Our guest post is a fine gentleman, a hard worker and an award-winning author. He is a Reading Ambassador, a former host of radio show on Books and Reading. He is a believer of purchasing made in Ghana products and dresses to fit all occasions. He is a Ghanaian patriot and non-other than Sylvanus Bedzrah. For the purpose of Brevity, we will address him as Syl.
AMOAFOWAA: You are welcome to Amoafowaa.com
SYL: Thank you very much, my dear elder sister. But instead of addressing me Syl, I prefer Sly—which sounds more romantic, you know.J
AMOAFOWAA: Okay Sly, please tell us about your childhood and growing up.
SLY: Well, some were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Those who missed out on that privilege claim theirs was a wooden spoon. So on the lighter side, I will say I belong to the wooden-spoon category. I was born in Dzodze in the Ketu North District of the Volta Region. Unfortunately, I grew up to realise that I lost my mum less than two months after she gave me to earth, but I take consolation in the belief that, she has gone to a better place. (I miss her though, despite the fact that I did not get to ‘meet’ her.) So I was absolutely taken care of by my maternal grandmother who made (and still making) my growing up feel like I have a wonderful mother—may she live longer than she wishes, I pray. And you know how far grandmothers will go; or let me say some grandmothers will go to instil some amount of discipline in their grandchildren, right? And you know how at the time, you will think the old woman was just being wicked. Today, I look back at what I went through with her, look at where I am now and where I am heading—that is how I appreciate how ‘wicked’ she has been to me. So I did not have it easy growing up at all. Together with an age-mate cousin, we can ‘boast’ of all the happenings that made anyone’s childhood and growing up a memorable one. I mean, I remember selling fried fish for my grandmother. Before then, I found myself sewing all my torn slippers and shoes so I took to shoe making, (not the Tonyi Senayah kind of shoe making oo) so I set up a ‘shop’ in front of our house as a cobbler, which my grandmother disagreed with and succeeded in quenching that childhood business of mine. As for the day she heard that my cousin and I were pushing truck in the market (I can’t even remember why we did that) she did not spare the rod on us—I still have a mark on my body from that lashing. Then she got into fried fish business and we had to go sell fish every day after school by going round with it on a tray, and that earned us that kind of nickname you won’t be happy with in school. After that, I got into selling books from school to school and by going around the town and the market—that was actually after graduating from Junior High School. Then I graduated again from the book-selling business into being a DJ with one sound system operator in town—attending funerals and parties almost every weekend. That was when I got to senior high school, and that was what earned me the position of Entertainment Prefect in school. So you see, I was somehow busy in my childhood days back in Dzodze.
AMOAFOWAA: Tell us about your education and work.
SLY: Ok, so I actually had my basic and high school education in my hometown—from Bagome Primary School to Mite Junior High School to Dzodze-Penyi Senior High School. I am sure you would want to know what kind of activities I was interested and involved in while in school. One activity I remember getting involved in back in Primary School was the hobby and passion for reading. I remember how a classmate of mine, Esther Ahiati who was equally an avid reader, would bring story books to school in exchange of the ones I have, and after reading, we sit down and listen to each other’s comments, remarks and lessons from the book—more like a book review. I do not know how well and right we did that at the time, but that was where the interest for reading began. These books were either in English or written in Ewe, and I must say that we enjoyed the Ewe-written ones most. Then in Junior High School, I got involved in literary activities that got me representing my school during some inter-school quizzes and spelling bees. Then again, in Senior High School, I was a member of the school’s Writers and Debaters Club and the President of the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) club and represented the school a few times and won some awards. Now, after completing the Dzodze-Penyi senior high school, I had to go to Action Progressive Institute to strengthen some grades that I did not make. While at Action, I was again involved in literary activities—I remember being the President of the Editorial Board of the school, and that was where I got to publish my first book entitled HAD I KNOWN. Now, after getting done with senior high school in 2007, I did not get to go to the tertiary institution immediately, so it will interest you to know that I am now in the second year at the University—University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) offering Public Relations Management, but you know what they say—“It is better late than never.” Still on literary activities in school, I am currently the Deputy Chairman of the University’s Editorial Board. So again, I will say my education so far has also been characterised by literary activities. You also asked about work. On the side line, I work as publisher who goes round schools marketing his own books, and all I can say in glorification to God who gave me that talent which has now become my work is, so far, so good, but it shall get better.
AMOAFOWAA: Now, if I ask you who you are, what will you tell me in in three sentences?
SYL: Three sentences is even too much. In one sentence, I would say “Sylvanus Bedzrah is a dreamer who believes in the realisations of his dreams.”
AMOAFOWAA: What do you think of women empowerment?
SYL: Let me tell you something: I am actually a feminist. Yes, after listening to Chimamanda Adichie Ngozie’s speech on “We should all be Feminists,” I saw reasons to become a feminist, and so of course being a male feminist makes me one of those who believe in women empowerment. I think it is a worthy call to make available to women some appreciable amount of opportunity even if it has to be to the slight disadvantage of the men. That is because I think the playing field has not always been levelled for men and women everywhere in the world, and we cannot pretend about it. But what I would not go with is this: all in the name of women empowerment, we give women some responsibilities, like say appointments to some top positions, because they are women but not mainly because they are qualified. You get my point? So while we are looking at empowering women, we do not compromise on their qualification and end up putting square peg in round holes. That is why much concentration should be on empowering the girl child today especially education-wise so that when she becomes a woman, there will be no iota of mediocrity in the mentioning of women empowerment. That is why I will always applaud the policy where schools admission requirements for the female is not always at par with that of the male. Semantically, many will not agree with me when I say men and women are not equal and cannot be equal, and that is why equal opportunities should not be accorded the man and the woman, hence, the women empowerment chorus. Sometimes, even the women who call for and support women empowerment claim they are equal to men. But that is where people begin to ask that, so if these women are the same people believing they are equal to men, then why should they be calling for some preferential treatment in the name of women empowerment? But you know how easy it is not to have a full insight and appreciation of an issue without an experience? Yes, so that’s why sometimes, we can only wish for God to swap the genders for a month, (and I know why I say a month) and I am sure the men will return appreciating and understanding better why the need to empower the woman.
AMOAFOWAA: What do you look out for in a woman to call your wife?
SLY: Well, the most important thing should be the character before physical beauty (and don’t forget beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder). I am one of those who believe that, the woman or man you choose to marry can make or mar your life, therefore determining how your whole life will turn out, and that is why good character comes first. I also look out for woman who will have a lot to add to my life and for that matter, the family. I look out for a woman who will complement me. Again, I would not just be searching for wife material in my kind of woman but also a mother figure—you know what I mean. I mentioned beauty—we can’t pretend about that, you know. Every man would want to marry a woman who is appealing to the eye and most importantly to me, beautiful to me, because I become the chief beholder in determining and appreciating this beauty. What is my definition of that physical beauty I talk about and look out for? Well, being just the chief beholder in this matter, we all know a beautiful woman when we see one so, yeah. (smiles)
AMOAFOWAA: What are your hobbies?
SYL: On the lighter side, if you ask a writer to mention his or her hobbies and you do not hear “Reading and Writing” first, then I assume the writer did not hear the question well. So my hobbies are watching movies, listening to music, reading and writing (Ok, so I think I did not hear the question well)
AMOAFOWAA: Hehe. What is your thoughts on rape?
SLY: Rape! Cecilia, you know what? I have always said and maintain that, in the unlikely event that I become a judge and anyone is caught and brought to my court with evidence beyond reasonable doubt for raping someone, nobody should expect that character to come back to society from jail anytime soon; in fact, not at all, because you see, rape does a lot of emotional and physical harm to the victim, and if stringent punishments are not meted out to the perpetrators of this act to serve as a deterrent to potential rapists, we shall continue to pay only lip service to the issue of rape. I don’t know which word I could find in my dictionary that could describe how I perceive rapists, but while I am still searching for that word, I will describe them as fraidy-cat for now because that is what they are but tickling themselves to be otherwise. And let me tell you something: if you did indulge in this act without being caught, you should still bow down your head in shame wherever you are and I am sure your conscience will do a good work as a judge. It enrages me more when the characters involved are those with the father-daughter age difference. I mean, how? Whenever I am watching a movie and there is a rape scene, I cannot just have the nerves to watch. I just hate to see a woman in pain and begging for help especially in the hands of a man—you know what I mean? And let me be quick to add that, some women too rape men, you know, but we must condemn both in the same proportion and amount of energy. If it is not good for the gander, it could not be good for the goose either!
AMOAFOWAA: Now domestic violence takes a different turn. Men are reporting women in Ghana. What is your take on that?
SLY: Oh “Charley”, but those men too, why? Or is that one of the reasons you could use to justify the saying that, “What a man can do, a woman can do better?” Or it is part of the women empowerment we’ve been championing? (laughs) Anyway, on a more serious note, domestic violence in any form cannot be condoned—either the man bit the dog or the dog bit the man, there was a bite. I think the way to minimise this in our homes is to find an amicable way of settling our disagreements thereby preventing them from escalating to the boxing stage. On the lighter side (which could be the case) I would want to assume that, it was because some of these men who are victims of domestic violence are people who have been brought up not to lay a hand on a woman and so the woman took advantage of that meekness of the man to dominate him in that way. Ok, so assuming without admitting that is the case, then we should all make that as part of the training for both males and females, not to lay hands on the opposite sex especially, and there would be less record of domestic violence from any of the sides.
AMOAFOWAA: I know you are the writer of “The Bloody Ingrate.” Was it your dream to be a writer?
SLY: Let me tell you a story—a funny one. When I was growing up, I said I wanted to become a carpenter. You know why? There was this carpenter close to my house who made some very beautiful furniture and displayed them in front of his shop, so I thought becoming a carpenter would be the only way my room could look very nice. Then later on, I changed to wanting to become a pastor all because I admired the way my pastor preached in church and the respect he commanded. Then after that, I said I would want to become a soldier because of their beautiful-sight-to-behold and how respectful it was when those young guys in their uniform return from training to visit their families and of course, to show off, and that showing off inspired many like me to get there. But you see, in all these thoughts, the Bible will vindicate me with that verse that says “When I was a child, I thought as a child…” Then when I proceeded in life, I found my niche after writing and publishing my first book. So with this question, let me use the opportunity to explain the meaning of my answer to one of your earlier questions: “… what will you tell me in three sentences?” I have a dream—a dream that one day, this young man from Dzodze in the Ketu North District of the Volta Region, with a humble beginning, will place Ghana on the world literary map. That is the dream! But in addition to that, let me tell you something—I have political ambitions (ooops! I’ve revealed my secret) Yes, I want to get into politics with one ambition—to go do exactly what I will be elected or appointed there to do. I would want to be remembered as that politician who will be counted among the responsible and trusted ones. Let us have another interview on politics and I shall tell you more.
AMOAFOWAA: Cool, we will scratch the surface here though. Is the story, and I mean THE BLOODY INGRATE based on a true life story?
SLY: Not at all, but I must say that it is a real life story. That is why after reading the book, I got a number of confessions from people who shared similar experiences in my story. In one of such confessions, the lady said even the character name I used was the same name as the guy he went through the ordeal with. So you see? You sit in your small corner somewhere in your room and you think you are just writing some imaginary story but ends up telling someone’s story; but that is the beauty and joy of the writing profession.
AMOAFOWAA: You won something some years back, can you please tell us about it?
SLY: I won some things actually. First of all, this book that we are talking about is what brought me to the limelight as a writer through the benevolence of Airtel Telecom Ghana, when I won their “Zain Touching Lives” imitative at the time, and that saw the sponsoring of the first 1,000 copies of THE BLOODY INGRATE in 2010. Let me quickly use this opportunity again to thank Airtel Ghana for turning my dreams and imaginations into a glorious reality. I have always said that wherever I am now and wherever I shall get to as a writer, I owe it all to AIRTEL. Ok, so in 2011, that book THE BLOODY INGRATE won me the “Young Professional (Writer) of the Year” during the “Youth Excellence Awards” which was organised by Waves International in partnership with the British Council, to appreciate and celebrate excellence among the youth. The following year, I again won an award in the category of Arts and Entertainment in the Youth Impact Ghana Awards 2012. That same year, the book got the approval from the Ghana Education Service as a recommended supplementary reader for all schools in Ghana, especially JHS and SHS. So aside those major awards, I must say that I have also been awarded by my former senior high schools for what I am doing so far to inspire me to do more and better. I hope to win more prestigious awards in the coming years with my upcoming works, but there is this heart-warming award I receive on daily basis and of course that comes from my readers. They are my inspiration actually.
AMOAFOWAA: Wow! I know you are very instrumental in the activities of the Ghana Association of Writers. Is the association achieving its set goals?
SLY: I will say a big YES to this question without thinking twice. Since I joined this association under the leadership of the current President, Mr. Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, (and that is why we still want to maintain him for another term. I am sure he will frown at me on hearing this) I have seen a lot of activities and forward-movement of this association, but that does not mean there is no more room for improvement. We can make mention of the Ghana Association of Writers Schools Outreach Programme (GAWSOP) which is targeting the establishment of literary clubs in all the over 500 public senior high schools in the country with the main aim of promoting reading and writing among our students. We can also mention our annual book festival—Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival (GAWBOFEST) which happens on 21st September of every year in Accra under the theme “Empowering Ghana Through Reading,” and we are soon going to have this festival in all regions in the country. Our GAW Sunday programme which happens every first Sunday of every month is also another platform that Novelists, Poets, Playwrights and those in the literary industry, including musicians, use to share their work with us all. The association also organises workshops on writing to empower upcoming writers and very soon, we shall be having our Writers Academy. But if you ask me of what development I wish to see with GAW any time soon, I would call for the association to introduce an annual book or literary award for writers in this country so they can also be celebrated and rewarded every year. At least, that will go a long way in adding a lot to making reading and writing attractive among Ghanaians and getting a lot of writers registered with the country’s official association for writers. But I have said it somewhere that, if this does not happen in the next five years, I will personally take it up, and I mean it.
AMOAFOWAA: What are the marks of a good writer?
SLY: Let me first answer this question with how Friedrich Nietzsche will do: “Good writers have two things in common: they prefer to be understood rather than admired…” In addition, I think a good writer must be a very good story teller, especially when it is about fiction, and that is one way to engage your readers. A good writer should be able to tell stories that speak to the reader in one way or the other and leave the reader with some lessons by the time the last page is turned. I am sure we all know voracious readers and good writers are siamese twins so I do not need to mention that.
AMOAFOWAA: Who do you look up to where writing is concerned?
SLY: It will be difficult to mention only one writer. Because it has always been Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo, Lawrence Darmani, Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie Ngozie and the late Chinua Achebe. So you see why I say I have a dream of placing Ghana on the world literary map one day?
AMOAFOWAA: Are you a lover of music?
SLY: Absolutely! For someone who was a DJ back in the days, I have no choice than to fall in love with music.
AMOAFOWAA: Who is your best singer of all times?
SLY: It has always been Amakye Dede because there is no song of his that I don’t like. I am sure by now, my cat is familiar with his voice because his songs are always playing through the speakers. A foreign musician will be Westlife. Play me any Westlife song and I will tell you a story about what that song reminds me of.
AMOAFOWAA: Tell us about your interest in Made in Ghana Products.
SLY: As the President of Ghana and other concerned people have always been trumpeting, that is the best way to promote and celebrate our own. Hon. Dzifa Gomashie will tell you that, any time you go out there to buy something in say Dubai, what you have done is to invest in their economy to grow, so why can’t you do same for your own country? So instead of dressing and looking like the United Nations (as she will always add), I want to help my country’s economy grow by dressing and looking like the proud Ghanaian. So you can also call me an “Ambassador of Made in Ghana Goods” especially with the clothes. Just that people mistake me for a designer or fashion plate, looking at how I dress.
AMOAFOWAA: Is there anything in store for the near future? I mean where writing is concerned?
SLY: Sure! You know, it is five years since I published my last book, and a lot of people have been wondering why I am taking this long to come out with another. Others have also given up on me, but I have a message for them: when your wife is keeping too long in the kitchen, there are two things involved. It is either she is finding problems with cooking that special meal or she is taking time to make sure your meal is deliciously served. So yeah, I know what is keeping me in the kitchen all this while so I am pleading with my readers to continually have the patience and very soon, the meal shall be served. When it is served, I am sure they shall appreciate how long it took me to prepare it. So yeah, the working title for that ‘meal’ is “Tears in the Rain” and that should be served before this year ends. Alongside, I also have been cooking “Holding on to Hope.” But one that students are mostly calling for is “Inside the Girls Dormitory” and the male students are mostly the ones calling for this, and I can only imagine and understand why.
AMOAFOWAA: Now to religion. I know you are a Christian, what is your most shocking news about Christianity so far?
SLY: We hear all the absurd stories on weekly basis, if not daily, about the men of God especially, or their followers. One that got me angry and prayed for Jesus Christ to speed up with his coming so we all can be saved from the clutches of these supposed men of God, actually happened in Nigeria sometime last year. It was reported that a pastor in Enugu impregnated 20 members of his congregation, and as if that was not disgusting enough to the ear, he came out to say he has been directed by God to impregnate these women. I mean, how? Like seriously! Well, let me leave it before I say unprintable words, but sometimes we have to blame some of these victims and followers. Some of them are just too gullible. Jesus Christ should just hurry with his coming so that a lot of people can be saved from the clutches of these men who claim they are working for Him and His Father
AMOAFOWAA: You are a trumpeter. What peaked your interest in that field?
SLY: Yes! I forgot to mention that aspect of me while talking about my childhood days. Actually, while in Primary School, there was this Brass Band group that was always having their rehearsals in a house across the street so I was always hanging out there after school. Then one day I was invited to play the percussion (what we call the ‘konka’) and so from that day, I unofficially became a member and started following them for their weekend engagements. Then at a point, I decided to rather register and learn the trumpet because my church bought a trumpet and needed someone to play, so I registered privately with someone (for free though) who took me through the lessons, and this is where I have to pause and thank Mr. Eric Edem Ahiable for indulging and teaching me how to play the only instrument in the Holy Bible that will be sound on the last day to determine your fate, you know. And I must say that, playing the trumpet has brought me a lot of opportunities and has also contributed to where I am today in life. This is one thing I could never regret getting involved in or giving up on when I was young, because I nearly gave up when I moved on to another teacher. I remember this man lashed us for not getting our notes right and with tears flowing down your cheeks, we still had to play the trumpet, or else, more tears would flow, you know. And while some gave up, we were still in there enduring it and getting better. I am sure it is one of my talents, aside creative writing, that God equipped me with. I am sure I will be one of the Angels God would choose to sound the trumpet on that day. (smiles)
AMOAFOWAA: Who is your most respected religious leader in Ghana and why?
SLY: Apart from my own Pastor, Rev. Richard Osei Asante of Madina Central Assemblies of God, I would go for Dr. Mensah Otabil of International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) because of his exceptional style of preaching—teaching. I mean, you cannot listen to that man without learning a thing or two to better your life and that of others. You listen to him and feel like you’ve just added a lot of value to yourself. You get my point? No wonder he was adjudged the Most Influential Ghanaian of the year during the E-TV’s most influential people in Ghana awards. Well deserved!
AMOAFOWAA: Now to politics, if you were to select one politician from Ghana, dead or alive, for an award for his contribution to the nation Ghana, who will you choose and why?
SYL: Yieee….this lady is dragging me into politics earlier than I plan to oo. Well, since you did not exclude the mention of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, I will give it to him. I mean, if not for anything at all, apart from leading the country to independence, we can point to a lot of facilities today that we still depend largely on and credit Nkrumah for it. We can make mention of Akosombo Dam, Accra-Tema Motorway, Komfo Anokye Hospital, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Cape Coast and the rest. Bring Kwame Nkrumah back today to lead this country and I am sure a lot of things will change.
AMOAFOWAA: Is this country moving forward or backward? I ask this because I know you are very up to date where current issues are concerned.
SLY: This country is definitely moving forward, and I must add, in the right direction. But even at that, we still have a big house with many rooms that tells us that, there is more room for improvement. It can always get better.
AMOAFOWAA: What is your take on NPP’s concession in favour of women which has been pulled down?
SYL: Mum C, this comes back to the women empowerment issue that we spoke about oo. But I think this is not the right time to implement it, especially when some men in those constituencies have already expressed their interest in contesting and advance their plans in that regard. Now this is how I think it should have been done: have an agreement with all contestants in all the constituencies before this primaries that, after this election, any woman who wins a seat in parliament will not be contested by a male during the next one or two elections. Then after that, any man can contest them again. You see, if you have the people agreeing to something like this, it will be better than waking up one morning and assassinating someone’s political ambitions in the name affirmative action that they were not really aware of. It is a good thing but must be implemented with some level of agreement across board. Well! That is my opinion.
AMOAFOWAA: If you were the president of Ghana at the moment, what would be your first line of action?
SLY: This would sound selfish, but I remember the President of GAW, Mr. Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng once calling for an establishment of Commission of Enquiry to find out why Ghanaians do not read and what could be done to promote that reading culture, and that is what I will do—establish that Commission of Enquiry because if we believe in that saying that “A reading nation is leading nation,” then you will understand why this action by Sylvanus Bedzrah’s government/presidency is his priority.
AMOAFOWAA: How do you see yourself in ten years?
SLY: With the continual enjoyment of that special grace of God I have always been enjoying, I should be able to do a lot to be mentioned among the top prolific African Writers. The time should be ripe for me to carry out my political ambition as well.
AMOAFOWAA: Which words in the Ghanaian National Anthem, speak to your patriotism?
SYL: Ok, hold on let me sing the National Anthem and find the words….. (sings silently) Ok, it should be the first line: “God bless our homeland Ghana…” You know why? Who else prays for his country if not a patriot?
AMOAFOWAA: I will have to ask something I have asked none before, if you are to tell a joke to lift the spirit of one who has lost everything through a fire outbreak, what will be your joke?
SLY: Hahahaa…. Don’t try me because I am sure my joke would remind the person of his loss because of how dry it is. But let me try. Ok so there was this man who returned from America after spending only two years there. You know how when some of these people return even after a week, they speak in a way that the Americans will strain their ears to hear them, right? So this man got to Kwame Nkrumah Circle and stopped a taxi and this what ensued between him and the taxi driver.
Man: Please how much is it from here to Larebiorshie?
Taxi Driver: You said?
Man: I said how much is it from here to Larebiorshie?
Taxi Driver: Come again…
Man: I said Larebiorshie! Are you deaf or something?
So the taxi in his attempt to extricate himself from that humiliation responded: Oh sir sorry, it is only 70 cedis.
Man: (alarmed) What? Are you serious? You mean just from here to Latebi-Okoshie is 70 cedis? Why?
Taxi Driver: Oh you mean Latebi-Okoshie? Oh sorry, it is only 10 cedis. I thought you said Larebiorshie.
AMOAFOWAA: Hahahahahaaa. Please your advice to the readers.
SLY: I have always said that, we don’t have any excuse not be avid and voracious readers. That is why Atwood H. Townsend will tell you that “No matter how busy you are, you must find time to read surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance” and that goes a long way to tell you the importance of reading. If you listen to all the great men we have, reading has always been one activity they occupied themselves with. Someone said “Show me a family of readers and I will show you those who move the world.” Don’t you want to be part of the world-movers? Don’t you want to contribute to making Ghana a reading nation and for that matter a leading nation? So to everyone out there, please let reading make it to your list of hobbies and let us prove wrong the saying that, “If you want to hide something from the African, put it in a book.”
AMOAFOWAA: Thank you for your time on www.amoafowaa.com.
SLY: Thank you for thanking me, and thank you too for this opportunity. I am grateful.
READ THE READ
I read the read
And heard the unheard
I read the read
And learnt the hidden
He is like a good book
A jollof of good read
Born with a wooden spoon
His outlook now will make you swoon
Shaming the poverty baboon
He is gentleman
A dreamer and a liver
He is a patriot
A campaigner for his nation
A writing map – Sly
A trumpeter – fly
He dreams so high
I feel those dreams are nigh
Because he is a hard worker
An avid reader
A positive thinker
And a true Ghanaian
Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia (c) 2015