Renowned for their Spartan-like characteristics, praised for their avowed contentment even if second-hand habiliments are all many can afford, and venerated for the enviable tranquility that epitomizes life in their community, the beautiful people of my hometown, a township not too far from the Volta Regional capital of Ho, would, not too long ago, experience a particularly horrendous human tragedy — a pre-teen girl would lose her life either because of her own dangerous curiosity or her father's recklessness — that has remained interminably ensconced in the deep recesses of my mind. This beautiful community, nestled between a sun-scorched savanna and an undulating stretch of ridges five hundred feet high, has since the aforesaid calamity taken some collective steps to ensure that children no longer faced unnecessary dangers.
Mansa was an ebullient, respectful and even-tempered 12-year-old girl who loved her parents, siblings and neighbors. A 6th-grader who was just beginning to comprehend the anatomical and physiological complexities of her body, particularly because she had begun to notice the gradual development of those twin, onion-shaped protrusions on her chest, it was paradoxical that the greatest threat to Mansa's wellbeing would not come from some "marauding" adolescent males, but from a completely unexpected source. It was a pleasant summer afternoon, at a time when I was visiting some relatives; but things will soon take an ominous turn for Mansa's family. Mansa's father, Mr. Komla, was known to the townsfolk as an alcoholic — an impenitent, cynical, semi-literate craftsman who spent his leisure hours carousing, "akpeteshie" being his favorite drink, more so because of its mind-altering potency, accessibility and low cost. A thoughtless spendthrift, Mr. Komla was never able to adequately provide for his family, which was a source of constant conflict in the home.
As fate would have it, Mr. Komla regularly kept a bottle of "akpeteshie" under his bed, purportedly out of reach of his loved ones. But on this fateful day, even while Mr. Komla was away on business, Mansa would discover this Bottle of Death, which she then ignorantly drank, as though it were bottled water. Even as the poison made its way slowly to her duodenum, then to her villi, and then to her bloodstream, Mansa would soon become incapacitated, gradually drifting off into a state of irremediable unconsciousness. Without the ability to communicate with those who had discovered her cataleptic body a short time later, Mansa's would-be rescuers were unable to immediately ascertain the cause of her distress; even if they did, in a place where there were no medical devices to extract the remnants of the deadly poison from her abdomen, those rescuers could only wait and hope that her frail body and heart would, somehow, fight the insidious Liquid of Death, a battle of survival akin to that of a malaria victim who is relying on his body's immune system to fight those "burrowing" parasites, in the absence of medication.
Mansa would, forlornly, pass away later that afternoon, never to experience lovemaking, marriage, and the joys and pangs of raising children, things we all look forward to at different phases of our lives. Because a girl that young was an unlikely candidate for imbibing hard liquor in the first place, her death truly stunned the entire community! Did Mansa do it out of ignorance? Did she do it to spite her father because of his infernal lifestyle? Was it a prank that got out of hand? That Mansa departed this earth without any answers to the aforementioned questions provided very little relief to her devastated father, mother and three siblings. Mansa's burial later than evening would draw a sizable crowd to the cemetery, with the officiating minister reminding all present to always be cautious of the veritable dangers of hard liquor.
The preceding true story thus takes me to events surrounding the recent death of a dear friend (I will call him "Robert"). Robert's life would also be "severed" by the deleterious effects of "akpeteshie," a product so vile that it slowly converts dark lips to crimson-red ones, and progressively turns a once vigorous alimentary canal into an "emaciated" and "depleted" tunnel of death! In fact, legend has it that this deadly poison, "akpeteshie," the Devil's Concoction, the Liquid of Death, is sometimes brewed with rusted nails to increase its potency, and is thus antithetical to the development of the minds and bodies of the young and energetic, male and female, southerner and northerner. So, why would anyone ever imbibe such a product?
Robert, after a series of failures — there were some remarkable successes in his life too! — simply lost his courage to persevere in life, thereby erroneously turning to the bottle for temporary comfort, which, in turn, would gradually undermine his health, leading to a severe form of stomach ulcer, from which he eventually died! With a wife and two children to care for — Robert was indubitably handsome too! — many were very shocked by Robert's inability to fight the "curse" of the bottle. In the end, Robert's death would leave his wife, children and extant parents inconsolable, for Robert's was truly a life cut too short!
Robert's demise constantly reminds me of an allegory once told by a preacher: If one wanted to discover the greatest — albeit unused or under-utilized — talents, one simply needed to go to the cemetery to do so, for those epitaphic inscriptions found on tombstones continually serve as a reminder of lives either cut too short or lives that never reached their full potential.
Together we can all work assiduously to destroy the appeal of hard liquor to our brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors; together we can rise up and encourage those already mired in this deadly propensity to seek professional and spiritual assistance; together we can forestall the breakup of another home because of alcohol-induced brutalities; together we can help a neighbor from losing his job because of the ravages of alcoholism; together we can save the next gentleman from falling into a gutter from an alcohol-induced stupor, only for him to think that the urine of the passer-by is the miraculous drizzle of prosperity from heaven above; together we can all silence the clanking of the fetters of alcoholism!
The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master's degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at [email protected]
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