THE DAY A GOD I MET.

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Prof Atukwei Okai

I remember one day, I called my boyfriend’s Dad to just check up on him. I was playing the good prospective in-law. The words he said as a thank you has forever stayed with me: Thank you, Thank you. My children don’t call me, they only call me when they need something.
Since then, I called him occasionally to “Daddy, I just called to say Hi”. I have extended it to others; both old and young.

It was Prof Okai’s turn for “Prof, I just called to say Hi today” recently. Whenever I called of late, I got the automatic reply :The number you are calling is busy.(Even the first time, I knew it was an automated reply, because Prof would have called me immediately after he had finished his call) After several tries, I felt. Maybe, he had travelled or was just plain busy and didnt want “unnecessary callers” like me to disturb his creative nest.Maybe some eggs are in his need his 24/7 warmth be hatched.   Today, I needed something and thought he would be of help. The same reply. I was home today, So I thought I could just check up on him. Maybe next week Monday? I went to bed.  How I met  Professor Atukwei Okai?

While in Accra Girls’ High school, reading my core and elective poems in school beat into me that desire to love poems. When I wrote more poems after my first, I realised it wasn’t the love struck-turned poet by night and hanging boots when love flies with poetic lines  episode.

So that day in 2012, after school, I went to meet a god. Power (I later knew it was PAWA, An Acronym for Pan African Writers’ Association) house was opposite my school on the Roman ridge Road. Apart from the word Prof which scared me, His thunderous voice which roared  like a Sea-Lion scared me the more. As if he was born in a forest under the Sea and not just beside it. Ga Land. I was doubly scared.
“Please, I am looking for Prof Atukwei Okai”
“Was it on appointment?Does he know you will come?
“Yes please”
I told the secretary of the secretary -General. She was a smiley woman in her prime with papers littered around her. She must be lucky. I loved reading.

“A sea god? I need to run for my life. His white calico on and hair that shone as noon day sun with his voice as the rushing wind. This towering giant fitted the description of God in the book of Ezekiel and Revelation. His feet in gold. His eyes like a flaming fire. His voice like the rushing wind. He was a god. I heard the voice of his friends and i was jolted back to reality when I saw rather on his feet, a black Afro Moses  which cut a contrasting  image to his silvery Afro hair.

“Hello, Alberta Morti”, You are welcome. He extended his huge but soft writers’ palms towards me.
As I sat on the edge (I was feeling edgy inside) of his three sitter sofa  to a plate of snacks and juice he begun to engage me a conversation with his friends. “So you said your grandfather was G.G Adali Morti ?”
“Hmmm. He was my grandfather’s brother.” I responded for clarification.
“It is the same.”

He begun to share nostagically how Adali-Morti was his Poetic mentor and teacher. What goes around comes around indeed.
So have you written any poems so far? I showed him my exercise book with a few leaves covered. I just started documenting my poetry because I had heard about a poetry competition (I have stopped again. Whatsapp has worsened the situation). He took particular interest  in one I entitled The journey on a trosky (tro tro ). He then underlined two lines and marked it.
“Their hopes are soaring high
Higher than the altitude of the eagle.”

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“I like those lines. Keep it up.”
After encouraging me, He gave me some wonderful lessons on poetry. I should say, at the time our impromptu class started , I had pushed a bit into the settee.
Prof Okai made his secretary print out some poems for me and told me to read other peoples’ poems to gain more knowledge about their styles but I should keep my uniqueness and develop it.
Since it was dark, he drove me in his four wheel drive to Accra Newtown , College junction before going his way. My heart melted towards him. Did I tell you he asked that we take a selfie together? According to him, When I become great, he will show it to me and remind me of our first meeting. This god has won my heart. When my dad told me He saw him in the Mallam Atta market with a basket shopping for tomatoes and pepper , I thought He must be stingy until he made his driver drop me  in my vicinity. This must be great father and a loving husband. If He was a young Aquinas guy, I should have said :I die here.
I came home and perused the poems He gave me. I fell in love with two written by a Ghanaian : Aeroplane boy (Talks about childhood and the joy of running errands) and Kotobabi (As a zongo girl who had lived in Kotobabi and now in between Newtown and Nima , I still relate with the “single room self contained” (Not your typical self contained) phenomenon of school uniforms hanging at the back of the door and camphor to wade of cockroaches in cupboards.

I remember when I had to perform a poem on my schools’ speech and prize giving day. I run across the street to Him.I told you His office is opposite my school.  I deal with Professors and not BA teachers. (I hope Mr Aniagyei doesn’t see this). The first thing he asked me was “Is it a spoken word or you are going to read it?” Huh?. He was the first person to explain to me the difference between spoken word and Poetry that is read. (I didnt know my vision was partly true. I only went to the café once in a blue moon to check my Facebook. Who am I to blame if I at that time I didnt know I was with the god of Contemporary Spoken Word in Africa). He coached me. I wished He had come to witness me deliver. I wanted to ask Him to come , but I was shy and felt He was too Big a man to come without invitation.

After my year and half away as a Mormon missionary, I came to him to say hi. The security men didnt give me a tough time since they knew I came to see my Grand pa. Are you still in Accra Girls’. When I told Him I was at Ghana Institute of Journalism, he cheered me on. He told me I will be great. As am enthusiastic poet, he showed me a childrens’poetry book he was working on. As he reached a child’s part of the poem, I thought this was a Male Dolly Parton as he recited playfully:
“This is Ama, This is Kofi”. Our Elders say, it is old age we all may not attain, but we have all passed through childhood.

When we met at GAWBOFEST last year, I tried to introduce myself (You know old age), he disgraced me by remembering me and all my details. With a camera around my neck, I wanted to plead with him that, Photography is just a side chick. Well, I want to marry the two. Writing and Photography. He gave me a bravo. “Keep it up. You will be very great one day.” I felt relief. My eyes followed him wherever He passed that day. Even if he doesn’t look like a god to you, You will confess he sounds (he told a friend it is a mix of Ghana and Nigeria),walks and feels like a Yoruba or Ga Priest in his three piece Agbada.

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He usually sent me messages. I find it easier engaging my old friends physically than in written. Because, In the flesh, I can be as casual with them until I know where I am crossing boundaries. Written makes things formal especially with older peoples, But of recent, I see my older friends send me engaging stuffs I feel is too young for their age so even though I enjoy it sometimes, I just send them a neat: Thank you. I loved my bundle so much, So when I receive all those 13-16 mb videos from my older friends, I most at times sent :Thank you without downloading the videos. I postpone them and remember only when I don’t have bundle. My boyfriend’s father is an exception sometimes. I told you I am playing the good prospective in-law.Apart from the global warnings, such as how to use gas cylinders and react when there is an explosion, Prof Okai usually sent me the 13-16 mb videos via Whatsapp. I usually didnt open them. Maybe he had free wifi that’s why. But I always sent a Thank you.

“I will travel today, I will travel tomorrow”

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The Hoary Professor Okai, who as usual spotted his “Atanfo etwa mi hun akyia” (My enemies have surrounded me) beard,The General Secretary of Pan African Writers Association with humour answered a lady who complained about their unavailability when programs are held.

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“You are not the only people who need me, other people need me too. So I will travel today, I will travel…” The audience at the Ghana Poetry Festival  joined jokingly “…I will travel tomorrow.”

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So when I woke up  today and checked my Whatsapp, I was greeted with the sudden news on the Ghana Association of Writers platform that my Silvered hair friend has travelled, Never to return again, I hoped it was a hoax. I check my chats with Him and realised they were all lost. The unopened videos were lost. What were in them, I don’t know.

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Professor Atukwei Okai, You have:
Freeze our Friday…
And left Ghana with her unending
Logoligi Logarithms…

9 Comments

  1. You always leave me speechless…… I never knew you’d beaten me in the quest to personally meet this Colossus of poetry in Africa …..well he was an Onukpa (AHISCO Old boy)..I guess you were destined to be trained by AHISCODIANS …. I’m glad you had the opportunity to commune with this god… Like Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain, I hope you’re coming back with the ten commandments of poetry after meeting this god….. Yes, we the first degree teachers prepared you to meet the prof….. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ I guess…. I’m sure you can make him proud one day….. I’m happy he saw in you what I had also seen….
    Great piece…but you’ll escape my syntactic wrath because of poetic license…..
    Fare thee well, Prof….

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    1. I had to step on the grasslands in order to wave from the Iroko tree. You know, I fed at your breast in other to be prepared for the bones he gave me.
      Hmmm. I got to do something worthy of my expectations. The time is far spent.

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  2. Prof. Atukwei Okai was larger than his accolades. Poetry was his living. In his own words he averred that: We started rapping before rap came. Perhaps, that was his own way of claiming to be the originator of the spoken word in Ghana.
    But it must be told that other literati not excluding gems like Geormbeeyi Adali-Mortty, Benibenghor, Kofi Awoonor , Mrs. Padmore , Efua T. Sutherland amongst other ilk of poetic luminaries helped groom Okai. It’s time we raised monuments in their memory. Anyidoho and Wosornu are still alive though aged. Let’s honour them now before the inevitable…Gods are the hands that mould words.

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      1. Anyway, do you have an idea where I can purchase Logoligi Logarithms? Legon Bookshop has run out of copies since 2014. I wouldn’t mind settling for a soft copy of the book but it seems unavailable online.

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  3. I have heard about him and saw him through TV screen, I never experienced him firsthand, maybe because I don’t do poetry much like Adenyala… But from the tributes that I have read thus far, I believe he was a great intellectual lost to the academic community, especially to the loves of poetry literature. May his god soul rest in the bosom of the age. Hede Nyui Prof!!

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