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One of the most common ways to show or express love is by giving gifts. Gifts can be given in the form of tangible things like presents and intangible things like presence, quality time, words of affirmation, service etc. Yes, All of these things are gifts too.

We have been blessed with the gift of people who have at some point, held it together for us when all else was falling apart. This I believe is God’s thoughtful way of helping us navigate the daunting terrain of the human world. Imagine a world without your favourite people. It sure looks bleak, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, being in any kind of relationship is not a walk in the park. Neither is ensuring that you communicate to your loved ones just how important they are. I used to be big on giving gifts to my friends every birthday. I remember when I was in secondary school, I knew this person loved wristwatches and the other one loved perfumes — I’d add that to my shopping and of course, receive a serious scold from my elder sister because what’s a broke dependent like me doing buying gifts with someone’s money? Even though technically it’s my daddy’s money and no one should tell me what to do with it but still. She was an adult, and I wasn’t. I was in Ariana Grande mode of ‘I want it I got it.’ Blissful days of foolishness. Sigh. I miss them.

Over time, I didn’t recognize that I was losing myself. I became too self-conscious about gift-giving. I realised that omo, people read meaning into everything. And so instead of the instinctive response to something I see and know e.g I see an earring Seyi would like, I’ll start over thinking what if it doesn’t meet her taste or she just bought the same from an IG vendor? I never used to care. It used to be the heart behind it and other touching emotional stuff but I got broken at a point and I didn’t realise it. I started wondering if people thought I was giving them things to buy their affection (don’t ask me how that makes sense).

On the flip side, I treasure whatever I am given as a gift no matter how random. Give me a rock and I’ll keep it for 30 years (not that old yet but you get the idea). I still have silly notes and letters my friends and I exchanged in secondary school. Why? Because the things hold a sentimental value. Recently, someone gave me a gift and I felt hurt. Why you might ask. Because I felt there was no secure relationship to warrant that gift and it felt like a bribe or an act of duty.

My bad, I got sidetracked, look at me getting hypocrite, huh. How I criticize them when I got my own thing to be fixing? (in Andy Mineo’s voice).

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I give gifts out of the overflow of love in my heart and the security and stability the relationship we have gives me, yet I’m not entirely liberated in this. I find that I am afraid of the perceived performance attached to it. Or that people feel obliged to give me gifts because I have given them. These kinds of thoughts tire me so.

When I started writing this draft, I’d just left Accra with many many gifts. More intangible than tangible. And the overwhelming feeling led me to type the title Kyauta but that was where it stopped. I remember being quite perplexed when my colleagues kept apologizing for not getting me anything. I couldn’t fathom why in the world it would matter. Until my good friend explained to me that it was a custom — a cultural norm to bid people farewell with gifts and trinkets. I cried. The things I got differed from button badges to a poncho, and a hair stretcher (my hair is locked by the way). The sheer randomness of those gifted jolted me back to the reality that giving is not always that deep. Just do it.

I look at my Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker button badges and smile wistfully when I think of the night Seth gave them to me. Very thoughtful that I carry with me other great writers who are black and female as I journey through life. The picture frames Patrick gave me are waiting for the right images and a house to live in.

Regardless, I am reminded that the gift is as much about the giver as it is about the receiver. Most importantly, gifts must be given freely not demanded, and not coerced.

We’re in the season of gifts and merriment. May it be that as Christians remember the most precious gift ever given, we all are reminded of the invaluable gifts in our lives. This is a roundabout way of telling you to give freely and to be open to receive. There is no ulterior motive in many cases. Just do it.

Love, Ballie 💖



And He said unto me, Write. Author of Growing, Up North.

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