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Picture mine: A copy of the unpublished anthology I submitted for the prize.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I will mention how the novel’s writer, Onukpa Ayi Kwei Armah, inspired – and more – the titular short story of  my unpublished anthology, Lens and Other Stories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

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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Bank Note: Photo Credit

Coin: Photo Credit

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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                        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.

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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.♦

 

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Proudly Ghanaian: Photo Credit

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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.