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26.04.2006 Feature Article

Abrokyir Nkomo

Nowhere Cool…

Ogyakrom!! When the Ghanaman refers to his homeland thus, he is referring not only to the heat from the sun that fries your brain and makes the fan milk or ice kenkey vendor smile as you seek to moisten your sandpaper-dried throat. True, the heat can be oppressive, drenching your freshly ironed shirt in rivers of sweat as you struggle to find a landing perch for your skinny bottom in the trotro stuck in noon traffic at Circle. But that is hardly the point

Amanfoo, when the Ghanaman says Ogyakrom, he is referring to a worse kind of heat-how to make life's many loose ends meet in a neat geometrical fashion. Hmm, life hard o! Prices of goods shoot upwards everyday, literally, whilst your pay packet is 'as fixed as a meter.'

Your son Kwame Atta has been sent home again because his school fees have not been paid, and Teacher Acquah says this time he will not listen to your many excuses. Meanwhile, you have been hearing noises about redundancy at work, and you know your boss does not like you.

Last year your father died, and as the only child the cost of the coffin fell squarely on your battered shoulders. You are yet to recover fully. And that silly Julie girl, your wife's seamstress, who you have been seeing nicodemously when you tell your wife you are going on 'trek', has been making noises recently about a fine dress she saw at the boutique and wants you to get for her. 'Are you mad? Do you know how much it costs?' you scream in impotent rage, and she rolls her eyes listlessly, gives you a sweet smile and casually mentions maybe having a little discussion with your wife. You grimace. Your brain churns faster than a corn mill. You must try and get a little loan for the blackmailing schemer. She has already cost you a fortune in two abortions. You are not even sure if she was actually pregnant.

Now that is proper Ogya. Torrential rain is falling but the earth is still very hard, as they say in my hamlet. But as the phobia boys say even when they are losing a match, never say die….

With such wahala, mankind must then think of a way out. Cut out. Flee uptown, abrokyirland, Babylon, Yankee, wherever. Why not? After all, look at that foolish semi-literate Kwame John, who used to be a bookman at Tema station; wearing the same faded shirt for a full week. Didn't we all see him? He didn't have a cedi to his name, and his shoes were held together thanks to the shoeshine boy's dexterity and thick glue. For this reason he hated rain.

Then his cousin in Holland paid a 'connection man' to enable him go over. This was only 3 years ago! But when he came home last month for a holiday, you thought he had never lived in Ogyakrom, and had just descended from heaven, personally escorted by Angel Gabriel himself, no less. Only 'dropping' would do. Ei! He eats in expensive restaurants, drinking only mineral water and fine wine, an entourage of man-eating 'sradenam' girls in tow. He is building a house at Adenta. He refuses to stay in the family house at Kokomlele, claiming it is too crowded and therefore unhygienic. He has therefore rented a house in Labone. He even changes his shoes every day. Gold jewels drip from him as if he owns Obuasi Mines. Ebei!! Indeed no condition is permanent. If Kwame John, who is as thick as Daavi Tamakloe's okro soup, can make it, and be so 'too known' why can't I? He is not the only one destined to be a 'boga' We all go go some.

So you flee Ogyakrom to go to the cool land. Your friends are jealous and yet come to the airport to wish you well. After all, whatever you earn there, even as a kitchen sweeper, will be more than a bank manager's salary back home. And from time to time, at least you will remember to remit them. You feel good but nervous on the plane as you struggle with the seatbelt in an effort to hide you ignorance as a first-time traveler, proudly suited. You vow you will not miss Ghana after all the hardships you have been through. It will take a 'grader' to get me back home, you say.

Eventually you arrive at Heathrow. Or Schipol. Or JFK. Whatever. So you are in paradise. You can buy most of the things you want. A shoe every week? Nice clothes and gadgets? No problem, babe. All the things you dreamt of and salivated over back home are affordable You send money home for various projects. The money converted in cedis makes you an instant millionaire. You like that word. Your mother can now also boast to her friends that the new cloth she wore for the church harvest was from you, and request special prayers for you. Now, Kwame Atta's fees are paid for the next four years. No problem, no sweat. You have purchased a piece of land and will be developing it next year. Cool Running. Life sweet.

But then, hold it. Nowhere cool. Every little problem of the entire family back home in the village, they bring to your doorstep: medical bills, personal debts, school fees. Even the other day your best friend wanted a suit, shoes, socks and shirt for his impending wedding!! You wonder if you are Father Christmas. You are getting tired of your trips to Western Union. Bills keep popping up in the post, a never-ending stream. Immigration is becoming a hot issue, and you are getting nervous. You hear your old lady is ill back home and you are frantic with worry. Nobody even notices you when you wear your 'designer' gear. In any case you are wearing long winter coats over them. You wonder if your wife is being faithful back home. You work 12-hour days and have no time to enjoy anything. Your waist is 'locking' from all the hard work.

Suddenly Ogyakrom has some nostalgic appeal. You hear highlife and you notice it. Suddenly AB Crentsil's Arokyir abrabo means a lot to you. You fall in love African carvings and they adorn you home. You hear two people in a bus speaking an Ogyakrom language and you smile to yourself. The little things start to mean a lot. You miss Maame Akoto's special fresh aponkye nkrakra with cocoyam fufu, washed down with palm wine. Never mind that you had to eat at Maame Akoto's on credit. Back home you yearned for pizzas and salads, but Frankie's and Papaye were no-go areas- not with your empty pockets. You miss sitting with your friends at the palm-wine bar making fools of yourselves and listening to Agya Koo Krah strumming his ancient guitar. You miss your family-hardships and all. Now you know why Kwame John really enjoys himself when he comes home-once he gets back to abrokyir it is work, home, work, home, till his next trip.

They say if God lets it rain, we complain. If he lets the sun shine, again we complain. I suppose that is the Ogyakromian attitude. Life is one big Ogyakrom, wherever you are. Even when you depart this world, you are likely to go in a tight-fitting box with no air-conditioning, lowered into an underground chamber. If you decide to go by cremation, then you feel the real Ogya superfinals.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, © 2006

This author has authored 34 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: RodneyNkrumahBoateng

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