Now, I have heard of the secret strand that holds the soul and flesh together. Waking up to a sunlit sky, I stepped out of my front door and embraced the cool, raucous wind, who whispered to me that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.
As I walked twenty yards to the kitchen, a simple hut built from walls of red clay and roofed with thatch, my slippers roused the earth, who retaliated by assaulting my exposed feet with her dusty embrace, reminding me that from dust came I forth and to dust I shall return, if the Lord of the earth tarried. Here was life in all its simplicity.
Sitting on a locally made stool and leaning on a locally made table, I took in the aroma of the plantain and kontomire stew that mama made that morning. Salivating, I took a large bite and chewed on it contemplatively. I looked around and saw the open fire and the logs of wood that were its lifeblood. A whisper, then a crackle, then a hiss, then a loud buzz, then one wood disappeared. Like smoke that disentangles itself from the tentacles of a raging fire, the lifeblood of mama’s wood-fueled fire was wasting away. The wood was soon replaced. I was reminded of the plainness of life: one day we are born, the next we leave the earth, and another takes our place. The groans and moans of God’s creation come and go while the earth remains. Life, after all, is the epitome of simplicity – simplicity in all of its grandeur.
I took my cutlass and hoe and started for the farm. The rest of the family was not too far behind. One stanza, then two, then three, and the wind began to sing along. Soon, the song filled the air. We walked three miles – across streams and hills and valleys. Along the way, we said hello to the birds, who told us to have a good day. As I began to clear the land, my cutlass slipped across the head of a python, who slid away in fury. I watched as the creepy, cursed, ectothermic creature, following an undulating path in the earth, sought comfort in a nearby coppice. He was soon gone. Then the rain began to come down – first in drops and then in heavy downpour. We were drenched but energized. Work had to continue. The local tailor had to be paid. The fishmonger had to be paid. School fees had to be paid. The church offering had to be made. Here was life in all its simplicity.
Many years ago, Uncle Dave told me about our forebears, strange men and women who were endowed with esoteric, mystical powers. They cooked on mounds of clay firmly planted in the middle of simple huts, devoid of doors and windows. They drew water from the Red River, which swirled and circled the town every few years. Ominous but expected. Life went on. Uncle Dave added that our forebears moved objects around with their eyes. All they had to do was stare at the pots and pans, and the pots and pans “walked” from the floor to the shelves and rafters, and vice versa. Yes, Uncle Dave told me that our forebears had the power of levitation. Strange but true. It is a good thing, then, that our forebears died and took with them their paranormal powers; they would have scared even a seven-foot giant today. Uncle Dave and I had this conversation in 1988.
A few years later, I was on an Air Afrique plane bound for New York. The twelve-hour, nonstop flight, which departed at the twelfth hour of the day, was not particularly calm, as each wave of turbulence was more violent than the one before it. Miles below was the deep blue sea, who carries with her mysteries that inquisitive and predatory humans still cannot comprehend. Along the way, I heard the wind say that she hated the blasé invasion of her territory, and that she was not happy. Fortunately, we made it to New York City without a scratch.
As I took the bus from John F. Kennedy International Airport to my hotel for the night, a cool spring breeze that seemed to freeze all the cells under my skin greeted me. My hotel room was modern – far more modern than anything I had seen in Uncle Dave’s apartment in Accra. I was freezing to death by now. I looked around my hotel room for anything that would warm my cells and keep me alive. I could have called the front desk for help, but I did not. The cold now unbearable, I reached into my suitcase, pulled out my expensive batakari, and wrapped myself in it. There was a comforter on the bed, but I slept on top of it. I looked around and saw what looked like a little box on the wall. I did not investigate any further. I shrugged and walked back to the bed.
I woke up at dawn, cold but alive. I could not get out fast enough. I purchased a ticket and boarded an Amtrak train for where I now live – a city somewhere in the southern part of the United States. Reaching my destination after a four-hour train ride, I hailed a taxicab to my relative’s house. He was not there. The cabbie suggested a temporary place of relaxation: the local mall. I obliged. Stepping out of the taxicab, and fully adorned in my batakari, I walked up the main steps to the mall. It was midday and the sun was still warming a cold, weary earth. Suddenly, all eyes were fixed on me – perhaps more on my lovely, out-of-this-world batakari than anything else. I thought to myself, “These folks must love my exotic clothing!” I felt such great sense of pride. I was the pride of Africa, and, yes, I was now part of a placid African invasion of America!
Years later, I was no longer a tabula rasa. I had been followed in a store – the clerk had assumed that I was there to pilfer merchandise. I now had a better understanding of the intricacies and nuances of the American way of life. My interpretation of those stark stares of yesteryear was different now! Those mall patrons must have wondered from which oubliette I had been freed! Or perhaps they thought that Kunta Kinte, brought to America aboard the ship Lord Ligonier in 1767, had risen from the dead! Or perhaps that a veritable and ominous African invasion had begun!
Life is different now. No more long walks to the farm. No more use of the cutlass and the hoe. No more carrying of baskets on the pate. In their place is the avant-gardism of modern life: microwavable meals, computer-powered automobiles, high-speed trains, climate-controlled houses, unfriendly neighbors, neighborhood centers, community centers, strip malls, large malls, and movie theaters. There are 169 television stations to choose from. The list goes on. The bare earth is not visible in my city – I have looked everywhere to no avail.
I miss the connection to life, and to the earth, and to the stark simplicity of existence. The coal pot. The feel of charcoal. The mud houses. The kerosene lamp. The untarred roads. The singing of the birds. The bleating of sheep. The musings of the local sage. The hearings at the local chief’s palace. The chitchats with the neighbors – in my mother tongue. They are all gone – forever. In their place is my place in the rat race – the race for success, for mammon, for power, for sartorial elegance, for eminence. In his Patois-tinged rendition, a famous crooner reminded us, “He who feels it, knows it.” The simple days are gone. The days with the birds are gone. My days with the chickens are behind me. A tradeoff is what it is, folks. As we groan and moan through this life, we know that the end shall come someday – not only for me, not only for you, but for all of humanity. What, then, is the purpose of this rat race?
© The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, may be followed on Twitter: @DanielKPryce. He invites the reader to join the pressure group “Good Governance in Ghana” on Facebook.com, which he superintends. “Good Governance in Ghana” is a group that emphasizes the preservation of democracy, justice, equity, and law and order in Ghana.