One of my favourite primary school teachers was Mrs Awuku. She was probably the kindest, warmest, most concerned teacher at University Primary School. She used to organise extra tutoring sessions in her garage at home, and all the kids in the neighbourhood would attend these classes to brush up on our maths and English. Sometimes, she would organise quizzes and spelling bees, with each one of us scrambling to come out on top and win the coveted prize of black-and-white toffees.
One afternoon, halfway through the class, Mrs Awuku suddenly got called away to attend to some urgent business. Now, she had announced earlier that we were going to have a spelling bee, and we had all been working ourselves up into a frenzy of anticipation over it.
One of the older kids, a boy named Nathan, who – it must be said – was far from the sharpest tool in the box, suddenly walked up to the front of the class and told Mrs Awuku to leave him in charge of the spelling bee. “I will give them plenty words to spell,” he confidently assured her.
Mrs Awuku smiled and asked in her throaty voice, “Ei Nathan! YOU will organise the spelling bee? Ok, spell “Present”.
Nathan cleared his throat, screwed up his face in concentration and started to spell: “P-R-E…” then he paused for a moment, and started snapping his fingers rapidly. “Zent! Zent! Zent kraa, wo spell no d3n?”
While the whole class burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter, Mrs Awuku patted young Nathan on the back, and said, “My boy, you can’t fill teacups from an empty kettle. Work hard on yourself so you can better help others”.
To this day, those words have remained with me.
“You can’t fill teacups from an empty kettle”. How true, yet, almost every day, we all try to do this. Every Ghanaian talks about their hatred of corruption. We express our disgust at how our leaders are robbing us blind. Rebranding buses, bribing MPs, building hotels, trafficking drugs, selling access to the President, taking kickbacks from contractors… we rage at them and demand accountability and honesty from them, but not once do we ask ourselves where on earth that honesty and accountability is meant to come from. Our leaders are chosen from amongst us, so if we ourselves are not filled with honesty and accountability, where will honest and accountable leaders come from? You can’t fill teacups from an empty kettle.
We despair at the youth of today. No morals whatsoever, no manners, no respect for the elderly, no regard for tradition and culture, no sense of consequences, amoral and lazy… if you listen to our lamentations about our youth, you would imagine the future of our species to be nothing short of apocalyptic. But where did these “baby terrorists” come from? Were they not sitting right there in the kitchen when you were gossiping viciously about your neighbour? Were they not right there on the sofa when you were insulting your spouse? Were they not sitting in the back seat when you were jumping the red light, driving on the hard shoulder and bribing the policeman who stopped you? Do you think they were born without a sense of consequence, or did they inherit it from you? You can’t fill teacups from an empty kettle.
My dear friend, today’s message is simple. Your society is a reflection of yourself. You can’t fix any of life’s problems without first fixing yourself. In aeroplanes, during the safety briefing, the captain informs all passengers that if the oxygen masks are deployed from the ceiling, adults MUST first put on their own masks before helping children with theirs.
First, fix yourself. THEN you can fix others. That’s the correct sequence by which we can save this nation. And we’d better do it fast, because corruption and violence and selfishness and in-fighting and incompetence and impunity are fast sucking the pressure out of our cabin. Let’s get our oxygen masks on NOW!
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I’m filling my kettle.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!