Dark Shadows

How do you deal with a dark shadow

that darkens your soul and blurs your vision

leaves you groping

in search of a light, a glow,

a tiny flicker of hope

a bubbly life reduced to a thing beneath non-existence.

A dark shadow that contracts your chest and fills your lungs with smoky torment

plunges you into the nadir of despair

shapes you into the morose twin of Miss Saturnine

It goes beyond sucking the life out of you

it mocks

dangling before you what used to be, what could have been and what would never be.

What do you do when you feel so dead that looking at the vultures, you see pretty angels ready to ascend with you into the heavens?

How do you deal when the waves  come crushing and the tides, exploding with bitter anger, carry your beautiful days to sea?

I seem to have a lot of questions

but it’s all just that one thing in essence

How do you deal?

It is a smell

a look

the smile of a total stranger, that makes your heart sink.

It is the memory of a joke shared two years ago

the sound of their favourite song playing on the radio night show

that

that is what makes the tears well up.

How do you deal with a loss

so profound it leaves you speechless

breathless

lifeless

And your existence, once a bundle of joie de vivre

is reduced to blind stares and silent hours

Thoughts bring you hurt

Feelings are grief

How do you deal

I’m at a loss

tell me please

Will you show me how?

Because this pain that eats me up

This pain that ravages my soul

It’s left me with cold blood

and a constant desire to scream

a soundless scream that only rings in my head reverberates in my skull

because no one else sees

no one hears

but I need to know, how do I deal?

Withered Narcissus

For one moment her lungs filled with this clean sweet air

she glimpsed a vastness that was this beautifully round planet

she must have shot out of the earth for she blossomed with the daffodils

she danced with the stars

she dreamt

she smelled the sea and let herself be caressed by the sun

and then before it began, it had ended

a bliss so brief and

so ephemeral, it didn’t exist.

For that one fleeting semi-moment

she opened herself to what could be

now she berates

she berates herself for having lived

for having searched her soul and

for living as her heart pleased

her own alchemist.

She sipped an addictive potion

and fed it with beatific emotion

It occupies her mind, her body, her soul

it occupies her

each passing second she craves an extra measure.

Yet here she stands

a spring flower incapable of blooming in the cold of December

And as the potion in her veins grows ever potent,

her incapability grows ever deep.

It is a leech

sucking on her obsession

replacing her lifeblood with a concoction

plunging her further into a state of non-living.

She curses herself for having lived

because the ghosts of what was

now hunt what is

That Ribbon on your Gown

I had arrived just on time for the exam. I wove my way through rows of students, searching for my designated desk. As I found my seat and sat down, I looked around and observed who was seated closest to me. My eyes did a quick sweep of the room. I was like a spy reconnoitering. I laid my exam tools on the desk and took a deep breath. This was it. My very last exam as a University of Ghana undergrad.

I quickly scribbled my index number and other details on the answer sheet as I waited to start work. In a few minutes the examiner stepped forward and spelt out the usual rules. You know, I always wondered why you could leave the exam room thirty minutes after the start of the exam but not fifteen minutes or less to the end of the exam. What was up with that anyway?
“Start work. You have one and a half hours for French Grammar and another hour and thirty minutes for Semi-specialised Translation.”
I leapt onto my question paper. Let’s do this. The next three hours was a blur of flipping papers, quick pen scratches and time-checking. It was almost like nobody was breathing. We didn’t have the time to. At the sound of “Stop work”, I didn’t hear any “Eiiii’s” from students; that was good. Eiiii basically translated into, “there wasn’t enough time.” I handed over my answer booklet and when I finally got up, it was to feel like a leaf in the harmattan, dried out from all the effort yet very light from the lifted burden.

Interesting enough, I suddenly felt aimless. For years I had worked towards this one goal, getting through university successfully. Every effort had been directed at this and every (well, not every but you get me) waking moment had been spent working for this. It had been my five-year development plan. And, thankfully, unlike my beloved Ghana, I had achieved it. I experienced a very strong, “Now what?” moment. I wasn’t sure. All I knew was, I had to enjoy the phase.

What I wanted now, was to be able to crown all those years of work with a ribbon on my gown. The first class ribbon. Some say a first class isn’t as important as we make it seem. I say, errrm. Ten years from now, yes, it might not be. You are likely to have moved on with a master’s degree and maybe even a PhD or you may have three kids tagging at your clothes, basically, bigger fish to fry. A year or two from now, when you are looking to apply for a masters in Economics or Finance at Harvard or the London School of Economics, you’ll certainly wish you had that 3.6 and above GPA.

Many of my friends, just like me, were praying for a first class. We’d made sure to do everything right just to get there. We tried everything legal to be found within the dark-brown earth and bright-blue sky. We B.F.F.-ed the Lord and drowned in caffeine. All it takes my dears, all it takes. Through all the lecturers who wanted to harass and the guys who come to distract, we had triumphed. We were with a mission and weren’t to lose focus.

On the day we don our gowns, with heels and purses in place, and troop to the Great Hall, we hope it’s going to be with that ribbon on our gowns. Because we worked, scratch that, slaved for it. We didn’t have a lecturer ‘favour us’. We didn’t chill our way through uni just because we were in Legon. And though we were and forever will remain Legon girls, we probably studied harder than a U.C.C. student would, no offense. At the end of the day, whether the ribbon comes or not, we would walk around with our heads held high and our heels firmly fixed on the ground because we did nothing to be ashamed of. Every single super grade on our transcript, we killed brain cells to obtain.

When, after all of… THAT, an employer sits back and raises a suspicious finger at us, simply because we are very beautiful girls with kick-ass brains, it is probably the most insulting thing next to…. (I’ll leave that to your imagination). Because say what you may, entertaining doubts about a girl’s grades merely due to her physical appeal is outright demeaning. It tells me that that employer is myopic and has fallen prey to the clichés of an openly chauvinistic society. It pushes me to think that when some of us flock to the forefront to speak about the female’s ability to rise all the way to the top and excel like nobody’s business, they hear nothing but empty words; when women all around the world and right here in our motherland have proven beyond any doubt that we are entirely capable of getting there on our own, all they see are women who knew how to manipulate the men around them. Sickening.

WASSCE 2016: WHO GOES TO JAIL?

It might be that I’m aging quick or maybe I’ve just faced what I believe is worse but I can only remember bits and pieces of the time when I was preparing to write my Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). I can recollect a few moments when all I seemed to do was study; times when teachers will step into our class on their way to wherever because they had just remembered a tip for the exam and wanted to share or because they thought we weren’t displaying the required seriousness to pass the exam.

It was a time of heightened anxiety, that much, I remember. Not knowing the answer to any question from the ten subject areas we were supposed to muster was always a source of trepidation and terror. The West African Secondary School Certificate Exam (WASSCE) wasn’t much different. We spent the last few months before the exam doing nothing but preparing. The least said about the last few weeks, the better.

I do remember rather clearly though, the day I checked my WASSCE results. The spectacular anxiety I felt as I tripped to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) to buy my scratch card for the online grade checking is nicely etched in my memory. The mere recollection of it makes my fingers tremble as I type. There’s a mini quake in my palms. I could barely wait to get home. I found an internet café a few meters away from WAEC (how strategic), and did all but jump inside. Sitting beside me were two other girls who it seemed, were equally eager to know their fates.

I said a silent prayer and clicked, clicked, clicked till… I held my breath and skimmed through it pretty hurriedly. Then I released my breath, partly, and thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. So I went through again. Then a small smile started to play at the corners of my lips. I could breathe free once more. I smiled like a Cheshire cat. And again as I type, I am smiling like an idiot. I printed it out, of course. The café attendant said his congratulations, and I tripped back home feeling like a million bucks. My chest had swelled adequately to match my mood; my steps and lightened and I walked on air.

The long wait between the exam period and the release of the results had been filled with so much uncertainty, I really had no idea what awaited me at the time. There were those moments when my happy laughter and jolly mood was punctuated by some really glum and pessimistic thought on my grades yet to be released. Then there were those other moments when I suddenly remembered some really stupid answer I gave to a question I wasn’t sure about and all I wanted to do was cover my face and moan.

But I got through it.  And every year since then, some candidate somewhere has experienced emotions akin to mine. I cannot for the life of me, imagine what would happen to that candidate, if after all the emotional turmoil, they were told by WAEC that their papers had been cancelled or if after checking their grades and found eight heavy Fs tugging at their hearts.

Yet, almost every year, it seems like more and more students are failing and the cancellation of grades never ends. This year’s WASSCE results have just been released and there is already so much talk about the performance of students. Everyone is complaining, teachers are complaining, parents are complaining, even the students themselves are complaining! And the blame game is hot as a burning coal. Teachers, parents, WAEC, the government, they’ve all received a slice of the blame pie.

An article won’t cut if I wanted to delve into what I believe is reason behind the incredibly dreadful performance. But that issue about the leaking of exam questions really needs to be addressed. There is constant talk of the cancellation of some candidates’ papers at the release of grades because they were believed to have had access to the question papers prior to the exam; in other words, the question papers leaked; or as we say in Ghana, ‘appor’ landed.

For how long do we plan to sit and watch as hundreds of BECE and WASSCE papers are cancelled? I’m extremely curious to know what WAEC is doing to put a stop to the appalling act that has become such a recurrent nuisance. Each time I hear about this issue, I ask myself why no one has been prosecuted yet. Or is me who hasn’t heard? Answers please, anyone?

Show Me Some Love

2006: Y3 wo krom! (We’re in town!)

The Ghana Black Stars made it to Germany 2006! This was our maiden appearance at the Fifa World Cup finals and boy, were we excited! The whole nation was rallied behind the boys and for most of us it was a matter of, “I don’t care if we get kicked out early, at least we made it here.” Y3 wo krom! We had nothing to lose! Truly, we were proud of our Stars. Very proud.

Our first game against Italy didn’t go too well and it left us a little downhearted. The next game was against Czech Republic and we weren’t sure that we stood much of a chance. Hence, the incredible 2-0 victory we were blessed with sent most of us hugging strangers and dancing to the moon. Imagine the ecstasy. All sentiments brought about by our earlier defeat were long forgotten. Our darling boys had done it. We played the USA next and won again! Every lip was singing C’mon Black Stars Ghana, and we sincerely believed that God was Ghanaian.

At this point we were sure that Ghana had finally been put on the map. Ghana was known. Ghana was respected. Ghanaians were pride personified.

Not long after that our heroes were sent home. But we didn’t give a hoot. Our hearts were bursting with satisfaction and we were surfing the waves of elation. Our gallant stars received a welcome fit for lords.

2010: …and then Suarez happened

For the second time our Stars found themselves at the Fifa World Cup finals. The first African team, besides the hosts, to reach the World Cup finals. Welcome to South Africa 2010. Ghana was once more doing pretty well. This time around, the talk wasn’t about just making an appearance, but actually about winning. Ambitious. But however ambitious, it appeared as if we are getting there. We could smell the alluring fragrance of the semi-finals, we were right at the edge, one foot over the threshold… and then Suarez happened! Not only did Suarez happen, Asamoah Gyan happened too!! Good Lord, Ghanaians were ready to die. At this point, we had to leave and go back home. Like our players always say, “we did our best, but it wasn’t good enough.” We hoped to do better next time.

We surely couldn’t be mad at the team though, maybe just at Asamoah Gyan, because… well, just because! The welcome home wasn’t bad at all and life was soon back to normal. Keep in mind though, Suarez is never forgotten.

So all in all, we loved our Stars, and dearly so. They always gave us every reason to cherish them and hold them dear in our hearts, even after some painful losses. Of course, that was until 2014.

2014 …wait a minute, curtains up, let the drama unfold…

The Black Stars played their way to Brazil 2014. Awesome! Ghanaians were anticipating a sterling performance from the Stars and we were hoping that just maybe, the cup that evaded us four years ago would be ours. Our performance at the two previous tournaments meant that expectations were pretty high and some major Ghanaian celebrities were already in Brazil ready to cheer on our heroes. However, being grouped with Portugal, Germany and the USA went a really long way to stifle a bit of that hope. But still, we were certainly fighting on.

Our first game didn’t go well, we lost 2-1 to the USA when many had predicted a repeat of history. The match against Germany though!  THAT.WAS.EPIC. We played them like a drum, but, we drew. We were to play Portugal next and thus far the performance of the Stars hadn’t been too consistent. The match against Germany had rekindled our fading hopes. We were pretty much awaiting the game with Portugal to determine our fate when, wait a minute, curtains up, let the drama unfold: we got word that the boys were threatening to boycott their last game if they were not immediately paid their bonuses.

We watched in horror as news of their demands reached our ears. Many of us wondered why they were not prepared to wait to settle this after the World Cup. They would not budge, they wanted their monies and they wanted it immediately. Ghanaians were beginning to get irritated. The Stars seemed to be taking our love for granted. Eventually the president intervened and hocus-pocus, the money flew! $3 million dollars on a plane to Brazil. $3 million dollars in cash. Ghanaians were furious. You should have heard us rave and rant and huff and puff! Added to that were reports of insubordination in the black stars camp and the eventual dismissal of Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Oh la honte! The shame! Brazil 2014 was a complete fiasco!

Many Ghanaians decided we had had enough. We wanted a break up with the Stars.

Today 2016: desperate for our love

They want us back. They ask to be forgiven. At least Sulley Muntari has. Our deputy captain Andre Dede Ayew continuously pleads with us to pardon the team and once again show them some love. He says it’s been difficult for them ever since we left and without our support, “they can’t achieve anything”. He asks that we put what happened in Brazil behind us. It looks like they are desperate for our love.

I’m not a football fan. Only one team has ever had my affection, the Black Stars. Sure, they’ve hurt me before but never have they wrenched out my heart with such impunity. Never have they pushed me to the point of complete indifference.

The lucky thing is, Dede Ayew has always had a place in my heart and given that he’s the one making the plea, I can’t help but to forgive. Like that one harmful habit we can’t seem to shake off, I’m once again, forgetting the hurt they caused me and remembering the good times, the laughter, the hugs and the kisses shared thanks to them.

 

Africa in Light of Brexit

As it stands, Britain’s ‘Leave Camp’ is victorious. They’ve managed to push Britain towards the exit and out the door. There are those who believe this is the time for the EU to sit up and make the much called for reforms that would ensure a better union.

The doomsayers are certain that this is the beginning of the end of the EU, to others, it’s the end of the UK economy too. They predict a domino effect of Britain’s departure citing that countries such as Scotland, may want to leave the UK especially since they voted “Remain”, while other EU countries try to follow in the steps of Britain.

A depreciation of the pound seems to be tied to a lead for the leave camp, although frankly speaking, a ‘slight’ depreciation of the pound wouldn’t exactly be bad for British exports. Nonetheless, many believe this could be the start to a smaller British economy; fewer jobs as European multinational companies find their way out and as trade restrictions with the EU grow. But a lot of what would happen seems to depend on the agreements that Britain on one hand and the EU on the other hand come to regarding trade laws among others in the near future. Many site the example of Norway which, despite being a non EU member, still holds relatively strong trade relations with the union. And surely, members of the Leave Camp see a brighter future for Britain, one that is not slowed down by the EU’s red tapes nor marred by the massive inflow of dependent immigrants. As for what happens next in the British political arena, well, David Cameron has already announced his resignation and time will tell where Brits go from here.

But how does Britain’s exit from the EU affect West Africa? As former colonies of Europe, many in the West African sub region have tried to evaluate what a vote to leave would mean to us. Dependency theorists were not entirely wrong in their claim that the colonial masters established a trade structure that made it quite difficult for their former colonies to develop. There is the general belief that Africa’s trade agreements with the EU are keeping Africa poor and certain European policies such as the much cited Common Agricultural Policy (where EU farmers are given subsidies) make it difficult for Africa to compete on the European market. Again, WTO laws which insist on reciprocal trade agreements means that African countries no longer benefit from specially drawn trade agreements with former colonial masters such as the Lomé Convention which gave former colonies preferential access to the European market. Consequentially, there is the school of thought that a Brexit would be the opportunity to renegotiate better trade deals with the UK and the rest of Europe.

Truth be told however, it doesn’t seem like a Brexit offers much hope for Africa regarding our relationship with the rest of Europe. Chances of allowing the UK as an independent nation, to “chip in a good word” for African countries and pressurise the EU to renegotiate trade deals with Africa are pretty slim. But given that the future direction of EU-UK trade relations in the near future is shrouded in a veil of uncertainty perhaps we could benefit from stronger bilateral ties with the UK. Duddridge’s interview with the RFI clearly suggests that the African continent could derive economic and security benefits from a Brexit as he describes the EU as a “wholly inappropriate way to define the UK-Africa relationship”.

In my opinion, it is quite difficult at this moment to predict how Britain’s exit will affect the West African sub region. What is certain is that an exit means that Britain can negotiate on its own terms with the rest of the world and hence whether or not West Africa would benefit from the turn of events depends on how well we as Africans are able to bargain, assuming of course, Britain does indeed decide to look a bit more to Africa for trade partnerships.

For better, for worse and for five years.

I still find it hard to believe that my five-year first degree education has come to an end. My mind is still processing. I keep thinking that two months or so from now, I’d grudgingly wake up and start packing bag and baggage, ready to move to campus once again. I was so eager to get to this point, it’s somewhat deflating that I don’t feel any different. Forgive my naive self for expecting to morph into a superior being.

As I sit typing, I think of the experiences I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, the stuff I’ve learnt… and unlearnt; and I think of all the sleepless nights my course mates and I spent working on assignments for that “unreasonable” lecturer who never gave us enough time. But who am I kidding, we equally spent sleepless nights finishing up assignments we had been given three weeks before at the last minute. That was the life and any normal student could relate.

I remember my fist year like I do this very morning. How I banged the car door shut on my index finger and walked around campus all day in severe pain. I can picture the combined look of pity and awe on people’s faces when I told them I was there to read Economics and the way they always seemed to ‘sympathise’ with me. The Economics department was a notorious one.

I can still picture meeting Jemila on my first day of orientation. My doppelgänger. It was an agreeable little encounter that evolved into a relationship beyond friendship, sisterhood. It always took me a second or two to figure out that that stranger smiling and waving from across the road didn’t actually know me, they knew Jemila.

First year was generally a pleasurable year. Probably the most pleasurable: joining the French Club and acting on stage, singing at Alliance Française (wait, was that in the first or second year?), discovering me and discovering the University of Ghana. The year passed by pretty quickly. So did the second year, and the third. Actually, all of five years passed by like a hundred-meter sprint. But don’t be deceived, by the second semester of the fifth year, I was so eager to get it, as I always said, “over and done with”. I could hardly wait to see this day.

Fourth year was a novel experience, spending a year outside Ghana to eemprove my French. It was a tough year, adjusting to a new environment with a different educational system. It was also an exciting one, making friends and discovering a new life. I’ll always remember having to ask course mates to kindly mail me their notes since the entire lesson was given in French and my Anglophone ears were, let’s just say, still adjusting to the guttural R and the speed of la langue de Moliere (Moliere’s language).

Fifth year was such a headache. Looking back, I can afford to say it was crazy hectic in a fun way. And to be honest, it kind of made me feel a tad bit important being so busy all the time. Ha! Final judgement though, it was aaarrrghhhh! Readjusting to the University of Ghana and being thrown instantaneously into the pain called Econometrics and the workings of an open economy in the medium run; being pushed to befriend books by Gujarati and Blanchard, I was practically dating that book by Stock and Watson! Staying up till 3:00 am to finish assignments trended like #bringbackourgirls and the reading list for Public Finance seemed to grow an inch by the day.

Oh and remember those Friday mornings when we showed up terribly late for Public Finance because that research assignment on Tax Capacity hadn’t been completed; or those hot and lazy afternoons when we crammed ourselves into a lecture hall at JQB because Economic Theory required more than two hours a week? How I could I fail to mention Prof’s French and Francophone literature class: studying Albert Camus’ L’Etranger and preparing presentations on Ken Bugul’s works. Literature was such a thumbs up though.

All through this time, we kept a close watch on our GPAs. Our vice-chancellor’s infamous new grading system had gone a long way to diminish student participation in extra-curricular activities and had turned us into hawks, circling our GPAs ready to pounce on any grade that had the potential to drag us down. By the end of the second year, people had already given up on their first class and second class uppers. The As were rare gems and every single one received made us so ecstatic we could have easily outshone the sun; of course, with very B+ came the usual, “Why didn’t the lecturer just give me an A?”. As if!

Through it all, we made some wonderful friends that we would be sure to keep for life. Some, sad to say, we might have already forgotten. We’ve had experiences that would stay with us till the end; others, well, if only it were that easy to forget. But like that song that keeps playing in your head, the life lived here is one we’ll carry with us everywhere. Just remember, “Integri Procedamus