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‘I died in 1983’

Mawuli Zogbenu 1212.jpeg Mawuli Zogbenu is the author of this article

Sat, 17 Jun 2023 Source: Mawuli Zogbenu

Unlike 1983, this year seems to be doing well in terms of the rains and the patterns in which they come – manageable. It seems to be raining everywhere and on everyone’s backyard. The story was different exactly 40 years ago when gari tasted like Niddo.

At age 7 and with the dislike for school, we were exposed to too much hunger.

Our parents asked us not to go to school because there was nothing to eat and for that matter we should stay at home.

This continued for a number of weeks till we realised that there was food crisis. Without any responsibility of making sure food was provided, all we needed was to be provided 3 square meals. Finish!

The seriousness of this food crisis led many parents to withdraw their children from school (after all, my school was cyto and comprised mainly children of parents/guardians from the low income brackets residing in and around Anunmle, Kisseman, Christian Village, Achimota Village, Korpevi, Abofu, Alogboshie, Akweteman, Dome/Oko, Greenhill (GIMPA), Haatso/Papao and in some exceptional cases children from the University of Ghana, yes o.

My Dad was a casual worker at a hospital and Mum, a petty trader.

Then in 1983, extreme hunger struck. A whole day could pass with only water to drink. I really don’t like talking about joining queues to buy uncooked kenkey as it was the least of survival strategies at the time.

Fortunately, nature had provided us mangoes and other green leafy vegetables which helped a great deal. The mangoes were never allowed to mature or ripen on their own.

As soon as they gained some appreciable weight, there was a scramble to harvest them, slice them into pieces and soak the slices into salt solution to make them edible. Believe me, I don’t remember anybody close to me who complained of stomach upset. God knew our problem!

My class in Primary 1 had a lot of empty chairs with only a handful of us still coming to school under duress. Many of my seniors later became my mates and in some instances, my juniors and in the worst case scenario, dropped out of school.

A ball of kenkey was shared among 4 persons whether one was an adult or a child and you needn’t be told to drink PLENTYYYY water after eating it with borkorborkor soup with long akwele waabi green pepper (chilli pepper) served as improvised fish and / or meat. The hotter the pepper the better it was for one as it provided the catalyst to drink more water to sustain one. No wonder 40 years on, I had developed a very bad or rather good habit of drinking water excessively. The gari from the market no matter how bad, tasted just like NIDDO!

Gari was nowhere to be found as the few sticks of cassava which survived the drought had only ‘cassava bread’ (diseased tubers of cassava likened to cushion which could soak water when cooked) beneath them.

One of my elder sisters, Lisa started going to Kantanmanto as a kaya yoo and anytime she got back from the market mostly in the night with an empty tray, then we needn’t ask questions but to go to bed immediately with no hope of where the next meal was going to come from. On a good day she would have brought us adode (smoked oysters) and akpeniator (copra i.e. dry coconut).

I remember Putu, my kid brother and I used to go to a dump site of liquid waste from the processing of palm oil just to pick the remnants of palm kernel from the debris and crack to chew. I recall the day a friend to my father drove me away from the site because of potential health hazards but I hated him because he was preventing me from getting my daily bread!

It was not uncommon to hear about some people in the neighbourhood who sent their over-aged children for ‘weighing’ (post-natal care against mainly the 6 killer diseases) at the hospitals – at least it guaranteed being given some powdered milk, sugar, some grains of rice, tom brown, cheese, etc to take care of the children being nursed. May your soul rest in peace, Dr. Boom!

Korshi, my brother was fortunately or unfortunately born in 1983! ‘Fortunately’ because it made my mum eligible for ‘weighing’ and the benefits that came with it! ‘Unfortunately’ because the goodies were not meant for only him but his adult siblings and parents with sharp appetite hence the ‘baby boy’ did not get the full benefits of his ‘labour’.

One would have thought that couples would have taken a break from the Procreation Department of their unions but surprisingly they still had feelings and ‘borning by hat’!

I’d observed at that stage that going to school became a matter of who has eaten just enough to survive and this included the Teachers. That notwithstanding the teachers were still committed to stand in front of the class to teach though spending about 95% of the teaching period yawning! Where dey food? hmmm. 40 years on, I am almost weeping writing this.

Being a school dropout was pardonable but my big brother, Abraham Zogbenu who himself was in Middle School Form 4 would not pardon me for absenting myself from school whether I had eaten or not. Thank God he ensured that I never had any break in my academic life notwithstanding the challenges – this is where I learnt never to give excuses.

A number of people in my neighbourhood suddenly became petty thieves and were caught stealing food items just to survive. This destroyed their reputation and some actually lost their lives after being lynched following mob actions.

At the peak of it, I had a class mate who after a very short illness was admitted to the hospital and when it was time for him to be discharged, the parents asked him to tell the doctor and nurses on duty that his condition was getting worse even though everything appeared fine. At least a continuous admission to the hospital would guarantee a constant supply of food from the hospital’s kitchen! Some patients who were discharged fought the doctors and nurses for discharging them ‘prematurely’ and refused to go home. Whaaat! They believed they could die from hunger if they went home.

Left-over food from in-patients of the hospital in which my Dad worked was like pizza to the tongue. Yes, sounds repugnant but we damned the potential health hazards and consequences. Indeed, it was a privilege to have such remnants as it was only on a few days that Dad had the opportunity to get some because the appetite of in-patients was so sharp they consumed virtually everything they were served before thinking about leaving some for the poor souled workers waiting for leftovers.

‘Tipoon’ (pronounced ‘tea poon’) was the nickname of food remnants from the dining halls of Achimota School. To be able to get tipoon, one must be privileged to have a parent or relative working in the dining halls and some of my peers survived on tipoon. Massa, it became a matter of life and death! Tipoon was about the most nutritionally balanced diet at the time as students of Motown were too privileged and never really experienced the pangs of hunger putting them in a different world altogether.

‘Bela Boys Company (BBC)’ was founded with a mission to go on rat hunting expeditions. I was at a point made a Leader of the ‘Company’ but could not kill a single rat because I lacked the energy and dexterity to chase one. I recall the closest I came to was when a rat refused to run even when I attempted striking it dead – it was obvious the rat itself was dying of hunger and so just gave up for me to kill it and make a meal out of it so I could survive!

I lost so many of my mates to the drop-out category for really no fault of theirs. It is exactly 40 years ago. 1983? Better experienced than narrated!

If you have food to eat today and you were born after 1983, thank God your coming into this world was delayed!

1983 – Never Again. Hmmm!

Enjoy food while it lasts oo. Hunger is relative though! Hunger for a man in one town could mean ‘b3l3ful’ (satisfaction) for another!

Here comes the irony – to the glory of God, now that I can afford any food item, doctors say ‘don’t eat this and that because of cholesterol and high blood pressure’. At this age, if you don’t have BP, then you are either not working hard enough or you are working out. Read it again. Hahahahahaha!

The good thing about the soils in Ghana is that any seed sown germinates and becomes food! Don’t think about it; just eat!

Have a happy weekend and enjoy food while you can!

Columnist: Mawuli Zogbenu