When Kofi Akpabli called to invite me to the book reading at the residence of the Colombian Ambassador, he made it come across as a very simple event. Come in there, listen to the reading, have a good laugh, meet some good people and possibly, get something good to eat. That’s how it sounded to me.
If you know Kofi very well, you would understand the modesty with which he communicated the invitation. After my past few experiences with book readings, I psyched myself for an evening of learning, laughter, and networking. The event did not only deliver on all these, it gave me- and I am sure all the other patrons- more than I expected in a book reading event. As Eli Khamarov puts it, “The best things in life are unexpected.”
When the Ambassador of Colombia to Ghana, Her Excellency Claudia Turbay Quintero, opened the reading, she said the initiative was to create a platform for cross-cultural learning and shared experiences through literature. Mad. Dzifa Abla Gomashie, Deputy Minister for Tourism, who again showed her support for creative writing by attending the event, remarked that the Colombian Embassy, through this initiative, is redefining diplomacy. The Pan African Writers Association and the Ghana Association of Writers deserve three cheers for partnering with the Embassy to do this.
The programme was well attended with foreigners and Ghanaians all coming to drink literary wine served from Kofi’s kegs. It attracted some notable persons in Ghana’s literary space. The ones I could make out were Prof. Atukwei Okai (Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers Association), Baffour Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng (President of the Ghana Association of Writers and Chairman of the National Media Commission), Doris Ansah, Peggy Ama Donkor, Apiorkor Ashong and Manasseh Azure Awuni.
Let me first talk about the choice of Kofi Akpabli as the author for the event. For an author who communicates the culture of Ghana through writing, he was the best choice. He carefully selected the pieces for the night and interspersed them with commentaries; the story behind each story or poem and the experience of writing it. He read so beautifully that he took us to different places in Ghana without moving us from our seats. It felt like we were dreaming with our eyes open. The author gave us a calculated dose of humour that did not take away the introspection that his writings always rouse. The readings also elicited an interesting and insightful conversation about how to promote the culture of Ghana.
Kofi started the night off with the poem, “Mathematical Massacre”, which united all the Mathematics haters in the room. The second reading, “The Miseducation of My Grandmother”, made us all fall in love with Yevakpor, Kofi’s grandmother. It made us also reflect on the effect of schooling on our lives. This line, “My grandmother might not understand today’s economics or its politics. However, seeing the failures and indiscretions in society, I believe she has lost faith in the number of times a fellow has gone to school,” is etched on my mind. Kofi started whetting our appetite for food when he read an account of how he requested for a dish of ampesi and kontomire stew on his trip to Bosumtwi. When he was done reading his award-winning article, “The Serious Business of Soup in Ghana”, we wished we were served soup rather than drinks at the event.
“Ghanaman and the Rastaman – A Hair Witness Account” made us take a second look at our prejudices about people who looked slightly different from us. Finally, came the piece entitled “Made in Nima”, Kofi’s latest work in an African anthology published by the Commonwealth Writers. Kofi painted a picture of this inner city slum in my mind that made me doubt that I have ever been to the place.
Apart from the opportunity this reading gave to promote Ghana to all the expatriates who were present, it achieved an even greater thing in the Ghanaians who were there. Kofi’s reading made us ask questions about how well we know our own country. His knowledge of the country and its people and how he relates with, and to, the various places he has been made us feel like strangers in our own country. It begged reactions about how we can promote the knowledge of Ghana among ourselves. I gleaned from the conversation that we need to adopt and develop a body of knowledge that addresses the deficit of the knowledge of Ghana by Ghanaians. This should be added to the school curriculum and it is a matter of policy.
While we push for the policy, parents and the media and each individual must also do their part. Parents must start socializing their children in ways that make them appreciate what is ours and desire for them. The media must also consciously develop an agenda to promote Ghana to Ghanaians. Then, we all must also do our part; love our country and be proud to tell our stories among ourselves.
If you ask me to describe Kofi’s reading on the night with one word, I would say “dazzling”. And all those who were at the event agree with me. Prof. Atukwei Okai described the award-winning journalist as a ‘philosophical essayist’. Another patron compared his style of writing to Russian writer, Alexander Pushkin. One other patron was impressed by the simplicity of his writing albeit its ability to make an impact. Her Excellency could not but also add to the praises for Kofi as she was impressed by his ability to make the places he describes real and tangible to the reader.
There are some events you attend because you were invited to them. There are other events, you enjoy attending them. But some events just swallow you up – heart and soul. The last description is what the literary café with Kofi Akpabli did to me. I have not stopped reflecting since it ended. The event confirmed the words of Edmund Burke, that: “To read without reflecting is like eating without digestion”. The reading did not only furnish our minds with materials of knowledge; it stirred them up. And my hope is that all of us who were blessed to be under the powerful reading ministration of Kofi Akpabli last Thursday will not only be hearers of the word but we will be doers as well. Let us travel, get to know all the interesting places in this country and let us share the stories of the places we visit and encourage others to follow suit. That’s the gospel according to Kofi Akpabli. For this is definitely one of the ways to make our nation great and strong. Incidentally, while he was serenading us, the Ghana Tourism Authority was awarding Kofi Travel Writer of the Year at Kempinsky Hotel. Someone had to take the award on his behalf.
The literary café is a monthly event organized by the Colombian Embassy in collaboration with the Pan African Writers Association and the Ghana Association of Writers. Keep looking out of notices and do not miss the next event.