aliens with no hips or feet.

And yet, for some unfathomable reason, EVERYBODY wears them. Skinny jeans with ballet flats, skinny jeans with Converse sneakers, skinny jeans with stilettos, skinny jeans with Uggs. All that soft flesh and toned muscle begging for release…to no avail.

WHY??? I stare in wonder at women of all shapes and sizes, in their skinny Levis and skinny Miss Sixtys, and ask myself: Don’t they chafe? I imagine the constant friction, denim against skin, and those designer crotches riding up, up and away… And when the skinnies are teamed with a nylon thong – in summer – the only possible result is thrush.

I love clothes as much as the next girl, but I also love being able to walk down the street without a desperate urge to scratch in sacred places. Of course, the skinny squad might say that their uniform is an acquired taste. I can’t escape the fact that skinny jeans mysteriously look good on a lot of women. Just not on me, apparently.

This has nothing to do with my opinion on the trend. I mean, sure, skinny jeans expose all the flaws I try so hard to cover up. In those jeans my knees, where I seem to deposit almost every bit of fat on my body, tend to stretch the fabric to breaking point, and I hear sinister rustling noises every time I walk…

OK. So I have a personal vendetta against skinny jeans. But I know I’m not alone in my dislike of another fashion statement. I’m talking about jeans that were clearly made for women with small behinds, but into which those with generous butts will squeeze with no thought of the consequences. Those consequences are not pretty. No one wants to be treated to an eyeful of plumber’s crack every time someone leans over. To make matters worse, these ill-fitting jeans are almost always paired with equally ill-fitting underwear – the kind that seems to vanish southwards when most needed.

Women the world over! It is time to accept that, unlike Britney Spears circa 2000, whose pants were laced with sorcery that kept them intact no matter how much she gyrated, the rest of us have to simply invest in jeans that fit – or throw on a belt. And as for skinny jeans… if you can wear them without flinching, I applaud you. I only hope that you won’t ever have to be cut out of them. Not that that’s ever happened to me…