WORKS FROM GIRD WRITING CAMP 2016: CREATIVE NON-FICTION FROM PORTIA OPARE

 cwgjlymxeaahsna-1

Today we’re featuring work from the Gird Writing Camp 2016. This Creative Non-fiction piece was written by Portia Opare, who attended the Creative Non-fiction workshop with Prof. Esi Sutherland-Addy and Mr. Kobby Graham.

 

 

JOURNALISTIC PIECE

On Thursday some women of the University of Ghana reported getting harassed by residents of the Commonwealth Hall. The Commonwealth Hall held its homecoming ceremony at the forecourt of the hall. The ceremony was massively attended by the old boys of the Hall, most of who were now politicians, business men and respectable professionals. During the ceremony, the passage through the forecourt of the Hall was blocked to women. Current members of the Hall stood at vantage points and directed women through an alternative entrance. Some women who entered through the blocked forecourt, which lacked a sign to show that there was a blockade, were heckled by some students of the Hall.

 

CREATIVE NON-FICTION PIECE

 The Akan name for vagina is a hard thing to say. If I could say it out loud, I’d do it. That’s what the boys called me.

Boys younger than me; boys who could have been my brothers.

That’s the name they screamed at me when the tips of my feet touched the paved forecourt of the Commonwealth Hall. I had been reduced to a body part; all of me- my ambitions, my fears, my dreams, my hopes; my mind. I was a body part; a part unworthy of honour from the way they spat out the name. And my crime?  I had trampled on their manly shrine, entered their holy ground with all of my femininity.

Normally, I’d pause and question; I’d be curious enough to want to question what gave them the authority to block off a piece of this communal earth with the virtual barricade of jeers and vulgarity.  But that Thursday evening I had little energy left in me to be incensed. I wasn’t intimidated by them or their cat-calls. I blamed our society for their actions. Why blame those boys? They were only victims of a system that insisted on drawing sharp divisions between superior and inferior, between man and woman. I was especially not surprised that the dignified alumnus looked on as filthy name after filthy name was thrown at me. They were big men, these politicians, lawyers, educators; yet they needed the balm of my shame to stroke their manhood.

So I ignored them, and kept on walking. Call me names, reduces me to whatever suits you. I will just keep on walking, and keep on moving.

pp

About: Portia Dede Opare is a part time student and a full time thinker of all things sane and insane. Sometimes she puts some of her thoughts on paper. When she writes,  she makes sense of the world.

Empowerment is the new word for Tyranny

tyranny

The idea of empowerment has become a popular one in present times. To empower, simply, is to release the energies of a marginalized group, or individuals, so they can take control of their own lives. The Chinese have a proverb about giving a man a fish as compared to teaching him how to fish. Give him a fish and he comes to your home every morning with his grumbling stomach. Teach him to fish however, and he takes responsibility of his grumbling stomach. Teaching people to fish for themselves is the crux of empowerment.

Empowerment is also about giving people a voice, so they can speak up against oppression and injustice. Throughout history, there has been one empowerment program after the other. As long as inequality remains, there will always be the need for the strong to lift up the weak. Be it the empowerment of Black people, or of women, of sexual minorities, or of street children – there is always a need for someone to rise up and say ‘it is your time to speak up; you can lay claim to any resource around you, just like everyone else.’

Empowerment is important because it tries to do away with the coercive and oppressive relationships of power that often exists in some societies. It is really doubtful that anyone would find faults with empowerment’s honest need to give a voice to the oppressed and to make their lives matter.

Nevertheless there is a paradox in empowerment agendas that can result in the abuse of the very people whose interests it seeks to protect.

I will clarify this paradox with an illustration.  Mr. Mensah is an oil magnate while Budu sells cigarettes on the rough streets of Accra. Driving home from work one day, Mr. Mensah meets Budu and decides that Budu will be better off if he gets off the street. He does this because he sees the potential for success in Budu, so takes Budu home with him. Mr. Mensah believes that Budu will make an excellent lawyer someday, so he quickly enrolls Budu in the university. Budu is grateful, of course; Mr. Mensah has given him a new chance at life, he has given him a voice, he has empowered him; something no one ever did for him. Where empowerment failed is this: Mr. Mensah never asked Budu what it was he really wanted. Had he asked, Mr. Mensah would have known that Budu had always wanted to learn sculpturing at the community polytechnic.  Mr. Mensah gave Budu a voice, but it was a voice Budu couldn’t sing with.

The illustration of Mr. Mensah’s relationship with Budu is to establish that no matter the magnanimity of empowerment, power still remains in the hands of one the strong. That is, within the very structures of empowerment is the possibility of domination.

Empowerment comprises of two parties; the weak/oppressed who needs saving and the strong/free who takes upon himself the role of giving hope to the hopeless. Weak and strong, poor and rich – that is the dynamics of empowerment. Any displacement in the balance that exists between the weak and the strong will result in a new form of oppression, where the savior becomes the tyrant.

Can Budu ever complain if Mr. Mensah employs him as his lawyer personal lawyer? Can he ever say no if Mr. Mensah instructs him to forge documents and perjure himself in court? No he cannot; he owns most of his success to Mr. Mensah.

Tyranny can be cloaked as empowerment, and it is often the case when benevolent NGO’s, civil societies and donor agencies fall into the delusion that they know more about the needs of the poor than the poor themselves do.

With the argument that empowerment can serve as a tool for oppression, it is important to understand poor doesn’t necessarily mean dumb. Can saviors overcome the seductiveness of a new form of oppression? What will be the motive of empowerment, teaching the hungry man to fish for himself, or teaching him to fish so he calls you “Master”?

By Dede Williams

Healing Through the Funeral Feast

ny_funeral_nb

“Wherever pain abides, there’s the nobleness of the human soul” – Maya Angelou

Some people find the idea of funeral feasts completely odd. In pre-colonial days, most British anthropologists could not wrap their minds around the pomp and pageantry that accompanied African funerals. Cruickshank, one of the earliest observers of Akan funerals, noticed that it was “a point of honour to make a great show at their funeral customs, and they vie with each other in performing these expensive burials. Even the poorest will pawn and enslave themselves to obtain the means of burying a relation decently, according to the ideas of  the country.” The thought of those ‘natives’ throwing money away on some dead chap must have really gotten the collective blood pressures of  the European sky-rocketing.

In contemporary Ghana, funerals are still accompanied with pomp. There is feasting, dancing, and even road blocking, depending on which part of Ghana you are coming from.  There are people who do not see the need in eating at funerals; for them, there is no need at all for the bereaved family to serve food to funeral guests.  They believe that the feasting that accompanies funerals is misplaced, even irreverent.  Funerals are supposed to be sombre occasions. When people lose their loved ones, the least mourners could do is to actually mourn.  This argument makes sense, really. Surely, the presence of such merrymakers at funerals is not an indication of disrespect and thoughtlessness.

Aside the nuisance of the occasional freeloader, some people really see nothing wrong with funeral feasts. This is because they have come to an understanding that grief can sit closely by mirth. They understand that the twinning of mirth and grief need not be a grave contradiction. After the storm, birds do sing, and so should we. The dead are gone, and as much as they were loved while they dwelled amongst the living, life must go on without them. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done about the loss we feel. If ever I am consulted on how I’d like my funeral to be, I’d tell my friends to dance; dance and feast all night. I’d tell them to dance on my grave even, in celebration of the beauty of the life we shared.

If ever I am consulted on how I’d like my funeral to be, I’d tell my friends to dance; dance and feast all night. I’d tell them to dance on my grave even, in celebration of the beauty of the life we shared.

Our ability to heal after pain is a blessing we should not take for granted.  Had we not been blessed with this capacity, we would be the most pitiable of creatures.  The rains of life beat us at every turn; there are times when grief constantly follows grief. Allowing ourselves an opportunity to smile, and to eat, while we mourn is our only respite from gloom.

Eating can be one of the first steps towards healing. Whose business is it anyway, if we feast our way to healing?  It is no one’s business but ours.

By Dede Williams

Photo Credit: funeralfund.blogspot.com

Religious Manipulation, Victimization and Clerical Predators

 

sunday-service-at-stjames-catholic-church-osu-ghana-africa-ecpmek

On Wednesday 20th April 2016, in Accra’s Juvenile Court, a Catholic priest stands accused of abandoning his six-month-old son. The plaintiff is a twenty-four-year woman and beneficiary of the Father’s good mercies. According to this young woman, the priest started making sexual advances at her after he funded her education in one of Ghana’s tertiary educational institutions. This case would have been a pretty mundane one if the man at the centre of it all hadn’t been a priest. Men run away from their paternal responsibilities every day, and in every part of the world; no surprises there. But when a man, who has taken an oath to chastity, and to charity, gallops all over those promises, society has a cause to be concerned.

This particular report is one amongst the hundreds of sexual abuse and manipulation by men of God. Stories of women who have been abused by priests, prophets and other ‘men of God’ abound in the Ghanaian society. It is often easy for people to judge such victims of such ‘priestly abuse’; they are called wanton and in some cases, stupid. In fact, I have even heard some people say that most of these victims throw themselves at these reverend ‘men of God’. If I remember correctly, the missus of one such ‘man of God’ did say that it was the women who liked her husband, not the other way round. After all, who wouldn’t be attracted to all that anointing, not to talk of the greasy perm and the multi-colored suit?

A segment of the population who are compassionate enough not to judge these victims still can’t help but question their choices. For them, if these victims had been careful enough they could have avoided getting trapped in the snares of such predators. We ask ‘Didn’t they know that these men were quacks? What is it at that women need that leave them open to such attacks?’ Most of the questions we ask, and the accusations we make, often suggest that there is a weakness in these women, a desperation of a sort, that leaves them open to the ploys of charlatans. But desperation is desperation, irrespective of gender. If you have ever been pushed into a hard place, you will understand that it took a lot of will-power, and solid social support network, to extricate yourselves from the grips of anxiety.

Not all people are built to withstand pressure, and the manipulative abilities of these ‘men of God’ are phenomenal. When it comes to manipulation, especially in the name of religion, the complexity of the matter goes beyond the stupidity or desperation of the victims.

In November 1978, nine hundred and eighteen (918) members of the congregation of Peoples Temple, in Jamestown USA, under the pastoral leadership of James Warren Jones committed mass suicide. Jones convinced the entire congregation to ingest cyanide, leading to their deaths. The congregation was made up of men, women and children. These people had been manipulated by the charismatic and wily reverend man of God, Jones. Stupidity wasn’t the strongest factor at play; it was the manipulative powers of one warped individual. Jones had been described as “a really weird kid…obsessed with religion…obsessed with death”

Whenever the issue of abuse is mentioned, we should not be hasty to judge the victim; oftentimes they have been through hell and back. When next you see a sister following a really strange ‘man of God’, don’t wait till their ‘stupidity’ wears off. Do what you would have done if you saw a hyena trying to devour your sister as you drove by in a race car: snatch her out of the grips of the hyena’s tooth, and drive off with her. She isn’t stupid, or desperate, she is just in the focal point of a predator.

By Dede Williams

Photo credit: alamy.com

Marijuana, Fear and Ayi Kwei Armah

 

ayi kwei armah

“Wee can make you see things that you might perhaps not really want to see. It is not a question of non-existent things being conjured up… it is just that just that all through life we protect ourselves in so many ways from so many little things just by managing to be a little blind here, a bit short-sighted here and by squinting against the incoming light all the time…that is what the prudent call life…truth is the deep dangerous kind of truth that can certainly frighten you into a desperate act if the life you have been living is of itself deeply gloomy and desperate.”- Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

In 1968, renowned Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah used the Ghanaian society’s perception of marijuana as his means of undertaking an exposition on fear and truth. Forty-eight years down the line, the possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence in Ghana, and our fears corrode our souls with a new intensity. In his Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, the author established a relationship between fear and truth; about the natural human inclination to bury our fears beneath masses of taboos and prohibitions.

Conventional wisdom tips the scales in favour of those who choose to be a little blind here, a bit short-sighted there. The prudent are those who succeed in burying their fears like they would a deranged cousin, deep down the in the family attic. They know how to squint against their uncomfortable truths. It is they who choose the comforts of their fears over the terrifying uncertainties of their lives.

With his Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Armah chose to become that voice that was unafraid of facing truths that had the potency to crippling him. He chose the alternative of fear- the ability to look within oneself long enough to confront the demons that tear at one’s soul. Such a choice will be considered prudent and it isn’t an endeavour by men and women of straw.

Preening into the abysses of ourselves in search for truth can be frightening.  Armah says that such self-examination can ‘certainly frighten you into a desperate act’, especially if the life you are living is already gloomy and desperate. But isn’t being frightened into a desperate act a better option than living a gloomy life? If your desperate actions don’t harm you, they will give you strength to fight your demons tomorrow. 

By Dede Williams

Wisdom as a Product of Consistent Stupidity By Dede Williams

Note to readers: the word stupidity will be used more than two dozen times. It is not intended to be offensive, but merely descriptive. This work is in itself an exercise in stupidity.
There are several time-tested ways of becoming wise. From the inception of the various religions and philosophies, different thinkers have theorized on wisdom and how to arrive at it. In all of these theories, one important way of arriving at wisdom has often been ignored. It is the way of consistent stupidity.

Consistent stupidity is when a person who otherwise is audaciously stupid, remains consistent in the application of his/her stupidity. With time, their consistency in churning out crazy ideas and impossible utterances begins to take on the coloring of wisdom. Rarely do people care how one becomes wise. The focus has always been the end, which is wisdom. So consistent stupidity should be given a chance.
There is only one thing worse than abject stupidity, and that is the inability of people to stick by their ideas, irrespective of how crazy they are. Most greats of history are remembered today not because of their words of gold, but because they consistently defended their crazy ideas with a passionate intensity. When you’re consistently stupid, observers cannot help but applaud you with laurels. They say ‘well done, good and mighty oaf, you’ve been consistent to the end’.

I will illustrate consistent stupidity with this example. Let us assume you put your foot in your mouth and call a group of noble people some very unsavory names. In the case of backlash, you have two options: option A, you can take back your words and apologize profusely, and option B you can stand by your claims with an unflinching faithfulness. Option A will bring peace and it is the mature thing to do.

With option A, you may get back into the good books of the noble people, but only after you’ve submitted yourself to thorough embarrassment by apologizing for your idiocy.
With option B this is what you do: if you honestly meant the insults you rained on our noble people, then by all means be consistent.

Give consistent stupidity a chance. Posterity will thank you for it, they will sing songs about you.

This is another beauty about consistent stupidity: assuming that our noblemen are indeed scoundrels, you nullify your initial insult by choosing option A. Any attempt you make to re-insult our noblemen will deepen your stupidity. Had you chosen option B, consistency would have will glorified your name. You will then have all the right in the word to gloat about how right you were.
Consistency has won wars; it has made strong men and women out of ordinary wimpy people. Consistency has been instrumental in mixing up genuinely wise people with the audaciously stupid. Today, we are none the wiser, the idiot and the thinker are our heroes. This is the end of the matter: in case of doubt, be consistent in all your doings, even in stupidity.

Why Writers are hardly pleased

thomas-mann-writing-quote-poster

I am yet to come across a writer who is absolutely satisfied with their work, so satisfied that the nagging, incessant voices of dissatisfaction are silenced. There is always that feeling that something more is needed, a final polish to make the work a classic piece of art. There have been days when I have entertained thoughts of getting my very own ghost writer, someone with a spiritual connection to my soul so that I could easily channel my thoughts and emotions to them. Then they would write on my behalf.
I have come across other people’s work and thought to myself “that could almost pass for my work! How did the writer convey the message so succinctly, and in such beautiful words?” And almost instantly, my yearning for that priceless ghost writer resurfaces! But we can’t walk through life wishing someone else would tell our story; we have an almost divine mandate to have the world hear our story. We have to write, we must write. Sometimes it is the only way some people stay sane.
If you are one of those writers who aren’t particularly fond of your work, you’re in good company. It isn’t strange at all to hold in doubt the perfection of your own work. There have been prolific writers who disliked their work. Ian Fleming, Anthony Burgess and Franz Kafka are a few of such writers. Kafka’s death wish was that all his works would be burned!

One would ask what use there is in this attitude of pervasive self-doubt. Why make a life out of writing if you can’t love every bit of what you do? The answer I have for this is in a quote by Martha Graham.

“It is not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep yourself open and aware of the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatsoever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and making us more alive.”

It is this queer divine dissatisfaction that makes extraordinary writers out of ordinary ones. It is what causes us to make a vocation out of writing. It is what shifts our writing from a mere hobby to a calling.

By Dede Williams

 

 

Review: Yaa Traps Death in a Basket

To be blunt, it took me a while to get on the African literature bandwagon.

Growing up it was infinitely easier to lay hands on Disney story books, Mary-Kate and Ashley books, Charlotte’s Web and the like of Thomas- the Little Engine that Could, than it was to find books with characters that looked like me, had lives like mine, parents like mine; stories I could easily relate to. Perhaps because of this, I can clearly recall all the storybooks with girls of colour- they weren’t that many. Pochahntas (Disney book), American Girls (slave) and King Mufasa’s daughter.

As I grew up, from Sweet Valley High books to Harlequins I followed pop culture and what was readily available but pop culture didn’t follow me nor mine. We aren’t exactly popular (just populous). While it took me a while I finally got here, to the wonderful world of African fiction- for fun. Rather than the (mostly) tired texts we were made to read in secondary school. The need for the good representation of African children in the arts and media today can’t be overstated. As such I have been ecstatic with my recent discovery of contemporary African writers writing for kids.

One of such books is Yaa Traps Death in a Basket by Ghanaian Malaka Grant. In this tale that reads like a fireside fable, your grandmother would tell you on a memorable night. Yaa an unremarkable girl, neither talented, clever nor beautiful is presented as a pebble in her parents’ shoe. They have little use for her but to send her to fetch things. They would rather not be saddled to her for life and thus, send her on an impossible mission to sell a baby goat. The journey might have been impossible but for Yaa’s kindness, earnestness, appreciation, and courage. Wherever she went she displayed this value and soon enough the girl who was a clumsy dancer and screeched rather than sang ended up a talented courageous huntress with gifts from demi-gods. The story follows her conquests and her climax at her trapping death and the lesson to be learned from that.

I gave this book to my nine-year-old mentee and after two days- considerable shorter time than it took her to finish the kid’s version of The Life of Mandela mind you- she could recite her favourite bits of the tale and of course, the moral. In her words, Yaa is “like Cinderella but without the man”. I hadn’t even thought of it that way. But I had seen the simplicity and ease with which the author shared heritage without patronizing culture, had noticed the strength of the young African girl protagonist, the lessons of endurance, fairness, truth conquering evil, consequences of one’s actions and more expertly woven into the tale without becoming downright didactic. I particularly like how the topic of death is treated as an eventuality, not patronizing kids’ ability to understand.

Ms. Grant’s newest work is highly recommended to give our children an alternative to the mainstream- something they could read in two days or less. Read enthusiastically because it is much easier to imagine something close to your own.

And perhaps as African literature develops and more African writers venture in children’s literature, an author may eventually get Disney’s nod and we could finally have a real African Disney Princess, like the Chinese have Mulan- because no, the Lion King doesn’t count. I can hope.

By Monique Kwachou

 

#GETBACKOURGIRLS not #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS cos they won’t

Image

I wonder what people did 50 years ago, when people got missing. I wonder what we can do now to #GETBACKOURGIRLS.

I think social media has made us delusional, detached and self-conceited without us meaning to be any of that.

We say Boko Haram should #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS, but will they? 

Don’t we need to go #GETBACKOURGIRLS from wherever they may be, in whatever state they may be in?

Are our political leaders only interested in wars that bring money?  Cos this is over two hundred wars in one. Each one of the girls is worth our time, our money, our blood.

Are our soldiers only interested in revolutions that will bring them political power? Cos this is over two hundred injustices in one. Each one of the girls is worth our armies, our money, our blood.

I wonder what people did 200 years ago, when people got missing. I wonder if they would have imagined the pain and torture these little girls are suffering and maybe get on their feet and pour libations to the gods before they matched to the village chief and demanded that they #GETBACKOURGIRLS.

I wonder if they would have tied their heads and arms and necks with red cloth because Boko Haram has taken our blood and we have to show Boko Haram, that we will get back our blood  to where they belong, with us.

I wonder if we could get up from behind our computers  and ipads and phones and actually think about our precious girls and their families for a minute so we can decide that it is us who need to go #GETBACKOURGIRLS.

 

Writer: Nana Nyarko Boateng 

 

“You Ambushed Me” — Prof. Kofi Awoonor

ImageI am slow at swallowing any news whole.  It gets even more complex when I face bad news; I think “oh my god no!” and then I think, “maybe there was a mistake, It can’t be, how can it be?” I stay in denial for as long as I can.  And then, there is always a day that knows how to slap better than the rest of the days.  I am waiting for that day, and maybe I will accept wholly that Prof. Awoonor is dead, gone, and his flesh means nothing at all anymore.

And if we tried to, we can only hear his laughter from our memory, see his smile in photographs, visit him in books held close to our chests.  His flesh means nothing at all anymore.

“You ambushed me!” he said pointing at me.

I smiled and he smiled back, seemingly impressed by my mischief. That wasn’t the day I begun to like Prof, I liked him a long long time before then.  When he told me, ‘I ambushed him’ he was not some distant poet, whose piece I had to study to pass my finals in secondary school anymore, he was my teacher.

Prof sat in the middle of the front space in the creative writing class at the University of Ghana and asked us questions, told us stories, tickled our imaginations and laughed at and with us.

The day he said “I ambushed him” was really two days after the day “I had ambushed him.” He had given us an assignment; it was to be submitted at anytime before 2pm, two days before class. I was late, an hour long late.

“Please,” I said.

“No, I already sent away others who were earlier than you.”

“I’m sorry Prof.”

“No.”

All this while, I had one foot in his office and the other outside the door.

“Come in or go out,” he said, “I will not take your work.”

I went out with my very first attempt at short story writing. I would find out later on, that it was a really horribly written short story  but then, all I knew was that I had written a story and I wanted my teacher to read it.

I bought a brown envelope and put my script in it.  Then with my black pen I wrote at the back on the envelope, boldly and largely: “Prof. Kofi Awoonor, English Department, University of Ghana, Legon.” I left the envelope in his pigeon hole at the department’s main office.

“You ambushed me!”

I thought he would throw me out of his class. I had disobeyed him and ‘ambushed’ him and yet, I had the nerve to only smile at him without words.  And he just smiled back at me and went on with his class.

He told us that the problem with my generation is that we don’t know the names of things; we don’t bother to learn them.  Every tree is just a tree to us and when we write we can’t be specific enough, detailed enough, because, we never bothered to notice the details.

Prof Awoonor was a warm and honest teacher; he threw a party for his students at the end of every semester, he did! He always brought one giant bottle of red wine. He knew how to laugh and make others laugh. From his students he demanded imagination, freshness and fearlessness.

You ambushed me Prof!  I imagined, you would be there, when I finally gather courage to publish a book with my name on it. I wanted to see your smile again.

You ambushed me Prof!

Smile at me and let me smile back, where ever you may be.

By: Nana Nyarko Boateng @girdcenter.org