One of the weirdest radio programmes on the air at the moment is broadcast on Saturday mornings on Radio4. It is called Saturday Live.
Last Saturday (24 January 2008), the item that caught my ear was a laconically-related account of life in Damascus under blackout during the June 1967 war between the Israelis and the Arabs.
Another contributor related the story of how she went out of her office in Savile Row, London, one lunchtime, to buy sandwiches for her workmates only to run into fine music being played from the rooftop of "Apple Records," the business office of the Beatles. The Beatles were recording an album up there. Two policemen who got to the scene, as the crowd thickened and blocked the road, also gave their accounts. Ironically, one of the tracks recorded by the Beatles up there was "Get Back". Another was "Don't Let Me Down."
I was pondering over coincidences when the thought struck me: "Wait a minute! You've walked into a few coincidences of your own, haven't you?"
Yes -- indeed I have. The first occurred in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1958. It was during my first trip outside Ghana and it happened as I was on my way to Moscow to attend the first Afro-Asian Writers' Conference in Tashkent, USSR. This link will take you to a picture of some of the delegates, including the late black icon, Dr W E B Dubois) first left. I'm on first right).
The Middle East, as ever, was in turmoil. There had been a coup in Iraq, which had sent ripples throughout the region, and afraid that there would be civil war in the Lebanon, President Camille Chamoun asked the United States for assistance. President Eisenhower sent in the Marines.
Now, there were groups in the Lebanon who didn't like the idea of American intervention one bit, and snipers were taking pot shots at the "Yanks". But Air Liban's officials insisted on driving us in a bus to a hotel right in the centre of Beirut.
It was of the worst nights I have ever spent in a foreign country. Throughout the night, we heard the sound of gunfire. I had never heard guns fired in anger before and the rapid machine-gun fire, tah-tah-tah-tah, frightened the daylights out of me.
In Cairo too, I had a coincidence of sorts. After resting for a bit, I put on my colourful kente
cloth and took a walk in a park near my hotel. People came to me from everywhere to feel the texture of the cloth.
I returned to my hotel to find that -- I couldn't gain entrance to it! The place had been blocked off by the police. Mr Ferhat Abbas was being installed as Prime Minister of the Algerian Provisional Government in exile.
On the plane to Moscow from Cairo, we stopped in Rome for a while, where I saw headlines linking Boris Pasternak,
the Russian writer, with the Nobel Prize for Literature. I, of course, knew nothing about the trouble Pasternak was having with his winning the Price after the publication, in the West, of his novel, Dr Zhivago, and I must have innocently annoyed my hosts of the Soviet Writers' Union no end by pestering them to arrange an interview with Pasternak for me! In fact, Pasternak was imprisoned and made to renounce the Nobel Prize.
One day, the Russians took us to a reception in the Kremlin. For a young journalist who had heard so much about the Kremlin, this was most exciting. So out came my kente, though the temperature felt like it was around freezing point.
Soon after arriving in the Kremlin, I "heard" the whole place fall silent. Next, everyone broke into applause. The Soviet leader, Mr Nikita Khrushchev,
had made his entrance. At that time, "Mr K", as he was known to the world press, was perhaps the most famous man in the world, following his denunciation of Josef Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956.
I was taken to a small circle around him with other African delegates. I bent down to admire the Order of Lenin on Mr K's chest as a photograph was taken. The picture made it to the pages of the London Times.
From Russia, I was invited to China by a poet called Yang-Shuo. There, I attended a banquet at which about a score of different, extremely delicious dishes, were served. On another day, we were strolling in a park at Wuhan, a city on the Yangtse river, when we were suddenly surrounded by a group of very young Pioneers, red scarves gleaming around their necks, who sang to us with the most angelic voices. I can still sing one of their songs (after a fashion!) It was called "socialism is good".
In Beijing, I met the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Zhou En-lai,
who told us that "in China, we don't think in terms of today or tomorrow or even decades. We think of thousands of years." He was the man who had the foresight to bring Henry Kissinger, and later, President Richard Nixon, to China,
and thus paved the way for the entry of China fully into the international arena. This is the diplomacy whose results we see today in China's emergence as a major economic player in the world.
A sad fact to end with: my friend, the poet Yang-Shuo, is reported to have committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution
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