In The Footsteps Of Great Teachers (4)

Once I had begun to pay for lessons from the Rapid Results College (RRC) out of my measly salary of seven pounds a month (then worth about 20 US dollars!), I had to concentrate very seriously on my course.

There was no electricity at Asiakwa, so I had to use kerosene-lit lanterns or candles to study at night. This would be after a full day’s teaching, with all the unnecessarily laborious requirements – such as writing teachers’ notes and preparing “apparatus” —   thrown in. The candle and kerosene smell made me suffer from catarrh, so I needed extraordinary determination to stick to the course. Added to the strain was the cost of taking a lorry every Friday evening to Kyebi to take Latin lessons from Mr. Asiamah.

In the midst of all that, disaster struck:  I was sacked from my pupil teacher’s post by a head-teacher who was unsympathetic to my ambition to educate myself. He forced me to take an examination to enter the Abetifi (Kwahu) Teachers Training College. I passed it, and he insisted that I should go and do the course.

I explained to him that I was studying privately for the General Certificate of Education (GCE), which was a higher qualification than the Certificate B Teacher’s Certificate that I would get at Abetifi.  But he told me that if I wouldn’t go to the Training College, then he would give my job to someone who was interested in getting trained as a teacher.

But the idea of my getting the GCE was intoxicating to me and I wouldn’t drop it. Master Samuel Aboagye then took away my job and my seven pounds a month salary!

I was advised by friends to write to the Department of Education office at Koforidua, to explain my situation. I did so, but when Mr. Aboagye was asked to explain himself, he angrily. He reported me to the church authorities at Asiakwa for “insubordination”! He gave them an ultimatum: if they retained me because Koforidua had intervened, he would resign.

The church authorities summoned me to come and explain why I had written a “letter” against my head-teacher. Cleverly, they also summoned my father! Why had they involved my father, who was illiterate? They knew he would be on the side of “authority”, being an Okyeame [Chief’s Spokesman] himself!

Something very funny happened when the church elders sat on the case.  Master  Aboagye  produced a letter he had received from the Principal of the  Abetifi Teacher’s Training College, in which the Principal, who was “an old friend” of his, had reported to him “confidentially”  that I had topped the examination. But the Principal went on, at the interview which had followed the entrance examination, I had shown myself to be someone who was too “self-confident” and “lacked humility”.

In fact, all that had happened was that at the interview, when the Principal had asked me what subject I was “weak” in, I had replied that I wasn’t “weak” in any subject! This was quite true as proved by my coming first in all the subjects I took. But apparently, the Principal   took umbrage at my answer, and he wrote to his “friend” to let him know that I was a “boaster!”

Another setback I suffered at the hearing was that an old and sleepy teacher called Teacher Fosu, who was usually disregarded by the church elders because he always smelt strongly of akpeteshie, woke up at one point at the hearing to deliver the ponderous statement that I had done wrong in complaining in writing to the Koforidua Educational Department because (as he put it) “spoken words are friiting (for “fleeting”) but “written words are permanent!”

Not surprisingly, I was found “guilty”. My father was asked to pay a fine of two packets of matches!

I was shocked at the injustice of it all. Irrelevant considerations had been used to find me guilty, whilst my explanations had been ignored. What hurt most was that my father seemed to agree with the “elders”. He, in fact, apologised to the head-teacher on my behalf! What for?

I was so scandalised by the proceedings that I didn’t ask my father to help me when I needed money to enter the GCE examination. I went to my beloved grandmother, Nana Afia Korang, instead. She too went and asked for the money from the chief of Asiakwa, who was an old “buddy” of hers, hahaha!

Thus, it was that the chief, to whom all the church elders and my father deferred, tacitly upheld my stand against the elders, and empowered me to take the most important examination in my life.

Indeed, the love shown to me by my grandmother, with the support of the chief, fortified me psychologically. But even more important, I went and joined the Apostolic Church at Asiakwa, no doubt, subconsciously, to spite the elders of the Presbyterian Church for refusing to understand me.

In mid-1956, I arrived in Accra to sit the GCE in six subjects. I lodged with a taxi driver friend of mine, Kwaku Dakwa, who worked all day and left me to revise my lessons without being disturbed.

I remember the period very well, because BBC radio was always giving reports about the Suez crisis (in which Israel, Britain and France had invaded Egypt) and the Hungarian uprising (in which Soviet troops had invaded Hungary.) Listening to the radio with one ear whilst revising my lessons, turned out to be quite a pleasure:   my alertness was sharpened! This was a virtue that was to come in useful when I became a journalist and needed at times to concentrate on writing, whilst noisy conditions prevailed around me!