The Watch Woman Column: When you stop reading, you lose the literacy-seat of your soul

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Last month, I read an article in the New York Times entitled, “The country that stopped reading.” The country focus of the article was Mexico. But the issues addressed could be superimposed on Ghana.

The author, David Tuscana posits that although more people attend school these days, less people are functionally literate. In other words, more people go to school but school does not go through them!

Although Mexico was once a well-educated country, today, according to Tuscana, ‘Mexico is floundering socially, politically and economically because so many of its citizens do not read.’ I wish academicians in Ghana would conduct relevant social science studies that can tell us the hard truth about the state of our nation, with predictions of where we are headed toward if we do not change.

As more of us go to school, the quality of education appears to fade away. I recall when I freshly graduated from the university and my grandfather, Nana Ansah Israel who was a pocket-lawyer of some sort, asked me to draft a letter for him. I panicked, sweated, fidgeted, froze and gave one foolish excuse after another. I never wrote the letter. The truth is that I could not have written that letter.

He had a Standard-something level of education and could write such letters with great ease. He was very literate. He always read late into the night with candle light until his death at age 97.

The wise old man said nothing about my inability to write that letter for him. I’ve lived with the guilt all my life. I’m sure he died with an unexpressed disappointment because after all, I was the first of his offspring to have acquired a university education! Yet, I fell short of his expectations. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see me finally get my act together to the point that now, I can’t stop writing and reading.

Now, like him, I read late into the night even with candle light!

Here is a frightening fact: Literacy can be lost, or at least diminish. Literacy belongs in the category of ‘use it or lose it’ of skills. What is painful about losing literacy is that gaining literacy is a slow and painful process.

You learn to read and write incrementally, and like a sponge, your brain soaks literacy and it becomes part of you. But the sponge does not remain soaked-wet forever. As the sponge is left fallow and not cared for, the soaked juice slowly drains off.

You might not lose all literacy acquired if you don’t use it. But over time, retrogression sets in and you could be left with a shadow of what you used to know.

When I stopped reading and writing!

Once upon a time, I stopped reading—and writing too! I was then a young mother going through the motions of contributing my bit to populate the earth. Women from time immemorial since great-great-great grandmother Eve played the baby-making role; future women will continue with this challenging but fulfilling task of womanhood. My child-bearing years coincided with the early days of my career.

So something had to give! I sacrificed reading and writing at the altar of wiping baby fluids.

After some years, I realised that I had gone down to the basics of literacy.

With dwindled Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic skills, naturally my comprehension abilities also dwindled.

My vocabulary base shrunk to the size of a groundnut.

Addition and subtraction tasks I could previously handle with ease became an agonizing activity that I dreaded. I lost the motivation to grab a book to read because it had become an audacious undertaking.

I settled for reading short love stories in the Mirror newspaper.

That became my literacy solace, a grand denial of my avoidance of reading, and a façade that I was still literate.

It took me years of struggle to re-gain literacy, accompanied with the joy of reading and writing and some basic arithmetic.

Today, my only daughter is also busy at the baby-making factory and has given me three grandchildren.

I see myself in her. She, like me three decades ago, rarely reads or writes anything anymore.

I know that she is losing aspects of the three R’s she acquired through university education.

I continue to tell her: ‘Darkoa, you are losing literacy oo! Literacy is a gift.

Don’t permit yourself to lose it. Pick and read a book; any book. Write a letter—to anyone.

Write a poem. Read and write something—anything! Use it or lose it!’

We may have different reasons for retrogressing from literacy and losing our ABCs, so-to-speak.

Yours might not have a thing to do with baby-making and child-raising.

It might just be raw laziness that is getting the better part of you.

Don’t wish the loss of literacy on your worst enemy.

Guard the literacy you have been fortunate to acquire.

Whenever I see children and young adults chasing after cars to sell various odds-and-ends by our roadside, I wonder how much of the ABCs they acquired in school drop off during the hot hawking chase.

Do they ever read a thing beyond road signs and a few survival basics? How does their situation make them feel? How does such a situation affect the psyche of Ghana?

Tuscana asserts that “books give people ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity.” Good books have the potential to change one’s life for the better.

There is nothing as intense and orgasmic as being absorbed in a good ‘non-putnable’ book and allowing your mushy-mushy brain tissues to soak in its wisdom! It is an indescribable experience.

Books feed the brain; banku and tilapia feed the belly.

So how do you live with yourself when what is probably the most important organ of your body is left starving, unfed with its meal—books? Without reading, you deprive your brain of a major source of stimulation, ‘ambition’, ‘expectations’ and ‘a sense of dignity’.

Of course if you don’t ever read a book, you will not catch a headache or malaria. Some people even argue that they do just fine riding on the hard back of illiteracy.

Some become very wealthy as businessmen of some sorts. But they would admit to themselves in the privacy of their hearts that there are times they wish they were literate; and can read and write. Not being able to read must feel like being cut out from a secret club, with the gates rudely shut in your face.

GAW Sunday encourages children to read:

Since 1967, a day in early April is marked as an International Children’s Book Day.

The objective of marking this day is to encourage children to read. If children do not acquire reading habits, by the time they grow up, they will not know the joy of reading and will miss its life-long benefits of ‘ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity’.

At 4:30pm this Sunday April 7, the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) will organize a children’s book reading day at its monthly GAW Sunday event held at PAWA House in Roman Ridge, Accra.

It will feature children from four schools: Adabraka Presby JHS, Prisons 1 JHS, Jack & Jill School, and Senior Correctional Centre (Borstal Institute).

By the end of the event, some of the children will take a peek at the literacy-seats of their souls!

Article by Doris Yaa Dartey

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