When A Ghanaian Keeps Time

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

…that was a joke. He doesn’t.

When I was 13, I’d regularly get to school by 6:30am. I’d catch the GBC bus from Exhibition, Dansoman at its stop by 5:45am with one other boy, and that was a straight ride to the GBC campus at Nima. Under normal circumstances, you’d think being at school that early was insane…but that probably meant you weren’t attending De Youngster’s International School (DEYIS). I started at age 6 and learned quickly that even though my two older sisters were there to protect me, the moment any student entered those gates, the teachers literally owned you, and they didn’t shy from letting you know it. Funny, it was our tuition fees that kept them employed, but where was our “thanks, kids!?” There was one day I knew I’d be late and encouraged my dad to visit a teacher, even though I didn’t care if he spoke a word to that guy. I was not about to get caned because my ride to school decided to make some detours and unscheduled stops. Had he not walked in with me, to those ogres (remember all the Kudjos & Wontumes), I’d be late and would’ve gotten some lashes. Some were so mean. I could swear those people got pleasure from hitting kids. They would stand in doorways or pathways before assembly or at the end of lunch with swinging canes with not a care for where on your body they hit. How none of us turned into deranged sociopaths after all those years of abuse beats me.

But this entry isn’t about all those men and women. It’s about keeping time. As kids, we learned very early on to make time a priority. You learned to get to your obligations in time regardless of where you lived or unforeseen obstacles you faced. I’m not sure I can say the same for today’s Ghanaian. Tell them to get to church at 11am, and that’s no problem; anything else is, well… that’s anybody’s guess. I gave someone in my neighborhood a job last week. This person lives so close to my home that if I had a baseball or javelin, I could hit her home with a good fling. We agreed on a noon start time; she showed up around 4pm. I was surprised she bothered to show up at all. And when I said “you can go home, I gave someone else the job,” she had this annoyed look on her face “but I’m here…I said I’ll come.” Right… imagine saying that to a supervisor 4 hours after your shift starts on your first day at work!

When I first got here, I was supposed to meet up with someone after work. What I didn’t realize was that this person was still at work dawdling around while I was thinking of how much traffic time to factor into the travel time. A friend was coming over at 12pm last Saturday; 38 minutes later, I called to see if she’d been stuck at Madina waiting for a bus to my place. Nope, my call was what woke her up! Two hours later, she was still at home!! “I’m coming,” she said, like it was some any-time-is-ok outing. So was I to be sitting in my arm chair twiddling my thumbs wondering when this person was going to show up, and if I got impatient, was I to be the one who called to press her on keeping time? Ghanaians can be so lackadaisical and cavalier about time – your time. Am I the only person who finds a problem with this behavior?

DEYIS – A lil’ story about this place. I must have been the most excited 6-year-old to start Stage 1 (class 1 or 1st grade for the rest of you). Granted I already loved going to school, knowing I’d be going to school with my sisters, and donning that black ’n white uniform with the gye nyame crest did it for me. What I hadn’t and couldn’t have prepared for was canning…or being caned for no reason. Eric Acquah got the most of it in that class. I can still hear his wailing like it was yesterday. Stage 1 was in a garage with a ceiling fan in the middle, and I always sat somewhere behind it near the back. I learned tearing a page or easing pencil marks that left dark spots, or pretty much anything Mr. Kudjo didn’t like would earn a lash even though my parents paid for that book! Every morning he’d go around checking homework from the previous day, then we’d do dictation (he would read a paragraph from a passage and you’d have to write everything down correctly: capital letters, punctuation marks, full stops), spelling, and those spot multiplication quizzes. This guy would climb over chairs and tables to beat up kids where his cane couldn’t reach. There was nothing quite like starting almost every class day watching your classmate canned mercilessly. I was a smart boy, so most of Stage 1 although hell, proved manageable, especially for someone who had never been hit before. We finished the school year memorizing 2×1 through 12×12, doing addition (carrying over), subtraction, spelling, multiplication, division, and dictation. I’ve always taken pride in knowing I learned to do all that at age 6, and scoff a lil’ when my 6-yr-old nephew gets a little thickheaded from being told he’s smart. But I sometimes wonder whether the great start to my primary school education was because of a tyrant or in spite of him.


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