Looking back 54 years ago I can confirm that there have been a lot of drastic changes in almost all facets of life, for both the better and the worse of situations.
There have been worse changes in the behavioral patterns of children and their respect for the elderly; also worse is the rush of people to get rich by foul means.
There have also been significant increases in populations worldwide with attendant crime levels as well as significant improvements in the fields of science and technology.
This post is limited to life as I remember it some 54 years ago in my country Ghana.
I was motivated to write this piece when I had a conversation with Mr. Emmanuel Acheampong, a cousin of mine and a primary school mate, on the night of Saturday, 5th March, 2017.
We met once again after a separation of nearly 10 years and recalled some fond memories of our final year at the Middle School in the year 1963, and I have decided to recall more memories of the time to tell readers of this blog how life was some 54 years ago. I have interwoven the school life with the public life as I observed it by then.
I completed Form 4 at the Asuboi Local Authority Methodist Middle School, popularly known as L.A. in August, 1963, with Mr. Acheampong and 21 others including 3 girls. We were 23 pupils.
Asuboi lies on the Accra-Kumasi road, barely some 55 kilometres from Accra. It is a merging point for 2 rivers, Kua and Suhum.
Some of us are not living now, as I would hear at some long interval the death of one and have so far counted 5 dead, 8 alive and fate of 9 unknown, whether dead or alive.
Since we dispersed in 1963 I have never met some of my mates all these 54 years. That’s how life is; you get together at one time and disperse never to meet again in your life.
Fact was that being in Form 4 was no joke at all. You had to pass ‘’hall’’, as the final examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council for Middle school leavers was called. We had to attend extra classes after the normal and even had to go to classes on Saturdays when hall date was drawing near.
The Headteacher, who was our class teacher was called Mr. J.A. Mantey, whom we nicknamed ‘’etiriho’’ for liking a type of haircut called ‘’around the city.’’
YOUNGEST AT SCHOOL
I was among the 3 smallest boys in the class and the youngest at 15 years of age. During that period children were found qualified to begin school when they put their hands across their heads and the hand was able to touch their ears. I didn’t pass through that experience but started primary one when I was only 6 years old, and most children in the class were older than me. There were no Kindergartens or Preparatory schools by then.
RED AND BLUE BOOKS
The standard of education was very high. At Form 4 we were using the Blue Book as our class reading book. There was also the Red Book. These Red and Blue Books were compilations of stories from the Readers Digest published for use as reading books in schools. They had new words sections which grouped difficult and strange words for study before reading the chapters. Through this mode of learning we had a lot of vocabulary up our sleeves.
I kept my copy of the Blue Book long after leaving school but unfortunately I don’t remember when it disappeared from my small library of books.
THE ATOMIC BOMB SCARE
Here is a true story that put fear and panic into us in a period in or around the year 1962.
We heard at school that President General Charles de Gaulle of France was going to test an atomic bomb on the Sahara Desert which was true at the time. One of our class mates who heard a lot of news from town always briefed us about when the bomb was going to explode and the effect it would have on us.
He told us that the atomic bomb was a very lethal weapon and that if de Gaulle went ahead with the test all of us south of the Sahara were going to die by breathing poisoned air in a very short time. In fact one morning he came to tell us that by the next 3 days we would all be dead bodies.
It wasn’t easy and pleasant hearing this news. All of us were afraid. Oh! Who would tell de Gaulle to stop this wicked thing he was going to do?
It was harmattan period and the weather was very hazy every morning. We did not know whether de Gaulle had pulled the trigger to cause so much mist in the atmosphere. At a point we were all resigned to our fate; come what may.
But later the mist subsided and we lived on. In fact I don’t remember if the bomb really exploded. Can someone remind me?
6TH INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Ghana Independence Arch
The 6th Ghana independence anniversary celebration took place in 1963, and there was the usual march past by schools. The 3 schools that marched best were declared and L.A. was among the three. It wasn’t particularly different from the previous celebrations. That year we did not have any souvenirs from the government as we had in some of the previous years.
This year (2017) marks the 60th independence anniversary of Ghana. I wish all Ghanaians happy celebrations and a big change in attitude.
DR. KWAME NKRUMAH
Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Yeah, I remember the day we were made to line the main Nsawam to Suhum road as the President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, was coming to pass through Asuboi on his way to Suhum. We stood in the sun with miniature flags for two hours before the President came to pass and we waved our flags. He waved at us without stopping. He had no idea how long we had waited. His convoy was not very huge; I remember just about 3 or 4 cars.
After he passed we were asked to go home.
Bedford Truck (without the wooden body)
At that time people travelled in wooden trucks. There were very few buses.
The United Africa Company popularly known as the UAC imported and sold the chassis frame of trucks and the rich bought them. There were specialized body builders who built the wooden bodies on the chassis frames. Suhum in the eastern region of Ghana was the home of this business, though there were others in other towns including Kumasi.
The most popular truck at that time was the Bedford truck which was very solid and strong. Others were Opel, Austin and Morris.
There was an older version of the Bedford which was sparked with a special metal device by inserting the device into the ‘’nose’’ of the vehicle and winding it in exactly the same way the village corn mill was sparked.
An older model of the Bedford
INSCRIPTION ON VEHICLES
Though these passenger trucks had registration numbers, what made them more popular were the unique inscriptions on them. Some had the inscriptions on specially mounted boards at the front, others had theirs written behind them. It’s worthwhile to remember a few of these inscriptions:
Trust in God
Open Reproach is Better Than Secret Love
No Time to Die
Suffer to Gain
Remember Your Six Feet
God is in Control
There were various types of cars but the ones that delighted the rich included the Chevrolet, Pontiac and Jaguar. They were called aeroplane cars.
An aeroplane car
My father lived and worked at Accra so I travelled here quite often. The Kwame Nkrumah Interchange or Circle area was nothing but a swampy place with pools of stagnant water inhabited by frogs and toads which made a lot of noise in the night. The stagnant pools also had tall grass growing in them and also bred a lot of mosquitoes.
The Kwame Nkrumah Interchange, Accra
The Accra metropolis ended at Adabraka. When you crossed Adabraka, you entered a new zone altogether with a lot of neem trees and dotted with some few houses here and there.
We were under obligation to attend church service on Sundays. Ours was a mission school and church attendance was part of our education. Those who failed to attend church on Sundays had special punishment ranging from receiving strokes of cane or weeding of the school compound to bringing margarine tins of cracked palm kernel or bamboo trees to school to build or repair the school fence.
I was confirmed into the Methodist Church in 1963. That time due to my Christian upbringing I had to be confirmed as a full member of the Church. Sadly my life thereafter did not reflect much on the Christian ethics and beliefs we learnt at school. It looked like the confirmation was just some formality for me to complete school.
It was so with many others. Accepting Christ does not come from reading the Bible at a Bible class or learning Scriptures at school. It is a totally different experience based on faith and conviction.
I can say with untainted accuracy that we were the last generation of children that had respect for elderly people. We also respected out teachers and obeyed their commands without complaint.
In fact we were disciplined and our level of morality was high. I could only say this when I compare the past with the present deterioration of morality among the youth.
CALLIGRAPHY (WRITING COMPETITIONS)
At the middle school we had handwriting competitions. We had a special exercise book for writing and each time the pupil with the most beautiful handwriting would be announced by the teacher.
This in fact made each of us acquire very beautiful handwritings.
THE POST OFFICE
Around 1963, the Post Office was the centre of communication activities as well as a savings bank. One could not communicate with another in a distant town without going to the post office. The main activities as I saw it at the Asuboi post office were:
- Acceptance of money into a Savings Bank account.
- Transfer and payment of money through Postal and Money Orders.
- Posting and receiving of letters.
- Sending and receiving telegram which was the quickest and the most effective way of sending urgent messages.
- Parcel deliveries.
THE ROYAL MAIL TRUCK
This was a Morris truck that brought mails from Accra and took away those mails going elsewhere.
It was painted red and had the inscription GHANA MAIL which was hitherto known as ROYAL MAIL and pronounced ra-mei. If I was asked to name a machine apart from the clock itself, which had a motion that synchronized with time, I would point to the Royal Mail. People knew the time by its arrival. Anytime it reached Asuboi it was 11.30 am. It was never more than 5 minutes late or fast. I congratulate those workers posthumously for working strictly according to time.
LAST DAY AT THE FORM 4
The last day at Form 4 was a memorable one. It was a mixture of both happy and sad feelings. Some of the bigger boys went drinking, saying they had completed the first part of life and were going to face what the world had for them. It was really emotional. The happiness stemmed from the thought of leaving for good all those unpleasant moments in school life, like being disciplined always and working difficult maths every morning. Many of us feared maths the way I fear a snake.
Normally those who wanted to attend secondary school wrote the Common Entrance examination in Forms 2 and 3. When you reached Form 4 you had gone beyond the opportunity of attending Secondary school. In my case Form 4 pupils were allowed to write the Common Entrance examination in 1963 and that opportunity ushered me into the Odorgonno Secondary School at Accra that same year.
TRAVEL BY TRAIN
Travel by train
The railway system is one area which had the past better than the present. Though I am not doing comparisons I feel I must mention this particular area which has sadly deteriorated to an almost a non-existent railway system in Ghana.
In 1963 one could decide to travel by train from Accra to Kumasi or Takoradi for guaranteed safety. There were also travel options to choose from. For example, the night sleeper, the express and the normal passenger were all options one could decide to travel with. On the normal passenger train there were classes, like it was in the Titanic, the 1st Class, the 2nd class and the 3rd class, to suit all pockets. Now, even there are no rail lines on which coaches could run.
GHANA BROADCASTING CORPORATION
The GBC was the only broadcasting organization. There was no FM or other private or public stations.
It had 3 main channels, GBC 1, GBC 2 and the external service. There were rediffusion boxes at bus stops and other public places. Rediffusion boxes were radio transmission receivers which were available across the country.
When my father was away I would switch his radio to GBC 2 because I wanted to listen to music and when he was around he would switch to GBC 1 because he wanted to hear news and adult programs.
WHAT’S ON AT THE CINEMAS
This heading was what advertised names of movies that were to be shown daily in the Daily Graphic newspaper. The movie industry was monopolized by a businessman named K. Captan who owned cinema houses across the country.
Patronage for the movie industry was high as television was then coming into the system. A week-end without attendance at the movies made me fall sick.
Movies on show at the time were mostly Roman films, American Cowboy films and Indian films. With television when you watched a film alone at home it was less interesting than watching the same film with a group of people at a movie house.
I might not have remembered all the important details that might interest you but this is how far my memory can serve me now.
Looking back 54 years ago, I realize that by grace of the Almighty God I am growing older.