Feature Article of Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Columnist: Brew-Hammond, Nana Ekua
A must Read for All Ghanaian Adults and Students and foreigners who want to know about Ghana.
By: Kwaku A. Danso, PhD
A Ghanaian proverb suggests that whoever is clearing a path may not be the best person to know if the path is straight. Despite Ghana’s fifty five years of post–independence opportunities for education and interaction with the rest of the world, there is a general impression by many that the living conditions of our people could have been better. Why would a girl wear powder around her neck and perhaps give an impression that can be deceptive if she has taken a bath or not?
Nobody can be more honest about their situation and even how their parents and adults look than a child, especially a child born to Ghanaian parents in foreign country where they interact with different cultures and people around her better than any of us adult Ghanaians can do. This is a girl born and trained in London, UK, sent to Ghana because her mother did not want her to be “spoiled”, and hence sent to her aunt in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, and then off to a Girls’ Boarding School in Cape Coast. The girl’s life in London takes a major turn at almost fourteen, as she is uprooted from her home in London with one day notice and only an overnight travel suitcase, due to her single mother’s anger and frustration at coming home to see her watching Television with a boy class mate alone in the house. Her experiences gives a detailed insight into how we Ghanaian parents behave towards our children, how we trust everything to God, to how we make judgments without listening to our children’s side of an issue, if they have that right at all. It also provides an insight into how our culture and upbringing gives different perspectives and worldview. It may also be a reflection on the social and Psychological reasons our modern state of Ghana has a problem with citizenship participation in our modern day democracy and political centralization of executive decision-making without consideration of the people. Adults and people in positions of power and responsibility hardly listen to those they are supposed to supervise or manage.
In the book our young British-born Ghanaian girl, Lila, arrives at the airport in Accra only to find people have to walk in the hot tropical sun to board a tattered bus to the airport terminal with the words “Akwaaba” written on it. She notices the heat and discomfort at the arrival terminal and people rushing to take her luggage away from her hands, which later her aunt explained was for their daily bread. Lila notices that Ghana was a land of red soil and real dust almost everywhere in Ghana as a standard atmosphere including play grounds. Even our soup looks red, she said.
Another interesting thing to note was the pushing of cedi notes in peoples’ hands for services, from the airport bag carriers, taxi drivers, the watchman at the entry gates, to the headmistress of Dadaba Secondary School who was invited to her aunt’s house in Kumasi. In the case of the Headmistress she was known to her uncle and aunt, and was called to the house to meet Lila. At the end of the conversation Madam received a large brown envelope with cedi notes, whiles she received her prospectus of items to buy for school including bucket, soap, blanket, church cloth and attire. It was interesting to note how she describes the bottles of preserved turkey tails and “shito” (hot spices) with bags of gari and cubed sugar.
Lilas’s experience at one of Cape Coast first-class girls’ boarding school is perhaps the most interesting if not shocking to our senses. She got her first orientation with bullying girls ransacking her suitcase to find out what they wanted and steal right in front of her. Because they assumed she did not speak the local language and was from London, she was described as broni (white girl or foreign girl), which was later categorized into “broni tuntum” (black “white girl”) and “broni kokoo” (fair- skinned “white girl”) for her friend. Hundreds of girls in their teens are crowded in dormitories on bunk beds, some of them sagging metal mesh with blanket and pillow and covered with mosquito nets. The description of the girls bathroom where for the first time she saw scores of naked girls each taking a bath with water in a bucket is only topped by describing what many boys or men will squirm to read – girls in their period with blood staining their underwear and sometimes the floors, and using toilet roll to stuff in their vagina, often for the whole day. To top it off she describes how sometimes for two weeks, this famous girls’ boarding school would run out of water and the girls had to walk to a nearby forest half a mile away to fetch water to bathe. Some of the girls had their parents deliver water to them in barrels. At times she and a friend Brempomaa would go to the forest to drink a fermented kenkey (popular corn-dough food in Ghana) which was buried in the ground to create an alcohol drink.
There are more on Dadaba Secondary School, including “Crife” (Christian Fellowship) and girls dancing with each other at Saturday night music entertainment. One night Lila gets invited to sleep in one of the girl’s bed only to be shocked when the girl asked her to touch her breasts and she refuses and get scolded! It seems homosexuality exists in Ghana from that age when girls start to fantasize about boys. After many prayers, inner tears and pondering, Lila’s life drama reaches a climax as her mother arrives in Ghana to pick her up one day to return to London, when the mother had to attend a funeral ceremony of a family member in Ghana.
Getting back to London Lila is met with a land which now appears to her in major contrast with Ghana – everything is gray or black, and no red soil! She gets a job at Safeway stores, and finds a nineteen year old boy who teaches her what kissing is about and smoking marijuana – which was my lowest point of the book. However, she is soon introduced to her aunt on her father’s side who shows her how the middle or upper middle class lives, nice house with vanity clothes, high class magazines, women’s makeup, fancy cars and high living. As fate would have it was her aunt who finds her smoking marijuana at work, and informs the mother, who then has her booked on a flight to visit her long lost father in New York for the summer.
New York was not much different than London, except for slightly taller buildings and being wet with her period without coins for buying tampons at the airport bathrooms. Lila was met by her businesslike boom-voice father at JFK airport, and the new wife Joo-Li, two young children Nana Yaa and Yaw. With toilet roll stuffed in her private parts and shorts wet, she enters a Van with her father and family only to be told the tickets to Disneyworld were hot and they were on their way to Florida with no delay to even stop at home to change. One has to laugh a little to read the part where the kids start complaining that somebody stinks in the car and the little boy started looking in her direction. The innocence of children in telling the truth as they see it finds another example here again – the subject why this book seems a must reading for every Ghanaian and perhaps African who wants to see our people and culture in perspective.
The girl’s life in America being topped with the inevitable charms and smiles of Disneyworld, one only notices one more factor in how our men act. Lila notices and again makes me laugh how her father negotiates entry to the rides that the children would be considered too short or too young to ride. The father pushes his way around with the attendant, and eventually wins his way. She said “I knew right way my father was a bully”. Very funny indeed for those who have raised children! Any self confident Ghanaian man would find themselves in that capacity, as also any Ghanaian woman who says “That is how your father is. He never plays with his time and makes lists of things he wants done”. Well, that is one of the secrets of success in planning, isn’t it!
The story of Lila’s life ends well with a big push when a private school related to Dadaba Secondary School refuses to accept her and she ends up attending a Brooklyn public high school where she is invited to attend a Ghana Embassy function only to meet her eventual fate. A photo show was set up by the same National Geographic photographer who had come to Dadaba Secondary School earlier that year to take pictures of the girls for a story. Lila was in the pictures! As people surrounded her to listen to her story, she got an invitation to write an introduction to the photo essays for the photographer. This was later followed by another call for her to write a book about her life – an award that took her father, new wife and children to London to go to Ghana with Lila’s mother and new fiancé and daughter. All of them arrive in Ghana and the head to Dadaba Secondary school after introduction to family and friends. They found girls with powder around their necks, a symbol that the Ghanaian girl had taken a bath, which in fact she and others had used to disguise when they had not had water to take a bath that day.
I highly recommend this book to all Ghanaians, Africans and those interested in reviewing Africa’s progress in the post independence era, as a reflection in the mirror: Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond. It is available at Amazon and other outlets. As a culture we Africans are extra sensitive about criticism. However, nobody can tell us about or own Ghana after fifty five years of intense education and attempts to modernize our nation and improve our living conditions for ourselves and our children! Whether we have failed or succeeded is left to you and not the politicians to tell you. The book is very easy to read and is recommended for adaptation to our Ghanaian and African high schools, and perhaps Euro-American cultures who want to see how other cultures examine the world.
Kwaku A. Danso, PhD (Email: [email protected]) (President- Ghana Leadership Union, and Moderator –GLU Forum).