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24.12.2003 Feature Article

Abrokyir Nkomo: Asaase Yaa

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‘Birds have nests, foxes have holes, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head’ From prehistoric times to the modern age, mankind’s three basic needs of food, clothing and shelter have always remained constant, varying only in quality and degree. Whereas in the animal kingdom, these needs are taken care of, Homo sapiens have to do some brow-mopping in order to meet them.

Of these three needs, securing shelter is perhaps the most challenging. In Africa, where the provision of mass public housing is about as conceivable as Saddam Hussein being invited to a White House barbecue and a cosy fireside chat with Bush, housing arrangements are down to the individual. Whether you rent a chamber and hall, a full house, or you build your own is your own wahala. It is difficult not to envy the tortoise, since it is born with its own custom-made house, which it carries wherever it goes. If life were so simple…

Of all the expectations on a ‘boga’, perhaps the most prominent is to acquire some ‘asaase’ back home. If you decide to go home to settle, it is deemed as rather unseemly to rent a place, or even worse, to live in your family house. Even if you are only halfway through a twenty-five year abrokyir sojourn before going back home for good, your family could take up residence in your house, or you can rent it out and make some income. At the very worst, you could always sell the land later on, since in Ghana, prices never go down. If you have your own place, you won’t have to deal with some rogue landlord suddenly telling you one day that he wants his room/house back, just because his son is coming from abrokyir. You are your own landlord. You own a piece of this planet, and all that is above and beneath that geographical perimeter. Generally speaking, building a house back home is more affordable if you live abroad, and lots of people still prefer to build from scratch rather than buy a ready-made house. At least, this way you get to decide how much concrete goes into the foundation.

Dear reader, building a house is a long, often bumpy process. First of all, you have to decide where you want your house built. Forget the central parts of the major cities. Even if available, the cost of a plot of virgin land nowadays at East Legon in Accra, or TUC in Kumasi, is enough on its own to build a small house. So you settle for the city fringes. Technically speaking, these areas are not part of the city, but you have to keep telling yourself that for instance, that Ofankor is part of Accra. After all, the ‘consolation’ is that eventually these parts shall expand to merge with the city.

Don’t forget, though, that mostly, you will be required to start developing the land soon after acquiring it, so there is not much breathing space here. And with our land tenure system, it is not uncommon to buy a plot of land from a chief and start building your dream house, only to realize that you are the fourth of five people the scheming nana has sold the same plot of land to. Cue confusion galore, wasting precious time and money.

Since you are arranging everything by remote control from your abrokyir command center, you spend quite a considerable sum calling home in order to keep up to date with developments.

Of course, you cannot come up with all the money at a go, so you use the ‘build- and-pause’ strategy. Whenever you have saved say, $1000, you send it down for the next stage, and then pause for a while to catch your breath. Dear reader, building a house back home whilst living in abrokyir requires a lot of financial acrobatics, because as you pursue your grand project, you need to be paying the rent or mortgage for your abrokyir

place of abode as well. It is no joke, and you may need a second job just to keep your head above water. During the construction process, the receipt from home of periodic photographs of your house’s project does indeed motivate you. You may have been told that the house has got to window level, as the photos show. You just have to hope that they are actually pictures of your house. It is possible that yours has not risen above foundation level, especially if your relative you trusted with the project has developed other funny ideas for your money. You get a temporary reprieve when the roofing is completed. At least, the impending rainy season no longer shoots your blood pressure sky high.

It would be unwise to discount the risk of unreliable workmen slowing the process down or pilfering valuable bags of cement or some iron rods, costing you more money in the process. When eventually the house is completed, you justifiably feel a palpable sense of relief. Your shiny new house now stands as a proud testimony to your hard work, vision and sheer determination in the face of all the odds.

Some people prefer to construct a simple house, just a functional building to serve the basic purpose of private accommodation. Others prefer to go for the fancy extras they may have picked up from glossy magazines, including soft lighting, chic wallpaper décor, chandeliers, vast manicured lawns, sliding glass doors, and marble water fountains-in fact, all the trappings (or is it illusions?) of grandeur.

When ‘efie wura’ goes back home one day to settle down, he may be comfortably seated among his potted plants on the shaded, third floor verandah of his house one sunny afternoon, surveying life on the hot streets below. Having devoured his banku and grilled tilapia, washed down with a chilled Star beer, he lies back and allows his thoughts to drift lazily, whilst he picks his teeth, belching intermittently. If you remark to him that he has things easy, he will just smile faintly and allow himself a chuckle. And then, recalling with a shudder all the cold abrokyir winter nights’ hard work and waist/back pain, he will rather breezily ignore you, for as they say, you don’t know what goes on in Dodowa Forest… Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, © 2003

The author has 34 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RodneyNkrumahBoateng

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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