On writing hiatus and AIPS nomination

A shot with Akwasi Frimpong at the Jubilee House, where he'd gone to pay a courtesy call on President Nana Akufo Addo

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I cannot believe it's been a year.

12 whole months.

Yesterday, December 18, was the first anniversary of the last time I wrote an article.

Weird?

Of course it is. I am primarily a writer, and such acres of inactive time is quite frankly a felony in my world.

But hold on...I have a reason. Or more accurately, an excuse. Sigh.

This year, I took a decision to dip my toes into the waters of TV as a producer and presenter. It was a whole new world for me, and I took a while to adapt.

In fact, scratch that: I am still adapting.

This TV thing, man. It. Is. Not. Easy.

At all.

We're talking four, sometimes five nights a week of being out there, living your life infront of people, showing up with a smile no matter what you are going through, getting the show done no matter how your body feels. We're talking astronomical stress levels on the daily, accumulating overtime. It drains you to the point of depression and lethargy. I have struggled. I have complained. I have had second thoughts.

But, good news is, I have survived the first year at least. Yup!

Don't mind my whiny self. It has not been all doom and gloom. There have been many highs in what has been an intense learning curve. I have to be grateful for the value of growth it has brought to my life and my craft. I also have to recognize how blessed I am to have such an enviable and exciting job this early in my career.

Anyway, that was a digression. Now, back to the main story.

About three weeks ago, I found out that the article I refered to at the beginning of this article had been named as one of the Top 20 submissions in its category - "Writing - Best Colour Piece" - at the AIPS Sport Media Awards.

Link here: AIPS AWARDS TOP 20 - WRITING AND WEBLONG

The AIPS Sport Media Awards, organized by AIPS (the International Sports Press Association) and the Qatar Sports Press Committee, is a reicarnation of the Sport Media Pearl Awards, organized by AIPS and Abu Dhabi Media in 2015.

The Sport Media Pearl Awards may ring a bell for those who know my story: I won the "Writing - Best Column" Award there, in Abu Dhabi, on December 15, 2015. Here's a link to something I recently wrote in on Facebook remembeing the day.

I am not sure at this point if I will be in Lausanne for the AIPS Sport Media Awards in January - that will depend on whether I make top 3, and that remains in the hands of God - but I am humbled and thankful that my work has, again, been considered good enough at such an esteemed global level. It makes me feel that I am, afterall, headed in the right direction, which is a relieving reassurance at the end of what has been the most challenging year in my life.

The reason for this post is to tell the story of how I came to write the piece in question, titled: "Grand Ma Minka's boy: The Story of Akwasi Frimpong."

[And also to promise that I intend to return to writing in 2019 ;-) ]

So, here goes:

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In February 2017, my boss, Godfred Akoto Boafo, then Editor in Chief at Pulse Ghana and later editor of Business Insider Africa, called me to his desk in the newsroom.

“Fiifi, I just found out about this Ghanaian athlete who competes in winter sports. Isn’t that interesting?!”

I looked at him, surprised but impressed. Bewildered, too, more importantly, because I did not know much about winter sports.

“Look him up! Talk to him. I think we’ve got a great story here.”

I did look him up. I did talk to him too, albeit via Whatsapp texting. From our chat, I later published a short ‘Question and Answer’ article. It was in the wake of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and I was exhausted from the coverage, and so I admittedly did not treat the story with as much enthusiasm or detail.

Fast forward to February 2018, and the athlete in question, Akwasi Frimpong, became the first black African man in the history of the Winter Olympics to compete in the sport of skeleton. Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of him. The 32-year-old became a global superstar, appearing on almost every major global news platform, putting Ghana on the map with his rare achievement.

To see where this piece fits in, we’ll have to rewind back to July 2017, many months before the spot light was placed on him. Frimpong, still relatively unknown, had made a trip back to Ghana for the first time since he left in the early 1990s. Ahead of his trip, he got in touch with me, since I’d been one of the first journalists from Ghana to tell his story. And, when he touched down, I ended up spending time with him, observing as he went about his activities, and interviewing him at times too.

The next six months after his departure saw me researching and writing “Grand Ma Minka’s Boy: The Story of Akwasi Frimpong” – a long form piece chronicling Frimpong’s incredible journey to the top.

The project, which had the depth the first article lacked, was published in December 2017, two months before Frimpong’s years of hard work and persistence was rewarded with a place in the history books at Pyeongchang 2018.

 

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Here's also a link to a feature article about my journey so far on the AIPS Awards website: MEDIA TRIBUNE #2, FIIFI ANAMAN, FROM BLOGGER TO TV PRESENTER IN JUST SIX YEARS
 

When Sir Stanley Matthews came to Ghana

This image was sourced from the book 'A short history of Ghana football and the rise of the Black Stars', written by the late Ohene Djan
Below is an extract from the upcoming Autobiography of Charles Kumi 'C,K.' Gyamfi, published with permission. C.K Gyamfi, who died in September last year, was an accomplished footballer who captained Ghana's national team before going on to become the first African to play professionally in Germany. His record of three African Cup of Nations titles (1963, 1965 and 1982) as coach of Ghana makes him one of the most successful black coaches in football history. Below, he recalls when the great English footballer Sir Stanley Matthews visited Ghana, in 1957.
 
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When our club, Hearts of Oak, decided to invite the great Sir Stanley Matthews, everyone wondered how we were going to pull it off.  Sir Stanley, ‘The Magician’, one of his affectionate monikers, was by then the biggest footballer on the globe. The year before, he had been awarded the Balon d’Or, football’s biggest individual prize, when UEFA-based journalists voted him ahead of Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano.
Our coach Ken Harrison, himself also an Englishman, had handled the negotiations and correspondence with Sir Stanley’s camp. Then playing for Blackpool, Sir Stanley had expressed interest in touring Ghana and indeed had followed it up by giving his word that he would come, but where were we going to find the money to finance the operation? I must admit that most of us were doubtful about it happening.
It took an assurance from our chairman H.P Nyemetei, or Henry, as we simply used to call him, to give an assurance that the club could shoulder the financial burden of such a huge project. He announced that the superstar’s ticket and match fees had been guaranteed.
Sir Stanley’s arrival was accompanied by colourful fanfare. At the airport, soon after his BOAC Argonaut aircraft touched down, he heartily descended the gangway, wearing a sleek Blackpool Blazer and a grey flannel pair of trousers, soaking in the hot Ghanaian ambiance.
Sir Stanley descending from his plane on his arrival in Ghana [Daily Graphic]
He was met by a range of high profile dignitaries from our club and beyond – including a representative from the British Council and Kotoko’s President J.D Amoah. Players and fans of Hearts were also there to hijack the atmosphere with sprightly renditions of the club’s anthems. It was a proud moment for the Hearts fraternity.
From the airport, he was driven to the Accra Community Center, where a sort of welcome ceremony was scheduled to unfurl. The venue was full of colour and ardour, filled with tradition, and an addition of local and foreign pressmen.
The Sempe Mantse, Nii Tetteh Kpeshie II, on behalf of Hearts - of which he was Patron - enstooled him ‘Soccerhene’ (king of football). This was after a range of speeches by Henry, FA chief Richard Akwei, and Sports Council chairman Sir Leslie McCarthy.
Sir Stanley looked regal sitting in state. Fittingly, he was dressed up in full Ghanaian chieftain gear –  a kente cloth over a white jumper, while his famous feet, featuring distinct Ahenema (Native sandals), rested on a pair of footballs. He beamed with smiles and seemed fascinated by the warm hospitality and the resplendent cultural exhibition.
The Sempe Mantse then handed him an ivory sword as a “symbol of authority as soccerhene.” “I realize what it means to be given such an honour and I will strive always to live up to the best traditions,” he pledged to an outburst of applause.
Mr E.M.I Maclennan, the British High Commissioner, Mr Dennis Saunders, his host, and Ken Harrison, our coach – all Englishmen – made Sir Stanley feel at home.
Later the next day, he began what would be a running theme throughout his stay: calling on dignitaries, visiting places of interest, and participating in numerous sherry parties thrown in his honour.
Sir Stanley [R] at a gathering. On the extreme left is Hearts of Oak President Henry Plange 'H.P' Nyemetei, who masterminded the Englishman's visit [Daily Graphic]
***
All of us – the players at Hearts - were eager to experience Sir Stanley in the flesh. We were so curious, so pumped up. We wanted to see, to observe, to learn. As you can imagine, there was so much we could imbibe from a legend such as Sir Stanley. He was a model professional: he neither drank nor smoked, and he had an unflinching commitment to personal training, fitness and healthy dieting. No wonder he was considered the best player in the world at the age of 41. Even more admirable was the fact that he had never been sent off on the pitch his entire career. He was a class act.
We certainly anticipated being star-struck. Intimidated, even. But when, for some bizarre reason, he turned up at our first training session wearing a leather boot that was worn out and thus had a nail protruding out the base, we felt that the god was human after all. He was just like one of us. Well, not quite, but you get the point, don’t you?
We helped him get the boots ready by using a stone to hit the nail back in its place. He was very amicable and the whole experience helped us feel at ease, allowing the butterflies to settle. We started bonding with him from that amusing start.
His impression after our first training session was that our methods were wizened. He described our warm- up and jogging routine as “outmoded”, further teaching us what he was used to back in England. It was a priceless learning curve.
The first game scheduled on his tour bill was against our rivals Asante Kotoko on May 26. The press dubbed the game “Match of the Century” – in their eyes, the biggest football match ever to be played in the country. They certainly weren’t overglorifying.
By this time, the whole of Ghana was yearning to see the man nicknamed worldwide as the “Wizard of the Dribble” in action on Ghanaian soil. Many fans, about 20,000 of them, crammed the Accra Sports Stadium to be a part of this grand slam. A good number of dignitaries convoyed their way to the venue too: the likes of Prime Minister Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Head of State Sir Arku Korsah, some cabinet Ministers and the U.K. High Commissioner.
We had feverishly prepared to accommodate Sir Stanley in our team. We shifted our regular outside right, Ofei Dodoo, to inside right in order to create a space in our lineup for the Englishman to slot in. Also, we had worked on perfecting long, through passes from the back to the right wing, in an attempt to make sure we were in a position to adequately feed him with the ball. Our forward line, too – led by myself and featuring Dodoo and Agyiri Fynn – worked tirelessly on sharpening our shooting. We did not want to embarrass ourselves by squandering Sir Stanley’s anticipated servicing.
Like us, our opponents from Kumasi were equally anxious to learn from the legend. My former teammate and good friend James Adjaye, who in those days was the peerless master of dribbling in Ghana, remarked: “It’s a good feeling to know you are going to learn more dribbling.”
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[Daily Graphic]
For two minutes after the start of the game, Sir Stanley had not touched the ball. Because he was the center of attraction, the subject of traction, the anxiety to see the ball at his feet began to rise, filling the atmosphere with tension. The thousands gathered inside the stadium, their eyes fixated on him, couldn’t wait to see him do what he did best. They could not wait to see the burst of pace and the dribbling wizardry, the accurate passing and the immaculate crossing – attributes that they had seen at the cinema houses and were desperate to see in the flesh.
When the ball did find its way to him, his failure to trap it due to the uneven surface of the pitch meant the ball speedily rolled beneath his studs. It was an awkward moment, an anticlimax, but we knew better: that technical fault was due to the difficult terrain rather than a deficiency in skill on his part.
After that nervy start, he surveyed the pitch and became settled, finding his feet nicely. Soon, he began to exert his influence, sauntering his way about, flaunting his world-acclaimed skill-set, much to our entertainment and awe. The crowd loved it, meeting every touch of his with high pitched cheers.
The difference was clear, because the quality was there. Sir Stanley was a fine artist, emitting a rare majestic air that made the crowd stir. His ball instincts were distinct, his intelligence elegant. Watching him perform in a game situation was fusion of different feelings; on one hand you were a student at a football lecture, and on another, a first-hand witness of greatness. He controlled the ball with a serenity that allowed him to pass with very little faults. And those passes were well distilled too – some were simple, short and sharp, while others had a bit of distance, bearing a touch that was either vicious or visionary.
The common theme running through his control and distribution, though, was how he kept the ball on the turf. This, notably, was in sharp contrast to our footballers’ addiction having balls high and in flight. Sir Stanley was a staunch advocate of keeping the ball low and simple, and he believed it allowed us to keep the ball in possession. He led by example anytime he dropped deep to to pick up the ball, with the intention of starting an attacking build-up. His direction of affairs offered us a practical opportunity to learn on the job.
[Daily Graphic]
Of course, at times, he did not spare some harmless show-boating. He nutmegged some of his markers with baffling ease, dribbling past others with sudden feints that validated his appellation ‘Soccer Saint’; with swerves that hardly served the reality that he was a 42-year old.
Another thing that was fascinating about our guest was his calm nerves. He seemed to display an aversion for aggression. In a game that can get so hectic and electric, racy and pacy, mazy and crazy, his knack for conserving energy, for preserving a balanced synergy between his effort and fatigue, was amazing.
He avoided unnecessary physical duels and only run when he had to. His approach looked strategic, planned. You could see that every one of his moves was well- thought out, well-calculated. He barely extemporized, barely made impulsive decisions in the heat of the moment. There was no rush to his disposition at all. He looked like he knew what he was doing, exuding an entrancing aura of control.
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This is my Story: The Autobiography of C.K Gyamfi [with Fiifi Anaman] is published late 2016.

Nkrumah and the Nsoromma

Note:


The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book, published with permission.

Kwame Nkrumah [Far left] - Ghana's first indigenous leader, greeting his beloved Black Stars before a game. Players in the shot are [L-R] Captain E.J Aggrey-Fynn, Mohammed Salisu, C.A Odametey, E.O Oblitey and Addoquaye Laryea [Sourced from google images]

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It must have been sometime in 1964, if my memory serves me right. I, as national coach, and my boss, Ohene Djan, the Director of Sports, arrived at the Flagstaff House to honour an appointment with the President. When we got there, though, we were told, by his secretary, that Kwame Nkrumah was in a meeting. We had to wait.

While we were seated in the waiting area just outside of his office, we would see him occasionally file past us, flanked by some visitors, presumably because he was walking in and out of the meeting attending to other issues. Anytime he’d walk by, he would momentarily steal what looked like a deliberate, deadpanned glance at us.

A long hour and a half later, he returned to his office without any escorts, giving us the hint the meeting had ended. After being ushered in by his secretary, we found ourselves standing a few centimeters from his desk, staring at him as he busily scribbled in his diary.

We continued standing there, waiting for an order – or gesture – to enable us sit, but his head was so buried in his writing that he barely looked up at us. As his right hand danced with speed on the page, his face sporting the neurotic concentration of a sage, we stayed rooted to our spot, watching, the suspense unassuaged, anxiety throttling us.

Ten minutes later, after he had filled about two pages, we saw his head ascend slightly, his eyebrow rising concurrently. He stared back at us for a few seconds, as if lost in thoughts, then, afterwards, signaled us to have a seat.

When he spoke, his tone was stone cold. He conveyed a business-like mood too, his face still straight, missing his usual smile. Then, he showed us a graph with detailed records of our performances, pointing out with concern that we were on a downward curve. “Your standards are falling, you are losing matches,” he said, a statement shot through with crystal clarity.

Indeed, it was true. We had lost two consecutive matches and the public was on our necks, castigating us for allowing ourselves to surrender to a nose-dive in form. Football was serious business and we were the custodians of many emotional investments. At that point, we were seen to be mismanaging them. When we got the message that Nkrumah wanted to see us, we immediately knew that he was going to demand answers.

After those words, he went mute again, rebooting the prevalence of awkward silence, with all its asphyxiating mind games and psychological distress. Minutes later, though, he broke the quietude when he spoke to Djan: asking him to come to him if he needed extra funds to fix the situation.

Then, he turned to me. He took out a piece of paper and wrote down a number. “Call on me personally if you need anything you are not getting,” he said. “It means a lot to me that we’ve entrusted our football fortunes in your hands.”

He dismissed us soon afterwards. I had never been in such a tension packed meeting in my life.

***

C.K Gyamfi - during his time as captain of the Black Stars - being greeted by Kwame Nkrumah before a game [Sourced from google images]

You may have already discerned throughout my recollections that Nkrumah loved football and saw it as a major tool for his famous belief in Pan Africanism.

There is an endless list of exhibits.

Indeed, it was Nkrumah who brought about the West Africa Football Championship in 1959, donating a Gold Cup to be competed for. It was Nkrumah who set up the iconic Central Organization for Sport (C.O.S) in 1960 and put Djan in charge with the mission of accelerating the development of Ghanaian sports. It was Nkrumah who mooted the idea for the formation of Real Republikans – a controversial but effective club that proved critical to the success of the Black Stars in the 60s.
It was Nkrumah, who together with Djan, lobbied to bring the African Cup to Ghana in 1963, charging us to win it - which we did. It was Nkrumah who, again in 1963, bought and donated a trophy to be competed for by Africa’s champion league clubs – something that evolved into a competition you now know as the CAF Champions League. And, when FIFA’s white-dominated elite decided to pursue racist policies such as entertaining Apartheid South Africa and refusing Africa an independent World Cup slot, it was Nkrumah who was the most vocal of a legion of African leaders who criticized football’s governing body and sparked an African boycott of the 1966 World Cup.

But this is all just to give you a taste of how involved he was with football and what it meant to him and his cause.

The particular reason I recalled that meeting, though, was to show how deeply he valorized the Black Stars. I won’t exaggerate: he didn’t make it to all our games, but he attended whenever he could. As for meetings with him, they were fairly frequent. He did his best to familiarize himself with the team.

He kept close tabs on us, on our progress, and gave us a lot of push – in resources and in motivational words. He saw us as ambassadors for black potential, black power, black might. A major part of the reason why we attained prominence was because as patron, he gave the Djan-led C.O.S all the support needed to make us a football force. He backed Djan’s foresight-laden ideas: from the hiring of experienced professional coaches, to giving coaching scholarships to local footballers, through to inviting top European teams into the country for tours. He did so because he wanted the Black Stars to be world class. We used to say in those days: “As it is in Europe and South America, so shall it be in Ghana.”

So profound was his interest that when Real Madrid came to town in 1962, their captain Alfredo Di Stefano remarked that he knew of no other President in the world who took his national football team as serious.

I think the sense of nationalism and patriotism that his personality evinced robbed off the Stars through constant contact. His ace phrase, “Go and come back on the shield”, spoken to us before games, was a stimulant like no other. Whenever we went out to play matches, we played our hearts out, because we wanted to – as he always admonished us – “bring honour to Ghana.” The possibility of losing was so difficult to fathom because of the fear of betraying his peculiar belief and interest in us.


Ei, you want to lose a game? How would you face the Osagyefo? How would you explain?

***

There was one time, December 1965, when Kenya invited the Black Stars for a game. They wanted Africa’s most respected team in Nairobi for their second independence anniversary celebrations. It was clear that the Kenyans, whom we had played and beaten twice before, were being motivated by the prospect of gaining a reputation by causing a sensation.

We had nothing to gain by playing them, but, due to the premium Nkrumah placed on African sister-nation relations, we honoured their invitation. Besides, for Nkrumah, an avid campaigner of Black liberation, the sound of independence was always music to his ears, and so there was no hesitation on his part in flying us out to go grace the occasion.

We were fresh from being crowned African champions for a second time and so were in the form of our lives. We ended up shredding the Kenyans into pieces.

We beat them 13-2.

Nkrumah got in touch with us after the game and to our surprise, wasn’t amused by our show of class. “I did not send you to go murder them. It’s a celebration. Go easy on them, give them a fair chance.”

We adhered to this brief from our Commander in Chief. Two days later, we met the Kenyans in the second leg and allowed them some happiness, drawing 3-3.

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'THIS IS MY STORY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF C.K GYAMFI' (with Fiifi Anaman) is published late 2016.

More information on the book here: http://www.etalapan.com/on-ck-gyamfi-rare-honour/


Book Review: Heysel - The truth

Francesco Caremani (R) after handing me a copy of his book

Before I met Francesco Caremani, I already knew that he brimmed with humanity.

The Italian journalist had sent me a Facebook request, accompanied by a warm message on my wall, upon learning that we had both been named finalists in the same category at the inaugural Sport Media Pearl Awards. Later, as I gradually became Facebook friends with most of the actors who were to play a role at the awards, I discovered that Mr Caremani had been to almost all of their walls to drop messages of gratitude for their acceptance. ‘See you in Abu Dhabi,’ he’d added to the messages, always signing off with a happy-faced smiley. It wasn’t much to go on, admittedly, but I cannot deny that he immediately struck me as someone who cares about people.

I met the man at the vast lobby of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel, on the second day of the awards programme, just before an Abu Dhabi City tour planned for all finalists. He was all smiles and good wishes, emitting an aura of positivity that was contagious. Later, he engaged me in a conversation about how passionate he is about his club, Juventus, and how proud he thought I must feel as a Ghanaian regarding the impact Kwadwo Asamoah has had at the club.

The next day, Mr Caremani surprised me at a conference organized on sport journalism. He approached me, reached into his bag and pulled out a book. He smiled at me as he handed it over. “This is my present to you as a fellow finalist,” he said. “I learnt I’m the oldest finalist in our category and I feel a responsibility as a big brother be good to you and Johannes (Johannes Nedo from Germany). Have it, please. It is a new edition of book I wrote about my club. I hope you like it and at least will give you something to remember me by.”

L-R: Anaman, CaremanI and Nedo - the three nominees for 'Writing - Best Column' at the 2015 Sport Media Pearl Awards in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E

I was taken aback. Touched? Absolutely, I was – but I also felt a sudden rush of guilt. I hadn’t thought of bringing anyone any presents – it had barely crossed my mind. And I felt bad. I apologized that I couldn’t return his gesture. “Don’t worry at all,” he said. “Occasions like this is about friendship and celebration, and so it’s the least I could do. I’m glad to have met you and everyone. I wish you the very best at the awards tonight too, whatever happens. We are all winners.”

The book, titled Heysel: The True Story, puts under the microscope, the infamous disorder that burst to life among spectators just before the 1985 European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. Indeed, what happened that day, 31 years ago - the 29th of May, 1985 – was a tragic blot on the integrity of the sport, a mad, bad and sad sequence that proved ultimately fatal, terminating the innocent lives of people whose only crime had been to love the sport so much as to turn up in a stadium to cheer their beloved club on. “What happened was avoidable. It could have been avoided. It should have been avoided,” Mr Caremani’s colleague, Roberto Beccantini, writes aptly in the foreword.

As a Liverpool fan, I was fairly familiar with the dark events of Heysel, just as I was acquainted with that of Hillsborough which occurred four years afterwards, but I admit that unlike Hillsborough (which is understandably always viewed from Liverpool's perspective due to the 96 victims being fans of the club), Heysel was always bit of a haze for me. Perhaps my knowledge of that tragic event was vague because its devastating effects swayed more towards Juve than Liverpool. And so it was an opportunity for me to learn. And boy, did I learn - and more.

What makes the book so rich in content is not only the enormity of the research and insight that under-girds the story, or the way Mr Caremani’s humanity is embedded in every opinion expressed, but also how he tells the tale with a sense of genuine care that can only come from someone who has a first-hand association with the tragedy. Among the people who lost their lives that day, two of them – Robert Lorrentini and Giuseppina Conti – were natives of Arezzo, the town where Mr Caremani was born and bred. The misfortune was close. And it was felt.

Indeed, Roberto was a close associate of Mr Caremani. He was a loved one, a friend of his family.
But for the unusual luck of a failed school exam (and his parents grounding him for it), Mr Caremani - then still a teenager madly in love with Juventus– admits that he would have been in Brussels that night. Unfortunately, Roberto managed to make the trip – and it eventually turned out to be the proverbial ‘journey of no return’ for a 30-year-old man who had his whole life ahead of him, one who had to leave behind a wife (Arianna), two sons (Andrea and Stefano) and a loving father (Otello Lorrentini, who later later founded and spearheaded the Association for the families of Brussels victims).

Otello Lorrentini plays a huge role in the book: his accounts, materials and activism guides its narrative, and as Beccantini writes, he serves as "a sort of Virgil who accompanied the author into the underworld both during and after the tragedy." Mr Caremani's gratitude and admiration of Otello is visible throughout the book. The author is inspired that a man can overcome and transcend his own colloquial pain to devote his life to seeking justice and meaning to the lives of others. "This is my life," the late Otello told the author. Mr Caremani is also awed that Otello managed to "raise his two grandchildren (Stefano and Andrea) with heart and soccer - nothing special for many of us, but extraordinary for someone who lost his only child on a stadium terrace."

Mr Caremani, who received the news of Roberto’s death with tears and fears the morning after, says a part of him died with his friend, and it sparked a lot of emotion that has endured till today. "The funeral service was attended by the entire city of Arezzo," he remembers. "The sorrow disfigured people's faces."

Along with 38 other people, Roberto was cruelly slaughtered at the altar of football. Together, they all paid a heavy price for their passion at the dreaded Block Z area at Heysel – and even more unfortunate was the fact that their lives were made to seem insignificant in the aftermath of the game, as many Juventini insensitively celebrated a subsequent win made possible by a penalty converted by the great French play-maker Michel Platini, an act Mr Caremani equated to "virtually stepping over the bodies" of the people who had died at the game. Mr Caremani agrees that it was "essential" that the match was played to avoid further carnage, but argues that cheering was wrong on the back of what happened. To him, the victory was meaningless, the celebrations shameful. He wants the victory erased from the records of the Bianconeri and the cup returned back to UEFA. He detests the mocking of the dead, the celebration of the win, and the trivialization of the tragedy. His stance is non-negotiable, exposing an essential truth: life is larger than football, and it can never be vice versa. Human life can and should never be sacrificed in the name of the sport.

Mr Caremani exhaustively investigates the saga through interviews exploring harrowing personal accounts, analysis examining public accounts, as well as a chronicling of the inquiry process, the legal actions, the punishments, and the wide spectrum of events that characterized the ensuing years in the tragedy’s wake. And this is done with a tone that takes no prisoners with the truth, a voice that fails corruption and hails morality. The probe is deep and honest, without pretence and without partisan protection. What Mr Caremani has managed is the creation of an easily accessible one-stop library of information on the tragedy; and as a Ghanaian, this feat made me embarrassed about the absence of a similar piece of work for our own tragedy: the May 9, 2001 disaster at the Accra Sports Stadium which saw 127 people perishing in the wake of crowd commotion and police irresponsibility, during a clash between arch rivals Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko, Ghana's two biggest clubs.

The book is sprawled out upon a difficult canvas. The details are cold, requiring a bold person to get the story told, and Mr Caremani lives up to this billing with bravery, achieving a touching ode to the victims of Heysel. It is an emotional, engrossing read, one that highlights the futility of valuing football ahead of human life, one that expresses a relentless search for justice, responsibility and due procedure within a global sport that is supposed to be a force of happiness and hope and not of doom and gloom. There are lessons, reflections and realizations, through the pain of people slain and through the mistakes of stakeholders. The predominant hope that courses through the narrative is simple: never again.

There is a beautiful paradox at the end: the book manages to zoom in on the events of Heysel, but in the process, it also simultaneously manages to zoom out on the same subject to reveal a bigger picture: the fundamental sacrosanctity of humanity.

"That is why this book has its purpose, as memory confers dignity on the grief, whereas oblivion destroys and rage shrivels it and what is around it. I do understand that the Heysel disaster (over 30 years on) is now far from people's hearts and minds, but such dramatic events should never be forgotten, as behind every drama there is a real person who deserves to be respected for having been alive, a human being with loved ones, with dreams and with hopes, who walked the earth." --- Francesco Caremani

CLICK HERE TO GET THE BOOK ON AMAZON


On CK Gyamfi: A rare honour


My
first meeting with Charles Kumi 'C.K' Gyamfi occurred under curious circumstances in November
2009.
I had entered Achimota School a year
earlier as a lush green 14 year old, naïve and diminutive, who was still very much obsessed with football - a game I fell in love with during the 2002 World Cup.
It was within the calm, shady expanse
of Achimota that I developed an aspiration to become a football coach. My life
up till then had been dominated by a wide range of dream occupations. I had
once wanted to become an action movie star, as crazy as that sounds, harbouring wild hopes of getting to emulate all my heroes; from Bruce Lee to
Jet Li, from Jackie Chan to Chuck Norris, from David Hasselhof to Wesley
Snipes. Later, I ditched it when I discovered that I loved writing.
I started writing from around age 10,
amid the playful distractions of primary school. My infantile, fantasy-themed
writing explored mostly subjects that I saw in blockbuster movies: Kung-fu, rattling machine guns, kidnapping, revenge, the underdog stories, and of course, the raging feuds between the good guy and the bad guy. I remember just how happy all that deliberately constructed chaos made me, and how I yearned to create such worlds through words. My dream, therefore, was
to become a prolific author of fiction, and so I churned out story after story
with boundless enthusiasm.
Later, after my heart sealed its vows
with the beautiful game, I dreamt of becoming a footballer. I would spend days
on end playing, practicing. But, by the time I entered Achimota, I had somehow become
disillusioned with the idea of becoming a footballer. I don’t remember exactly
why that was, but I remember starting to drift away from active play, suffering
an inevitable consequence of piling on weight.
A decisive moment at Achimota came during a cold,
quiet January night in the course a prep
session in my classroom. My mates were busy studying, their heads buried
in their books - as it was supposed to be. But I, on the other hand, was seated behind my desk, absentminded, my mind’s stubborn excursion into
the realm of dreams refusing to be disturbed by the croaking crickets.
While everyone else was racking their
brains around figuring out math equations, I was way detached, off curriculum, stacking my brain with wishful
thinking, all in a bid to figure out one thing: what I wanted to be in the
future. 
Then it happened. An epic epiphany. I wanted
to become a football coach. The whole idea of influencing the game through defined ideas
and strategies excited me. I had read about the game’s most successful coaches, most especially the Dutch master Rinus Michels, who managed the Netherlands national team in the early 70s and the late 80s, reaching the World Cup final in 1974 and winning the European Championship in 1988, achieving all that with a groundbreaking invention called total
football
– a philosophy that changed the face of the sport. I was intrigued. I wanted in.
That same night, I drew up a list of my
life’s goals in a small notepad which I have kept till date. Among other
ambitious bullets, I wrote that I wanted to become one of the most successful,
most celebrated coaches in history. It was an exciting dream because I found
that there had not been a single black man mentioned in the same breath as the great
tacticians in the game’s history. I was baffled by it all. Why weren’t black
people cutting it in coaching? I dreamt of changing that.
My Dad, Kwaw Anaman, who was just about
the only person in the world who didn’t see my dream as laughable gibberish,
told me that he wanted to take me go see a man called C.K Gyamfi. “I attended
school with one of his eldest sons and I’ve gone to see him before,” my Dad
assured me. “I’m sure he would tell you a whole lot about coaching.”
I had, of course, heard of CK Gyamfi
several times, though I had never paid particular attention. He was embedded in my subconscious, mainly because there was no conversation about Ghana's football history without his name popping up at a point, but I never was privy to the full extent of his achievements. I had heard him mentioned within a context of reverence, of deep respect, as one of the immortal legends of Ghana's over 100-year-old relationship with the sport, but little did I know that he had been one of the most successful personalities Ghana has ever produced.

I was in a phase in my life where I'd developed a frenzied addiction to curiosity, and so I did not waste time in commencing a hunt for information on him. The more material I devoured, the more I became excited by his career and achievements. C.K Gyamfi had been an accomplished footballer who had played for and excelled for both Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak - Ghana's biggest clubs and two of Africa's elite - which is a rare feat. In the 1950s, eventful years when Ghana was still known as the Gold Coast and football was played barefoot, C.K Gyamfi strove to play in boots, and was instrumental in the country's adoption of the boots culture. In 1951, he had been the young star of the national team, the Gold Coast XI, when they toured the United Kingdom playing barefoot and selling Ghana's widely hailed natural football talent through a series of trial matches. Two years later, he had become 'Sports Man of the Year', and seven years after that, the first African player to play professionally in Germany when he signed for Fortuna Dusseldorf. As if the feats chalked as a player weren't enough, he went on to become equally as successful as a coach, winning three of the four African Cup titles Ghana has won as a nation, an accomplishment that made him one of the most successful coaches in African football history. Here was a man of abundant substance and decoration, oozing inspiration.

During my second year at Achimota, just before the midterm break of the
first term, my father decided to take me to our
hometown of Winneba for the first time since the early years of my life. I was
beyond elated – but I would be even more elated when he told me we’d pass by C.K
Gyamfi’s house at Kaneshie on our return.
And so it happened. When midterm
arrived, my Dad turned up to whisk me away from my hall of residence at
Achimota, a building coincidentally named ‘Gyamfi House’ (though not in any way
related to C.K Gyamfi). After a brief stop at my Aunt’s at Achimota Mile 7, we
set off for Winneba.
In Winneba, my Dad took me to the
National Sports College, where we did a few inquiries and spoke to some people
about life there and the prospects. The idea, my father told me, was to equip
me with enough knowledge and present me with viable options just in case my
dream of becoming a coach was still alive by the time I was due to enter University three years later. That same Sports College, I learnt in the course of my
visit, was named after none other than the great C.K Gyamfi.
***
We
passed by C.K Gyamfi's tidily kept Kaneshie-Swan Lake residence on our return
from Winneba. I remember that meeting so well. We sat with him on his porch,
where I remember being awed by a painting of a football pitch on the terrazzo floor
– a beautiful artistic piece that sadly perished when the porch was tiled some
years later during a renovation.
I remember him, in his peculiarly energetic old age, sporting a vintage hat, holding on to a stylish walking stick. He was a few months
short of turning 80 but he looked so full of life, so ebullient
in his outlook. I had been very nervous prior to meeting him, but his demeanor
proved more calming than intimidating. He was generous, and so our chat wasn’t
onerous.  He spoke to us as if he’d known
us all his life. I sat entranced by his stories, by his contagious love for
football conveyed in his passionate tone, by the depth of his knowledge.
With an exercise book and pen in hand, and
my father looking on, I wrote with voracious interest as the old man spoke. He spoke of his trade secrets as a coach: about how he got his players’ trust, how he got his players to work for him
and for the team, how he believed that the secret to successful coaching was a
healthy relationship with the players. “Be a friend to them,” he kept insisting. I
felt it was profound how he emphasized that bit of building solid relationships
with players, because I had been expecting a long, tedious lecture wading into
the sometimes superficial world of tactics. I got the sense that he essentially
thought creating that link with players was the foundation – and it had to
be done right to be able to hold the subsequent layers of tactical dynamics.
Before we left, C.K, by this time so
evidently engrossed in the interaction, told us that a book containing his memoirs was under
production, and that he hoped it would hit commercial shelves by the end of 2009. It was
such a refreshing thing to hear. I couldn’t wait to learn more about him, about
his story, about the way he thought.
When we left the compound, I felt like
the luckiest boy on earth. To have gotten to spend a
significant amount of time in the presence of such a monolithic monument was an opportunity so rare, and I
honestly thought it was going to be a one-off experience that I would cherish for the rest
of my life; one that, in the future, I would wax lyrical about to my children on a loop.
But little did I know that fate would bring
us together again.
***
I never met or spoke to C.K Gyamfi for four whole years after that meeting. The intervening years saw me lost in the lightning flight of time, events as blur as cars speeding past on a high way, but it saw me go through a lot of growth and changes. 
My dream of becoming a coach had
fizzled out over the years, and had been permanently replaced by an aspiration
to become a football writer. I had started to write about football during the
short break between Senior High School and University, a time I spent consuming
a lot of knowledge on my brother’s laptop amid the bliss of newly-acquired wifi
at home in Kumasi.
Football writing had basically been
born out of an experimental decision to merge writing and football, two things that represented what people around me claimed was my talent (the former) and what I was passionate about (the latter).
Months down the line, I had graduated
from being a modest blogger to being a professional writer.
The next time I saw C.K Gyamfi, July 2013, I had just completed my first year at the University of Ghana, along with being a freelance writer. This time, I had gone alone. This time, I had not gone as an early teen looking for coaching pointers, but a fledgling writer looking to interview him and tell his amazing story through a write-up. My idea of visiting, in fact, had been to have a conversation about the 1960s – a golden era in Ghana's football history; an era I had grown so fond of with every piece of
information I unearthed.
In the course of our conversation, I
asked to record him, and he was most gracious to allow me tap into his
vast reservoir of footballing knowledge. I was so excited by the amount of
information I was able to extract from him that I suggested helping him
write his story in full.
“Oh don’t worry about that,” he politely
declined. “My memoirs are still in the works and I’m told it will be out by the
end of this year.”

I found it odd that his book had still not come out, four years since he'd raved about its imminent release, but that nonetheless, that piece of new information rekindled my excitement about getting to read about him.

I left his house feeling so fulfilled.
I held on to my nokia phone – which I had used to record him – like it was the Holy
Grail while I was in a commercial mini-bus, a trotro, headed home. I remember alighting at the Accra Mall bus stop, in the middle of the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange, and placing a call to my boss, Kent Mensah, editor of
Goal.com – where I was freelancing at the time. “Boss! You cannot believe this!
I got an interview with C.K Gyamfi!”
Kent was so excited. He congratulated
me and said he trusted that I’d take my time to write it the best way I could.
I told him I’d send the piece as soon as I was done. Later that night, and in
the subsequent days, I sat down to listen to a playback of my recordings, and
ended up writing and filing an over 2,500-word profile of him.
The piece did better than I had
expected. Many people sent me facebook messages complimenting the
interview, and that felt really encouraging. Among these messages, though,
were two distinct ones from two men whose surnames were ‘Gyamfi’. The first was
from Edwin Gyamfi, the second from Duke Gyamfi - both of whom, I later learnt, were sons of C.K Gyamfi.

Both were messages about how
they were glad that I had done their Dad proud with how I wrote the piece,
about how it was 'the best interview about our Dad that we've read'. For me, that
was the ultimate compliment, a moment of fulfillment.

Later, Edwin kept in touch and, when he
came to Ghana on holiday sometime in March 2014, asked me to meet him for a
chat.
Our rendezvous, the Papaye (fast food chain) branch at the ever-nocturnal Osu, was emptying when Edwin walked in late in the night and introduced
himself. We went upstairs and had a sprightly conversation about my career and
how I met his Dad. He said he’d expected me to be a much more older guy, and
that he was surprised that I wrote with what he described as a 'matured sense of delivery'. 

In the middle of our chat, he
mentioned his father’s memoirs, and I immediately made him know that I was
aware of it being in the works, though I found it a bit odd that it was still
not out five years after I’d been told it was coming out 'soon'. I still really looked forward to it, I told him.

Edwin then sounded out a suggestion; a request, if you will, that would stun me. “My brothers and I would love for you to have a look at our dad's original
writings and see if you can turn it into a book.” 
At that moment, I remember
thinking: “Wow, this isn’t happening!”
I knew how much of a big deal it was. I was being asked to author the autobiography of someone who'd come to assume heroic status in my life, and I was being asked to do so just two years into my career as a sports writer. I'd been lucky to have experienced many milestones unusual for my level of experience: having gotten to do work for global media giants such as SuperSport, ESPN, Telegraph and Goal, all on the back of me - an untrained (formally, at least) journalist thriving on passion and hunger - being barely two years old in my field. Weirdly, all of these rare, surreal opportunities had largely found their way to me, blindsiding me as they came along, and I always thought about them being as frightening as they were exciting; but perhaps their most important quality, for me, was their challenging nature. They carried an intimidating weight of responsibility -  a responsibility to exhaust my reserves of hard work and ambition to prove worthy of such early career blessings. To date, getting asked to ghostwrite the autobiography of someone who many consider as the most influential figure in Ghanaian football history represented the biggest challenge yet.

During that moment when Edwin offered me the opportunity, it also dawned on me how poetic it all seemed: the project that I’d been so eager to
read chose to find its way to me – not as its reader, but as its writer.

***
It
took many more months before things properly kicked off. That was when Edwin's younger brother, Duke, came down to town from his Canada base. I first met Duke at his Dad’s at Kaneshie-Swanlake. Like Edwin, Duke also had that
look of bewilderment when I introduced myself as ‘Fiifi Anaman.’ “What?! How old are
you?!” he joked, both of us breaking into laughter. We had an even heartier
laugh when he offered me a beer and I told him I did not drink.
Duke’s visit was basically about
updating me on status of the book: how C.K Gyamfi started it, when it was
started, the state it was in at that moment, and how he - representing his
brothers – wanted things to be going forward. He then formally presented me to his Dad as the writer who was going to work on his memoirs. Because C.K Gyamfi, or 'Nana', as I affectionately called him, knew me already, he readily accepted me and pledged to give me all I needed to make his project a success.
It was not until a March 2015 that I
received Nana's original scribblings: a close to 57,000 word account of his
professional experiences up until 1982. It was a gold mine, especially
given the fact that it was at a point where his memory was fast fading. He
could only remember selectively, or after long talk aided by pictures or texts.
Sometimes, I could see physical pain on his face anytime he tried to remember
certain things that happened in his event-laden life.
My original job, as prescribed by the
legitimate instruction of my contractors, Nana's sons, was to put some flesh on
his blueprint of recollections, while delivering it in my own writing style.
Along the line, when the project’s
variables became more visible and an understanding of it became bolder, that
role gradually evolved. It became more complex: about leading the
production and artistic direction of a coherent story by using all available sources of
information - the most basic of which was the original writing. This meant that
I was to write the entire project from the ground up by conferring with the
information sources. In this regard, I was to determine how the story was to be
told, which topics to accentuate and which ones to tone down on, how the
narrative would flow, the chapter names, themes and scopes, the tempo of the
plot, possible asides to construct from my conversations with him, and many
other artistic factors. It was, admittedly, a mountainous task. An intimidating
one, too. It filled me with trepidation many times, because I'd been thrown in at the deep end, and my only snorkel was my talent.
There was a haunting fear of a
screw-up, an anxiety to do the subject the justice that it deserved, and this
influenced the whole process. It was a slow, conscientious one, involving a lot
of brain work and an obsessive attention even to the most irrelevant of details. I wanted to justify the honour bestowed on me, to step
up to the plate, by bringing something refreshing to Nana’s story. 

During the
time of writing I had stepped aside from my mainstream job, mainly because of school, and so had a lot of free time to read up
on a lot of art’s great minds – across writing, painting, music and film. What I
discovered of each master, was an ambition to be different, to translate influence to innovation, and to stay true to an
original feeling, an original goal. It resonated with my innate leanings. I had
been given a lot of freedom by Duke and Edwin with regards to style, so I planned to make this
empowering license worthwhile. And so,
rather than just being guided by the story, allowing style to be bullied by the
facts of the narrative, I decided to respond to my craving to be artsy by
constructing the story accordingly. Certain parts of the story feature puns and
alliterations and rhymes and many other literary instruments – some subtle,
others bold, all in an attempt to tighten the story being told. 

***
The
other sources of information aside the original writing were many. For
instance, in an attempt to fill in gaps, trying to bridge storylines and trying
to correct chronologies and factual errors appearing in his writing, I had to commit to painstaking
research. The research part, though heavily stressful, came easily to me, thankfully,
as I had been spending a lot of time at the Archives section at the offices of The Daily
Graphic since November 2014. I’d been going there to mine information on Ghanaian football during the 50s and 60s – an era that basically
had Nana in the mix of everything. This thankfully meant that I was well equipped with a
great deal of knowledge about him and about that era – which was so critical in
his story. This put me in a position to summon enough confidence to tackle the
project.
I continued visiting The Archives, but
this time, went there with a particular target to dig up information related to Nana. The commercial transport route I would use – starting from Mile 7, passing through Lapaz and Kaneshie before the destination at Graphic Road - would see my trotro pass right in front of Nana's house anytime I
went to do research. 

I remember staring at the house each time my trotro drove by, wondering what he
was up to. I would imagine the common sight: him seated in his specially designed chair
in his living room, his walking stick resting on his wizened legs, gazing
into his large, flat screen TV - which would either be showing cartoons, or
wrestling, or even the popular telenovela La
Gata - 
with a quietude that felt so therapeutic, especially given the air of
innocence that graced his face.

Sometimes, after each session, I would
pass by his place to have a chat and show him some of the images I took from
certain old newspapers. I remember how excited he was anytime he’d take my iPad
and glance through the images, nodding, smiling. Such moments, when the calm,
frail old age of his present became immersed in his youthful, glorious past,
were so beautiful.
Part of my process of exploring other
sources involved a series of interactions and transactions with Mr Harold
Akwetey Quartey, the nephew of Nana's second wife, Mrs Valerie Quartey. Mr
Quartey was of immense help. He had known Nana since the late 90s and had been very
close to him, almost like his right hand man, and had started to help the old
man with his book along the line. In the process, he had rewritten parts of Nana's original writing, stocked with additional information and research. When I was brought on
board to ghostwrite the project, he was kind enough to lend me his files to
scan through to use information that had not appeared in the original. I often
visited Mr Quartey at his office at Kokomlemle, and
sat across his book-filled desk to have chats about Nana and about certain portions
of the story where I needed clarification (he was in a position to say a lot as
he’d had infinite conversations with CK over the years, especially during times
when he could remember every detail of what he wrote originally and could give
additional perspectives). Our conversations were always so substance-filled and
helpful, just as much as his writing was.
Also, I figured I had to talk to the people close
to Nana, the people who knew him, to get information that could help building
his story. The principal source in this regard was the legendary Ghana defender
Dogo Moro, who played with and under Nana as part of the Black Stars from 1958 to
1963. I had struck a friendship with Alhaji, as I call him, when I first
visited him as part of research for a project I had started in 2014.
Alhaji gave invaluable insights into CK’s character and personality anytime I
paid him a visit at his Kenyase home during my Kumasi trips. Sometimes, when in
Accra and when distance did not allow physical meetings, I had long, rich
conversations with him on the phone.
***
The
strategy I adopted from scratch was to visit Nana as much as my time would
allow, to have conversations with him with the hope of salvaging whatever
memories he still had in connection with any part of his text. Luckily, it was always an exciting process, because Nana was always
very hospitable and eager to converse. 

Most of our conversations were not on
record, as he struggled to talk with the coherence and flow he would have had
no problem producing if he was younger and with a good memory. I talked with
him about many things and made notes of what he said – which I would later
construct texts out of, for incorporation into the story.

In all of this, the underlying aim was
about getting to know him, about becoming deeply acquainted to the workings of
his his thought process, his emotions, his demeanor and all the other
idiosyncrasies of his personality. This was important because I was basically
going to be him anytime I was
writing. I owned the words and the style, but the story, with its accompanying
thoughts and feelings, its soul, were solely his. And I so had to live him – to live his thoughts and experiences. I had to be a method writer anytime I sat behind my
laptop to do what I code-named ‘CK writing’. 

Such writing sessions were many,
spread across many months. There were times when I would sit for hours
and only manage to write one paragraph; other times when my creative juices
were most kind and so would translate to many words and pages. There was a lot
of rereads, a lot of back editing, a lot of rewriting – all in a bid to chisel
out the very best I could manage for Nana.

And boy, did he deserve the best. This
work had been in the infamous ‘pipeline’ for many years, and I got the unmistakable sense that its delayed completion worried him. Once, he even told me that he had almost given up on it, resigning himself to the feeling that it was probably never going to be published. In fact, during my research for the 2013 Goal.com profile I wrote of him, I stumbled on an interview he'd granted the Ghana News Agency many years ago, in which he'd claimed his book was going to be on the market by the end of that year. It was in 2004. 
He always talked to me about how he had
started a long time ago, about how he’d been told it was almost done one too
many times, about how he really wanted it to happen. Anytime he said so, I felt
a conferment of responsibility, from his heart to my conscience, and I would,
without hesitation, promise profusely to do everything I could to make sure it
materialized. He would look me in the eye and tell me about how he believed
what I was saying. These conversations always felt like an exchange of trust,
an establishment of legitimacy, and it spurred me on during the lowest moments
of production.
Nana made me feel motivated with how he
opened his doors to me. Anytime I went there,
he looked so happy to see me and would ask about how school and work was
treating me. He always reminded me, with a sort of congenial curiosity, that I looked
familiar. I remember how he would joke about me having the same name as one of
his favourite grandchildren. Once, I heard him introduce me to one of the
ladies of his household as “my friend who is handling the writing of my book". "I
trust that he will do a good job and all will be well in the end,” he had added. Friend. This was
from a man who was a good 64 years older than I was.
Anytime it was time to leave, he’d
thank me for the conversation, for keeping him company, then he’d make me
promise not to let too much time elapse until my next visit.
Indeed, who are we kidding? I was perfectly aware of the delicate underpinnings of
having such a young, relatively inexperienced writer handle such a high profile
project. And I’m sure Nana did too. But, interestingly, not once did he ever express doubt or
convey a sense of insecurity around me or about my being in charge of telling
his story. Duke would constantly remind me in our correspondence that he and his
brothers were totally sure of having me at the helm of such a project, not only
because of their claims of loving my style of writing, but also because they respected one of
their father’s most recognizable philosophies: giving young people a chance; investing confidence and belief in youth talent. During his years as a coach, he cultivated a stern reputation of being an overhauler of squads; someone who believed in discarding incompetent experience for competent inexperience. 
Indeed, having Duke, Edwin and the rest
of the brothers express confidence in my ability to deliver was great, no doubt,
but feeling that vibe from Nana himself was priceless. Nana always made me
aware of how he trusted that I would do a good job, and I would respond to this
vote of confidence by giving him an assurance. This assurance was basically
that I was doing the best I could to see to it that his dream of seeing his
story published came true before he checked out of his amazing life of earth.
I grew deeply fond of Nana and found
myself looking forward to our meetings, though they were, regrettably, few and
far between: well, at least not as much as I’d wanted. Nonetheless, I lived for such moments
like when he would burst out in laughter, almost to the point of tears, upon
recalling a particular memory – be it the beatings he endured from his father and elementary teacher, his days as a stubborn teenager causing havoc everywhere he went, and much later tales of how he would play deaf as coach anytime his players complained about his physically demanding training sessions, which would result in them surreptitiously slandering him and labeling him with hilarious nicknames. I remember, too, the purity and the
romanticist’s wonder that wrapped around his words anytime he talked about how
much football meant to him and how football had changed his life.

***

On a dry August afternoon, one of
Nana’s sons, named Nana 'Egya Alonso'  Gyamfi, who had been in the country for a
while corresponding with me on matters concerning the book, asked me to sit through an interview his
father was granting to Top FM Sports – an interview that would turn out to be
his last.
Because of Nana’s feeble memory, he
struggled to have a firm grasp of the things he wanted to say, and so I was
asked – as his ghostwriter – to help clarify some of the things that his tired
mind was laboring to recall. He would listen intently, nodding with seeming
approval anytime I was asked to come in and throw light on what he was saying.
After the interview, he shook my hand, looked right into my eyes and said. “Oh
Fiifi, thank you very much. You’ve really helped me. If it wasn’t for you…” He paused suddenly and climaxed his incomplete speech with a smile.  
That moment – though occurring in just
a split second – represented something so powerful to my mind. I don’t think I
can ever explain why, and even more strange is the fact that I’m comfortable with leaving it at that: a soothing Je ne sais quoi.
I left for Kumasi soon afterwards and
so couldn’t stay in touch with him for about two weeks.
***
On
my return to Accra, I was unable to go see him immediately due to the
formalities of school reopening swarming me.

Then one night, while I sat behind my
desk in my room at Legon Hall, coincidentally working on the book, I got a call.
It was Mr Quartey. “Fiifi, I hope you are well. Nana wants to see you.”
“Nana Gyamfi?” I asked.
“No, not Nana Gyamfi,” he replied. “I’m
talking about the old man himself.”
I told Mr Quartey that I would steal
time the next day, Friday the 28th of August, to go see the old man.
That night, before retiring to bed, I
kept wondering why Nana had asked to see me. It was strange. I had heard him
ask of me, heard him send his regards, but he had never once particularly asked
to see me. Was something wrong? My instincts couldn’t shrug off the oddity.
I turned up at his residence the next
day, entered and realized that he was not seated at the Living room. That was
yet another oddity. Mr Quartey slipped into the hallway and later reemerged,
his face dead pan. “Let’s go in,” he said, tailing his words with a signal. “He
says I should bring you over. He’s not well.”
I remember seeing Nana struggle to get
up from his bed to take a seat by its edge. I had never been to his bedroom,
but I did not have time to steal a quick visual tour as I was so overwhelmed by
concern. I was asked to sit in a chair by his bed. He extended his hand, as
always with an accompanying smile, to shake my hand. “Ei Fiifi, how are you
doing? I didn’t hear from you again since that last meeting. Where were you
hiding?”
“Oh Nana, I went over to Kumasi to have
a little rest ahead of school. But I’m back now and I hope to spend much more
time chatting,” I said. “I’ll be in Accra till year’s end so we’ll chat till
you get tired!” I joked.
I asked if all was well and he told me
his leg aches had gotten worse, that he was unable to walk well. His face lost
its glow and his voice dimmed in liveliness while he slowly recounted how
unbearable the pains were becoming.

Then, he changed the topic. “Is
everything ok with the book?”
I sensed apprehension in his voice and
it unsettled me, so much so that I struggled to articulate a response. I think
what I felt in that moment was panic, because in truth, the project had
experienced a hitch at a stakeholders meeting shortly before I had gone to
Kumasi. And so things had stalled as I'd contemplated giving it up. And I felt guilty about it. He did not deserve that,
I thought.
Mr Quartey, perhaps noticing my
difficulty, cut into the conversation, offering a background of why Nana had
wanted to see me. Apparently, Nana was worried about progress on the book, and,
especially as he felt his health recede, wanted to know if everything was okay.
I felt even worse because I knew
just how much the book meant to him. And so, immediately, I assured him, almost
out of impulse – because I hated seeing him worried – that all was well. That
all was still on track. That I was almost done.

Then, again, I reiterated my regular
assurance, but this time with a sense of desperation. I really wanted to calm
his fears. “Nana, I know how close this project is to your heart and hearing
you say you want it done inspires me to carry on. I promise you to go through
with it, to finish it, to make sure you get to see it as soon as possible.”
After saying this, I felt a surge of
adrenalin, not least because I saw him nod. I felt renewed energy:  I wanted to get back to the project and get
done as soon as I could just so I could present it to him. I wanted to see him
happy.

I told him I’d come to see him early
the next week and he said he very much looked forward to it. He said his usual
thank you and reached for the parting handshake. I said my thank you too. “Your
legs too, will be well, Nana,” I said as I got up to take my leave. “I’ll be
praying for you.”
That was it. The last time I was
privileged to be in his presence.
***
Tuesday
morning. I logged unto facebook and saw a friend of mine post that CK Gyamfi
was gone.
I could not believe it. I did not want
to believe it. A day before, I had called Mr Quartey to seek clarification
about a discrepancy I had found while researching early 1972 to aid me in
writing a chapter about events at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. (Nana had coached the national team to the football tournament).

Before asking my questions, I asked if all was
well with the old man. “No, all isn’t well,” Mr Quartey said. His tone was plain. “His
leg pains got worse and we took him to the hospital.”

I told Mr Quartey, from whom I got a
sense of pessimism, that I did not
believe that the hospital thing was ominous, and that I was positive he’d get
well soon. I had, after all, heard Nana complain about his legs many times and
not once did I ever feel that it had the potential to be fatal. I always saw it
as ‘one of those things’, and indeed, we had once had a laugh about how he felt it was
a haunting hazard of his addiction to overhead ('scissor') kicks during his hey days.
He looked a fairly healthy, handsome
old man, all the time – even to the last time I saw him in his bed. I always got
the sense that he had so much life within him, though he exuded an aura of loneliness
sometimes.
And here I was, on a Tuesday morning, lying
on my bed, trying to convince myself that what I’d seen on Facebook was an
inaccurate report. Shortly before then, my body trembling with shock, I
remember exclaiming, cursing expletives of disbelief, thinking it was all a bad
dream. I remember some of my floor mates storming into my room to ask what was
wrong, but I could not utter a word of explanation. I did not have one.
I later called Mr Quartey. “Hi Mr
Akwetey,” I greeted, barely concealing my impatience. “Yeah, Fiifi,” he
responded.  His voice was solemn, a heart
breaking confirmation even before the inevitable words that followed. “Yes, it’s
true,” he said. “He passed around 2am this morning.”
Afterwards, I could barely speak in an
organized way. My questions were many and meaningless, and I remember wishing I
could be as calm and composed as Mr Quartey on the other end of the line. 

But I
just couldn’t. For me, his demise seemed too sudden, too out of the blue, and
though he was 86, I had never prepared myself for his exit. The shock rocked me,
dampening my mood for the next few days.

I entered a state lethargy, locked up
in a lull of constant reminiscing. Trying to recollect my encounters with Nana
was a painful exercise, because I realized that I had not paid particular
attention to many things, most certainly because of my misguided belief that he
was going to be around for much longer. I took many things for granted,
postponed many conversations, and I regretted them so much.
But, I realized – upon reflecting on
our last meeting – that he probably knew he was on his way out when he asked to
see me that Friday.

In hindsight, I deciphered that he
wanted to leave with an assurance that I was still committed to the project,
that I’d see it through to the end – even if he would not be around to see its
completion.
I’m glad that I was able to make a
promise.

NB: Beyond C.K Gyamfi's death on Tuesday September 2, 2015, I managed to complete his autobiography, which is scheduled to be published late in 2016. I wrote this article in the weeks following his death, in an attempt to recall the full extent of my relationship with him. It was published here on December 31, 2015, my 22nd birthday, to accompany a press statement released by his family naming me publicly as his autobiographical ghost-writer. Knowing him and working on his story will remain an indelible honour that I will take to my grave.


Gilbert Agyare has a story: Part IV

---------


[All photos were taken by Kennedy Danso, a friend and course mate also in Legon Hall, who is a budding photographer]



I VISITED GILBERT twice in the next few days. The first time, a quiet,
chilly Saturday night, I walked in on him seated on one of the desks in his room.
There were two other people in the room – a lady and a gentleman - both of whom he later introduced as good friends. The guy, who was seated on a
chair by the bed, was well-built and wore a jalabia. The lady, who was lying on
Gilbert’s bed, was slim and light-skinned, and she wore a bright looking
African print outfit. The two seemed to be in a good mood as they watched a
loud, seemingly action packed movie on Gilbert’s laptop.
As for Gilbert, he had arched his torso on his desk, as if to give
the impression that he was asleep. But he wasn’t. I knew because I saw him
giggle at a point, then his voice became a bit audible. It was unusually soft
and measured, and so I immediately assumed that he was on the phone with
someone he liked. Girlfriend perhaps? I smiled and stared for a while before
alerting him of my presence.
“Oh bra Fiifi, how’s it going?” he said.
“I hope I’m not disturbing your conversation with the Mrs,” I
teased.
He laughed. “Oh, that’s not my girlfriend. But it’s one of my
girlfriends!”
The girl lying on the bed immediately sprang up and laughed out loud.
“Ei Gilbert!” she exclaimed, in a manner that sounded part-teasing
part-astonishment.
“Oh, I told Fiifi when he was here the last time that I don’t have
one girlfriend,” Gilbert responded. A mischievous smile licked around his
lips. “So he knows.”
I laughed, too. “Yes he did,” I told the girl.
She looked at Gilbert and shook her head, still smiling.
Gilbert had told me in our last conversation that he had a
girlfriend – who is sighted - and indeed hoped to marry one day. He however said that
because he had a natural mistrust for sighted girls, citing previous experiences in infidelity and deceit, he had resorted to openly
sealing a back-up option: a blind girlfriend. 

Andre had led the unanimous
outburst of laughter after that fascinating revelation.

***
FOUR DAYS LATER, I visited Gilbert’s room again. He was not around. On his bed
lay a guy who – like Gilbert when I’d last seen him  – was on the phone.
He had his back turned to me as he spoke into his phone in a hushed tone. He had
given me an order to come in in the first place, so I presumed that he knew I
was standing, waiting for him. It was after I stood for close to 10 minutes
without him turning or speaking to me that I realized that he probably was not
aware of my presence. I had to give him a gentle tap on the back to get his
attention.
“Gilbert has gone for a lecture,” he informed me as he turned. I
could not help but notice that he looked very much like Gilbert. “Are you his
brother?” I asked. He gave a dim smile and feebly nodded. He was looking at
me, yet was not making eye contact. I found it a bit odd. “Older or younger,” I
probed further. He smiled again and said nothing. I smiled back. “Please tell
him Fiifi came around,” I said. “No problem,” he replied, and rolled over on
the bed, so that he faced the wall again.
I heard him resume talking on the phone as I slowly closed the
door and made my leave.

***
THE NEXT TIME I
saw Gilbert, I asked him about the guy. He said he was not his brother, but
just a friend. Apparently, he is blind too – though his is partial. That
explained why he had not noticed me standing and waiting, I thought to myself.
Also, I found out that he is on the same block at Legon Hall as Gilbert.
“There are about seven blind boys on this block,” Gilbert revealed as he sat to
talk to me. He was, like all of the times when I'd seen him, dressed in a simple lacoste shirt and a pair of khaki trousers, his feet covered with loafers. "Among them is a senior of mine from Okuapeman. He was the senior school
prefect in his final year,” he added.
I was astonished. Then impressed.
“Wow,” I said. “A blind school prefect?”
“Yes!” Gilbert said with a heaviness of tone that exuded pride. He
bared his teeth and smiled. Then he said: “He won the elections overwhelmingly.
He beat all the sighted candidates. He was really popular and turned out to be
one of our best prefects.”
“What about you, though, Gilbert?” I inquired. “Did you go for the
position in your final year?”
He smiled again, hesitated a bit and said: “You see, I wanted to. But I realized that not everyone
liked me. Some of these things are like that, you know. I studied the system and
sensed that if I went, I’d lose. So I decided to let it go.”
Gilbert had just returned from a provision store around his block.
In his company was a friend of his, who he said was his junior at Okuapeman and
in fact is still there. He had come to visit him.
“I’m not surprised to see you here at all, bra Fiifi,” Gilbert
said. “I came to see you in your room a few minutes ago but was told you were
not around, and so I figured you were told and decided to come see me.”
“Oh really?” I asked. I had not known he’d come to see me because
I was returning from town and had decided to pass through his place.
“Oh, you can ask my friend, I came there with him,” Gilbert said.
“Yeah, Room H5 right? We were there not long ago. Someone from the next room
said you had gone out,” his friend weighed in. He, too, looked at me without making
eye contact. Gilbert later told me he is also partially blind.
Gilbert then got a phone call. “Ok, ok,” he seemed to be saying.
“Please hurry up because things are really rough here. I’ve got to be the most
broke guy in the whole world! I have nothing. I’m totally impecunious!” he
said, following it with stifled laughter.
He had been speaking in Twi, but had said
‘impecunious’ in English, with such impeccable pronunciation. Gilbert loves and
knows his words. As I stared at him, my mind shuttled back to the day of our
first interview, where he had described himself as ‘gregarious’. I remember
observing that he had a command over his English and how he articulated it.
In a conversation in relation to this, he had told me that he felt
he was a natural-born broadcaster, destined to reach millions with his skills.
“I’ve been told by some friends of mine who are journalists that I can do a
great job on radio,” he had said. “I think so too because I listen to most
presenters and I realize what they are doing is nothing extraordinary. I can
also do it. I can do news presenting, sports, name them. Either in English or in
Twi. I’m good at it and I have a passion for it so I know I will be there one
day.”
He had then proceeded to give me a spirited freestyle commentary
(in twi) of a hypothetical game between Real Madrid and Barcelona that gave me
Goosebumps.  “I love football a lot,” he
had said afterwards. “I’ve loved it since I was about five years old. My dream
was to become a commentator, but little did I know that this would happen to
me. Had it not been for my eye, I would be a commentator by now. Of course now
I can’t see so I can’t run commentary, but that has not stopped me from showing
people that I can do it. When I was in Cape Coast, some business men working
for a local branch of Barclays Bank loved my freestyles so much that they made
me record them unto CDs which they bought from me!”
“The last World Cup I saw when I could still see was the 2002
World Cup. I remember it so well,” he had looked so excited. “I remember
Ronaldinho! His long hair, big teeth and all – I remember people teasing him about
him not being good looking but that didn’t matter because he was so good!”
Since Gilbert lost his sight, his love for football has had to
make do with experiencing the game through listening and imagining. The voice of commentators have become his eyes, their words translating to motion pictures in his mind's eye. His inability to see the 'Beautiful Game' has in no way diminished his passion. 

He had told me that he is an avowed fan of Spanish and European champions Barcelona, and that it was one of his biggest wishes to catch just a momentary action glimpse of Lionel Messi; the club's talisman who is heralded as one of the greatest to ever play football.

The nimble-footed Messi came into worldwide prominence about three years after Gilbert became blind. This means that Gilbert has never set eyes on the Argentine. He has no idea how he looks like or how he plays like. But that has not stopped him from idolizing him.

“I wish I could
just see him do all that magic the commentators chronicle endlessly,” he had said, followed by a pause and a sigh - a deep, if-wishes-were-horses kind of sigh.

“From what I’ve heard, he is incomparable as a footballer.”

***
NOW, GILBERT WAS speaking to someone – his brother, I
suspected – who was bringing him money because he was cash-strapped. “Around 8
o’clock? Oh ok, no problem,” he continued. “I’m now even about to take some
mashed kenkey.”
His friend was seated on the bed, massaging the kenkey in a deep
cylindrical bowl while he added water intermittently. I decided to ask him a
question to while away the time Gilbert was spending on the phone. “How was
Gilbert like in school? Was he popular?”
He smiled. “Oh yeah he was. Gabby was really popular. Even up till
today, all of the teachers say good things about him and still speak of him.”
***
AFTER HE GOT OFF the phone, Gilbert asked if I had started writing a profile
on him. “Yes,” I answered. “I’m hitting close to 5000 words already. You did speak
a lot during that last meeting!”
He laughed. “If you don’t restrain me I can talk and talk all
day!” he reeled with glee.
“Maybe, next time you come here, you can bring the article on a pen
drive so I can save it on my laptop and use my Microsoft Word audio player to
listen to it,” he suggested.
“No worries, will do that,” I said. “But if you want to listen to
it right now, I have it saved in my mail and I can open it on my phone and read
it to you.”
“You do?!”  He sounded excited.
“Yes,” I replied as I went through my phone to access the mail and
the file. “Should I start? I’ll read the portion describing the sequence that
resulted in you becoming blind. I want you to alert me if I mention any fact
that is not accurate,” I added.
“Sure!”
So, I started reading. He stared at the ground as I read slowly,
and he seemed so attentive, so pensive, that it made me a little nervous. But,
he would nod in between paragraphs, and that felt really comforting. There were
times when he would smile, other times when he would cut in and offer a correction or
a suggestion. There were times, too, when he looked bewildered, and so I would
explain my choice of words and style, spelling out the impact I was looking to
achieve. “Oh ok! That’s interesting!” he would say. 
“Are you a poet? You write
and sound like one!” he teased afterwards.
In between reading, I could see some of his block mates stopping
by the window as they passed by to peep and eavesdrop. We were interrupted too
–  twice, in fact – by friends who came to visit him. Both were blind. The
first entered and made a lot of deliberate jokes to distract our interaction,
but they were all in jest. The second, too, burst into the room in a hilarious
manner and sat for a while to listen in. Both of them, though, seemed to be as
outgoing, amicable and fun-inclined as Gilbert himself.

At the end of my reading Gilbert gave me more details
that he felt would add significant dimension to my construction of his past.
Then, he said: “You’ve written this very well. Your style is different.”
I felt proud that he liked it, and told him I’d see him one last
time to get more details. I suggested writing another article on him, and he
was open to the idea, even after I shared the relatively unorthodox method I
planned to adopt. The method was basically an experiment of spending a whole
day with him, in his company – though not close to him, but monitoring from
afar. It felt like an ambitious plan, because it did not seem mainstream.
“That’s very interesting! I would love to do that. Even if you want to do it
without me knowing, I have no problems. I’m an open book and I don’t hide
anything,” he said. “I even told you about my two girlfriends!” We both laughed hard.
When I said my farewells, and walked out the door into the
corridor, I felt him following me. After a few steps, I decided to turn around
for confirmation, and I was right. 

Behind me, he was walking slowly and quietly
and calmly, but he wasn’t after me. He was going to a room about three doors
from his.

I stood and watched him enter the room, and later, come out with
two of his friends.
He slipped in between them and put his arms around both, and, as
they strolled in unison back to his room, they all looked so happy.
They could not see me, but I was there, staring, the camaraderie
of their shared challenge causing a strange stir in me.
Suddenly, I felt happy too. So happy, that I felt an urge to cry.
But I had no idea why.
















Gilbert Agyare has a story: Part III

"He told me to forget about the word 'sight' " 

---------


[All photos were taken by Kennedy Danso, a friend and course mate also in Legon Hall, who is a budding photographer]



GILBERT WOKE UP in a hospital room at the Komfo Anokye Teaching
Hospital in Kumasi. His eye – “You know, it’s like an egg, and it got
broken,” he said – was operated on. Twice.
After the second surgery, the doctor turned up by his bedside and
cast a shroud of gloom on his life. His right eye was gone, the doctor
announced, and the left would follow suit soon. Apparently, when one eye fails,
the pressure the other one has to bear causes it to deteriorate overtime,
eventually failing too. That stone Amos threw had marked a slippery slope, a
ruthless domino effect, that was to take Gilbert’s sight from him in the long
term.
“He told me to forget about the word “sight”,” Gilbert said. “That
I should forget about ever seeing the world again and rather concentrate on my
books and on becoming the best I can be. He also told me to learn about blind
living to enable me get somewhere in life.”
The ensuing months of being one-eyed were pain laden. Gilbert
would shuttle between Kumasi and Sunyani regularly for treatment. He was given
tonnes of drugs, but the pain in that dead right eye just wouldn’t flee.
“Anytime the sun came up, my eyes would start aching badly and I would start
having discharges,” he said. “I remember lying face-down on the floor sometimes
and pressing my eye against the floor just so I could cool off the burning
sensation. It was very discomforting.”
This left him confined indoors, cut off from the outside world – a
situation that curtailed a chunk of his childhood normalities. He had to pull
out of school, losing friends in the process. All this, while his other eye
steadily slumped, leaving him down in the dumps. Those were difficult times,
but Gilbert had his family to protect him from the threat of despair. “Normally
when you get into such situations, before you will feel sad, one of the factors
that contributes immensely is how the people close to you, your family, handle
it,” he explained. “When the family decides to treat you differently, that’s
when you feel sad. But when they decide to treat you the same way, there won’t
be problems. My family didn’t change.” And that was critical.
But, even more critical was the fact that Gilbert, like now, could
fall on an admirable strength of character, a powerful resilience that seems to
shine from the deepest depths of his nature. And, given the scale of what he
went through, this fortitude seemed God-sent, appropriate, a small trace of
justice and meaning. It helped him cope and gave him hope - especially when the
other eye checked out of functioning two years after the stone incident.
Gilbert remembers that fateful day; the day the last remnants of
sight in his eyes fled forever.

***


ONE MORNING in
2004, Gilbert woke up and suddenly felt the world blank out. He panicked. His
mother rushed into his room and did something that she’d done severally since
her son lost his right eye.
As a means of checking the quality of his eye, the state of it,
Gilbert’s mum had been visiting his room, holding up a number of her fingers
for her son to call out the exact numbers. Sometimes, she’d use colours. She
did it regularly.
That day, she repeated it and the results, as expected, were
heartbreaking. Statistics say that one person becomes blind worldwide every
five seconds. Gilbert’s time was up. He was to join a world blind community
that is now estimated by the World Health Organization to be around 39 million.
“She put up a colour and I couldn’t tell which colour it was,” Gilbert
remembered. “That was how we both knew it was done.”
Of course, they both knew that that moment would come one day, but
when it came, it was difficult. You can never be too ready for things like
that, no matter the amount of prior knowledge. “I remember her saying ‘I don’t
know what to do! This is so strange. This is something so strange in my life’”
Gilbert recalled. “She had somehow attributed my whole ordeal to superstition;
she thought maybe Amos had been sent by some evil spirit to come and ruin my
life. And so, for instance, she always made us go to pastors for help. I went
through the hands of many pastors, all to no avail. One day, I told her ‘We
can’t do anything about it because my situation is physical’. I told her if God
would heal me, then that was fine, but I did not believe in those pastors. I did not believe that they could do something about it. It got to a
point I told her I wouldn’t go to see them again. I told her if she would go on
my behalf then fine, but I myself wouldn’t go anymore.”
Gilbert admitted that he was kid who “didn’t know or understand
much during those times,” but he distinctly remembered the fact that he
accepted his reality early, with very little self-pity or brooding. “There was
pain, but I rarely remember being sad or depressed. Naturally, I’m not an
emotional person,” he said. Then, he continued, with the benefit of hindsight:
“Besides, when you get into certain situations and you don’t accept the fact
that currently, that’s the situation in which you find yourself, you can’t work
towards solving that situation,” he explained. “Because if you go to Rome, you
have to do what the Romans do. When you become blind, first of all you have to
accept the fact that now, you can’t see. No matter what you do, you cannot fix
yourself into your old situation. That’s where you are now.”
This rare stoic mindset came in handy at a time when he had to
start a new life; when he had to go through intensive orientation for the visually
impaired; when he had to to live without sight. “When you’re going
through that process, you deduce certain ways of doing your things. Your brain has to work faster than before. You have to adapt,” he said.
Gilbert started learning about the ways of the blind at the primary division of Ghana National Secondary School. That school, an all-inclusive institution (opportunities for the physically challenged), was in Cape Coast - where his family migrated to from Sunyani sometime after the stone accident. 
He later continued his orientation at the well-known Akropong School For The Blind in the Eastern Region. After two years at that school, Gilbert successfully passed his Basic Education Certificate Examination and gained admission to the Okuapeman Senior High School, also in the East.
Spurred on by a steely resolve to solve problems, Gilbert adapted fast in his blind training. By the time he got to Senior High School, his intelligence, coupled with his ever- stubborn willingness not to be weighed
down, had seen him make a great deal of progress. He was one of about 30 blind
students among over 3000 sighted ones at Okuapeman. 

“When I was
at Okuapeman, I was not using a white cane,” he said. 

A white cane is the stick
blind people use to survey their paths. 

“I used to walk alone and do everything
on my own. When you saw me walking around you couldn’t even tell that I was
blind.”

Of course, that ease of navigation stemmed from a familiarity with
his environment – something that took time and conscientious effort to achieve.
“The way I would even go past gutters, you wouldn’t believe it,” he laughed. “I
think blind people live by flashbacks,” he explained. “Always, we commit the
paths we take and the places we go into memory so we can do it alone without
help or with minimal help the next time.”
This, he reckoned, has significantly sharpened his memory. “My
memory has become stronger. I’ve even observed that those who are totally blind
are more intelligent than partially blind people, especially in academics,
because of the memory factor. Due to the fact that you can’t see anything, the
mind is always working overtime. What it means is that the function of the eye
has been added to the memory. The mind is doing double work.”
Gilbert studied Government, History, Literature and Akuapem Twi as
his electives at Okuapeman. He recalled walking up to the blackboard at times, when teachers were not in class, to teach his colleagues. During his time there,
he attained intense popularity, not least because of his gregarious nature. 
He gain notoriety, too, for being someone who always fought for
his rights. He was alert and outspoken, difficult to subdue or outwit. People
often say blind people are sensitive about their rights because not being able
to see triggers an inevitable paranoia, especially given the tendency of humans
to be deceptive and exploitative. “I remember sometimes when I’d get to
the dining hall and I’d ask if there was a vacancy on a table I wanted to sit
on. The people on it, knowing very well that there were vacancies, would say
no, just because they didn’t want me sitting by them. I could sense when the
table was empty, and also, when they were lying. It got to a time I would get
there and I wouldn't even ask and I’d sit. They couldn’t share the food without
giving me. Naah, it was impossible,” he said, shaking his head. “When you fight for your rights too much,
people see you as arrogant, but that's okay because that's their opinion anyway. I always fight for my rights because when you are
quiet, people will take you for granted."
***
YEARS LATER,
and after passing his WASSCE with distinction, Gilbert gained admission into
the University of Ghana. He has been here for a few weeks. Observing him, it is
easy to notice that, 13 years after his sight got slighted by a sling and a
stone, he seems to have moved on, to have mastered the art of seeing
without seeing
. Braille is a breeze for him. He uses a laptop that has an
audio software that guides him. He is able to use a phone – “I’m able to search
for contacts by typing in the names because I know the keypad very well. When
someone calls, I answer and try and make out the person’s voice.”
Gilbert has chosen not to be vindictive towards Amos, the boy behind that fateful stone-throw. He spoke of how, despite the fact that his mother
antagonized Amos, he forgave him long ago and decided it was futile
accommodating bitterness. There was no time, really, because he was busy trying
to figure out how to overcome the storm of challenges that his loss of sight
heaved on his life. “There is no bad blood,” he said. “There was one time when
we went back visiting Sunyani in 2010. When we got there he was sent for to
come see me after all those years, but he did not come,” he recalled. “I don’t
know if he still felt guilty or it was deliberate. But there are no issues.
What’s done is done.”
Gilbert said he is always looking forward and never looking back.
“If I ever go back (to seeing again) that’s fine. If I don’t, it’s fine too,”
he said with a grin. Basically, he does not want to labour his mind or vex his
spirit with wishful thinking or chronic moping, because he genuinely feels in
his heart that he can have a great life regardless. “My blindness is not
something that can serve as a hindrance in my life. For me, anything that I
want to achieve, I think I can achieve it without sight. If it were to be
that the losing of it has been an obstacle or a restriction in my life, then that would have been a different case. I rather want to think about how I will move forward in life
than to think about my eye. Because, what’s the point?”
Gilbert is excited about life in Legon. He said he is yet to fully
acquaint himself with the whole of campus. “I’m new here and my environment is
relatively alien. I’ve not fully surveyed this campus – and it’s a big campus
too. For instance, the road leading to NNB (a lecture hall south of
campus) is very complex and I’m always thinking about how to keep it in my mind
and do it myself.  But you see, this is only my first semester. There is
time and there is hope. I remember when you guys first met me, Andre asked me
if Azamati (a very popular level 400 blind student) was partially blind or
totally blind.  You see, he has been here for close to four years and so
knows all the corners. I will get there once a bit of time passes because I’m
determined. Once I get into my stride there will be nowhere I wouldn’t be able
to go. As time goes on I will become a pioneer on campus. I’m still learning. I
know, for instance, that after you exit the Southern gate, the likes of Sarbah Hall and CC (Central Cafeteria) are to your left.  And once you pass right you go to the Language
center – where you took me the last time. You’ll see; by the time we get to
second semester, you'll spot me walking around everywhere alone.”
The problem, though, is that Gilbert can never truly do
things fully alone, though his smartness and outlandish
determination has seen him significantly cut down the rate at which he depends
on other people. I told Gilbert that I’ve always imagined that one of the
biggest problems about being blind would be the loss of total self-dependence.
That is, I’ve always felt that blind people – no matter how experienced they
are – always need some degree of help, and that might feel terribly limiting.
Gilbert agreed. He admitted that having to depend on people was one of the
hardest things he had to deal with in the beginning. “There were times when I
needed something very urgently and I couldn’t go get it and so had to ask for help. The people I’d ask would drag their feet. I would then remember my
old state and think: If I still had sight, I would have gone there
myself, I would have gotten this stuff on my own without seeking for any
assistance.”
The problem with being eternally confined to depending on people
on the daily is that people are diverse in social attitude and aptitude. Some
are nice, others plain cold and rude. Gilbert, who admitted that he never
hesitates to seek help, said: “There are some people when you want to seek help
from them, the kind of attitude they would show eh…the horrible nature of their attitude makes you sometimes feel sad. Look at it this way; it’s like you
having money in the past and not having it anymore. You always remember your
hey days and go: 'Ah, in those days when I used to have money I would have sorted
myself out without having to go through all of this'. It’s the same with having
sight once upon a time and not having it anymore.”
Gilbert has met all manner of people in his quotidian routine of
asking for help. “There are some people too, when they meet you, you wouldn’t even
have to ask for help and they’d come closer to offer assistance. They’ll go,
‘oh, hello, do you need some help?’ But other people will see you going straight
into a gutter and just look at you till you fall before they'll tell you
‘sorry’.”
He recounted an anecdote from the day Andre and I met him. “That
day, I was hungry, but no one was around for me to send. And even, you can’t get up and send anyone just like that. So I said ‘lemme go’. I took my white cane and started
moving. I had passed through the Southern Gate about two times so I had studied
the place and pictured it in my mind. That morning we’d gone for a lecture at the
Central Cafeteria – and I had been told CC is very close to Sarbah Hall. So I
had an idea. Slowly, I kept moving and asking. I remember asking a certain lady
who said: “Oh, Go forward.” Just like that. She didn’t even say “Oh, let me
help you.” She just said, ‘Go forward’”
Was the lady not considerate enough to notice he was blind and
thus needed help? Gilbert dismissed any attempt at giving her the benefit of
the doubt. He thought it was a no brainer. “If someone sees you and you are
blind, the person should see. You don’t need a DNA test to ascertain it!”
“I’ve heard a good amount of derogatory comments,” Gilbert
continued. “I’ve had people comment sarcastically; “Na ono nso, ooko
hen?”
 ['He, too, where is he going?’, in a mocking and condescending tone] when they see me struggling.
Sometimes, I can feel deep within me that people are staring. There are some
people, too, when they see a visually impaired person or a person with
disability they automatically feel superior to them; they feel they are better.”
But Gilbert is not worried about cruelty he is subjected to at
times. He chooses to be a relentless optimist. “Back in SHS, I did not have
anyone who helped me so when I came into this University and I wasn’t assigned any
help, it wasn’t anything new to me. I’ve been independent since I can remember.
I still go by my business as usual. I don’t feel segregated or discriminated against: primarily because whenever you feel that way, your attitude also changes -
because you always want people to help you. If you meet someone and the person
is willing to help, you have to accept. But if the person is not, you don’t
have to force it because it’s voluntary and not compulsory. People are here for
their own duties and they have their own business to take care of so you have
to understand. I don’t feel resented or offended just because I don’t get people to
help me. Not at all.”
Help or no help, Gilbert has a spirit of fearlessness that drives
him to get up and get doing, even when he has no idea of the location of the
place he’s going. “I will never be in a situation where I want to go somewhere
and I won’t go because I don’t have help,” he said.  “No. Even if my destination
is in the bush I will still go there. I will manage and struggle and before I
realize I will be there. When I fall in a gutter I will get back up and take it as a lesson; no problem at all. In the end, I know when I go there I will not die; that I will definitely come back.” 
This spunk, though, is not infinite – it has a limit. Gilbert said
that there is one thing he will never risk doing without help: crossing a road.
“Some roads are large and always busy and when you joke, you won’t go scot
free,” he said, his voice burdened with grave emphasis. "I’ve promised myself
never to risk it.  Because you don’t know the misfortune that could happen –
and I’ve not achieved what I want to achieve in life too."
Those last words were uttered with utter bottle, and it was
infectious. Gilbert maintains a fiery fidelity with a belief that he will be
great in future. It probably offers a degree of explanation for his striking
strength of spirit. “You know, there are people who can see your fortunes; where
you’ll get to in life, what you can be. I’ve been told by several people, in
the form of prophesies, that I’ll be a famous person; someone who will occupy a
big position. All the time, I keep feeling that that thing is there waiting for
me. I always sense that there is something ahead of me, something I’ve not yet
achieved, so therefore I’m always working diligently towards that," he
said.
I asked Gilbert a question that in my heart felt very difficult,
but in my curiosity-driven head felt necessary. Does the fact that he will
never be able to literally see the results of his anticipated
greatness ever worry him? His answer was selfless and sagacious. “It doesn’t
bother me because even if I don’t see, my generation will see. There are times
when what you will do, you yourself won’t benefit from it. Other people will
come and benefit. So when people come after me and they find out that there was
someone called Gilbert who occupied this position or who did this; that one alone is a
plus.”
We had reached a point in conversation where I wanted Gilbert to
let me into the experience of being blind. I wanted to understand the state in
which he’s been for the past 13 years. What do blind people see? Darkness?
White light? Is there tangible substance to their vision, or its all blank? How
does it all work?
I shut my eyes and told him that all I could see  - which is
not even technically possible, if you think about it, because one can’t see
with closed eyes – was a darkness that was pitch black, with very minute violet
coloured dots scattered across. “Is it the same for you?” I asked. He laughed
as I struggled to explain, as I grappled with the words to carry my point
across. “Ok,” he began. “You see, when you are blind, people have this
perception that you are in darkness, but its not true,” he explained. “How are
you in darkness when you are imagining your surroundings all the time?”
“Besides, you can feel things. When it is day, you can feel it. When
it is night, you can too. When I'm going somewhere and there’s a building, I can
feel it…I can feel that there is something huge in front of me. When there is
someone in front of me, too, I can feel the person’s presence, just that I
won’t be able to tell who it is, unless I catch a whiff of their perfume or
natural scent. You know people have natural scents right?” he continued.
I looked at my phone and realized that we had been speaking for
just over an hour.  Andre and I were due to attend a Human Resource
Management (under Political Science) lecture at 3.30pm and it was almost 3, and
so we said our goodbyes to Gilbert, who in turn said he was going to take a nap as he had
no lecture to attend for the rest of the day. I told him I hoped to start
writing a long-form feature on him soon. He was excited. “That’s great,” he
said, his face creased with a heartwarming beam. “I’m ready to give you any
information you need to make it a great article. I enjoyed this conversation.”
As Andre and I angled into the corridor just outside of Gilbert’s
room, we both looked at each other momentarily, without saying a word, and
continued walking. Gilbert’s story had had us dumbfounded.
“Life!” I finally managed to say.
“Oh chale!” he
responded, shaking his head.

----

LINK TO PART IVhttp://www.etalapan.com/gilbert-agyare-has-story-part-iv/


Gilbert Agyare has a story: Part II

"If I had seen it, I would have dodged"



----------


[All photos were taken by Kennedy Danso, a friend and course mate also in Legon Hall, who is a budding photographer]




I COULD NOT meet Gilbert until four days after I
returned from Nairobi. A couple of mid-semester tests soon after my arrival
kept me busy, and indeed I would have allowed my busy schedule to unleash the
bane procrastination unto my plans of meeting him had it not been for Andre.
Andre had been texting me endlessly – even when I was in Nairobi –
that he felt we should visit and get to know Gilbert. He told me that he
similarly had a feeling about him and that, like me, he yearned to know more
about him.
We showed up in front of Gilbert’s room one Thursday afternoon,
knocked, and got a vociferous order from behind the door to ‘come in please.’
When we walked in, we found him standing in front of his bed, dressed up, a
backpack strapped to his back.
He told us that he was leaving for Mankessim, a town in the
Central Region – where he stays with his family. He was going away for the
weekend, but would be back on Sunday. We had a brief conversation, and I
remember him chortling profusely when Andre asked if he used a phone. “I even
use a laptop!” he joked. “Don’t worry, there are a lot of misconceptions about
blind people and so its natural for you guys to wonder when it comes to these
things,” he added, and smiled.
We walked him to the street just behind Legon Hall, where we found
a taxi that was headed out to a bus-stop at Okponglo - just outside of campus.
From Okponglo, he’d need a troski (mini bus/van) that would take him to Kwame
Nkrumah Circle, a loud, crowded bastion of business activity close to Central
Accra, which is also known for being a hub of bus terminals. From Circle, he
would board a bus that would drive him for about an hour and a half to
Mankessim. We looked at the route and worried about him doing it all alone, but
he told us not to worry, assuring us that’d he’d been on his own on such
travels many times and that he would be fine.
As the taxi drove off, we watched in awe and wondered how such a
young blind person could feel so at ease, so brave, doing things that even
sighted people consider a chore.
***
GILBERT HAD BEEN resting on his bed, lying on his back. It
was a Monday. The room was dark, but his laptop – which was placed beside him –
was still on, and so it offered some illumination. Andre and I announced our
presence and it was clear he was pleased to encounter us again. He sat up, on
the edge of his bed, ready to converse.
We had gone to visit him with the hope of having a chat. We hoped
to cure our curiosity, to find out more about him. My specific intention had
been to first have a preliminary chat to acquaint myself properly with him and
his situation, then to schedule an interview with him for a later date – by
which time I figured I would have fixed my faulty voice recorder.
But it didn’t go according to plan. Andre’s understandable
inquisitiveness led him to ask Gilbert a series of questions, from how he
manages to use a phone and a laptop, through to how he manages to read braille.
Then, probably carried away by Gilbert’s fascinating answers, as well as
encouraged by his refreshing openness, Andre pushed the boundaries and asked the question. The question we
had both thought was sensitive and so would come up in an interaction at a
later date.
How did you become blind? That question.
After the words left his mouth, Andre impulsively followed them up
with an apology. “I hope I’m not being too intrusive and please its okay if you
don’t want to talk about it.”
Gilbert laughed. “Oh it’s okay, don’t worry,” he assured. “I have
no problems talking about my past…
“I have not always been blind, I…”
Instinctively, I pulled out my phone in the spur of the moment and
cut in. For some reason, I felt a sudden urge to record him. I asked.
Fortunately, he had no issues. “Oh sure, why not?” he said, courteously
inviting me to conduct an impromptu interview. I had no plan, no blueprint of
questions, no idea of how to go about it – but I did it anyway. Deep down, I
harboured a lingering hope that the spontaneity would be a blessing.
In hindsight, it turned out to be. Because what followed was quite
intense.
He opened up, in a no holds barred manner, about the difficult
subject, beginning a narration that took Andre and I on an engrossing excursion
back to that day, that moment, when his life was changed forever.
***
FOR THE FIRST 10 years of his life, Gilbert could see.
He once had the perceived might of sight. He could see the clear blue sky, the
birds that chirp and fly. He could see a ball hurtling towards his foot
on a dusty pitch, or an airplane humming as it scythed through the clouds
above.
He had eyes. Two eyes, all in perfect condition. But they wouldn’t
last.  He lost them. Studies have shown that the leading causes of
blindness in Ghana are cataract, trachoma and glaucoma – all ruthless diseases
that steal sight with deceptive patience. But Gilbert lost his sight to none of
these.
He lost his eyes to a stone. A gut-wrenching exception.
The roller-coaster that is life can take such sharp turns, such
sudden steep descents, at times when we least expect. The scary bit is that we never
know. That’s the thing. We are all, almost always, at the mercy of potential
disaster because no one ever knows what will happen in the next moment.
If Gilbert had known, he would have never turned when he heard his
name that fateful day. But he had no say. The gods of fate had met and decided
to cruelly bang the gavel of misfortune on his destiny. There was very little
he could do. And so he turned, innocently, oblivious of the misfortune that was
to strike.
Statistics say that 80% of blindness in Ghana could have been
avoided. This suggests that the majority of cases are characterized by an element of
prior knowledge, of prior control, of prior influence, of prior power to effect
change. But, as far as he was concerned, at least, Gilbert had none of these.
None.
It was too late. The stone flew into his face and invaded the
socket of his right eye with a velocity that was as vicious as its ferocity.
His eyeball could not withstand the crush. It raptured. He let out a loud cry,
but what had happened was irreversible.
That was it. A split second. A decisive moment of impact. A
tragedy in a flash.
***
THE BIBLICAL TALE of David and Goliath, for those who have
heard it, is considered to be a feel-good story; one that inspires hope, one
that fuels the courage to face daunting tests, one that ignites the will to
triumph against the odds.
But for Gilbert, it is a story that he probably wishes never
existed. That story, for him, is one that brings fright. Because that epic
fight contributed to him losing his sight.
In 2002, Gilbert lived in Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo Region, a few
miles north of Kumasi. He lived in a neighbourhood quarters built for officials
of the Sunyani division of the Ghana National Fire Service. His father was a
fireman who had settled there with his family; a wife and five kids,
10-year-old Gilbert inclusive.
In that same neighbourhood lived a boy named Amos. Amos was Gilbert’s
coeval. His friend. They were stereotypical childhood buddies; they played
together, fought each other, teased each other, loved each other, and hated
each other at times. But they were friends, above all things, after all was
said and done.
This friendship, though, would become eternally bruised on the day
Amos came back from church and raved about a new story he’d heard: the story of
David and Goliath.
A hive of neighbourhood kids encircled Amos that afternoon and
buzzed in anticipation of his narration. He had the honey – the story they
wanted to hear. He had heard the pastor at church preach about the story of
David and Goliath – and the famed fable had aroused his wildest imagination and
stirred up an urge of adventure. He told the kids about how the Pastor even
went out of his way to perform a live demonstration of that occasion; of how
David slinged the stone that sank into the forehead of the giant and floored
him face down. Apparently, the pastor had done it flawlessly, with a sense of
athleticism that fetched a loud roar of approval from the excited
congregation.
Amos had been fascinated by that show and he wanted in on the fun.
He wanted to be sure if he had grasped the process. He wanted to pull off a
remake.
He was prepared, too. He already had a sling and a stone.
Impatiently, he made away from the huddle of kids and found a free area where
he could properly position himself to throw his body’s weight behind his arm.
Then, he swung his sling and sent the stone hurling with foul force.
***
MEANWHILE, GILBERT WAS standing with a friend, heartily
conversing, just a few blocks away. He had not been a part of the kids that
Amos had hypnotized with his church drama story. That interaction had happened
behind him, out of his ear shot, out of his sight. 

It was all none of his
business.

But it would be soon.
“Gilbert!” one of the children called out, presumably to warn him
to get out of the way of Amos’ experiment. The other children were scattering
as the stone tore through the afternoon air. But Gilbert had not known. “I was
not even looking in their direction,” he recounted. “My back was turned to
them.”
He had not known, too, that that stone in flight was
destined to change his life. “If I had seen it, I would have dodged,” he said.
But he did not see it. He had thought it was merely someone
calling him. And so he turned. And it happened. 

Pang!




Link to PART IIIhttp://www.etalapan.com/gilbert-agyare-has-story-part-iii/

Link to PART IV: http://www.etalapan.com/gilbert-agyare-has-story-part-iv/


Gilbert Agyare has a story: PART I

Author's note:


The following is a long-form feature story; a result of many weeks of observation, interaction and writing. 

Because of its length (over 9,500 words; originally meant to be a magazine piece) I decided to break it down in parts due to the segmented nature of the content as well as the vertical length limitations on my blog. Thus, the one below will be the first of FOUR serialized accounts.  

It is set in the University of Ghana where (for those who aren't already aware) I live as a final year student majoring in Political Science.


It is not a sports piece, (un)fortunately.

I apologize in advance. ;-)
Fiifi


-----

[All photos were taken by Kennedy Danso, a friend and course mate also in Legon Hall, who is a budding photographer]






ANDRE WAS exasperated.
But yet still, he was attentive enough to notice. And that was crucial.
It was a Monday afternoon, and the sun’s burning heat loomed with
fury. We were in the middle of Mensah Sarbah Hall, right in front of the water
fountain that has not had a single drop of water for as long as we can
remember. We were there to meet a mutual friend of ours, Jude, to get learning
materials for a course for which we were to write a test the following morning.
We were desperate, and it didn’t help that our friend was delaying. That was
why Andre Ankumah, my friend and course-mate, was exasperated.
As more minutes elapsed without us witnessing the slightest sign
of Jude’s arrival, Andre could not bottle up his impatience. His complaints
became loud and incessant and, coupled with the over bearing heat, it was all
barely bearable. I tried to calm him down, but I could not keep up. 
I guess I should admit that it got funny at a point. Andre kept preaching a
list of things he’d do and say to rebuke Jude, and some of those things were so
ridiculous that I could not stop myself from laughing out loud at times.
Then, all of a sudden, his tone became subdued. “What’s happening
to that guy?” I heard him whisper. I had by this time lost him, as I was going
through my phone to answer some whatsapp messages. But I heard him, for some
reason – perhaps because of a curiosity to find out what could have made him
divorce his frustration so abruptly.
“Who?” I asked, my head searching our environs. Andre stretched
his hands and pointed to our left.
That is when I saw him. Gilbert Agyare. 
Wielding his white cane, he was walking slowly, with a sense of
conspicuous caution that betrayed his determination to look like he was in
control. But he wasn’t. And it was obvious.
Bafflingly, people stared as he struggled. What was striking, and
worrying, was that that was all they did - stare.
Just that.
None of them stepped up to offer help or assistance. They just had
their eyes locked on him, their faces sporting worried looks – as if they were
sympathizing with him through some sort of telekinetic medium. They looked on
as he took calculated steps, as he veered off from the pavement unto the lawn,
as he momentarily paused to survey his path with his stick. As he looked lost.
Soon, the people staring had two more people to stare at, because
Andre and I walked up to him.
Gilbert told us, in his arresting baritone voice, that he was a
Freshman who had been on campus for just two weeks. This meant that he did not
know his surroundings that much, hence the difficulty that had caused such a
spectacle.
A resident of my Hall, Legon Hall, he had come to Sarbah Hall to
purchase food to eat, after trying without success to find someone to send or
escort him. Impressively, he had managed to come to Sarbah all alone. And he was
planning on going back the same way.
Since Jude had still not arrived, Andre – who drives a car –
suggested that we take him back to Legon Hall. We did.
On arrival, I volunteered to take him to his room because I knew
where it was located. When he got settled, I told him that I would come see him
later to check up on him.
While I walked back to Andre’s car, my mind was immersed in
thoughts. It beat my mind as to why a blind freshman could have been left to
fend for himself on such a big campus.
***
THE NEXT DAY, while on my way back from buying a few items from a provision
store a few blocks away from my hall, I ran into Gilbert.
Again, he was alone. He was walking on the pavement isle that cuts
through Legon Hall’s interior, flanked by lawns on either side. I went up to
him and asked where he was headed to. “I have a lecture at the language center
but I do not know where it is. I figured I’d walk to the Southern gate and ask
for help,” he said.
Again, though he seemed perfectly fine and even enthused about the
adventure of exploring campus on his own (he gave me a fascinating explanation
about how he had used the Southern Gate twice and so had visualized it and safely
stored it in his memory) I felt heartbroken. I told him, without hesitating,
that I’d help him get there.
As we made our way to the language center, I found out, through
conversation, that Gilbert is offering the very same courses I was assigned
when I was a freshman: Political Science, Archaeology and Philosophy. It was
interesting, too, to find out that he has dreams of becoming a journalist. The
similarities I found between him and I drew me even more closer to him. During
that walk, I asked him why he always seemed so determined to do things on his
own despite his condition. His response was thought provoking. “I believe in
making an effort to get things done, because though a blind person should never
shy away from asking for help, I believe it is not right to be a bother, to be
a parasite.”
While he told me a bit about himself, I noticed something peculiar
about his personality: he was so confident and fearless, so defiant, and bore
not the slightest sign of self-pity or inherent despair. Inspiration radiated
from his speech, his demeanor, and it added to an unmissable natural charisma.
I found his resilience having a profound effect on me, and I
thought a lot about it during my short walk back to Legon Hall, after I had helped
him settle in his lecture room.
There was something about him.
Something.
***
I DID NOT meet Gilbert again until over a week
later. The day after my last meeting with him, I flew to Nairobi for the CNN
African Journalist Awards finalists’ program. The packed activities, coupled
with the feeling of being overwhelmed by my first ever out-of-Ghana-experience,
meant Gilbert faded away in my thoughts for those few days.
But ultimately, he resurfaced in my mind again the night before I
was due to leave. After emerging runner-up in the Sport Category at the grand
ceremony on Saturday October 10, and after having a lot of well-meaning, lovely
people tell me to keep up and not rest on my oars, I found myself brainstorming
while I simultaneously packed for the trip back home.
What next? I consistently asked myself. Because of intensive work
on a project since February, I had not written any feature story the whole
year. I rummaged my mind for clues as to what I could write on, a story that
would inspire and challenge me, a story that was worth telling - then it struck
me. Gilbert!
I had probably ran into him for a reason. He was not the first
blind person I had seen – it is estimated that there are about 240,000 blind
people in Ghana -  neither was he the first that I’d acquainted myself
with. But there was something about him that pulled me to his personality. My
thirst to find out more about him started growing. I was excited about getting
back home, back to campus, and meeting him once again.
***
THE NEXT MORNING, at the airport, while waiting to board a flight back to Ghana, I
was seated by Mr Shola Oshunkeye, the 2006 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist
of the Year. We had a very educative conversation on journalism, and he
imparted some really invaluable knowledge. He told me something that spoke to
me. 
“You often hear journalists complain that there are no stories to cover,”
he began. “That usually comes from lazy journalists. Because, trust me, there
are stories everywhere. They are around as. They may not be the big or
spectacular news, you know, the obvious ones, but there are everyday
occurrences that are worth telling. You just have to look closely. You just
have to be very observant of the smallest details about the things you see and
experience.”
His words thrust me into a state of imagination. Then,
immediately, I had an epiphany. Gilbert! Again. The signs were buzzing.
Everything was pointing to him.
I began thinking. What if I spoke to him? What if I observed him
and probed deeper into his character? Into his life? Into his experience
without sight? I could not shrug off the feeling that he would have a story
worth telling, a lesson worth elucidating.
I figured: Gilbert might not have a background that is usually
considered newsworthy - you know, the usually sad, negative, sympathy magnets
like a poor family, a hardscrabble childhood, maltreatment, and the like. 
I wasn't bothered about the possibility of not finding such
themes. All that mattered was that I felt I was being inspired by a niggling
curiosity to talk to him. And this urge was strong. 
Besides, I thought: not every story has to be spectacular. Every story,
no matter how normal or inconsequential it seems, helps in understanding life
in one way or the other. There’s value in every tale, however mundane, and
someone has to be bold to tell that tale in order to unearth that value. 
And so, even on the back of the discouraging feeling that it all felt random and risky, I made a final decision to write about him
nonetheless. I remember assuring myself, in my head: “Just write. Ask and
write. Write about anything you find out. Don’t think too much about where it
leads you or worry too much about not finding out anything interesting. You
never know. Just write.”
To be very honest, I had no idea what I was going to find out. Or
even, how I was going to go about it – I’m more comfortable writing sports
stories, and so I wondered how I was going to make a connection that would
allow me bring his story to life.
Amid all this contemplation, the only thing I knew for sure, at
that point, was that I was determined; driven by something I found hard to
place my hands on.

----

Link to PART IIhttp://www.etalapan.com/gilbert-agyare-has-story-part-ii/


GPL Match Day 8 Blog: B.A United struggling to compete at the top

Olympics fans look on as their side romp to a comfortable home win against BA United 

ACCRA----- In the parking lot just behind the VIP Stands of the Accra Sports Stadium, BA United’s Nana Egyir was greeting his friends and fans who had made it to the game to see him play. The experienced defender, affectionately called ‘Rambo’, didn’t look particularly inspiring. His eyes told the story of a player drained and frustrated. “This has happened all season; we play all the football but end up losing all drawing, that has been our story,” the former Heart of Lions captain told me, shaking his head.

B.A United, back in Ghana’s top flight after close to a decade out, are finding life at the top very hard to cope with. It has been a forgettable journey thus far and the effects are visible. Sunday’s game saw them beaten by three goals to one against fellow newly promoted side Great Olympics.  Inspired by their beastly defender Godfred Asante (who rocketed in a ferocious free kick) and stylish play maker Francis Attuquaye Okai (who scored a brace), Olympics proved too much for Egyir’s side. The only bright spot from the game for the ‘Apostles of Ghana Soccer’ was their consolation goal, a penalty coolly converted by Egyir himself in the 67th minute.

B.A weren't that bad all game – they started poorly, looking increasingly amateurish for most parts in the first half and early in the second, but their creativity popped up late into the second half. The only problem was that they lacked the imagination and coordination in the final third to make all the skillful passing and energetic running from the likes of Charles Oppong, Charles Manu and Enoch Gyimah count.

Defensively, though – and as the score line suggested – B.A were very poor. “You can’t defend like that in the Premier League and try to even get a draw,” their coach, Frimpong Manso, admitted. Manso looked even more crest-fallen than Egyir. The coach – a former Ghana national team star in the early 90s – had his head almost bowed throughout the post-match press conference. It was hard not to notice his pain, hard not to feel sympathetically drawn into his predicament. Since a morale boosting 1-0 derby win over Bechem United in their opening fixture, his side have only won once in their last seven games, losing all but one of the rest. They now sit rock bottom on the league log, with a meagre seven points from a possible 24.

L-R: B.A United Goalie cum captain Lawrence Osei and coach Frimpong Manso

People at the club have many theories as to what has been responsible for the slump, but Coach Manso believes two main factors have hindered their desire to get their season back on track. The first he reckons, is their inability to put away the chances they create. “That has been a big problem,” he complained. The second, which is closely related to the first, is so glaring that Manso need not have mentioned it: the crippling inexperience in the squad. “Most of the current players are those who qualified us for the Premier League from Division 1 (second tier) and so have no top flight experience,” he said. “We haven’t been able to beef up the squad with much experienced legs to guide us. If you looked at our squad Nana Egyir is the only seasoned player but the rest are all inexperienced ones who are finding it hard to cope at this level.”

B.A need experienced players to fix things, but at this stage of the season when registration is closed, they will have to turn things around the hard way. They now face a herculean test of their character, as they have to dig deep into their beings to unearth an ability to achieve against the odds. “We need to do something quickly or else things will get very difficult for us going forward,” Manso said matter-of-factly. “We really need to work beyond ourselves to improve as that is our only option now. We need to work extra extra hard to be able to survive.”

Their affable goalkeeper Lawrence Osei, who also happens to be the captain of the team, agreed. “It’s all up to us, the players in camp now. We need to train hard raise our game up and play according to what coach tells us because we can’t sign any more players at this point,” he said. “We have more games upcoming. We need to defend well and play well up front.”

They have their destiny in their own hands.

Notes:

--Sitting just above B.A United at the bottom are...

…Hearts of Oak.

Strangely, the Phobians failed to draw inspiration from two consecutive wins in two competitions (1-0 CAF Confederations Cup first round win over AS Police and another 1-0 win over Istanbul FC in the Elite Cup). Now, they find themselves with eight points from a possible 24, recording only two wins. Herbert Addo’s reign so far has been steeped in mixed fortunes and emotions and it remains largely unclear what really is going on, but you get the sense that the dissatisfaction will spill over soon.

--Yakubu Mohammed knows how to score, doesn’t he? Proper striker, him. A hat trick on Sunday against New Edubiase in the Adansi Derby has taken his tally to five, joining what has suddenly become a crowd atop the goal king chart: the likes of Chelsea duo Kofi Owusu and Stephen Baffour, Bechem's Noah Martey and Hearts' Gilbert Fiamenyo - who has now gone four games without scoring following his famous January exploits (that saw him score five times in his first three games).

---AshGold are also still on top of the table and have won all but one of their games. Everyone keeps referring to them as traditional chokers who will bottle it eventually, but it remains to be seen.

-- Asante Kotoko’s loss at Ashanti Gold before the league’s short break saw the club ushering in the expected storm. Management eventually gave in to the prevailing panic around the club. Coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani was essentially forced to go on his accumulated leave - a conspicuous bid to get rid of him amid fan agitation – with a new hunt for a successor being instigated while Didi’s still technically under contract. Sunday’s 0-0 draw against the exciting WAFA meant the Porcupine Warriors have gone four consecutive league games without a win, a run of form that has seen them slump to 12th place on the log.

---Who would've thought? Great Olympics are now out of the relegation zone following their win over B.A United. That’s two wins in their last three games. “This is the start of good things to come for us,” coach Kassim Mingle said. Cliché, but you can’t help but admire how their hard work is beginning to pay off.

---After going unbeaten in their first three games, Wa All Stars have bizarrely gone on to lose four of their last five games and have now dropped to the relegation zone. Something really bad must have hit them.

Results

Saturday

Hasaacas 2-1 Inter Allies [Kojo Poku, Tenneson Opoku : Eliasu Fusseini]

Sunday

Asante Kotoko 0-0 WAFA

Heart of Lions 1-0 Hearts of Oak [Osman Muntaka]

Liberty Professionals 1-0 Bereku Chelsea [Kennedy Ashia]

New Edubiase United 2-3 Ashanti Gold [Fusseini Nuhu 2x : Yakubu Mohammed 3x]

Great Olympics 3-1 B.A United [Godfred Asante, Francis Attuquaye Okai 2x : Nana Egyir]

Bechem United 2-1 Medeama SC [Ernest Baffoe, Noah Martey : Nathaniel Asamoah]

Aduana Stars 1-0 Wa All Stars [Daniel Darkwa]