Last Saturday I did something quite crazy. While watching the world go past on a cloudy afternoon the rains suddenly dropped without a warning. Suddenly I noticed that my gang of little ones were hurrying away from the field in front of my house. They had been playing outdoors.
I called out to them and announced: ‘You know what, guys… do not bother to stop. Just go on. Play in the rain!’ At first, each of them looked at me oddly. But when I stood my ground and performed that grin they understand too well, they realised that this was going to be another crazy moment at Villa Akpabli.
Soon bicycles were struggling to balance in the mud while a wet ball was becoming evasive to kick. But my rain-soaked kids were having real fun. An alarmed Mrs. A came out to stop the madness that the house maid had noticed and rushed to duly report.
‘‘Shhh.’’ I insisted. ‘’Just go back in there and get hot bathing water ready.’’
Whether born in the 12th Century or 21st Century, there are things children must experience.
I grew up at Kotobabi and open space for play back then came with the territory. It was a given. All year round, we engaged the natural environment directly for games and recreation.
And the rain was not something we shied from -come thunder or lightning. Indeed, our parents begged us to take shelter. Some adults also actually bathed in the rain!
We hurled stones at seasonal birds which flew over our heads (beleybeley), we chased and manhandled butterflies, we caught and chained beetles (aantonii) to hum to our delight, we watched and sang lullabies to plants which would open and close as we touched them, we dug holes and placed ‘alasa’ seeds into them…..
Like little scout boys we would trek to the Dzorwulu and Abelenkpe areas to ape the BBC. If you are wondering, this refers to Bela Boys Company, our more hardened colleagues from the tougher terrains of Nima and Mamobi who moved in groups hunting down bush rats. While we couldn’t hunt for food, we took consolation in swimming escapades in streams such as ‘9-9’.
Today, what’s in vogue is to convert every available space in Accra into stores or something of the sort. But the truth of the matter is that children and adults can only recreate meaningfully when there is open space. And for children, open space is a matter of human right.
I earned my rather exciting childhood because there was space! What with the K-designated primary and middle schools all around us. There was the main SWAG Park which was surrounded by K-1, K3 (used to be all female), K4 and K15 and 16. Another Park had K4 and Wilberforce 1 Primary.
Then there was K2 Primary close by which had a smaller park. Way ahead towards Accra New Town, there was the K-11 and 12 as well as the K- 5 and 6 cluster of schools.
These open spaces were not just for school break time recreation. No. They served varied purposes. I remember very well that it was a makeshift ground for several games including football, basketball, hockey. People came from near and far to train.
During interschool sports competitions these fields were the venue. On Saturdays, the Kotobabi Parks were the go to places for delightful colts soccer. The Powerlines, Olympics Babies, Farcos and Great Mohammedans were some of the teams that made the SWAG Park a community Wembley. Can anyone really quantify the social value of these resources?
The Parks also served as the venue for information vans which showed educational or religious films. Memorable were the nights we would all converge under the night skies with our eyes glued to a huge mounted screen. On such evenings, of course, school homework suffered some casualty.
During some religious festivals the parks of the Kotobabi cluster of schools served as the camping base for some churches. A notable example was the Kristo Asafo Mission. They colonise the space as well as the classrooms. It was fascinating to see how hundreds of families from different parts of Ghana converted these school blocks into homes.
Fufu pounding, washing, playing and bathing were all done as naturally as could be executed at home. In my boyish eyes, I observed the group and I told myself that Continued from this was how the Israelites managed their exodus.
During their occupation of these spaces, the evenings were usually the highlight. Evening services and crusades were staged on these parks. More than that, the fields also hosted night entertainments.
Musical performances drew the entire community to enjoy a good time. With the Kristo Asafo group, nights were particularly for dramatic performances, namely concert party.
The Nkomodes and the Agya Koos that the nation got to know of on TV as stars, actually started out at such sessions at Kotobabi Park.
Such nights were, of course, not the best for all people. But such folks have their time when the crowds leave. I am referring to all those individuals who used the Kotobabi Park for their romantic rendezvous.
Night time in those open spaces and under the school shed was conducive for loved-up couples to spend together. Sometimes, though, these love-birds are morally challenged by a few holy spirit-filled prayer warriors who also used the same space to caste out the devil who roams all parks like a wounded lion seeking someone to devour!