The large Pentecostal church in which her mother grew up was overwhelming to Gifty, from the pastor shouting about spiritual warfare to the congregants dancing and “[falling] out in the Spirit.” It wasn’t like Gifty’s American church. Her mother sent her to perform spiritual warfare, but Gifty worried about her ability to do it since her faith was so small. She missed Nana, wishing he was there to experience Ghana with her.
Gifty’s experiences in the Ghanaian church are alienating and strange. This emphasizes the awkward position Gifty occupies: as the child of immigrants, her childhood was different from her American peers’ in many ways. Yet, she doesn’t fit in with the Ghanaian culture of her parents, either. Where church and her faith were once a place of safety and security for Gifty, the differences in the way that faith is practiced, even in the same kind of church (Pentecostal), also point towards a much broader and less literalistic idea of faith that Gifty eventually embraces. If not everyone practices Christianity the same way, then there is room for differences of belief within faith.
One day, Gifty asked Aunt Joyce to take her to the Chin Chin Man. Gifty refused to embrace him and demanded to know if he knew she was in Ghana, and if he knew her mother attempted suicide. He talked about everything and anything else than her questions, and Gifty understood that he would never apologize. On the ride home, Joyce explained that he felt “Ofεre,” unsure of how to say the word in English. Gifty’s mother later translated, telling Gifty her father was ashamed. She didn’t care how he felt, and only wanted to go home.
Gifty’s uncomfortable meeting with the Chin Chin Man just emphasizes her isolation and helps to show why she is so afraid of intimacy in the present. She lost her father long before her brother and her mother, and in her mind, it’s impossible to extricate her father’s sudden abandonment from Nana’s eventual addiction (given how traumatic the loss of his father was for him) and her mother’s depression and suicide attempt. She is unable to forgive her father for the same reason she judges her brother for his addiction and her mother for her depression: as a child, Gifty still places an inordinate amount of faith in her own self-control, and she condemns those whom she sees as weak, including her family members.
The word for the inability to find pleasure in customary activities—the primary symptom of major depression—is “anhedonia.” Gifty wants to understand the causes of this symptom, but she is aware that she only studies one part of the story. On paper, Nana’s anhedonia has so many possible causes: being Black, an immigrant, lower-middle-class, or coming from a single-parent home. It would be hard to prove his anhedonia came from the drug use, or to isolate what caused his drug use.
Anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure, connects Nana and Gifty’s mother. Gifty understands that Nana’s anhedonia contributed to his addiction, perhaps by setting up the circumstances under which the drugs became such a sweet relief. And it’s the primary symptom of her mother’s depression. Now, as an adult, Gifty understands that many complex and interrelated events may have contributed to Nana’s addiction and death, from the abandonment of his father to the trauma of facing racism as he grew up. But even knowing all of this, she still can’t answer the question that she most wants to: why Nana? Yet again, science, faith, and knowledge fail to answer the most important questions.
The question of why people become addicted to drugs is important to most people, who want to believe that if they’re good enough, the bad things Gifty studies won’t happen to them. Even she feels that way sometimes. But no case study can capture the magnificent entirety of Nana, of any person. And when she felt that her brother was a waste, she was seeing just his addiction, rather than the sum of his whole being.
Gifty’s desire to find an answer to the question of “why” parallels the feelings of most people. There is an unspoken belief that if one understands why someone else becomes addicted, they might escape the same fate themselves. As a child, Gifty thought this way, imagining addiction and depression as a shady man trying to tempt people to turn from their paths into the shadows. But now, she understands that it’s impossible to separate the good from the bad in a person. And focusing on the origins of addiction or other types of mental illness takes away from the dignity and wholeness of their victims.