How The Old Man Died and Other Stories

He was a very respectable man.

He had been involved in politics and governance for more than 48 years – almost as long as his country’s existence as a polity.

He was fabulously wealthy, and although his wealth came from his government roles and connections, he had managed to mask that fact so cleverly that people swore he came from pre-colonial money and that corruption had nothing to do with his numerous assets. Only his wives and children knew his real origin story – he reminded them anytime he thought they were being ungrateful, which was all the time.

He had a mild heart condition… Comfortably under control… Monthly visits to the best private doctor in all of the United Kingdom guaranteed that.  His health was top priority, so he took the best drugs, ate the healthiest meals and exercised regularly with his highly-recommended French personal trainer.


He was currently driving on the softly rolling hills of the village which was more or less his property. It was a cool afternoon, and in a fit of boredom, he had uncharacteristically decided to drive himself.  It had been well over a year and he had missed the feel of the subtle subtle subtle hum of his brilliantly-restored Rolls Royce beneath his fingertips. As he drove, he wrinkled his nose in distaste at the poorly appointed hovels along the red dirt roads. From time to time, he would pass by a farmer on her way home, her head supporting an oversized load, and reluctantly nod almost imperceptibly in response to her frenzied sycophantic smiling salute.

“Poverty is a state of mind” was something his pastor always said, and in those moments he agreed wholeheartedly. He was hardworking, and even though he started life like them, his perseverance had brought him far.

With a self-congratulatory smile, he passed by the swirling brown river that split the village into two and thought about the payment he should have received about a week ago from the Italian mining outfit. With a slight frown, he decided he would instruct his lawyers to send them a stiff letter as soon as he got back home – he did not like people who did not pay their bills on time.

It was in that absent-minded moment that disaster stuck.

A group of little children suddenly dashed into the road, chasing a small animal and not bothering to look around first – cars were, after all not often seen on that village road. He swerved sharply, and his body released a cocktail of stress hormones, narrowing vital arteries and causing his not-so-strong heart to skip several beats. He had the presence of mind to brake just before he crashed into a tree, but had no extra energy to signal the boys, who were at this point staring wide-eyed at the car and it’s mysterious occupant.

The eldest amongst them grabbed the hand of a girl who was about to run towards the vehicle. “Don’t you remember what grandma said?! He doesn’t like it when people go near his car. He will arrest you oh!”

And so they stood uncertainly as he sat for about ten minutes and then slumped forward in the seat. When the staring game got boring for them, they ran off to find another rat – the nice fat one they had smoked out was long gone now.

It was almost 4 hours later when a yawning Ama told her mother the weird story… and 8 hours after that when Ama Maame mentioned it to her friend Adjo on the way to their farms… and another 6 hours till Adzo told Kingsley, the cook from the big house who was gossiping away in the market as usual… And because the big house was so big, and the old man didn’t like how the servants smelled, it was another 5 hours before Kingsley heard that the old man was missing.

By the time they found the car, he was barely breathing. As there was no doctor at post in the little community clinic he had “donated” some ten years ago, he had to be rushed to the nearest city hospital. There were no beds in the first one they got to, and his son Maxwell, doctor and Chief Director of Public Health wasn’t answering his phone, and so he was rushed to another hospital.

 

There, they sat – secretary, cook, driver and old man in a Gye Nyame plastic chair, for 2 hours… until a distraught Maxwell ran in, barking orders at nurses and orderlies.

He secured a VIP ward for his father in less than 20 minutes.

 

It was too late.

The old man died.


 

 

other stories…

The autopsy showed that the death was quite avoidable. Apparently the simple, nonsurgical procedure that would have saved his life could have been performed by a 5th year medical student. It was such a pity that the community clinic was not resourced with basic personnel and equipment.

Maxwell and his siblings were devastated. They resolved to make sure a thing like this would never happen again.

Each sibling immediately started making arrangements for personal clinics and doctors for their mothers’ house.

Selina, the youngest, also a doctor, started the first air ambulance company in the country.

Advertisements

Motherfuckitude by Poetra Asantewa – Some Thoughts

Disclaimer: I only do this for art that tugs at my heart and mind. The last time this happened was for Asa’s Bed of Stone. Fyi, this is not a review. Furthermore, you can listen to Poetra’s EP here.

Poetra Motherfuckitude

Listening to Motherfuckitude back to back for a while reminds me of thoughts I’ve thought and shelved for a while… Like how great most of my generation is at being simultaneously connected and detached. I sense this duality in Poetra’s art in general. I mean.. we’ve had to be great at straddling and expertly navigating a number of worlds. We weren’t born into connectivity – we came of age in it. [Side Note: When I see all those articles moaning about how young people spend way too much time online or how the world is going to shit because these young people spend all time on their phones, I snort in amusement because these people have not realised how great we are at adapting and evolving. We balance “real life” and “social media life” (assuming those are actually two separate worlds, but that’s a discussion for another day) because there really is no choice for us. If I video a concert while watching it does it mean I am not enjoying it? If I check out what other people are tweeting about the show I’m watching while watching it and tweeting about it myself does it mean I’m not watching it? I hang out with friends in real life and in real time on twitter all the time – our conversations weaving and wafting online and offline – No biggie.]

Same way Poetra weaves and wafts – No biggie.

Track by track? Why not?


Naked Listeners is chock full of quotables and preach-sister-preach moments. Not sure what I mean about the weaving and wafting? It’s a constant theme throughout Motherfuckitude and in this first track you begin to experience it. The arrangement is just sublime. The bells. The bells. The bells. 

P.O.A takes me back to awkward moments as a teenager crossing over into my twenties – competing thoughts all up in my head – trying to find my feet, my place in the world, sometimes wondering whether I should even bother. It’s about her personal battle with art, plus observations about the field she’s intimately connected to, yet as I listen, I put myself in her shoes and think of my own (fading) struggles to find my spot(s). 

No Panties is a good one in this collection of good ones. Though it’s not my favourite, I can certainly see why it seems to be so many other people’s favourite track off Motherfuckitude, AND it’s not just because she has no panties on. It’s littered with subversion and rebellion which may not be so subversive as it seems to be fast becoming the ‘in’ attitude now… I remember when I first realised Poetra could sing – like really sing. It was at an Ehalakasa event at Nubuke foundation, she came out with a now long-forgotten guy accompanying her on the guitar and charley, it was beautiful.

The Poetry Ain’t Shit melody is delightfully upbeat for such a depressing refrain. The message is familiar – it ties in with P.O.A in rather nicely. And as always, the ever present (does she even realise she’s consciously doing it? do we?) weaving and wafting… weaving and wafting. 

Masked Commoners is another one that clearly brings out that straddling or different worlds I’ve referred to. It’s quite heavy in terms of the theme, but in a good way. There’s commentary on the worlds we live in today; with the uneasy couplings and balancing acts we continue to contend with in our daily lives. As an aside, I would like to note that the music perfectly matches the words.  

All Love is light and breathless. It’s the sort of track I would imagine playing in the background when I’m a perfect date with a person I expect to break up with in a few weeks. It’s the sort of lighthearted yet serious, breathless yet measured anthem for heart-wrenchingly painful moments you know a bottle of wine and 2 bars of chocolate can fix. It draws you in – promising an easy listen – and you fall for it… listening twice.. five times and then it thrusts you into your feels… and then you shake your head with a wry smile because Poetra got you. It’s ditzy brilliance. It’s my favourite.


In conclusion? I love Motherfuckitude.

On Muslims in “Christian” Schools

Sometimes I think people know deep down inside that they aren’t living lives God would be proud of, and this is why they become warriors of intolerance and discrimination against people of other religions. Perhaps they hope God will look at the very very strong way they “defend” Him and count the number of “I am a Christian” statuses they put on facebook… and this is how they will make paradise…

I’m reading such horrid comments about this Muslims in Christian schools issue, and the hypocrisy and intolerance is rather startling. I’m reading some of these comments from women who have been complaining about suffering discrimination just because they are women. Women who posted things like “I am so angry and disgusted!!!” in response to the Indian rapist who said a woman should stay at home in the evening if she didn’t want to be raped. I’m reading them from Africans who complain about racism and discrimination everyday – people who think the the colour of a persons skin should not mean they do not have equal access and opportunities in the world. People who rose together and condemned the whites-only club that opened in Accra.

Why is it that they say oppressed people make the best oppressors?

Then I read some more from people who went to so-called first class schools who posted things like –

“Oh Muslims were allowed to pray in MY school, so this means that Muslims everywhere in Ghana are allowed to pray so what are those ones complaining about? It can’t be true, they just lack discipline”

Oh then the ones that said

 “We (Christians) built the good schools, why don’t they build their own schools?! We didn’t force them to go to “our” schools.”

Actually, the colonizing “missionaries” built those good schools, and mostly because they came to our continent from the coasts and captured southern areas first. Of course those schools are better endowed – the colony/nation’s resources were concentrated there – still are – but that’s not the point of this post. And the first graduates in these first good schools were also the first to get the good positions in governments and thus were able continue the trends of privilege. And let us not forget that taxpayers money goes into running these schools – not just Christian money.

Then I read the most stupid ones –

“this is how Boko haram starts oh. First hijab, next they want to convert us all by force”

No, extremist groups like Boko Haram rather thrive in situations where Muslims (or other religious groups) are oppressed, disrespected and discriminated against! This is just the sort of excuse they need to recruit disillusioned, disenfranchised, demoralised, unfairly treated youth and to justify their evil excesses…

And Ghanaian Christians really need to come to terms with the fact that they have a “Christian privilege” in Ghana. Christians are the powerful majority here. Go to most events and people automatically pray a Christian prayer at the beginning, for example. Be responsible with this power. Do not be like other powerful majorities that have oppressed people like you with their power.

I don’t have a prescription for solving this issue, but whatever the solution is, it must come from a place of tolerance , mutual understanding, respect, compromise and love. We have too many problems in this country to add religious conflicts, please.

Let’s concentrate on dumsor and the economy.

That funny way Ghanaians see Ghanaians…

This is in response to Nana Ama’s post, among other things. It was not easy to write, because a lot of people I respect and admire fall in the category below…

I would like to start by saying that I was very disappointed in the Black Stars after they let us down in Brazil. I did not expect much from the GFA or the government for I knew they were in it to make as much profit as possible – be it political or financial profit. I also did not begrudge the boys their large bonuses although I thought the sums were just too much, but if that is what they agreed on, then they deserved to be paid. It was the manner in which they forced the authorities to pay them that infuriated me. You see, I have low expectations of the politicians – and they never usually have the love and support of the majority of Ghanaians, but the Black Stars have… they did, and they broke my heart.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

It is a sadly common trend for certain Ghanaians to say or write things like “Ghanaians are <insert patronising description>”. I hear it on radio all the time, I see it on online forums and in comment threads and it is unfortunate that this is how people conceptualise themselves and their people. I won’t go into the undertones of inferiority complex that underly this kind of thinking. Usually, the maker of such damning, broadly generalising comments is Ghanaian, but when they make these comments, they aren’t referring to themselves – no, they are different, they are sensible, they are intelligent, they are open-minded and they are (well) educatedThey are perched on a high pedestal, looking down on the “stupid” Ghanaians who have “short memories” and will certainly forget dumsor and the mismanagement of an economy because of one trophy. Seriously?! They know that “2 hours of borrowed electricity from La Côte D’Ivoire would make Ghanaians think that everything is okay with the country. Seriously!?!

And it is not an attitude that is unique to them, it is rather widespread in this “educated” class of Ghanaians. They, ironically like the orientalising Westerner who looks to the “other” to reassure himself of his superiority, look to that average Ghanaian who represents everything that is the Ghana they love and hate, to reassure themselves that they have escaped the “mediocrity”. It is in religion – Christianity for instance, where people have no problems with the “posturing” of the likes of Duncan Williams, but condemn Bishop Obinim for being a charlatan. It’s complicated, but if I had to explain it in one line, I would say “It’s simply because Obinim is not as brɔfɔlised.” Brɔfɔlised is such a great word… Loosely explained it means he does not have the respectability that comes with the ability to speak fluent English. I will admit now that I have had that attitude in past, and I would have still have more than a healthy dose of it by now if I hadn’t gone through some personal troubles that made me seriously reconsider how I looked at others. And it is true that I still relapse into that mindset from time to time – it’s not easy… In fact, I’m frightened of what I might become post-Oxford, but that’s another blog post for another day. Saying “Ghanaians are like….” or “Ghanaians dier…” in that tone of voice is terribly condescending. You know that hot flash of anger you feel when you read a generalising “Africans are <insert stereotype here>” from a white person? Well, it is not quite the same in terms of power dynamics at play, but you catch my drift don’t you?

It’s as though they do not think that other people can compartmentalise their emotions. That anger at the GFA and Mahama’s government can coexist with the ability to recognise the hard work of footballers, and the joy of seeing a son fighting the demons of his father can be relished while criticising the incompetence of the system that manages him.  Do a quick search on social media sites on Black Stars, bonuses, GFA budget and government. You will find out that people ARE upset about the wastefulness of the GFA, the size of the bonuses and the general shadiness of these things BUT they are also proud of the boys for playing hard and making their nation proud. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater – something Ghanaians have always known.

This “I’m-glad-they-didn’t-win-because-the-government-would-have-capitalised-on-it business” is rather silly.

“A win would have given us a false sense of importance and sent the government into believing (what the cool people describe as) their own ‘hype’ – that we are truly the best on this continent.”

Firstly, LOL.

More seriously, I spent my energy (rather uselessly) wishing the Black Stars wouldn’t qualify in the first place, because barring the obvious futility of sitting on one’s arse and wishing things, that would have made more sense. The amount of money the government would have spent on the tournament would have been close to zero… but you see, once, they were in, and through to the final, a win would have been the only way to make ourselves feel better about the money that was spent – money that WAS spent REGARDLESS. So, as useless wishes go, wishing they wouldn’t win once they were already in the final was pretty useless. The consensus on the loss is that the Black Stars did their best, but were not lucky – I can see how a smart propagandist (like Hanna Tetteh, brilliant at this sort of thing) can use the scenario to generate ‘hype’, but… never mind

That said, I am not surprised that Nana Ama is so convinced about this “short term memory of Ghanaians” theory. She works in radio as a kind of permanent panelist on a breakfast show. Now, the breakfast shows I listen to – on Joy fm and Citi fm are … interesting. The purpose seems to be to pack as much content as possible into the time period allocated. So, we get something like a 10-minute newspaper review, then 15 minutes of ranting about something, followed by very condensed sports football news, followed by 15 minutes of an “interview” with some corporate organization promoting their new product, then some social media trends, oh and some sort of message of motivation followed by a promotion of the radio station’s Easter corporate football tournament and then… you get my drift. It’s easy, I suppose, to assume that people get easily distracted from things that matter to them when you’re working in that context and always searching for next big news story, “forgetting” to follow up till 3 months later perhaps on yesterday’s breaking news story. Certainly, there is a desire for this kind of programming in Ghana and this is why they are so successful, but I personally find that I can only put myself through it once or twice a week.

And frankly, if you work in radio and want people to not to forget issues you feel are important, just keep telling them. You have a platform. Can’t be that hard, surely.

People say La Côte D’Ivoire needed the trophy more, and I am inclined to agree. Only a true football fan knows the euphoria that comes from winning trophies and how your whole day can change because your team lost a match. Do not make the mistake of underestimating the power of something you do not understand, and a time when it feels like “Ghana is the devil’s pet project” (@niilexis, 2013), winning a tournament after 33 years could colour a hopeless situation hopeful again. There’s a reason why Nkrumah invested in sportsmen and athletes even when the country was in a precarious situation. I won’t explain further – if you understand, you understand.

Also this is not really about the AfCON, it’s about that funny way Ghanaians see Ghanaians.

Of Museums, Really Old Things and Weeping By the Rivers of Babylon

When I touched down in London town, I just could not wait to see all the museums and old things. As a certified history buff, I knew I would enjoy the City of London thoroughly. I remember going to the national portrait gallery and gawking at photos of the Brontës for instance… as if I didn’t have the same photo saved in the photos folder on my laptop. I was in museum mode. I was in heaven.

As the days progressed, as I walked through the city, looking at old things – old buildings, old paintings, old statues, even old graves – I said to myself “Clearly these are people that understand the value of preservation of culture”. So why did they loot and steal and destroy other peoples’ culture?

I couldn’t help but remember that night in Kumasi, when I wept while reading a book by Richard Austin Freeman – Travels and Life in Ashanti and Jaman. I felt like I was walking with him through the now destroyed city of Kumasi when he noted ”

“The wholesale destruction of native houses that took place when Kumasi was burnt down by the British troops in 1874 is likewise a matter for great regret on the part of anthropologists”

Same Anthropologists and Historians that would later say that the African was an inferior human being, seeing as (s)he had no history. Ironic. Painful.

If a young British person wants to study history of british architecture, that’s easy. Let’s take the element of recorded/ written history out. They can simply go and look at the old buildings in London. Me, a Ghanaian that wants to study history of architecture here? Nothing.. My only resort is journals of British explorers and missionaries. Heartbreaking – who knows what prejudices clouded their thinking? Who knows if we can trust their words and sketches?

In preparing for my mock exam, I came across a question: “British Colonial Rule Was Inherently Pragmatic. Discuss”. What’s there to discuss? Of course it was. Destroy a person’s history and watch them struggle for years, FOR centuries to find themselves.

In an African Studies seminar the other day, an archaeologist noted wryly that the ruins of an amazingly well-constructed and elaborately planned town in South Africa are believed to have been put there by aliens. They’ll rather believe that aliens from outer space came down to Southern Africa and constructed a cattle-herding town than accept that people with dark skin did that.

And it’s not just white people. In trying to justify my selection of a topic for my M.Arch thesis, one lecturer flippantly remarked “History? Which architectural history? We know it all already – mud houses with thatched roofs”. Not surprising, because in studying history as young architecture students in Ghana, after Egyptian pyramids, we hear nothing “good” about precolonial architecture of Subsaharan Africa. Do you know that homes in the ancient city of Kumasi had “flushable” upstairs toilets before they had them in Britain? No you didn’t. Did you know that the water closet was “allegedly” invented by a black slave? Probably not. Do you know about the Aban? I didn’t either till I came across a photo caption in some obscure record. The Aban was a stone palace constructed by Fante builders where the Asantehenes kept all the state gifts and other important items. You can guess what happened to the Aban.

Where is our history? Destroyed, Demolished. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.

On Jamestown, Filth & Why Cholera Happened Again

When news about the Cholera outbreak in Accra broke, many people on twitter asked how this could happen in 2014 in Ghana. Some people thought it was a huge embarrassment and that government and local authorities should be ashamed. I agree, but how about us?

And then I went to Jamestown for the Chalewote street art festival. Just two days in Jamestown and I understood how this cholera outbreak could be happening in 2014 in Accra.

My friends and I had a stand at the festival- we sold drinks at the food court with a number of other food and drink vendors and I saw things…

I don’t know just how poor or hungry kids in Jamestown are, but I wasn’t expecting that much begging, and I certainly was not expecting to see kids eating from trash bins! I started giving out free drinks to kids, and then about 50 of them came around, crowded around our stand and wouldn’t even form a queue to get the drinks in an orderly fashion. They were violent, and it was so sad. I know JayNii Streetwise is doing as much as they can with kids in the area, but more should be done.

I got to Mantse Agbona on Saturday morning and found a pile of human excreta right in front one of the entrances. I couldn’t believe that someone walked up there and took a crap! The public toilets are not far from the spot – they’re right there, opposite Mantse Agbona! Then there’s the beach, which is littered with poop as well.

Now, I got one of the kids to cover it with sand, before someone could come & collect it for disposal, but I don’t know how many flies had gotten to it before I got there, and I don’t know where those flies went, but there was a lot of food around.

The cholera bacteria are transmitted between humans through the fecal-oral route. Simply put, from shit to food/ drink. Do you see where I’m going with this?

All the accredited food vendors I saw at #chalewote2014 did a good job of keeping away flies. There was disinfectant, some had mosquito coils and smoke …etc. but how about the unaccredited ones? We had one local walk up to us, and ask us how much our drinks were going for. She snorted at our 4 Cedis a cup, brought out her own palmwine with calabashes, set up opposite us and start selling at 2 Cedis or something with flies buzzing around her stuff. There were kenkey sellers too around, and festival goers were buying this ‘authentic’, ‘local’ food because … Chalewote of course!

Perhaps they were unaware of the cholera problem… Perhaps they had forgotten… Perhaps they didn’t care.

Whatever it was, after two days in Jamestown, I understood how there could be a cholera outbreak in 2014 in Accra.

The Accra Furqan: An Ottoman masterpiece in Accra

IMG_0176

 

Though it’s still under construction, one cannot help but be impressed by the mosque on the Kanda highway. It is a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture, and the arches and perfectly formed domes, in spite of the forest of wooden formwork, give hints of the elegance that is associated with Islamic architecture.

The Accra Furqan, also the Ghana National Mosque, is a gift from the people of Turkey to the people of Ghana, and with its impressive series of domes and semi domes, it has the potential to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

IMG_0160

See the flag of Turkey up there?, and those are some of the skillful workers. So many domes!

 

Constructed with 4000 cubic metres of concrete and 700 tonnes of steel, the Accra Furkan is far from solid or compact. True to the Ottoman architectural style, the domes seem almost weightless, and combined with a clever mix of courtyard spaces and arched walkways, the building manages to appear huge and yet “light”.

Erdiogan Getinkaya’s design is influenced by the Blue Mosque (or the Sultan Ahmet Mosque) in Istanbul as well as the Selimiye Mosque. The 8000 capacity mosque is scheduled for completion in late November, just in time for Ramadan Prayers.

 

IMG_0181

I made some friends 🙂 They’re the 2 of 3 Ghanaian workers there. The project has an unbelievably small workforce!

 

There are 50 domes in the Accra Furqan building, the largest and main dome sits at a height of 36 metres from the ground and is supported by 4 2.1metre diameter columns at 20 metre intervals. At each of the four corners of the mosque building is one 62 metre high minaret where the “muezzins” will perform “adhans”. The exterior of the building will be finished in polished marble, with the domes cladded in lead.

The facility as a whole will contain a school, health facility and a home for the National Chief Imam.

 

 

_large_20130213__2319146991

Architect’s Rendering , not even half as beautiful as the mosque under construction