Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever"

The words of Kwame Nkrumah, as he declared Ghana’s independence in 1957.

There's something about Ghana's 50th anniversary celebrations that makes me wish I was Ghanaian. My dad went to school in Ghana, developing a love for highlife music when he was at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. As a result of his dalliance with Ghanaian culture, he gave me the name “Kofi”, which means born on Friday. Oddly enough, it isn’t one of those African names that only certain members of your family call you, but never quite made the birth certificate. Kofi is on my birth certificate, in black and white.

I’ve always felt a strong affinity towards Ghana, and in the past, I’ve been mistaken for a Ghanaian. Some of the best adventures I had as a young’un were in Ghana. Between 1993 and 1998, I went to Ghana about twice a year. My school was in Lomé, in neighbouring Togo, and every half term, we’d rush off to Ghana. We’d pitch up at a beach resort in Kokrobite, spend all day swimming in the beach, getting sand in the unmentionable bits of our swimming costumes, and swallowing copious amounts of salty Atlantic water. There would always be someone who felt they were some human incarnation of a fish, and would swim away into the horizon, until only little black dots could be seen. Then a housemaster or housemistress - who were all Ghanaian, except for a couple of Brits - would bellow at the top of their lungs for us to come back to shore. The boys would laugh as the girls screeched whenever the tide took them towards the rocks that were crawling with crabs. If we weren’t swimming, we would be in Accra’s teeming markets, trying to buy the finest Reebok trainers which we couldn’t get in Nigeria.

At night, there was fish and fried plantain, or more specifically kelewele, kenkey and shitto. We had to adhere to some unwritten but obvious codes; boys were meant to stay in their rooms, and girls were meant to stay in theirs. But we were 15 and 16 year olds with raging hormones, which meant rules would be bent, and boundaries pushed. And in some instances, rules were shattered to pieces, and boundaries were erased. There was this girl, bless her heart… We’d spent the last couple of days of the trip together, with sparks flying like in a welder’s shop. That night, we had our own mistletoe moment, but under the clear Ghanaian moonlight. To quote Osgood Fielding III in Some Like it Hot, “Zowee!”

Sometimes, instead of Accra, we did Cape Coast, Elimna, Tema, Kumasi, Lake Volta. The slave forts at Cape Coast and Elmina Castle bring a tear to the most tear duct dried men. I’ll never forget the immaculate motorway between Tema and Accra, 50km of smooth uninterrupted tar. Or Tetteh Quarshie Circle, a roundabout to trump all roundabouts.

The first time I went to Ghana was in summer of 1991. My mama was having a conference, and it was a ridiculously long summer holiday because the Nigerian educations system had just changed from January – December school years to September – July. The summer had been one of globetrotting for me, starting the summer with a couple of weeks in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, followed by Egypt and India. It was the last summer that I was eligible for half price tickets, my mum’s little boy would soon start paying adult fares. I’ll do this while I can afford it, my mum thought.

We travelled by road from Lagos, to the Seme border, Hilla Condji the conduit between Benin and Togo, and the Aflao border more or less in the heart of Lomé. Even though we were attending a high powered conference of which my mama was one of the chief organisers, my petit garcon self was very much appreciated and welcomed. I was given a delegate’s pass and also given responsibilities (don’t ask me what). Everyone called me by my Ghanaian name, which I was proud to tell them I had. “My name is Kofi”, is how I introduced myself. My mum never went to Ghana again without someone asking about Kofi – he must be a big boy now. He is…

My first trip to Ghana should have been much earlier. In the late 80s, our househelp, Aunty Comfort, was supposed to take me with her for a few days on her Christmas break. But Ghana Airways put an enormous spanner in our plans. We went to the airport everyday for three days, in an effort to get off the ground. It never happened, and so my first trip to Ghana was delayed for a few years.

Aunty Comfort was our househelp for much of my childhood, until she returned to Ghana to get married. She wasn’t just a househelp, she was family. She carried me as a child, she cooked for us, she helped me with my homework, she bathed me. My mama trusted her implicitly. I remember coming on holiday to London in the early eighties, with my tiny hand perched in Aunty Comfort’s. My mum would wave goodbye, and Aunty Comfort would look after me until we got to my uncle’s or aunt’s in London. When she was leaving, we all cried. My mum cried, Aunty Comfort cried. I cried.

One thing many Nigerians will never forget, as one of my friends put it, is the caning dished out by Ghanaian teachers across the land. No Nigerian education is complete without the shillelagh of a Ghanaian school or lesson teacher. My lesson teacher, Ditchfield Amegashie (a name to instil fear) carried his white switch in his briefcase. Teacher Ditch was as diligent as a cock at dawn. He always crowed.

At work, our instincts have been to become carping journalists, asking whether we’re just painting too much of a rosy picture about Ghana’s golden jubilee. But nothing can put a dampener on this party, nothing can rain on this parade. It’s a good time to be alive, to witness a milestone in Africa’s history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the country that started the cascade of decolonisation. In his independence speech, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah said, “We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; For our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.”

Gye Nyame.


Anonymous said...

I was looking for somewhere to reach out and for someone to give a big blogosphere hug to - and i knew this was the place to come.

Yes, we have much to be thankful for, 50 years on. Of course, much to ponder on and complain as well, but today, I'll reserve the cynicism and just rejoice.

Thanks for this post, Nkem.

Nilla said...

Yeah, your right about us never forgetting our Ghanaian teachers. They were so strict.

Nice one!

? said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
? said...

Wow...what a brilliant piece African shirts!

This moment brings us together as the dream of continental unity and development for the African continent is being forged, although Ghana may still be a virgin area as far as development is concerned.

But I am not here to comment on the vision of Ghana's first president and architect of it’s independence Kwame Nkrumah, to make his country a beacon of success in Africa and power the movement towards African nationalism. Neither am I here to question the current state of development inn Ghana.

To me, this is simply about the joys of growing up in Nigeria. It cannot be complete without a reference to the Ghanaians.

I do not know of any Nigerian who may write a little history of growing up in Lagos that such would exclude the Ghanaians.

Vividly, I can remember growing up on a particular close in Lagos, Nigeria. To the left was an eminent banker. To our right a renowned jurist. On most of the remainder of the close lay an array of Lebanese business men with their complete families. That included a particular mixed couple (Lebanese and Ghanaian) who had about 6 gifted children including a very beautiful and talented muscician.

For whatever reason, it was the norm for each household in the neighbourhood to employ security aides who originated from North Africa, cooks and stewards who originated from sub Saharan Africa. Chauffeur's were usually Nigerian.

In as much as that, my mother ensured our private teachers were Ghanaian. And I think that gave me some positive exposure. No school or holiday was complete without the Ghanaians. They were very nice, I mean Ghanaians and I have no memory of caning dished out by Ghanaian teachers. The Ghanaian kids brought so much fun to the neighbourhood. They were a delight to interact with. If not devouring a side of fufu and peanut stew (almost similar to the satay sauce you have on a Chinese menu) with a subtle pepper kick..., thanks to the whether, we would be learning how not to drive. Or footie balling. Or swimming, or viewing an old western movie, house partying, or participating in some other sport, or we could be hanging with the other Lebanese kids roller skating, skate boarding, bike riding or throwing boomerangs or flying rings. It never stopped.

I do not believe the joys of growing up in Nigeria can be complete without a reference to the Ghanaians. The truth is always very bitter!

culturalmiscellany said...

You make me smile. I love Ghana. Big Milly's Backyard near Kokrobite is such a lovely place to stay and swim. I'm not sure about the good roads you mention though, they were pretty rubbish when I went. Your comments about the border points had be reminiscing.

Deborah said...

Thanks for your post, I wish I could have left Jersey for Ghana to join the celebration... Check out Youtube for some great films on Ghana.

Anonymous said...

excellent. there's hope for africa.

Anonymous said...

Ghana...Yay! Fitting tribute.

Anonymous said...

I am half Nigerian and half Togolese and enjoyed your article or rather I enjoy your articles did you go to the british school in Lome?

Anonymous said...

Wow I miss BSL, u just brought back memories with Accra, Krokobite and Ghana in general. I love that place, when I finally went back 2yrs ago, I actually felt home, and was amazed at how much Twi I still remember. I went all over from Accra to Cape Coast to Eastern Region.
I love being Nigerian, but Ghana is very much dear to my heart. From Ghanaian teachers we had in Corona to all the Ghanaian people we encountered at BSL

IJEOMA said...

I love Ghana.. never been there.. But the people, the music, thier culture.. if i were to be anything else other than what i am.. i woul be a Ghanian.

Karen said...

I really want to visit Africa!

This is my first time at your blog and I like what I see. Keep up the good work and stop by my blog.