The current cold snap that has enveloped many parts of Europe and North America is not the least amusing. Mountains of snow and sheets of ice appear everywhere as the son of man has to wrap himself in layers of warm clothing, with steam billowing from the mouth and nostrils whilst going about his usual business. Gallons of tea and other hot drinks are consumed by the day, all in a bid to keep bodily temperatures from plummeting.
If you are a Ghanaian immigrant who has just arrived in Europe or America during winter, then you must be gritting your teeth as you sit huddled by the heater and stare desolately at the whiteness unfolding outside as you wonder why you came to town at this time of the year. Is this it, you must be wondering to yourself. If you have to wake up by four am in plunging temperatures to leave for work and then have to wait at a lonely bus stop for a bus that never comes whilst your body shakes like a fetish priest invoking the gods, the reality of life away from your motherland does hit home really hard with cold brutality. As the good Lord himself knows, winter time is hardly the season for your family back home to be making demands on your icy pocket, for it brings into sharp focus the biting cold that seems to freeze your blood whenever you step out, no matter how well padded you are, and this in turn annoys you at the slightest provocation from them. You wail that they do not appreciate the cold weather that you have to endure simply for their sakes, whilst keeping western union in business.
Of course, as an immigrant from a hot country, it is easy to be nostalgic about home whenever the big freeze sets in. ‘Ah’, you dreamily say to yourself as you wipe your streaming nose whilst picking your way gingerly through snow and ice to get to work,’ go see how the sun is shining beautifully and permanently back home. I would be wearing just shorts, singlet and ‘charlie wote’ or a T shirt and short skirt at this time back home and would properly be enjoying the warm rays of the sun and an ice cold Guiness or malt.’ Cue more sniffing. ‘Home Sweet home, true true,’ you sigh wistfully, sending plumes of steam emanating from your nostrils.
But then are you really sure that you would be enjoying the sunshine back home? When, as per the norm, the sun is blazing mercilessly at its zenith and with an intensity that most people would scurry from, fruitlessly seeking shade? When you are stuck in a trotro or taxi in mad traffic and in the baking heat and there is not even the gentlest of breezes to be felt? When your skin crawls with the heat, when rivers of sweat drench your face your arm pits? When you feel suffocated and tired and disoriented and stifled? Are you really, really sure you prefer the African sunshine?
You see, it is tempting to romanticize something when you are away from it and you are experiencing its opposite, forgetting that what you yearn for is actually as vicious. I suppose it is simply human nature. Last Saturday, I called a friend who has left the UK for a month’s holiday in Ghana. Of course I moaned about how bitingly cold and miserable it was here, and how I longed for kokrobite beach, lazily sipping a Bloody Mary cocktail and staring vacantly at the shimmering, glassy sea.
My friend quickly snapped me out of my reverie by reminding me that she barricaded herself indoors all day in her air-conditioned bedroom until just before dusk because of the unbearable heat. She had developed a heat rash and had to drink lots of water everyday just to remain hydrated. But I was particularly shocked when my friend told me she actually missed the cold weather in England. I snorted in derision and thought either she was going crazy or was cruelly mocking me. There was no third way and that was that.
But the more I thought of this, the more I realized that my friend may well have genuinely missed England with its current cold weather, and not because she had become ‘too known’ or Europeanised. I recalled that many people who complained back in Ghana that it was too hot and yearned to travel to colder climes actually yearned for Ghana and its heat if they came over in winter. Human beings truly are interesting, versatile yet fickle beings. We seem to yearn for and romanticize about things that are outside our grasp, and yet when we attain them, we sometimes look back with nostalgia at that which we have jettisoned.
So, Ghanaman ‘bogger’, as you recall and paraphrase the famous nursery song by singing ‘snow snow, go away…’, and dream of the beautiful Ghanaian sunshine in replacement, just be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it…
The River Daughter (II)
By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
The story so far…
Kesewa, a Christian woman and the only daughter of her parents, has just had a baby girl, after years of trying desperately since she got married. Naturally, she is overjoyed, but the birth of her baby has a little dark history behind it, known only to her and her childhood friend Benewaa. She conceived after consulting a fetish oracle, which had onerous conditions attached. Will Kesewa be able to honour her side of the bargain? Now read on…
On the eighth day after the birth of Kesewa’s daughter, the family gathered and performed the naming ceremony at dawn. The name Kwaku Nimo chose for the child was Akua Nyamekye. Akua because she was a female born on Wednesday. Nyamekye simply means God’s gift. During the feasting that followed, Kesewa’s pastor, Prophet Kwame Asafo, barefoot and in his flowing white gown, invited those assembled to witness the power of the Holy Spirit as had been manifest in the birth of little Nyamekye. He shook with joy and pride, and his bushy moustache twitched endlessly like an excited rabbit’s ears. Needless to say, the church’s membership had grown phenomenally in the weeks since Kesewa became pregnant, as the news spread far and wide about how the Holy Spirit was using the prophet to perform miracles.
Within two years of Nyamekye’s birth, Kesewa had a set of twin boys, and a year later, a girl followed. She was over the moon. At last, her life was complete, she thought to herself. She was a woman, a wife and a proud mother of four healthy children.
Meanwhile, little Nyamekye was growing to become a very pretty young woman. She was a mirror image of her mother, and people never ceased to comment on this. There were times, however, when Kesewa would be filled with worry as an internal battle raged within her. What if Nyamekye in fact belonged to the gods, as the fetish priest had declared? What if her birth had nothing to do with Prophet Asafo’s prayers but everything to do with the charms and amulets of the high priest of the Bosomefi shrine deep in the forest and beyond the River Dum? God, there were so many ifs. Kesewa resolved many times to seek her pastor’s spiritual guidance on this matter so that they could pray about it, but quite could not summon the courage to confess to him what she had done.
One Saturday, Kesewa and her husband Kwaku Nimo went to the district capital to attend the funeral of a church member’s mother. It rained heavily that day, and on their way back, the driver of the mini van that was they were travelling in lost control of his vehicle as he sped around a bend in the pot-holed road. The driver had taken more than just a few tots of akpeteshie (local gin), and seemed to think he was tearing down an express motorway. The van skidded off the road, spun around, somersaulted two times and crashed against a tree on a steep slope before coming to rest. None of the twenty-two people on board, including the driver, survived the accident.
The towns of Dabo and Asempa were thrown into great mourning. It was particularly tragic in the case of Kesewa’s children, for these four miserable little souls had suddenly become orphans. Akua Nyamekye had just passed her tenth year on earth.
After the funeral, it was decided that Nyamekye would go to the big city to live with her father’s sister, Auntie Mary, who was a dressmaker and employed several girls at her shop. At least, Nyamekye could learn a trade. Auntie Mary, a very busy woman, was definitely unable to take in Nyamekye’s younger siblings, and they went to live with their maternal grandparents at Asempa.
Nyamekye’s initial apprehension about living in the big city soon gave way to fascination and excitement. There were too many people, she reckoned, and everyone seemed to be in a hurry to go somewhere. They did not even stop to chat as they did back in the village on the way to the river. And the streets! God, they were so wide that it took forever to cross them, and she was always frightened of being knocked down by one of those cars that travelled so fast. However, she was glad that she did not have to go to the stream everyday to fetch water, but only had to twist a strange device for water to come gushing out as if by magic. She was intrigued by the fact that at night, a mere flick of a switch on a wall could transform a dark room into broad daylight. As for the television, she would spend hours glued to this magical box she had heard a lot about, hardly comprehending anything that was being said, but completely riveted by the contraption and the miracle of the fact that human beings could move about behind a glass screen in a box that small. Aunty Mary’s girls were amused by the sense of wonderment that lit up the village girl’s eyes.
However, Nyamekye’s excitement was frequently tinged with the immense sorrow she felt at the loss of her parents. There were times when she would cry herself to sleep-she felt so alone, and Auntie Mary, kind as she was, was a very busy woman indeed and had little time for her. Nyamekye eventually made friends with some of the other girls at Auntie Mary’s shop. They were all older than her, and treated her as they would their younger sister. Gradually, she learned to put the past behind her and come to grips with her new life and the challenges that lay ahead of her. She always planned to visit her village one day, however, for she missed her siblings so much.
The months came and went fast, and by the time she realised, Nyamekye had been in the city for over three years. She took after her mother’s beauty, and when the young men in her area started making advances towards her, she fended them off easily, for she had absolutely no interest in those matters. She had started attending church together with one of the girls, Dora, and she took the church’s pronouncements on premarital sex quite seriously.
Daniel was Nyamekye’s bible study group leader, and he was impressed by her desire to serve the Lord. However, he was also very mortal and very fallible, fully conscious of Nyamekye’s ravishing beauty and physical desirability. At times during church or bible studies, his mind would veer dangerously toward things carnal, and then he would feel very guilty. He was single, and had decided quite a while ago that it would be quite nice to marry Nyamekye one day. He decided to pray about it, that the Lord guide him in this matter and grant him his heart’s desire. What would be more blessed than two of God’s children coming together in holy matrimony to the glory of God?
Nyamekye, on the other hand, admired Daniel for his amazing knowledge of the bible and his kindness of heart. She had caught Daniel staring at her intently on more than one occasion, but thought nothing of that. And she was always grateful for his kind offer to accompany her home after bible class. It could be quite dangerous for a young female on her own at that time of the evening, especially since her route took her past a number of uncompleted buildings and near an old cemetery.
One night, as Daniel walked her home after bible studies, Daniel casually, but certainly deliberately, allowed his hand to drift into Nyamekye’s hand. He held it firmly once it was lodged there. She was startled, and her heart skipped a beat, but she tried to hide it, rather unsuccessfully. She did not pull her hand away. The full moon, hanging in the pitch black sky like a delicate, giant ball of shea butter, cast a soft glow on the young couple.
Then suddenly, Daniel stopped, turned to look at her, hugged her tightly, then very awkwardly whispered in her ear, ‘Sister Nyamekye, I love you’. His heart pounded violently against his ribcage as he uttered those words. It had been ages since he became born again and gave up his sexual escapades, and he had clearly lost his edge on the art of seeking carnal pleasures. She was too stunned to speak and simply did not have the will nor desire to push him away. She felt him stiffen between the legs as he remained pressed against her. The hug seemed like eternity, and in a strange way, she wished it would last forever. The rest of their journey was in total silence. As Daniel bid her goodnight, he clumsily apologised for his behaviour earlier on. Nyamekye shrugged. ‘It’s OK, brother Daniel,’ she said.
The more the pair saw of each other, the stronger the mutual attraction was, and it simply came to the point when they could no longer hold back from the precipice. As they walked towards Nyamekye’s house one Tuesday evening after bible studies, Daniel suddenly blurted: ‘Nyamekye, I know your house and could walk there blindfolded, but you don’t know where I live. Why don’t you come and see my place for a few minutes? I will take you home.’
Almost as if she had been waiting for this invitation all her life, Nyamekye readily agreed. Instantly they both knew how the evening would end. Yet, drawn to each other by a powerful bond of sexual desire, the biblical admonition against fornication that they both knew only too well seemed to belong to a faint, hazy distant edict.
They spent most of the evening making passionate love. Nyamekye found herself reaching heights of ecstasy she never knew existed, and she found the experience exhilarating. Entwined in a sweaty embrace, their glistening, naked bodies pulsated in rhythm together as they devoured each other with relish, unleashing deep-seated pent-up emotions and desires. Daniel could certainly touch certain buttons in her and drive her right up into to the realms of sheer thrill, if not beyond. It was clear that Daniel was no virgin. All his ‘pre-born again’ bedroom acrobatic skills came flooding back with amazing alacrity.
For the next few days, Nyamekye felt guilty and dirty that she had broken the L ord’s word. In spite of this however, she could not kill the feelings Daniel had stirred both in her soul and in her physical being, and soon began visiting him in his home most evenings. The struggle between her fleshly desires and her desire to remain true to the Lord did not abate, and yet the flesh always won in the end. Auntie Mary was hardly home before midnight most evenings anyway.
Two weeks after their first sexual journey, Daniel woke up one morning feeling rather dizzy. Within an hour, his skin had broken into a sea of enormous boils; he was vomiting blood in copious quantities and shaking as if he was possessed of the devil. His wailing mother hastily summoned a taxi and took her son to hospital, where he was admitted immediately. The doctors could not find what was wrong with Daniel, as his symptoms seemed to change every hour. They ran test upon test on him, and yet the laboratories yielded nothing. The doctors literally gave up on him, for they knew he was unlikely to survive whatever was ravaging this young man’s body. Within the week or so since he became ill, he had shrunk in size and his hair had fallen out. He looked a pitiful sight.
When his head pastor and some church elders came to visit him and pray with him, Daniel simply felt he had to unburden his chest and tell the truth about what happened between him and Nyamekye. He wanted to make peace with the Lord before departing this mortal world anytime soon, as he now knew he would. He died the next day, in great pain and agony, and his moans and groans echoed across the ward.
Nyamekye was beside herself with grief, and this was made worse by the fact that almost everybody in the church now knew what had happened between her and Daniel. She got strange looks in church and people avoided her, as if she had actually given Daniel a dangerous potion and caused his death. It was painful for her to deal with the hostility on top of her grief. She decided she was no longer going to attend the church.
Exactly one week after Daniel’s death, Nyamekye woke up with a terrible headache and dizziness, and started developing Daniel’s symptoms. Auntie Mary took her to hospital, but just as in Daniel’s case, the doctors could find nothing wrong with her and had to discharge her. There was nothing they could do for her. She lost weight and her skin became mini-hills of boils. Her listless eyes protruded out of empty sockets, and nothing she ate stayed in her belly. She was getting weaker and weaker, and she knew it was only a matter of time before she died a miserable, lingering death like Daniel. She wondered what was happening to her and cried out to the Lord all day long, begging for forgiveness.
Now, back in Asempa, the news of Nyamekye’s illness and Daniel’s death that preceded it spread like wildfire, and it was inflated to inferno proportions by the rumours that swirled around the news. People had simply decided to attach the couple’s illnesses to their sexual liaisons. Some said Nyamekye was in fact a witch who had used Daniel for a feast and whose dark practices had rebounded on her spectacularly. Yet others said her parents were beckoning her into the spirit world, and that she had sent Daniel there ahead of her so that she would have company when she eventually went there. It was simply a never-ending trail of gossip, half-truths, speculation and simple lies peddled as fact. The news trailed to the house of Benewaa, the good friend of Nyamekye’s late mother Kesewa, and with whom she had undertaken that fateful trip to Bosomefi shrine many many years ago. She had forgotten all about the circumstances of Nyamekye’s birth and the covenant Kesewa made with the shrine deep in the forest beyond the river Dum. After all, it had been so many years ago.
As soon as she heard the news, Benewaa immediately knew the cause of Nyamekye’s illness, for it all came back to her with the clarity of daylight. She sent someone to Auntie Mary immediately, requesting her presence in Asempa as a matter of extreme urgency and with Nyamekye in tow. Then she went to the head of Kesewa’s family, Opanin Manso, and told him about the covenant between Kesewa and the oracle that she witnessed so many years ago. Opanin Manso was stunned, and after conferring with two other family elders, it was decided that when Nyamekye came to Asempa with Auntie Mary, she would be taken to see the Bosomefi shrine, for it was obvious why the poor girl was so ill.
It was a long, painful journey back to the Bosomefi shrine. Because she was so weak, two men from Asempa had volunteered to carry Nyamekye in turns on the journey. Benewaa, Auntie Mary and Opanin Manso also accompanied her. They travelled mostly in silence, each deeply lost in his or her thoughts. They stopped often for Nyamekye to rest, for it was an arduous journey for her.
Eventually they came to the little village by the Dum River. The river, its waters crystal clear and sparkling, flowed calmly, at ease with itself and its surroundings. After making enquiries, they were told that the man who would row them across to the other side had gone to a nearby village and would be back soon. The travellers decided to sit by the riverbank and wait.
Nyamekye was tired and thirsty. The cool, refreshing waters of the river could do her some good. With great effort, and helped by the two men who carried her, she rose from the rocky outcrop she was resting on and hobbled towards the river. Gingerly, she scooped some water in her hands and swallowed it, then slowly splashed some on her face.
A most amazing thing happened the moment the water hit her face. In a flash, Nyamekye became transformed back again to the healthy, beautiful young woman she had previously been. Her skin glowed with freshness, and that magical enchanting smile of hers appeared again.
Then, as the others stared rooted to the spot in wonder and shock, Nyamekye rose and stepped into the water. Smoothly she began to glide across the river as if propelled by an unseen hand that kept her afloat. When she got to the middle of the river, she stopped and stood still, smiling, looking very serene. Staring intently at them, she raised both arms and brought them together above her head, clasping her hands tightly.
At that moment, a cloud appeared from nowhere and engulfed Nyamekye. Then there was a great swirling, whooshing sound as the river waters churned furiously around her, throwing up great froth, like a pot of excellent palm wine. When the cloud lifted, Nyamekye was nowhere to be seen. Then the waters became still yet again, and all became quiet.
Then Auntie Mary fainted.
THE RIVER DAUGHTER….
By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
The kerosene lantern swung gently from the low beam, its wicker flickering in the dark and casting long shadows on the hut’s mud walls. Kesewa groaned and turned her head from side to side, clutching her swollen belly as she lay on the blood-soaked grass mattress in the otherwise bare hut, her face glistening with beads of sweat.
Binta, the wiry, wrinkled toothless midwife of Asempa and the villages beyond, presided over the birth of Kesewa’s child, hopping here and there like an ancient butterfly. Occasionally, she mopped her own sweaty brow. Then she untied and re-tied her headscarf and squatted beside Kesewa, working her withered hands round her belly as she peered between her splayed legs for signs of the baby’s arrival.
‘Ah, come now, little one, we can’t wait all night, and your mother needs to sleep’, she coaxed the baby that was still lodged firmly in its mother’s womb and clearly oblivious to the old woman’s pleas. After what seemed like eternity to Kesewa, she let out yet another blood-curdling scream that pierced the night. ‘We are ready’, Binta declared in a grave voice, as if lecturing a roomful of eager trainee midwives. Then she took one final look between Kesewa’s legs and grinned at no-one in particular, revealing gums that were bare but for a single decaying stump that had seen better days a long time ago.
Eventually, after much pushing and screaming and coaxing, the little baby slithered into the world and announced her arrival with a high-pitched scream after Binta held her up and gave her a gentle tap on the buttocks. She clicked her empty gums in satisfaction and promptly snapped the umbilical cord. Kesewa, fully drained after the long labour, simply smiled weakly when Binta looked up and announced: ‘my daughter, you now have a daughter. May she live long and bring you nothing but happiness’. She was as old as (older than, some said) the village hills and surrounding forests, and had presided over countless births for as long as anyone could care to remember. But Binta treated each birth as a special occasion and clearly enjoyed being a part of the miraculous process of childbirth.
And in spite of her weary body, Kesewa’s heart danced and her soul rejoiced, for she had almost given up dreaming of this day. It all came flooding back to her…
Kesewa was the only child of her cocoa farming parents. They lived in Asempa, a large village in the forest belt, where she grew up. Her parents always made sure she lacked nothing, for she was their precious jewel, yet was never a spoilt child as so many sole offspring usually are. She grew into a graceful, delightful young woman with all the curves in the right place. Her pert bouncy breasts hung firmly, like a pair of perfectly formed, ripe and juicy melons. Her smooth, flawless skin shone with the allure of polished copper. Her hair was as black as coal and as soft as pure silk. Her deep piercing eyes, set in a beautiful face with high cheekbones, radiated confidence, and she looked as if she had been specially carved by the Almighty to grace the earth. She had a natural gap in her set of perfect teeth, and her smile could light a whole forest. Kesewa was simply a joy to be with.
Eventually- and inevitably, the young men of Asempa -and even some of the older men long past their prime- soon began circling the young Kesewa, like menacing, lascivious, hungry hyenas seeking a cheap thrill. Yaw Kyere, her father, who was also an excellent hunter of repute, kept a shotgun in his house, and even those with only two brain cells dancing in their heads knew that he would not hesitate to blow off the head of any man who harassed his little princess.
But then, as Yaw Kyere himself knew fully well, he could not marry his own daughter. The young man who won his daughter’s heart against all the odds was Kwaku Nimo, a schoolteacher from Dabo, a nearby town. On the day of the customary marriage, Yaw Kyere organised a big feast and invited all from far and near to come and rejoice with him on this happy day.
And so Kesewa moved to her husband’s house and began married life.
The months went by, and Kesewa’s belly remained flat, causing disquiet and murmurings among the village folk. Then a full year passed without a sign of a swelling belly. Predictably, the vicious rumours started flowing thick and fast, like a stream bursting its banks. Some said she was a witch who ate her children before they started growing in her womb. Others said she had no womb to even carry a child. But what drove her husband Kwaku Nimo to despair and humiliation was the rumour that he was simply impotent. Even though she was a good Christian, Kesewa’s faith in the Lord took a severe battering as she battled with the prospect that she may never be able to bear children. Her husband was crushed by the vicious rumours surrounding his sexual prowess, but stoically stood by his wife, even though he was under enormous pressure from his family to abandon this childless witch Kesewa and find another women who could bear him children.
It was during a visit to her hometown Asempa that a childhood friend, Benewaa, told her in confidence of a fetish priest she had heard about. The very thought repelled Kesewa. As a Christian, she did not believe a fetish priest could solve her problems. She trusted the good Lord, as her bible taught her to. She went to church regularly, and her pastor prayed regularly with her on this problem. The Lord’s glory would shine through one day, he always assured her.
But as the months went by and her childlessness tormented her, Kesewa allowed herself to be persuaded to visit this Okomfo that Benewaa kept talking about, more to satisfy her friend, really, rather than conviction that this Okomfo could do anything for her. However, she made Benewaa swear on her life that no one would hear of this trip. She could not even tell her husband, for she knew he would be vehemently opposed to it. And heaven forbid that any of her church members, or worse, her pastor, should hear that she went to consult a fetish priest!
And so, early one Saturday morning, she told her husband she was going to see her mother and would be back later in the evening. She then travelled to Asempa, where she met her friend before beginning their journey.
The Bosomefi shrine was located deep in the forest, on the outer edges of a small village, and near the source of the river Dum. It was said that the river belonged to the gods of the shrine, and that if one got to the river early enough before dawn, one could see the gods in the form of mythical creatures having a bath in the river. There was a large rocky outcrop by the river across from the village, and it was said that this was where the gods rested to dry themselves, disappearing into a misty cloud just as the sun rose.
The two women walked until their feet hurt. They sought directions from villages along the way, and in one village, an elderly man ordered his young son to accompany these two young women to Bosomefi. They were so grateful. Many times during the trip, Kesewa wanted to turn back, but Benewaa urged her on.
Finally they arrived at the village by the river Dum, where they made further enquiries. A man offered to row them across the river in his dugout canoe to Bosomefi on the other side, where he would wait for them till they were ready to return. They were grateful and gave him some money for his trouble.
The Okomfo, a formidable-looking man with the appearance and build of an ox, was sitting in a semi-trance as they entered his compound, the walls of which were adorned with the skulls of dead animals and had dried animal blood. At the opposite end of the entrance stood a little hut, and it was in front of this hut that the priest sat, rocking back an forth as if swayed by a gentle tropical wind. His eyes were shut. He wore a raffia skirt and his upper body was covered in beads, amulets and charms of all sorts. Some white powder was sprinkled on his head, which was as bald as an egg. In front of her, a young girl who was obviously his assistant sat holding a bowlful of cowries and muttering something to herself. Both completely ignored the women.
Kesewa and Benewaa stared at the scene before them and clung to each other tightly, pure terror written boldly on their faces. What had they let themselves into? A million dreadful thoughts crisscrossed the women’s minds like a spider’s web. They stood rooted to the spot, as if their legs were logs of heavy mahogany.
Suddenly the young girl seemed to notice them, and she beckoned them closer with a faint smile. She explained that the priest was consulting with the gods and that he knew their problem and would deal with their matter as soon as he was done. They gave her the gifts they had brought for the gods-a bottle of schnapps, a dozen white eggs and a cockerel. She accepted them, and they took stools and waited, still fearful.
When he eventually granted them audience, the priest startled them by telling them straightaway exactly why they had come to him and who they were, even before they had opened their mouths. He assured them that the gods had heard Kesewa’s cries and would put her enemies to shame by opening up her womb. But there was one condition, he warned.
‘In nine months from now, you will bear a daughter,’ he began in a voice that rumbled like low thunder. ‘But that daughter is not for you. She is coming to open your womb so that you can have more children’. He paused. ‘When that girl comes of age and begins to see monthly blood, you shall bring her to the oracle, for she is a daughter of the river, and there shall she return to join the gods. No man shall have sexual relations with that child, for it shall annoy the gods, and their fury knows no bounds. Thus proclaims the oracle.’
Kesewa quickly nodded her assent. She would be having children!! After sternly repeating his warnings, the priest sent the women on their way, ordering Kesewa to make sure she had sexual relations with her husband that very night.
Two months after her secret trip to the Bosomefi oracle, Kesewa realised she was pregnant. She was stunned, and could only cry tears of unbridled joy. At last, she was a woman! She travelled to Asempa that very day and told her friend Benewaa, who was overjoyed. Soon, everybody in Asempa and Dabo had heard the news, and her church organised a special service to thank the Lord and pray for a successful pregnancy and many more children for Kesewa and her husband. Kesewa was tempted several times to confess to her pastor what she had done. On the other hand, she said to herself that there was no proof that her pregnancy was even due to the fetish priest. After all, her pastor had also been praying for her, and it could well be the pastor’s prayers that had been answered. She decided to leave sleeping dogs to lie alone.
Now as she cradled her daughter in her arms, Kesewa wondered whether she had had a daughter rather than a son because that of what the Bosomefi oracle had ordained, or that it was the work of the lord and just a coincidence. Either way, she could not see herself giving her daughter away, ever. The Lord shall protect my family, she thought fiercely to herself.
As she stared into her daughter’s eyes, she began to recite softly, one of her favourite bible passages: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…’
END OF PART ONE. TO BE CONTINUED
My new book, ‘Abrokyir Nkomo: Reflections of A Ghanaian Immigrant’, is doing rather well, I am pleased to say. I am still working on getting is available for purchase online and hope to be up and running by the end of this month.
Meanwhile, here are some excerpts from some of the chapters in the book. Enjoy…
Abrokyir: Dedfinitions and Gradings
You see, if we are to go by the technical definition of ‘abrokyir’ meaning abroad, then Togo, Burkina Faso, or Cote d’Ivoire are all abrokyir if you are in Ghana, even if they are just neighbouring countries to which you can travel even by a rickety, bone-rattling if dependable bus. Imagine, if you will, that you went to any of these countries and sojourned there for a while. On your return home you bump into a long-lost friend who remarks he has not seen you in a few years. ‘Oh’, you reply airily, ‘I went to abrokyir’. ‘O nice’, comes the reply, his face lighting up. ‘Where, exactly?’ Your confident reply, ‘Abidjan, actually’. Dear reader, technically you are right, as you have actually been abroad. But you do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out your friend’s reaction following this revelation. He may not know whether to laugh cry or refer you to the nearest psychiatrist for a thorough examination.
Dear Reader, if you are in London and you are bored on a Saturday, you can do something that a lot of Kumasi ladies do back home-dress up in funeral gear and attend a funeral, any funeral. Funerals are to the Ashantis what outdoorings are to the Gas and weddings are to the Fantes-it is a very serious matter
It is amusing, but when you go home on holiday and visit the village, they want to kill the fattest chicken for you as an honour. When you insist on freshly pounded cocoyam fufu with smoked antelope soup, they seem perplexed. If only they knew…
And when your average Ghanaian is travelling abroad to seek pastures new, he does not forget to ask the Almighty to accompany him. Divine intervention is earnestly sought in the build-up to the visa application. This stage usually comprises a rigorous bout of fasting, prayer and supplication, and may involve asking the pastor for special prayers.
You know the familiar story. You agree with a friend to meet near the Circle overhead at 2pm. You arrive there at 2:45; he arrives at 3:15. No big deal. In African parlance, ‘2pm’ means ‘around 2pm’, which in turn means ‘any time from 2pm,or 2, 2.30-3pm’. It is only a loose guide-a very elastic appointment. We are talking GMT-Ghana Made Time… The Ghanaian may pick up the time-keeping habits of his host citizens when he travels and settles abroad. However, whilst you can take the Ghanaian out of Ghana, you can never possibly take Ghana out of the Ghanaian
When (or is it ‘if ever’?) ‘efie wura’ goes back home one day to settle down, he may be comfortably seated among his potted plants on the shaded, third floor verandah of his house one sunny afternoon, surveying life on the hot, baking streets below as human and vehicular crawl by. Having devoured his hot, soft banku and grilled, spicy tilapia, washed down with a chilled Star beer, he lies back and allows his thoughts to drift lazily, whilst he picks his teeth, belching intermittently. If you remark to him that he has things easy, he will just smile faintly and allow himself a chuckle. And then, recalling with a shudder all the cold European winter nights’ hard work and waist/back pain, he will rather breezily ignore you, for as they say, you don’t know what goes on in Dodowa Forest…
Johnny Just Come
There are some things you can never prepare adequately for. Death is probably the foremost that springs to mind. Some cynical men say marriage comes a close second. But that is not all. Nothing really prepares you for adapting to the first few weeks, or maybe even months, after you arrive abroad.
By the third month of your arrival you start wondering what you will do when your six-month visa runs out. By God, how the months fly! It is all so new and unfamiliar to you, this ‘papers’ business. After all, back home, what was your business with the Ghana Immigration Service? In fact, in all honesty, dear reader, were you even aware of the very existence of the said organisation? Just what they do, you may have wondered to yourself.
Money Remittances: A Two-edged Sword?
Many many years ago, if Kwame Atta of Kokomlele, Accra, wanted some money from his uncle in Chicago to help pay off an embarrassing debt, he would write a long letter and post it at the P & T Post Office near Kwame Nkrumah Circle. He would ask his uncle to put the money in his reply letter. Kwame’s letter would take almost two weeks to reach its destination. If Kwame lived in Sefwi Wiawso, it would take much longer.
Abaawa The Maidservant
…if the abaawa misbehaves (maybe by stealing madam’s powder, answering back when reprimanded, or being too friendly with the houseboy next door) and madam sends her back, a whole delegation may be dispatched to beg madam to take her back. There would be a stern warning to abaawa to remember the poverty in the village, and how she should be grateful for her breakthrough…
Shopping For a Ghana Christmas
The season of madness is upon us again. Yes, ‘bronya’ is here, evoking many childhood memories back home of jolloff with chicken, cake, fanta, special clothes and endless nativity plays. Already, many Ghanaians abroad have booked their flights home to be a part of the festivities there. During this season, London, Paris, and Chicago, with their freezing streets, do not quite hold the same appeal as say, Anomabu, Wenchi, or Keta, with their brass bands, fancy dress and street music.
‘Boga’ Has Landed!
Dear reader, after a few beers and some spicy, tender, goat khebabs, the next stop was Blue Gate at Osu, where I devoured the banku and freshly grilled tilapia with the ferocity of a starved and ferocious rottweiler, much to the amusement of my friends. The night air was warm and sticky, and yet pleasant in its own soothing way. It felt just great sitting outdoors and watching life go by-the loud blast of music from a thousand bars, the parade of cars, the night hawkers with their flickering lamps dotting the night air, the aromas of assorted cooked foods and the acrid exhaust fumes from battered cars. I just sat and absorbed them all, churning and digesting the uniqueness of a typical African evening. Eventually I crawled into bed and slept the night off under the constant whirring of a standing fan, for I was literally roasting due to the heat.
Let us start with the interesting notion that certain peoples or nations behave in particular ways that are distinct from others. It is said that Americans are loud and arrogant (or confident, depending on whose view you are listening to), yet fiercely patriotic, that Italians are passionate lovers and fiery-tempered, that the British are reserved, the Germans are frightfully efficient and humourless, and that the Japanese are overly polite.
Of course all these are stereotypical views and do not apply to every person who belongs to these nationalities I have mentioned above. These views are therefore unsustainable. But is there a general truth to each of these stereotypes? How else have they gained currency over time? Most of us will evoke a certain stereotype once a country or race or profession is mentioned. How many people genuinely think lawyers are nice angels and not lying silver-tongued crooks that want to fleece you of every bit of money you have to your name?
Now, what is the Ghanaian national character? How do we differ as a people from, say Nigerians or Kenyan, Albanians or Peruvians? There is this popular anecdote about a European man who had heard that Ghanaians were known for answering questions with questions. He therefore hopped on a plane to Accra to research this phenomenon and to see for himself whether this was true. On arrival at Accra’s Kotoka International and whilst being attended to by an immigration officer, he asked casually whether it was true Ghanaians always answered questions with questions. ‘Who told you that?’ came the quick reply. The European was said to have turned around and caught the return flight back home, for he believed his research had been completed by what he had just heard.
Is the Ghanaian character, whatever it may be, divisible along the various ethno-linguistic divides? How do these diverse groups, each with its own perceived character traits, blend together to produce a ‘national character’ that can be claimed as distinctly Ghanaian, if indeed it is accepted that there is such a thing a Ghanaian character, however loosely you define it? Are there common traits running through all the groups and threading them together? . Mention a certain ethnic group and the words ‘braggart’, ‘money-loving’ and ‘funeral addict’, readily spring to the mind of many. Another group is feared by many for their supposed ‘magical’ powers but they are reputed to be excellent scholars and carpenters. Yet another ethnic group said to be bestowed with a sweet palate and therefore a preference for ‘building their houses in their bellies’ whilst their roofs leak and their buildings crack and wobble. It also believed that the men from a certain ethnic group are lazy and prefer eating their mother’s food well into adulthood, whilst people from certain parts of the country are generally looked down upon the rest of the country as lacking basic understanding. The list goes on and on. The Akuapems are perhaps the only ethnic group in Ghana to enjoy rave reviews for their extraordinary politeness, flavouring every other sentence with ‘me pa wo kyew se’ (please) even when they are just about to insult you. However, it is said that their politeness is no licence for you to mess with their palm nut soup, for that would be tantamount to a declaration of war!
Of course all of the above are silly stereotypes. But nonetheless, they carry a great deal of force in modern Ghana and tend to influence many people’s decisions and perceptions in serious issues like political affiliation, marriages, employment and promotion prospects as well as economic activities like trading. This is because they have been around for so long that they are believed to be gospel. Perceptions are very important, even of dangerously so.
If someone asked you to describe Ghanaians in one word, what would you say? Friendly? Resilient? God-fearing? Peace-loving? Hard working? The defunct Ghana Airways went by the slogan ‘Africa’s Friendly Airline’. But wonderful as these accolades may sound, and true as they may in fact be, a further dig may reveal more unsavoury issues: our time-keeping skills (or lack thereof), attitudes towards ‘government’ work, the prevalence of corruption and lack of public accountability, and a shameful belief in the superiority of everything European over African, etc.
How do these attributes outlined above (both good and bad) impact on us as a nation? Is the Ghanaian character a good engine for economic growth? In what way? Do we need a paradigm shift in our mindset (if in fact there is such a thing as our collective mindset)? Has religion (both traditional and Christianity/Islam) got anything (whether good or bad) to do with our development as a nation? How have our traditional family set-up and philosophical belief systems shaped and defined our national character, and has it been for the good? How about our political and economic history, under slavery and then subsequently colonialism up to the post-colonial era? Has our mentality shaped the social economic and political structures we have in place today? Or is it the other way round?
Why, simply put, are we the way we are?
The FTSE Index. The Dow Jones. Subprime mortgages. Bank Bailouts. Credit Crunch… The list goes on and on. Over the past few weeks, these words have been bandied about by a frenzied, mainly western media as financial Armageddon descends upon us. Investors are in panic, financial traders are in depression, hitherto great banks are in meltdown and savers are worried to death as to what happens next to their savings and pension funds. There are dark mutterings of a recession and a possible repeat of America’s Great Depression of 1929.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep-seated and pathological aversion to mathematics, economics, or anything remotely connected to the calculating of figures. In fact, my worst ‘O’level result in 1985 was a six in mathematics (i.e. a credit), and yet it was that result I was particularly ecstatic about. I do not understand the global financial system with its impenetrable machinations. And I am not particularly keen to take a crash course on the subject, thank you very much. The sight of grown men on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, wearing variously coloured bright jackets and shouting themselves hoarse into telephones whilst waving their arms about like excited school children always makes me wonder what gets them so animated. As a new immigrant cleaning investment bank offices in London back in the 1990s, I would gawk at the array of bright computer screens with a million blinking figures and multi-coloured graphs, and then would wonder how they could make sense to anyone.
I have struggled to make sense of the current global crisis, yet I have given up already. Reading and listening to all that jargon gives me severe migraine. All I can glean from the never-ending news coverage is that basically, the major western economies are in serious trouble, and it is spreading around like a nasty virus. I also know that this puts mortgages at risk, and that unemployment will rise as the global economy heads for a major recession (whatever that word means). That summary is enough for me- just spare me the gory details.
I am not too sure how many people in Ghana are directly affected by the credit problems in the western and Asian financial markets that are being described as ‘global’. Global? I am yet to read anything about the crashing of the Ghanaian, Malian or Rwandan stock markets crashing and causing panic! In any event, I am sure many Ghanaians back home would agree that our economy has not been doing well for donkey years. We have a permanent credit crunch. After all, a man who is already down need not fear falling. I cannot imagine any Ghanaians back home lying awake at night worrying about the security of their savings in these financially unstable times for a simple reason: they live on a hand-to-mouth basis.
My mind whizzes straight to my uncle Agya Kwaku Agyemfra, who lives in a very modest, simple house in our hamlet back home (not mortgaged, of course), with his wife and six grandchildren. He does not draw a pension. He lives off his small farm, has never held a bank account, and has never sought or been offered a bank loan for obvious reasons. Of course, all those other fancy financial terms do not mean anything to him, for he lives entirely outside the system. Since he enjoys no electricity, he has no TV or any other modern gadgetry, his major luxury being a constantly malfunctioning battery-operated transistor radio. The concept of rising bills is therefore beyond his grasp. He only relies on a trusty, if rather charming, rickety bicycle to get along, so rising fuel prices are not much of an issue for him.
Of course, having been brought up in urban Ghana, and having lived abroad for longer than really necessary or prudent, my default position has been to see Wofa Agyemfra as deprived and to feel sorry for him. Yet whenever I have visited him, he has always exuded a certain amount of serenity, a man clearly at peace with himself and seemingly satisfied with his lot, without a care in the world. There have been times I have wondered whether my uncle actually enjoys poverty.
And yet, during this financial crisis, I have actually found myself envying my uncle at times. Whilst I toss in bed at night and wearily haul myself through London’s bitter, cold streets to work during the day, I can’t help but worry about the security of my home, my savings and my job in these uncertain times- the things I have bent over backwards over the years for. Is everything going to be up in a deathly-pale blue smoke before one can shout ‘recession’? No wonder during recessions, marriages break down, people suffer clinical depression as they lose their jobs and businesses and their homes are repossessed as their very lives crumple before them. Some even commit suicide. Bankers and financial in particular have this unnerving habit of flinging themselves out of skyscrapers during recessions.
My Wofa Agyemfra, on the other hand (bless him), continues to sleep soundly at night, I am sure. Of course he must have his own worries and problems. But if investment banks are failing, so what? Wetin concern am? As the former British Prime Minister Jim Callaghan was (wrongly) quoted during Britain’s Winter of Discontent in 1979, ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’
My friends, sometimes, as they say, ignorance is bliss. Wofa, I envy you paa.