Lessons from Essay Lessons.

When the bell ends school’s
petty prisons – rules, reasons –
Love and Life runs out to play…

– Aisha Nelson

The sun finds it fun to generously pour its radiance, through the window, onto a page of my exercise book. Perching at the top corners of the page are the constant Date and Exercise Number. Apart from these, this new page is blank. And I know better than to expect that only these constant-s, without writing the exercise proper, will fetch me a decent grade, any grade. I take much time and care to write the topic of the new exercise. Topic too, I know, still counts for nothing, no grade.

Riza, my friend, has long finished and submitted her work, one of those essays.

I’m forever far from finishing mine. I can’t even bring myself to begin writing. The thought of it:

How I spent my Christmas Holidays”!

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Picture mine: Eclipse, a painting by Kobina Bucknor, at the Ghana Museum of Science and Technology; December 9, 2019

How I wish the sun fills my near-blank page rather – the whole of my exercise book, actually – with Words. With beautiful Words. Beautiful but truthful Words. Words more truthful than they are beautiful. Many such words. Only such words. For I always tell myself not to lie. All my essays, including this one, which I am yet to even write, really need to be short.

This is because all there is to think and write about my recent Christmas holidays can be done in as much as a single lean paragraph. Any addition will be unnecessary, superfluous – a smudge, even, on my integrity. Anything short of or more than the plain truth will be a grave lie. To lie is something I am not to do, to not lie especially because of something as trivial as a grade, a better grade. So I believe.

Meanwhile, the street outside the classroom is bursting with so many stories outshouting each other for attention, shouting to be told, to be written, by anyone who cares to.

Ms *Enam Doe will not be able to mark all the stories if I and every other pupil are to care enough to write a lot less than half of those stories. Yet, she complains my essays are too short. On the previous page of my exercise book is one such exercise. Her red ink’s frozen scream under that last essay eternally reads,

 “This essay is too short, Enam. This must be the last of this kind!”

The last is long past. My turning over a new leaf is not only to write a new essay, but more importantly, to write one of appreciable length – at least, as deemed by my Grade Six Teacher.

“No offending Ms Enam Doe this time”, I mutter to myself.

So I set my **Bic on the first line of the page.

Slowly, I start. I finished my first sentence. But not without the expected drag. Little by teeny little, I write. And write on. One thoughtful word after the other, I filled the page with crisp, warm and fond pictures, moments and memories of my recent Christmas holidays. I was thankful to finally finish.

I shut my eyes for a few seconds. I let myself dream of seeing my new page – my whole book, and even my desk – spilling with the many words I very recently poured…

My essay is set. It sits still, clean and lean on the page. It sits still and still several lines shy and short of half the new page.

And even before Ms Enam Doe’s red ink will add its voice, the blank larger half of the page screams the wretchedness of my mere scratch and funny toil of an essay. The scream rumbles and doubles. The scream fires and crackles sparks and thunders on my poor page. Methinks I even feel my desk quake with all the turmoil.

I watch on, helplessly, as the rumblings scatter my poor essay. The tongues of fires, they hungrily lick my already-lean and now-scattered essay away. Then the rumblings, now full and fat from eating my essay, sport a sly smile, give a guttural belch, wail one long yawn. Stretching its tiny limbs and making to take a nap on my page, the bloated ball of rumblings burst…

The mess from the burst splashes on my sad long face, spills over and into the rest of my book, hangs thick above my desk.  My face falls. My head remains bowed in shame, a shame I can’t readily account for.

Save my face I must. I sit. Upright. Still.

But I don’t write. I can’t bring myself to write. Not anymore. Not yet. Not again. Not for this essay.

I look outside from my desk by the classroom window. That side of the world is bubbling with vast numbers and weights of life-s and promises. The stories on the street are now leaping off everyone and everything. The stories are wandering frantic, peeping here and there, wearing fragile half smiles, prancing down and up everywhere. The stories are tugging along and bumping into everyone and everything and themselves, begging and hoping, insisting and waiting. To be written. Or to be told.

To just put on the temporal…

*

Eager traffic lights and drowsy street lights
blink dawn off their metal-gilded brows.

Towering bill boards and
patches of dew-studded grass glance
beneath and beyond them. With glee.

Low drones of engines from all ends
embrace distant hums of some church organ.

keen conductors
tucked in windows of moving vehicles. 
keener hawkers. 
Outshout, outrun each other.

Breeze heaves past, weaving
through throbbing background and noise.

Wind whistles through
kites tattered and tangled and caught up
tall on soulless poles.

Colour-filled smells of breakfasts linger and vanish
in between the thick and trickle of people and other…

Warm human
bodies and bottles of
chilled water and drinks and such
sweat with heat and cold and both.

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Picture mine: Angles and Gazes and Heights. – A picture of me, somewhere in Accra, Ghana; September 30, 2018.

Time ticks. Time fidgets under blankets of
humid air. Humid air hangs at every end of the street.

A quick push there. A shove.
A crisp pull here.
A crash. And then, a thud.

Skyscrapers stand scattered,
grinning their morning greetings to high clear skies.

Spells of rain showers
soothe and refresh and smooth
aches and wilts and frays.

Groceries
sprout on tables under sheds.

A
shuffle hardens into a walk. A
jog eases into a walk. A
jog grinds into a saunter. A
stop springs into a saunter. A
stop revs into a run. A
shuffle breaks into a run…

Souvenirs
shine anew on shelves in shops.

Honks and horns
screech each
other to hoarse stops.

Sun peeps from behind
billowy clouds sporting white toothless smile.

The street is a pool of people, street is dotted
with soft whirls. The street is awash with
happy hues, street sways to its own music.

Last glimmers of neon lights
fade past early shimmers of glass doors.

*

Good old Life glides past. Everywhere I look, stories abound.

And here I still am, sitting and thinking, labouring and wasting myself away, behind an essay which refuses to be written. I think harder by the seconds.  I search and turn my memory times and over, trying to find if there still is one tiny detail about my Christmas holidays which I may have forgotten.

Then, I can blow up this my new detail with words from that Word Class we learnt in the last Grammar Class: Adjectives, they call it.

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Featured Image: Picture mine: Fishermen at work; a canoe called ‘Good Name‘. somewhere at the seaside between James Town and Ussher For, both Ga Mashi, Accra, Ghana; July 26, 2019.

But then, there is my face to save and my teacher to make happy – and my-self too to make happy, since my teacher and I share a Name. Enam.

And this is how I also will outdo one of my Grande-Mother’s many sayings: I will ‘‘kill three – not just two birds with one stone.’’

Two years later, I’m in a new class in a new school, with a new teacher, having the same lesson – Essay Writing. It is a debate, this time.

I begin with an introduction, as Ms Boakye has taught me, and as I best know how. I begin with an introduction which excellently expressed my side of the motion and fully justified it. I combine truth and length well enough – or so I insisted on believing. That introduction should please any teacher, who should in turn, reward this my rare – if not unique – feat, ever since I began writing essays in school.

But I was to be surprised: I’ve outdone myself and the normal.

My introductory paragraph alone is two lines short of one page. I scan it. I read it. I skim it. I re-read it. I revise it. I proofread it. I review it. And I end up with the same essay and introduction, with same words and word count. For I find every word in there worth choosing, very much worth the inclusion.

And by so doing, I displease another teacher for the opposite of a previous offence: too short essays.

*         

It’s been many years since. If only I had understood those Essays as Compositions, I would not have thought of too many words as Lie-s.

And Oh! How I wish I had realized much earlier that too many words could as well be truth, beautiful truth.

Whether about the use of Adjectives or some other writer-ly style, one thing emerged from this whole experience: Modesty – not of the raw and rigid kind. I prefer to call it, Giftedness, or simply, Gift.

This Giftedness, It has never needed to save its owner’s face. Rather, It feeds her imagination and fills the pouring of her creations, It sharpens her outlook and adds life-colour to the fountain of her imagination.

This Giftedness effortlessly is. It intimately knows.

Through words, this Giftedness unfurls and flares out worlds beyond the mere now, worlds populated with personality, worlds loosened from locale, worlds forever far from the mundane. It is at once an exclusive sanctuary for all things too wondrous for the eloquence of words. It is a universe of possibilities upon infinities.

This Giftedness has a unique gift for everyone who encounters It.

This Giftedness does not kill one, two, three or more birds with one stone. Rather, like birds, It is free to soar the endless realms of the worlds of Words, soar and explore without the fear of room or restraint, without any fear of any kind.

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Flying despite the fear, into the face of the fear, past the fear: A picture of me taken by my nephew, Kofi – at the Ghana Museum of Science and Technology; December 20, 2019.

So I now soar and explore, I write my life-world away.

And while at it, I am all too glad to watch the sun generously pour itself into my bliss…

 

*   *   *

Love,

AishaWrites.

– Wednesday, January 29, 2020: Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.

***

Glossary:

*Enam is an Ewe name that means ‘Gift’ or specifically, ‘God/He gave It to me’.

** Bic is the trademark of a very popular brand of pen in Ghana.

An earlier version of this story was the second  of my and Phillis Wheatley‘s annual Chicken Soup publication.  

 

The Speech That Didn’t Happen. The Win!

Reader Dear,

I thought you might have learnt somewhere, but might still want me too to tell you about the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize and how it was won by a certain Sheilla Nelson. Or an Aisha Nelson.

I am the same, the said Nelson – whether Sheilla or Aisha, whether Aishetu or Aisha. (One day I will talk about my name(s) properly, fully.)

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Picture mine: A copy of the unpublished anthology I submitted for the prize.

Bits and bigger about the biennial prize are known: from the earlier official announcement in 2018, from related social media posts  by various people including my Facebook post days after the awards ceremony, and from a blog post by James Murua.

In a later Facebook post related to a stage adaptation of Osiris Rising, I will mention how the novel’s writer, Onukpa Ayi Kwei Armah, inspired – and more – the titular short story of  my unpublished anthology, Lens and Other Stories

This is the work I submitted for the prize – a soft-bound book. A manuscript.

Perhaps, the only new thing about the 2018 (Fiction) edition of the Prize was that its awards ceremony was grafted into the Academic Directorate of the University of Ghana’s second day of what has come to be called “Vice Chancellor’s Ceremony in Honour of Academic Award Winners” – for the 2017/2018 Academic Year. This awards ceremony is done on two consecutive days, usually a Thursday and Friday, for the Sciences and Humanities respectively. I received the prize on the second day, it being administered by the Department of English, which is a part of the Faculty of Humanities.

All of this arrangement, it was unlike the maiden/2016 (Poetry) edition of the prize, which was held as a separate and full event at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra. This edition was won by one Sarpong Kumankoma (Agyei Sarpong Amos).

The rest of the details of the edition for which I was adjudged winner? Nothing so new. Everything quite personal:

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Picture mine: The brochure for day 1 (Sciences) and day 2 (Humanities) of the awards ceremony.

1.   Like how I had been at The Balme Library and other places on the University of Ghana campus quite more than a few times to put finishing touches on and to print the manuscript – per the submission requirements – and finally, to submit the package at said Department of English.

And how months later, the next year, I got a WhatsApp message one afternoon (when I was still not fully peeled from the hold of a nap) to come pick up a letter and sign my acceptance of the prize and of attending the awards ceremony at the Great Hall of same university.

Dates include July 4 and 17, 2018; and February 22 and March 1, 2019.

2.   How I was joined by my long time and academic friend Agnes Quansah, my friend and writer friend Agnes Gyening, and my past-student-turned-friend Vanessa Aduama, for the awards night.

3.   The surprise but understandable story about how Sheilla Nelson came to be the name on the award certificate, even though I had submitted for the prize as Aisha Nelson.

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Picture mine: The prize certificate given me.

(I have already said to tell the story about my name(s) later, remember?)

4.   How earlier versions of more than half of the 10 short stories in Lens and Other Stories have been variously and previously published and sometimes, re-published here at Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun) .

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Picture mine: The outfit I nearly wore for the awards night.

5.   The funny little story about how I came to decide what to wear for the awards night and the later funnier story about how I put away that beautiful red dress (something decidedly unconventional, stylishly formal, and girlishly diva) and settled on what I ended up wearing (something shyly conventional and formal, something accidentally mature and chic).

How in the end, it all turned out to be a hearty, event-full and love-filled evening which could neither be undone nor even touched by the rains that poured, and by the fact that my three friends were meeting each other for the first time, me being the mutual one…

6.   The speech I had written a day before the awards night, in ready, in case I am asked to give any. Because that should be expected. The poem, I had added to the speech, in case I am asked to do a reading of (some or any of) my writing. Also.

Choosing a poem and not anything prose – prose, which would have been in perfect keeping with the genre of that year’s edition of the prize. Choosing, again, a poem because of its typical brevity, its more organic, self-contained qualities. And choosing the particular poem I chose because I had it written, already, years earlier, in honour of the man in whose honour the prize is.

7.   Both speech and poem.

Because I had no way of knowing the awards ceremony was not going to be what I had it imagined to be, a gathering of people involved in, with interest in the prize – writers and academics and people in the circles of these, the prize runners-up and other participants, the friends and perhaps families and others of all these. Until I arrived. Because I wanted to not have to be under the gaze of lights and eyes twice. And for long. Because I did not want to be taken unawares, unprepared for a speech and such during the fun and buzz and such of the ceremony. A ceremony I had no idea changes had been made to…

8.   Now, said speech:

*    *    *

Speech for Awards Ceremony of the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize (Fiction) – by Aisha Nelson.

I am highly honoured, quietly but very excited to have won this second and fiction edition of the Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize.

Somewhere and sometime in the past, I have told the story of how I never remember setting out as a writer. But here I am now. Again. Much of that story was not about me.  Much of that story is not about me.

And from today, much of that story will not be about only me. I have mentioned with great gratitude and fondness, the late Ms. Wobson, my senior high school English teacher who first saw and said I am a writer one time in class; Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, who also went too early and sadly.

I have written more than a story and a song about and for the gift of fathers and teachers and friends and believers including Dr. Mawuli Adjei, Professor Kofi Anyidoho, Dr. Martin Egblewogbe, Kwabena Agyare Yeboah, Jonathan Bill Doe, Agnes Quansah, Agnes Gyening. And Kojo – because he insisted I mention his name too.

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Picture by Vanessa Aduama: My (other) friends and meAgnes Quansah and her son on the left, and Agnes Gyening on the right.

I can talk forever about the Giver of all good and beauty-full Gifts, Ataa Naa Nyɔŋmɔ.

I can talk long about my late Grandmother, Mary Ansaba Botchway; Mother, Naa Amanuah Ankrah; my late Father, Ali Nelson. And my nephew, Kofi Poku Odum – who nearly joined me here.

 And right now, I want to share a poem, a poem I was to contribute – a few years ago – to an anthology in honour of the man in whose name and legacy we are gathered here, Professor Kofi Awoonor. Onukpa Kofi (Nyidevu) Awoonor.

 

No Praise – for Onukpa Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor.

I

Grand-e-mother said someone’s one can be more
than another’s ten. One Child.
So here, take corn, salt, take
Pepper. Take that which sates and has character.

Where I come from, they say one can be the killer
of cow for feeding the whole town. (Wo)Man.
Oh smile. laugh. even in death (read SLEEP).
Shine. live and sing. now and on. and again.

Where I come from, they say he does
not age (together) with his claws. The Old Leopard.
So here, take dew, wine, take
Water. Take that which fills and extends…

 

II

fate got it
Wrong. And it’s not fate’s first time. It bit. It
chewed. And it will forever be left
With the swallowing, the eating proper.

fate forgot
One time too many that even in death (read SLEEP), some
Leopards, with one stone of a leap, kill that two-bird of
a death, of a cow, with one leap of
A life, of a life that shames both age and grave.

 

III

praise is
ugly in mouths still munching the pay to praise. praise is
sickly when the one it is poured on needs to look askance,
to look behind to see if it is not for another the praise is…

Praise
will not be forced, will not be poured, not be willed.
Praise is comely on Its own self. So here, take no praise.

Be. Take. You.—-Praise. Are. You…

 

Thank you.

*     *    *

Love,

AishaWrites, 
AishaWinsToo.

Tuesday, 11th June 2019;
Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.

 

A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 2)

 

This is the second and concluding Part of this writing. Read the first part.

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

The next and last time I encountered Onukpa Atukwei Okai, it was not at PAWA House.

That next and last time, it was a phone conversation, a conversation which occurred days before my getting into what has always been the very closed undergrad (third year) Introduction to Creative Writing class at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon.

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Foregrounds of the The Balme Library, of the University of Ghana, Legon – Image may be protected by copyright.

Prof. Kofi Anyidoho was to be the lecturer, and he would later be a teacher, and a father, to us his students – and when I am not too shy, he would be a friend too, to me, like any of the rest.

And this was throughout the two years that the full Creative Writing courses ran – that is, throughout the two years the course progressed from Introduction to Creative Writing (year three, first semester) and congealed into simply Creative Writing (year three, second semester) before caking with a frightening but freeing intent into Advanced Creative Writing (final year, year-long).

And this was throughout same two years during which the class size was whittled down from 21 to 15 and then straight to 5 students.

From Twenty-One

With the One sitting odd and decidedly detached from the neatly even Twenty, the One sitting aloof yet playing like It belonged to the defined, recognisable form of the Twenty…

I was that One

And for reasons and circumstances I am – again, even up to this day – not able to fully understand and believe, I was one of that final Five.

I was One. Anyway. Despite. In the end.

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Picture Mine: Personal copies of portfolio submitted for grading at the end of each semester of the entire Creative Writing courses: ENGL 363 – Third Year, First Semester; ENGL 364 – Third Year, Second Semester; ENGL 450 – Year long, Final Year. ENGL 450 portfolio is submitted at the end of both semesters, the final one being the ‘fuller’, final student work.

Somewhere during those two years, Dr. Mawuli Adjei would take the classes for some four or two weeks, while Prof. Anyidoho needed to be away. And this was not necessarily the beginning, but definitely was a reference point for his becoming my former lecturer and an ongoing teacher, a kind father and great friend. (And oh, for a reason I’m yet to know, and perhaps, too shy, as usual, to ask, he calls me Sheilla, not Aisha! But not like I mind. So…) Dr. Mawuli Adjei.

Again, forgive me if I (seem to) have digressed again: I only want to tell this story and tell all of it (in one piece, at one place) and never have to tell (another bit of) it elsewhere, again.

So that phone conversation with Onukpa Atukwei Okai. The point of it all was as urgent and grave as the great good which his bringing of Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond and I together brought to my writer-life.

So somewhere in that very brief phone conversation, there was something Onukpa Atukwei Okai said, something after which our conversation had to die a natural, sudden end.

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Credit: BBC Pidgin// ‘Proverb’ Translation: No matter full a bus gets, nobody sits on the driver’s seat.

Something which sank with indelible impact in me because Onukpa Atukwei had taken the time and care to say it in Ga, the mother-tongue he and I shared.

Something which I would later ponder and wonder long about for days and hours, weeks and close to months and a year.

Something which, in the end, would seep and pour and pool into a poem I would write and include in the portfolio I would submit for grading at the end of the first semester of the entire Creative Writing course.

A poem which, in its own weight and ways, would add to the grades which would keep me in the class throughout those two years, the two years at the end of which only 5 out of the initial jagged-edged number of a 21 – rather than the crisply neat 20 – students remained. Solely by merit, I must mention.

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

And even though I am certain Onukpa Atukwei Okai did not know, and might/would never know about this poem, I do not want to forget to let it be known that long before he passed on, he had lived and will continue to live in a poem he inspired.

A poem he could have as well written and written far better.

A poem he would have all but written if not that it would have been – or at least, have seemed – too novice of him.

A poem he inspired, singularly, all the same.

A poem, I say.

*

The Car 

I have a destination
I have a ticket
the car is full
some said

I have to get there
I have what it takes
the car is full
all chanted

I shall be there
I ought to
the car is full
conductor comes

here I am
out-standing them all
the car came full
and I was the driver

*

Love,

AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

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

*

PS.:

 The Car was one of the poems I read on the weekly radio programme, Writers Project on Citi, on Citi 97.3 FM, on Sunday, 6th May 2012. Before then, I had performed this poem at an open-air theatre event by the Academy of Young Writers – Ghana, at Mensah Sarbah Hall, University of Ghana, Legon

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…

Prof-Atukwei-Okai 5

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…

Prof-Atukwei-Okai 2

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

*

Love,

 AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

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

Falling in Awe of Kobena Eyi Acquah.

 “We have crossed the Red Sea
On a dry land
And have since had a trying time
Making the world believe our tale
But if we did not –
If we did not
How did we arrive here”

– Kobena Eyi Acquah; from Meditation: Atɛntɛbɛn Interlude in Movement Three: The Face of Freedom in Music for a Dream Dance, one of his poetry collections.

— from my Facebook post, dated 15th August, 2017.

*

Today, Facebook shows me this ‘memory‘ to ‘look back on’. And I can’t quite deal with it – the memory, the ‘sharing’ of it, the ‘looking back on’ it. All.

Some days and a year ago, my writer and filmmaker  friend, Kingsley Kojo Antwi, lent me an anthology of poems by Kobena Eyi Acquah. I did not wait, could not wait to read the book and share excerpts of it on Facebook. This ‘memory’ was one such excerpt.

Soon, I was eager and greedy to devour the treats and feasts that I knew poem after poem in the anthology would spread before me. How I knew what I knew? I had one or seven reasons. But not too fast.

Sooner, and not at all surprised, I was falling in love all over again with the effortless mastery and wise grace of Kobena’s works – his poetry, in this case.

And all this is not even where this story begins.

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Dr. Kobena Eyi Acquah, Poet and Lawyer – Image credit

I had first found about Kobena Eyi Acquah in a poem – yes, the import and impact of that poem on me was so strong and huge that it distracts/ed me from remembering its title.  (For the purpose of this writing, I went searching for the title. Borrowed Airs it is.) The poem was featured in An Introduction to Language and the Language of Literature, a supplementary textbook for one of my early undergrad courses. The book was jointly written by three lecturers from the Department of English of the University of Ghana, Legon: Kari Dako, Gervase Angsotinge and Aloysius Denkabe.

Before I graduated, I found the anthology from which that poem had been culled at some obscure place at the then University Bookshop.

I was undone!

The price of the book was friendly and easy on my broke student wallet – yes, I do wallets, sometimes pockets, hardly purses. For I usually find purses too rigid in their fancy ways, simply impractical or just not-kind-of-it for me. But maybe that is just me. Or maybe I don’t even know purses enough.

But I digress.

So I rushed to the counter of the bookshop to pay for the book. While the person at the counter was pulling and punching and pushing things, I prayed. In my head.

I prayed that by some crude and cunning twist in fate or similar, I am not told, suddenly, that the book price was wrong, that the price had long been changed and whoever was to write the new, correct, higher! price must have forgotten…decidedly forgotten to do so.

I was afraid.

My fear died early. The book’s price was exactly what I had seen written somewhere on it. The book, it is a poetry anthology by Kobena Eyi Acquah. It was The Man Who Died.

I would cherish this book with a soft and jealous part of my head and heart. And I will croon myself sweetly tired to anyone who cared to listen about the gem of a poet I had discovered in the person and voice called Kobena Eyi Acquah.

I would later share this my love for Kobena with my good friend, Kwabena Agyare Yeboah. And I would find that Kwabena already knew about Kobena, more than I probably did. With Kobena for a meaningful chunk of inspiration, we talked and dreamed things. Kwabena and I.

And by this time, I had long graduated from the University of Ghana, Legon.

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Fore grounds of the The Balme Library, of the University of Ghana, Legon – Image may be protected by copyright.

Later when I found a poetry anthology by another Great, John Aidoo, a contemporary of Kobena, I jumped at it.

Immediately I got out of the bookshop, I called Kwabena. He knew about John Aidoo. Too. Already. I asked myself this one question one time too many, too many that it is quite the cliché for me and for anyone I know who also knows Kwabena.

The question? ‘What doesn’t Kwabena know?!’

But, again, I digress.

This new book I found, it was also at about the same too-cool-to be-true price, and at the same bookshop – only this time the shop had changed names or something of the sort.

And Kwabena and I, we will talk and dream and promise

All over again.

*

Long before both encounters at same bookshop, and during one of my internships during my undergrad years, I met and became friends with a much older man who said for me to simply call him Ataa. (In keeping with some of the truth in what they say about the world being a small place, I will later find out, long after I graduated from university, and years into my being a teacher a CIE-curriculum college in Accra, that Ataa was an uncle to one of my colleague teachers.)

Ataa, like his name meant, could be my father‘s age.  Or older. Ataa quickly became father and a friend at once. Mine. And he was a regular visitor at the place I was interning, Healthworks Stress Management and Ayurvedic Clinic, which used both traditional Psychology and Ayurveda in its therapies for clients. (I was accepted for the internship because I was studying Psychology – besides English and Sociology – at the time.) Up to now, I don’t know what happened to what I’ve always believed is my quiet, unassuming and introvert self whenever I see Ataa, or rather, whenever Ataa and I see each other: we talk! A lot. A whole wholesome lot. Ataa and I.

We talk. About anything and everything. Anything knowledge and worth knowing. Everything including religion, literature, history, psychology, music, art, politics, culture, medicine, philosophy. Anything Life and Earth and beyond and back and all over again. We talked and talked and beautifully and meaningfully distracted each other – me, from my assigned intern duties; him, from the actual, usual people he came to visit, the permanent staff and the practitoner-owner of the clinic.

During one of those our many rich conversations, I mentioned that Kobena Eyi Acquah poem, Borrowed Airs, to Ataa. I was more caught in my love-s for Kobena and his poem than I was in telling Ataa the title and subject of the poem, in as few words as was sensible. Maybe this was — still is — because (I tell myself) I am awful at memorising things — ‘remembering’, certainly; ‘memorising’, I’d rather not.

Ataa got it. The sense of what I was saying. Ataa got me. Like only he could. And Ataa decided that if I loved the poem and its writer that madly, it was more than just very-likely that he too would love the poem and not just…

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Waakye, a popular rice and beans meal eaten with sauce and stew, gari, (salad) leaves, meat and or fish and egg/s – from Ghana – Image Credit

I was restless looking forward to the next time I was to see Ataa. And this was usually a Friday or Saturday, and not without him coming with a feast in usually two bags.

The feast, usually, was big and generous choice fruits. Fruits or wraps and rolls of cooked food, usually waakye, with all the necessary and optional accompaniments.

All demurely wrapped in the usual leaves.

All edible-y hot in more ways than one.

Yes, Ataa was this generous at heart, generous with his material goods, and from what I have come to know of him, also generous in his life and how he leads and shares it. Ataa was generous and was too busy with his being generous, too busy to see and acknowledge and respond to the Thank-you-s that poured and poured fast on his paths.

But forgive me. I digress, again.

So I brought that textbook containing that Kobena Eyi Acquah poem for Ataa to see for himself. Ataa did read the poem, but his seeing of the same took too long for me to bear.  Don’t misunderstand me: Ataa did not take long with his reading: I was the one who was in too much of quite the senseless hurry to get to talk to him about the poem, to get to talk about it already.

And that day, the day I shared Kobena Eyi Acquah’s Borrowed Airs with Ataa added to it all for me! My undone-ness. My love for Kobena and the beautiful, approachable legend that he was, and continues to be. To me.

That day, Ataa walked me through Kobena’s poem, and by the time Ataa was done, the poem took on layers and levels of  meanings and insights. Even inspiration! The poem acquired peculiar textures of grit upon wit that hitherto, I had not realized – besides, despite my being a student (of English language and literature-s in it).

That day, Ataa and I would not talk about anything else. And for many of the following times we met while my internship at the clinic lasted, we continued to talk about that poem. Or it nicely coloured and fleshed many of my conversations with Ataa. That Kobena Eyi Acquah’s poem. Borrowed Airs, that is.

From The Man Who Died, I will find one other poem: Hello Day. I will later feature this other poem in a series of Essays about Love Poems.

*

Hello Day.

Hello Day was what I was afraid would happen the first day I saw Kobena Eyi Acquah in person. He was in a writer-and-writer conversation with phenomenal Ama Ata Aidoo, during Writers Project of Ghana‘s 2017 Pa Gya! Literary Festival. After this conversation, like everyone else who was willing, I could have made my move.

I could have gone right on and walked up to Kobena Eyi Acquah and said what would have been the beginning of many Hello-s. Hello-s which would, could have thawed and flowed into making me become, possibly, to Kobena, the kind of daughter and friend that I am to Ataa and his kind in my life.

I could have…

…but I was afraid that I would act scattered and funny with my love for Kobena (and his work, more). I was afraid that I would end up embarrassing myself and unfairly, unduly dragging him into the shame that I had carefully nurtured into existence – yes, existence, only that it remained in my imagination. I was afraid that it might all end up sounding and looking artificial – a fan of a writer not merely, politely being the die-hard fan: but fussing and gushing and worse.

I was afraid – or so I convinced myself.

Kobena and Ama at PaGya 2017

One of the pictures I took with my phone: Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo and Prof. Kobena Eyi Acquah in conversation at the 2017 Pa Gya! Literary Festival20th October, 2017.

So I decided to take a picture of Kobena Eyi Acquah and phenomenal Ama Ata Aidoo, while the two were still in said conversation, from far off.

So I scratched solace from my secret, covertly giddy love for Kobena and his work.

I realised I was being inattentive and perhaps, clumsy in the chit-chats around where I was standing and negotiating a good angle and coverage for the picture I was taking.

I noticed my clumsiness climb beyond little. I noticed it thicken.

So after managing a few decent shots, I did not forget to clump shut all kinds of “shutters” about me.

And I was sure to drink in all the experience of my having seen Kobena in person, for the first time, almost a decade after first finding Borrowed Airs in that textbook.

But some Love can be like that.

Some Love can cry and work Itself into a kind of death, and yet, and yet when It gets all that It has been longing and dying for, all on platter after forever a platter and with every necessary accessory, what will this Love do?

It will go cold or comatose or worse at the sudden getting and having of all these Its heart-shredding, soul-gorging desires? It will go mute and numb with the wonder of prayers that get answered with such jarring humour and dramatic flourish; with the fear of how It came to deserve this wondrous giving, with stubborn hesitation of how-in-God’s-universe It could have been worthy of such giving, such generous return of a meager love It even barely gave.

And when this Love, some Love does get over Its mute and numb, It plays to shy or too afraid or too careful or too careful and too afraid and too shy to let the first words gather form in Its mind, put on soul in Its heart, roll down Its tongue, slip out of Its mouth…

Is some Love not like that?

So Hello Day it is. And…

Even if it was because of contrary intents and reasons.

Even if the essence and spirit of it all was definitely, positively higher and nobler, Hello Day happened. I mean, I let Hello Day happen to me, happen to Kobena and I, happen on the day I will later, regretfully learn mattered the most.

So my falling in awe of Kobena and our meeting that never really was.

So my falling in awe of Kobena, and all the rich and full-filling people and places and pasts that this fall touched and blessed my life as a writer and a thinker — a Christian too! – and a human and a live-r of this Life on this Earth.

…all these and such. They happened too quickly and too much with a mind of their own.

*

The Facebook post which is a ‘memory’ today happened a year and a few months ago. The literary festival and the writer-and-writer conversation, the meeting that never really was happened few months after the Facebook post which is a ‘memory’ today.

Hello Day remains…

Today, it occurs to me that I enacted Hello Day that day I first saw Kobena at the festival.

And the story is now told – even if not quite fully:

The other day a bird by the wayside whispered about Kobena’s passing

But I told myself not to mention it because I earnestly wished that what I had heard was not true, or would soon cease to be true. I have not heard anything again. Since that day, I have heard nothing new to confirm or deny the content of the bird’s whisper. Since that day, it’s been all silence.

Maybe the passing of Greats in the literary circles came too fast this year, and news of Kobena’s got lost before it even started on its way. Something like what happened after Kojo Laing‘s, earlier? I don’t know, may never know.

But a bird did tell of Kobena’s passing, of Kobena passing his own Red Sea.

And from the little I know of Red Sea-s and what is beyond them, I say…

…I pray that Kobena lives and continues to shine — in his words, in that thick and lush of voice and character that was, is, and will remain uniquely his and his alone.

Rest well, Onukpa Kobena Eyi Acquah.

Rest in perfection, Onipa Kobena Eyi Acquah.

Kobena and Ama at PaGya 2017.jpg - pix by Nii Ayertey Aryeh

A closer view of Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo and Prof. Kobena Eyi Acquah in conversation at the 2017 Pa Gya! Literary Festival. Picture from Nii Ayertey Aryeh.

*

Love,

AishaWrites; AishaRemembers; AishaLoves.

Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana:

Eve of, to dawn of Wednesday, 15th August, 2018.

*  *

Glossary:

Onipa is Akan for ‘Human Being’,  and in this context – not just in the literal sense of the word, but more importantly – the essence, the true, original capacity of a human (being) to be good and full(y human).

Onukpa is Ga for ‘Elder(y)’,  and in extension, a term of deferment to a person older in more respects age (alone).

*   *   *

P.S.:

Featured Image/ Masthead (mine): A close shot of one of many ingeniously crafted art pieces at and around the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana. Circa: July 2017

– An earlier version of this writing appeared on my Facebook page.

– Find a bio of Kobena Eyi Acquah on Writers Project of Ghana‘s website.

 

 

Towards ‘Spectacles. Speculations…’, an exhibition curated by Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh

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Image credit: Spectacles. speculations…, the exhibition curated by Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh.

I have almost always known that I love words – their tastes, textures and layers, their shades, cracks and creases, their shapes, turns and twirls. Words and the cadence of their silences, the reach of their worlds, and the crust of their characters. Words, and words in particular. In whatever language I know them, whether in bits or chunks or other. Words.

I love words and I like to believe that they too love me, and perhaps, better than I do them.

Ga and English remain the dominant languages, the words of which yield themselves easily to the Writer and Teacher in me. Or so I think. Until one crisp *afternoon in December last year.

Until a discovery happened:

I had to translate two of my own! poems. From English to Ga. And I found struggle.

Now, Ga is my first language, my L1 and mother tongue. In its many dialects or varieties, Ga is mainly spoken by the people of mid-southern and coastal Ghana, from the people of Ga Mashi to Osu, Teshie, Labadi and Nungua and beyond.

English is the language in which I wrote, and you Reader Dear, now reads this post. And the irony of it all is a part of the said discovery.

See, I like to think I know Ga a lot, a lot more than merely being able to speak and read and write it.

First, Ga was one of ten examined subjects at the end of my junior high school years. And maybe I would have continued to study Ga, if not that my senior high school was outside Ga Mashi and Accra, and so I had to choose between Fante and French. Even though Ga and Fante were both Ghanaian, I had to settle for French because it was more familiar – as at then – than Fante, the dominant language of the Central Region of Ghana. At least I had heard and studied a little French much earlier: in primary school. At the time I was to start senior high school though, Ga remained not a option.

Then during my gap year after senior high school, I taught Ga in an private school somewhere in same Accra. I had my tongue and my grade in Ga from my junior high school certificate to prove my proficiency in the language, enough proficiency to teach it. My my C.V. and senior high school certificate proved other things, other thing(s) my then employers could have been looking for.

So to a little more than just a large-extent, I can say I know Ga.

If I may say same about English, it may be because I studied it all my life in school, because I studied literature-s in English at senior high school and for my first university degree. If I can say same about English, it will probably be because I speak it more than, and more often than I do any other language – including Ga – especially when I am not home. If I should say same about English, it is because I teach the language itself, and teach literature-s in it too. What more, I have read and written so much more in English than I ever have in Ga.

And that is how come this afternoon in December last year became the day I discovered I don’t know Ga as well as I had always thought I knew.

I had received an invitation for some of my work to be featured in an **exhibition (opens 8th February, closes 10th March, 2018) curated by  Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh, a friend in my circle of creatives.

Maybe it’s because I originally did the thinking, crafting and the writing of the poems in English. And if what Robert Frost once said about poetry being that which is ‘…lost in translation.’ is anything to go by, then I should not be surprised, I should not feel hurt…

But I was hurt.

It hurt to think that maybe, just maybe, I think in English more than, and more often than I do in Ga.

It hurt me.

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Image credit: Spectacles. speculations…, the exhibition curated by Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh.

I struggled to do the translation, word after thought, thought for word, such after similar.

Having fought my way through this translation – with echoes of Grande-mother‘s Ga Bible, an eternal playlist of Wulomei and a saviour Ga-English dictionary edited by Mary E. Kropp Dakubu – I couldn’t imagine beginning to translate some of my other written work. Like Lens, my newest written short story. And Without Leash, a not-as-new poem.

Before I even got thrashed by the differences in the two languages’ syntax and the rigid-ties of trope and context and worldview et al, their diction alone had me confounded like scattered. Like. Think of how you would translate words like lithe, fray, literaturefurrow, lullaby, fame – not as in name, nor reputation – in Ga, or in what you consider your mother tongue.

For one thing, I am yet to find what other different words there are for smile and like in Ga. For it seems Ga does not make distinction between these two words – there may be others – and their synonyms of a thicker hue: laugh and love, respectively. And there may may be some English words which in a similar situation, given Ga…

I finished the translation – the initial draft, at least. I will later do two or little revisions. But that first draft, I liked – no, I loved – it like nothing like it. And more so, because I was able to retain – and even add to – the poetic qualities of said poems.

And for this, I am very grateful and quite proud of myself.

But despite this success and the consolation which Frost’s words should be, the hurt abides.

Because of:

The stark possibility that my linguistic intellect – if there’s such a thing – could be another hijacked one.

The thought that the essence of my language sense is less than whole – whole as in both full and pure.

The possibility that the parts of my mind and being which are touched and kept by both tongues‘ mights and realms and moulds and wonders are nothing but hacked. Hijacked and hacked. Atogether colonised.

Yes, nothing but fragmented and diluted and rid of freedom. This my being, mind and sense, my intellect.

And this hurts and hurts hard.

Or maybe, just maybe, I think too much.

Specs and Specs Promo and Artists.jpg

Image credit: Spectacles. speculations…, the exhibition curated by Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh.

Love,

AishaThinks.

Friday, 1st December, 2017.

North Kaneshie, Accra.

*      *      *

P.S.:

* An earlier version of this thought piece first appeared as a status update on my Facebook account.

** Find more about Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh here and about the exhibition, Spectacles. Speculations…, here. Learn more about the exhibition from the Facebook page, Press ReleaseCuratorial Statement and Profiles of Participating Artists.

 

Yesterday. Today. One Day.

I

I am done with them – at least, enough to last for anything between one day and two weeks. Them. The chores that life hands one before they can even begin to live it. Chores and some. Generally called Cleaning.

I am reading, thinking through Philip Larkin’s ‘Born Yesterday‘, a poem, I recently discovered while being Teacher.

My eyes are fixed on books and pamphlets and the like, all waiting to be read: poems and short stories, bits and chunks of such and more, all waiting to be completed, waiting to be revised, edited or simply, to be read. By me. Somewhere in the pile are real book marks and others improvised from leaflets with messages long dead, strips of ribbons which have long served their initial purposes, paper labels from products long consumed or used and gone for good.

A little above the books and the rest and on a soft blue painted wall, there are a few tabs of random reminders – to do-s; a sketch of a long, flowing colourful dress jointly doodled and coloured by  ** my nephew and littlest sister. Somewhere on the same wall, a timetable, a teaching schedule, is pasted. Beside this and on a bigger paper, I have written, in lead and ink and pink colour pencil, a quotation attributed to one of the Wesley brothers

“If God bids me fly,
I will trust Him
for the wings…”

I briefly remember how I had loved and thought hard and deep about the quotation for so many times that, I came to make it personal or perhaps, intensify the faith, the spirit of it all, by telling myself that:

“If God bids me fly,
I will fly already,
trusting that He already
has given me the wings, and all there is
left for – Him and – me to do is
for me to take that first
step into faith,
into flight…”

Beside the sketch is a fancy wooden crucifix hanging on a sheer lace ribbon. The wooden crucifix has a flowery dial at its centre. The dial, on it is inscribed both the verse and quotation. Joshua chapter 1, verse 9.  Wood, lace, dial and all, was one of a year-or-so old gift from my students – a class.

Meanwhile, a fridge hums away in the nearest room and from the backyard, a nest of birds take turns scattering crisp dry fallen leaves and chirping all the life out of their little frail lungs .

Some background this is!

From outside, a distant grooving of Kwesi Pee‘s Menko aa – not that I would have minded or even realised it if it was rather his Mehia Ͻdɔ– riddles its way into my ears and being. From the same outside but much closer by, Grand-e-Mother’s incessant pet talks weave in and out of fragments of thoughts and smiles and memories and reflections and dreams. Introspection.

Some moment to be alive this is!

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Picture mine: My nephew, Kofi Poku, and my youngest sister, Naa Borley. Circa 2015.

 

II

– the Mary’s Villa, Palladium, the St. Mary’s Anglican Church: Ga Mashi, Accra.

I saw Gratitude today.
I saw Gratitude
in person: 
the face of the grandchild of one of my Grand-e-Mother’s paternal nieces. This niece was as old as my mother’s oldest sister. This niece, this woman, used to cook and sell the sweetest rice and fish or beef or chicken stew.

And she believed I carried luck, that I was the only and closest lucky one she knew. So everyday, early in the mornings before I went to school, she called me, placed her own money and a plate in my hand, then she would dish some rice and stew into the plate after I hand plate and money to her. I have forgotten what happened to the food – whether she took it back or she let me take and eat it. And I do not remember eating rice – her rice – every morning, everyday.

But I remember, with the vividness of that day Grand-e-Mother first took me to school, how this niece, this woman waxed confident that her food will sell and sell fast. Because she tricked Luck. Because the first person to buy from her is full of luck, is Luck-on-legs, Luck-in-person.

This was more than a decade ago, when I was in primary school.

Today, this woman’s granddaughter, who should be my younger sister’s age, is all grown up and a woman and a mother. I tried, but I saw only bits and smudges of my old knowledge of her looks. This granddaughter. She sits behind another, her sister, who stands behind basins and trays of steamed-and-fried pork, selling to a teeming crowd…

I asked myself when and how time slipped past before anyone could stop it and ask it how one can retain the juice of things and places and peoples long gone, ask it to wake sweet sleeping and dead memories, stay time and ask it what one must do to get the best and most of its milk, ask time to play back the big wonders and petty cares of being a child and just that.

 

in a place:

the royal palm tree which stands in the middle of pavement blocks large and flat, and of a make ancient and fond than any I see around nowadays. This tree, it towers  above the story building in front of which it stands. It must be more than twice the height of the story building. And under the tree’s shade and in the the aura of both building and tree, we children play and play our fill until we fall tired or asleep or wounded.

Yes, wounded.

But never because of a branch or pod or any such thing falling from the crown and  yawning height of that royal palm tree, to hit anyone – not a toddler or an adult, nor the revered catechist married to the priestess at the Nai shrine, not the famous thief and not the notorious womanizer, nor the fool who everyone has come to know and pity and tolerate. Not a soul. Not a ghost, even.

For whether in the violence of harmattan or in the heat of a storm or in the modesty of everyday-ness, that royal palm tree is always compassionate and careful.

Just like a mother.

People say it is a mother. Actually. So that every time anything dry and hard and heavy fell from it, it touched and scratched ground and ground alone.

In fact, no one ever saw anything fall from the tree. We wake up the morning after or we return from school or cinema, from market or work, or from dance or travel to see the fallen debris. And no one, not even the elders and seers among us know or remember or can guess who planted it, when it was planted. And truly, this is no normal, usual way for a tree to behave, no way for a mere tree to have such a history.

This was more than a decade ago, when I was a child.

Today, a wall has been erected around the tree. That royal palm tree’s wall has the signatures of a shrine: the words written on it, the small door cut into the concrete wall, a white calico curtain flapping in the dusk and breeze.

Today, that royal palm tree is deemed deity…

And that is how I  saw Gratitude today.

I saw Gratitude today and now I know I will

dream and write and think and teach.

And of course, give thanks.

IMG_20150313_084048

My eldest sister, my uncle and myself, in front of the John Wesley Methodist Church, near Palladium, Accra Central, shortly before Grand-e-Mother’s funeral service. Circa 2014.

III

I just finished watching a movie I never knew I had on my notebook, a movie I know will be one of very few eternal favourites. Mine.
The movie is an adaptation of a novel – of the same title – by David Nicholls, who is also the writer of the its screenplay. One Day.

What I gleaned from it?

That Love need not wait until it is (almost) too late. It need not be stifled and suffocated until it (necessarily) ends up short-lived.

‘Life is short,’ they say.
I say, ‘The same need not be said of Love.’

And that the really, truly beauty-full, wonder-full, meaning-full and FULL-filling things about and in this life cost NOTHING at all. Nothing but a free spirit, big heart, open arms, mad hope, purposeful work, and oh madder passion – plenty of the passion bit.

Simply, live. Be. Thrive, grow.

Don’t cheat yourself out of life on this side of eternity by just going through the motions, by just surviving, just existing.

Don’t forget, don’t be too busy to

 

dance in the rain;
lick the soup that strayed, dripped from hand to elbow;
smile because of nothing;
get the best of what good and free things laughter offers;
gape at the smudge of orange – or some other odd – hue on the horizon, at dusk;
take the picture of a picture;

let the child in you run wide and free, seeing the petty and good,
the fun and sad, the new-s and down-s of this thing called life;
watch the ant bite at the water which it can as well get drowned in;
join the children play in the sun, the mud, inside their world;
chat with and be real friends with the elderly and young, with the grand-e and little alike;
love and embrace company and soul-itude like there’s no difference, like
there’s only one of them at a time, at every and each moment;

pour your heart out in hymns and songs, stories and hums, like you never had a care
in this world, like you actually don’t care;
know the solid soft of corn, the touch and truth of salt, the character of pepper, the
integrity that is only fish’s, the easy sooth of that which is nature and sweet;
be content to read while you wait for the bus, while the
bucket, the bathtub fills and gets full;
serve others, especially those who may not be able to afford the chance
and time to sing you their gratitude;

take time to laugh hard at your own self…

Surely, there must be more to being alive than the beating of heart, the running up and down of blood and the coming in and going out of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide…

And while you are at the living, get busy loving…

L.        O.        V.       E.-ing

A and B

Myself and my youngest sister, Naa Borley. Circa 2013. Picture mine.

*

Love,

AishaThinks.

– Kumasi, 23-July-2017 ; North Kaneshie, 4-Jan-2018.

 
*    *    *
**Featured image: my nephew, Kofi Poku and my youngest sister, Naa Borley. Circa 2015. Picture mine.
The original versions of the three pieces first appeared on my Facebook account on 24 July 2014 12 March 2017 and 20 October 2014 respectively. 

 

Love in Four Persons, Four A-s.

The Love that is Called Mother, Amanuah.
I
Which Mother sends one daughter
a (swim suit kind of) bra,
three strings of waist beads,
a big bottle of corn drink and
generous pounds of salted beef?
Mine does. Naa Amanuah Ankrah is her name.

 

Many a time, it is the thought, it is the state of heart that

matters most, and not the matter…

This too is a kind of L.O.V.E. And I am my Mother’s daughter.

– Saturday, 13 June 2015. 

II 

People say we look
alike. Right now, like
many times, I am trying to find, to understand
what makes this Woman so full and spilling
with giving love, with simple laughter,
with unpretentious dance – a zest, an allure
that is infectious and unfading.

I am Naa AMANUAH‘s daughter. Too.

 

Sunday, 27 November 2016 

 

amanuah

Picture (of a picture) of Mother. Circa 1993.  

 

*

 

A Love Like This

…and I saw Love today. It has
the texture of a father, the taste of a friend,
the strangeness of finding it or of it finding
you in the places you never thought to look, in
the people you never thought could care.

I saw Love today and I am still reeling
from the wonder of not knowing
how to accept it without apologizing
for it, reeling with the shock of not dying
with the shock of it all.

I saw Love today and I want to book-
-mark this day like the sheets of papers I once
said life and days are, and I want to ear-
-mark this day as the day that the fullness of the
Love that you are and you showed
me dawned on me, fell on me

with an immensity that
blesses and lifts, that builds and firms – all at
once. And before that time is come when the
eagle will not need height nor the
keenness of vision to hunt, I will be
forever grateful, and I will write…

Thank you for the gift of you. And whether I am
Aisha
or I remain (your)
Sheilla,
Thank you. Thank you,
I say.

 

dr mawuli adzei

Photo Credit: Dr. Mawuli ADJEI. 

 

*

The Big Loves in the Little Things, in the Not-Actually-Little Things…

They used to called me a crier.

I don’t know if they still will, would or do.

But I do know it was cleansing, healing, and refreshing the first and only time in my life when someone understood me enough to not only listen, but to cry with me.

Don’t they say when one cries, the world only watches on, watches one cry alone?

Don’t they say men don’t cry – not for the seeing of women, any human?

Don’t they say when one cries, the world looks away, lets one cry alone?

Don’t they say men shouldn’t cry – not for anything, not for any reason?

I have not stopped shedding quiet tears in memory of you, and of your passing.

And you still remain the finest Gentle-Man I have ever known. Let them say their worst, I still have you at heart.

And it is because of the seemingly little, the apparently insignificant ways you touched my life, the ways you showed that you believe in me. It is because of these same little things that you are irreplaceable. Rest in Bliss.

 

Sunday, 16 June 2013 

 

II

Tomorrow will be six years since Ali left. If he were here, the day after tomorrow will be LOVElier. And more. The day after tomorrow, I graduate…

We would have laughed about everything. And nothing. Too. We would have been free to be both children and adults, in public.The lines between who I am to him and who he is to me would have blurred and then brightened into LOVE unrestrained and unashamed.

As for age, it would have meant something much less than even a number.

He called me ‘Ishe’. He was the only who called me that. Any other person who used that name easily came across as a desperate copycat and sometimes, as a trying too hard to please me or to get my solemn attention or as having a not-so-sincere motive for resorting to that name in the first place.

When I am too ‘shy’ to call him ‘Bro Ali‘, I called him with my eyes and he always ‘heard’ me call him before the two syllables in his name escaped my lips. It was instinctive: my calling him and his response, his urgent, undivided attention to whatever it was I wanted to say – however childish, curious, silly or very like his Ishe.

No. He was no brother, but he was that and so much more. And no, I have no brother, but for my half-brother, Azuma Nelson, but ALI was more than just enough…

Tomorrow will be six years since ALI left, and if he were still here, it couldn’t have hurt for life to have more hold, more gait, than it does now.
This too is L.O.V.E, of a rare, irreplaceable kind.

And this L.O.V.E. is all the more special because it transcends words, time, space and the material…

Tomorrow will be six years since ALI  left, and I remain my Father’s daughter.

– Friday, 26 June 2015.

 

ISHE 3

Picture mine: February 2017 – At work, in a sweater Father gave me, a sweater I had on the whole day, for reasons beyond cold weather.

*

for A
…With My All.

my flesh aches and faints for
your touch – no, not
your touch – your very
presence or the essence of it or a
token of it, at least.

with a will of its own, my mind
perpetually, steadily
threatens to burst at its seams:
wondering – swelling high and wide with rapturous awe-s of
you;
wandering – whirling free and full within the enthralling aura that is
you…

my all and I
pine and yearn
adore, dwell
crave and groan
with doubly fond thoughts and more…of you –
without a care for the world
without any care in the world

without a care for me-self.

without ready reasons,
my soul shifts and skips
at mere glimpses
of
what beauty-full worlds
of
boundless bliss and primal joys and raw delights (that are)
lying in wait for the moment (that)
You and I
will be trans-FORM-ed,
and are transcendED by

sweet sweet WE.

with
a sway of its own,
my spirit seeks and searches
hard after yours.

my being
desires and is desperate
to do you
only
good
only

If this is
not love,
what then could
it be? If this be short
of love,
what else ought
it be?

– Saturday, 20 September 2014.

 

IMAG0043

A for Aisha. Picture mine: July 2015, Coconut Grove Beach Resort, Elmina, Ghana.

 

*   *   *

 

Love,

AishaThinks.

23-July-2017; Kumasi.

Change and Moving Forward; 2008 and Now?

A few things to note, especially for the non-Ghanaian reader:

political-parties

The most popular political parties in Ghana are two, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). With red, white, black and green as its party colours, the NDC’s logo is an umbrella with the head of what looks like an eagle as its pointed top end. NPP has blue and also, read and white as party colours, and an elephant for a logo.

Another party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), has a cock as its logo.

Photo Credit
ballot-2008

Towards the 2008 elections, NDC’s mantra was ‘let us change or we are changing and that of the NPP was ‘let us go/move forward or we are moving/ going forward. Besides this, ‘I believe in Ghana’ is associated with the NPP, because Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo, the then flag-bearer of the party ‘ued’ it a lot in speeches. With J. A. Kufuor having served the maximum two four-year terms as president, per the constitution, the current President, Nana Addo was the NPP’s chosen flag-bearer, in Kufuor’s stead. Previously, in 2000, Flt Lt J. J. Rawlings, ((arguably (a)) founder of the NDC, had also completed his constitutional two four-year terms. The immediate former President before Kufuor’s final tenure had been Rawlings.

Photo credit

The late Prof. J. E. Atta Mills, the then flag-bearer and later, the winner of the 2008 elections, had been a Vice President of Rawlings. Recent former President, J. D. Mahama, had been slated to be Mills’ vice president.Around 2008, and with Kufuor as president, Ghana’s currency, the Cedis, was re-denominated and re-named Ghana Cedis. The new coins and notes were nicknamed Kufuor coins, and Kufuor Cedis – or even Kufuor Dollar – respectively.

22222.jpg     100p-coin

Bank Note: Photo Credit

Coin: Photo Credit

*            *            *

10-08-04-ghana-kayayo-14811.jpg

There were more than two political parties in Ghana at the time, but the whole country was split into two, mainly, long before and after the elections. With craned neck locked under a load, the sweating kayayoo (somewhere in the country’s capital) had to wade her way through people who were either moving forward or changing.

The rickety old man in some village (which Google Maps has no clue of) was sure that his decrepit transistor radio was changing because its screeches and hitches from political arguments were moving forward.

Photo Credit

The Ghanaian was forced to decide, to either be here or there. And whether it was sad or true or both,all those who chose the apparently non-existent middle ground had to always have ready reasons why they have chosen to make ‘Walking Jokes’of themselves. As much as these Jokers were eligible voters, their number was not very significant.

 

There will also always be the famous, fishy Floating Voters. These are never decided about whether it is there they are or if it is here they will rather be, and then hopefully, settle in their choice. Maybe the Floaters were confused, but certainly, they held more promise for adding to the numbers of either side, unlike the annoying, wasteful Jokers. For the Floaters, it seemed, only needed a little convincing or shoving, whereas the Jokers were so depressingly clueless that they did not even realize so, and therefore, could hardly be helped. Not by even God Himself. Perhaps.

Photo Credit

npp.jpg

So it happened that party people variously put their lines and acts together and performed better than could have been spelt out in an actual script – if any at all. They were so great at the theatric(k)s of politicking that it all was near second nature to them. This party people, they upped the noise from their end of the world at every opportunity, on every wave and space on every medium, through every fair or not-so-foul means. Some party people took all these too personal and even, as full-time jobs –actually, life-time jobs,  for some more others.

Altogether, their zeal was unmatched, not even by the presidential and parliamentary candidates themselves, the ones who needed the votes as if they could or would die or kill – in the real and in no-so-literal sense of things.

In the bid to woo (or if you will, win) all the Floaters and possibly, some Jokers too, party billboards and paraphernalia followed Ghanaians into their very living rooms. A Ghanaian could not have a little entertainment on TV without being jolted with well-meant chunks of advice. Suddenly, the usual loud talk-upon-speech and actively-doing-nothing of a politics changed into the clanging of propaganda and trumpeting of pledges-upon-promises.

wolf.jpg

All the while, the media let itself get flooded with the droning wail of everyone but one’s own self  beseeching, begging everyone  else to either help push the elephant back to the forest where it belonged or beware the sheep engendered by the fox. As the drama moved forward, towards its climax, the day for the presidential elections, the more taut and tense things and tides turned.

Photo Credit

And if you are Ghanaian and are still not lucky enough, you will see anyone from a worried orphan who just completed junior high school and a tenant with rent issues; through a farmer who lost his backyard farm to rats and an unemployed university graduate; to your neighbour! who suddenly lost job and all but his name, the last time power decided to change political hands. Again, there will almost always be the latest person who fell out of a party because s/he got fed up (of course, you are free to read fed up as simply fired) and has now vowed to only go forward, by joining an-other party, the one party which hitherto, s/he had been too blind or brainwashed or bewitched or all to have known as the only, true, clean party.

But you cannot have run out of all luck until you see someone who could have been your pastor, mentor, chief – or is it king? – a respected academician, statesman or you-know-what-I-mean on the TV, explicitly telling you where to stamp your thumb, come that day.

thumbprint.jpgAnd per one thread of the freely flying chunks of advice, the recommended presidential candidate is God’s-own-chosen-one-cum-the-king-of-peace.

Not heeding this strain of advice is tantamount to fighting God, His Person, will and all, and worst of all,to trapping oneself in an eternal hell of hardships of all shades and weights.

  Photo Credit

Per the other thread, you are admonished to vote for the presidential candidate who was said to be God-sent, the long-awaited messiah, a man who was and is his own man. On refusing this other advice, one is told to then prepare to live through the mediocre, (a)pathetic leadership of the acclaimed king-of-peace, who would only end up as a puppet for the soon-to-exit-the-stage guy, the same guy who, obviously will, run the show from behind the curtains, well after the elections.

The die-or-do nature of this dilemma often forced me to pause and ask myself:

Can making a decision between ONLY two alternatives be any harder

if one is to also choose between God’s chosen one and God’s sent one?

What is the difference between being God’s chosen one and sent one? Anyway?

The more I asked, the more questions poured in:

 Can even God Himself be blamed if He finds it hard

to decide between such alternatives?

For His name has now, suddenly, become that ready, easy label

that adds the final flourish for every truth and lie and everything in between

that is produced and packaged for popular appeal and mass consumption.

Come on…can this same God be blamed

that He is too merciful- maybe, lenient to a fault- for allowing folks

who hitherto, have never been his ‘friends’ to go bandying and attaching

His Name to everything and everyone they needed to promote- to the people,

just to gain power?

And my answer, in keeping with what the typical Ghanaian is notoriously known for, was another question and some:

When will all this change stop? When will we, as a nation, go forward see progress?

The non-partisan citizens who took care to avoid all the noise would have their children return from school amused, jumping, singing, ‘Atta Mills and John Mahama…NDC o-o-h deendei…’ And just when this folk begin wondering what it was that their children were learning in school these days (whether from teachers or other children), the neighbours’ children would start chanting and dancing in return, ‘Na-na- na Nana e-e-e-i, ɔyɛ winner…’

Add this to the fact that these decidedly stone age kind of citizens soon found that even with their newly (read suddenly) being very, and sometimes ,overly particular about the colour of clothes they chose to wear to work and ‘play’, they are inevitably caught up in the craze of the new age, the not-exactly-few days to the elections proper. They cannot be faulted. They cannot be too careful. For it is in such times that wearing anything with white or red anywhere is safe until any hue of blue or green and black so much as peeps from elsewhere among the clothes on your body.

LABEL.jpgYour name, status, reputation and some, can, within the click of a tongue, be beaten down into the typical three-letter abbreviation of a political party’s name.

Say, NCP. You become, are judged and are labeled, you are related to,suddenly, as a party, as here or there.

You cease to be another citizen, a person, even. Just like that.

Photo Credit

All this while, the market mummies continued to bring in and smear foodstuffs at every foot space at the Agbogboloshie market. The Makola women opened their fat stores. You could still buy anything from pen and machete to pawpaw and insecticide in traffic. The kenkey and kelewele sellers were the stubborn ones: at night, they remained planted by the roadsides, with their signature kerosene or rechargeable lamps, waiting for you to do the moving, towards them. At day times, nothing changed: hawking and shouting their services or job-titles, the wɔma doctor, shoeshine and adieyie, were always a return shout away.

Above all else, the sun continued to rise from the east. And the cock crowed.

It is when you board trɔtrɔ and are quick and eager to argue with the mate over the correct fares and changes (pun not intended, cannot be helped), it is only when you surprise yourself by bargaining over a packet of matches and one of your Kufuor coins stealthily falls off you and evaporates, that the decision to change or move forward stares hard at you, squarely in the face.And it is when you are jolted into the realization that common koobi and salt and kontomire have long moved on ceased from being the timelessly cheapest of all cheap food items, that you finally catch on to the changing and moving forward reality.

As if all this was not stir enough, some more people joined sides, other public figures who were not supposed to – or at least, not exactly expected to – openly take sides, but did, damning the consequences. Maybe, they forgot that although they had the right to do so, Ama Ghana was still nursing Democracy, her banomaWhile some popular musicians also took sides, individual and grouped others made it up by flooding every available space on the airwaves with peace songs. As if.

All this while, Ama Ghana was at her somewhere, standing, akimbo, discerningly watching some and all, peace songs and all. She kept smiling, saying to herself, ‘The thought of war!’

War.

The closest thing like that had happened up north at Bawku, and people had their own versions and opinions about that. Everything died down sooner than it was feared. Random others also happened, but they only simmered, really, not really boiling past lid and toppling peace pot. Sometimes, one could not tell if some of these random ones had anything to with the upcoming elections proper or if they were little jokes which never remained that cute.

kanta.png Like this story of this young man who went seesawing on a motorbike and shouting ‘Yɛ kɔ y’enim’, around the Rawlings Park at Accra?Oh, he was lynched like a thief would have been, for outstepping his boundaries, Kantamanto, with his unwanted opinion in the air.

At the mere sound of the place’s name, any sensible person who is on the ‘We are going forward’ side of things, and happens to have any business to do around Rawlings Park, knows to nicely tuck his/her opinion away.

Kantamanto: Photo Credit

In less than thirty minutes after the lynching, the story continued,all manner of business in Accra’s biggest inner-city business centre swiftly moved forward, smoothly,as always. Nothing changed.

Finally, 7th December, 2008, came and left. Like any other day? Almost.

I sat in a trɔtrɔ bound to Achimota on the 8th of December 2008. There was heated talk, based on the ballots counted so far, about who seemed to be winning the elections. I was busily smiling at the thinking patterns of some of the passengers on board. And there was this lady sitting right beside me. She was too quiet to be tickled by all the insinuation and insult-laced words flying in the already crammed oven of a vehicle.Once in a while, the driver called for silence – so that he could concentrate on his driving?The more the driver called, the more petrol the mate poured to fuel the raging argument.

We were all therefore surprised that this quiet lady was the one to end it all, to the driver’s delight. All she said was ‘Naa Nana. Naa Shock!’, to wit, in Ga, ‘Behold Nana. Behold shock!’ A man who seemed infuriated, not just at the abrupt end of the argument, but more at the (pain of) lady’s comment unintentionally stepped on the lady’s toes while he was alighting at his destination.

station.jpg I could imagine how this man would further vent his hurt self on his wife at home. His wife would pass the venom on to the house help, and the house help, to the child. The child,to the dog.

And with the dog, most likely, being the least in the hierarchy of things, and especially being an underdog, Ama Ghana can still, always, afford peace, intact and resounding.

After all, the worst (under)dogs can do is to sulk and whine whilst licking their wounds and sniffing dust.

Station: Photo Credit

My younger sister came back from school to tell of the riots at Radio Gold, in Accra. A day after the run-off of the elections, an acute curfew was reported at the Accra Tema Station. And some other parts of the country. I did not know what to think, but I believed war was just not part of Ama Ghana’s nature. Yes, I believed in her that much. And so did her premier university, the University of Ghana, Legon.

ug.jpg

Photo Credit

No examination was scheduled for the 7th of December, 2008. A day was allowed before and after that day to enable students and other stakeholders to go exercise their franchise at their respective polling stations across my Ama Ghana. After the day after, the university’s semester examinations were expected to move forward in full force, unless of course, a student wanted the Academic Affairs Directorate to have a change of mind about his/her pending degree.

Perhaps, those of us who were gullible enough to be that positive were also discerning enough to have caught the revelation of the political in-equation going on at the time. By factoring our attitude, positive into the equation there was:

              (Positive) change = moving forward ≠ goingback

And upon this, I had a vision in which I saw Egya Nkrumah telling Ama Ghana that he had been right after all to have said, ‘Forward ever, backwards never.’Ama barely looked Egya’s way. She continued teaching her children the chorus of a new song she had just taught them:

nkrumah forward.jpg Photo Credit

 

                        We are one people agreeing not to go back.

                       We are one people agreeing not to go to war.

 

On that 7th December, after returning from church, I went to vote for the very first time in my young life. Oh yes, I did go to church on that day. And it was a Sunday too. In his sermon that day, I remembered my pastor say‘Anything…everything is possible…’ I was about adding the ‘…with God’ bit, in my mind, when I realized that God, for the first time was not in the picture my pastor was rolling out:

‘Don’t listen to the noise.

People asking and buying other people to vote for a particular person.

People swearing by rivers and thunders that they will vote for a particular candidate.

At the end of the day, no matter who wins or loses,

no one knows who you and I voted.Or who we did not vote for.

Only the Voter knows.

And I tell you, anything can happen in the few seconds or minutes you spend in the voting booth.

You can easily change your mind. About who to vote for.

Even if you have already decided…’

And exactly that happened to me, only it was for some strange, silly, reason. See, I am a die-hard lover of any food made from maizewhatever form and shape, and whatever sauce or soup or what-not it comes with. Amongst the lot, banku and kenkey remain contenders for the topmost position. So fearing that my pre-determined party’s logo, an animal of the avian family, will chop all the corn in Ghana,should its party attain political power, I changed  undid my mind.  I refused to vote for that party’s presidential candidate. And not knowing who to vote for then, I asked Ama Ghana to show me who to vote for. I was not sure I heard her reply right. So I told myself to vote for the winner. And the winner, Ama Ghana, I voted for.

I remember the evening I jumped for joy and sat right in the middle of a road somewhere in Accra. Accompanying my joy-full jump was a shout, ‘I am proud to be Ghanaian! God bless my homeland Ghana!’ 

fan.jpgNo, I had not meant to be mad. Poor me had only been too raw and mad with happiness: Ghana had just scored a goal in the then African Cup of Nations.

And God knows it was beloved kenkey I was going to buy when shouts of the goal poured from drinking bars and living rooms and kiosks – any space blessed with a TV and electricity – onto that road!

A car had to honk me out of the euphoria, and out of the middle of that Orgle Road.

Proud me only felt positively silly, and no remorse. No shame.

Photo Credit

Things were not this theatric after the final results of the elections were announced and Ama Ghana won. She sure did win. The war against war. And I did not regret being a little worryingly crazy about a country that rewards a fully eligible voter who was as naïve as a ten year old with such victory. Jesus rightly said so:

‘Let the little children come unto me, for such is the government kingdom…’

Once again, in a vision, I saw Ama Ghana, kneeling and just about ending a prayer:

…and my Lord Yesu Kristo, if thou wouldst but borrow thy humble handmaid some of thy words, I shall say unto my beloved sons and daughters, “Believe in God, believe also in…Ghana.”

But for the smart, frisky edge of her outfit – maybe because she was kneeling and was lost in prayer ­­- Ama looked like her Ghana(ian) self. Enough, at least.

But after the prayer, Ama Ghana lifted herself, stood up and high, fashionably dusted and straightened out her-self and outfit. Suddenly, she had this air of someone who had NOT just recently finished a prayer. And God,it seemed,was in some kind of agreement with – approval of, even – her. Her knowing smile had acquired a cunning slant. As for the spanking sassiness of her outfit, it was so saucy, too shocking, and armed to make one laugh and lament and hail her, all at the same time.

And just when (wo)man thought to try and make do with Ama’s latest taste in fashion – read decision – as loudly spelt out by her outfit, she strutted away from prayer and from view, she dripped with the tongue-in-cheek, dead indifferent attitude.

And just when (wo)man was trying to figure how to live in tune with Ama’s new-found vibe, she strutted away, NOT dressed in the usual, the NORMAL kaba and slit, but sporting a sizzling hot skirt and blouse.

Oh! And see me still believe in Ghana.♦

 

proud.jpg

Proudly Ghanaian: Photo Credit

*            *            *

Glossary:

adieyie – a seamstress/tailor who, rather than sew new ones, fixes torn, loose, tight etc.clothes.

Ama – a day name for a Saturday-born female.

bankua stir-boiled meal made of (a mixture of cassava dough and) slightly fermented corn dough; eaten with pepper sauce or soup or stew.

banoma – a step-child: a child from one’s spouse/partner’s previous relationship/ marriage.

deendeiexclamatory word for heartfelt, excited welcome.

Egya – a term of endearment for a father (figure).

kaba and slit – a traditional blouse and long skirt sewn from the same print fabric.

kayayoo – a head porter, usually a female.

kelewele – fried dices of spicy, ripe plantain; eaten as finger food.

kenkeyfermented corn dough balled, wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves and boiled; eaten with fish and pepper sauce or with stew or soup.

koobi – dried salted fish, usually tilapia.

kontomire – cocoyam leaves.

Makola is close to Rawlings Park, as Kantamanto is to Agbogboloshie. Closely knitted with others like Cow Lane and Kimbu, these form the heart of the biggest business city in Accra, Ghana’s capital.

mate – a conductor for a commercial vehicle.

skirt and blouse – the election outcome in which the elected president and the majority of elected parliamentarians stood to be voted on the tickets of (two) different political parties.

shoeshine –cobbler, especially those who hawk.

trɔtrɔ – vans or mini-buses for commercial transport.

waakye – rice-and-bean meal eaten basically, with rich, stewed pepper sauce.

wɔma doctor – (usually) a man who fixes the weak, fraying pounding end of a pestle, wɔma.

 

 

One Wand, Two Histories and Three Human Mauve-s.

I remember everything about that day except her actual name. Bepɔ so han was what we used to call her. Bepɔ so han (BSH) was the motto of her alma mater. She was a teacher and I, a student at Mfantsiman Girls’ Secondary. Ours is Ɔbra nye woara abɔ.

syte-three-hand-bands

 

And a Syterian is a ‘girl’ who attends or attended Mfantsiman Girls’.

(Picture not mine.)

 

 

It was not the first time my classmates were begging BSH to spare me. The choruses were copious:

‘We beg, madam, we beg.’

‘Oh madam, she is not hardcore’,

‘Please madam, pl-e-e-e-a-a-se.’,

‘O-o-o, madam she is not ATL’,

‘Madam, forgive and forget.’

And the like.

Besides Pɔjwɜ , an Ekons student like me, and Priscilla M, a Gavment student, the other Ekons and Gavment students were just begging blindly. By chipping in statements which painted me saint, they were diluting the chances of BSH accepting the pleas  made on my behalf. I could not blame them: they knew and loved me, like classmates would. It was my other mates, the History students, who surprised me. With full, brazen knowledge of how I had earned a punishment from BSH and how they had laughed at BSH, these begged with not only words, but with hands and half(-hearted) kneeling.

It was the second time in only two days that these History students were begging BSH for me.

Knowing the gravity of open humiliation I had caused BSH, I could not have joined in the begging, even though it was all on my behalf. Neither could I begrudge BSH not believing that I had been at her bungalow for my punishment, nor her insisting to finally, properly lash me. All over again. I could only explain, all over again, to BSH that I did arrive at her bungalow the day before, to start with my punishment, but she was not there. I was to fetch fifty good buckets of lati , obviously to fill the fresh, jagged gullies which several nights’ rain had cut and dug in front of her corridor.

Such a cliché, impersonal and postponed punishment for all too awkward and accidental a crime! Mine. The deed, it all happened the day before.

Ama-Go-Slow did not finish early enough with the Core Maths lesson. Bepɔ so han was already wedging on the veranda, ready to enter the 3 General Arts ‘A’ class. The History students were to remain in the class whilst the rest of us – Gavment and Ekons students – left for our lessons elsewhere. It had become quite the norm and BSH’s special right to beat all Ekons and Gavment students who would not have left the class by the time she entered for her History lesson.  While we the migrating students frantically fished our notebooks and other learning materials from fat sack bags under tables and from crammed desks and odd other places, the resident History students started confusing and taunting us:

Comfort, don’t forget your Gavment 8 notebook o-o-o-h’, Naa Momo started that day’s teasing.

There was no such thing as Gavment 8, not to even think of a notebook for it. We all teased the Gavment students. Geography, another elective subject, was understandably divided into Physical Jog, Human Jog and Map Work. Theirs however, were just Gavment 1, Gavment 2 and Gavment 3. And each of these three had a separate notebook, each, a full encyclopaedia in the making.

In the rush to pull my Ekons notebook out of my sack bag, my head hit the desk while raising it up, together with the notebook, from under the desk.

Then a voice, like Lynn’s, continued the teasing. This time, me:

‘E-e-e-e-i-i-i Sheilla, your Ekons notebook gbɔɔ like that! Why? You don’t have Purchasing Power to Demand for a new one?’

I did not have time to mind Lynn. I was busily rubbing my aching head with the ball of my hand. By the time I thought I had rubbed enough pain away to be on my way out, BSH had stepped in. And many of us Ekons and Gavment students were still too late in leaving the class.

human-house-prints

In this picture, taken in the 3 General Arts A class, are some of my classmates, including Comfort and Priscilla M. All but the one holding the blue fan are in our various house prints. I am the one wearing the big, silly smile behind a pen and a pencil, at the far back.

 

 

Soon, the cane lashes littered the book-and-ink dry air of the classroom. One can never be safe, for BSH was all over the class, on and across tables, over and past chairs, turning and stretching and gliding and almost jumping. Everywhere. Some of the lashes fell on the compact hardness of wood, furniture. A few fell on the tamed hardness of wood,  piles of books. More lashes were fruitful, having landed with sizzling hisses on the bare flesh of human mauves. Those who unknowingly and regretfully caught their taste of BSH’s wondrous wand were free from further harm. They had both peace and permission to leave the class, to wherever their Ekons and Gavment classes were to take place.

Even if I could have planned it, the terror that BSH had become – not to even mention the taunting of her History students –  would not have permitted my planning and executing a neat exit out of the crowded and labyrinthine room that my 3 General Arts A class was. All I now know is that, while the lashes freely flew in the air, I wriggled my way to the closest desk by our ever-opened classroom door. Soon, it just happened that before AponkyeKay knew what went past her legs under her desk, which was the first and closest to the door, I was already on the veranda.

There were about three of us who escaped, unscathed by BSH’s magic wand.

BSH came out of the class. After us. And towards the end of the veranda.

As much as we three feared to take the lashes, I did not think any of us was ready to jump off the dead-end of the veranda, to the ground floor, just in case if maybe things become too desperate and something unthinkable happens. Luckily enough, the science students had left their classrooms – for lab practicals, I guess. Happily and hastily, we three escaped human mauves slipped into the first vacant one. Our happiness was short-lived, and our haste, ill-advised, for we quickly realised that the class had no door with which to shut BSH out.

With a crude mixture of gladness and vengeance, BSH’s breezed into the class, wielding her weapon of dire destruction, having left her History students waiting for their beloved class to start. As for we three poor human mauves we were trapped and trapped good.

At first BSH filled the doorway. BSH was average in height and all. But for once, she loomed inside the empty science class like some sinister hawk-shaped cloud threatening rain and hell on fresh yellow cotton balls of chicks – or maybe I should say cotton ball, since I was probably the only one who felt so.

I watched BSH brandish her lithe wand, her breathing and demeanour spilling with mad intent. I did not know what to think. I felt something hard and bitter and lumpy climb up my now taut throat. Another slowly sank into what should be my stomach.

That BSH and her wand were fast closing in on us, towards a doubly dead-end; that I have a grave, bowel-turning history with cane lashes – whatever the reason, whichever teacher happened to dish them – made me dizzy and all but dead with fear and new-found stubbornness. Suddenly, everything was wrong with me. I must have started counting what everything consisted of, when…

She beckoned us to come for our taste of it. Her weapon of a wand.

Priscilla M was the first to go. The lashes sounded good. They began with a smooth wh-e-e-e-w-w and ended with a rich thud on her very bountiful shankus. But the clenched teeth and tear-barricaded eyes, in fat, the many contortions that formed and fast faded on Priscilla M’s face told a different story. I knew the lashes could NOT taste good. And I could not imagine going through what was fast becoming a blood-bath.

syte-now-assembly-hall

 

 

The school’s assembly hall, years after I’ve completed.

(Picture not mine.)

 

 

 

Throughout my life in school, I had always been careful not to stray (far) from the boundaries of school rules just because of my intense hatred – no, fear. Or is it rather phobia – for canes and cane lashes in particular. Once, my own mother told me that my fear is unfounded, since any teacher who cared to spank me will only be caning a walking cane with a cane. I know that I am painfully thin and tall, but if what they say about the proverbial monkey and its child is true, and my mother CAN call me a walking cane, one that caused untold harm to an actual cane, then…

At that moment, and with havoc BSH around, I would rather not smile at the thought, I could not pursue, could not afford to complete it.

Pɔjwɜ was next. Reluctantly, she wheeled her smallish frame towards BSH. Unmerciful BSH raised her wand to give Pɔjwɜ too a share of its taste. That was when – or so I thought – I saw my chance. I narrowly slid past Pɔjwɜ and her predator Bepɔ so han, on my way out of the trap of a classroom, to my ongoing Ekons class, and into a world without cares and canes. In the fluid process, the back of my mauve uniform smudged the A Well Labelled Diagram of Something Plankton on the blackboard.

Then suddenly, BSH made one swift sweeping turn. I thought I heard something break. The sound was too quick and crisp to be the crack of a cane. And I was barely out of the doorway when one whack from BSH’s wand landed. It was a fatal whack and it was unfortunate it landed on a wrong, non-human target. The whack, it rather added to the splinters on the already frayed doorpost.

Still, BSH was all eager to pursue. This time, me pɜ. I felt so alone and in sour distress. Priscilla M must have long gone for her Gavment class. I thought I saw Pɔjwɜ – or someone like her – still hanging around the battle grounds. I was so busy saving my skin, my life, to be sure of anything. I was neither in the science class nor on the veranda proper. BSH was right there with me. And this deepened my loneliness and distress.

human-mauves

 

A group of human mauves, Jog students, and our teacher, Mr. Otoo, on a trip at the Elmina Castle. In this picture are my mates Pɔjwɜ, Lynn and again, Comfort.

 

 

BSH and I must have whipped up such a mighty stir for human mauves to have poured into the veranda from the classes on the first floor of the Form 3 Block. The History students who BSH should have been teaching were among the human mauves. I was soon sandwiched between BSH and the host of mauves, who seemed to have gathered, eagerly waiting for the grande finale of what they thought was a big show.

The show, as it later turned out, was big, but not as sweet as it was brief: there was BSH, deftly raising and bringing down her wand to accurately land on its target, my precious skin. And there was me, timidly and even more accurately, dodging the impact of the first of cane lashes that were never to be.

When she realised I was too expert – oh how I surprised myself! – at the dodging for her, BSH decided to get closer, to take what could be no more than two short steps, to me. It was not until BSH had lifted one leg from behind the other, and again; it was not until she had planted one foot on the threshold and she had brought the other foot for another planting, for a full sure-footing, when BSH realised that one of her legs was suddenly, strangely, shorter or longer than the other. And she did not know why – not yet, at least.

‘E-e-e-e-i, Ghana is longer than Africa’, someone from among the human mauves shouted.

As if that was not tell-tale enough, the broken pencil heel of BSH’s sandals came clattering from the entrance of the science class, down the threshold, and onto the floor’s corridor.

Another human mauve pitied BSH, ‘O-o-o-h-h madam, s-o-o-r-r-y oka-a-y?

But the glaring taint of mockery in that sympathy sent everyone giggling, a giggling which was the beginnings of massive, explosive laughter. It was Pɔjwɜ, who broke the contagious laughter bottle. One could even see her uvula dangling in front of the dark tunnel sharply descending behind it. The fresh tears on her face, tears from her recent taste of BSH’s wand, these tears made the laughing feast merrier. Everyone laughed. Everyone laughed about what was stark obvious to us students and hopelessly sad and unknown to BSH. Everyone laughed large and laughed long. Everyone but BSH and I.

Then in one defiant attempt, she raised the cane up and towards me. Again. In a second or less, the feast died, easily. With fear splashed all over my horse-long face, I clutched my fragile Ekons notebook – and perhaps, the frozen frenzy moment – against my scanty bust. My whole world was reeling, out of every sanity and safety, on a pin point.

The History students pleaded with BSH not to lash me. Not (to even try) again. BSH looked at me and her raised cane in turns. All courage to beat me left her. And I was too tired from the (di)stress and shock of it all (to even try) to run or resist. Not again.

Finally, BSH had to limp away, with the warning that I should come to her bungalow, after supper for that cliché, impersonal and postponed punishment. Mine.

The accident. Missing her ultimate aim, me. The laughing feast. Her now-one-and-three-quarter gait. That the History lesson did not, could not happen that day. That at first, I would not let myself get lashed, and later, I could not care about tasting her wand. The thought of all these. Everything went BSH well well, from flesh and fat, past blood and bone, and well into marrow and soul.

It certainly must have been beyond skin pain. For Bepɔ so han.

 

*An earlier version of this memoir, titled Byond Skin Pain, was first published sometime in 2009, in the then Citi 97. 3 FM‘s The Globe Newspaper, a weekend lifestyle magazine.

 

GLOSSARY:

Ama-Go-Slownickname for one rather soft-spoken female teacher, whose lessons were so boring for Core Math, and especially for an Art Class

Aponkye-Kay –  a classmate’s nickname

ATL – (Above The Law) – decidedly rebellious

Bepɔ so han – Twi for ‘light on top of the hill / mountain’

EkonsEconomics, the elective subject

GavmentGovernment, the elective subject

Gbɔɔ – to be too worn and decrepit with age or long use

Ghana is longer than Africa – a situation where a part of one’s shirt, shoe etc. is longer than the other, creating an awkward imbalance in the overall outlook; may be caused by (unintentional) improper buttoning or similar hitches.

Hardcore – very naughty, popular for being notorious

Human mauves – students, usually in the official, mauve school uniform, rather than the variously coloured house prints: red for Scotton House; yellow for Butler House; green for Chinery House; blue for Engmann House and violet for Croffie House.

In fat – In fact

Jog – short for Geography, the elective subject

Just in case if maybe colloquial; redundancy is deliberate, for effect, for emphasis

Lati – reddish laterite, the sand and coarse gravels

Ɔbra nye woara abɔ – Fante for ‘life is how you (yourself) lead it’.

only, alone

Pɔjwɜ – one classmate’s nickname

Shankus – buttocks

Wedge – to wait, strategically

Well well – very well; repetition for emphasis

Went (from the verb ‘to go‘) – to deeply feel pain, physical or intangible

syte-1-hand-band

 

 

Picture by Esaaba Photography.

 

 

Love,

AishaWrites.

 

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