My father wrote his common Entrance in Apam. It was June 1963, and my dad… well, he had a mission.
His own illiterate father had told him to "sua adze ko dur adzesua n’ewiei” (learn until the end of learning), and so there was no way he was going to let the Common Entrance exam be the hurdle at which he fell. Not when he was planning to run the full marathon of academic excellence. So he studied and studied every day until the sun went down. Then he'd light a candle and study some more.
He practiced solving equations over and over until he could do them in his sleep. From then on, his only concern was how to solve them faster. His entire time and energy was dedicated to passing these exams. Nothing else mattered.
You see, the Common Entrance was the exam that determined whether a young student would go on or go home. It was the differentiator – the decider between those who would grow up to become providers for the entire family, and those who would become life-long dependants, travelling once every quarter to the city to "visit" their well-to-do cousins who did pass the common entrance. My father had no intention of scrounging on his smarter cousins for the rest of his life. No. He wanted to BE the smarter cousin.
The day before the exam, they were all told where to meet at 0530 in the morning to board a bus to the exam centre. My father lived a fair distance from the meeting point, so he resolved to wake up at the crack of dawn, get ready, and be there in good time. He was NOT going to miss that bus.
He went to bed early, but couldn’t sleep. A mixture of anxiety and excitement kept him awake far longer than he had intended, until at some indeterminate hour, while he was mentally converting some ratio into a fraction, he dozed off.
A far off noise woke him up with a start. He looked through the window and noticed to his horror how bright it was outside. It certainly looked like it was no longer dawn. With a yell of panic, my young father sprung out of bed, threw on his uniform, grabbed his pre-packed lunch of kenkey and fried fish, stuck a chewing stick in his mouth and legged it out of the house.
The route to the pick-up point took my thirteen-year-old father through a notorious cemetery called “Ka Ntsem Twamu” (say it fast and cross). Legend had it that it was the site of a particularly bloody battle during the tribal wars, and for many years after, one had to speak an oath before walking across those hallowed grounds. Of course, the oath only offered you a very brief, very temporary protection from the spirits that supposedly dwelled there, so you had to chant your oath quickly and hustle across the cemetery before its power wore off.
My father was in too much of a hurry to bother with oaths. He simply ploughed his way through the cemetery, hoping against forlorn hope that the bus would wait for him. He got to the pick-up point and it was deserted. No sign of the bus. My young father couldn’t believe it. How could he have missed the most important bus of his life? His entire future had left on that bus without him. He turned to walk away, and noticed the house across the street, where one of his mates lived. He decided to find out from his mates’ parents exactly how long ago the bus departed.
When he knocked, a panicked voice from within enquired in a harsh whisper: “Who is that out there?”
“It’s me, Kobina” he replied. I just wanted to know what time the bus left”
“What bus?” his friend’s mother asked incredulously. “Kobina Adoko, it’s three-thirty in the morning! Go back home and sleep!”
My father’s first reaction was confusion. Three-thirty? So why was it daylight? Then he looked up and realised it was a full moon, and the bright lunar illumination had created the illusion of early daylight. His next reaction was intense relief. He hadn’t missed the bus after all. His future was still very much intact. His third reaction was amusement. He chuckled to himself, thinking of how he had rushed out of the house and ran all the way through the cemetery…
His chewing stick fell from his fear-frozen lips. He had just gone through a cemetery at three-thirty in the morning! And he hadn’t spoken any oaths either. How on earth was he supposed to walk back through that horrific place and go back to bed?
I wonder what you would have done in his shoes…
My friends, I tell you this story because I want to share what I learnt from it. You see, when you have a goal, when you make that goal your absolute priority, when you pursue that goal with single-minded urgency, all the obstacles, all the impediments, all the difficulties at which you would normally pause, probably balk and most likely give up, all the cemeteries along your path fade into insignificance. All that matters is your goal, and no hurdle is too high to keep you from it. It’s only when you pause like Peter, and think to yourself, “Am I actually walking on water?”, that you start to sink.
Most of the obstacles to our success are in our own minds. Someone has told you that start-ups never succeed, so you have never started. Someone told you that nobody ever gets a job in that company unless they know someone on the board, so you never applied. Someone told you everybody fails that exam, so you never registered. Somebody told you that guy is so snobbish. He only likes fair girls. So you’ve never even said hello.
Somebody told you we will never beat corruption in Ghana. Not in our lifetimes. So you stopped fighting.
My people, the obstacles in our way are the ones we choose to see. If you think you can’t you’re right. But if you think you can, you might. Just grit your teeth, focus on the prize, and just Ka Ntsem Twamu. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve when you stop focusing on your fears.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I can’t afford to miss the bus, so I’m ploughing through my cemetery.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!
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