My mum is one of my great sheroes. She is an admirably fierce, authentic Fante woman who has such a wild mix of ideas, it can be difficult to keep up with her sometimes. She taught me about territories and how to take and keep them. One of her absolute grounds is ‘family’. The second is career and hard work. She gives no inch when it comes to family, and makes no compromise about working hard to ensure the next generation lives higher than the previous one.
So when I got pregnant with my first child at a time when I was just entering law school, she had no qualms about her stand on the situation. Every baby is important. Law school is important. I am going to have safe pregnancy, go to school, deliver the baby and pass my exams. She tied her wrapper round her waist and settled her feet on the ground to bring all these objectives to pass. And they did. At the time, she lived many towns from me. That didn’t deter her at all. She would leave her business every week, come to Accra to make sure I was fine and go back to ensure her business and home did not suffer. My early anxiety was very quickly dispelled because she stood behind me to make sure that I did not fall or stumble in any area of life I had to navigate in those early years post university. When my sister had triplets, she put herself through the same grueling routine until the babies were strong and hardy.
She tried her hand at many careers. But the one that lasted longest was as a baker. So that was my first major career. Heading off to the bread mill to mix the dough, coming home and supervising the bread until hotly baked, was my regular activity during school holidays.
When I was 16, Ghana found herself in a terrible place. There was shortage of every kind of food, and bakeries were given allocation of flour before they could work. But people with bakeries started doing horrible things. Selling the flour at cutthroat prices instead of baking with it. The price of bread sky-rocketed. There were even rumors that people used saccharin from mortuaries to bake bread, instead of sugar.
My mother had a different posture. She baked with every drop of flour and sugar allocated to her, and sent me off to sell it to people who needed it. This is how I found myself outside the door of a man who asked me to bring my mother to see him. Apparently, he was a security officer sent to our city Koforidua to investigate wrong dealings with flour and sugar and ensure that persons genuinely operating bakeries were assisted to make bread available. And this is how my mother found herself on a council distributing flour and sugar, instead of struggling to buy it. What a quantum leap for her business that was! For a lady with a Middle School certificate who added ‘vocational training’ along the way, she was a mighty achiever of every goal she set her sight on. What was beautiful to watch was that hard work did not daunt her in any way.
She knew how to define the territories she wanted, work for them, and keep them flourishing. Commitment to the truth of her dreams was a faithful compass that always brought her integrity, good and lifted the family.
I grew up knowing I was supposed to be a lawyer, one brother was to be an engineer, another a doctor, and my parents needed a pastor too. Well, with single minded persistence, they got their lawyer, engineer, scientist, and we got a pharmacist as well. Three of us preach, so they have more than one of pastor.
My mum knew when to let go, thumb her nose at unnecessary impediments in her way and stretch her hands for help – if you were willing to assist her. She is still keeping a very close eye on my invalid dad. After almost sixty years of marriage, they are still the best of friends. She won’t let us employ a nurse to help her. According to her, ‘when she needs help, we will hear from her’.
Perhaps the intensity of my desire to teach the skills of goal setting, and the values of integrity, faith and hard work as the critical elements of achievement, came from learning from this simple and most effective teacher. And might I also add that in my work in court, I have seen many people who tried shortcuts of fraud, cheating, and perverse models, who have come to naught. In the short term, they seemed to have gained a lot. In the long term, it turned to ashes. I have seen some spectacular falls, and learnt that foundations built with wrong methods and patronage, rather than proper marketing and customer service, will always lead to empty futures. I am constantly reminded that even Solomon’s wealth evaporated in one generation – through the fecklessness of his latter days, and his son Rehoboam. Faith, hope, love, and integrity continue to be the best tools for attaining every height we set our sights on. The ride to our dreams may be uphill, but there is nothing that grit cannot handle.