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Sketches and Regrets

Oky Kusprianto and I got married on the 25th of February 2017. He died on the 16th of June 2019 at the age of 42. Not a long life, and definitely not a long marriage for me.

He was an architect, quite famous in Bandung. In his short life, the number of designs he created was simply overwhelming. He was constantly sketching. One time we were caught in very bad traffic, and I asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m drawing in my mind,” he answered. That’s Oky for you.

During his funeral (it was a whole week-long process, one day I’ll write about it), his architecture friends gave me the idea to collect his designs in a book, as a tribute to his talent. They mentioned I would need the help of a fellow architect, curator, and writer: Setiadi Sopandi (commonly known as Cung).

Life has a weird sense of humor, doesn’t it? Because Cung and I hit it off and we got married in August 2020 (yes, a Covid wedding). The book? It happened, with the support of Realrich from OMAH Library.

Concept

The idea for the book evolved from an exhibition of Oky’s sketches and my writings, installed at Villa Gupondoro. The collection was curated by Cung, since the total amount of his work is still being collected even until now. Some of them were never built, some of them became spectacular icons in Bandung, for example, Babakan Siliwangi Forest Walk and Dusun Bambu Family Park. The title of both the exhibition and the book is Sketches and Regrets because throughout our relationship, there was one thing I regretted: that I did not experience his works more when he was alive.

But I do not wish to live my current and future life in this same constant regret. Now, I try to visit Oky’s creations regularly. I also try to visit Cung’s buildings. It’s fun. I enjoy getting insider info on how this pillar was not supposed to be there, or how the small interior details cost the client a leg and an arm.

Before publishing the book, Realrich said “I’m excited! OMAH Library has never yet published an architectural book from the perspective of the Mrs.” Don’t you just love that? I think it’s a real measure of Rich’s vision and open-mindedness for community.

Well OMAH, I’m still a Mrs. Architect now, so I hope I’ll continue to contribute a woman’s voice to your publications.

You can purchase the book here. If you happen to have read Sketches and Regrets, kindly drop an honest review on Goodreads.

With special thanks to translator Juhendy Setiawan and photographer Christian Nathanael.

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Series Review: The Book of Isle

After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).

I bought the Kindle boxset for 21.99USD – making it just over 4USD per book. GREAT DEAL readers! Alert!

The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Synopsis

On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.

A feminine epic fantasy.

One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.

Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.

Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?

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In Vitro Fertilization – Podcast Episode 4

Elvina, Morgan, and baby Aerion (15 months old). In front of the Melbourne Star, Dec 2020.

Elvina Ingrid is one of my long standing friends – we’ve known each other since we were 12 years-old. That makes it more than twenty years of friendship! She moved from Bandung, Indonesia to Melbourne, Australia because her husband Morgan is a permanent resident in AU.

For seven years, Elvina and Morgan tried to have a child.

When nothing worked, they finally decided to try In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Listen to her IVF journey, the painful shots and the crazy side effects, but most of all to her hope and outstanding courage. Elvina is a medical doctor, so she also shares perspectives from the medical point of view. Stay tuned for IVF jokes in the extras, though be warned because they are rather weird!

If you have any questions about In vitro Fertilization, or if you are going through this process now and you need someone to talk to, you can email Elvina at elvinaingrid@gmail.com.

Do you have a story to share with me? Contact me and maybe you will be featured in the next episode! My podcast can also be found on SpotifyApple podcasts, and other podcasting platforms.

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Bobo Lie, Part 2

Now, Bobo Lie (as the huge Efferin-Lie clan) calls her, can’t recollect clearly who she is. Due to her dementia, she has no idea what day, time, or year it is. She has no teeth. But she doesn’t need teeth anymore because her food is all soft porridge-like meals.

She was one good cook.

Around the time my parents got married (the 1980s), Bobo Lie was about fifty years old. She lived in a large estate which she turned into a boarding home, sometimes with up to ten boarders at a time. She needed the money from boarders to survive and care for her sons. She has four sons, plus two nephews that she took under her wing because their mother-Bobo’s sister-had died at a young age.

If a woman can manage a home, she can manage an office. If she can manage an office, she can manage a company. If she can manage a company, she can manage a country.

In her home, Bobo always made sure the best meals were set out for everyone: sons, nephews, boarders, eventually daughters-in-law, and all the grandchildren that visited. Her signature dish was rawon: black beef soup with turmeric, lemongrass, lime, and green onions.

She was one angry lady.

The reason she needed to turn her house into a boarding home was because Kung-Kung (my grandfather) divorced Bobo in her forties. He was a highly respected doctor in Surabaya, East Java. One of the first medical professionals in the whole province, in fact. After three children, he left Bobo (who was pregnant with a fourth child) to marry another lady. Now, I call her Granny Rika. I call her that behind Bobo’s back. I suppose reconciliation takes generations.

According to Bobo Lie, she never wanted the divorce. But somehow, in one of her angry emotional fits towards an unfaithful husband, it is possible that she signed the papers in exchange for ownership of the large estate.

She was one talented lady.

Before she got married to Kung Kung, Bobo loved to sing. As a teenager, she won singing competitions and even sang regularly on the radio. Being a radio star in the 1950s is like being a YouTuber with millions of followers in 2021. She was the belle of the town.

Bobo continued singing as a hobby, even when her mental capacities started to decline. Somehow, she managed to remember melodies and songs. Sometimes, she even sat on my piano and plunked out some tunes.

I suppose she doesn’t remember any of this now.

But I do. And now, you do too.

Bobo means grandmother. It’s a common term for Chinese-Indonesian families. Kung Kung means grandfather, another common Chinese-Indonesian term.

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Bobo Lie, Part 1

Bobo Lie

In November 2020, my 95-year-old grandmother’s health condition dropped. After clearing with the necessary checks to confirm that it was not Covid, we admitted her to the hospital for about a week. Honestly speaking, her 4 sons, 4 daughters-in-laws, 12 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren probably all had the same thought: Bobo Lie (that’s what we call her) is going to die soon. Her sons even gathered in the hospital room, hosting a masked service. Just in case.

Well, here we are in February 2021, celebrating Chinese New Year-Zoom family dinners and all. My father contracted the virus and got better (see my reflections on that), the nurse contracted the virus and got sent back to her village but through it all, Bobo Lie? Despite her dementia, she’s still alive and virus-free.

She is one tough lady.

She now lives with my uncle who takes excellent care of her. About five years ago, she was still staying with my parents. I was there practicing piano, as usual, preparing for a concert. I remember I was working on a Brahms Rhapsody. It was a particularly loud passage, so I couldn’t hear anything else. After the forte passage, I heard the household helper scream. My parents were not home, so the helper ran to my piano room in a panic. All she could say was “Bobo, Bobo, blood!” 

I stopped the Brahms and went to check inside Bobo’s room. Bobo was lying on the floor, surrounded by blood. She was conscious though and calmly asked me to help her.

“What happened?” I asked, trying to help her get up.

“The scissors,” she answered vaguely. I saw there was a pair of scissors in the pool of blood, and there was a huge gash on her hand. I knew that she did her sewing, so it was likely that she lost muscular control and somehow fell while cutting her hand very badly.

She is one generous lady.

Bobo is much too old to go anywhere now. Ten years ago she was still able to go to church every Sunday. At that time, her dementia was just beginning. She dressed up as usual, and put some money in her wallet for the offering. The church protocol was for an offering bag to be passed from person to person as people put their money gifts in the bag. Sometimes there would be different colored bags for different purposes/projects.

When the bag reached her, she took out her wallet. There was the money she had prepared: a twenty thousand rupiah bill (equivalent to 15 USD), and spare change in the form of a one hundred rupiah coin (equivalent to 0,01 US cent). I suppose she originally meant to give the bill. However, she reached for the coin instead and dropped it proudly in the offering bag. Reactions from surrounding people included laughter and embarrassment. Perhaps in her mind, she was back half a century ago before the devaluation of the Indonesian currency. Back to a time when coins were still valuable while that particular bill had not even existed yet.

She is one beautiful lady.

When I was a child, my parents often took me to visit Surabaya in East Java. Bobo Lie lived in Surabaya until she was seventy. Then she moved to Bandung (West Java), where three of her four sons lived.

She introduced me to this amazing thing called nail polish. Her nails were always shiny with bright colors. She taught me how to cut my nails properly, how to patiently polish them, and also how to remove the polish when I got bored of the color. Bobo had a large collection of different brands and shades of nail polish. Manicure was an art form for her.

Sadly, I don’t keep up with proper care of my nails. I wonder what she would say now, if only she still recognized who I am.

Continued to Bobo Lie, Part 2.

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A Discussion on Coping with Grief

Last week I had the honor to be featured on Grace Tahir‘s Iso-Late Show Episode 30 with Grace Tahir and Intania Fajar from Janda Becanda (The Widow Jokes) Podcast. It was a rainy afternoon with bad internet on my part. The discussion on coping with grief was solid though. I didn’t know Tania (Intania’s nickname), and she didn’t know me, but we connected through our mutual experiences.

So many people have experienced losses recently. Thus I share some of our key takeaways with the hope that it will help readers who are processing grief.

Key Takeaway 1. Instinct before sudden death.

Some people have an instinct that their loved one is about to die. This was the case with Tania. She was in Manila, and Joel (her husband) was in Hong Kong about to fly to Manila when he got into an accident. He died in the Hong Kong airport. Tania was with her mother-in-law, and at that exact moment, she had an urge to call Joel.

This was not the case with me and Oky’s death. Oky crossed a road (on foot), got hit by a motorcycle going 90km/hour, and died there. It came as an absolute shock to everyone.

Key Takeaway 2. Five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief according to Kübler-Ross model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I didn’t go through the five stages of grief (mainly because I didn’t know what they were at the time). But I knew I was ANGRY. Even now, I’m still angry because the whole situation involved irresponsible people and corrupt authorities.

Tania believes strongly in destiny. “The good die young-Joel was as good as good can be, so he went young,” she said. Tania was very sad but there was no denying it. Joel died end of 2008, so it will be 12 years by the end of this year. And the feelings are still coming and going.

“The good die young-Joel was as good as good can be, so he went young,” she said.

Intania Fajar, Janda becanda podcast

Key Takeaway 3. Loneliness.

For Tania, that’s one of the main themes in Janda Becanda Podcast: that feeling lonely is not an experience exclusive to widowhood. We’re in quarantine now so many people feel lonely at this time. It’s always good to know how to cope with feeling lonely.

For me, there were two moments in which I felt utterly alone. I just felt an absolute darkness and I did not even know what to think. This mainly had to do with the circumstances surrounding Oky’s death with the crime and corrupted police and law officials of Bandung. At that time I reached out to some mentors and they helped me with frameworks of thought.

Key takeaway 4. Annoying messages from people.

For me, it was tiring because so many people continuously asked what happened. However, I would rather have people asking than telling me how to react. Many people told me to “forgive”, or “move on”. That was incredibly annoying because they said those words without any idea of what I was going through.

For Tania, there were some fundamentally rude questions that people asked her. She refused to even repeat it because it was so unsympathetic. Some people that didn’t even know her or her husband started asking questions simply because they wanted gossip material.

Key Takeaway 5. Support systems.

Tania had a very strong support system. The moment her family found out, they dropped everything and flew from Jakarta to Manila. By maghrib (evening prayers) that day, they were already able to be with her. They showed the same support during her divorce from her second husband.

I stayed tactfully silent because this is at the heart of my issue with my parents. (Look forward to future writings…)

Key Takeaway 6. Ways to cope.

Journaling was one of the ways I coped with everything that happened. From my journaling habit, the exhibition and book Sketches and Regrets was born. Not to mention this blog, my poems, short stories, and hopefully more books to come! A practical tip from me includes a breathing technique called box breathing to help stay calm in extremely stressful situations. Another tip is to be committed to taking care of your body: drink a lot of water, go on walks or routine exercise, get enough sleep, and eat well.

For Tania, it is important to have other aspects of life to be able to focus on. Career, work, and other creative projects. Her late husband was an amazing person and she honors it, but life has to go on, especially because at the time she was responsible for a 1,5-year-old baby. There are also many resources out there including the Janda Becanda community that she created.

The complete interview is available on Grace’s Instagram channel (it’s mostly in Indonesian, with English sentences here and there). I hope this article helps to make the contents of our conversation accessible to more people.

With special thanks to Grace Tahir.

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Book Review: A Wolf for a Spell

That was exactly what Baba Yaga needed. The gray wolf…a wolf who wouldn’t put up a fight.

a wolf for a spell, karah sutton

I discovered this book via Indian book blogger Debjani. I put it on my 2021 fantasy genre reading list because it seemed exactly like the kind of fantasy that I loved. I’m on a Goodreads challenge to read 60 books in 2021, and this is the 3rd book I read.

A Wolf for a Spell is a middle-grade fantasy adventure book by Karah Sutton about a young orphan girl, a female wolf, and an old witch. The story itself is inspired by the author’s Russian heritage.

I Was Delighted By…

  1. Baba Yaga!

Loved this character! The Russian tales of her are already exotic and intriguing-lives in the middle of the woods in a hut on chicken legs. Add to that the grumpy, witty, and slightly lonely personality that Karah Sutton gives to this old figure, creating a beloved and unforgettable Baba Yaga.

2. Wolves

Who doesn’t enjoy wolf literature? The dynamics between Zima (the female wolf) and the other wolves in her pack are very interesting, especially if you’re curious about animal psychology. Wolves are one of the most intelligent animals, and their pack structure is a highly complex social unit. I loved that the author was able to dig into this.

3. Power of the Forest

The forest in which Baba Yaga lives has its own magic. It’s powerful and it’s the real source of Baba Yaga’s powers. I must say, being someone who loves nature, I completely agree with this approach. Honestly, what are we without trees giving us oxygen to breathe?

4. Critique towards the institution of marriage

Did you see this one coming up? If not, it’s a spoiler alert. The charming prince is not so charming on the inside, and what he has to offer isn’t so great after all (read my article on emotionally abusive relationships). I won’t say more, but I’m happy that Karah Sutton weaved this perspective into the tale.

Was It Worth My Investment?

I bought it on Amazon Kindle for USD 10.99. Honestly, I have to say it’s a bit pricy for me. In my defense, I do live in Indonesia where I can get a great meal for 2 dollars. Plus, the currency exchange rate isn’t so hot at the moment. However, there are legal ways to read books for free, especially if you are an avid reader and regular reviewer. (I might even consider doing this myself!)

It was a great read though, so if the price is alright for your budget then A Wolf for a Spell is definitely worth it.

Have you read A Wolf for A Spell? What did you think? By the way, if you are a seasoned book blogger, please share with me any tips you have! I would appreciate it very much.

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Reflections After A Family Member Survived Covid

Cung, my second husband, and I got married last year in August 2020 (see my Covid wedding post). Due to Covid restrictions, we did not go on a honeymoon following the wedding. Instead, we planned a delayed honeymoon slash break (didn’t we all need a break after 2020?) in December 2020. Destination: Bali, Indonesia’s paradise island. Domestic travel had opened up allowing for domestic tourism. Plus we wanted to visit our friends in Bali because the downfall of the tourism industry hit them hard.

We took the necessary health tests and protocols and booked the accommodation in several places. Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Lembongan, Ubud, and Tabanan-off we went. We only bought a one-way ticket because, to be honest, we were hoping to stay in Bali for an extended time. Since all our work is done online nowadays, we just need stable internet to be able to keep working.

The first part of our trip went very well. It was wonderful to see our friends at Bali. At Nusa Lembongan, we were able to do a bit of scuba diving. I am on a Dive Master Training program at Big Fish Diving, and I was able to review many necessary skills (visit my article on what I learned about fear from scuba diving). One fateful afternoon, however, I got a text that my father was not feeling very well. In pandemic times such as this, even minor health problems can become majorly complicated.

Emotional Turmoil

Our fears were validated. Several days after that, he tested positive for the Covid virus. A couple of days after that, his situation worsened and his oxygen saturation dropped to 75%. The target oxygen saturation range for patients is 92-96%. At that point, I had to decide whether to go back to Bandung or to stay and support from Bali. In a normal situation, this would have been an easy decision. In these crazy pandemic years, however, it was not that easy. Covid being as infectious as it is, my father kept insisting to be treated at home. He insisted that being isolated at the hospital stressed him out and made him unable to get better in spirit.

Well whenever in Bandung, Cung and I stay with my parents. So I had to think twice whether I wanted to be caught in the same home as a Covid positive patient. On the other hand, he was my father, of which I only had one. Now to give a bit of a background: our relationship is not the smoothest of relationships. Sometimes we find it very difficult to get along. This all factored in while we were on the island.

Making A Difficult Decision

After some thought, I finally decided that Cung and I should cut our trip short. We changed our plans and headed back to Bandung where we are at least closer to support my mother in a worst-case scenario. That was mid-December. Thankfully, my father got better, and everyone adhered to the protocols so that he was only released after being tested negative. He returned home on 30 December 2020-Covid survivor.

He said that he felt like someone that had just returned from war. Victorious, but weak, exhausted, and depressed. At the time of my writing this article (end of January) he is already much better. I feel though, that it was not only him who fought a battle. Everyone involved fought an internal struggle of emotions and what-ifs.

A Space Inside Myself

Having made the conscious decision to sacrifice our plans to be able to support my mother (and my father), I felt like something changed inside me. Something shifted, something was let go. A space-no matter how small-was created into which something new might grow. I have an inkling of what this new thing might be, but I don’t want to name it yet.

I do, however, want to acknowledge the space.

With special thanks to Devika Brendon, a dear friend who introduced me to the concept of “spaces” inside us.

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Solar Cancer, Lunar Leo: Understanding Myself Better Through My Natal Chart Interpretation

I met Sundea Salamatahari via her husband Fauzie Wiriadisastra, composer, physicist, and fellow co-founder at the Bandung Philharmonic in 2015. Since then I have had the privilege of her friendship and professional advice as an astrologer. Yes, you heard me right. Sundea studies natal (birth) charts and interprets them professionally for those seeking her help.

I was going through a huge change of my career in 2016. The philharmonic had just been launched, so the level of stress, responsibility, and risk that we took on ourselves were overwhelming. On top of that, I had just gotten out of some very abusive personal relationships (in fact Signs of Emotionally Abusive Relationships is the most read article on my blog). Oky, whom I eventually married in February 2017, was expressing interest in me personally, and I simply did not know what to do.

What I Learned From My Natal Chart

That was the first time I asked Sundea if she could help me read my chart. At first I was a bit scared and nervous. But I had known her for a while, and I trusted her. Thus Sundea read my chart and explained to me what it meant to be a “solar cancer”. My protective shell is very thick because I am incredibly sensitive inside. I am easily hurt, but I don’t show it. She discussed my natural tendencies in a relationship, and what I should be aware of because they were my “default settings.” It was an eye opener! Understanding my “solar cancer” nature helped me navigate personal relationships with much more ease.

Understanding my “solar cancer” nature helped me navigate personal relationships with much more ease.

A couple months ago, Sundea described my other nature: the “lunar leo”. As a “lunar leo”, Sundea showed me that I need a lot of attention from my inner circle. I become lost when that support falters. Leo and Cancer are also two very different natures, so I can sometimes be very confusing to myself and others. She gave me some suggestions on how to handle my differing natures, and how to seek the right audience for myself. I felt like she was reaching into my soul!

I find her readings deeply insightful. Take a look at Sundea’s profile, and if you are looking for a little help understanding yourself, consider the Renjana and Sanubari readings available at the shop.

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Book Review: Motherhood 101 (A Memoir)

This is second book I read this year. The first one was The Things you Can See Only When You Slow Down by the Korean monk Haemin Sunim. I chose to continue my 2021 reading adventure with Motherhood 101: A memoir of my experience as a newlywed juggling pregnancy/motherhood, marriage, work and a social life because a dear friend from college wrote it: Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh. We lived together for one semester during our years at Calvin College.

We couldn’t have been more different, me from Bandung, Indonesia, and Amma as I call her from Accra, Ghana. But I had a blast that semester, and will always cherish the memories. Oh and, the shito (Ghanaian spicy pepper sauce). I hope to visit Accra when international travel opens up again and eat up on it!

On to the book…

Cultural Nuances

I always enjoy learning about another culture, and Amma had plenty of cultural perspectives in her writing. For example, when she got pregnant some people would call her Abrewa, which means “Old Lady” in the Twi language. Even though she was a young pregnant woman, people called her old. Connecting pregnancy with old age is something completely new to me. Another example is when some people called her Obolo, which means “fat” in a negative way. In Chinese-Indonesian culture, older people use “fat” as a compliment, because they used to to be so poor in their generation. So “fat” is a sign of wealth and happiness. Of course, I have my own issues with this (read my article about my bulimia struggles).

I also enjoyed Amma’s sharp with and humor, something I remembered even from her younger years. She has funny terms like “pregnant vigilantes” for people who comment too much during her pregnancy, and “mummy police” for other people who commented (even more) while she was nursing her baby Nana Yaw.

The tight knit society of the Ghanaian culture showed in the many ways that the women around Amma came to support her, especially her mother and sister. At one point her sister called the local pre-school on her behalf and asked the headteacher to admit Nana Yaw earlier. She saw Amma needed the break, even if it was only for a few hours every morning.

Honestly Voicing Her Pain

There is endless literature about the joy of having children. But there is not enough literature or research about how painful and dangerous it really is, even to this day. Amma was raw and honest about her physical pains and emotional struggles. And did she have her share of physical pain! Oh my goodness. I was opened to the immense risks and consequences that young women all over the world put themselves through everyday by being pregnant and giving birth.

I mean, a recent 2017 study by WHO records that 810 women die everyday due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. After the baby is born, all attention is towards the baby, very few towards the mother who is doing fulltime childcare duties unpaid. In Amma’s case, she was doing this while also having to go back to her job, and handling other household duties. She eventually had a breakdown, realizing that as much as she tried, it was simply impossible.

“I realized…that I didn’t have to be super woman. I just had to stay alive.”

Motherhood 101, Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh

I agree wholeheartedly with her. I lament the existing beliefs worldwide that pressure young women to be perfect in childbearing and childrearing.

It seems very few women in Ghana and Africa speak openly about the challenges and difficulties of motherhood, so I applaud Awura Amma’s courage to voice and write her story. In the introduction she writes that Motherhood 101 is the first of its kind in Ghana and Africa. I hope there will be many more, not just in Africa but also in my area of the world-Southeast Asia.

Motherhood 101 is available on Amazon Kindle. Awura Amma blogs at bookwormgh.com.