Saturday, April 12, 2008


Kathy Knowles and Adwoa at the North York Library! Photo by Tony Aidoo.

When I was young, at probably nine or ten years old, we lived in a suburb of Accra called Ringway Estates. I guess it was really a sub-suburb because the original area was the traditional land of the Osu Ga people, so the larger area was called Osu-RE. I liked Osu-RE, because we had our own departmental store, the GNTC about two hundred metres one way and down the street, there was Modern Bakery and later Afridom and Fifo which had a very friendly store manager. Our part of Ringway was also home to a busy night life with kenkey sellers, kelewele sellers and in the day time a true 'Yo ke Gari' (Gari, beans, fried plantain and zomi) seller. Ringway was a bustling lively area. We had the best Chinese reataurants, Mandarin, Pearl of the East and another one whose name escapes me. My cousin owned the Ringway Hotel, but he never invited us there and then there was the large Penta Hotel, which someone squeezed on the corner opposite the British Petroleum gas station.

Ringway had much to offer. Mark Cofie the business man, opened Rendezvous at the BP where we bought our first slushies. Later on he started a restaurant nearer Osu proper where we could buy not only slushies but doughnuts and popcorn. We saved all our money to spend at Mark Cofie's. Sometimes we bought cotton candy, which we called candy floss, at a corner store near Mark Cofie's. It was a little later that the Patisserie Mondiale opened next to Modern Bakery and there lay the greatest temptation, for Patisserie sold cake in slices! By then we were in Highschool. In those days Patisserie's cakes cost fourteen to sixteen cedis a slice, but somehow we convinced my mother that it was worth it. She always said their cake mix had been whipped to death. My sister Ako and I did not mind how much whipping the cake had taken. The icing and fillings were out of this world!

Ringway also had the best night clubs but we were not permitted to go near them, not until we were done highschool and even then, we went to those places only occassionally and without naming exactly where we were going. There was Keteke, the start-up club, where the initial middle class jammers had begun their life of fun. Old timers who had forgotten the passing of the years, still continued to visit Keteke where the youth thronged. Then there was the more sophisticated Cave du Roi . A little later, someone built Black Caesar's palace, which must have been an ugly building, but we thought it was the greatest building ever for it's imposing Castle-like entrance. That was the place where the decadent rich went who had money to spend.

Ringway was where a number of President Kwame Nkrumah's ministers and cohorts had built their homes in the fifties and sixties when Accra was becoming modern. Conversely, Ringway also boasted the Danquah Circle, named after J.B. Danquah of the opposition UNCP who had died, jailed in Nkrumah's infamous Nsawam prison. Ringway was home to the Abbey Road Boys hip boys who tried the new substance, Marijuana and suffered for it.

Our street, was home to the Polish Embassy, the Hungarian Embassy and the American Embassy Annex. We had our own cobblar at the street corner, who was also a fireman and many of our friends lived within walking distance. When much later I met my husband in faraway Kumasi, surprise, his family had just moved to Ringway!

At ten years old, the best thing about Ringway was a library my sister and I discovered, called Osu Children's library. We shared one library card and we only borrowed Nancy Drew! Back and forth we walked, returning and borrowing books, probably until we had read the last Nancy Drew. By then we were off to boarding school. (It is probably more likely that we lost a book and never went back).

So here comes Kathy Knowles, who has founded Osu Children's Library fund and who is growing libraries all over Accra, Ghana, like tomatoes in her garden. Kathy is a chance librarian, chance library builder, or more truthfully a Destiny-Librarian. She has found her calling in life as though it were a penny on the ground which she stooped to pick up. Starting her first library under a tree with her kids and neighbours kids, she has gone on to found over a hundred libraries of all sizes and shapes in Ghana. Her libraries are sometimes housed in a school room, or someone's house or held under a tree. Her foundation has also built at least two beautiful library buildings, one in the Nima slums and another elsewhere. Kathy is a champion of Accra children many of whose success in life will be directly attributed to Kathy Knowles-Canadian, and Ghanaian-child and book lover!
Anna, Tony, Maureen and I, listened to Kathy Knowles speak on April Fools day. Anna Aidoo and her husband Tony and girls, represented the Ghanaian Consulate in Toronto. Anna was resplendent in her kente kaba and slit! I really enjoyed the coffee and biscotti afterward but it was Kathy who inspired us all. We were inspired by her vision, compassion, the size of her work and the dignity with which she treated her Ghanaian employees and the many children who benefit from the library. This love and dignity is obvious in the books she now publishes for Ghana and Africa but which I feel must be read here, in Canada and everywhere else. She has captured what very few people are able to do: the beauty of the African people. Beyond that, Kathy has captured hope!

This month I have started a campaign for a children's library in the small town of Kibi which the citizens call Kyebi, in the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area, where the Okyenhene reigns. It has been my great pleasure and inspiration to meet Kathy Knowles.


Anonymous said...

I was delighted to come across your article ~ a surprise! Thank you for taking the time to write about my presentation and for sharing your reflections as a young library member in Accra.

I look forward to keeping in touch with you as you progress with your own library dreams. Kathy

Koranteng said...

Oh nostalgia. I too am an alumnus of Osu Children's Library and have entirely too many fond memories of time spent there and all the books I was able to haul back to my North Labone haunts. Reading this note brought a smile to my face, capturing as it did the sights and rhythms of my youth.

At the same time that it put a face to someone who is helping one of my favourite places.

I connected a while ago with someone who was presumably involved in Kathy's efforts - volunteering at these libraries. Serendipity is something.

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Adwoa

Eh, Adwoa at keteke? Ino bi small.

I didn't grow up in that part of town but became quiet familiar with it when I taught at GIS (Cantoments).



Anonymous said...

I had a lot of classmates who lived in your old neighbourhood when I was in secondary school and they always talked about how much fun they were having.

I remember writing to Kathy Knowles quite a few years ago when she was featured on the cover of Reader's Digest magazine. She was gracious enough to write back. At the time I was really interested in what she was doing and wondering how I could contribute.

Good luck with your project in Kibi. May be if we all did something like this for our corner of Ghana, there are many children who will benefit. A small way of giving back for the wonderful educational foundation we had.
Yvonne Tagoe

Anonymous said...

Auntie Adwoa,
This is a beautiful piece.
For a moment i was transported to the good old days and i saw the streets of Osu-RE through your eyes.

A few nights ago i drove through the streets of Osu-RE and i could still smell the wonderful aroma of Kelewele.

Even though my sisters and i also lived in Osu -RE for a period of about 5 years, i dont believe we ever visited the Osu Children's library.I was 5 years then, when we moved to Osu-RE from Cape Coast.

I was also a Nancy Drew fan. I remember making my friends call me Nancy especially since the person i was named after, my paternal grandmother, was also called Nancy.

We will renew our efforts in finding a room or building in Kyebi for the Library.


Anonymous said...

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thank you,