Friends of mine from Asiakwa who got to know that when I went missing on Saturday mornings, I had gone horse-riding, thought I had lost my mind?
“You're not afraid of horses?” one asked.
Another put in this eye-opener: “I have heard that they can KICK! – So hard that they can break your bones!”
A third warned me: “I have read that some horses are unpredictable. They can throw you off their backs when you don't expect it! In front of a crowd, too – so that you can suffer the utmost embarrassment”.
I would smirk when things like these were said to me. How could I convey to these friends, the immeasurable thrill involved in moving in unison with a dumb animal, with whom one could only communicate by subtle movements of one's own body?
How to make them experience through me, the incredible eloquence conveyed to a horse by reins and stirrups? The ecstatic moment when one has learnt to gallop – after many days of carefully monitoring the horse's willingness to “walk”, then “canter” and finally, to “gallop”, all at one's command?
Even when one feels comfortably in command, dared one give the horse its head? How does one explain the immense pleasure it gives one to pat the horse's head?
after it has taken one through dangerous moments, to peaceful tranquillity?
You want to tell them that the uncertainty they dread is the greatest element in the thrill a ride provides. One has been told by the instructors that horses love to obey masterful commands; that they want you to trust them! Well, that may well work for other people, but will it necessarily work for oneself? The uncertainty is simply delectable!
One's mind keeps asking: don't some people fall off, even though they may have been tutored laboriously and plied with the platitudes that those who are so expert at riding that they move with horses as if they emerged from the same uterus with them, tend to utter?
And when one has become so confident oneself that the horse walks, canters and then gallops and also stops – instinctively at one's faintest command, how does one explain that to ground-bound friends?
I mean – pardon me, but the unique feeling that competence on horseback fills one with, is quite indescribable! This is one time when the saying, “Seeing is believing”, transmutes itself into something mysterious – like “Riding is knowing!”
However, it does take time and patience for that esoteric knowledge to arrive inside one's being. It lurks seductively in the wings, giving one a tiny taste on every ride. Then, one day, a loud boom explodes in one's mind, yelling triumphantly, “I CAN RIDE!!” Once that feeling of total confidence arrives, one falls in love with riding for life.
Whenever I bring up the subject of riding, however, my Asiakwa friends take me back to the days when we were only besotted with football, football and football. They cannot stop talking about that. “Manly sports.”? “Dangerous sports”? Football was all of that, wasn't it?
I did agree with their obsession with football (despite wishing they could expand their imagination to take in horse-riding and my other “pretentious” obsession (to them!) – cricket!
You see, when I was growing up with them, I, a mere little lad, was not supposed to leave my home-town on my own, and travel elsewhere, unsupervised by an adult relative or friend of the family,
Nevertheless, I once collected enough pocket money together to steal away with a group of fanatical football enthusiasts, who would not have been approved of by my parents, and travelled out of town to watch a football match. The group hired a truck and went to Old Tafo, in Akyem Abuakwa — about ten miles away — to watch a football match.
The venue was called “Rover’s Park” and it could contain quite a few thousand people. Can you imagine a football match taking place today between super-first-class clubs in a small town like that? If you don’t travel to a big town, forget it. In my day, football sometimes came to us!
Truly, one of the things we’ve lost as a people is the unmistakable sign of initiative in the most unexpected of places, that was scattered all over our countryside in the years gone by. The most talked-about children’s school in those days, for instance, was not in Accra, but Kumase. It was called Mmofraturo (The Children’s Garden).
The most attractive venue for school excursions was not Accra, but Senchi, where there was a “launch” (ferry). Crossing the huge expanse of water called River Volta with this very slow ferry — which looked as if it could overturn at any minute and deposit its passengers into the depths of the incredibly large River and present all of them as a meal to the crocodiles that were believed to thrive in the water– was perhaps the most ‘frightening adventure’ school children could be exposed to. But we looked forward to hazardous experiences like that and talked all the time about them.
On the way to Senchi, the lorry carrying school children would have to “climb” the steep “Akwapim Mountains.” The roads there were so full of curves that there was a sign at both ends of one of them saying “DANGEROUS HILL! CHANGE TO BOTTOM GEAR”.
What was ‘bottom gear’? We didn’t know! In those days when vehicles did not have synchromesh gearboxes, our drivers used to stop their vehicles at the bottom of the hills and change into second gear, before starting off again. Changing from third to second gear on the move usually resulted in the driver grinding the gears vnoisily: GWWWWWWWRRRRRRRRRRR! — even if he did “vroom–vrooom-vroom” before changing down. Sometimes, the gear change would not be successful and the engine would stall.
As for first gear, I never personally saw a driver engage it. So I always assumed that “bottom gear” was second! Some drivers, especially those with heavy loads, did change into first gear on those hills, but usually, the driver’s mate would have to descend from the truck and follow the vehicle on foot. He would have in his hands, a carved thick piece of wood with a handle, that called a “chock” He would place it under the rear wheels, if the vehicle refused to go forward any longer and threatened to roll backwards. This was dangerous work! But if the truck was allowed to roll backwards into one of the deep valleys on either side of the road and overturn, many of its passengers could be killed. passengers.
Give school children such a horrible death to feed their imaginations on and if they “survived” the experience, they’d never stop talking about it, would they?
Are modern children given the opportunity, though, to live lives that make them use their imagination to the full? I sometimes wonder. We live in an age where a global, over-centralised jungle, supplies all our cultural needs. We all watch the same television programmes, which are available even on mobile phones. As to our daily lives, the small enterprises built out of love which could dispense pleasure to us are all gone.
TO BE CONTINUED