A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 1)

The Onukpa Kobena Eyi Acquah love story is told. And the poetry for Onukpa Kofi Awoonor is…

The love poems for Onukpa Mawuli Adzei (also Adjei) and two or three others abide. And so does that story about Awula-nukpa Star Nyaniba Hammond, the story about how I Never Remember Setting Out as a Writer…

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei OkaiImage may be protected by copyright.

But there is more. There has always been a not-exactly-little more to that story. And this is how I come to talk of a memory, a poem, and a not-so-little more.

Particularly a poem for, about, and singularly inspired by Prof. Atukwei Okai, as he is better known as.

*

When I first heard of the passing of Prof. Atukwei Okai, I was shocked and still reeling from the sadness of the passing of Greats gone ahead – Greats like Prof. Kofi Awoonor, a few years earlier; Kojo Laing, a year or so afterwards; Efo Kodjo Mawugbe and Peggy Oppong (pseudonym for Magaret Sarfo), more years earlier; and Dr. Kobena Eyi Acquah, whose passing was some days, maybe even weeks, before Prof. Atukwei Okai’s.

My earliest memory of Onukpa Atukwei Okai was a meeting that happened during my senior high school years, at a time some of my earliest poetry and short fiction were getting published in Graphic Communications Group’s, The Mirror.

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Photo mine: Some of my earliest publications, in The Mirror. Highlighted parts show my name. Handwritten parts are Madam Star‘s: one, my senior high school address on an envelope; the other,  feedback after her reading one of my published work in the The Mirror  a short story, A Friend in Need.

Around that same time, I became friends with one Daniel Asumadu Ndo, who had first written to me, after seeing one of my work –  A True Home, a poem–    in The Mirror.

Mainly through post-mailed letters from Mawuli School to Mfantsiman Girls Senior High School and back and again, Daniel and I dreamed and prayed, planned and worked, and ultimately, published the first installment of what was meant to be a series of The Mfawuli Mail, a pamphlet of episodic life-in-senior-high-school stories revolving around a set of stock characters.

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Photo mine: My personal copy of The Mfawuli Mail, printed and mailed to me by Daniel. Around the copy are one of many letters and envelopes of some of posted letters from Daniel.

That first installment – copies of which we posted to be placed in the libraries of selected senior high schools  in Ghana – will later also be the only installment.

Because Daniel and I  were more than half-way through our senior high school years.

Because we – especially Daniel – were funding this fine dream ourselves, from our student pocket monies.

Because, and even worse, we lost touch for more than five years after we completed senior high school.

Daniel and I got in touch again after he heard me on radio. I was a featured guest on one of Writers Project of Ghana’s Sunday evening literary radio programme, Writers Project on Citi.

But long before we will be re-connected and while our senior high school years lasted, it was Daniel who first mentioned the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) and Pan-Africa Association of Writers (PAWA) – PAWA House, specifically – to me.

It was Daniel who had encouraged and persisted in making sure I went and inquired at the place, to find out how I could get what he believed would be a big start to my becoming established in this writing thing, something same Daniel was very confident I had a clear, clean knack for.

It was not easy finding the place. PAWA House. Nor was finding my way back home. Not the first time, at least. And I had to use different routes for my latter going-s and returning-s. There not being a clear sign board or anything of the sort about and around the premises on which both the GAW and PAWA offices stood did not help.

I remember standing right behind the back wall of the premises and asking person after passing person, asking people who were confident they knew everywhere in these parts, people who proved to know everywhere but the place I mentioned and claimed was a part of these parts they were sure they knew more than just well. What did help was that I had been told that PAWA House is quite opposite Accra Girls Senior High School from across the main road, so I was sure not to stray past the school, despite all the advice and (mis)directions I received.

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Photo mine: Parts of my GAW membership application, a photocopy.

I don’t remember well how I finally found the place, nor how I found too that the premises’ entrance was not where I had expected to find it – it was not facing the main road.

The first person I saw after going through the gate was an elderly security man.

This kind man would later know so much about me and my going-s and coming-s – which was once or not many times during school vacations – to PAWA House that, he could tell me if the person I had come looking for was around and available. Or not.

Whatever be the case, and being always bent on not wasting my coming-s, I would thank my elderly man friend and then go in, into the reception of the GAW end of the PAWA House offices.

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Photo mine: One of many scribblings of Mr. Ankrah, while our many conversations lasted.

I found a friend in another elderly man I came to know and call Mr. Ankrah. He was an administrator or similar at the GAW end of the offices.

The days I went to PAWA House and I did not (get to) see Onukpa Atukwei Okai – because he was the General Secretary of PAWA; because he had many commitments – Mr. Ankrah always gave me a seat and talked long and full with me, encouraging and educating me, until well into the day, sometimes even dusk.

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Photo mine: A copy of GAW’s commemorative brochure. Kobena Eyi Acquah, the then GAW President, wrote its Introductory Note!

Another person who was of fewer words, who was not as often available to indulge painfully-naïve-and-shy-wannabe-writer-me was Dr. Rex Quartey, the GAW General Secretary at the time.

He was the one to finally receive and file my GAW application form, the same to issue and sign the receipt for the form. Dr. Quartey also gave me a very past – November 1991 – GAW commemorative brochure.

I found about Dr. Quartey’s passing by accident, many years after, long after his burial, such that, it was too late for me to pay any last – I can only hope this suffices – respects to him, anything honourable in memory of him. Dr. Rex Quartey.

About Mr Ankrah again. (Did I say he had my mother’s maiden surname? Well.) He also was the one who told me more about GAW than I could have asked. He had given given me the GAW membership form to fill, and he personally initiated the administrative work after I returned the form to Dr. Quartey.

Mr. Ankrah also told me about Bill Marshall and the approachable brilliance of his novel, The Oyster Man.

It was also Mr Ankrah who told me about Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, and greatly helped in making my meeting with her happen.

But – no – And for reasons I can only guess, even as at today, it was Onukpa Atukwei Okai who first mentioned and advised with certain urgency that I meet Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond.

Forgive me. For the digression, for my mentioning and talking long and large about other people, when it is Onukpa Atukwei Okai I have said to write about and for, when it was Onukpa Atukukwei Okai I mean to ‘remember’…

What I mean to say, to achieve, with this apparent digression is that, that my story about my ‘…never remembering setting out as a writer’, my story about Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond’s far-too-brief yet far-more-generous an influence on my writer-life story.

That story.

None of it would have happened if Onukpa Atukwei Okai had not mentioned me to Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond.

Yes, none of said story would have come to acquire the place and weight in my being a writer, if Onukpa Atukwei Okai had not, at least, initiated what would be my first and only meeting – not letterwith Awula-nukpa Star Nyaniba Hammond.

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Photo mine: The envelope and the second and last page of Madam Star’s first and only letter to me. ”You must always develop your own style“, she says.

And for people who know the beauty-full and meaning-full gravity of that my meeting with Madam Star on writer me, they can, at least begin to imagine the twice urgent and sheer import(ance) of that one deed by Onukpa Atukwei Okai – his mentioning and advising that I meet Madam Star, and who knows? maybe too his making phone calls and arrangements and such to make that meeting happen.

Now, so far, this is the story behind that my Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond story. And even though this story is perhaps too late in coming, maybe too late in getting told, I am grateful that I get to tell it now, that I tell it at all.

And this, all this, is what I choose to remember and to miss Onukpa Atukwei Okai for.

And all this is but one half of this story…

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Onukpa Atukwei Okai performing… – Image may be protected by copyright.

*

Love,

 AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

 Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.

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