When a misfortune turns out to be all for the good

Isn’t it amazing that some of the most important – and often positive – turn­ing points in our lives, are created by people who, at the time, we thought were out to cause us harm.

One of my own betes noires was a headmaster who hailed from Asafo, quite close to my home-town of Asiakwa. He knew every trick in the book that a rascally schoolboy could throw at him!

Because he caught me at every turn, whenever I tried to make a fool of him, I had to leave my school and go to a “strange town, Kyebi”, a whole seven miles away, to complete my elementary educa­tion.

I had problems at Kyebi, such as finding someone there, Kyebi “to stay with”.

I soon discovered, to my cost, that with a few exceptions, some of the people my parents approached on my behalf, tended to regard me as an unpaid, glorified servant, though I went back to Asiakwa ev­ery Saturday and returned to Kyebi with foodstuffs from our farm to give to them, as part of my upkeep.

So, I quite often myself taking French leave of these “guardians” and striking out on my own, by renting a room, where I had to cater for myself. I did this, largely, with the help of an – indispensable kerosene stove! My favourite was called “Primus”.

Because it saved me from hunger, I worshipped that thing! I consid­ered the act of polishing its brass parts to a shining gloss, as one of the greatest pleasures of life.

But money was hard to come by, and I naively tried to “share” rooms with a chap from Asiakwa, called Kwaku T…. who was in the same position as myself, and attending an­other school at Kyebi, called “State Primary.”

This was a very bad idea indeed, for the guy managed to steal a great part of the money I brought with me from Asiakwa, as well as any provisions I brought from my father’s shop, such as corned beef, sardines, pilchards, sugar, Quaker Oats – the lot! They just vanished from my chop-box!

I tried to safeguard my stuff by changing the padlock on my “chop-box” often, at great cost, of course. But that posed no problem for him.

He would simply go and buy precisely the same type of padlock as mine, and manage to enter my box without breaking the padlock because, in those days, the idiots who manufactured padlocks gave each of the same brand the same type of key!

Sometimes, the thief wouldn’t even need to buy a new padlock to be able to get at my stuff.

The padlock was so pliant that good thief that he was, he could merely pry the lock out cleverly, take out my stuff and press the lock back in again! This ease of entry made it impossible for me ever to challenge him for stealing stuff out of my chop-box!

I wept in secret, until I sum­moned the courage to leave the house to him altogether and find myself another room elsewhere, to live alone there. It wasn’t much of a solution, though, for I had to pay the rent all by myself.

The disaster I “brought upon myself” did not quite please my parents, who had to fork out the rent as well as my six shil­lings per month school fees.

Whenever I “changed rooms”, I felt the strain in relations with my parents. But I was just being forcibly taught how to bear misfortune and make correct judgements – attributes that would help to shape my life years later.

My difficulties were mitigat­ed by the fact that I found life at Kyebi Government Senior School both extremely chal­lenging and adventurous.

At Asiakwa, I had read all the books in all the classes I had not yet been promoted to, and school was becoming a routine affair.

My greatest challenge was how to escape from the numer­ous physical labour tasks as­signed to us: weeding the huge playing field; cutting bamboo to fence the entire enormous area of the perimeter of the school; and tending the school farm….

But never did I realise the advantages my intellectual development would obtain by leaving Asiakwa and going to Kyebi. For one thing, the books and the curriculum were distinctly different from those of the Presbyterian school. And every single teacher was a post-secondary certificat­ed teacher. (The highest at Asiakwa was a Certificate A teacher. We sometimes had “pupil teachers” who had only just left the elementary school themselves).

Indeed, some of our Kyebi teachers were actually waiting to go to university!

The guy who taught us at Standard Six, for instance, Mr Kofi Awuah Peasah, from nearby Old Tafo, was an ex-Achimotan of brilliant intellect whose mastery of English, in particular, was second to none.

In fact, he later went on to read for a BA degree at the University of Ghana, Legon, and later left teaching to become a successful Foreign Service officer. Sadly, he died before his prime.

He taught me in two classes in succession — Standard Six and Standard Seven. That was my good luck for he loved English and passed on that love to us. He tops all my favourite teachers, and when he left us in the middle of Standard Four, I was heart-broken.

His successor was a colourless, dour bloke with whom I got into frequent trouble, as his mere pres­ence in the classroom made me miss Mr Awuah Peasah very much indeed.

As soon as I arrived at Kibi Government School, friends warned me that if you spoke to this Mr Peasah in Twi, you might get caned! Well, one day, another teacher asked me to deliver something to Mr Peasah!!

Having been forewarned, I composed my sentence in my head before I got to Teacher Peasah, and said, “Please Teacher, Mr D asked me to give this to you.”

He looked at me in astonishment and said: “Wei deɛ, woaka Brɔfo pa!” (“Ei, you’ve spoken really good English!”)

My head swelled with pride. He was such a good teacher that he took the opportunity to teach me that in future, I should not belabour myself so much when I was pronouncing the word “asked”. He said I should say “ast” instead of a-s-k-d!”.

Another ex-Achimotan, also extremely fluent in English, and endowed with a love for music, was “Teacher A”.

He and Mr Peasah called each other “Akora” (Old Man). We did not know at the time that it was a code word used by Old Achimotans to address each other.

You can tell what a good school Kibi Government was by the fact that 50 percent of its teachers were ex-students of Achimota, our most prestigious secondary school.

We all called A ‘Kwasi Kɔkɔɔon account of his “red” (light-skinned) colour. How did we know he was born on a Sunday?

We didn’t. Like all school children, we just gave ourselves the authority to name people both teachers and mates alike — any way we wanted. We just gave the chap the name and it stuck.

The padlock was so pliant that good thief that he was, he could merely pry the lock out cleverly, take out my stuff and press the lock back in again! This ease of entry made it impossible for me ever to challenge him for stealing stuff out of my chop-box!

You can tell what a good school Kibi Government was by the fact that 50 percent of its teachers were ex-students of Achimota, our most prestigious secondary school. We all called A ‘Kwasi Kokoo on account of his “red” (light-skinned) colour. How did we know he was born on a Sunday?

By Cameron Duodu

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