to the Kuukuwa across the street

There’s a Kuukuwa who lives in the house across the street. I know this because her mother keeps screaming out her name. Whenever I hear that exasperated drawn-out “Kuuukuwa!” my mind flashes back to episodes of my life as a teenage bookworm. I would often lie curled up in bed, completely immersed in a novel, or hide out in the mango tree behind our boys quarters with my nose buried in a book. And ever so often, my mother would call out for me to come assist her in the kitchen. I always heard her calls, but I quickly became an expert at ignoring ignoring and ignoring!

After two or three unsuccessful prolonged “Kuukuwas”, my mother would barge into my room in irritation. She had different tactics – all in an attempt to instil the desire to help with housework in me. (lol)”. One of the regulars was a short speech/warning that went something like “Kuukuwa, so you didn’t hear me calling you. You’re lazy oh. Come and help in the kitchen or else!” And on very special occasions of despair, she would finish with a “Your husband will put your groundnut soup in a bottle and bring you back home with it oh.” I would usually respond with “Why won’t you ask Fiifi?” (my brother) … or when I was feeling pretty wicked, I would mutter to myself “groundnut soup. Hoh! Did Marie Curie spend her teenage years making groundnut soup? And why would I want husband when all he does is sit in the living room and watch tv while you slave away in the kitchen!” Sadly for young teenage Kuukuwa, these episodes almost always ended the same way – my eyes awash with a film of angry tears while I cut onions, grated nutmegs or ground kpakpo shitɔ in the asanka while glaring at the blender angrily. 

So when I hear the woman across the street call this much younger Kuukuwa, I imagine her hidden away in some corner, trying to get five more minutes with her book… five more minutes in that fantasy world. Five more minutes of imagining herself hand-in-hand with Anne of Green Gables, trading best friend secrets and naming the beautiful springs and trees around them. Or perhaps she’s imagining herself as Hermione right now, feeling Hermione’s hurt at being thought of as a know-it-all and yet powerless to stop her hand from shooting up because she knows the answer… she always knows the answer. 

And sometimes when I imagine this Kuukuwa I have never seen, I think about giving her a pep talk. I tell her to keep on being herself for her love for reading will shape her in the most delightful ways. I tell her that all the recipes for Ghana food are online and that cooking is so easy – she can learn anytime. “Feed your imagination, Kuukuwa. Practice writing yourself. You will never regret it. Write that fantasy novella you’re thinking about writing. The one that you’ll stumble across when you’re 25. That one which will drive you to wild laughter when you read it 11 years later. Laugh at, but be proud of the naive and yet amazingly imaginative paragraphs. You will smile when you remember that Kuukuwa of years past and you will be glad you kept hiding yourself say to read… 

but don’t hide in the mango tree though, those red ants are evil and they attack as a giant coordinated team!

Don’t let the light of your imagination dim, Kuukuwa. Don’t let anyone try to stifle it, and oh they will try – albeit unintentionally and without malice for they don’t know better – but don’t let them stop you.”

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Another short untitled one

She felt droplets of saliva land on her left cheek and upper lip.

He had worked himself into a righteous rage, and his speech had reached the heights of passion.

Ghanaians are hypocrites!” he screamed as the heads around his bobbed up and down, smirks on smirking faces because the owners knew that even though they were Ghanaians, they were not Ghanaians because they were certainly not hypocrites. 

“Back in Europe,” the people are always honest, they tell you the truth as it is. “My students – 9 year olds – they tell me plainly all the time – ‘Francis, that is very stupid’ – and I am not offended because we all say exactly what we think”

The heads bobbed up and down even faster – nobody wanted to nod too gently and give the impression that they did not already know that these things happen in Europe all the time.

She had never been good at knowing when to shut up “Perhaps, they just didn’t respect you

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.

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.

Remembering my Primary School teachers… :-)

I just felt a burning desire to list all the class teachers I had in primary school. These women and one man played an important part in shaping me. If I have time when I’m back in Ghana, I would like to track them and visit. Especially my class 6 teacher. How about you? Do you remember yours?

Class 1 – Mz Asare, I think her first name is Christina. I remember how thrilled she was about my progress in class. You see, I had been jumped from KG 2 to class one because I already knew all the lessons for KG2. My mother, when she was on maternity leave after having my little brother was so bored that she spent her days teaching me things she had no business teaching me. One thing that really stands out in my memory was the afternoon i got into trouble because I said sorkorpimpim. It was a very naughty word and I don’t really remember who taught me or what it meant exactly (had to do with sex), but I said it out loud in class and horrified Mrs. Asare. It’s probably why she wanted to jump me to class 2 after a term, but my mother wouldn’t let her – she thought the other kids would pick on me.

Class 2 – Mz Darko. Elizabeth (I think) was a force of nature. Even now I remember her as an extremely confident woman. She also had the most beautiful shiny dark skin and curly hair – I learned later on that they were called jerry curls. Two moments stand out from my encounters with her; first, she cured me of my “cry-babyism” when she sharply reprimanded me about always crying to get my way. I was so worried about disappointing her as I was equal parts awed and terrified of her that I stopped! Second, she didn’t come to school one day because she was ill, so a substitute teacher took over the class that day and set us to writing get well soon letters. In mine, I wrote that I would bring her Lucozade. Lucozade was a sort of energy drink that my father swore by and I really did think it was the thing to drink when you were ill. I still do! Anyway, the next day I actually did bring her the Lucozade, making her so happy. She actually had tears in her eyes.

Class 3 – Mz Cecilia Boateng. I have one very sad memory from class with Miss Boateng. She didn’t do anything wrong – she was a kind, gentle soul. I think even then she had rather sad eyes. My sad memory was walking into class early after break time one afternoon and finding her sitting with tears in her eyes. She didn’t even notice me, and I didn’t understand why till I overhead some gossip from other teachers about four years later. Gossip that is not my place to share. It is sad that that moment has overshadowed any other memories I have of her.

Class 4 – Mz Millicent Obeng. She was a member of the Deeper Life Church. I remember this because she told me after I asked her why she wore no earrings and wore her hair the way she did. It was in her class that I decided to be a scientist. It was in her class too that I discovered my competitive spirit.

Class 5 – Mz Adanse. Another powerful personality – from her commanding voice to her “presence”. She had a way of walking into class and “filling” the room. It had nothing to do with her size, it was just the sort of aura she had. I liked her and used to visit her at her house which wasn’t far from mine. She also used to make meatpies and rock buns to sell in school and I used to help her carry the little bucket she put the pies in. She was also very good at caning. She used to strike fear in my little heart when she picked up her cane and thrashed some poor soul. I don’t remember getting caned by her, possibly because I was extra good so as to avoid a beating!

Class 6 – Mr Samuel Otoo. He really was my favourite. He used to chat with me at break time when I was going through my antisocial stage, and he took me seriously. In his class I decided to be an astronaut, an crime lab technician, a credit analyst and a professor in no particular order. He was always very interested and I lived for the days when my mother said it was okay to let him walk me home – he also lived near the school. After secondary school, I went by his house and found out that he moved. I don’t know where he lives now, but I would love to meet him again.

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.