Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Searcher and other dirges

The Searcher

The searcher's mission is never complete
The exploration is its own reward
For God imparted this understanding
Of the things that happen to man.
To the ancients, it came down as proverbial wisdom
Our sojourn on these lands may be only temporary
But he strove to map this earthly territory
The search for truth and for better days ahead
What is the tenor of a man that he leaves love in his wake

Black Clothes

I had to pull out the black clothes today for I am in mourning.
There's a hole in my heart and the resort to tradition came unbidden.
I didn't even realize what I was doing this morn
And made straight for the sad, mournful part of my wardrobe.
The ritual unfolds, for now he's gone.

"He's gone... The hearse just came..
To pick him up", said my mother, his sister.
I didn't hear anything else afterwards, I so wanted to hug her.
But there was no comfort to be had, it made no sense
That's the nature of this thing: there's only the absence.

He's gone. He was always here, and now he's gone.
Last night, I went to stare at my sleeping son who bears his name,
As if I could summon him back to this mortal plane.
The 7 year old has been testing all boundaries of late
And we'd resolved on parental discipline and strict rules.
In lieu of those nighttime conversations with his namesake
He gained an ironic inheritance out of this misfortune:
I gave him a pass today, if only he knew.

volta boats

Newfangled Farewells

The routine, now all too familiar and dreadful,
The early morning wake up to stream the trans-Atlantic funeral
And catch a glimpse of family and friends in grief
Hoping that the dearly departed now rests in peace

Terrified, for they are putting themselves in mortal peril
Celebrating a life in community, such is our ritual
That in your pajamas, you turn to the mortuary's facebook channel
While your numb relations file past the coffin in somber fashion

Onscreen, Mum sang the dirge, Blewu, and you lost all composure
Your son took a deep breath, realized that his father could also cry
He steeled himself to comfort you but this new fact was hard to measure
This is all too much, internally displaced, this is no way to say goodbye

Road Warrior

His car always broke down when we took a road trip, it was inevitable.
Sometimes you asked yourself if he was the exact opposite
Of an engine whisperer, because he seemed to always coax trouble
In whatever vehicle he drove. Constant car woes and he was no mechanic.

But I loved those road trips we took, even when we would break down
On the Accra-Tema motorway or somewhere near Sokode or other towns.

I treasured the extended conversations we would share
Even as the car would limp along at a glacial pace
Making increasingly alarming sounds, or as we would wait
Or walk to find helping hands or spare parts to repair.

That was when you realized that you would be arriving late,
That your deadline or appointment was of no great import
What mattered was the conversation you were having
And that this shared moment was well worth the cost.

In this way, we discovered and roamed through every village
The entire country was fair game; Ghana was his stage.
We found the best chop bars in the smallest of hamlets
There was no patch of earth too inaccessible as yet

We always stopped to get street food at the far side of Adomi bridge
Abolo and the red shrimp from the Volta river were mandatory treasures
Cholera outbreaks be damned, it was our just deserts, a feast of riches
Bargaining for food with my dear uncle, those were the simple pleasures

And our poor garden. The pots in our yard
Would come out the worse for wear
As he again unerringly banged into them hard
When he put the car in reverse gear.
Mum's orchids were relocated so many times
But he always seemed to find them even when reborn
And he'd unfailingly repeat his minor vehicular crimes
His parking routine took on heat-seeking missile form.

volta river


Habib was the nickname
But it could just as well have been Cabral
Whether it was Amical or Bourguiba,
You knew were dealing with a political animal
Debates that seemed like they would last forever
The reputation might have been a campus radical
But the reality was just that of a loyal friend

Once in his orbit, his word was his bond
At any sign of trouble, he'd come to your defense.
And helpful in so many other ways,
Forever intervening on your behalf,
How many fortunes were made without recompense
And countless problems solved with his assistance
Friends would tear their hair out when he was in this mode
"Just send me a bill, Emma. It's simply what you're owed"
He seemed to be averse to creating invoices, no matter how much time spent

Of course a football game helped, we were passionate about our sports
Come the weekend, we'd consult the papers to see what we could catch
I can hardly forget going with him to countless matches
Ohene Djen stadium, our second home in Accra it felt
We would discuss the Kotoko-Hearts rivalry back in the day
Or how Baba Yara's phantom moves could make your heart melt
And the new global game, the moneyed Premier League of late.
Unfortunately I missed the family expeditions to the World Cup
To Germany and South Africa but I could hear the joy over the phone
When we fully expected that our novice Black Stars would bring it back
Who can I count on to discuss the great game now that he's gone?

The Original Toli Monger

There was a tic, or was it rather a vein that popped,
In Daa's brow until the day she passed on
At the bachelor ways of her eldest son
For even as he approached his sixties
He gave new meaning to confirmed bachelorhood.

All he needed was a mat or a couch;
A garden variety bed was a luxury in his eyes.
He didn't want for anything, Uncle Emma,
Much to the alarm of his bank manager
Material things were not a concern for him.
His vocation was to be the patron saint of lost causes
He spent his own money freely, never seeking applause

Where others sought out lucrative practice,
He, rather, chose the law to fight injustice
A lifetime mission to be a social avenger
It was the strangest thing, however,
This obsessive concern of his,
For whoever heard of a poor lawyer?

At once a giant in his chosen profession
Winning plaudits for his sharp insight.
Lawyer Ohene was born inquisitive,
Brilliant and focused, investigation ran in his blood
Furiously probing any and all iniquity
The implacable pursuit of justice, a beacon of integrity
He carefully following the thread of evidence
He sought equity, come what may, as a result
Truth seeking was his compulsion, almost to a fault.

What interested him was you
Your story and the puzzle of you.
He listened very carefully and made his every word count.
His quiet, calm interventions always made a difference to us.

An intense curiosity about how the world worked.
What was the story behind the story that you would read in the news.
We learned that we shouldn't be content with appearances
And the cover story was merely the opening chapter,
That it was important to know what really lay under,
That, indeed, getting to the truth was what mattered.
Without a doubt, he was the original toli monger

When troubles arose, he was unrushed and unconcerned,
They would be sorted out, and he set about to do so.
We still had to focus on our open ended discussion,
Our free-for-all exploration of life.
He was up for anything, no topic was too taboo
And his unique way of looking at the world will be missed.
It is hard to conceive that he's gone.
We have to hold on to the lessons that he imparted.

abutia village

Exeunt: Cuba

The last chapter was something of an expedition
In the pre-covidious era, he got on a plane to Havana
Flanked by his brothers, all hoping for a better outcome
After eighteen months of pain and now an enforced silence

The youngest would stay with him while he sought treatment
His primary caregiver or, is it, his night nurse
A reversal of fortune, after all those years,
The shielded now would have to protect the shield
While this already quiet man was deprived of his speech
Communicating with his eyes and the occasional piece of paper
Never mind that, in this new land, there was the language barrier

Then of course, this ghastly pandemic struck
And the two of them were well and truly stuck
And the prognosis got worse, even after all sorts of therapies
Were attempted, feeding tubes would now prove necessary
So. Borders were closed, there were lockdowns and quarantines
All this complicated by those cruel American sanctions
The weeks would turn to months with rising despair

All chits were called in, lifetimes of social capital
Ambassadors and even Presidents were invoked
Stranded, such were the humanitarian concerns
At length in August, came the first repatriation flight
South African medical students chartered to Johannesburg
Stopping first in Accra hence avoiding the laissez passer European gauntlet
Six hours at the airport it took to pass all the covidious checks
These newfangled travel protocols that caused much exhaustion
Then the crisis, to be taken off this plane full of doctors.
Quite the setback, he had to be wheeled back down to the tarmac

"The plane left without him."
His sister got the fateful call from the Ambassador
Or was it the chargé d'affaires?
I can't imagine the depths of her despair.

Did you know an air ambulance to evacuate would cost $238,000?
And that sky high sum wouldn't even include his younger brother.
Look it up, I had a consultation with Medivac Canada
Frantic we all were, considering second mortgages and other sacrifices
But further mountains were moved and he came home weeks later
Turned out there would be another South African flight
We held our breath that he would be strong enough to travel
All the time wondering what sack of bones we'd face upon arrival

He came home and spent his last days on Ghana's soil
After the obligatory quarantine,
At least there were quiet goodbyes,
He was surrounded by family
The inside's strong. Not on the outside.


The blows of grief have been piling on the damage
Leaving one numb in contemplation.
The all-consuming sense of impotence at this strife
And especially that we couldn't improve his quality of life
I had written just that week about African Ceremonies
Ironic that I got the news that caused unbounded grief
All the while highlighting the celebrations.
I trust there'll be better days ahead, so I held on to the sweet
Even as the sour overwhelmed, and a funeral beckoned.

In memoriam: Emmanuel Kwasi Sesi Ohene (1949-2020)

Searching, a playlist

A soundtrack for my uncle (spotify version) File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment:

Pierre said...

My condolences to you Koranteng; for your loss, and the inability to be with family during this time. This pandemic is robbing us of so many of the ways we've learned how to be human - especially so for us Ghanaians who only know how to navigate life in/by community.
- Pierre