With the arrival of An African City came a pop cultural avenue for the urban African woman to discuss her experiences from career to friendship to romance and the brilliant character, Zainab who struggles to navigate the difficulties of surviving in the sink-or-swim Accra business world without relying on men. None other than Maame Adjei plays this character, gracing our screens with her powerful acting.
Born in Ghana in the 1980s, Mama Adjei is an actor, producer, writer and creative artist changing the Ghanaian narrative not only through television, but through tourism as well. Following the political instability in Ghana after the military coup soon after Maame’s birth, her father decided to leave the country, moving to London with Maame and her brother while her mother, a Ghanaian civil servant stayed behind. After a couple of years in London, Maame and her brother moved back to Accra to live with their mother, without her father who has since never returned to Ghana. Maame proceeded attended Ghana International School (GIS), but returned to London to live with her father and continue education in sixth form.
While in London, Maame lived in East Dulwich, and she attended Maria Fidelis, a Roman Catholic Convent School in Camden. After sixth form, she applied to attend Temple University in Philadelphia. Upon getting her acceptance letter for Temple, Maame’s father changed his mind and decided that she wouldn’t attend Temple but Manchester University instead. This was a difficult period for Maame as it had always been a dreams of hers to go to Temple University and this dream still became a reality. With the help of her mum, she got on a plane to Accra, and by September she was enrolled at Temple University.
‘Temple was such a great experience for me, because I had to figure everything out on my own. I grew so much from that experience, and I became a woman. I realised that it was the end of my relationship with my father, but I saw this American opportunity as the catalyst for who I was about to become.’
In 2005, she graduated with a degree in psychology and even though her dream was to eventually work as a psychotherapist, like Freud, she got a ‘pre-certification coordinator’ job at University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Maame’s job consisted of getting insurance approval for every patient who was coming to the hospital for surgery.
‘It was a very stressful job, especially when I had to tell people that, despite the fact that they had lung cancer, the insurance company would only approve two days at the hospital.’
Working this job helped Maame realise the problems with the US healthcare system and has led her to create a long term vision of becoming the CEO of a systems company that would change the way people receive healthcare.
In pursuit of her vision, Maame proceeded to Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia for a Masters in Healthcare Administration. Afterwards, Maame got a new job at Temple University Hospital contracting between insurance companies and hospitals.
In 2012, Maame would take a huge step and never look back. After months of feeling a disconnect and void, Maame resigned from her job, shipped her car and decided to move back to Ghana. In September 2012, she went to Ghana for the anniversary of her grandmother’s death. When she left two weeks later, she knew her time in the States was up. She felt it so strongly. Coming back to the States was so difficult. Even on her previous trip to Ghana, in March of that same year 2012, when she came back to the airport where she had parked her car, she found her entire car encased in ice. She remembers breaking the ice, with tears coming down har face, thinking, what the hell was she doing here?’
This disconnect also found Maame in her workplace. She felt cramped, with no room to grow and it dawned on her that this wasn’t the life she wanted to live. Maame was done with America.
In December 2012, Maame moved back to Accra to find peace, support and comfort in family. Living with her mom, brother and other family members, Maame truly felt at home and then things started to go south when her family started putting pressure on her to get married and have kids. At one point, the discussions became so stressful that she strictly forbade her mum and family to bring up the marriage issue. The biggest shock she got when she moved back was being treated like an “other” in her own country.
Maame started applying for jobs in the Ghanaian healthcare sector but there was no breakthrough for her until one day, she got a call that would change her life forever.
Nicole Amarteifio, an acquaintance from her high school years at GIS had been working on launching a new television series that was being pitched as the Ghanaian Sex and the City and she reached out to Maame to play one of the female leads. Maame was cast as Zainab, one of the five single, successful ‘repats’ looking for love (and sex) in the Ghanaian capital. Acting was something Maame never saw herself in, but she has bloomed in the path.
‘I’m so lucky to be doing what I love. Acting was never in my creative plans but it has become a deep love and such an amazing outlet and medium for me. Producing is such a hectic and tedious job but there’s nothing that I love more than seeing a project go from an idea to reality.’
Life has gone from heights to heights ever since for Maame. The show has been a huge success and a source of inspiration for a lot of young African women but Maame’s role as a tool change doesn’t stop there, she’s also changing how people see Ghana and working hard at showing the richness and beauty of the Ghanaian culture.
Maame launched Girl Going Places, a new travel show devoted to focusing on all the hidden gems, landmarks, culture and traditions within the continent. Her new goal is to help to change the narrative of a dark continent.
The YouTube travel series produced by and starring the actress herself, provides a platform for some of the most interesting destinations in Ghana as a whole. Girl Going Places will focus on internal tourism, encouraging Africans to travel within their own countries and continent.
Reflecting on Maame’s journey, I realize that, sometimes we need to take difficult decisions to bring us to desirable places. When we find ourselves in a place we do not want to be, we have to make that choice, to change things no matter how hard that choice may be and trust in the process. In the end, everything will fall into place.
© 2017, Ona Akinde. All rights reserved.