1: The Nkrumah Boys Come Visiting
Before she died, my mother told me that I was a miracle. The old women had read the signs when she was pregnant and told her that she was to bear a daughter. But each night, she would dream of a son. And on one windy night that threatened a great rain that never fell, I came into the world: both a boy and shock to everyone. The old women were never wrong. I don’t care much about miracles or supernatural things, but maybe I should because one day my parents disappeared forever. The day my grandfather sat me down to tell me why, I knew two things: I would never serve Dente, and I would one day leave Kete Krachi.
Sometimes when the heart of a child is angry, it manifests as foolishness. I was a foolish child. I got into so much trouble that my education was halted by age eleven despite my being exceptional with my letters. I am seventeen now and a ruffian by many standards, tolerated only because I tap the best palm wine in all of Krachikrom, and the fact that my family descends from a long line of Dente bosomfo; priests of Dente. One day, I meet Selasi and Obed in a hunting shed on the outskirts of town to quaff a gallon of palm wine I have set aside for personal use. Selasi has caught some bush rats with his traps, and we roast them over a fire with salt, ginger and pepper. We also put some cassava on fire, and grind pepper. As we are enjoying our feast, thinking up what devilry to embark on after this, we see a spanking new Gaz-M21 Volga leading a mammy wagon up the Kete Krachi road. Selasi, Obed, and I wolf down the last bits of our food and immediately assemble what we call lampoo. We barricade the road with stones and sticks. Selasi raises his hands for the cars to slow down. The cars come to a halt, showering us in dust. I cough.
“Good afternoon,” I say courteously to the driver while eyeing the men inside the Russian vehicle. In Kete Krachi, many cars come to our yam markets from Accra and other places, but we hardly ever see Russian-made cars here. We know at once that they are government boys. All the private citizens and businesses who own vehicles buy them from America or Britain because those are the countries with which car dealers in Accra have established relationships. The government can buy cars from anywhere it wishes, and sometimes it wishes for Russian automobiles. The men eye me in turn, and the driver speaks.
“Fine afternoon. How far Kete Krachi from here?” He asks.
“Not far to Krachi,” I point down the road to our town. “A little farther to Kete,” I add, referring to the twin town adjacent to ours that gives us half our name. “Are you accompanied by the truck behind you?”
“Thanks, thanks. Yes,” the driver says, shifting into gear, ready to leave us in the dust. The smooth purring of the engine changed into a low grumble. Quickly, I place my hand on the driver’s door.
“On government business?” I ask, causing the driver to pause. Three other men are in the car, dressed in white long-sleeved shirts with pens sticking out their front pockets. Educated men who want the world to know they are educated.
“Hello, young man,” the man in the passenger’s seat speaks now. He looks older than the other two. He is their leader. The driver looks pained that his boss has stepped in. I lower my head to gaze squarely at the man speaking to me.
“We are on government business and on government time. Thanks for assisting us.” It is a dismissal if there ever was one. But we are Krachi boys, and this was our road. I shrug indifferently.
“If you’re on government business, you must go see Nana. Nana Badumgya II, our Krachiwura. We can take you there.”
They exchange looks, hesitating only slightly before nodding their approval.
“Of course,” I continue casually, “there is the small matter of the lampoo you’re supposed to pay me. Every car that comes into Krachi has to pay. By order of the Krachiwura.” It’s all a lie, but I say it easily, hoping my confidence influences their compliance. It does not.
“Krachiwura you say? Do you have a chit from the Krachiwura to reflect this?” the Man in Front asks with narrowing eyes.
“You know what?” I give up the fight before it even begins. “Since you’re from the government, I don’t see why we shouldn’t allow you to pass through for free. After all, you’re the ones that take care of us.”
“True, we are.” He smiles a small smile that does not reach his eyes.
“Alright. My boys and I will sit in the mammy wagon behind you. You can follow us to the Krachiwura’s palace.”
The arrival of the cars into town causes a small commotion. In Krachi we own a few cars, but they are jalopies treasured by their owners. There’s a popular Morris Minor owned by an elderly Ga driver, Ransford Kwao Tetteh. It plies the road to and from Kete Krachi as a taxi. The postmaster has a Mercury M-Series that doubles as a truck-for-hire to transport farm produce for people. The Krachiwura owns a 1943 Mercedes-Benz 770, which he had redeemed from one of the last German traders to leave Kete Krachi. He hardly drives it because the car coughs more smoke than a coal pot. He keeps it locked in a garage and is always pleased to show it off to visitors who come knocking. He is much content to moving around in the Peugeot 402 he owns kind courtesy a land sale to a cashew farmer.
So one can understand why a small crowd has already begun building by the time we arrive at the Krachiwura’s palace. Of course, this is possible because we take a longer route than necessary to get to the palace. There is anticipation in the crowd. Someone has spread the rumour that Nkrumah himself has seen fit to visit Kete Krachi again. He had visited just before the plebiscite of 1956 and again as prime minister. But this is not the case. The cars pull into the Krachiwura’s compound, and the men get out of the automobile. We know them to be government boys from their pressed gabardine trousers and their long-sleeved shirts. But these are not just any government boys. They are Nkrumah Boys. Men that belong to the party, not to the state. Looked upon sometimes favourably and other times with disdain, these are former UGCC youth wing boys who organised behind Nkrumah and earned Ghana her independence while silencing naysayers.
I lead them to the Krachiwura’s palace, and it is there they make their mission known. After water and palm wine — not my palm wine, you can tell by the way the men squeeze their faces like they have tasted lime — they tell us of Nkrumah’s baby. A new dam. We listen patiently. Whenever men come from Accra, we always listen. They tell us they are here to talk to us, and exhibit a film. The Nkrumah Boys know exactly how to win us over. It is not the first time most of us have seen a film. Now and then, the Gold Coast Film Unit would come with their roving mobile cinema to show us some films. I had seen The Boy Kumasenu, which made me think; Amenu’s Child, which made me miss my parents; Mr Mensah Builds a House, which gave me an idea for a scam involving hut repairs; and Progress in Kojokrom, which, frankly, I did not enjoy. The last film we saw in Kete Krachi was Freedom in Ghana, a documentary on the celebrations in Accra three years ago, when Ghana gained independence.
The word spreads across Krachi to Kete; a film showing in the evening in the Krachiwura’s forecourt. We come in our numbers. The men carry pots of drink, and the women follow with food. We know how to organise for celebration quicker than anything. We are about five hundred in number, maybe more. The Nkrumah Boys speak to us with the blessing of the Krachiwura. They tell us that Nkrumah dreams of making Ghana like Britain and America. We don’t know what those places look like, but we know that it means Nkrumah wants to bring progress to our town. We cheer. Who doesn’t cheer for progress? Then they tell us that this dream will demand the sacrifice of some people. We clap again, but less enthusiastically. Nobody wants to be sacrificed, however they mean the word. They tell us that we will have to leave our homes, and we murmur: to where? They say the land will be covered in water, and we ask: for how long? They say they will compensate and provide us with a new town, and we laugh: on whose land? Those in Accra always feel like they control our lives. They did it to the Frafra, up north. They took them from their homes and moved them to Damongo. They did it to the fisherfolk of Tema to make way for the new harbour. They live comfortably in their landcrete homes, but we are the ones who have to sacrifice?
Seeing that they are losing the gusto with which the crowd amassed, Nkrumah’s Boys start to play the film. It is a documentary with footage of the river…our river. They show us many diagrams and illustrations of what the Dam would look like. We watch with rapt attention. I knew little of how drastically this dam would change my life.
2: By Hook, Crook or Book
I am in water. Floating. Swimming. I expand across the aqueous surface like a fisherman’s net. I feel the presence of ten thousand beings. Dead. Alive. Natural. Otherwordly. I am the water. A part of a vast whole. It whispers a tongue too ancient for me to understand. It calls itself by a name so powerful it fades before I can remember it. This is a dream, I am sure of it. But I cannot yet wake. I cannot…Strong hands pull me down into the water. I gulp for air, but grimy river water enters my nose and mouth. My eyes widen. My throat constricts. I am drowning. I am going to die. Why does this dream feel so real? I am drowning. I gulp in more water as I try to breathe and will myself awake.
Nothing. Just a painful death, looming. Why would the water seek to destroy me, though I am one with it? My heart is beating an erratic message like bees in a fontonfrom drum.
I cannot breathe. I am drowning…
I cry out. My eyes flutter open. My shirt is drenched in sweat and my heart is racing. I am in the back of a mammy wagon, my small bag of worldly possessions clutched in firm embrace. A young man stands over me, looking as though his time is being wasted. I look around. I am the last person to disembark. The man side-eyes me. His muscles buldge as he lifts a sack full of farm produce.
“Agoo,” he says brusquely.
“Is this Atim-” I start to ask, moving out of his way.
“Yes, yes. Atimpoku. Last stop.” He breathes out impatiently. He drops the sack to the ground with a loud thud. Dust rises. I pick up my bag and climb out of the vehicle. I hear him tsk behind me. Atimpoku is busy. People get off vehicles, carrying goods to the market to sell. In the distance, I see the many steel wires that hold up the Adomi Bridge. I take a deep breath. Dreams.
The old man that points me in the direction of Akosombo tells me as kindly as possible that there are no more jobs to go around. “The construction has already begun, young man. All vacancies are filled by now.” He follows it with a hasty “But you can still try your luck and see,” when he sees the determination in my eyes. As I turn away, I see him shake his head — young men of today.
Akosombo is a three-hour walk from Atimpoku on a good day. If you’re in a hurry, you can finish the walk in two hours. If you’re a man looking for a job so you can marry the young woman that has your heart, you can do it in one hour and thirty minutes. When I get to the Volta River Authority offices, my shirt is sticking to my body as if I have just swam in the river. My feet are dusty, and I know I will not get the job. I know it.
“Good afternoon, Madam,” I say to the receptionist sitting inside the VRA office. The security man hovers outside the glass doors, peering at me from his post. He’s waiting for one whiff of trouble before pouncing on me. The only reason he let me enter is that I said I was coming to see my auntie. I know he knows that there is no auntie but he still lets me enter because he has learnt, from a long life of yessa-massa, to always err on the side of caution.
The receptionist looks at me from head to toe.
“What is it?” she does not return my greeting. Undeterred, I tell her I am looking for a job as a driver. She responds curtly, telling me that neither VRA or Impregilo are hiring. “You shouldn’t have even come here to waste my time. You should have gone to the Impregilo offices. It’s always the dirty ones that come demanding many things.” She added in Krachi. I chuckle and respond, also in Krachi, that I am only dirty because I walked from Atimpoku to the office. She looks at me, mollified. We have established that we come from the same town. She’s not much older than me, but Krachi is big, so I do not recognise her. After all, not many people speak our tongue. I take a chance and ask her to help a fellow brother. She hesitates and tells me to come in the next day. Dressed better, of course. She will point out someone I can talk to. She makes no promises beyond that, and I know that I will still have to impress whoever she points at. I am determined. I tell her that all she has to do is point. She smiles at my confidence. I asked her one more question. Does she know a good place to stay?
Old Soldier is a man who fought in the Second World War, which ended after I was born. Now, he is the grumpy owner of a hastily put-together dormitory for people stopping through Akosombo. For sixpence a night, I can have a bed with a mosquito net, and for thruppence a raffia mat and a pillow with more stains than a chopbar napkin. I choose the raffia mat and decline the pillow. Of the many men in the dorm, I am the youngest. I wash down and prepare for the next day. I have roughly eight shillings left in my pockets after buying new clothes and food in town. It is enough for me to survive about a week in Akosombo before heading back to Kete Krachi. I do not want to go back empty-handed. I have one week to secure a job here. As I lay on the ground plotting how to get this job, I think about how much I have changed since Sisi walked into my life.
Mr Justice Agbalenyo, whose surname means ‘book is good’, is a Tongu man. He came to Krachi as a teacher hired by the only government school we have. I found him interesting because most of the Tongu men I know are fisherfolk interested in the next catch and kpotomenui. They are seasonal residents of Krachi. They come when the tilapia is fat and disappear when the river enters its fallow period. Mr Justice Agbalenyo is nothing like that. He wears knickerbockers secured by suspenders, and his afro is well kept, with a clean aboy cutting through like a farm path through bushes. Mr Agbalenyo is a man who believes himself better than most, and I would have nothing to do with his arrogance was his daughter not the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.
Meeting Sisi is the first time I understood that enough is not enough. Before she moved into Krachi with her father — her mother left the marriage when Sisi was eight years old, and Mr Agbalenyo, a Roman Catholic, never remarried — I was content with my life. I earned money from tapping palm trees on abandoned plantations downriver, and I was always up to some scam with Selasi and Obed. That was all, but it was fine. Then Sisi shows up, and suddenly nothing is enough. My clothes are never clean enough to come calling on her home. My feet are no longer enough, so I buy a bicycle just so when I came calling, I can ring a bell, rather than just whistle. On the days she manages to escape her father’s watchful eyes, we go riding together. She sits sideways on the crossbar while I quietly pedal at a slow pace, pretending that her added weight does not cause me to strain. Sisi is an angel; her laughter rings clearer than the strings in the latest highlife melody. She is as beautiful as they come, but it is her manner that most attracts me. Sisi is soft-spoken, and thoughtful with her words. She’s knowledgeable because she reads, and she’s also quite smart. Her voice is one of gentleness and reason. Her words always seep through the cracks of the walls surrounding my heart. They still my turbulent waters like how the Christians tell us Jesus did on a stormy night. The more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to love her forever. To care for her, to anticipate her every need and provide for it. To make her my wife. It is because of Sisi that I start tapping more regularly and spending less and less time with Selasi and Obed. It isn’t that I no longer love them; I just want more. But even with tapping every day, enough seems far away. That’s when I decide to ask Owula Ransford to teach me how to drive in exchange for free palm wine. Knowing how to drive means I can come to Akosombo to earn a living as a driver. It is good pay, much better than what I earn tapping palm wine, according to Owula Ransford. It is also a more respectable occupation, so that on the day my family brings drinks to Mr Agbalenyo to ask him for his blessing, he wouldn’t squeeze his face like he had tasted the palm wine of my rival tappers in Krachi.
It is the next day that I learn that Akosombo is divided into two communities. The locals call Community 1, Italian Village. This is where the foreign employees of the different companies running the construction and the river live. It is made up of white people from all over: Italy, Britain, America, Israel, Syria…more places than I can think of. Yesterday, as I walked to the VRA office, I did not even pause to take in my surroundings. This dawn, I do. I see the newly built Akosombo Hospital that is halfway between Italian Village and Community 2, the lower town. As I walk up I also see the steeple of what I think is a church. From afar it looks like a pair of praying hands. Despite the early hour, a congregation has gathered already. There seems to be some excitement rippling through the small crowd, but I do not stop long enough to discern what is going on.
I hear the distant din of heavy equipment slowly waking up around the dam construction area. Trucks dumping stones and sand, concrete mixers churching tons of cement, jackhammers drilling into bedrock, the air vibrates with the cacophony of different equipment. And on a small hill, in complete oblivion to its chaotic surroundings is the serene Hotel. I stare at is as I move briskly up the road, taking in the elegance of its design. It overlooks the construction of the Dam, and I think what a marvellous view it will be once the Dam is fully constructed.
Arriving at the VRA offices, I again lie to the security guard to gain access. The Krachi woman gives her name to me as Celestina. I wonder why she does not give me her Krachi name. Maybe she does not want any overfamiliarity between herself and a young man she does not know. She makes me sit down, and promises to point out someone I can see about a job. The sun is slowly climbing into the sky and workers begin to trickle in. I am better dressed today than yesterday. My long-sleeve shirt does not have a front pocket like those that have gone to school, but it is made of good cotton and is not faded. My trousers are nicely pressed, thanks to Old Soldier’s handy box iron. He kept it so neat that I did not even have to worry about soot smudges on the fabric. I am a very different person from the man who walked into the office yesterday.
“You,” a man comes out of an office towards the reception. He’s carrying a small wrapped box, but it must not be heavy because he still has fingers free enough to snap them at me. I look up, a false look of meekness on my face covers my indignation. Snapping your fingers at someone to get their attention is considered rude in Krachi. But I am here looking for a job, so now is not the time to pick fights.
“Yes boss?” I ask with as much humility in my voice to make a pious Christian jealous.
“Put this is in Mr Dobson’s car,” he says authoritatively.
“At once sir,” I respond, already up to relieve him of the burden. I was right, the box was not too heavy. He turns to enter his office, and I look at Celestina, whose eyes are wide. Calmly, I ask her to show me Mr Dobson’s car. She tells me she can’t leave the reception, but I need to find a blue sedan parked in the Chief Executive’s spot in the parking lot.
“You can’t miss it,” she says.
Out of the reception and into the adjacent parking lot, I understand what Celestina means. The twilight blue two-door Chevrolet Impala gleams under the rising sun. I immediately fall in love. What a car! I say to myself. I walk up to the car, under the watchful eye of the security guard. My hand shakes a little. Mr Dobson is the Chief Executive of the VRA, from the little sign that marks his parking spot. I try to open the luggage compartment. It props open with ease. There’s no creak in the hinges, no resistance in the lifting of the hood. I place the box in the boot, and shut it firmly. The security guard gets distracted by people entering the premises. I cannot resist. Before I fully grasp what I am doing, I am sitting in the driver’s seat of the automobile. The leather squeaks a little as I slide into the seat. My nose is immediately assaulted by the rich perfume of a moneyed man, the scent of cigars, and the smell of new. My eyes water but I love it. I hold the wheel firmly and pretend I’m driving the car. I pretend I’ve gotten a job to drive Mr Dobson specifically, although I know the reality will not be anything as audacious as that. I will even be lucky to get a job as a spare driver or a construction driver.
My daydream is dramatically interrupted by a loud voice speaking in heavily accented English. Not British or German. American? Canadian? It is followed by another voice, which I know instantly to be Ghanaian. I sit quietly in the hopes that they are merely passing by the automobile and will not notice that I am sitting at the wheel of possibly the most powerful man in town’s car. My wish is not granted. The passenger side of the car is opened, the passenger seat propped forward, and the Ghanaian enters into the backseat.
“I tell you, Igor has outdone himself with this church. These Italians are simply stellar! Building such a beautiful chapel in only three weeks?” I see the large frame of the man with the accent sit down next to me. I am scared. I have lost my mission even before it begins. I will be heading back to Kete Krachi in disgrace, assuming I don’t spend some time in jail first. The man looks at me briefly.
“So they’ve finally gotten around to finding me a driver huh?” he speaks. I remain silent, afraid to respond. There is a brief moment of silence and then the man looks at me pointedly.
“Well, chap? Speak your name? What should I call you?” the man asks. I blink.
“Please sir, my name is Kwasi. Kwasi Gyantrubi from Krachi,” I find myself saying.
“A Krachi man, eh?” the Ghanaian in the back asks.
“Yes, sir.” I respond. I am sweating even in the cool Akosombo morning breeze.
“How long have you been driving for?” the white man asks.
“Three years,” I spit out a practiced lie. “First with a Bedford and then a Morris Minor for my former boss. Now, I’m here to drive you, Mr Dobson.” I firm my voice and throw in the last bit hastily. If there is anything I have learned being a vagabond it is that confidence will open more doors for you than talent ever will. Mr Dobson chuckles. He cranes his head backwards.
“Don’t you like the balls on this kid, Godfred?” He says to the Ghanaian in the back. Then he turns to me. “We’ll see about that, lad. I’ll use you for today, but I’ll decide whether you get to drive me or not.” He hands me a key. “Now, take us to the Santa Barbara Chapel. We’ve got an Archbishop to catch.”
The engine purrs as I turn the key in the ignition. Easing out of the parking lot, I think of Sisi. This is the start of more, I promise myself in excitement.
3: The Great Flood of ’63
Water. Water everywhere. I hear the wailing of a thousand voices from beneath begging me to free them. Me? Save them? The water rages down the river. My body aches from trying to swim out. I am exhausted. The voices are unrelenting. They scream death and curses at me, asking why I have not saved them. I want to shout that I haven’t even saved myself. But the water is everywhere. It enters my mouth, my ears, my nose, my eyes. My vision blurs and fades. I am drowning. I am dying…
I awake with a start. A fat mosquito, drunk of my blood, dances in front of me. I kill it without thinking. I am worried. Each night in my dreams I drown. I wake up drenched in sweat, gasping for air. The men in the dorm have complained, first to me, then to Old Soldier, that I have night terrors. I have been to the hospital twice, but they have found nothing wrong so far. I do not have malaria, so these are not fever dreams. The doctor has asked me to return in a month to see a specialist, if I can afford it. I cannot. I will not be returning.
The year has been good to me. Mr Dobson hired me the day after I drove him to meet Archbishop Giovanni Montini of Milan. There was some confusion with the Human Resource Department, who had no idea who I was. But what Frank Dobson wants, Frank Dobson gets. Time has passed, and things have changed. The Dam is steadily progressing, and the Akosombo township is growing every day. Archbishop Montini is now Pope Paul VI, an update the Roman Catholics in Akosombo do not let us forget.
“Remember when the Pope visited Akosombo?” They ask anyone who is willing to listen. We that know are always quick to remind them that he was not the Pope then. They are not too keen on that detail.
I slip out of the bed and its porous mosquito net. After being hired by the VRA, I no longer sleep on the floor. Old Soldier also saw to it that I had the best bed in the dormitory. Housing in Akosombo is quite expensive because of demand, and staying in the dorm is cheaper than renting a place. I want to save all my pennies for the love of my life. I leave the room and sit on the veranda. The air is cool, and the mosquitoes seem to have given up for the night. I am holding a small bag of my possessions. I take out a notepad and a pen. In the moonlight, I start to form a reply to the letter I got from Sisi last month.
I cannot begin to describe how worried I am about you. It has been two weeks since we in Akosombo heard of the flooding up the river. Work on the Dam has halted and everyone is tense. They are calling it the greatest Volta flood in living memory. We have received many disturbing communications of towns wiped out and properties lost. Are you okay? It grieves my heart that I cannot come to visit Kete Krachi and see for myself how bad the flood is. It is presy precy for that very reason that I cannot come to see you. The flood has submerged parts of the Kete Krachi road and the postal van will have to wait till the water goes back to travel.
First chance I get, I will send you this letter. I know that hearing from me calms your heart, just as hearing from you
I pause writing the letter. I feel a sudden urge to tell her about the dreams, about what I am beginning to suspect they mean spiritually. But I cannot speak to her about spiritual matters because her only understanding of all things spiritual is to leave it for God to deal with. But God is white, he doesn’t have the experience to deal with our traditional things. I fold the paper neatly and place it back into the notepad. I plan on finishing the letter as soon as I can. But what keeps me from completing the letter is knowing that a letter is no substitute for being in Sisi’s presence. No amount of words or waxing lyrical on paper would be enough to replace her smile, even if temporarily. There is an ache in my chest and I know it is because I want to see Sisi. I have to go back home.
The opportunity to go back to Kete Krachi comes sooner than I think. Frank Dobson joins an Impregilo team in Accra to update the President on ongoings in Akosombo and beyond. I am suddenly left without much to do. I sit in the reception speaking to Celestina, who has become good friends with me ever since I retell her the story of how I conned my way into the VRA, with hilarious embellishments. I like Celestina. She laughs at my jokes and sometimes her touch lingers. If I didn’t have eyes for Sisi, I may have paid attention to all the casual hints Celestina keeps dropping. She’s a very pretty woman in her own right and she is Krachi. There’s a bond that a shared tongue and heritage secures. But my eyes are for another.
Godfred Amarteifio, who I met the day I first drove Mr Dobson, chances upon us in the middle of an earnest conversation in Krachi. Celestina and I are talking about what the resettlement will mean for Kete Krachi. I explain to her that from what I’ve heard Mr Dobson speak about in the car whenever I am driving, Nkrumah — a detail I add to let her know that I have more access as a driver than most people — has demanded that nobody be made worse off for the mode. Celestina is thinking of her parents who are farmers. She isn’t sure they will have the same amount of farm land as they do now. I am not sure how to tell her that nothing will change. With all my access I do not know this for fact, and neither does she. At that point Mr Amarteifio enters; the man who knows. We know him as part of the Resettlement Office. He is a legend around these parts, after successfully pulling off the resettlement of the fishing village in Tema to make way for the harbour and industrial city. Now the government expects him to do the same with the resettlement of towns and villages affected by the construction of the Dam. The difference here is more than a matter of scale. In Tema, the people in question numbered about ten thousand. They were majorly Ga people with similar cultures and backgrounds, and they were able to move into one settlement with little problems. Well, give or take the number of riots that occurred over the seven year resettlement period. The people in the gorge that is to become the lake are not the same people. Currently the count is at nearly seven hundred settlements within the gorge. The number of people to be resettled keeps rising. It started as low as twenty thousand and is now hovering above sixty thousand. There’s rumours that it’s bound to go higher.
Even in Kete Krachi alone, we have multiple ethnic groups living together. It seems an impossible task, but Mr Amarteifio carries it very well. Maybe it’s the old soldier in him, but he exudes such stoic confidence that I have started to believe it will all work.
“Gyantrubi, my boy,” Mr Amarteifio calls to me after tipping his flatcap to Celestina. A gentleman through and through.
“Hello sah,” I respond quickly.
“I hear you’re a free man these days, with Dobson cozying up to the Premier…sorry the President, in Accra.”
“Yes sah, he gave me a few errands to run in his absence but I’ve cleared those out of the way.”
“Good, good. What say you, to driving me around for a few days? I need a driver and someone who speaks Krachi, but I’ll settle for a man who can do both.” He winks and shakes my hand.
“At your service, my lord,” I reply mischievously. Celestina joins Godfred in a mirthful laugh. I see Celestina’s eye twinkling as she looks at me. My body suddenly feels warm.
The water has finally cleared sufficiently for our convoy to head out into the gorge to survey the damage done by the flooding. The convoy consists of three Jeep Wagoneers and a Bedford truck carrying jerry cans of Mobil gasoil and tools to help create paths deep in forest terrain, or dig out the cars should they get stuck in the muck brought inland by the flood. The Jeep Wagoneers are spanking new, having been introduced to the market less than a year ago. Normally it would take a few years for such cars to make an entry into the Ghanaian market. Luckily, the Kaiser family — who represent an American interest in the Volta Aluminium Company, the aluminium smelting company that is to benefit from the construction of the Dam — are the owners of the Jeep brand. Our plan is to stop in Kete Krachi, and the other cars containing survey teams will head deeper into the gorge to continue survey works. The number of people to resettle now stands at seventy thousand. Godfred Amarteifio and Kobla Kalitsi have come along to interface with chiefs and priests to convince them that the flood has nothing to do with the construction of the Dam. In their conversations as I drive through the muddy road, I also learn that they don’t want to do too good a job convincing the people of this. This is because many people have flat-out refused to move, especially those on higher land like Kete because they do not believing that the water will rise so high as to destroy their homes. They need the mystery of the great flood to incentivise more people to agree to being resettled.
It takes us five hours of careful driving to arrive in Kete Krachi. When we get there, I see how much damage the flooding has caused. The wall barricading the school has broken down, and the post office is closed for repairs. Around us people are working hard to restore their buildings to liveable circumstances. The water has destroyed many of the mud homes, and the landcrete ones are also not without damage. We head to the Krachiwura’s palace. Set in the middle of the township, he has been spared any damage to his buildings. But we — for I translated on behalf of both parties — soon learn that most of his farms were submerged in water for over a week. This had killed about seventy percent of his yams, just near harvest season. Nana Badumgya II is sober when the entourage explain the circumstances to him. He’s young, but he understands that in order to protect his people he will have to leave this town for good. He promises to speak to the other elders, and Messrs Amarteifio and Kalitsi. There’s a brief moment of respite when my services are no longer needed. I slip away to check on my family.
My family consists of my grandfather, a former Dente bosomfo who, despite losing his sight to river blindness, still lives vivaciously, his three wives — my grandmothers — and my two remaining uncles. I have aunties also, but they live with their husbands scattered across Ghana. I speak to my grandfather, and leave him with some money which makes him happy. He too has lost a large percentage of his crop yield to the floods. I want to tell him about the dreams there, because if anyone should know about these dreams it would be a former Bosomfo. However, I do not. There’s a part of me that does not seek to make the dreams real by speaking about them. So I keep quiet.
Sisi comes to me as the sun starts to set. She’s holding a bucket with the pretext of fetching water. I walk with her to the bank of the river. She seems subdued, as if carrying things on her mind. I am carrying a mat I have snuck out of my house. We select a side of the river with little bushes so that mosquitoes or tsetse flies do not disturb us more than necessary. I hand her my letter, for I have finished writing it, and she pockets it. I want her to read it while I’m there, but she smiles and tells me that she does not want to shed tears in my presence.
“Look how orange the sky is,” she says, as we watch the sun set. The dying sun has lit the entire sky into an orange glow that looks like-
“Light soup. It looks like light soup. God is cooking light soup,” I respond with my childish humour. She laughs, that sweet laugh that touches me in places nothing else can reach. I hold her in my arms and promise her that I am working hard for our future. She is silent for a while. I turn to look at her and realise there are tears in her eyes. The tears come down, first in little silent drops, and then in a larger torrent accompanied by body wracking sobs. So much for not crying in my presence. I hold her patiently till she has calmed down.
“What is on your heart, my dear?” My own heart is racing. Is she going to tell me she can no longer be with me? Does she want to come along? What is it that has made her cry so hard?
“It’s my father,” Sisi sniffles. “He says you’re good-for-nothing and that I deserve better.” I chuckle. This is not news to me. This has always been the stance of Mr Agbalenyo. I am sure even Prince Philip, Duke of Edingburgh, will not be suitable enough to marry his precious daughter.
“He wants me to marry Mpianim,” she adds. That is what made her cry. Mpianim is the nephew to Nana Badumgya II. There is a stool with his name on it somewhere in his future. He already has land to farm on, and was seen as a model young man. I know Mpianim, and I do not like him. He is a hypocrite. His quiet nature belies a superiority complex. But I understand why people like him.
“Do you want to marry Mpianim?” I ask a little hotly. The statement has caught me off guard, and now I find that I am both angry and bothered.
“Kwasi, why would you ask me such a question? You know I only have eyes for you.” Sisi says indignantly. I do not respond. Mpianim. Mr Agbalenyo has managed to destroy my centre. Mpianim is the exact opposite of who I am. I can already see him and Sisi together, fathering perfect little children. While I am in Akosombo working and saving money like some fool. Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop. I know it is not the time to be angry but I can’t help myself.
“Say something, Kwasi.” Sisi says to me. I look at the sky one more time. It is a darker orange than it was earlier. God has finished with the light soup, now he’s cooking jollof. I think it, but I do not say it. For the first time since I ever met her, I do not want to hear Sisi laugh.
The next day, we speak to Nana Badumgya II before we leave back for Akosombo. He assures us that he will galvanise support for the new location. Mr Amarteifio has also assured him that there will be enough farmland for everybody. Many of the towns look up to Kete Krachi, he adds. If the people of Kete Krachi leave, then many more will follow. The Dente bosomfo is also at the meeting. He says that many rites will have to be done in order for Dente to leave the caves in which it resides. He adds, more quietly, that some of these rites can no longer be done in modern Ghana. I shudder when he says it. When I translate this to Mr Amarteifio, his face becomes grim. He promises that he will get all the necessary funds to purchase the things needed for the purification rites. There would be no need to result to practices of old.
As we take our leave I see Sisi standing by the roadside, a basket of food in her hand. She sees me driving the Jeep Wagoneer. The sorrow in her eyes matches that in my heart. I do not look back.
4: Katankofore, What Have We Become?
It has been a year since Ghana won the African Cup of Nations. We are still living in the excitement of the win. Thanks to Mr Dobson, I was in the Accra Sports Stadium when Edward Acquah fired two goals into the Sudanese net. The entire stadium was littered in the Ghana colours of red, white, green and black. The Sudanese never stood a chance.
Life in Akosombo has gotten more comfortable. Mr Dobson heard of the job I did for the Resettlement Office and now permits me to drive the survey workers to and fro whenever he’s not around. Old Soldier has taken a liking to me, and calls me his son. The Dam is looking more and more complete each passing day. Mr Amarteifio told me that most of the people of Kete Krachi have moved to the new settlement town. It used to be Katankofore, but now they are calling it New Kete Krachi. I was not able to show up there because I was busy driving Mr Dobson around, but I heard that Dente was safely moved from the caves to new caves in Katankofore. They moved in the dead of the night without light. Many people don’t know that the reason Dente resides in caves is because it does not like light. I am happy because my dreams have stopped.
Sisi and I have not spoken in a year. I have sent her two letters but have not received a single reply. This is not to say I am not reminded of her every single day. Because of my work with the Resettlement Office, I see her father’s name all the time. He has started a business as a letter-writer in Kete Krachi. Anyone with a grievance to report employs his service. He’s now richer than when he had lived solely on his teacher’s salary. Maybe his dreams of marrying his daughter to Mpianim just may come true. On the other hand, Celestina and I have become regular customers of Lodigiani’s Dancing Pavilion. Celestina loves to dance, and I love dancing with her. The band have told us they consider us their favourite patrons by far. On weekend nights, Celestina and I drink and dance the whole night away.
It is after one such night that I am told that I will be driving Martha Doodoo, a researcher, to Kantakofore. She is accompanied by Raphael Salawu from the Resettlement Office, and two other younger people I believe to be students. I am sure that by the grimace on my face and my bloodshot eyes, everyone can tell that I am properly hangover. We use a new road to Kantakofore because the old road now sits underneath water. The Dam has been sealed and so the lake is slowly forming. Our homes have been taken by crocodiles and snakes. Our ancestors live underwater now.
On our journey, as Raphael and company fall asleep despite the bumpy road, Martha and I speak to each other. I tell her about Sisi and how I am looking forward to seeing her in Katankofore despite us not speaking for one year. She tells me that she has met a man, one Mr Tamakloe that she thinks has caught her fancy. I ask her if it is the same Tamakloe in The Boy Kumasenu film. She laughs and says that’s just a character. We talk more, and she soon also drifts off.
Arriving in Kantankofore, I find out that the research Martha Doodoo is undertaking is to find out how the resettlers are settling into their new towns. The resettlers now number in the eighty thousands. I have yet to go to any of the settlement towns but I have heard stories. Nothing prepares me for what I see in New Kete Krachi. You see, our old town was beautiful. It was big, and we kept it well. Trees lined our streets, our homes were grand and surrounded by kempt hedges, and everything was organised. When the Germans commandeered Kete Krachi in the 1800s, they built many buildings and even expanded the market. When the British took over from the Germans, they also added to it.
New Kete Krachi is chaos. The homes they have built are tiny compared to the homes we lived in. The VRA resettlement has always been to build a small part of the house, and then provide tools and materials for each individual family to expand to suit their own needs. They did not explain it to us this way. They told us they were replacing our homes, so we expected them to replace them. In New Kete Krachi, regardless of the size of family, everyone gets one small room as the core building, and a little land to build the rest of the house. The materials and tools that were promised are yet to arrive, so many families are cramped into the core building. It is a miserable setting that makes my heart break.
I see Sisi even before I find my family. It is by chance, though I am nervous to see her. I want to walk up to her to say hello, but she is walking with Mpianim. She has gained some weight and her belly is protruding. The signs are very clear to see. Sisi is pregnant with child. She misses her step when she sees me, and grabs unto Mpianim for support. He holds her tenderly, helps her correct her step, and then looks in my direction. I give the two of them a nod, and disappear before they can see my tears. I am unable to cry because someone notices me and sounds an alarm that I have arrived. People come out of the woodworks. They are hurt and angry. They tell me that they’ve been waiting to speak to someone from VRA. Since I am here, I would do. I explain that I am only a driver. My heart is heavy from seeing the shape of the town, and heavier from seeing Sisi.
“They gave me and my sister one house to live in. Just because we lived on the same compound in Kete Krachi. But we lived in two houses!” Mr Adamu complains. I wanted to live in a house with Sisi, with our own compound, and little mischievous children playing around.
“Whenever we plant trees, the Town Manager makes his boys tear them down. If you ask me why, I don’t know.” Madam Bediako speaks up. Once Sisi had told me that her favourite flower in the world was the bloom of the Flamboyant tree. Since that day I decided to surprise her with a Flamboyant in our home. I can see my dream being torn down.
“They keep telling us that in order to use the tractor we have to contribute for gasoil. When we contribute, they use it one two and suddenly the gasoil is finished. How is the tractor sitting there gbayaa and we are still using cutlass and hoe?” another voice chirps. My heart begins to pound as tears threaten to fall. I tell those with the complaints that the best people to speak to would be the researchers I had brought.
“Go and speak to them, lodge all your complaints. They will be addressed by the government,” I say. I manage to extricate myself and head to my family. My grandfather is sitting on the doorstep of his resettlement home. His face lights up when he hears me call his name. Then, he begins to weep.
“Look at what they have made us,” he said. “Like we are cassava to be planted anywhere.” I sit next to him and I cry too. More for Sisi than for anybody else. But misery loves company so my grandfather does not complain too much that I am crying even harder than he is. Soon we both wipe our tears and start to laugh.
“We are such a pair,” he says out loud. We talk. I tell him that I have seen Sisi and Mpianim together. He tells me that the family had debated telling me, but had decided it was information that could destroy me if they did not take care with it. Between the moving of Dente, the floodings, and their own moving, the information had just seemed less trivial each given moment. I understand, but it makes me sad. Nobody is home except a young cousin of mine. My grandfather tells me that many people have left Kantankofore for better towns. Even his youngest wife has left for the Afram Plains, where farm land is still accessible for cheap.
“Even Nana is suffering. His elders and chiefs are scattered. It’s getting harder to control the paramountcy,” my grandfather says. I wonder what that means for Mpianim and Sisi. He tells me about my uncle, Kofi, who has taken to drinking because he lost his farm. The VRA had promised that there would be enough farmland for everybody. What had not been said was that the work of clearing forests for the farmland had been very slow. The available farmland had been distributed on a first come, first serve basis. As a result that my uncle has no land to farm for this season or the next. Which means he has time to wallow in his own sorrows with akpeteshi.
“Tell me,” my grandfather holds my arm in a vicelike grip that makes me wince. “How long ago have the spirits touched you, my son?”
As he asks the question I begin to dread providing the answer. I cannot lie to him, because he has been blind for so long that he can smell the truth. I tell him of the dreams I have been having. Of drowning each day, and waking up in my bed. He listens in silence, his face giving no hint to how he is receiving the news. When I am done, I feel as if a load has been lifted off my back. The only people that know I have terrible dreams are the men that share the dorm with me, Old Soldier, and the doctor at the hospital. But only now have I spoken about what the dreams about. Speaking to my grandfather makes me realise I should have come to him long ago. Even though his blindness did not make him last long as bosomfo, he understands these things more than anyone I know.
“Do you know who you are named after?” he asks me quietly. I remember being told in my childhood that I was named after one of my ancestors. I repeat this to him.
“Kwasi Gyantrubi was Dente Bosomfo at a time that Dente Bosomfos were strong enough to challenge the Asante Empire. He ruled Krachikrom till he was beheaded by the Germans. He was the most powerful Dente Bosomfo to ever live. And you are named for him. Do you understand?”
I do not want to, but I do. “Yes, papa,” I say. He nods his head.
“You are just like your father. When the spirits called on him, he refused to listen. I warned him many times, yet he was stubborn about it. He wanted nothing to do with the old gods. And he paid for it with his life and your mothers.”
The revelation stuns me.
“Pay for it how?” I ask.
“You do not remember the leopard attack? I suppose you were too young to understand fully, and we do not speak of these things in Krachi after they happen.” My grandfather shifts away from me.
“Your mother and father were attacked by leopards. More than one, according to the hunters that read the ground. We have not seen leopards in these parts for over fifty years, since the Germans hunted them so carelessly. We even thought them extinct. But Dente summoned them to deal with those that refused to head the call of the oracle.”
I am silent because I have no words to say. I remember the day they came to tell my family that my parents had disappeared. They had left in the morning for the farm and never returned. I would have gone with them, had I not been too lazy a child. The other farmers said there was nothing to be found of them. Only a few bones. Both wife and husband had been attacked. Why are the gods so cruel? I ask.
“Dente is resting now,” My grandfather continues. “When it wakes, I shall call upon you to perform all the necessary rites. Do not be as foolish as my son and his wife. You have gone away from home long enough. It is time you come home, Gyantrubi. It is time you come home.”
5: The Changing of the Tide
It is not until the explosion that I fully grasp the power of the old gods. In Akosombo we are all revelling at the ceremonies of the inauguration of the Akosombo Dam. The festivities were simply amazing, leaving the entire town on a magnificent high. The skies were rent by fireworks flown in from all over the world, music so loud it reverbated in the air was played, everything was as grand as the edifice we sought to celebrate. The President was there in his white-white, shaking hands and laughing. We all knew that he was happy. The contractors were far ahead of schedule and things were progressing smoothly. It is always when things are progressing smoothly that trouble comes.
We don’t know how the explosion happened. All I know is that I was picking up some market goods for Mr Dobson’s home when I heard a huge boom, followed by a plume of white smoke coming from the dam area. We all thought: sabotage. Someone has blown open the Dam. The repercussion would be so serious, I think as I race back to the office. Mr Dobson is rushing into another vehicle when I pull in.
“Ever an able man,” he calls to me as he enters the car. “Fly,” he orders. My foot slams on the the accelerator. The car flies.
The explosion killed 12 workers, cooked by heat and smoke in a tunnel within the Dam. They are not the first to die in the construction of the Dam. As is wont to happen on such huge projects, some workers had passed before this event; but none so tragically. Mr Dobson and Mr Lodigiani, heads of VRA and Impregilo, are beside themselves with emotion. Mr Leto, who once designed and supervised the construction of the chapel within 21 days, takes charge of securing the Dam. I am there as they pull out the charred remains of those that died. Some of my friends, men from the dorms, are among the dead. Mawukpe who went his whole life mispronouncing Johannes, his first name. Kotokoli who snored so loudly we nicknamed him Flt Captain, because he sounded like the army helicopter used in accessing some of the villages deep in the gorge. Martin Ayimadu, a champion electrician if there ever was one. Old Soldier always put him to work in the dorm fixing any sort of electrical issue for a discounted place to sleep. All dead. Bodies burnt beyond recognition. I am unable to contain last night’s meal.
In Akosombo all we can talk about is how Nkrumah has yet to say a word about the deaths of our men. The Dam is near completion, with more than ninety per cent of the work done. The lake has slowly risen and drowned all the land. People have different stories about what happened. Impregilo put out a statement saying the explosion was caused by a build-up of methane gas in the tunnel. We the people know that it is because we have drowns countless gods and ancestors. We know that Dei-Sakyi, an old god of the river, had demanded human sacrifices before the Dam was built, but we settled for cows. What a god wants, a god will take. Dei-Sakyi had taken throughout the building of the dam, and now that the dam was about to be complete, he had taken even more.
We never find out what Nkrumah will say or do. We wake up one morning to the news that Nkrumah’s reign is over. In Akosombo the news is received with mixed feelings. Some of the white men start to trickle out of town. It is from one of such men that I am able to buy a car. It is a Ford Galaxie 500 and it costs me most of the money I was saving for Sisi and I. I have decided not to return to Kete Krachi no matter what. There is no longer anything for me there.
I take leave from Mr Dobson. He’s almost out the door too. There’s going to be a change of guards soon he tells me. He palms a few British pound notes into my hand as I shake his hand. He tells me he wishes me all the best, and good wind in my sails. Celestina asks for one last dance before I leave town. I indulge. We have the best of time at Djaba’s Bar, drinking and dancing. There’s a moment when I am so excited that I tell her to come with me. She smiles a sad smile and tells me I’ll always have a home in Akosombo as long as she is around. She abruptly leaves the dancefloor as the tears spill from her eyes.
The next morning, Old Soldier tells me to always keep my wits about me, and keep an eye out for the enemy. I do not understand his advice, but I take it in earnest. I enter Djaba’s Bar for one last drink in Akosombo. My plan is to set off as far away from everything as I can get. My plan is to keep the promise I made to myself as a child. In the bar, I see a familiar white man holding court, regaling other bar familiars with stories. I sit a little apart from the small crowd, brooding over my ABC beer. The truth is I have no plan as to where to go. I just want to be as far away from here as possible. Maybe it’s the fact that I fail to laugh at his jokes, or maybe it’s my troubled demeanour that beckons to him, but I find the white man sauntering towards me after a while.
“Jimmy,” he says, stretching out his hand. I wipe my hands on my trousers, clammy from holding the bottle of perspiring beer, and receive his steady handshake. I know all about James ‘Jimmy’ Moxon. Also known as Nana Kofi Obonyaa, a white man chief somewhere in the hills of Aburi. Jimmy the writer, working on a book about the Dam.
“Kwasi,” I respond. “We’ve met very briefly.”
His eyes spark with recognition. “Right! Dobson’s man! What’s got you down so bad this late morning?” He tries to make conversation.
“I’m leaving Akosombo and don’t have a clue as to where I’m going next,” I respond.
“Ah, another Roman deserter.” He says Roman like ‘roaming’ and winks at me to drive the pun home. I chuckle.
“I myself started a journey in Shrewsbury, and look where I’ve ended up: drinking the morning away with vagabonds instead of working on my dam book.” He grins at his own pun. “Adventures aren’t so bad, you know?” He continues.
“I guess you’re right.” I respond. My brain flits through the many places where I can go next. Accra? Too commercial for my liking. Cape Coast? I may not like it after spending so much time in Akosombo. Takoradi is a balance between Cape Coast and Accra but…
“You can always do what everyone else is doing and head for Nigeria to pour yourself a cup of some black gold, and I do not mean pito.”
Lagos. The answer springs forth, summoned by this white man named Jimmy. Lagos is my next destination.
“I will think about it,” I lie. I have already thought. I am already sold. I wonder if gods like Dente have legs to chase a man across three countries.
“Where are you from, anyway? You could always go home, you know?”
“I used to be from a place,” I answer simply, “but not anymore.” I nod in the direction of the Dam. “That dam thing,” I throw his pun back at him, “has drowned my land.”