Sunday, January 29, 2023

AMICI OMNIUM HORARUM (FRIENDS OF ALL HOURS)

My dear Samira,

I have been trying to understand you from multiple angles, but to no avail. I have put in my best. Your life is more like a giant octopus with many legs swung in different directions. The more I tried to understand you or your life, the more confused I became. You remember telling me how we were going to tour Paris, London, and Barcelona together, holding hands and popping popcorn on everyone, every situation, and every event we passed? Well! I guess you may have forgotten so soon, but I do not. If I begin forgetting things this easily, wouldn’t amnesia catch me in my early forties—if the Good Lord ever grants me such a privilege?

I guess you can still remember the story you told me about the story your mom told you when she met the wife of the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, who happens to share a similar name with you, in a program at Nima, where she told her about her own daughter’s explosive tendencies and her willingness to be like her, the wife of a vice president. I know very well that you can also remember the exact response I gave you from the meat below my ribcage when you finished your mom’s wishful escapades with her counterpart in Nima. I understand you still lean toward that second-fiddle stance your mom once wished for you.

My dear Samira, allow me to introduce you to Portia Agyekum, a real spacio-temporal and life coach, whose stance I dwell on this time to challenge you again that you can be the vice president and not the vice president’s wife. She said, “It is real, and it is difficult. That’s what we have to face as women, but it’s very doable. It’s all about planning and looking for a good support system. “You will have to make sacrifices at times.” I stand by Portia’s words because if I had been the author of those words, you wouldn’t have seen any value in them. I recalled your reaction the day I called you my future finance minister when we were on our way to our favorite joint, KFC.

Well! I know you can point out various aspects of me. You also know that I am more of a doctor, curing illnesses with which I am mostly afflicted and still suffer. Regardless, I read in one of my lengthy books, “Introducing Health Geographies,” that even though doctors and patients have different thoughts, they have also built common ground on something. “Put simply, people suffer illnesses while doctors diagnose diseases. The doctor or physician wishes, then, to cure the patient of the disease; the patient will, of course, wish to be cured of any disease but also want to be freed from feeling ill.”

A healthy life becomes their common ground despite their different approaches. On this, I know you have already established our own personalized common ground—a great economic messiah. Yes! You’ve heard me right. In the most unlikely event, I do not climb the tedious HILL of KNOWLEDGE in the downtown of Accra’s LA (not Los Angeles) with you; in the most unlikely event I do not fully exploit the hidden treasure from my father; in the most unlikely event I do not follow you to the land of the unforgettable, I will still be remembered as one who has pushed you beyond the muddy obstacles where scars never last forever unless you want them.

I believe in you, your ability, and your determination. At least, I have seen your growth from the very first time we met in the corridors of Elizabeth Frances Sey Hall. Indeed, I became more convinced when you started buying mashke (kenkey) from my roommate, which of course has given us more room to connect. I know it will be difficult for you to remember the few times we once shared the stairs immediately after you exited my first room—the one facing the car park.

The day I completely doff my hat for you. The same day I ever asked you about your academic background, and your previous schools, I got to know you didn’t even do economics at secondary school yet were determined to pursue it as a profession, and you have done just that. This is sheer grit, determination, and perseverance.

Why wouldn’t I be excited for you beyond the little turvy-durvy we shared together? Sometimes life demands a little cheer at its very fringes. Not always on sunny days, but on cloudy ones too. My tactical military friend will say, “they all build up a life profile.” Without looking back, the little cheers led to something else. My feelings for you developed as a result of our trotting adventures rather than the fanciful Bolts and Yango drives. You know, these things rarely happen, especially with people like me who want to connect all of the prism’s wide and near dots before taking a step; look before you leap. I am tempted to say you achieved a near-perfect result. But I still needed you where I wanted you to be—at the tip of the pyramid.

Familiarity is a great quality you possessed. I know that. But what I do not know is your ability to switch between personalities. At a glance, I can transition from the Samira I know to the Samira I don’t know. The ease with which you do that even surprises me more. Should I be bothered?

“Striving to capture the essence of a particular human being is an endless task, which is why most of us give up on the chore so early in the game; usually we are rest satisfied in propounding the significance of a person’s life activities for some well-defined artificial subset of purposes,” my mentor, Andrew Gamble, once said. This is something I never want to be a victim of. You may recall the well-known fallacy of hasty generalization from our UGRC Critical Thinking and Logical Reasoning class. I still carry the luggage of this thought in everything I do.

This is why I try to understand people. I try to understand why things happen. I try to understand you. I try to understand why you do what you do. A few years ago, I was just asking people, “Why are you doing this?” “Why would your neighbor do this?” Trying to understand how people survive, and how people make the choices they do. Above all, how you make your own choices.

Ahem!

Point five (5). A choice. My newest abode.

I told you of my relocation from the farthest point of Adenta Municipality to the center of Madina last year in one of our conversations. I will often mention the beautiful name everyone is acquainted with, but not the one known only in the four corners of my newest abode. There’s a name known only to the inhabitants of the neighborhood: point five (5). Regardless, the sweetest name any resident of this abode will mention to you is Madina Redco, because it carries the fantasy of beautifully arranged flats and nicely decorated bungalows. However, there is more. You know that at the belly of every beautiful city lies an ugly neighborhood where its beauty often tries to envelop. Of course, no one wants to show this side of their ugly selves. Not even you. 

My dear Samira, the same way you often try to conceal your ugly side, albeit known only to you, is the same way Madina-Redco conceals its Point Five (5) known only to its inhabitants. Only those familiar with the terrain know its exact name. It took me a whole lunar year to uncover this name. As I said earlier, Point Five (5) is at the center of Madina-Redco, where every manner of human being can be found. The size of the original geography is not up to that of a football field, yet it is home to more than triple the number of people living in the entire Madina-Redco. A kind of place an Englishman could easily describe as a slum or a ghetto.

In the normal Ghanaian lexicon, we would’ve called it Zongo because of its multiple functions and the housing of different people from various parts of the country. However, it couldn’t be named Zongo due to the circumstances surrounding it. Firstly, Madina itself is a Zongo. Secondly, this is not a permanent residence but rather temporary structures of kiosks situated on lands belonging to developers in search of huge sums of cash to erect beautiful edifices, and the duration of their cash search provided a safe haven for these squatters, at least for the time being. I guess you know these things better than I do since you aren’t too far from the original Accra Zongo. For me, the Zongo I know in Wa is quite different from the Zongos I encountered in Accra or Kumasi.

Point Five (5) has established itself as a well-known community for showcasing all characters from Ghana and elsewhere. A community of both positives and negatives. An emblem of Kayaye abodes, they encapsulate a lot of young men who do menial jobs on the yawning streets of Madina for survival. The “knock! knock! knock!” of the shoeshine boys, or at best, men, parading through the entrance with a wooden box on their shoulders, wanting to mend and shine the shoes for the people within reach to catch the rush-hour buses to work, is very common in the neighborhood before sunrise. Couldn’t we have been more grateful for the sanity that the Good Lord has bestowed upon us?

Not only that, but Point Five (5) has a significant number of junkies jumping from drinking bar to drinking bar strategically located at the neighborhood’s corners and hidden enclaves in search of their favorite liquors. These honorable people are intertwined with commercial brothels that serve the needs of both the neighborhood and outsiders. Strangers who are not used to the ways of these ‘brotheliers’ might have passed them a million times without noticing who they are or what they do in those Waawaboard-erected kiosks in the middle of the community.

Aren’t we also blessed enough? Yes, we are. And for this reason, aren’t we supposed to extend the bounties of the Good Lord to these people whose “thing” has to succumb to several minutes of pounding before they can eat? Isn’t this the way of the Lord, by whose will we are removing such difficulties? Well! We may not have gotten the entire world to which we aspire, but we can share the little we have with these people while learning principles such as friendship, humility, endurance, and true perseverance from them. I know it isn’t what they bargained for (if they ever had the chance to bargain), yet it was given to them.

My dear Samira, what you have read is not the crux of the matter. The crust is in the friendship displayed towards each other in this neighborhood. The kind of friendship displayed here in the middle of nowhere is unmatched. They have accepted their differences, accepted each other’s flaws, bonded in their inadequacies, and built an everlasting friendship. A kind of friendship that one would never know from afar. A solidified bond. Unlike us, the supposedly enlightened breeds who bond over a cup of coffee, a bottle of beer, or our short-lived careers, they do so in hardship, scarcity, and temporary instability, not knowing where their next meal comes from but knowing their neighbors will not let them starve.

I know you may disagree when I tell you that we take certain things for granted in our fanciful lives. Love and friendship are given different meanings in this neighborhood. Their bond goes beyond religion, ethnicity, and politics. These are the things that frequently cause us to disagree. Indeed, I have never seen people who have accepted their sordid state out of friendship and bonding. Something we have taken for granted. I think our lives have been concentrated too much in residential communities, to the neglect of anomalous neighborhoods in our societies that can teach us the best of life’s values. Of course, I still agree with you that they aren’t living in the best conditions.

And now what?

Do you remember the favorite saying of every liberator? The saying “until every life is free or until we are all free.” I am not fortunate, unlike you, who have frequently avoided making this statement in the face of all the injustices around you. I’ve also had the pleasure of dining with the famously wealthy in society, the affluent in political circles, the not-so-wealthy, today’s youth advocates, and, of course, a cross-section of the suffering masses. I have chosen the side of the masses. I know this has often worried you, and you think my association with society’s lowest of the low will dent your “imaginary self-acclaimed status.” I can still remember that reaction from the day a friend, a Kayaye girl, hugged me at the Kaneshie market on our way to a program on the Legon campus. You couldn’t hide your frustration.

Well! When someone tries to climb the affluence ladder or begins to accumulate wealth, their perception of those below them changes. I think it is something you need to work on because I am not going to abandon them anytime soon, either through your influence or through society’s recalibration of status. I can still recall how you often say that I always want to get my hands dirty. I believe that those to whom society has given so much are also those from whom society expects so much. In your quest for stardom, you have to remember all the hands that aided in uplifting your “heavy butt” to your current station. I may not repeat it again for the sake of friendship, relationship, and affection.

In simple terms, people suffer illnesses while doctors diagnose diseases. The doctor or physician wishes, then, to cure the patient of the disease; the patient will, of course, wish to be cured of any disease but also want to be freed from feeling ill. Friendship is like a sick patient and a doctor. You have a common goal but different paths and thoughts. This is how we must continue our friendship or relationship. I believe in friendship. Yet I do not believe in class, status, or something of the sort. Regardless, all friends are friends. And this is what the Latin people called “Amici omnium horarum”—friends of all hours.

You may not know, hear, or see; now you know, hear, and see. I can sleep now on a Saturday night, feeling fulfilled and relieved.

Written by 
Al Latif Kambo-Naa

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