MEET THE AUTHOR
JO ANNE BENNETT
Forty-five years of shuttling back and forth
to the north of Ghana as an itinerant anthropologist has provoked decades of questions. It also provided me with a seemingly
endless supply of stories. I’ve witnessed the
frustrations of extreme poverty, watched
friends persevere through intolerable circumstances, seen my assumptions collide,
often comically, with those of another culture, and discovered the lines behind which
I will not retreat into ethnographic relativity.
Friends recently began to badger: “You’ve got to write some of this
down!” So reluctantly, after a thirty-year hiatus from creative writing,
I took up my keyboard and sat down to work on what what I imagined
would be a kind of “African Memoir.” But the material would not comply; it resisted memoir format. A local Vermont writer came to the rescue, suggesting that a series of related essays might be a better fit.
Jamilla’s story was one of the first of these I tackled. The account
of my time with her was easy enough to write—the events are etched
deeply—but it had a such an obvious narrative arc that putting it down
in print felt almost like composing fiction. Who was ever going to believe it really happened that way? Still, her story highlights what keeps
drawing me back to Ghana: the courage of the people, their laughter, the
way they choose to move forward in life despite the drawbacks—that,
and the irrepressible humanity of the place, humanity in all its wrinkles,
its foibles, its utter inadequacies, and its stunning generosity of spirit.
Jo Anne Bennett is a past winner of Canada’s Seal First Novel Award for
her novel Downfall People (1986). Through the late ’80s and ’90s she did
intensive anthopological fieldwork in Ghana and authored ethnographic
publications. “Jamilla” is her second published work of creative nonfiction.