Elizabeth Ohene: To write or not to write

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Elizabeth Ohene
Elizabeth Ohene - The Writer

It used to say on my passport in the profession column that I was a Journalist. Now it says WRITER. The change from journalist to writer occurred in the early 1990s. The world had suddenly changed from the innocent place I had known where we journalists wore dust jackets with PRESS emblazoned on them as a form of protection in dangerous areas, to journalists becoming deliberate targets.

I think I remember the day I made the decision I would no longer carry a passport that says I was a journalist. It was some day in 1991 and it was at Mogadishu airport. It was not a pleasant incident and it is enough to say the events of that day have clouded my attitude to Somalia and Somalis forever.
The very next passport I got, I quietly made the transition from Journalist to Writer. I discovered that it is less stressful entering and leaving airports as a writer than as a journalist.
Once in a while, some immigration officer might ask you what you write and I have never found myself short of an answer. Fashion, food, travel have been my favourite topics that I have offered as the subjects on which I write and they have always served me well.
Writers don’t seem to get people’s backs up anywhere near as what the mention of journalists do to officials.
I have, therefore, enjoyed this title and if the truth be told, it has been a convenient cover all these years. Luckily for me it is not just the title of Writer that I enjoy; I love to write.
I might moan once in a while about the amount of time it now takes me to write an article, but I like to play with words and I like to tell stories and I, of course, like to express my opinions.
To get paid for doing something you enjoy must surely be one of life’s blessings. The Daily Graphic does not pay me for writing this column even though I am not quite sure I know why they don’t pay me, but I must confess that writing it has given me enough joy to compensate for not getting paid.
So, dear readers, I hear you. I have had some straightforward reactions to my announcement that I would stop writing the column.
The best one put it this way: “How dare you threaten to end your column! We the readers also have rights. We hereby demand an investigation into this decision. Better still, we have revoked the decision on your behalf!”
Then there was the young man (when you are my age, everybody is young) who stopped to talk to me at the airport last Monday as we were both catching flights. He made a passionate appeal I should not stop writing. This was the clincher: “I have introduced my children to your column and one of them got an A grade in English at the BECE and…,” wait for this: “we are all convinced it is because he has been reading your column”!
Now I know where I should go to get paid for writing a Daily Graphic column: the Minister of Education, that’s who. Mr Young Man-at-the-airport, rushing to catch a flight, I hear you. I might not be able to manage a weekly column, but I will try and write every now and again.

Taxi drivers
In the past 10 days I rediscovered just why taxi drivers used to be the most quoted people by foreign correspondents on a reporting trip to any country.
I have had some interesting taxi rides recently.
I salute you Akwasi in Kumasi. He drove me from my hotel to the airport. I tried to negotiate the price before the start of the journey. If he was taking me to the airport, he wanted to know if I was going inside or outside.
I couldn’t work out the language and I knew I was getting out of touch. If he was dropping me outside the airport, the charge was GH¢20, and if he was going inside the airport, the charge was GH¢25. He suggested he would drop me “outside” and I would save GH¢5 and he would also not have to pay the GH¢2 entrance fee.
The taxi turned out to be quite a miracle on wheels. How Akwasi managed to get a road worthy certificate for that vehicle beats me. The door on the passenger side of the front seat was held together with some multi-coloured twine and when I looked down to try and work out where the breeze around my feet was coming from, I discovered a hole in the floor of the taxi.
He appeared to see every vehicle ahead of him as a challenge to his manliness and would overtake it at all cost. I tried to tell Akwasi gingerly that I wasn’t late for my flight but it made no difference to the speed at which he was hurtling down the Kumasi streets that Sunday morning. He is saving money to go and work in Germany for five years and he will make enough money there in five years to come back and build a house and bring a proper car that he would use as a taxi.
I tried to keep my eyes off the general area where the handle of the taxi door should have been.
Does he know anybody in Germany? No.
Has he heard of Angela Merkel? No.
Does he know about the refugee crisis in Europe? Yes, people have been drowning on the way but he would be okay.
How is he getting to Germany? We almost came to a nasty end as he tried to squeeze through two vehicles. Ouch..
Even he realised that was a close shave and he went quiet and didn’t answer the question about how he was getting to Germany.
He dropped me “inside” and smiled broadly at his tip and asked for God’s blessings on me. There was a little difficulty getting out of the vehicle as there was no handle on the door, but Akwasi got me out.
I am glad I came out alive to write this particular story.