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.

On Throwing The Baby Out With The Bathwater

It was in busily thinking of an argument to counter a loud, brash and proudly antifeminist acquaintance that I had the (second or third) greatest epiphany of my life.

It is simple, so devastatingly simple – yet rather easy to miss – “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”

It is easy, I suppose, to live and think in extremes. Dismissing something as all bad or embracing another as all good is something many of us do naturally. And though this might be realistic or accurate to some extent in conceptualising simple entities and basic thoughts, one must admit, if one really thinks deeply, that when one considers a human being – an inherently complex human being it is not so simple. And if it is difficult for a human being to be all bad or all good, imagine that complexity and nuance multiplied a thousand or a million times over in an organisation, a movement or a religion.

As I said, it was in thinking of an argument to counter this guy – who declared feminism and feminists were useless and stupid because he had discovered a group of feminists who practised free-bleeding – that this occurred to me. At that time, I was going through an areligious phase myself, and I often proudly declared all religion to be useless and unnecessary. And yet in that brief pause in our argument, I saw myself for the hypocrite I was. You see, I was perfectly willing to accept that the different cultures, contexts and life experiences of different human beings resulted in different manifestations of feminist thought, and this was fine with me — and yet I refused to allow for this same nuance in religion. And when I put my mind to it, I started to realise other not-so-black-and-whites.

Life isn’t always black and white – there are usually several shades of grey.

Ever since I accepted the greys, it has become easier to understand and engage with different modes of thought. I almost never dismiss a complex ideology/ organisation/ movement because I do not agree with some of its tenets.

The Drowning Girl

There once was a girl who was drowning. Not figuratively – as in drowning in work or in love, but very literally – as in drowning in the Atlantic ocean in the middle of nowhere with no saviour in sight.

Now please do not ask me how she happened to get there… in the middle of that ocean, for it is a tale too long, too dark and too twisted to tell.

Let’s call our drowning girl Aba.

What I will tell you, however, is that after she had been struggling to stay afloat, kicking her feet furiously under water for a long, long, long while, along came a large boat with a girl on it.

Let’s call her Akos.

Aba felt a shiver of hopeful excitement go through her body as she saw Akos draw near. She knew she was going to be saved at last. After all, here was another girl, just like her but with a big boat, some rope and some warm clothes!

Akos drew near, but not very close.
“My dear, I feel so sorry for you! I understand your plight and I stand by you!”, she declared with great emotion, her beautiful eyes shining with unshed tears.

Aba was equally moved. “Thank you so much! I’ve waited for so long to be helped out of this situation or at least to be given a way to help myself, and things have been horribly, horribly hopeless until now. Help me unto your boat, please”

But Akos could not hear Aba, she was very very moved by her own goodness and willingness to stand by the drowning girl, against the oppressing ocean. So she kept on shouting at the skies, and at that wicked ocean… with passion, and pure, noble intentions.
“I stand with this drowning girl. I feel her pain!”

The End.

How I got my iPhone back and Other Stories. (Part 3)

February 1st, 2014.

Madina, Accra.

After a night spent tossing, turning, crying silent tears and making promises to my guardian angels and ancestors on duty I woke up with almost no hope of finding my phone. Then I heard that Vanessa’s iPhone was stolen at the beach on Saturday AND THE THIEF RETURNED IT. With my vim renewed, I made some other phone calls, and eventually ended up speaking to the Don of stolen phones at Kwame Nkrumah Circle. Let’s call him Pappy Show. Pappy Show said my gold iPhone hadn’t shown up at Kwame Nkrumah Circle yet, and that I should not worry, because no fence in her/his right mind would take an iPhone 5S. “You will get your phone back if it enters Circle”, he ended.

Angel Vanessa to the rescue.

I called Vanessa earlier to comfort her when I heard her phone got stolen. She didn’t answer, I guess she was too miserable to, but she called back after she got it back and I told her about my own missing iPhone and what I planned to do. That’s when she introduced me to two of her friends; the very well connected Kofi and the Buffalo/Panther Unit Policeman Daniel. I called them and we agreed to meet the next day to go and look for phone in Sowutuom. Charley, it’s never just twitter oh. Vanessa and I met through Twitter interractions! 🙂

On Monday morning, as I sat in front of Living Room, East Legon, waiting for Kofi and watching happy young couples pass by, I wondered how much I would spend on taxi fares. I certainly wasn’t going to make Kofi and Daniel take troski to Sowutuom. A phone call interrupted my money matters calculations. It was Kofi, “I’m in the blue car across the street.” Ladies and gentlemen, What a car it was! I couldn’t believe my luck as I clambered on board Kofi’s fully “nyanya’d” (air conditioned, to the uniformed) SUV. We picked Vanessa up from work (Yes, she actually left work early to join us!), then we picked Daniel the policeman up.

On our way to Sowutuom, I got a strange call from a person who was trying to reach a “Frank”. After initially dismissing it as a wrong number call, I thought again, considering the circumstances, I called back to find out who this person was and where he got the number from. He gave his name as Sellas and he said he was calling from Koforidua. I stored his number as “Suspicious Suspicious” and put that on the back burner.

At Sowutuom Agenda, we went straight to the area macho man, who I had befriended on my previous visit, to ask if he had heard anything new or seen our number one suspect Kwasi Takyi the taxi driver doing anything suspicios. During this conversation, “Suspicious Suspicious” called me.

Me: “Hello”

S.S: “Hello, I called you earlier”

Me [pretending not to remember and signalling Kofi, Vanessa, and Daniel over]: “When? I don’t know this number, sorry”

S.S: “I called earlier and said it was a wrong number”

Me: “Oh okay, I remember now”

S.S: It’s about your phone. My sister found it in a trotro and she’s scared. Can we meet tomorrow so I give it to you?”

Me: “Where are you now? I’ll come and get it today?”

S.S: “Koforidua, you won’t get a bus at this time, let’s meet tomorrow”

Me: “Don’t worry, I have a car, I’ll drive to Koforidua right now. God Bless you so much for calling!”

S.S: “Okay, I don’t want you to worry so lets’ meet halfway”

Me: “Okay, Aburi, in an hour and a half? Take a taxi, don’t worry, I’ll pay”

S.S: “Okay”

Of course we had no intention of going to Aburi, so we went to Madina Zongo junction and I called, told him my car had DV plates and the police were giving me a hard time so he should come to Madina instead.

I won’t write about those tense moments when he wouldn’t answer my calls for thirty minutes, or how when he told me he was at Madina, it took another thirty minutes to find him. I’ll fast forward to giving him fifty cedis because he said the taxi fare came up to thirty cedis and he really didn’t want my money.

The phone was a little scratched, because someone had tried to remove the back. I don’t know, perhaps the person was trying to find the SIM card slot. The person had also attempted a Hard reset, but it was stuck on the screen where it asks for you to log in with your apple ID and password. I ignored all this. My new found police buffalo squad friends were furious. They wanted to go and get the taxi driver and question him, but I had no concrete proof that he was involved, and I knew of police interrogation techniques. I don’t have the necessary hardness to sanction that sort of thing. I also felt Sellas was just a messager, he was a little scrap of a thing, a teenager, by the looks of it. So even though the squad commander thought otherwise, I elected to let it go.

I still talk to Sellas. I even sent him money. Eventually, we’ll talk about the phone. We’ve tried to reform “criminals” with beatings and torture. I don’t know of a case where that method hasn’t resulted in a more hardened criminal. So I’m trying kindness. If Sellas is a thief, or linked to thieves, perhaps I can get him out of it. He might turn out great.

And that, friends, is how I got my iPhone back. And I spent 83.5 Ghana Cedis in total. 55 for Sellas,15 on credit for various gossip girls and boys I selected in Sowutuom Agenda, and the rest on troski fares. Not a bad deal at all. I would have spent that on a phone cover and a screen protector, so I got 5 cedi ones from Madina market to make up for that cost instead. Not bad. Not bad at all.

To God Be The Glory. We are pencils in the hands of the creator. Of course there’s a part four. I’m not a learner. 

Watch out!!!

How I got my iPhone back and Other Stories. (Part 2)

February 1st, 2014.

Madina, Accra.

 

At exactly 3:17 am, I gave up on trying to fall asleep and decided to map out my iPhone retrieval strategy. I had calmed down somewhat during the night, and remembered that I would have to pay Madina Police if I took them to Sowutuom to find my phone. This wasn’t a desirable situation as I had left my job and I would be travelling to Cameroon (I’ll post about this later) in 2 weeks. Of course I had a budget for this trip, but my budget was a cedi budget and you guys know what happened/is happening with the economy. If you don’t know, read Efo Dela’s blog for an interesting non-expert analysis. In short, na money be problem waa and I could not afford to pay any policeman.

My mind started doing that thing that my architecture professors loved so much; connecting pieces of information I had come across from conversations with all sorts of people.

This is where I chip in a piece of advice – No matter how smart/wealthy you are, please don’t assume 1. nobody can teach you anything, 2. nobody can help you. Your salvation may come from the most unlikely place!

I remembered a friend I made in a troski once, a jack of all trades, let’s call him Onipa. Among Onipa’s several pick-up-line attempts was a line about being connected to people who “acquired” phones at Kwame Nkrumah Circle.

Piece of Advice number 2, for ladies, even if a guy trying to chat you up is repulsive, if he’s not being rude, there’s no need to be rude or mean to him. You can say no politely and part as friends.

Anyway, I called Onipa and told him about my phone, about the area from the email being Anyaa or Sowutuom. “Ah!”, he exclaimed, “If it’s Anyaa then you have no problem, I know a guy there who can help you. He knows a lot of “guys” in Anyaa. His name is Pince, call him. I’m not in Accra, I would have helped you myself, but with Pinch you’re in good hands”

That is how I found myself waiting for Pince at Awoshie Market bus stop at 6:30 on Saturday morning. Pince turned up, saw the map and said that area was called Sowutuom Agenda, out of his “jurisdiction”, but offered to take me there in his pick up truck! This was great because then I would save on taxi costs. On our way to Sowutuom, we picked up Pince’s friend Fire, an aspiring actor. Did I mention that Pince has directed a movie? The movie hasn’t been released yet because of financial constraints.

At around 9 o’clock Pince, Fire and I arrived at Sowutuom Agenda, and the map led us straight to an uncompleted building. There were 3 taxis parked in a 15 metre radius of the uncompleted building. I didn’t have the car number, I didn’t know the make or model of the taxi, and only vaguely remembered what the driver looked like (dark, tall, perhaps heavy). Remember, I was dizzy and in pain during the taxi ride…

We asked around for the taxi drivers, found number one and eliminated him because he was fair-complexioned. The 2nd driver had just washed his car, gone down the road with his friend and should be back soon, and driver number three was still asleep. At this point, I didn’t feel I was dealing with a hardcore thief, just someone who had found an expensive phone and was reluctant to return it to its rightful owner.

While waiting for driver number 2 to return and number 3 to wake up, I got a 2nd email at 10:30 with a 2nd location in the direction where driver number 2 was said to have gone off. I thought it was good news and expected to get my phone back, but in the meantime I walked round the area making sure to tell people about my missing phone. One of the points I stressed was that it was locked and nobody could unlock it but me (This is true, there’s no jailbreak for the 5S). I also told them that anytime it was turned on, It would send me an email with it’s exact location (This is not entirely true. Location email will only be sent if there’s a working internet connection). I got the opportunity to explain Google maps to 4 or 5 very amazed and impressed inhabitants of Sowutuom Agenda, taking delight even in my misery in showing them their houses and even the heaps of sand infront of some buildings. “Ah then this phone can buy a land”, one hairdresser said. Well, actually, yes, it can.

At about 12:45, driver number 2 showed up. I saw him coming from afar and asked the hairdresser if that was the driver because he looked kind of familiar. He walked straight up to us and said he heard some people were looking for him.

I asked “Do you remember me?” He responded in the negative.

“Did you pick someone up around Madina yesterday?”

” No, I worked in Kaneshie”

[NB. Kaneshie was flooded the previous day]

“Well, I took a taxi and dropped my phone in it. This phone has a tracking device in it and it has led me to your house. Do you live with another taxi driver or did someone else use your car yesterday?”

All this while, I was being very pleasant. I was smiling and using my friendly you-can-trust-me voice. Unfortunately, this didn’t work. Taxi driver number two, Kwasi Takyi exploded in anger! He yelled at me and said I was calling him a thief and said i could take his keys and go and search his room, among other things.

Sigh.

After trying to talk to him calmly and eventually realising he was drunk, Pince, Fire and Kofi’s dad (who showed up to help find the phone) suggested that I should go home and wait for the phone to show up online again. When it did, the plan was to go with the Sowutuom Police to retrieve it. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but after driving to location two with Kofi’s dad and finding no leads, I accepted defeat for the day. Day 2 without my iPhone- I was disappointed and very sad, but what could I do? I got in a troski and went home to Madina. One the way back, the phone was turned on twice in location number 2.

A guy tried to chat me up in the troski on the way back. I didn’t take my own advice. I eviscerated the poor guy. Sigh

The phone showed up at 6:45pm for the last time. I slept for about two hours, woke up around midnight and cried on my mother, who just wanted her laughing concert girl back.

On Sunday morning, she asked, Now will you go to church? I didn’t go.

 

 

All hope seems lost, but remember that the stone that the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone. 

What happens next? Find out in Part 3

How I got my iPhone back and Other Stories. (Part 1)

January 31st, 2014.

Madina, Accra.

I lay in bed with a cold compress on my head to battle my old friends the migraine demons, and a hot water bottle on my abdomen to ease the cramps. It wasn’t a good day. I was reading a novel on my new iPhone 5S, a gift/prize from Nana Aba Anamoah for being her Twitter person of the year 2013, but from time to time, I would refresh my twitter feed on my trusty Sony Xperia S.

I was still coming to terms with the fact that I had an iPhone, so all I did with it at that point was to read on iBooks. Both phones were below 40% on battery power, and I was too comfortable in my dealing-with-the-pain position to go through the laborious process of looking for my chargers and plugging them in. Occasionally, I would drift off to sleep, but then a sharp pain would remind me that sleep is for the weak.

Now, the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) has as part of it’s mandate, a task to “remind” people in Ghana to always keep all gadgets fully charged. My friendly reminder came that afternoon, and after lying down for close to 45 minutes with no power, my room getting warmer, and my phone batteries quickly running out of juice, I decided to go over to my friends’ place to charge my phones and hang out till my power got restored. In 20 minutes I was standing at the roadside trying to get a shared taxi to Agbogba, but after about 15 minutes of fruitlessly flagging passing taxis, I decide to spend 7 Ghana cedis on “dropping”. At this point, my legs were really weak and I sank into the front seat of the taxi with relief. Usually I would make conversation with the taxi driver, but today I wasn’t in the mood at all. I got to Jude’s house, dragged myself inside, collapsed on the sofa and lay there for a while, forgetting the reason I went there in the first place.

As I have previously mentioned, ECG knocks sense into silly Ghanaians from time to time, and promptly in 45 minutes or so, the power went out at Jude’s place to remind Kuukuwa to always charge her phone(s). I couldn’t believe my bad luck and I belatedly fished for my phones from my bag. Now of course, bad luck comes in sets of three, so while I successfully retrieved my Sony Xperia S from my bag, the iPhone was nowhere to be found.

Adrenaline is the best drug for any ailment, and my cramps and headache disappeared as I frantically searched for my phone, both at Jude’s and back at home, realizing with a sinking heart that I had dropped it in the taxi. I dialed the number (I had a Glo SIM card in it), and nobody answered. Finally at about 6pm, the phone went out of coverage area. To put it mildly, I was devastated. What was I going to do? I just lost 1700 Ghana Cedis, a gift from Nana Aba! What was going to become of the blog post I had drafted talking about Nana Aba and the iPhone?!

I don’t have an extensive vocabulary of swear words, so after exhausting the 3 words I know well, I began to cry. I called my friend Kwabena, who was one of the only people I knew would understand the degree of devastation and be able to comfort me accordingly. As usual, Kwabena proved why he’s really extremely so awesome and to cut a long story short, he set up the Find My Iphone feature for me. Now, as soon as the phone got turned on, I would get an email alert with the time and location where it was turned on. I only felt a bit relieved however, because though I love maps (Google and Apple), I know the country I live in. More importantly, as an architecture student in the country, I learned that Satellite maps don’t work very well here. Still, it was a start, and a ray of hope pierced through the doom and gloom.

At 8:06pm, I received the first alert. “Kuukuwa’s iPhone was found near Accra” The attached map showed a spot around Sowutuom/Anyaa, an area I wasn’t familiar with. My first impulse was to rush to the Madina Police Station, write a statement or whatever and get some police personnel to go with me to get my iPhone. My mother and friends thought I should wait till morning, and so I did.

I did not sleep. I could not sleep.

End of Part One. Watch out for Part Two.