At age 7 and with the dislike for school our hearts as kids were gladdened anytime our parents asked us not to go to school because there was nothing to eat and for that matter we should stay at home.
This continued for a number of weeks till we realised that there was food crisis. Without any responsibility of making sure food was provided, all we needed was to be provided 3 square meals. Finish!
The seriousness of this food crisis led many parents to withdraw their children from school (after all, my school was cyto and comprised mainly children of parents / guardians from the low income brackets residing in and around Anunmle, Kisseman, Christian Village, Achimota Village, Abofu, Alogboshie, Akweteman, Dome / Oko, Greenhill (GIMPA), Haatso / Papao and in some exceptional cases children from the University of Ghana, yes o.
My Dad was a casual worker at a hospital and Mum, a petty trader.
Then in 1983 hunger struck. A whole day could pass with only water to drink. I think the old familiar tune of joining queues to buy uncooked kenkey had been over-sung and I would not even want to repeat the chorus.
Fortunately nature had provided us mangoes and other green leafy vegetables which helped a great deal. The mangoes were never allowed to mature or ripen on their own. As soon as they gained some appreciable weight, there was competition or rather a scramble to harvest them, slice them into pieces and soak the slices into salt solution to make them edible. Believe me, I don’t remember any body at least those close to me complaining of stomach upset. God knew our problem!
My class in Primary 1 had a lot of empty chairs with only a handful of us still coming to school under duress. Many of my seniors later became my mates and in some instances, my juniors and in the worst case scenario, dropped out of school.
A ball of kenkey was shared among 4 persons whether one was an adult or a child and you needn’t be told to drink PLENTYYYY water after eating it with borkorborkor soup with long akwele waabi green pepper served as the fish and / or meat. The hotter the pepper the better it was for one as it provided the catalyst to drink more water to sustain one. No wonder 35 years on, I had developed a very bad or rather good habit of drinking water excessively. The gari from the market no matter how bad tasted just like NIDO!
Gari was nowhere to be found as the few sticks of cassava which survived the drought had only ‘cassava bread’ (diseased tubers of cassava likened to cushion which could soak water when cooked) beneath them.
One of my sisters, started going to Kantanmanto as a kaya yoo and anytime she got back from the market mostly in the night with an empty tray then we needn’t ask questions but to go to bed immediately with no hope of where the next meal was going to come from. On a good day she would have brought us adode (smoked oysters) and akpeniator (copra i.e. dry coconut).
I remember Putu, my brother and I used to go to a dump site of liquid waste from the processing of palm oil just to pick the remnants of palm kernel from the debris and crack to chew. I recall the day a friend to my father drove me away from the site because of potential health hazards but I hated him because he was preventing me from getting my daily bread!
It was not uncommon to hear about some people in the neighbourhood who sent their over-aged children for ‘weighing’ (post-natal care against mainly the 6 killer diseases) at the hospitals – at least it guaranteed being given some powdered milk, sugar, some grains of rice, tom brown, cheese, etc to take care of the children being nursed.
Korshi, my brother was fortunately or unfortunately born in 1983! Fortunately because it made my mum eligible for ‘weighing’ and the benefits that came with it! Unfortunately because the goodies were not meant for only him but his adult siblings and parents with sharp appetite hence he did get the full benefits of his ‘labour’.
One would have thought that couples would have taken a break from the Procreation Department of their unions but surprisingly they still had feelings!
I had observed at that stage that going to school became a matter of who has eaten just enough to survive and this included the Teachers. That notwithstanding the teachers were still committed to stand in front of the class to teach though spending about 95% of the teaching period yawning! Where dey food? hmmm. I am almost weeping writing this.
Being a school dropout was pardonable but my big brother who himself was in Middle School Form 4 would not pardon me for absenting myself from school whether I had eaten or not. Thank God he ensured that I never had any break in my academic life notwithstanding the challenges – this is where I have learnt never to give excuses.
A number of people in my neighbourhood suddenly became thieves and were caught stealing food items just to survive. This destroyed their reputation and some actually lost their lives after being lynched following mob actions.
I had a mate who after a very short illness was admitted to the hospital and when it was time for him to be discharged, the parents asked him to tell the doctor and nurses on duty that his condition was getting worse even though everything appeared fine. At least a continuous admission to the hospital would guarantee a constant supply of food from the hospital’s kitchen! Some discharged patients fought the doctors and nurses who discharged them and refused to go home. Whaaat! They believe they would die from hunger if they went home.
Left over food from in-patients of the hospital in which my Dad worked was like pizza to the tongue. Yes, sounds repugnant but we damned the potential health hazards and consequences. Indeed it was a privilege to have such remnants as it was only on a few days that he had the opportunity to get some because the appetite of in-patients was so sharp they consumed virtually everything they were served before thinking about leaving some for the poor souls at home waiting for their parents working at the hospitals.
‘Tipoon’ (pronounced ‘tea poon’) was the nickname of food remnants from the dining halls of Motown. To be able to get tipoon, one must be privileged to have a parent or relative working in the dining halls and some of my peers survived on tipoon. Massa, it became a matter of life and death o. It was about the most nutritionally balanced diet at the time as students of Achimota were too privileged and never really experienced the pangs of hunger putting them in a different world altogether.
‘Bela Boys Company (BBC)’ was formed with a mission to go on rat hunting expeditions. I was at a point made a Leader of the ‘Company’ but could not kill a single rat because I lacked the energy and dexterity to chase one. I recall the closest I came to was when a rat refused to run even when I attempted striking it dead – it was obvious the rat itself was dying of hunger and so just gave up for me to kill it and make a meal out of it so I can survive!
I lost so many of my mates to the Drop-Out category for really no fault of theirs. It is exactly 35 years ago. 1983 was better experienced than narrated.
If you have food to eat today and you were born after 1983, thank God your coming into this world was delayed!
1983 – Never Again. Greetings, J.J Lolins; you saved us! Hmmm!
And so what’s the meaning of all these – you really did yourself a favour by not reading this. Abi? Enjoy food while it lasts oo. 3kom y3 ya!
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