There might be only two great stories written by the autocratic hands of nature during my generation. That 20th May 1947 eclipse was the first of its kind. Church bells churned through the air as souls thronged to church praying and waiting to be saved. Oh, we thought that was the end time! Of course, there was no advanced technology and Ghana broadcasting our only source of information, had no clue so we were all hit by the surprise; eclipse! That is a story you can laugh about. The second story nature wrote was in 1983. With an unknown beginning; a struggle we barely speak of; and an unknown end. I present to you, “Ghana Ntam Kese.”
We were the forgotten ones, cursed by nature and punished for a wrong we still debate about. Some say it was a punishment from God for a leadership that resulted in spilling of innocent blood; why should we all face the wrath of the creator for the wrongs of a few leaders? I don’t agree with them, I believe God was warning each one of us; we belonged to a country buried in greed; prices of goods were escalating and low income earners could barely afford. That was our wrong, but I won’t deny the fear driven anger in the hearts of our generation for the 1979 and 1981 coup d’état that made our land bleed. Whatever the reason may be, there is no doubt in any mind that this was not a mere coincidence but a warning from God for wrongs we all committed.
Beautiful days started becoming sorrowful; like the eclipse, nobody saw it coming. From the start it disguised itself as if some few careless farmers were accidentally causing bush fires but then it got worse and beyond what looked like the handy work of man. Reality took time but gradually caught up with us; every red sky that took the nights came with screams from the vocal cords of somebody losing a home. There were no rains for almost a year, and fire ruled our farms and forest. The beginning of the greatest famine ever to hit this country, Ghana.
My side of the story would take us to Akwatia, a diamond mining town in Ghana. I was the senior plant security officer there. I was called from the military to take on this job some years ago and 1983 met me there. The harsh military training and good job was not enough to build any man for what was nearing. My wife was pregnant with our first child; after years of marriage nature gifted us with a seed at the most barren season of all and that took my plight a length more.
The gushing sound of fire traded for the beautiful sound of the morning birds; all living creatures had their share of the year. It was an easy sight to see an almost burnt wild animal moaning in pain everywhere. For a story it sounds like an easy game to feed on, but reality painted a scene so sorrowful no human could further prey on those forsaken animals. In fact, meat was not a problem, we could still buy chicken and beef from the stores. The problem was foodstuffs; the ground was hard and hot, nothing grew from it. For a start, I set off with my driver to the villages looking for foodstuffs to buy; I had the privilege of a company Land Rover because of my position there, so I’m not the perfect shoes to project the pain others went through to acquire foodstuffs. My pregnant wife would be waiting for me to bring home some foodstuff so she could eat; so for me there was nothing like giving up on the search for food. Some days I came back home with nothing but the few times I got some food it was either some dry cassava which will melt on cooking or some corn which was the gold of that season. The few people who had harvested maize already, were into the kenkey business. That was when we cued with stones to buy kenkey. How do you identify your stone? Hahaha! Wait till you are starving and your only option to getting food was to identify a stone, then you’ll discover how good you are in archeology. Of course there was a limit to how many balls of kenkey you could buy, we were forced by the hands of nature to learn to share but not everyone in the cue would still get a share of it; with something close to faith or more specifically without any other options, we all waited till it was finished. They even went ahead to sell the raw corn dough when the kenkey was finished, yet some still had nothing to take home. This was the perfect time in my lifetime that nature proved to mankind that money doesn’t make the world go round.
Time was not a cure but an aggravator of the situation; food got much scarce and our hunting and gathering methods were yielding less results as the days went by. We had to survive; I bought some maize and decided to plant. It looked like an impossible task but I had a plan. I collected manure from the company’s poultry farm to my backyard. With a pickaxe I dug in the concrete-like ground creating huge holes and filling them with the manure. I had a maid who placed the maize into the holes; my palms cracked and bled but I didn’t give up. I connected a hose pipe to the farm and started watering it. Some days later I finally saw some green; I was so happy. Months went by and I was harvesting my maize. Now we could make our own food. My wife roasted some for me to take to work; if you are a Ghanaian you know what a delicacy that was. Almost everybody at work ate roasted corn at break. We had imports of yellow corn from neighboring countries but that wasn’t a favorite of Ghanaians and others had also discovered my method of growing maize too.
The fires started to die down but the smile with which it came lasted only a fortnight; locust invaded the whole country. First it was everything inside the ground that was being cooked by the heat, now everything above the ground was being eaten by locust. If this wasn’t a well-orchestrated punishment then I don’t know what to call it. It was in this time that I made a friend, ‘Akwasi Ahoma.’ He had a huge cassava farm in a village far off. All you could see on the farm were long sticks sticking out of the ground. They were cassava plants pruned of their leaves by the ever skillful swarm of locust. I had to beg him on my knees to sell me some of the cassava; it was a pathetic sight. When he finally agreed, he gave me pickaxe to dig out the cassava I needed. Concrete grounds I broke again; I dug a sack full of cassava, took it to him to price it, I paid for it and took it home. I didn’t have a choice, my first child was almost about to be born and my pregnant wife needed all the best meals she could have. My strength couldn’t handle this torture for long so I made another friend. He brought me cassava at my doorsteps and I paid him; just when things were getting easier, word came out he was a thief. He stole the cassava from various farms till he had enough then he would sell them to me. That was true, it didn’t take investigative skills to notice the different colors of soil around the cassava but somehow this evil looked right till evidence made it obvious. I asked him to stop supplying me; no amount of struggle makes a wrong look right. I went back to my old struggle and pain.
The ‘curse’ was long; the exact time it lasted, I can’t tell but I remember when my son, my first child, was born the doctor asked us to stop feeding him with maize foods because he was getting bigger and bigger. I asked the doctor, what else is there to feed him? A question she couldn’t answer; that’s how severe 1983 was. You must have heard of the infamous “Rawlings chain;” that is the name we gave to the protruding collarbone 1983 gave almost all of us as the mark of our struggle and survival.Today my son asked me about the infamous 83, funny how numbers tick, I am 83 years old now. I told him these events almost choking on my laughter, but the real event was nothing close to the frowning half of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.