A Letter to the CEO Of Ennkasa Apparel

Ennkasa4

Dear Mr. Awuku,

The last time our paths crossed, they called you Gunshot, and I was a seismic (how self-indulgent!) prefect seizing your non-school shorts somewhere in Fraser House on a drub Saturday evening in 2007. But times have changed. I have since been banished to the self-righteous world of academia, and you are doing something more exciting in the anti-nakedness business. I hear you are building a brand, and it is for this reason that I have come to eat your house matter. Although I hear your Ennkasa brand clearly specifies that I keep my fat lips shut, I am shamelessly helpless in that department. So please be my host.

First, let me sing your praises. I love what you are doing. Brand building is a Herculean task, and very few possess the imagination and desire, and accrue the learning and luck needed to succeed. So nice one. Let me tell you what I like about your brand, and think you should keep doing.

You are different.

The essence of a brand is differentiation. People should be able to tell who you are, what you stand for, and why you are unlike anyone else trying to do the same thing you are doing. Your difference does not lie in your suits necessarily, although sincerely I have not worn your suits before to judge objectively. But telling from the design of your suits, which are aesthetically pleasing by the way, I am confident, they are not necessarily novel. I have seen such designs elsewhere before. But that’s exactly why you are different. You are building excitement around a simple product offering by enamouring it with drama.

ennkasa1

Branding is about influencing consumer perceptions that you are different. Key to influencing perceptions is grabbing consumers’ attention from the sea of brands they are exposed to daily. Here is where you win, handsomely. All the drama you build in your ads, the nicely gagged models, the Alexander Graham Bell telephone attached to the suit, the little snippets of “son of man” wisdom, the testimonial images of people wearing your brand and the unusual settings of your photoshoots are shattally and sarkcessly on point.

These dramatic communication strategies command attention, and go a long way to suggest to consumers that you are different, even if the product itself is not necessarily unique. You get away with creating the notion that wearing a suit doesn’t have to be formal, vanilla and boring. The suit is after all, to borrow a line from the movie Kingsman, “the modern gentleman’s armour”. Wearing a suit communicates an exciting and interesting personality. Apple didn’t design the first smartphone nor the first tablet, but they produced the perfect mix of design, drama and product performance to convince the world that they are the gods of these products. So keep doing what you are doing, and only ECG will be your limitation.

But you can pay any fool to sing your praises. So let me tell you what I think you can do to grow your brand. This is obviously unsolicited, so throw it to the dogs if you may.

Do you know your target market?

Whenever I teach segmentation, targeting and positioning to my class, I begin with the parable of the sower. My interpretation of this parable in a marketing context is that if the sower had purposely looked for the good soil and placed his seed there, he would have had an almost 100% return on his investment. Instead by indiscriminately throwing the seeds, he only landed a 25% return (the rest fell by the roadside, in thorns and in rocks). Similarly, in any given market there are roadside consumers (those who barely pay attention to your brand), rocky consumers (those who easily get excited about your brand but never actually follow through to patronise it), thorny consumers (those who commit to your brand, but leave you when competition makes a tempting offer) and good soil consumers (your brand loyalists).

If you engage in undifferentiated marketing, by targeting everyone, you too like the proverbial sower will reduce your chances of success by 75%. So why not deliberately seek out that 25% of the market who are really suited to your suits. Do you know those people? Find out, or determine who you want them to be, and focus your energies on them. One way to do this, is to determine who is the ideal person you want wearing your clothes (and automatically who you don’t want wearing your clothes). These days, almost everyone is on social media, and so advertising on social media really means advertising to everyone, and that means advertising to nobody. Branding is about strategic discrimination, because you can’t serve everyone. We academic marketing people call it segmentation and targeting. I know, we are silly like that with pointless terminologies.

So find out who you want to wear or is wearing your clothes: what they do or where they work; where, how, why and on whom they spend their time and money; how, why and what they wear; what is their lifestyle; are they religious; what is their level of education; what is their attitude towards money and locally made clothing; where, how often and with whom do they shop; what are their life goals, fears, hopes and desires, and so on. It is important that you know your target customers so well that you can think, feel and even become them. I know it’s a lot of work, but whoever said building a brand was easy. Don’t worry, you have time to work these out gradually. You can always hire a good research agency to this for you too, if you want. I can recommend a few. But, I digress.

Once you know who they are/should be, now you need to design your clothes, set your prices, and tailor your communication and distribution to suit them (I love these tailor puns!). We marketers call it positioning, go figure. But it is the magic key to successful branding. You can position your brand around their fears or hopes for example, using the same dramatic approach you are using now. But you can see how less effective your current approach will be if it has no specific audience. For all you know the people who are most likely to buy your suits find the gags on your models a bit disconcerting, or maybe not. For all you know they want more than suits, or always wear something in addition to suits that could open up another product line for you. Perhaps they are willing to pay more for your suits than what you are  currently charging for them? But how can you know unless you find out who they are and what they want in life?

Remember this. When people buy things, they buy them to achieve some goal or solve some problem in their lives, and not necessarily for the sake of the products. It was the legendary Peter Drucker who said, “the customer rarely buys what the business thinks it is selling him”. People do not buy products, or suits for that matter, they buy hopes, desires, goals, security, happiness and relationships. So find out who your customers are, what they want in life and position your brand as an indispensable partner in achieving those life goals, and you will be swell.

Don’t forget the little things.

It is easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of marketing, and forget the little things that matter most. So as you move into astronomic branding strategies, here a few little things you should never forget to do.

  1. Quality. If the quality of your clothing is subpar, no amount of advertising and Banksying will save your brand. The most powerful ad is the quality of your products. So invest in making good suits, and you will be surprised how many brand apostles you will create. Remember, you make clothes, and as Shakespeare noted, “the apparel proclaims the man”, and I think that is what your Ennkasa brand mantra projects: to let the apparel do the talking. If your suits are great, and someone wears it, it will naturally generate a conversation about your brand. So make sure they are.
  1. Customer Service. Nothing beats superior customer experience in today’s world of marketing. The easiest way to differentiate your brand in Ghana is through proper customer service, because in Ghana, for many businesses, the customer is the pawn. You can make a difference by literally worshipping your customers. Know your customers by name, know when it is they or their child or partner’s birthday and give them a gift/message, deliver clothes for free, treat them like queens/kings, and never win an argument with your customer. These are simple rules of customer service and they only require a little extra effort. I heard someone say that the only difference between ordinary (brands) and extraordinary (brands) is that little extra. Put in that extra effort to delight your customers, because as Roger Staubach noted “there are no traffic jams along the extra mile”. You will be peerless in that department.
  1. Be reliable. Reliability is easily a part of the two things I have just talked about, but because it is an Achilles heel among Ghanaian tailors, I choose to address it separately. It is a well-known stereotype: Ghanaian tailors are as unreliable as the nation’s power supply. A tailor will promise you your shirt/dress will be ready by the 10th, and you will be lucky to get it by the 30th. When they see you come to complain norr, then they will pick up your material and say, “oh I have been working on it o”. Oh chale, some tailor took my money and didn’t produce the shirt until after two years when I traced him to some lungulungu place, and went to seize a shirt of my liking from his shop. I tell you! But not everyone has my Motown prefectorial clothes-seizing skills, which you have experienced firsthand.

My personal advice is to deliver when you say you would. From contractors to pastors, from politicians to physicians, people are more often unreliable in Ghana, I have found. You can be strategically different in this regard. In fact, manage expectations, tell customers you will deliver on the 15th when you know you can finish on the 10th. That way you can delight them by delivering before time, and you give yourself room to manage any unforeseen disruptions to your timelines. Enough said!

I would like to think I have not said anything new here that you didn’t know before. After all, business is common sense, but you see, common sense is not common practice. So I hope you will find my unnecessarily long note here useful. Otherwise, I apologise for wasting your time. I am a fan of your brand, and will be keeping an eye on your moves. From time to time, my itchy mouth may find its way to your doorsteps. Until then…

…Akora Apantan.

Personal Branding? Nonsense!

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I am one of those people who think that the concept of personal branding is a nursery myth. I mean, the idea is so generic that it is counterintuitive to what branding stands for. Think about it, everyone has a name that identifies and differentiates them from others, and have a personality, which invokes different meanings and emotions among those who know such a person; that’s simply the definition of a brand, which makes everyone a brand. If everyone is a brand, then no one is a brand. Logically, personal branding is a booga-waga (I made up that word) of nonsense.

But you see, for the advocates, personal branding is more than a philosophical dictioneering (another made up word to mean making up words, yaay!). In reality, if the known personality of a person sells things—gets other people to reach their wallet and buy—then that person is a brand, a person-al brand. I think it just about makes sense, because the last time I checked that happens a lot, so often, it will be quite insincere to dismiss the concept of personal branding; it’s some real shit, people, it is, and Nike has just smashed what it means! That’s why my big head is reeling.

The global sports apparel giant has just signed the NBA superstar, LeBron James, to a lifetime deal. Now, take a moment to process that…a moment of silence, s’il vous plaît. Encore…LeBron James, who grew up without a father, born to a teenage mother who raised him single-handedly, is now going to be paid millions every year by Nike till the day he dies…how he wishes he could live forever. Somehow, this is not too surprising, considering Nike had signed him to a $90 million deal when he was only 18. Now after a 13 year-engagement, their marriage has been signed, sealed and making you jealous…together, till death do them part. Why has Nike fallen so hard for LeBron? This has been hailed as a triumph for what a personal brand can do, so let’s go back to personal branding, shall we.

Nike has a line of LeBron James basketball shoes (like Jordan’s) and clothing that are sold at a price point that could feed my family in Ghana for a month. In the past decade that James has been on top of his game, wining two championships and 4 MVPs, his shoes have made Nike an untold fortune. So essentially, all those people who have been hitting their wallets to purchase these expensive LeBron shoes over the years have put him in this enviable position. But why does Nike want him for life, after all he is 30 now, and his career will soon be over. He won’t sell as many shoes in the next decade, will he? Younger, hotter stars like Curry and Durant are selling well and are expected to out-sell LeBron’s soon. Even Jordan’s sell about eight times more than LeBron’s. So why does Nike want to keep the dude for life, considering they have never done that before?

It’s almost romantic to suggest that for all the fortune LeBron has brought Nike, he deserves it; it’s business people, there’s only permanent interest. Michael Jordan has made much more fortunes for Nike, but he didn’t get no such deal. You could also say LeBron has such a strong brand that Nike has found it prudent to keep him as long as he breathes. I don’t buy that either. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Laura Ashley, Kiichiro Toyoda, Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer, and even Michael Jordan were all household names that got things made and sold, even revolutionized the way things are sold, but none of them by their sole personalities, or personal brands, if you are keen, sold the million units of the things they produced. Those things flew on the name and quality they gave them, and became their own. That’s my theory.

Nike has been able to establish an upscale basketball shoes market with the LeBron brand, bringing in $340 million last year alone. Although, the man himself had little to do with the management of the brand, he lent it a necessary foundation. LeBron’s shoes have built and are still building on LeBron’s name and career, but Nike knows that long after LeBron is done playing or living, the brand of shoes will live on, because the brand has taken a life of its own. Air Jordan still sells, and sells crazily well, although Michael Jordan has not shot a professional basketball since James shot his first, and they will sell long after the now 52 year old legend is gone. That’s the reason why Apple, Ford and Toyota cars, and Marks and Spencer apparels still sell. Those names built the brand, but the brand has gone on to build its old own life and will live on, if only it is well managed like any other competing brand.

Nike has only done the reasonable thing, because so long as they used his name to build the brand, they were always contractually obliged to pay him some money. They still pay Michael Jordan; Forbes reported that Nike paid him about $90 million last year alone for his Air Jordan’s brand, and LeBron is on the same trajectory, once he retires. So why not make it official publically, and call it a lifetime contract. Nike has simply redecorated royalty payment into romance; it’s nothing to swallow pebbles about.

Yahoo was arguing that Nike perhaps estimates that LeBron will stay relevant after his career. Uhmm, I don’t think so. Nike knows LeBron’s shoes will still be relevant after his career…and life. You think Nike seems to be telling LeBron, “the shoes we put your name on will continue to sell in your lifetime, and so we will pay you as such”. In reality Nike knows the shoes will continue to sell in their lifetime, not just LeBron’s.

What’s my point? I still think personal branding is a lazy concept. I will take a psychology lecture on personality—and I think psychologists are as boring as a monkey on a rock—over a Wes Anderson movie on personal branding. There are people who do things, and build recognizable names, like Mr. James. But once you put these names on products, the product will go on to build a brand of its own, very much independent of the person.

Of course, so long as the person is alive, they provide a reference point for the brand, and so it’s important the person does not mess up, but that applies to every CEO. The person becomes a brand association of the product, and not the other way round.No one thinks LeBron is good because he uses those shoes; they think the shoes are good because LeBron uses them. Branding is meant for things, and well, animals because they were the first to be branded, but come on you can’t brand people!

Somewhere in my village, there is a storekeeper, a tomato seller, a cobbler, a second hand clothes seller and a roadside food seller whose personalities and relationships affects whether and how much people will buy from them. Even they make a more convincing case to be considered as personal brands. But they are not, because they know eventually they sell things, not themselves. Even if Kim Kardashian and her questionable bunch make most of their money by showing their “lives” on TV, people know they are paying for television, and that will remain the product; the Kardashian brand will remain a TV product or whatever they sell these days, and never the person, really. Even sex workers, who literally sell their bodies, do not claim to be personal brands. But if you ever find one like that, call me, and I will definitely change my mind.

 

 

THE DEATH OF A YOUNG MAN.

pfordI was only 11 years when I met Princeford. Believe me, in that JSS 1 class, he did not only have the longest name, he was also the fattest kid, and of course he’d always walk funny. Stanley Gli loved to play with his behind, something he would not risk doing these days without earning suspicious looks. Without doubt, he was the smartest kid in the class, well, I have to admit that considering he came first in class more than I did.

I’m not sure how we became best friends, but I guess I am too likeable a guy not be friends with, what else? Well, all right, no silliness, I’d confess that I badly wanted to be friends with him, because in my mind he was the coolest kid ever. Goddamit he knew every country in the world and its capital city. Who wouldn’t want to sit at the same lunch table with him! Even the skinny weirdly popular but fragile Nyanyano boy, was his friend, so I figured it was only natural that the stout bigheaded me completed that triad. You could label us the fat, short and skinny crew, but we called ourselves the A Team: him, Raphael and me, us. We were fancy too, Princeford called himself Captain John Smith, Ralph was Marco Polo and I was Monsieur D’Artagnan. I know, it was silly, but we even had our sacred book called the A Team Diary, and in it we had images of our personalized swords, drawn masterfully by Princeford. We were serious!

The last time I saw Princeford was in December, when I last came to Ghana. If you only knew him from University then you would be well accustomed to his listless taste in personal appearance, often sporting faded t-shirts, distressed jeans and a well-travelled ahenema. Somehow, his wide foot was always covered in dirt, but he could care less. When we met, over some fried yam and forgettable shito, we argued as we always do about everything. He was doing great stuff, with his writing and cinematic ventures, and I was excited for him. He reminded me as always that I was throwing away my acting skills and that he was writing a role for me [he always said that but I never got to see it, that sneaky dude!]. We laughed about our lost dreams; he had wanted to be a pilot and I had wanted to be a lawyer. Dreams! But he said he was proud of what I had become and what I was doing, and it meant the whole world to me. Believe me, he of all people, had the utmost right to claim pride on me. He did!

You see, when I met Princeford 14 years ago, I was an avid reader, but I had never written anything in my life. He had written a ton of novels and poems. He became my mentor, editor and to be fair, my bully-critic! He would tell me if what I had written didn’t make sense. He’s the reason why Raphael and me are pocket poets today. We had a challenge of reading a book a day from the library so we could see who was the fastest reader. He gave us fantasies, because it was he who snuck us to his home [I was not allowed to watch TV then], after Saturday classes, and showed us all the childhood animations from Pocahontas to Mulan and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, alongside some boiled cassava and kontomire stew. He had chickens that he kept as a pet dynasty, and had names for all of them, with a well-sketched family tree, which he updated often. By his unabashed freedom to hold crazy fantasies, we too believed we could hold same, and we did.

Why did I go to Achimota School? Because Princeford told me to, and despite my dad’s best persuasion to get me to go to Adisadel College, there was nothing more I wanted than to go to the same high school with my best friends. Before I met Princeford, I had never heard of Achimota School, and yet my best school memories were made there. I was glad I listened to him. Oh of course, my broke self would often trek to Livingstone house to “steal” food from him when I run out. He’d let me “steal” his food, and then call me names afterwards. I told you he was sneaky. As if you would know it, we went to the same University. We stalked each other to the very end.

When a young man dies, the loss is profoundly felt. He was only 26, and he had so much he wanted to do. I know this! But it is amazing to me, how much anyone can achieve in 26 years! Not all the things he wrote, for he wrote much, not all the things he said, he liked to talk too, not all the places he went, his feet had been places, but the lines he wrote into the script of my life. I have asked myself what would I have been if I had not known “Efo Agudz” for the last 14 years, and I am profoundly indebted to what his friendship, bullying, arguments, encouragement, persuasion, teasing, generosity, brilliance ad occasional stupidity meant to me. I envy him, I envy him so much, for what a pillar he had been for me, and for the many others who mourn him. I celebrate him!

It is dangerous to lose the fear of death, because then one may take life for granted. But it is an enviable place to value life and not fear death. For it is every man’s place that one day we shall die, and death does not share his roster with anyone. He likes the surprise punch. Princeford’s passing has reified in me the belief that it’s not the length of our days, but the breadth of our days. It’s about how many have smiled because we have lived, how many have had reason to live because we lived. If I die young, I don’t want to be mourned. I too want to be celebrated like my dear friend, for there is no pain in a short life, only a wasted life. His was well lived!

The first novel I wrote was set in New Orleans. Of course, then I had never been to New Orleans, but Princeford, who himself had never been, drew a detailed map of the city for me which I used in my novel; he was smart like that. Incidentally, the first day I arrived in New Orleans was the day he passed away. The first novel Princeford gave me to read was Phillip Margolin’s Gone But Not Forgotten. So are you my sneaky friend, gone, but not forgotten.

Princeford Amenyo Agudzeamegah! Fare thee well, my friend!

Does Melcom Need Celebrity Endorsement or Reality Indulgence?

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Last year, Forbes run an article titled “Save Your Money: Celebrity Endorsements Not Worth The Cost”. But this is hardly novel; there’s been a solid number of research that conclude that it’s not worth paying a fortune to get celebrities to represent your brand. Ads with celebrities do not influence purchase behavior any better than ads with non-celebrities. Besides the ridiculous financial cost of plastering a celebrity over your brand, it becomes a marriage where their shit, and often there’s shit going on with them, becomes your shit, as a brand. From Tiger Woods, to Oscar Pistorious to Lance Armstrong, to Paula Deen, there have been major embarrassments for brands because the “face” of the brands messed up. Yet, brands continue to splash millions on celebrities to represent them. Why? It’s a game of attention.

Some research suggests that the average consumer living in the city is exposed to as many as 5000 brands and ads in a single day. Incredulous! Of course, in my “donkomi” Ghana, this would be significantly less. It still does not defy the incredible battle for the consumer’s attention, and this is where celebrity endorsements bring home the goods. Celebrities are recognizable, often good looking faces, and by the magic of the brains, we are more likely to recognize and memorize ads fronted by a recognizable face than one with an unfamiliar face. So even though, consumers may claim in a research that they are not influenced by celebrities in their purchase decisions, they sure are more likely to be aware of brands endorsed by celebrities, than those by non-celebrities. It’s just the brain’s way of working, and I’m certain when internalized, it does in deed influence purchase behavior. We had known and been saying it long before Taylor Swift sang “Haters gonna Hate Hate Hate” and now somehow we cite her when we have to say it as if she came up with it. That’s the power of a celebrity in creating awareness. It’s why brands splash the cash on them.

Now if you think deeply on it, then a brand is in its own right a celebrity, just as a celebrity is a brand in his or her own right. By every common sense then, since the brand is the one paying the millions, they should get a celebrity who is more popular than the brand to truly get their money’s worth. Otherwise it will be double jeopardy to pay ridiculous amounts of money to someone, only for the person to get more famous by their association with your brand. I call this endorsement parasitism—a situation where an endorsement favours one party at the cost of the other. Ideally the relationship should bring mutual appeal and returns for the brand and the celebrity, or best, synergy, such that their relationship brings more benefits for them both than they would achieve individually otherwise.

Often when I give such tutorials, it is to avid undergraduate marketing students, and I’m paid some good dollars for it. But Melcom has given me another compelling reason to put my fat lips into their affair again, so I have come for them; their affairs with “celebrities” keeps pissing on my parade. Somebody has to tell them something so I figured why not insignificant me! They got Asamoah Gyan out, God knows they had to, what pernicious sin that endorsement deal was, and got themselves a certain Victoria Michaels. Come on, Melcom, are you turning this into one of your electronic products!?

For many of you reading this, I have just made Victoria Michael popular; this is the first time you are hearing the name. Who is she? Apparently she is some award-winning model. Don’t ask me the award else I will remind you I’m an award-winning talking bird. Victoria is a pretty face, but not any prettier than my own Yaa Boatemaa. She’s talked about her passion for the brand and reminisced on how she used to shop at Melcom for school when she was in High school. Fair enough, but does this make Victoria any more worth the deal than the many other pretty faces, who given what she is getting, can also find in their long locked memory their passion and memory of shopping at Melcom?

I’m probably just hating, or just being cynical, or being a typical pull-her-down Ghanaian, or maybe I’m making perfect sense if I say that this is a parasitic endorsement; gooder for Victoria, badder for Melcom. If celebrity endorsement is about attention, then choosing a brand ambassador whom many Ghanaians, especially Melcom’s target market do not know, is like dancing with yourself: you prove nothing. Yes, Victoria is a pretty face, well spoken, but so are many other “ordinary” people who will be willing to accept a fraction of whatever Melcom is paying Victoria to do the job. Melcom is going to make Victoria more popular than she could have done without them, and to think that they are paying her for it. Sigh!

Do Melcom know their market? I have always maintained that Melcom are doing some great stuff with their brand, but I think they also need to remind themselves which segment of the market they are serving, and what the consumers in that segment desire and aspire to. Last time, Melcom was attempting to cry a big man’s cry, tickling themselves and laughing at the idea everyone would buy their gibberish of Asamoah Gyan shopping at Melcom. Thankfully, they came down to earth, but now they want to sink into expensively playing “look inside and find your lover” with a yet to be really popular pretty face. Ayoo.

I had a dream. In my dream, Kwame Sefa-Kayi and Kwame Djokoto were the faces of Melcom. The former spoke for Melcom Plus, and the latter spoke for regular Melcom. Occasionally, they would run into each other at various Melcom shops and make noise in some funny exchanges, using repeated catch phrases like “Eih Kwame Melcom, we meet again”. If it’s being positioned as the place where Ghana shops, then choosing such celebrities who are well associated with the people, who typify your aspirational segment may work better for Melcom. In any case, encouraging customization of the shop space using typical Ghanaian names like “Kwame Melcom”, “Adwoa Melcom,” assuming they use Adwoa Smart for instance would increase affinity and personalization, and that works magic. That’s the reason why even an undifferentiated brand like Coke put people’s names on their bottles. Just offering my two cents, but who am I? I’m only a dreamer!

If I am to sober up and be less tentative, then the prescient question is do Melcom really need a celebrity to front their brand? Not really! I think Melcom will do better investing more in improving their shop floor experience, broadening and deepening their loyalty and shopper rewards to induce a more bottom-up brand affinity. They stand to reap more if they invested in their customer service people to put on a smile and be nice, than to invest in the smile of a pretty face on a billboard whom consumers may never encounter in their lives. Melcom has enough brand awareness, what they need is brand love, and for that, superior customer service is the key, not fancy celebrity endorsements.

It is said that doing the right thing is not the same as doing the thing right. Melcom’s affair with celebrities is not being done right, and I have shared my dream on how to do it right. But the right thing for Melcom to do is to invest in customer service and shopper experience. If we enjoy a trip to Melcom, we’ll return, with or without some celebrity telling us we should. If we find Melcom no better than the lanes at Tudu, then even if Oprah told us to shop at Melcom, we will remain in dead goat mode. Melcom has only one celebrity they need to pay some serious attention to: the ordinary Ghanaian.

Kantamanto Society: Second-hand Morality for Sale in Ghana.

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Ghana’s award-winning investigative journalist has done it again! This time, Anas infiltrated Ghana’s courts and has reported serious evidence of corruption by judges, magistrates and other judicial service staff. Now [assuming that the allegations are true], then I am more deeply terrified that all the “corrupted” judgments that the implicated judges passed on the said cases, may have, or could hold to be judicial precedents, which may be cited by others in future cases. Even more alarming, there are those who escaped being caught on tape, and who may have provided similarly corrupted judgments, that are being today applied as valid judicial interpretations of the law. I am no legal expert, so my question is what happens to the tampered judgments by these unjust Justices?

My former boss, Gordon Biaku hated to see a mistake in any report I would write for him. He often said that finding one mistake is not troubling as the suggestion that there could be other mistakes that we have not found yet, hiding in the report, and making our insights faulty. It is a caution I have carried with me since, and one with which I now also hold others responsible. I am less alarmed by the iceberg this whole revelation smashes into the confidence in our judicial system. I am more terrified by the things we hold as truth, which were in fact birthed by corrupted hands, and is in deed no truer than this rude reminder that “a desperate society is a danger unto itself”. When those we hail, “my lord”—who are in deed no lords over us at all, but servants, who are entrusted with the sacred duty of mediating equity among us—lord their service to us over us and finger our communal trust in the shadows, then we know we are on a sinking ship.

But, why do I sound so exasperated, painting an opera so bleak. I would be expecting too much of people, wouldn’t I, even of myself, for I am no saint. I have no right to postulate any moral highhandedness, a sinner like me! So this is not a critique of me and my countrymen, rather an appreciation, a reflective sigh, not a condemnation.

Somehow we all know that from the Machiavellian common man who is skilled in paying every man his price to the policeman on the street who unabashedly extorts his meal plan from drivers to the “honorable” judge in the courtroom to the voyeurs in the corridors of our Ministries who charge a fortune per signature, to the pickpocketing pastors who render God in more ridicule than an irritated atheist, to the pilferers in Customs uniforms on our borders and back to the household with illegal electricity and cable television connections, we have enough anecdotal evidence to prove that we are a corrupt nation. Remember the judges did not bribe themselves; someone offered, and they accepted. Even Anas’ intricate understanding of how to successfully bribe a judge smacks of the charming society we live in. We are fools if we trust ourselves; we are fools if we don’t! These Justices are our men of honour; it speaks volumes about our sense of honour.

I am not excited by the proof that we are a corrupt society; I know this, and so do you! I am more enticed by the painful evidence that we are all corruptible. I need to find my price, because that day is coming when someone will make me an offer that I would find worthier than my moral hold. I should know my price then, otherwise I may fall for any offer, and it might not be worth the trouble, and I will hate to know that they will know my price before I do. So should you! Find your price, for the man of bribery is coming, and you shall not escape him. Make sure you are worth your fall.

The Medicine Man, The Dead Goat and The Nobodies of Dumsorkrom

suicide

The medicine man of Dumsorkrom was a powerful man. Needless to say he alone possessed the magic from the gods that could restore life into the dying breath. When the little flying ants, whom it was said came from the dirty trenches of the Wastelands attacked the people of Dumsorkrom and infected them with some strange fever, the medicine man always knew how to cure them. He was a man skilled in the art of mending broken bones and reviving thawed flesh. Indeed, his work was tedious, and its life and death matter meant that people called on him all the time. For the same reason, he was a very respected man.

Dumsorkrom was a very egalitarian society, and despite the importance of the Medicine man, he did not charge any fee from the people. If any man or woman whose life was saved wanted to show him kindness, he accepted, and this was often, otherwise he contended himself with the nobility of his work.

Now, a deadly famine hit Dumsorkrom, many starved and died. The medicine man had no magic to cure the hunger; even he starved. The people had an assembly and decided that if anybody should survive the famine, they would still need the medicine man, and so it was important that as the rest of the people toiled for their own food, some portion be given to the medicine man so he lasted as long as the last man. It was a sensible proposition, but a solution was still hard to come by. Even if they decided that everyone gave a share of their food to the medicine man, it would be hard to regulate such a system. There was no way of telling who would get food one day or the other. Besides, there was no guarantee that anyone would always defy the hunger of their own stomach and that of their family and give a portion to the medicine man. Who will enforce it, and who will determine even what portion to give the medicine man?

It was not clear who came up with the idea, but as the sun departed the gathering, someone came up with the idea to give every dead goat to the medicine man as his food. Goats were only kept as pets in Dumsorkrom, and as the famine came many of them died for obvious reasons. Though they were edible, no one really ate them, so it seemed a clever idea to give them as food to someone, since no one wanted to eat their pet just as they would not eat a member of their family. If anyone could eat that, it was the medicine man, since he was a man of magic, but also a stranger to the household of the goat. In any case, these were desperate times, and even the medicine man found this to be a sensible solution, and so it came it to be.

Time passed, and so did the famine, and Dumsorkrom was back to life again, having put behind the pain and losses of the famine. As if the gods had not done enough cruelty to Dumsorkrom, no longer had the famine passed than the little flying ants again attacked the land in droves, worse than when they had come on the land the first time. Many people caught the deadly fever, and who else but to their medicine man they turned for salvation. It appeared that their decision to keep their medicine man alive during the famine had proved to be prudent. Yet the changing times had changed their medicine man too.

It so happened that the dead goat portion that the people had in desperate times offered as food to the medicine man had become accustomed to his taste. So he demanded that in exchange for curing anyone who had caught the deadly fever, he wanted a dead goat. This was scandalous, and the people felt they were being blackmailed with the content of their own kindness. It appeared nothing short of wickedness, a heartless hostage in which their very lives were being held at ransom. There was a mass uproar against the medicine man, there was anger in the land, and as you would imagine, there were many who died, either as a refusal on their lives to bend to the medicine man’s extortions, or because they did not have any goats to offer in exchange to save their lives.

The noble medicine man, and he believed he was noble did not see that he was doing any wrong at all. If the land yielded food for the farmer who tended it, why should the people not provide food for the man who cures their diseases? Surely when the land failed to return to the farmer food for his labour, there was hunger, and people died. In the same way, if the cured man does not provide any returns for the labour of his curer, the curer would die, and soon then everyone will die. He was only asking that they keep him alive as they had done in desperate times. After all, the people had not kept him alive during the famine out of kindness; they had kept him alive to secure their own health in future. There is no evil, but only true nobility that a man demands to be given his food in return for his labour. So despite the misery around him, or the plea and malice visited on his person, the medicine man demanded his dead goat, and a dead goat he insisted on. He did not want a breathing goat, nor suggest that anyone killed his goat, as that would be akin to murdering a member of their family, he just demanded a dead goat, regardless.

Everyday if someone died from the fever, more curses were hurled the way of the medicine man. What kind of man allows another man to die because of a dead goat? But, what kind of people allows themselves to die because of a dead goat? Yet what kind of goat pushes a man to allow other people to die because the goat will not die? Was it the medicine man’s selfishness, the people’s unreasonableness or the goat’s existence? There seemed to be every reason to regret keeping the medicine man alive, and even more for providing him with what has now become his weapon of trade. Deep down, the people believed they had by their own hands and supposed kindness created a monster, and by what, a dead goat! How could a dead goat transform their noble and kindhearted medicine man into this heartless creature whose heart was set on their goats at the cost of their lives?

The medicine man was deeply heart broken. How is it that people seek return from their labour but he is refused his? He could not imagine that anyone would choose their property over their own life. What would be the use of the goat to you when you die? Should everyone die eventually from the deadly fever, their goats will also die and then what? Why should an animal, which he saw now more as food than anything else, be given such a place in society and kept alive while the people who gave it such a status in the first place should die? Perhaps people did not value their lives as much, or people had now become slaves of their own creations. Indeed, that must be it, what else can it be. Nothing masked all this more badly than the thought that not only were the people by their refusal committing a pointless suicide, they were also unwittingly starving him to death. This angered the medicine man so much he came up with a desperate ploy.

So when the people woke up daily to find that their goats were dying, they suspected with reason that the medicine man was the culprit. Now the dilemma was whether to give the goat to the medicine man as payment in return for cure for the sick, or bury the goat as they have buried those who had died from the fever. To think that the medicine man would have succeeded in actually forcing their hand by his evil actions into his demands riled the people, and so they decided instead to bury their goats, as they have their dead. For they reasoned that by asking for their goats in exchange for their lives, the medicine man had equated their lives to the worth of a dead goat. They would rather die than be as such dishonored.

The medicine man was perplexed by this madness, but he could not at this point do any more, if the people were so bent on refusing him his due. Neither was he willing to rescind his stance. For he had reasoned that if the people had deemed their lives less worthy than the dead goat, then neither did they value his life any more than the dead goat. He was starving; the people were dying. None could see the other’s point of view; none could inhabit the other’s place. The medicine man could not empathize with the ailing people; they had chosen their own death by fetishizing their goat! The people could not see the medicine man’s reason; how could anyone demand a mere dead goat as the prize of another man’s life.

It was shocking to say the least that the once agreeable land of Dumsorkrom now stood at its brink, on the dispute of a goat, and a dead goat as such. How is it that a dead goat whose place in the land, and which use as the medicine man’s food, which had been set by the people themselves, now become the subject that has turned affection of a medicine man and his people into a sour transaction. A transaction of impersonality, where the sick are seen not to die from their illness, but from selfish non-payment, and the medicine man starves, not from lack of food, but from his selfish demands. It was no longer a relation of dying mothers, brothers, wives and nephews and a starving medicine man, but a transaction of the man demanding to be paid and those refusing to pay. When all that remains of a people is not their relations, but of who owes whom what and who should pay whom what, there is nothing left of them but their own death, if not by violence of ailments, by the quieting hand of hunger.

When the travellers of the north reached Dumsorkrom, it was a wretched land scattered with many unburied dead men, women, children and goats.

Are you not Africa?

There is a big village of sorrow

Darkened by skin and pain, lowly in pride
Mind I say whitened by poverty and a hopeless tomorrow?
On every street is a gaunt bigheaded child
Cup in hand, deathly stare, at none, at you
There is a horn in Africa that bleeds
I saw it on the news too
Motherless children, childless mothers
When death’s army came on a truck
They left with 276 holes in Chibok’s testicles
Malls of pleasure or mulling of bullets
Garrissa for training or garrison of terror
They say there is a half Kenyan in some not black house
Well, Kenya is now a canyon of horror

There is one country called Africa
Here, we shoot each other for fun with serious bullets
No, it’s not the Arabs who came from afar for New York’s 2996
Not even like the chosen 12 who not for the sake of the gospel
Rather for the ridicule of it, saw Paris no more, no.
Here in this fat seahorse of a country, Africa
We drink each other’s blood, not for love, I assure you
That’s why you can’t be bothered, I feel you
After all, it’s one country, one person
Who punches himself in his face bloodily a lot, so often.
Why should you care, it’s another man’s business
Yours is individualistic, you keep to your own
This country called Africa, constantly menstruating
We can’t stop the incessant bleeding, let it bleed on

Who will go to war for my humbled twin towers?
Those towers of peace that stood in Sudan and South Sudan
Will you march hand in hand for me?
You don’t have to be a somebody, anybody, will you?
For the now badly soured spring of Egypt and Libya, will you?
But why do I lie here crying for your help!
You don’t even know me, or us, all 54 of us, you don’t
See how fat you have become sipping on my oil
How rich you look mirroring my poverty
How developed you feel, because you have me playing developing
How peaceful you sleep, knowing, but not thinking on my misery
Oh how miserable you would be when I am no more
Who would you flaunt your deliberate benevolence on?
In whose name will you stalk passers-by for an aid dollar?
Whose desperation will your kill-machines market serve?
Whose inferior darkness will pronounce your superior whiteness?

So I will lay me down, and not hope, not breathe
I will look up in the sky, and not see, not be seen
I will tell the stars, won’t say why me, just me
I will look at me and think, was I ever here, I should be
Then I will rise, and see, see what I see
I too am Africa

Hahahaha….Dumsor!

Coke ECG or Dumsor-267x178

Let’s kickstart this one with some cheesy jokes. If dum = ma and sor = ha, solve for dum-sor-dum. Here’s another one, everyone who works at ECG is atheist. How do I know? When God said let there be light, ECG was like, who is that guy? I hear people now give testimonies in church for having one full day of power. They say even pastors now sell anointing oil called “let this darkness pass me by” that can make ECG forget to put off your light. Remember those days when you used to get “che-che” girls for being a University student? Well, now people are getting girls for working at ECG—electricity, not knowledge, is the new power. Should I stop playing the fool? Okay, last one. What did the light bulb say to Mahama’s hair? “I wish I could shine in the darkness as you”.

Perhaps I am the only big fan of dumsor because in my opinion, it is the best thing that has ever happened to Ghana, apart from soobolo, of course. Dumsor does not discriminate; it torments everyone alike, rich or poor, young or old, NDC or NPP. It has created an era of open letters, I wonder who opened the letter koraa, “celebrity” vigils, ahemm, revealed that the President was after all a Pass student, my Motown people will say, he is an Atico list king, “w’abon”. There is some inherent mischievous, but fulfilling fun in taking a dig at your President. Ah, Mahama abr3. I know you feel like punching me in the face, but you can’t see me because the lights are off. I am laughing my balding head off now. I have to, because when all the jokes end, when the vigils are over, when the open letters close, when the celebrities return to being celebrities, dumsor will still be there, and the tragedies it leaves behind are needless to say, at crisis point. It gets serious.

Due to the chronic power outages, businesses are now dealing with producing below capacity, or paying more to produce at capacity. Whichever way, cost of production rises and profits are plummeting, which affects taxes, government income, which is needed to support any infrastructure towards the power crisis. People are being laid off to cut cost, but when they go home, the same increased cost of production has led to an increase in commodity prices, which already was difficult for their now missing source of income to buy. Together, inflation goes up, people are not spending, so the economy slows down, and with it, down goes the already battered cedi. But nothing beats coming home on a hot night to sleep in darkness, sweaty, with inconsiderate mosquitoes all over you. When you wake up the next morning, well your phone is off, so you can’t even get on social media and #dumsormuststop. It is painful, hellish, and not funny at all. But, as I see it, we had it coming.

Let’s be candid, dumsor is not Mahama’s fault. It’s nice to see influential people take leaders to task; it’s great for our democracy. However, in all sincerity, dumsor is not Mahama’s fault, at least not entirely. First, dumsor is happening now because our history has been filled with too many myopic leaders who failed to think ahead. Nkrumah was sensible once; he built a dam that even at the time was opposed by some people to be overambitious. Well, that over-ambition was all we had for half a century, until Bui came, but it was a tad too late, too little to salvage what we are experiencing now. So let’s spare the President, or anyone with the blame game; it’s a waste of time. Dumsor is teaching us an important lesson that we are still refusing to learn. We have to learn to think ahead of the present needs of now. Like the Akans say, when you grow plantain, grow banana too, because hunger always comes.

Even now, we are still making decisions that show that we only have our heads stuck in the urgency of today, with no ambition for posterity. The same attitude with which families wait till their kids are in the final year of senior high school before they start saving for their University education, is the same that we take to managing our national issues. From we who litter the streets, forgetting that it has a long-term environmental impact to the government official who builds roads narrower than the path to heaven, forgetting that the number of cars will only increase, we are all being foolish, and that foolishness always comes back to bite us. Karma is not a bitch, we are; karma just reminds us!

Conserving energy is an old gospel, but we know people just don’t care. From ECG, who refuses to find ways to regulate streetlights to the ordinary Ghanaian who just won’t turn their lights off when they are not in use, we are all guilty, and today we are paying the price. They say when you see your friend’s beard is burning fetch water besides yours. That is typical African nonsense, reactive, not proactive. I say when you see your friend’s beard burning dip your beard in water. Today it’s dumsor, but there are many other areas, from roads, to city planning, to education, to sanitation, and even health that are at tipping point, just because we fail to think and plan ahead. Management myopia must stop, and with it, hopefully, dumsor.

Indeed dumsor must stop, but will it? When? The fact is that it will take time to salvage three generations of stupidity. So I have an unsolicited advise for the President, because he has one huge problem. If Mahama was born an Ewe man, his name would not have been John it would be Promise. Ask him any question, and he will make a promise. When he makes the promise, and we are looking for our Johny to fulfill his promise, then he dumsors on us. Mr. President, I have always maintained that you are a fine gentleman. Promises give expectations, and when they are not met, they lead to disappointments. Please, don’t feel the need to promise, even though Ghanaians love to be promised. You know the facts; the power deficit is too huge and will require some years to fix, and insulate us for the future, even with superb planning and rapid funding. Don’t tell people dumsor will be a thing of the past soon, because it is a project which finality is spread into an unknown future. Sincerity and tact maketh a leader, not speeches and fancy campaigns. Tell us what is being done, and how long we should expect results. Not every issue is a campaign platform, Mr. President, with all due respect.

Dumsor must stop, and we need solutions. We can demonstrate till the second coming, but we need a national conversation on the power crisis. I don’t have the answers but in my always-insignificant opinion, first we need to revise our utility billing. Electricity is too cheap in Ghana. Of course, you will disagree with me, but it’s part of the problem. You will say the population is poor; they can’t afford to pay higher bills. Well, they are paying higher bills now, aren’t they? The cost of dumsor, and I say this without fact, but pure speculation, in practice outstrips what we would pay if were paying even twice our current price of electricity. Perhaps if we paid more, people would be more careful about conserving energy. I live in a country where if the light goes off, it will make headlines the following morning. By Aussie standards, I am a poor, below minimum wage student, but I pay a good sum of money to enjoy this constant electricity, and the market fixes those prices, as electricity supply is privatized.

Should we privatize electricity in Ghana? This calls for a bigger national conversation, but I would consider that idea seriously. If our telecommunication industry is any indication, it’s not a bad idea at all. I admit it is a challenging strategy, but one that I find both feasible and more effective. Our government is broke because we know that tax collection is a problem; the same people are being taxed over and over again, and those who evade still do so with impunity. Even the little that is collected is partly consumed by corruption. So admittedly, the challenge is more complex, but at least the market is way more transparent. In this 21st Century, governments should not be dealing with utility wages; it’s not too smart.

What do you think? It is fine, but definitely not enough to demonstrate and hold vigils. That doesn’t make us any more aware of the seriousness of dumsor, than we already are. We need ideas from the populace. We need the government to be honest with us, and spare us euphoric promises. We all need to accept that this power crisis is going to hang around for a while. We need to adjust. We need to be judicious with what we have. We need to seek alternative solutions. Most importantly, we need to learn to plan ahead. And now, a eulogy. I have come to berate dumsor, not to praise it. The myopic decisions that we made leaves after us. The good is interred in our will, and now we must channel it for our future. #myopiamuststop

Get Asamoah Gyan Out of Melcom!

asamoah

A couple of years back, I saw a Golden Tulip ad in a cinema that featured Sarkodie, and I thought, whoever gave the green-light for this ad should be fired. But when I saw Melcom’s ad with Asamoah Gyan, I realized it could actually get worse. Sarkodie and Golden Tulip did not match on any brand association; their two brands are so dissimilar, someone must have thought it an April Fool’s prank to suggest they could leverage any secondary associations from that unfortunate mashup. However, unlike Sarkodie and Golden Tulip, Melcom and Asamoah are actually perfect for each other. In fact, they are so perfect together they make me super uncomfortable. Asamoah Gyan and Melcom are like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West: their marriage only reminds you how terrible each of them is. Gyan and Melcom have one solid thing in common: consistently inconsistent unreliability. To some extent that sounds like what me and my buddy Sefa labeled the entire marketscape of Ghana, chiefly dumsor. So it’s fair to say Asamoah Gyan and Melcom are as Ghanaian as you get.

When you think about Melcom, what comes to mind? Sometimes you get a product that is unbelievably a great bargain for your money, and sometimes you get a product that just dies on you before it hits its expected puberty. Worse, sometimes they can turn your shopping trip into your highway to the grave. What? Is it too early to make a joke on that? Alright, I will let that hang. Let’s face it, Melcom has its positives, but when you walk out of a Melcom shop, especially if you bought an electronic product, you feel just like you walked out of a prayer camp—you hope it works as prophesied, sorry, as promised. As for my man, Baby Jet, let me speak with the caution of Rev. Atti, lest some pumped up men led by a loyal brother come show me where gym power lies. So again, as for Asamoah, you all know, he will score mostly when you least expect him to. On the day when you know he should easily bury it because you really need him to, hmmm, that is when the gods decide play “stay” on his shooting. Baffour, see I did not say plenty oo, I beg don’t let them come and “Kenu” me. Call me cynical, but Melcom and Asamoah Gyan match each other in ways that only reinforces their shared negative associations. Melcom is great on a good day, but you never know when they will let you down. Well, so is Gyan! See? See why I am uncomfortable to start with.

Take the ad itself, and it’s a brilliant piece of gari soakings without sugar. Will anyone go to Melcom because of Gyan’s endorsement? I doubt that. Will anyone really believe Gyan will shop at Melcom? You tell me. The little girl did not only suggest that there is no way Asamoah Gyan will ever shop at Melcom, I think she suggests the opposite too—Melcom will never have Asamoah Gyan and his economic kind give them their cedi. What is Melcom’s target market? People like me. Maybe, now they will put an embargo on me. Will someone who earns about $10 million a year shop at Melcom? I will give you a couple of seconds to process that. Melcom, that little girl knew you were lying through your prosthetic teeth, and so do I. Often when you pull off a silly prank, we will often say, try it on kids, not adults. This time, you tried a prank on a kid that didn’t work. Do you seriously think any grown, wise-in-their-own eyes Ghanaian will buy this beautiful comedic sketch of an ad? Don’t become our other Satan oo, yoo; dumsor already is doing enough.

I don’t know what Melcom was aiming to achieve with that ad, whether to reposition the brand, or to drive up their brand image by trading up in advertising capital, I am not sure. What I am sure they did is shoot themselves in the foot, and they did that in style with a rather preposterous ad tag line: “Now everyone shops at Melcom, even Asamoah Gyan”. Really? Does he? Will he ever? Wait, does anyone even care if he does, really? It’s still the same kind of people who go to Melcom, and I think that won’t change. Of course, we will keep going to Melcom just in case we get lucky one day and run into Asamoah Gyan, really doing real shopping that he has not been paid to do. I think what that pairing did was just reinforce in my mind the negative associations shared between the two. Should I say it again—consistently inconsistent unreliability.

I jumped out of my precious sleep to throw in this insignificant opinion of mine. So first, let me talk you to Asamoah. My Bono brother, why do you keep doing this to us? You know we love you, despite all the things we say. But after playing with our hearts, now you want to play with our heads too? Don’t be like that. You see when you did those songs with Castro people embraced them? By the way I am also searching these Melbourne shores just in case your buddy shows up here; you never know! Anyway people embraced those songs because we know you, that you don’t take life too seriously and you love to have fun, music and boxing promotion and all that stuff you do; that’s cool. After all, we all know your goal celebration dance means more to you than the goal itself. Oh Baffour, I said I beg, aren’t we all Bono brothers. I won’t go off the politeness radar again, I promise. Asamoah, I am saying that we know you don’t belong in Melcom; I’m not even sure about the Royco one, but at least that is more believable, considering it was your fake aunt who did the cooking in that ad, not you, and well, Royco is Royco, it’s Unilever, so at least that’s fine. But please get out of Melcom; you don’t belong there, and you know it!

Now a piece of unsolicited advise for you, my dear Melcom. It’s one thing for a brand to make a meaningless ad, like Sarkodie and Golden Tulip, Kumasi. It’s another thing if a brand makes a badly unbelievable ad; that’s sinful. Melcom has come a long way, and I think they are doing some really cool stuff with the brand. “Where Ghana Shops” was more befitting for you because they say the average Ghanaian is a lower middle income man, and that has always been your market. Melcom should remember, a brand must be consistent with its position, which means your target market. Eat inside your lane and let Cassa Trasaco and their likes also eat inside their lane, and there will be no fatal accident. Considering your history of accidents, I’m looking at you Melcom, stop what you are doing. Focus on that middle class, they are the majority, and they will never run out. They are better than the Kofi broke man who stills buys from Daavi’s shop, but truthfully incapable of earning what you paid Asamoah Gyan to come and do that pampanaa ad. Yet they are your market, and you would do well to find innovative ways to serve them, rather than aspire to places you don’t belong. Remember, if you force yourself to fart, you will shit on yourself, and what a shit that will be…a Melcom kind of shit. Ungodly!!

The Lemons You Gave Me

I’m not a fraud but when I saw the door opened, and it was the only door to my salvation, I wasn’t going to let it slam in my face. So I took it, as you would. This was high school boarding house. Think about every cruel thing, I’d been served a piece of it: unfair punishments, stupid labour, being ponded with water and slaps in my sleep, destruction of my aluminum trunk, seniors taking away my pillow and blankets on cold harmattan nights, stealing of my money, my clothes and my only shoe, being locked up in a chop box, kneeling down from night till daybreak like a prisoner of war. Everything. You name it. I’d done it all.

So on that uneventful Sunday, when my pathetic self had been punished to kneel down fully naked in the dormitory for no awful reason, I had no idea that that second year guy who had been tormenting me before lunch will come and try to choke me from behind, not caring that I was losing breath. I had no idea I was going to pull off a karate stunt on him, well that’s what everybody said I did. I had no idea I would really injure his leg. I had no idea that that injury would cause him to be hospitalized and miss the rest of the term. I had no idea his mates will tell all the girls that a first year “nino” with special karate skills had almost crippled him. I had no idea I would be taken around classes to demonstrate my incomparable karate skills. I had no idea that I would become a mini-legend, revered by those who were not sure they could take me on, and abhorred by those who felt I was just an opportunistic piece of shit. I had no idea it would follow me for the rest of my life.

So I had an idea. Tell them the truth. Why don’t I tell them that besides my childhood Bruce Lee addiction and a little messing around with stunts from “Mahaguru”, I was not that special after all? I should tell them that I was then only a little boy, who came for an education, but got more than he had bargained for, that I had cried endlessly at night from self-pity and broken despair, that I was afraid to go to sleep because I was afraid of what someone’s twisted imagination will push them to do to me in my sleep, that at times, I feared for my life. I should tell them now that I was just lucky on that day that move worked, in that moment, on that guy. That I rode on the cloud they gave me because I was not ready to go back to being everybody’s bully object.

Look at me now. I made it out of that misery because I lied. I lied because that was all you gave me.