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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Savannah View: How They Die

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

They are deteriorating, wasting away.

They are young men I would have stopped to share pleasantries with. I know them. And they know me. Very well. But today I feel pity for them, try to avoid them. But they will not let me go.

“Please, come!” one calls, his sunken and imploring eyes fixed on me. A few years ago, I would have stopped to “insult” him even if I was in a hurry. His ethnic group and mine have standing jokes we share, and we often insult one another playfully when we meet. But today I shun his company. He looks scary.
He used to be a tall and stocky young man who earned a living more with his physical strength than with his brain. He was a head porter, a truck pusher and worked on construction sites. Where there was any work that required real strength to execute, you would see him there. Some called him Kete-Krachi Bulldozer. That was then.
This afternoon as he sits outside the infamous drinking spot opposite the Kete-Krachi Community Centre, he looks different. His hair is like a child suffering from kwashiorkor, the protein deficiency disease; and his body looks bloated. His skin seems to be peeling away. You don’t have to be a prophet of doom to conclude that he’s destined for the grave. With my hand I tell him I will be back very soon, but knowing I won’t.
The second one will not allow me to go without reminding me about him. “Do you remember me?” he shouts. And he is not satisfied until I mention his name. “Yeeeman!” comes his response and as a sign of appreciation, he extends a fist and I also extend mine hit his. That’s how Rastafarians greet. But he’s not one. Call him akpeteshiefarian. And you’re 100% right.
This young man is from a popular sporting family, who live near the cluster of schools in Kete-Krachi, where I attended primary and junior high school. Known for his sporting exploits, he was very popular, not only as a member of the second division team of the town and one of the best volleyball players in town, but also as a coach. He was instrumental in basic and senior high school sports festivals in Kete-Krachi and beyond. But the love for akpeteshie has turned this tall and energetic young man into a living dead. He is also like the first one but he doesn’t look bloated yet.
The third young man I recognise this afternoon is one of the renowned drinkers of akpeteshie in Krachi. He is short and smallish but brags a lot. He claims to be a qualified driver who plied his trade in Koforidua before coming to live with his grandmother in Kete-Krachi. He too has reached a stage when it is often said “Akpetishie has snapped him a photograph.” They sit with half a dozen men, drinking to welcome 2012!
But these three are luckier than their colleagues who died fatally during the yuletide in this town. A few days before the Christmas, I got a call from Kete-Krachi announcing the death of a young man I knew very well. I was told he died when the car he was driving crashed into a gutter. On December 29, when I arrived in Kete-Krachi, I was told another young man had earlier in the day crashed with a motor bike. He was in coma for almost a week before passing away. The two young and energetic young men, multiple sources told me, were drunk at the time of the accidents.
An assembly member at the lakeside told me on January 3, when the body of a man was found floating on the lake, that a month earlier another man had drowned.
“He was from Old Nanasawe [a village near Kete-Krachi town]. He came to the market to sell his charcoal and proceeded to drink heavily with the proceeds. He finally ended up in the lake,” the assemblyman told me.
Well, if you’re thinking these are isolated cases of how alcohol is ruining the youth of this town, then you’re wrong. Drinking is the latest fad here among a majority of the youth and some people are very worried about the situation.
A National Problem
Last semester a Level 100 student of the University of Ghana jumped from the second floor balcony of his hostel and died, one week after his matriculation. Sources said he and his colleagues were drunk that day. And he wasn’t alone.
The last week before I left campus, there was a heated debate in one of the rooms in Akuafo Hall of the University of Ghana about alcoholism. I visited a friend and a course mate who was with him received a call and started lamenting about the death of someone she said was an intelligent and promising young man. When my friend and I asked what had killed him, she didn’t know exactly. But she was sure it would be alcohol.
“When he came to the university, he wasn’t like that,” the lady said. “But before he completed he was drinking more than those who thought him how to drink.”
The subject of campus drink ups and PUNCH quickly came up for discussion. Punch I was told, is a strong liquor not meant for the faint hearted. It is a mixture of strong alcoholic beverages, and it features prominently at student drink ups.
“Sometimes they soak wee (marijuana) in water and add the water to make it stronger,” a student of IPS told me. “When the wee is added and you’re a first timer, you have to be careful.”
But this lady, who was lamenting about the death of a friend, still saw nothing wrong with PUNCH.
“It is normal,” she argued. “But how can you organise a drink up without PUNCH? Then ‘boys boys’ will not come. That’s what they want and you have to give it to them.”
I failed to see the sense in the fact that PUNCH is normal but the lady’s argument was that it is out of place to organise a drink up without it. “You can decide not to take it yourself but you can’t deny others.”
I had never attended a drink up and said I would never attend such event before leaving Legon. This lady thought that was abnormal and odd. But I prefer that oddity.
Alcohol is deadly. It has killed many people I know. And it has not stopped.
Postscript: This article was published in January 10, 2012 edition of The Finder newspaper. A month later, the first of the three young men described in this article died. He was buried at last weekend. Don’t ask me what killed him.
That is how they die.

Savannah View is a weekly column that appears in the Tuesday edition of The Finder newspaper. Writer’s email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com