Walking along my road to join the fray of commuters every morning can get quite monotonous. It’s always the same scenery, apart from the occasional new kiosk that sprang up overnight to house the latest busload of squatters. Or a new splash of paint on the local drinking hole. Or a poster advertising a death, and thus reminding us of our own mortality, irrespective of how many Christmases we’ve celebrated.
One announcement, though, constantly brings a bit of a chuckle out of me. Not because it holds much humorous value to me today, but for its bluntness. “WHAT A SHOCK!” the headline screams. For some reason, the picture that comes into my head whenever I hear it is that of a guy in dark glasses, wearing faded jeans and posing against a car not his, a young gun robbed of his breath in the prime of his youth. It was only a few years ago, riding through Jamestown one Sunday afternoon that it caught my attention. I initially wondered what this great shock was. I felt bad for laughing, though my laughter was at the notice, rather than the sad event. I was probably the last person in Accra to ever have seen one like that.
Over the years, plain old “Obituary” has become too ordinary. We’ve learnt to classify the depth of sadness by age. So, “Called to Glory” and “Home Call” would probably go for older and more distinguished individuals, “In Transition” would be reserved for the more religious, and “Gone too soon” … well, it speaks for itself. “Away Bus” for a driver’s mate would seem rather apt. Maybe not.
Don’t we just love the dead? After all, it is said among the Akans that a person’s most important days are the day he is born and the day that he dies. Living in Accra, though, it doesn’t take much to know that outdoorings, though, are the big deal here. Especially among the predominantly indigenous communities. Bring out the Sunday’s best, call the spinners and crack open bottles of the local brew. It’s an early morning party! Who cares if the money was borrowed or if there’s work that day? A baby’s been born, we need to commemorate it.
Most commuters don’t have a problem listening to Sarkodie blasting out “You go kill me” so early in the day. However, the blocked roads – that also happen to be clever backdoor routes leading to the main road – appear to be the most annoying of all. Imagine driving all the way back because a gang of youngsters are busily reinventing azonto to dangerous dance levels when you have a career-defining presentation in ten minutes.
But roads are blocked for funerals too. And probably for the whole weekend. Crowds of mourners descend upon what was only yesterday a busy side road, thick black cloths draped over bare shoulders glistening with sweat. Very few of them come with donations in their pockets, by the way. Back when I was in Kumasi, it wasn’t rare for brave students to look out for obituary notices to decide where they would eat their Saturday afternoon fufu. It wasn’t difficult to find out which funerals were worth attending. Where you had children in Germany and the United Kingdom – and even those in Ghana occupying managerial positions in big multinational companies – then it’s time to air out the old cloth and red strips.
With each step on the dusty hired school park, a cloud of dust rises from around your native sandals. Make your way past the obviously drunken man in the centre, somehow dancing in step with the tune exploding from giant speakers, past the mix of paid and genuine mourners crying their eyes out while beating their chests in anguish, past the line of greeters heading towards the grieving family, and make your way towards the tables where a few similarly uninvited guests are unashamedly fighting over another bottle of Guinness and getting enough food to feed a small militia.
These beloved dead men’s parties are an integral part of our culture. A lot of time goes into organising them, worse if the last air the dearly departed breathed wasn’t Ghanaian. Will he be buried in a casket in the shape of a canoe or in the shape of a bird, or in one made from oak or mahogany? So many decisions, so many people you’ve never met to be consulted to ensure that tradition is followed, all to wish our loved one a safe journey into the afterlife.
I continued towards Bridge. Life goes on. I wished the organisers of the funeral the best. It was certainly unexpected, losing their brother or son at the tender age of 25. The task ahead was daunting. Indeed, what a shock.