MY MOTHER AND I' TRIBUTE BY BEN ASANTE






In those years, when marriages across ethnic lines were uncommon- my mother Janet Ackumey married a Kwahu man from Obomeng James Asante in Kumasi from faraway land and across different cultures. I was born in Keta. I lived with my great-aunties while schooling there. My mother came on market days as she was a trader in clothes: I used to cry a lot each time she came. My mother confirmed this in an interview I did with her some 10 years ago. One day her fellow traders impressed upon her to take her child, telling her it was best she took me with her as nobody could tell if I would decide to follow the boat into the water one day. So, one day she took me back with her to Anyako.

We grew up in Anyako where she engaged in various forms of trade. I helped her with some evening trading in parts of the town. As a child I spent a whole year out of school because of severe dislocation suffered on my right knee while playing football with other kids. My mother nursed me back to health without a visit to the hospital. This further strengthened the bond between us. Also, the fact that we had ‘foreign names- Asantes- in Anyako was a challenge to my mother.

My father, James, who had moved to Accra from Nsawam as a businessman came to visit from time to time with his other children and provided maintenance for us, his sons. But the fact that the two of us could not be trained by both parents living apart, weighed heavily on my mother’s mind.

My mother re-married and moved to Ho. Living in Ho, she encouraged me, then in middle school, to take part in most youth activities including membership of the national youth movement, at the time associated with President Kwame Nkrumah. I was selected to attend Youth Summer camps in Europe.  My departure brought mother to Accra Airport several times with a mixture of joy and excitement when she would tearfully wave me goodbye.

My involvement in youth activities in the Ghana United Nations Students Association and debating groups during my years at Secondary School, and pre-University, eventually saw me become very active in international youth movement and I later settled for a career in journalism. I relocated to Nairobi, Kenya to work and study.

While it proved exciting as a young man playing a role on the international scene I always suspected it was agonising for my mother to cope with my constant absence. For years since leaving Ghana in 1971 to work, I came home regularly to see my mother or visit her when work brought me to Ghana. Upon qualifying as a journalist, I moved to London from Nairobi to work full time with New African magazine with the well known leading Nigerian writer Peter Enahoro. This period coincided with Ghana’s years of frequent political changes and coups. There were years I could not come home to Ghana due to differences between my magazine New African and the powers that be in the country under military.

During the period I lived in London my mother asked to come and visit me and the family. She visited for several months but I remained in Liberia covering the civil war. My mother sent a word that if she returns to Ghana without seeing me and dies she would before dying blame it on me. Promptly I found my way back to London.  During her stay in London, there were two incidences I cannot forget. I will mention one here. Many days during dawn hours while I buried myself in the computer writing articles I would see her shadow stretch towards me from the door of the study; she would stand there watching silently. On one occasion I stopped typing and turned to look at her and the calmness in her composure. She asked, “my son when are you going to start enjoying your education? It would appear to me that this job you are doing is like you are writing exams all your life while your school mates are enjoying the fruits of their education.

After the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone I relocated and lived half the time in Nigeria and the UK making it possible to come home frequently with Ghana now under democratic rule. The fact of my being able to come home made mother happy often. Even as she grew older she would stay up once she knew I was coming and would be the first to welcome us and the last to bid us good bye when we had to leave in the dawn hours to travel by road back to Nigeria.

Mother taught me many valuable things that I have carried with me in all my life and travels. She was a peaceful woman and taught me and my siblings high morals; be humble, never to take what is not yours; not to be jealous and to be calm in all situations and to always respect. In my life I never witnessed my mother raise her voice on anybody and she never quarrelled. She remained ever caring and peaceful throughout her life.