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11.05.2022 Feature Article

One Day In May

One Day In May
11.05.2022 LISTEN

As I write this on Monday, 09 May 2022, the international TV stations are broadcasting pictures of the parade being held in Moscow by President Vladimir Putin, to celebrate the 77th anniversary of the victory achieved in Europe on 8 May 1945, by the “Allies” (led by Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the Unites States) over the fascist states of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Me, I shall never forget that day 77 years ago! How come? Was I in London? Paris? Or New York? No!

I was sitting in the Class One classroom of the Asiakwa Presbyterian Junior School, among 44 other children who were tasting schooling for the first time.

I had some friends who were older than me because – I could read and do sums before I went to school! This was because I had an elder brother who was in Standard Three – six years ahead!

I cadged free lessons from him. W In exchange for the free lessons, he sent me to deliver messages to his – girlfriends!

He had a different “whistled tune” for his girl friends and he would dispatch me to go and stand innocently near their houses and whistle this tune.

No sooner had I whistled a tune outside the girl's house than she would appear. She would look furtively round and locate me. l would then deliver my missive and disappear before anyone from her house could see me.

This wasn't as easy as it sounds, for our houses were generally “open-sided”, which meant that everyone inside a house could see almost everything going on outside it. And vice versa.

Had I been found out, it's the girl who would have been most embarrassed. She would probably have paid the high price of being forced by her parents to drop her amorous relationship with my brother. And my brother would have blamed me!

For he would no doubt have suspected that I had somehow been careless. Lose a guy his girlfriend for him, and he would believe you were not guilty? Forget it.

Anyway, as a quid pro quo, my brother allowed me to read most of his books, and also gave me mental arithmetic lessons, as well as helping me master the multiplication tables.

So when I got to Class One, I was looked upon with wonder. The teacher quickly realised I was tutored and enrolled me as his “assistant”. He would pick out the “dumber” kids and ask me to teach them outside the classroom, under a shade tree.

This was fortunate for me, as the “dumber” kids happened to be mostly bigger boys, who had money. So, after classes, or sometimes before we went to school, they would take me to the market and buy konkonte and palm-nut soup for me, (yes, that early!) with plenty of meat in it. Sometimes, they would buy smoked herrings, which had newly arrived from Accra, for me. And in the appropriate season, they would buy me boiled guinea fowl eggs – known locally as “ansaa wulor”!

One of the bigger boys, Kwadwo Afoakwa, became my special friend. His father worked for a very rich man called Mr Addae, who had a garden in which he had planted oranges and “European [or dwarf] bananas”. He used to take me into this garden secretly, and we would feast profusely on the fruits.

In order to impress me, Afoakwa used to pretend that he could summon “dwarfs” (mmoatia) through some esoteric whistling he carried out. He would ask me to close my eyes, and then he would make some whiishiii-whishiii sounds. I discovered secretly that he placed some pieces of calabash, with pieces of paper in between them and blew through them. The noise produced could pass for “dwarf talk”!

“Open your eyes!” he would command when he had finished “dwarf-talking”. Then he would point a finger at a particular banana tree and ask me to go and shake it. When I shook it, beautiful, brand new sticks of chalk of the sort used by our teacher to write on the blackboard, would fall from the tree! Other very desirable things, like tins of sardines, could be shaken out!

Can you imagine my surprise when on the “V for Victory” day, this guy came to me, all excited, and invited me to come with him to a sand pitch outside our classroom?

There, he bent down and wrote in the sand, “V For Victory 8/5/45”. He asked me to read it.

In truth, I couldn't make head or tail of it.

Beaming with smiles, he told me that it had been taught to him that very morning by Mr Addae's son, Kwaku, a student at Achimota School.

Happy at the thought that I, who had been acting as his 'teacher', was now looking at something he had written that was a mystery to me, he told me:

“It says “Vee for Victory! And today's date is 8th May 1945, the day we conquered Hitler!”

We” had conquered Hitler? How did we “conquer Hitler” whom we had never seen? Ever since we began schooling, our teachers had been psyching us to go into the bush, before school each morning, to search for “palm kernels” and bring them to school “to be sent to our soldiers” who were fighting against “Hitler”.

We didn't know where the fighting against “Hitler” was taking place. We only knew that some of our uncles and elder brothers had been taken to the “war-front”!! Why were they fighting? We didn't know. Our teachers just made us believe that it was our duty to help to defeat Hitler! Hitler was “a very bad man who was leading his Jaamanfoɔ [Germans] to come and catch us and kill us!”

Well, Afoakwa had his triumph over me on that day. I am therefore very interested in what happens when that day arrives. And as I write, President Putin and his top army brass are all celebrating the defeat, by the Russians and their allies, of Hitler and his allies.

As I looked at President Putin at the parade, I wondered how his thinking works. The Russians joined their “class enemies” (the Americans and the British) to fight Hitler because Hitler had actually invaded some European countries, including France. He had also invaded Russia and Britain seemed to be next.

So, fighting against Hitler was understandable. And indeed, the Russians had had to fight bravely to

prevent Hitler from conquering Russia. There were very great battles against Hitler, – at Stalingrad, for instance. And they had suffered great misery at Hitler's hands, including thenot5orious “Siege of Leningrad”.

But today, it is Russia that has invaded Ukraine! How can a country that suffered so much from invasion by Hitler, want to inflict similar punishment to a country that has NOT invaded it?

Can one just sit down and say, “Oh, the fellows across the border might invade us, therefore we must invade them? If that were the general rule, how could anyone live anywhere safely?

No, President Putin will have a hard time getting history to understand why he has destroyed Ukraine in such a dastardly manner.

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