Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Childhood in Ghana...Asoma Asoma Galore!

Things have been all serious in here for a while, which is good. We think a little, we laugh a little, not so?

Ah, so i've been itching to write a blog post on growing up in Ghana for months! And not just what it's like to be a kid in Ghana but one unavoidable aspect of childhood in these parts.


Asoma Asoma

How to say this in english?

Adults sending you left, and right to run errands.

It wasn't easy.

See the errands that filled my childhood:)

1. Going to the Nikanika
The Nikanika (tr: corn mill) is where we went to...well, mill corn. You know, the place where all the mbɔr (dough) came from before we could buy them in places like Shoprite. Does Shoprite even sell corn dough?And my childhood was filled with many many many trips to these mills. I'd go to mill all sorts of grains. Of course there was the usual corn that had been soaked in water for 3 days - which is used for banku, kooko, and kenkey. Yes, indeed my Bono (someone from the Bono Ahafo region) mother learned how to make Ga kenkey after which  we stopped buying from the kenkey seller so you can imagine the corn mill load. Hmm! Besides that, I also would mill something that my family calls Weanimix - (a mixture of roasted corn, beans, and groundnuts). Some people call this Tom Brown. Other times, I'd go to mill hausa koko ( a mixture of millet, akakaduro (tr:ginger), hwentea and dried pepper). Oh charle! Everything including hausa koko was home-made. We did have a house help but she was older than me so, since I was the only kid in the house, which meant more asoma asoma for me. There was even a period when we were grinding dry corn for grits and ekuegbemi. So when it came time to go to the nikanika, the house help would put the kehyire (i don't know the english word for kekyire so  please use the translater on the right hand panel of the blog) on my head  and then i'd carry the grains in the Holsum bucket. Does anyone remember the Holsum bucket? Yeah, and then I'd walk with the bucket on my head to the Nikanika. If the light was off, or the line was long, then it would be a long boring wait. Who else on this blog did this?! And is it just coincidence that all the Nikanikas in Ashale-Botwe were owned and operated by Ewes or was this the case in other places as well?

2. Burning Rubbish
Only in Ghana is burning rubbish a child's job. Before the days of door-to-door waste collection, we used the land opposite our house as a rubbish dump and I had a weekly ritual of heaping all our rubbish into a pile, pouring some kerosene on it and lighting a big flame. Then I'd stand there and watch it burn, inhaling all the smoke.  In writing this blog post, I discussed this point about burning rubbish with a friend and he said mine was nothing and then he told me his horror story. He says his friends had come to visit him and he was sitting on their porch talking, and generally trying to be all cool. Next thing he knows his mother is shouting from inside the house...Kwame! kwaaame! Kaawoho kɔhye toilet papers no (hurry and burn the toilet papers) Can u imagine!!? He said, the whole place became diin (tr: quiet). hehe. I would have died of embarassment. It's in times like these that the earth is supposed to open up and swallow you. lol.

3. Going to Market With a List (including momoni or koobi)
I have written all about my experience buying momoni in madina market here. Seriously, don't parents ever think about us and our "image?" haha. How can they send us to the market to go buy momoni? What if we meet our friends there? How shall we survive the teasing? Thankfully, I was never "caught". hehe.

4. Going to fetch water in buckets when the taps go off
Anyone from Madina, Adenta, Ashale-Botwe here? Water simply did not flow regularly in those parts. So before the days of water tankers, and Polytanks, when the taps went off, you'd be given a bucket and you'd have to go in search of water. I remember once, going as far as 2 miles away to fetch water from some lake so we could use it to flush toilets. Charle...that was not fun.
5. Going to buy alcohol, especially akpeteshie in a coke bottle.
I hated, hated, hated this one. Arrrrgh! I didn't mind being sent to buy sodas or minerals as we say, and actually, I didn't mind being sent to buy beers or guinness. But I hated being twelve years old and having to carry a coke bottle in a black plastic bag, to a woman in a kiosk exactly as in the photo below to buy akpeteshie. I hated it.
6. Going to Deliver a Message
This was before the days of the cell phone, and even before most homes had landlines, so my mother would send me to go deliver messages to her friends. Often I'd get sent with messages that I was not meant to understand, and sometimes I'd forget the message on the way there. When I didn't forget, then the whole deal would go like so:  I'd get there, and greet and deliver the message. It usually went like this: Mepaakyɛw good evening. Me maame se, menkankyere wo sɛ ɔkyena ontumi mba asɔre enti me nka nkyɛrɛ wo sɛ adeɛ no, fa ma Mrs. Ahovi ɔmfa mbrɛ no wo edwuma mu. (Good evening, my mother said i should tell you that she won't make it to church tomorrow so you should give the thing to Mrs. Ahovi to bring to her at work) Money was always adeɛ no. lol. Why didn't adults just say the message as it was? Like I didn't know that adeɛ no referred to money. lol. I'm guessing kids of today don't go on such errands anymore because adults can just call whomever they need to call.
Yeah, these are the errands I spent my childhood running. What about you? Where did your mamma like to send you? Which did you not like? What was it like? Any funny errand stories, like our friend Kwame whose mother needed him to burn the toilet papers? lol.


  1. The errands were not as annoying as being asked to wash a dirty dish that was not added to the pile you had just finished washing, especially when you had cleared up the washing area and rinsed your hands.

  2. 1. Going to buy fufu, omo tuo, etc from "Don't Mind our Wife" chop bar.

    2. Going to buy charcoal from a place my six/seven year old mind thought was without a doubt the dirtiest place on earth. Aswe, the "charcoal house" was like a coal mine.

    I guess you were an honest little girl because you didn't mention "chobo" (skimming a little off the top of each errand, inevitably getting caught and "seeing pepper")... hehehe...

  3. @Lyrix, oh my I've been there. You can't imagine how angry I'd get after that last plate was brought to be washed - very annoying.
    Speaking about burning stuff, I remember we had to burn our used sanitary pads so we'd pour kerosene and burn. Now if you didn't wait to see that your "baggage" was thoroughly burned, we had a whole load of dogs who made sure that the whole world knew that you had just had your period .They'd literally massacre the used pads - humiliating and disgusting.
    Akpeteshie in a bottle? I've never heard of that before. I do remember being slightly embarrassed if I had to buy toilet paper thoughand I don't know why.

  4. hahahahaha send send galore
    In primary school, the nikanika owner's son was the bad boy in the area that no parent wanted their kid associating with. I never missed going to the nikanika on saturdays with our helper 'cos that was my only chance to see what new porno mags & playing cards he had succeeded.

  5. The akpeteshie bottle is a classic. Whenever my dad came back from any trip, he would send me off with the coke bottle for a "quarter" at sheeba spot(a kiosk with queen sheeba inscribed on it). Speaking of, I know alcohol in general is but is akpeteshie specifically adictive? This is because my dad and his friends will not touch any alcohol they brought from overseas but wouldnt go a day without akpet. Anyways, I hated going to deliver the message thing. It always ended being at my moms friends house with a hot daughter. I was very shy as a kid.

  6. love this!! reminds me so much of my childhood. I remember when I was too small to fetch water, I would beg my mum to allow me to go along and I would be given me a small bucket. needless to say, three-quarters of the water ended up all over me!

  7. WICKED!! trips to the nikanika used to piss me off,cos it was always on saturdays when either Gummy Bears, Power Rangers of By The Fireside was on tv and you get there and there was an uber long queue. I do think all nikanika operators are Ewe the ones in my hood are even togolese refugees.
    My Gran used to send me to buy 'bidie' until I was like 24 or 25 (oh challey senior legon boga like me paa holding a charcoal dusted bag walking down the street)
    But seriously none of the above beats this; I have a friend who when we were little was usually sent to take the sheep in her house out to graze. It was ok till we started growing and it stopped (well the duty was shifted to the next kid in the house). One time, when we came home for Vacation in SSS, she was asked to take the sheep out the front gate to have a nibble and the next thing she knew the sheep and her were at Osu. SHE WAS PISSED!!

  8. Oh Esi, mine beats yours oh. spending Saturdays in the market with my meat-selling mom was part interesting part torture. Anytime I would doze off behind her counter, she would wake me up to make the 15-minute walk home to deliver more meat from the storage container at home. Good Lord, carrying meat on your head in a bucket through a busy market and seeing the prissy rich girl in your class staring at you takes the word "endurance" to a whole new level, lol.

  9. I didn't mind (in fact I somewhat enjoyed) burning rubbish/paper. There was something fascinating about watching stuff turn into black carbon and then beating the soot into the wind--but then again I enjoyed burning things--I even started a real bush-fire once!

    Fetching water was fun or not depending on who else I met at the well/"pipe ase". Same went for milling corn/running errands--it all depended on the area boys I might meet there for an impromptu game (and then I'd run back just to make it look like I didn't stop anywhere for like 15minutes just to play).

    Washing dishes was never even tolerable--I hated it through and through and some of the more memorable fights of my childhood started with arguments about why it wasn't really fair that I had to wash dishes again since I'd already done my fair share. But once I learned that breaking glass plates & tumblers got me off dish-washing duty, ...

  10. Ohhhhhhh wansi ka (who told u to even start this topic ) please dont get me started. :lol:

    I am in my 30s grew up in Kanda Estates and later back to Labone in the 80s. My mom was mean (at least thats what i thought - cos even though iwas considered a dada ba attending a international school and all (one of those girls always saying "When i went to London, When i went to America ) and though we had 2 househelps, when my mom wanted to punish me she would sent me to do nika nika - with a purple plastic round bowl with no hands that left me no choice but to carry it on my dadaba head.

    I remember i had a crush on this dude in Brucezans House (The Krow Family lived in a house called Brucezans, - this household had like 6 teenage boys all attending GIS, Christ the King and some in Adisadel), but the only way to get to the nika nika around the nima area was to go infront of Brucezans, so i did not want them to see me with this purple round bowl on my heard (at least if it was a bucket i could flex small - but it was not a bucket with handles - rather a round deep purple plastic bowl which left me no choice but to carry on my head) - so instead of going the 15 mins route to the nika nika, i went the longest route to nima just to avoid going infront of brucezans.

    And in Labone when i went to buy kelewele at the Labone junction, i will go around the neighborhood 2 times to finish eating it before i got home cos i know with all my errshwaah (ppls who always wanting to help themselves to others food) siblings - i wouldnt have any left - but the funny thing is sometimes as i am circling the neighborhood i will bump into my own brother doing the same thing am doing - eating his kelewele and strolling and we will both accuse each other by being stingy wiht our kelewele. Those days kelewele was in a graphic paper. You will not imagine how many marriages have come out of the Labone Junction kelewele meetings - many current spouses first met there or used buying kelewele as an excuse to meet their boys. That kelewele woman was the original aunty Muni of our days.

    Mehn i miss the good ole days.

    In secondary school form 1 - i avoided being sent cos my sister was in upper six and a prefect, but once she left me after graduation and i was in form 2 the seniors got me for it. I will never forget them telling me to write my name with my butt as i stood.

    I think you need to start a topic reminiscing about homoing days in secondary school especially if you are child of the 80s secondary school system.
    When my older sisters were grounded, i was sent to deliver messages to their boyfriends via love letters. My sisters boyfriends loved me as a child and always dashed me money cos i was good in delivering their messages and i always knew their whistles and looked out for them when my dad was coming.

  11. @ Here, there...happy to cook something you love.

    @Lyrix, Kekeli and anonymous...Anonymous cracked me up with comment about breaking the dishes.
    At Kekeli...you don't know why you were embarrassed to be seen buying t-roll? Isn't it sort of an admission that you err shit? lol. I guess your question is, why is it embarrassing to admit that? I dunno. I heard a talk once in which the speaker said the reason we're ashamed to admit we too shit is because when we admit it, we're admitting we're like other animals. I don't entirely buy that but I don't have a better answer.

    @Wofa Eric, no, i never took money when I was sent but i usually kept the change if it was small. There was some sort of unspoken agreement between my parents and i that if the change was coins, it was mine. So I was so so shocked, when once...about the time i finished secondary school, my dad's friend gave me money as transportation to attend a class. On that day, for some reason my dad was not around so his friend gave me the money. When i came back from classes, he asked me for his change.I think the change was some small money - in coins. Something like the equivalent of 1 cedi now, and when he asked me i replied that the change was only 1 cedi and he said yeah, but it's not my money. it's his. And true true, he took the money! I guess he was trying to teach me something but it was so different from what i'd grown up knowing that i was just too shocked at the time to make any sense of it. In my mind, what was a grown man going to use 1 cedi for? lol.

    @Mike, how old were you when the Nikanika's son was showing you his porn stash?

    @Nana, yes, methinks akpet is addictive. Ever heard of the phrase "nsa etwa ne photo?".

    @Sushi, i think it's interesting that you remember your water-fetching days fondly. Some white dude from america read the article through our facebook fan page and responded saying something about also being poor, and saying his childhood was similar to this. I thought the "poverty" comment was interesting because i never quite saw myself as a poor kid and didn't once think that these experiences were negative because people with "richer parents" didn't have them. Which makes me wonder...where does one draw the line? At what point do you know, you're officially poor? lol. In Ghana, i feel that these experiences were pretty normal. Were we all poor then? lol

  12. Haha, Mr. Bigglezz. Thanks for your little story. Made me laugh. Girl herding goats paa?! I hope she has a photograph of it 'cos if she put a photo of herself with the goats from say 10 years ago on facebook now, she'd be the coolest facebooker for a while. Heck, i wish i had a goat-herding story from my childhood:)

    @Marissa, awww, girl i feel your pain. Were you in my class? Did my mom sometimes buy meat from your mom? If so, i remember being embarrassed to be following my mom to come buy meat from your mom's meat stall. And never once thinking of you. hehe. I think it's kinda funny that i would be so embarrassed about my own situation that it never occurred to me you would be embarrassed to be selling meat. But hey, you know what? My aunt once told me that it is what you make of your environment/background and achieve for yourself and contribute to society that is the real measure of success. And so, your mom is amazing for being able to give you the same kind of education that rich kids got. She's amazing for teaching you how to carry meat too. And learning how to endure counts for something. In many senses, the kind of life you've led is enabling rather than crippling. You, Marissa can do it, and you're not going to let anyone tell you you can't now, 'cos they have no idea how far you've come already. Oh the places you will go!

    @Anonymous...lol at pipe ase. And how did you put out your real bush fire?

    @Tell it like it is...How i wish you had a photo of you carrying this your purple bowl on your way to Nikanika! Must have been hell, specially if you went to GIS. Some friends and I were discussing how, no matter how hard we thought we had it in primary school, being in a school like GIS would have killed us. And we all seemed to agree that a parent who only had enough money to pay the fees, but not enough to do the abroad trips and buy nice sneakers, bags, and toys would do better to send their kid to say Christ the King instead of traumatizing the child by making him the only "poor" kid in GIS. LOL. What do you think? Thanks for sharing your experience. Was fun to read. Watch out for the post on homoing in ss. I don't know why we haven't done it already. Good call.
    Ei, so that labone kelewele woman, how many years has she been there? I only discovered her about 2 years ago. I heard she built some big house from selling kelewele. Ibi true?

  13. i use to be so mad when my mom would accused me of doing chobow (pinching off money given to me to go on an errand) - i was mad and sad cos i know i didnt twa chobow so one day my aunt came to the house and i was crying profusely (flirms and all) i think i was 10yrs old, and she asked why and i said

    "Enye Mummy na osi mi ma twa chobor" (isnt it mummy who said i stiffed off her money)- and my aunt would asked

    "Na ampa seh wu twa chobor? (well is that true that you did) - i replied "

    Oh aunty i swear i did not" - then she replied "Emom Akos paaaa wukachire yi wudi gyimi - wutrimu ye du de dudu - wesi wa twa chobo na wuntwa ya - esu ben na womu - gyai tirimu de kankan nu" - gyai su - na pipa wenim.

    translation of what my aunt "You too spoilt, stop crying bout unnecessary stuff - why cry if u know u did not do it, as the last born u way too spoilt and cry bout the least things. Stop crying.

    Ms Cleland u misunderstood my previous statement - i did not attend GIS, the guy i had a crush on went to GIS, I went to CTK and NRL not GIS. By the way Ms Cleland start a topic about ONE fondest childhoold memory i have one to tell.

  14. Esi, I did all these things you've mentioned! Like your friend, I also had to burn the toilet paper. And we lived in Adenta, so after taking trotro home from school at 6pm, I had to go and fetch my quota of water before I could sit down for dinner. LOL! As for the milling, goodness gracious! I used to go to the mill for my aunt and uncle in Cape Coast, and I hated going there because it looked dingy, the guy who run the mill looked sketchy, and the place always smelled funky because all the "mori".

    I used to go the market with my aunt, so after a while, all her vendors knew me and I would be able to go to them without a problem. The problem was coming back home. The basket we owned had these raised panels on the bottom, and these cut into my scalp even with the "kehyire" on, especially if the groceries were heavy. Which they always were. Why? Because both my aunt and uncle love fufu, so I always had to buy some cassava and plantain. In addition to all these woes, we lived right next to Mfantsipim, so I had to walk by all these cute teenage boys who were giving me the eye, and there's NO WAY you can look cool carrying a blue basket filled with cassava, plantain, "nane", "wele", "tolo beef", crabs, and "momoni" on your head. LOL!

  15. You all forgot about Shining the Pots and Pans on a weekly basis. I did that on the regular - at least that i enjoyed better than all the other chores

  16. @Miss Tilli, my bad. So CTK huh? Which year? I work with a couple of people from CTK - Nasa Arthur and Annette Dumelo (now Mensa). You know them?

    Ah you have reminded me of the pots shinning...with that shining sapo, right? We even used to shine our kitchen stools too. lmao!

    @Awurama, you have reminded me of how the under of the baskets used to pain! Yeah, i used to feel that pain too, charle. Actually even the plastic bowls that we milled the corn and others in also had the same problem, but it wasn't so bad once you used the kehyire but as for the basket diee...it was just hard core.

    And speaking of Nane, i've been meaning to do a post on weird as sh** that Ghanaians love to eat. And you know both wele and nane will make the list. Stay tuned.

    Oh and Miss Tilli, i haven't forgotten your request for a post on fave childhood memories o. Just wait me small wai.

  17. How about pounding fufu? Jesus! Any kid from Kumasi can attest to this lol. I am from a home where my dad eat fufu every single day believe it or not. So i always hated coming back from school around 4-5ish when all the kids are home and it is street soccer time. That is exactly when my mom will scream my name "Kwaaaaaaaaaaaaaddddddddwwwwwwwwooo, bankye no aben, na bra na b3wo ansa na wo pa pa aba fie" (KWADWO THE CASSAVA IS DONE SO COME AND POUND THE FUFU BEFORE YOUR DAD GETS HOME). I seized myself from eating fufu because of this brutal experience, i only resumed when i came to USA because its microwave ready lol.

    Going to buy 'ideal milk'....OMG! lol

    Akpeteshie koraa is better than going to buy 'APIO' smh...but i loved buying 'NSAFUFUO' i will sip small small before i get home lol

    Great, fun , memorable times... thanks for this post!! i enjoyed reading everyones 'tragedies' :)

  18. @Kwadwo, Ok, seriously! I've been laughing at what you wrote for a whole minute...I can picture/hear exactly how your mom used to call you."Kwaaaaaaaaaaaaaddddddddwwwwwwwwooo, bankye no aben, na bra na b3wo ansa na wo pa pa aba fie"
    That just made my day. Thanks!

  19. The comments are so interesting - i cant stop laughing.

  20. becareful Maame that lil boy vincent who owns ghanacelebrities has stolen this topic and puttin on his web. He is a bonified thief, He stills ppl work and makes up stories on ghana celebs just to generate traffic. I am a blogger too and i want us to pay attention to him. We need to call out THIEFS like that. I am a blogger too, Lets look out for each other, I will email you soon.