One of the terrible consequences of having to live abroad for a long time is the gulf that is created between oneself and people whom one has lived with and loved in the past.
This gulf can open a memory/knowledge gap so wide that it deters one from asking about these very people one wants to reconnect with. Just in case one hears that the news about then is not good.
I have just had a spear thrust into my heart by asking about a person who played a big part in my development as a human being. When I was serving as a pupil teacher at the Asiakwa Presbyterian Junior School in mid-1954-55, one of the deepest friendships I struck was with a teacher at the adjacent Presbyterian Senior School called Kofi Annin;, or to give him his “official” name, Teacher Annin Asamoah.
He was one of the few Asiakwa scholars who had not only got good
grades in the Cambridge School Certificate examination, but who was
interested in trying to continue his education, on his own, to the University level, not having gone on to study in the Sixth Form. He did this by taking a correspondence course that would enable him to pass his “A” levels; a course from a famous correspondence educational institution called Wolsey Hall, in London..
It was Teacher Asamoah who, together with another person who was thirsty for knowledge called Kwabena Ettoh, instigated the formation at Asiakwa of a branch of the People's Educational Association (PEA). PEA classes were organised by the University of Ghana's Extra-Mural Studies Department. If you formed a branch of the PEA in your town or village, the University's Extra-Mural Studies Department would fish out appropriately qualified University graduates near you and paythem to come once a week to lecture your branch on any discipline the members chose.
Although as a person with a mere Middle School Leaving Certificate I was supposed to be uneducated, I was invited by Asamoah and Ettoh to join the PEA. I did so with alacrity, for I harboured an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which had been thwarted mainly by a lack of the financial resources that would have enabled me to go to a secondary school. I therefore sought the company of Messrs. Asamoah and Ettoh, who let drop pieces of knowledge that would otherwise have passed me by.
Asamoah, as a Senior School teacher, had been able to buy a wireless set, and almost every morning, I trotted over to his house, which was only a few hundred yards from mine, to listen to the BBC news with him. He, me and Ettoh addressed each other – for no reason that I could discover – as “Jeff”!
We laughed a lot as we discussed the news of the time – what was happening in Cyprus; the rise of Bulganin and Khrushchev in the Soviet Union (it was from Asamoah's lips that I first heard the name Beria, as that of a mass murderer whom Stalin had used to kill off millions of Soviet citizens whom Stalin suspected of being “the enemies of the people” and who, ironically, was later killed without much ceremony himself.
It felt so good being in the company of people who knew about the world “in real time”, such as my two “Jeff” friends. One of the games Asamoah and I played as we listened to the BBC news together was to guess the name of the BBC news reader from the few words he said before he announced his name. “This is London calling. Here is the news read by.....”
Or “Leslie Tucker!”
“Alexander Morris [misheard for “Moyes]”
“No wrong! It's Foster Morris!” (The actual name was “Norris.”)
“Young Star!” (Ian Stamp).
“Roger Collins!” [For Collinge]
“Peter King!” (Such a deep voice that no-one could mistake him for someone else.) And so on!
We just enjoyed doing these things and being connected with the world through the BBC in London. We never missed a BBC bulletin if we could help it. And we also went in for Radio Newsreel and Commentary. No wonder that in my youth, I was a despicable "quiz-head!."
None of us thought we would ever step in London, of course! Alas, London that has parted me from them for so long.
Honestly, it was at the PEA lectures that we enjoyed ourselves best. Most of us had been through an educational system where learning had been a “duty”. The teacher passed the knowledge over to you; you chewed it “by heart” and recited it back to him when he asked you to. If you failed to reproduce what you had been taught, you [usually] got punished. So your “education” was entirely concerned with what we irreverently described as “chew, pour and forget”.And forget you often did, because it [usually] had no relevance whatsoever to the life you actually led.
But the lectures we got at PEA classes were of practical use to us. Our first lecturer, picked by the University for us from one of its former students who had read English, was a brilliant man called Mr E C E Asiamah. He was teaching English at Abuakwa State College, Kibi, at the time and he taught us in a fantastic way about something really important to us, namely, how not to make elementary mistakes when writing in English.
There was no such word as “enviness”, he told us. “Envy” was both a verb and a noun! He taught us about prepositions and how to use them correctly; regular and irregular verbs. He corrected so many of the howlers then prevalent in the use of English in Ghana for us, and also taught us how to pronounce certain words correctly. It was through him that I learnt how to use A Dictionary Of English Pronunciation by Daniel Jones.
But above all, Mr Asiamah encouraged us to write essays on subjects which we knew something about, not abstract topics picked from textbooks, that often bore no direct relationship to our real lives. I remember one essay title he gave us: “Beggars”. That was almost certainly my first attempt at writing what must have come across to him as a piece of journalism, for it described what I had myself seen at markets, and retold some rumours I had heard about how certain rich people had started life as beggars.
I was immensely thrilled when Mr Asiamah made me read this essay to the whole class, because -- in all modesty -- since he'd chosen me out of a class that included some very senior people (including a head-teacher and a priest) his asking me to read it to them gave me tons of self-confidence, which was later to serve me very well in life.
Mr Asiamah believed strongly in self-education, and whikst teaching English full-time, read for and passed both the LL.B and LL.M exams. He also quakified as a barrister and was called to the Bar! he reinforced advice Mr Asamoah had been giving me, to the effect that I should try and apply to enter the GCE exam at the Ordinary Level by correspondence course. The six subjects I chose included Latin (for in those days you could not hope to enter the University unless you had either Latin,(for an arts degree) or maths (for a science degree.) For my Latin lessons, Mr Asiamah invited me to travel to Kibi once a week to receive personal tuition from himself.
It was a wonderful time in my life, when my head was bursting with knowledge that had been freshly acquired. I also thoroughly enjoyed my trips to Kibi, where there was a library full of exciting novels. The PEA also bore the expense of sending a box of books to us each month, which we circulated and exchanged amongst ourselves.
Unfortunately, my pal, Kwabena Ettoh, who had contracted tuberculosis while studying at a commercial college at Somanya, expired a few years after we'd begun the PEA classes. We were all grief-stricken. But life must go on, and in the mean time, Asamoah succeeded in obtaining his A Levels. We celebrated his success as he went on to do a B.A. at Legon.
I, in my turn, ditechd time-consumig Latin but obtained five passes at the “O” Level after 15 months of studying part-time by correspondence course, whilst still teaching. Mr Asiamah was exceedingly proud of my "unheard-of achiement" (as he desbribed it) and touted my name all over Abuakwa State College. When I needed a testimonial to go to work at the Ghana Broadcasting System, he wrote me one that would have impressed the most choosy of employers.
Fast forward: I shall never forget the day Mr Asamoah walked into my office, unannounced, when I was editor of the Daily Graphic! I had the great pleasure of introducing him to some members of my staff as one of the men who inspired me, by example, to acquire the qualifications that had eventually earned me the job of editor.
Asamoah later left Ghana for “Agege”, in the “brain-drain” epidemic” that struck Ghana in the 1970s and which took so many Ghanaians to oil-rich Nigeria. The last time I saw him, he'd retired and returned to Asiakwa. But unfortunately, he'd gone blind. I remember him telling me that he didn't get bored because his children sent him audio books to keep his mind alive.
Then, this week, I asked about him from someone I knew would know about him.
“Oh, he passed away about two years ago!”, the person said.
“WAAAAAT? .... You don't say?”
“Yes – Kofi Annin is gone!”
I was dumb-struck.
I can only say to his wife, “Awo” Dede, “Condolences and thanks so much for taking such loving care of my old friend, Jeff”.
He was certainly a man who taught me that knowledge was to be acquired for its own sake; that this should be a voluntary, enjoyable process; and that when knowledge was painfully acquired, it should not be flaunted, but used expertly to inspire others and help advance their minds; teach them to apply and relate the knowledge they acquired to matters relevant to them and their society.
Just imagine that this country had had more scholars with such an analytical, independent-minded attitude, instead of churning out the mercenary Ph.D rote-learners that abound in our country and who drive the nation into more social darkness with each passing day.
Kofi Annin, Madamfo Pa, da yie, wae! [Rest In piece, my Good Friend Kofi Annin!] May God receive and preserve your fine spirit