Prampram, Prampram, Prampram. Here we are now. In front of me is the sea, behind me is the town. No swimming and no going to town. Those words spoken by Mr Galevo, our cadet master at the time who subsequently became my Young Pioneer master were for me the defining moment in 60s Achimota.
I had been to camp before, a scouts camp at the Shai Hills when our senior scout leader spent the best time carrying me on his shoulders, but that was three years before. This was the real thing a cadet camp and we had real soldiers to take us through our map reading, our rifle training and our drills. And oh yes there were the fights and the escaping to town despite the warnings and of course swimming in water that caused bilharzia for most of us. The final humiliation for me after that camp was going home, walking through the streets of Lagos Town with my head held high, marching home like the soldier that I quite was not and having my grandmother strip off all my clothes and scrubbing me down because she could just not believe how dirty I looked and how foul I smelt.
Most of my memories about Achimota school border on the salacious and I am not sure how much I can reveal with libel suits against me but I will try to be at my most discreet in this short piece.
I really do not know why I went to Achimota School at all. It was not my initial choice. Amongst my gang in the fifties and amongst most Accra boys real men went to Accra Academy or to Krobo Odumase Presbyterian. My father wanted me to go to Achimota so in looking over the form he changed my choices for me. Like he said at the time Achimota was the only school good enough for me – and there were many happy moments for me and I am very proud of the rounded education and the confidence Achimota gave to me.
I arrived there on the 23rd September 1960 and left in July 1966 with some ‘O’ levels, not brilliant but just enough to get me into a good Sixth Form. My father would have wanted me to have repeated again, but Achimota was fed up with me and would not have me back, even to repeat. Besides, there was no guarantee that I would be healthy enough during examination to secure better passes.
I turned 10 years at Achimota and in my second year that I repeated Form One I was still the third youngest in the form. I am however happy to state that despite all the corrupting influences and there were several, I went to Achimota a boy and I still came out a boy. Now what were those memories.
Guggisberg House was supposed to provide me with protectors. I had two first cousins there and at least there were two friends from my primary school there. I did not have any protection of worth, I was exploited by so many people including my own classmates that within a short period of time I had developed an attitude problem. The housemasters were brilliant but offered no protection to me. One was my French teacher and imagine what he wrote in my first report “completely at sea”. Now if I had lived at Lagos town and could not speak Ewe or Hausa, how was I going to master French. Needless to say I never reported anyone who bullied me to him. I was too scared of him. The other housemaster was supposed to be my relative but within the first month he was quite disenchanted with me.
I had gone one late night to Mr Angba’s house to purchase cigarettes for one of the sixth formers and had been caught by another house master. I had been told under pain of serious repercussions that when I was caught by anyone, I should answer that I had been sent by this housemaster. And so I glibly said that he had sent me. This master could not believe and brought me back to my housemaster. And for one hour I had fun. Did I send you? No! you did not. Who sent you? Then I mentioned his name as I and been instructed. They both gave up after this interrogation that was leading nowhere.
That week, I could not plug up the courage to go and get my 1 shilling pocket money and therefore could not share my Crunchie and my Coke with the dear lady of my heart. VBL? Did you for how long I pined away not having the courage to insert that love letter in your Hymn Book.
How does a nine year old who has not reached puberty as yet explain strange stains in his shorts that had been discovered in some milk bush hedge. Whoever it was who took my shorts and who may have been surprised. I can now forgive you – but I was nearly sent to the hospital for testing. And the senior who sent me to the girls dormitory on countless occasions to call his girlfriend for him, what a fright you gave me when I cut sports and came into the common room and found you with that lady on the inner couch. Sadly you have passed away. Thanks for all the favours you provided to me after that incident. So easy to blackmail were you not?
I knew my way around the house and who I could wrap round my little fingers and who i had to fear. There was this big guy studying Latin and I had to stay awake while he repeated his poems and quotations to me. I am sure that he must have derived some pleasure out of it but it was not fair on a poor kid like me.
Within a short space of time I knew when to pretend to be ill and when I was ill which was probably most of the time in my first year at Achimota. I must thank all the nurses for their care and there was this doctor at Korlebu Hospital who was fascinated that though I had been admitted to the children’s ward I was in secondary school and thanks for the essays you asked me to write for you.
By year two when I repeated my form I was quite a notorious boy. I started the day by making sure that I bullied all the nino boys, really bullied them before the found out that I was still in form one. This gave me more confidence and therefore I became even cockier. But I still remained a darling of the older girls. School work was easier, house was cool. Now had more friends my own size and I grew and grew.
Now a spoon could easily fit in my mouth and my feet could touch the ground in the dining hall. I was even more confident with the young ladies and now fine tune the art of inserting notes into the books of girls that I fancied without being discovered by any one. Till one day in a very public display one young girl came and in front of all my mates gave me the hibiscus – one big Ope. I was by then thick skinned and could accept all that came with that public rejection.
My problem with the course work was that it was too varied – different art forms of modelling, pottery, weaving, fine art and book binding. Mr Kofi Antuban, Mr Angba, Mr Tagoe – you scondonfians, supposed to be German but I never understood it anyway. And then there was the late Mr Peter Renner who was like a true father to me and nurtured me well. I was not good at sports but I took part, but he would not allow me to indulge my best – swimming because he felt it always brought on a sickle cell crisis for me. Peter was just too great. Cold chop for Gyamfi.
And what about the lady science teacher who chased my good friend round the form one block during snack – we still do not know what he did wrong. And what about the great utility teacher. He taught Ga, Maths, Geography, Bible Knowledge and any subject under the sun. Dod you use my method? You lucky you got it right. Yea we all got a few slaps – take off your glasses and let me slap you. You run away form me you run away from school.
My major regret in the first year in Form One was that I was not allowed to take any of the examinations that I was certain I would have passed. It was decided for me that I had done very little course work and therefore I was sent to the hospital – I believe this time, an enforced stay during the time of the examinations. The excuse then was that I had caught some infectious disease.
By the second year in Form Two I could control the illness better. At least after several discussions with my doctor I knew that it was not the result of some old lady from the village but my own lifestyle. And I needed to cut down on the excesses of play and get real because I was in secondary school to study and not to just have a good time.
Achimota must have been good to me. There was enough structured activity to take my mind away from the constant mischief that was brewing. After a while, my house masters even realised that the best way of keeping me in check was to ignore me and my outrageous pronouncements and that I was old enough to be weaned off my constant attention seeking. How does a reverend minister absolve himself of blame if his ward at point of punishment practices a biblical saying such as – Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing. How do you chastise a student who fervently believes that because the song asks us to ‘plough fields and scatter seeds, all the watering will be done by the power and might of the good God.
I struggled through my exams knowing that whether I passed or failed, Achimota would have given me a good education, a well rounded education and the Accra boy would have been moulded into something that was capable of giving back to the country something in repayment of the excellent education I got.
I mastered eating with cutlery. But this was after completely ruining my white-white attire. It was a battle between on the one hand the fork and the spoon, and the groundnut soup and the yam in the deep plate.
I learnt how to fight to defend myself and it was not just at the gym, but there were training sessions along the line at the pottery shed, usually over some young girl that both pugilists did not have the confidence to approach but were resolving the matter using brawn and not the words that mattered. I learnt photography, but that was mainly because there was access to be sold to the dark room.
The art of debating came easily after a while because of the need to convince people of my right to do things the way I saw them even if the school rules rang differently. But I suspect that it was looking at a way of justifying the last school rule that stated ‘Every breach of commonsense is a breach of school rules’.
At least I suspected that there was a time that the school rules had been changed to stop people cutting their hair to show the skull. What the master saw as an attempt to be stylish had been accomplished because I had made the mistake of getting one of my juniors to cut my hair. He wanted no competition to the apple of his eye and therefore entered me in a gala and different people took their turn in trying to correct his initial mistake. To all those guys who practised on me, thanks, is till have a full crop of hair even if it now more grey than black.
But I also learnt about religion form different perspectives. The third form of service on page ?. I learnt about the food chain. You eat fish, fish eat grass and therefore you are grass. I learnt the creeds and was duly confirmed by bishop Rosevearve and on confirmation day, my grandmother came around with that nice cake and when we got back form the service someone had eaten all the cake. Let me tell you I know who you are and will get you one day. After confirmation I felt more confident in continuing with the Sunday school classes that i had volunteered to provide at Anumle, the adjoining village named after the great bells of the school clock. It was also in this village, at Cabin 203, that I imbibed my first sip after my final O level exams.
The Achimota experience has served me well. Where I could have been parochial, it made me more cosmopolitan, I learnt about places in Ghana that I did not think existed, from my classmates places far away my village Bawaleshie– places such as Tutu or flyfly, Paga, Amanorkrom Fete, Avatime. It was easier after these tales to experience my travel to Kumasi on the blue train during the holidays and to expand the boundaries of my knowledge.
The historical origins of Achimota must be revisited, a refuge for freed slaves, where names of people could not be mentioned, because of the fear that it would cause offence to the spirits and dzemanwodzii turned out to be the beacon of what is excellent education in the country as a whole. A school that was originally shunned by the intelligentsia because they saw it as a creation that would stop them from sending their children abroad for excellent education. The insistence on culture and the learning of vernacular languages provided each of us at the time with a certain sense of pride in our roots no matter how humble. Achimota was interested in training us for the future – the smart ones realised that, some of us lived for the day and after Achimota almost cut off our roots from the school.
But for the golden jubilee when duty called and we were expected to participate in the ceremonies and festivities. I was spoilt for choice. i had two girlfriends at the time both of whom had attended Achimota school. So I planned well to escort one to the opening function and the other to the closing ceremonies and to hope that in between the different activities, even if there was a clash, it would occur amongst good company and may not cause too much confusion and embarrassment.
But the period of the golden jubilee was to be perhaps one of the most important periods of my life. As usual though I was thus encumbered with choices, I still retained a practiced eye for spotting talent. It was at one of these functions, I believe the Roof Top dance at my school at University, the School of Administration, that I met and fell in love with my darling wife.
There is no moral to this story.
i must had had this published somewhere before!!!!