Growing up in a compound house is an advanced study in deliberate provocation with topics in applied core values of patience, respect, sharing and caring. No one lives and grows in a compound house without learning and passing these core values. If one fails, that person may probably be the adjunct provocateur or the paragon of disrespect with extra traces of incurable impatience. Anger management skills and social psychology must be the next course for that person to pursue immediately. I lived and grew in a compound house and I believe myself to have passed the core values with distinction.
A compound house is a term used to describe semi-detached building structures where occupants share a common compound and utilities. Occupants in a compound house and their guests all share a single bathroom and toilet. They share a single electricity meter, and tap water. That which they are to share in peace and love are the objects of divisions, quarrels and acrimony.
My life in the compound house is a lifelong cherished experience- good, bad and ugly- but it was worth every moment of it. In a compound house there are many children to play with in the house and depending on how friendly your parents are with other tenants you can be assured of a hot bowl of banku, or waakye in the absence of your parent or guardian. And, there was always someone to save me when my parents attempted to beat me. I was very stubborn, emphasis on WAS. Lol.
There were a thousand and more things I hated growing up in a compound house but none is more pronounce than what has become a cultural norm wrapped in the following phrase- “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” And if you are stubborn child like I said I was then your trouble is even more magnified. Every elderly person in the house acted as every child’s parent. Every child is assured of a spank by any elderly person in whose presence the child faults. Some parents or guardians would fight other parents for spanking their children, but it was definitely not mine. Without listening to my side of the story, they would thank whoever spanked me in their absence and tell them to do it better next time.
The go buy me this, go buy me that! Gosh! I so hated it when some people just waited until I got back from a place only to send me back there again. Now that is deliberate provocation and I was not allowed to grumble. If I did, I became the communal object of spanking. It wasn’t just me; many children hated and still hate that. On days when I was so upset, I still could not let them know. Some elderly people would call you from feet away to hand them something that is literally a hand-stretch away from them. As much as I hated it, there was nothing I could do but to run those errands. After all what else is the ‘use’ of a child in a compound house?
Also, having to queue with a bucket of water each morning before I could get to use the bathroom was another unforgettable experience. It got more frustrating when some elderly people would wake up late and patronize the young ones in the queue every time. Not many bathrooms in compound houses are connected to drainages so after every bath, one has to go behind the bathroom and empty a bucket into which the dirty water run. Some ‘wicked’ elders would sometimes not bother to empty this bucket so if you are the next child to bath after this person then you have a double job to do. That wasn’t funny at all, especially when we were the ones that got beaten when we reported to school late.
A typical compound house
At this point, you who did not grow up in such a house would be itching to hear more about life in a compound house. Come with me, I’ll give you a feel of my experience.
It was a big house with about thirteen rooms with tenants in each of them. Some were single rooms; others were bedrooms with living rooms and porches attached - what Ghanaians usually call Chamber and Hall. All the tenants lived with their families, except for one young man who lived alone.
In a house as big as this, drama was always assured, not a single day passed without it. The landlord and his family lived in one of his houses in the neighbourhood hence, the oldest tenant in the house; Auntie Maggie (Pet name for Margarette) was made the caretaker. She was in her late fifties and lived with her four grandchildren and her two nieces.
Oh my! That woman was a running chatter! Like all the other children in the house, I didn’t like her much because of her prim-pro (Prim and proper) attitude towards us. She was nicknamed ‘herh wapra?’- To wit, hey, have you swept already? That was the question she posed mostly to daughters of tenants in the house whenever she saw them going out of the house, as if it was a title conferred on them. She had power to punish anybody for anything she perceived as wrong and she did that with a tinge of discrimination- her grandchildren committed no wrong. Yes, her own eyes were full of beams, yet she was only able to see clearly and removed the speck out of other people’s eyes.
As the eldest woman in the house, Auntie Sissy resolved all issues among the co- tenants, as well as marital problems and there, were many such issues and problems. The landlord only came in when the issues were beyond Auntie Maggie. She was a very devoted Christian who attended church meetings religiously.
She shared the water and electricity bills among the tenants at the end of every month and made sure every tenant performed duties such as sweeping the compound and cleaning the bathroom and the lavatory (shared responsibility) in the house each time. She was the one parents entrusted the care of their children to whenever they travelled out of town. Auntie Maggie’s type was not rare in compound houses in Ghana at all, is it?
It was early Saturday morning, a time generally used for performing domestic chores in most homes. While some cleaned the bathroom, others washed, cleaned their rooms or fetched water from the only tap in the house to store in their rooms for the week.
On this fine morning, Efe, a sister to one of the tenants in the house came to fetch water with a bucket but met other tenants and so she joined the queue with her bucket and left. Minutes later, another tenant, Kojo Maame (Most parents in Ghana are addressed by the name of one of their children plus ‘mother’ or ‘father) started to shout Efe’s name from the front of her room.
“Efe! Eeeefe! Efeeeee! Your bucket is full.”
“Yeeessssss! I don’t know who put my bucket there. Kindly stop the tap, I’m on my way,” Efe screamed from her sister’s room.
“You are fond of doing this Efe, you must stop. You waste water anyhow because you don’t pay water bills you always let the water overrun. At the end of the day, we all will be forced to pay, I will tell your sister about it, this nonsense must stop.”
This obviously did not go down well with Efe so she replied rudely as she stopped the tap and poured some of the water from the brimming bucket away.
“How many times have you seen me doing it. Tell me, how many times, mtcheeew (a hissing sound made to describe the irrelevance of a topic or thing)!
Kofi Maame dropped a kitchen stool in her hand and walked towards Efe in fury: “Is it me you are talking to in that manner, huh? Repeat what you said, stupid girl.”
Efe left the bucket of water and turned around to respond. “And who do you think you are? What will you do about the way I spoke to you, what? Why are you always picking on me, why?”
“You think because you talk to Cynthia (Efe’s elder sister) anyhow and she lets you, you can talk to me anyhow huh? You little brat, open your mouth again and I will teach you how to respect elders,” Kofi Maame threatened.
“I heard my name, what is going on here? What is it this early morning, Kofi Maame. What has Efe done this time around?” Cynthia quizzed as she walked towards Kofi Maame.
Hehehehehehe! Hope you are warming up? The morning has just begun. Can you guess the winner already? I will tell you more about the fight in the next part of this series.
This is by Akosua Asiedua Akuffo
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