I live on the outskirts of town, well not exactly town as you’d imagine. My journey involves breaching one of the most notorious slums in the country to get home. And by home I mean a sharp contrast to the gloomy prologue that sucks your mirth and makes you appreciate the resilience of those who made it across the river. Mine is a residential community north of the slums, founded by the nouveau riche who made it out of the squalor of the slums. I have never been ashamed of where I live, never been bothered that people look down on me as a product of the slums. Never felt superior to my distant neighbours; to the best of my knowledge I grew up in the middle of the squalor till my parents crawled out.
This particular afternoon I dreaded the journey home from school. Anytime I left the comfort of my university campus for home, I return a shade darker. Probably, the sun like everything else is in a grand conspiracy to perpetuate the slum status with signs and wonders. I sat uncomfortably in my dingy trotro, showing more rust than paint and a stingy spread of leather over dirt-ridden foam and a generous view of the metal frame of what was supposed to be the seat. Beside me at the very rear is this big woman whose abundant backside robs me of much-needed seat space and is sweating profusely. I am perched uncomfortably, with my long arms tucked between my thighs and my shoulders hunched to avoid any contact with the woman’s greasy, rash-ridden arms. I was also perspiring on the crowded backseat of the immobile trosky in the middle of a crowded market; sitting by a fat woman with god knows which skin disease who won’t sit still!
I was in the kind of traffic that makes you empathise with mummies. The market is never wanting of bright colours- which I’ll gladly trade for the sepia tone of this sunny afternoon and the weird sounds that make you search for the source if only to confirm that it was produced from a human windpipe. The fat lady besides me, on top of everything else, carried on her abundant lap a sickly looking baby (I don’t want to say ugly). The baby’s thin limbs were sticking out of an oversized thread bare T-shirt, her hair sparsely distributed on her barren scalp and her eyes severely jaundiced; she was screaming like a banshee. From where I sat, I could smell that the baby reeked of urine, as did the mother who had had her strapped to her back all day while she sold boiled eggs with ground pepper. At least I gathered that much from her tray cushioned with a flour sack cloth with depressions the shape and size of an egg. The tray had chunks of table salt sprinkled all over it and she placed it right in front of my long legs that would have gladly pushed the first row of seats out of the way for more space, effectively cramping my knees.
I decide to escape my present predicament by looking out the window; I knew I would see young men heckling passers-by to buy jeans or skirts or t-shirts from them. I also knew I would see the women who sell canned food or biscuits at prices cheaper than they are sold for in the shops. They always argue that when you sell at a cheaper price, you will make less profit but, you will sell more and as such, earn enough to live on. I know some make as little as 20 pesewas on each item they sell. On top of that, the city authorities or do I say slum authorities do not want them there and so they had to keep an eye out for the task force. If their eyes were too slow to spot the task force, their ears had been sharpened enough through practice to listen to the catcall from their colleague hawkers. ‘Aba ee!!’ was the call; it was a sign to pack up and dash for the nearest corner. The nearest was their first concern, the safest corner was secondary. .
I stare blankly and wonder if these people had dreams and what happened to those dreams, do they have children, and are their children ever going to come out of this rat-race. How much do they earn, does it feed and clothe them at least? Do they blame God, or do they serve Him with glad, thankful hearts. My thoughts are interrupted by the catcall and all the traders ran off, hanging tightly onto their wares. The traffic jam subsides very briefly but the world stands still again. Soon the hawkers return laughing and cursing the idiot who cried wolf. It wasn’t a wolf-cry. The task force was wearing mufti on this occasion and so they were like ordinary shoppers.
I watch with disinterest as sixteen year old stopped a man to market to him a pair of faded blue jeans, pointing at the conspicuous red cloth sticking out and mouthing the brand name LEVIS as if to make a case for the price he will quote but the man produces an I.D card and seizes the bundle of clothes on the boy’s head and snatches the one in his hands; time stopped for a second as this boy tugged at the man’s shirt, pleading for mercy and the man tries in vain to yank the sturdy limbs clutching at the straws of survival. He finally resorts to a back-hand slap that distorts the young man’s senses immediately, making him lose his grip and crash to the pot-hole ridden street. The man sprints towards a waiting van and casually picks a tray of canned mackerels from an elderly lady’s head; she has almost doubled over because of either a waist or spine problem and couldn’t run to save her dear life. In no time, the traffic had been cleared and the cars had started moving.
The hawkers were the cause of the mad traffic. As the lorry moved and let in a bit of cool air, I wondered what the young boy would do, worrying also for the older lady with the back problem. However, I took consolation in the corruption of the task force. I knew that they would probably return the seized items for a disgracefully small bribe. If they did that, wouldn’t the bribes they demand be the entirety of the hawkers’ weekly earnings? My consolation was short-lived.
The little banshee kept screaming her lungs out, and she is not even two years old. Other passengers were yelling at the mother to breastfeed her. She replied that she couldn’t; she had been in the sun all day and her breast milk wouldn’t be good for the baby.
I reached into my bag and brought out a bar of white chocolate a friend brought me as souvenir from London and gave it to the baby. They wouldn’t even know its value I thought. The lady thanked me, broke a piece for herself (I don’t know whether she was dying to have a taste or was taking it first in case it was poisoned) and gave the baby. In under a minute, the crying stopped and the baby was playfully opening her arms to come to me. WHAT??
I took the baby in spite of the stench and slipped a 10cedi note in her left palm; I just felt like doing that. The mother who would be more than 10 years older than me, called me auntie and added that God bless me. I smiled and told her she had a beautiful baby – I wasn’t lying.
BY ENYONAM DAMESI
Enyonam is a budding writer; she writes poetry, short stories and plays. She reads a lot, has a wicked sense of humour and wishes to be a dancer in her next life. She shares her thoughts on her personal blog
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”?
Nana Yaa has a keen interest in the arts with a bias for Literature, which she realised early. She’s won a couple of literary awards including the Special Award for Creative Writing in 2012 in Wesley Girls’ High School. Her writing was mostly poetry until 2015 when she started writing short stories and flash fiction, a few of which she shares on her blog Oddinary Perspectives
She recently found out she enjoys proofreading academic essays. She also likes food and so finds any excuse to bake cakes.
Ironically, her formal education so far has been largely in Business. She is a final year Accounting major at the University of Ghana Business School. She is a Christian.
The first thing anyone noticed whenever he entered through that solid oak door was the scar that ran from right below the corner of his left eye, down across his cheek, ending right underneath that side of his jaw. It was like a tiny gutter specially made for his tears. But I heard he never cried. I’d stand transfixed among the tables I waited, looking at him settle down on his seat with his caramel classical guitar. Then he’d lift his eyes, and everyone forgot the scar. Those eyes…dark, deep, warm, carried smiles that told you he had to learn to carry on in spite of what life had dished out for him.
I had watched him for months…2 and a day, precisely; ever since he got that gig at the restaurant I worked at. Every weekday he was there. He’d settle, tune the stringed beauty, look up, pass his sharp gaze over everyone, and smile; a dimple interrupting the seamless scar – shockingly enrapturing. Then he’d strum, then hum, strum, then sing…and all night as he played one soothing piece after another, singing sometimes, or not, I’d be sailing round the tables, half there, partly elsewhere.
Everything about him seeped into me, leaving me drugged – dazed all the weeks he had been coming over. He’d finish and step into the kitchen, offer to help us clean but ended up playing us a few of his own songs; those he deemed not good enough for those bourgie diners he played for almost every night. He made us laugh – I laughed the hardest sometimes…other times the pain shot without warning through me, reminding me…and I’d wince, turn away to the dishes, and immerse myself in the suds.
The other guys were curious too. The girls especially. They’d ask him questions he answered freely, and piece after piece fell in place, adding to the pieces I had already gathered. His hands poised on the strings and how he worked them with fingers that had known the hard life; gently…reminded me of similar hands that handled a girl as tenderly as he did his classical guitar. His eyes, flitting open, then shut, then open; his lips, very much like mine, balancing teasing smiles all throughout his performances…he’d lift his head high, and work the strings with speed and ease sometimes, the crowd erupted in generous applause, and my heart bled with memories of such excellence carrying me, filling my head, merging with my child heart once upon a time.
His answers sent me back to 16, sent me back to crazy, sent me back to illicit engagements and gripping fear. Back to dark rooms and hushed voices; frenzied limbs and too little time. Back to oohs and aahs, and ‘oh please don’t leave me now, wait, wait till dawn’. To wet, sticky tissue paper left behind and sweet tingling in young thighs…
To disappearances, and guilty tears…
A bulging tummy and numerous lies…
A tiny bundle of golden brown and soft cries…
A child leaving a scar on a child because it was all she could think of to do…
A sorry basket and a long walk up that road, to that door….
A heart-wrenching delivery….
A back turned and feet running as fast as they could.
Back….back to all that pain and as I stared that night I knew it was time. He started the very tune that had captured me 23 too damn long years ago;
Me – – –
Ray – – –
Doe – – –
Tea – – –
La – – –
Sew – – –
La – – –
Tea – – –
And as I felt myself break down right there in the middle of the softly-lit restaurant, I weighed the words in my mouth;
She could hear voices. There were too many people in the house. Her grandmother poked her head through the door and smiled. She walked in, picked up a brush and sat by the bed. “Theodosia, you need to get up. We leave in less than two hours and we can’t afford to be late.” With her eyes closed, Thea sat up as her grandmother brushed her long hair. It was naturally made of three glorious colors. The roots were a dense color of black coal, the middle had a russet color and finished off with sunset tips. Thea’s hair was so beautiful; her immediate family would spend hours brushing it in turns.
Today, she cared less about her hair, or what her grandmother would turn it into. She impatiently waited for it to be braided and walked to the bathroom. Her chest was clogged but she dared not cry; at least not today. She shut the door and started to bathe. The water brought tears to her eyes and she quickly turned off the shower, grabbed her purple towel and walked into the room naked. Her grandmother was waiting. Thea was eighteen years and yet, she warmly let go as her grandmother took the towel to wipe her body. They both sat facing each other as Thea raised her feet up to be wiped. Her grandmother started with her little toe and stopped to say, “You know how much your father…” Thea quickly stood up and cut her off. “Grams, please! I’ll take it up from here. You should go!” The old woman slowly made her way to the door and left.
Within seconds, Thea had locked the door and put on her underwear. Tears filled her eyes as she managed to take her dress off the hanger. She had always wanted a little black dress but certainly not for this purpose. She slowly made her way into the dress. For the first time, she felt so girly and yet, everything felt terribly wrong. She started to cry as she looked into the full length mirror. She thought about him and how he would have impulsively complained about the dress being too tight. Her clothes were just the right fit and yet, the opposite was what he always said. She smiled as she imagined him walking around her, looking for a hemline that could be released. She could feel her chest clogging and she struggled to focus on the dress. It was her mother’s Vera Wang. Sleeveless and form-fitting, it ended just above her knees. The top half was made entirely of black lace that went down diagonally from her left shoulder to just above her right breast. The skirt was beautifully plaited with a belt that drastically reduced the girth of her waist.
Thea quickly crossed over to her dresser, as she heard her grandmother call for her to get ready. She brought out her make-up set, held her hair into a perfect bun and started on her tear-stained face. She moisturized her face with a foundation primer to plump up her skin and filled in the fine lines and large pores. She added a sweep of bronzer before adding a bit of powder to prevent her skin from appearing too shinny.
Theodosia never forgot the importance of her eyebrows in making her face pop. She brushed her brows with an old toothbrush and tweezed the strayed hairs. Thea went on to fill in sparse spots with a brow pencil and a soft eyeshadow that matched her brow color. Moving onto her eyes, she thought of mascara with a swipe of powder on her lids to keep the grease at bay and to even out her skin tone. Instead, she applied eyeliner, setting it over the shadow for a heavier look. She set the make-up powder to keep the shadow from melting into her eye crease. She finished up her eyes by curling her long lashes and applying thick black mascara.
He would have gone crazy! They would have argued until she had wiped off the make-up from most parts of her face. He had never really understood the concept of wearing make-up. She could literally hear him going on and on about how make-up was meant for people who were troubled or had something to hide and frankly, she was beyond troubled and had so much bottled up. She picked up her mahogany red lipstick and smeared three and two coats to her lower and upper lips.
Thea applied enough perfume, released her hair, stepped into her surprisingly comfortable black pumps and walked out of the door. Everyone was waiting downstairs. Everyone but him! Her brother held out his hand as she walked up to him. He kissed her cheeks and whispered, “He would have said you looked stunning. You were always his perfect little baby.” She sent everyone laughing as she chuckled and replied, “No Jeremy, he would have said the makeup was way too much and sent me right back to clean up.”
Her mother signalled for them to get going. It had been two weeks and she had already lost so much weight. In the days that followed after the news came, she had begged her mother to eat. She would begin with a small bite and burst out in tears. Thea had given up and was grateful when her grandmother moved in.
The church was a few minutes away and the moment Thea had been dreading came faster than she had hoped. There were family and friends already seated as she entered the church with her mother, brother, sisters and grandmother. They were almost at the front when her brother caught her mother in his arms. Her mother, seeing his body stretched out in an open coffin, lost the strength in her knees.
Thea stood there as her family passed to their seats. She gathered the courage to look at him. Her father, her entire world was stretched out in that coffin, right in front of her. He never drank, he smoked nothing his entire life and yet, he had battled with lung cancer. The doctors had said he had two and a half years but in six months, her father was no more.
She wanted him to get up and wipe her make-up off. She wanted him to get up and laugh so hard at her silly mannerisms. She wanted him to get up and be alive, and be the father he had always been. She felt her brother’s touch and followed him to her seat. Father Jacob approached the pulpit and started the service. There were tears from everyone but her. That was the whole point of making up. She couldn’t break down, not yet and definitely not here!
They sang for several minutes because that was all he had loved to do. He would sing to them when they were happy, excited, sad or troubled. He had bought her a musical set for her tenth birthday and they had become best friends ever since. She would stay up late waiting for him to walk through the door just so they could sing half the night away. She had loved him all her life. She loved him even more as she sang her heart out.
The Bible passages preceded the tributes and soon, it was her turn to read her tribute. As she walked past the box containing her father to the pulpit, it finally hit her that he was gone. Tears threatened to flow as she held the pulpit for support with one hand and struggled to open the piece of paper with the other hand. This was it! He was gone! They would have to get through! It was exactly what he would have wanted.
Slowly, Theodosia aligned the sheet and started, “Daddy Dearest…”
Shefi Nelson, an alumna of Ashesi University College, is a calm, goal-oriented individual who cognizes the power of words and their ability to shape people’s perceptions and outlooks on the world they find themselves in. Shefi made her literary debut in 2015 with the story “Tatale” – published on Flash Fiction Ghana website. Shefi seeks to make a special contribution to the world by breathing life into the simplest string of words to create a connection, and have a lasting impact on her readers. Her hobbies include reading, sewing, writing and managing people.
“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.
There is this need
To write a sad song
And lament my good fortune
Shed shameless tears
That burn like acid
Calm that plagues me
To step out naked
Into the stormy downpour
And get drenched
Along with the hope
That now wears me
Without my consent –
Catch a grave cold.
To damn it all
And step back
In awkward celebration
Of impending doom
Who came to dance
With me loiter
On an expectant dance floor
To find pain and
Weave her into my
Strum the minor chords
Of fatality –
A prelude to oblivion
Under the weight
The ones who had held
Five long years
Let what’s in out
On letting what’s out in
Not sure what will finally break
Tell them they
Can go on and breathe
I am free
But let them know
I sit here
Composing a dirge
As I wait
To be taught
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.