My Father’s 35 Minute Rant on Imported Toothpicks and Other Profundities

I always wait too long to talk to my father. The last time we talked was – what? – two weeks ago? It’s to imagine I went a full two years without talking to the old man…

“Yes… Abena Owusua. What do you want?”

“Kwasi Gyekye. How are you this evening?”

“Hmmm. I’m okay. My gout is acting up is all.”

“As for this your rich man’s disease dierrrr…”

We exchanged necessary, but loving, insults and fell into a short fit of laughter before we each asked the other what they were doing this weekend.

“I got off work about two hours ago,” I replied. “I meant to call you earlier, but I got busy with the kids.

“Oh, it’s okay. You know I was at church anyway.”

“Yeah. That’s what I figured.” I asked him if he’d seen that I’d written a book. His excitement quotient increased considerably.

“Yeah! This is your second book, isn’t it?”

“No, Daddy. That was Sami. He’s on his second book.”

I gave him the rundown on the family here in the States. A cousin had had a baby. My brother had bought a house. The kids had achieved certain milestones. He was aware of all these things, thanks to Facebook, where my father like, most people/parents his age have become professional stalkers and super sleuths.

“As for me, I’ve become a professional downloader ooo,” he boasted. “I’ve downloaded all my grandkids pictures onto my laptop!”

I remember a time when my father didn’t understand the concept of email and thought the internet was an actual place. I smiled secretly at the memory. I asked him if he’d downloaded any movies yet. He ‘hmmm’d’ before answering.

“Some stupid guy was supposed to download some movies for me and he brought me kung fu films.” He sucked his teeth in exasperation. “I’ve grown past these things!”

“What things, Daddy?”

kungfu1“Kung fu films! Didn’t you hear me the first time? You know how these kung fu people are. Two people will meet each other on the road, one will ask the other his name, and before the man can reply, the other one is beating him. Ghanaians only like these because of the sounds they make. Whowaaa! Twaaa! I’m too old for these things. I listen to conversation and sense, not noise and nonsense.”

“I see…”

“You know what? You’ve even reminded me,” he continued. “Your sister’s boyfriend was supposed to send me some movies from Dropbox. I guess he dropped them from Mars, because they have not landed yet.”

He cackled joyously at his own joke. The sound of his mirth forced a farting-giggle from my pressed lips.

Speaking of the Chinese, how were they treating Ghanaians these days?

chinoafro“Oh, Malaka. They are killing us here! Just in the last two weeks some Chinese miners killed four or five Ghanaians over a land dispute with assault rifles. And the government is sitting here doing nothing!”

“Beh e dey be k3k3?”

“Oh. They dey spoil us k3k3.”

I wanted to press him more on the matter, but he was in the mood to discuss more pleasant things.

“Do you hear my puppy?”

“Yes, Daddy. An old man and his dog. What’s his name?”

I could hear the smile of pride in his voice when he said Swift.

“I’ve taught him to sit and wait for his food. He likes to pounce on the food and when I withhold it, he gives me a funny look, like I’m a stupid old man. After we’ve stared at each other for a while I’ll put his plate down and he looks at me like ‘Ah. So why were you pretending like you weren’t  going to give me the food?’ And when people try and enter the house by heart I tell him ‘Swift! Go swift on them!’ And then he’ll run!”

I congratulated him on his accomplishment in training his dog. He didn’t thank me. He probably didn’t even hear me. He wanted to know if I could send him a tub of Tums.

“They come in boxes of a thousand…in different colors.”

“Why do you need so many Tums, Daddy?”

“Ohhh. You see? Anything I eat these days gives me heartburn. Kenkey, rice, bread – doesn’t matter. Also, the Tums prevents a hangover.”


“Yes. One night I took Tums with my dinner and then went to the bar. I drank and drank but didn’t get drunk!” I could tell he was rubbing his stomach. That’s what my dad does when he’s reminiscing about his drink. “So I decided to try it the next night. I took Tums, drank and my eyes were clear like ice!”

“Do you need a thousand Tums because you plan on having a thousand drinks?”

“No, dummy!”

That’s when the toothpicks came up.

bottled air“As for Ghanaians? I just don’t know. We import eeeeee-very-thing! Even if air was to be imported, we would import that too!”

“Oh, chaley…”

The reminder of the plague of imported goods sparked a distant memory in him.

“You know, those in leadership are really doing a disservice to the country. When I was in secondary school, you could spend 2 to 3 months working in a company during your long vacation. I used to work at the forestry. It gives you job and working experience. Now? Now we have university graduated with big degrees and are of no use to anyone. Why? No experience! So what do they do? They set up an Unemployed Graduate Association.”

“Daddy. That can’t be true.”

I didn’t bother to stifle my laughter, guffawing in condescension. How sad!

“You think I’m lying? Humph. Ask your friend who works at Korle-Bu. She’ll tell you…and probably tell you more absurd things. We don’t think about our future. We only think about how to eat for now. We used to have a corned beef canning factory, sugar refineries, match-making factory… but after they killed Nkrumah and these stupid, useless soldiers took over the country, we import everything!”

I hummed in reflection, wondering what Ghana was like in her glory days when it was a self-sustaining country. My dad was not done.

“Where a bunch of wise-guys are gathered together, stupidity reigns.”


I could almost hear him shrug.

“Mmmm. Beh everybody is wise in Ghana? We have so many “smart” people holding onto knowledge that they are burying it out to sea. They won’t even bury the knowledge on land where we can excavate it… they are taking it out to sea where it will be lost forever!”

Well, that was true. What with the current crop of ministers of parliament, our perpetual groveling at the feet of the IMF, and our abysmal plans for improving social structures and waste disposal (other countries dump THEIR garbage in our seas and on our lands), Ghana is a long ways from the near utopia of the 1950’s. The retrogression is really disheartening.

My yelped in glee.

“Hey, hey! They’ve turned the lights on at long last!”

“Oh – you’ve been sitting in light off this whole time, Daddy?”

“Of course. This is Ghana! We may only have light for the next 20 minutes. I won’t even bother to turn on the fridge.”

Ordinarily I would laugh at his flip response, but I was sad. I’ve reached a point in my existence – with the progression of age – where life has begun to take things and people away from me and I don’t want my dad living in these conditions… but he loves Ghana. He would never live any place else. I suddenly didn’t feel like talking anymore. I told him I’d give him a call in a few days before I left for South Africa.

“Don’t come back pregnant,” he advised.

I assured him I wouldn’t.

“And kiss each of the kids for me too. Your kids are plenty. Line them up like the Sound of Music and give them a kiss each from Grandpa.”

Then came my second favorite part of our calls: That quintessential long African good-bye.



Mmhmmm…. good-bye


Okay… good-bye!