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. 😉


[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
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.
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
“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
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 II