There are two main reasons some grooms wear gloomy looks on their wedding day. Some may not be very pleased with or convinced about the woman with whom they are taking the irrevocable oath.
For others, the heavy expenditure or debt they have to pay after the funfair is enough to keep anything but smiles on their faces.
On my wedding day, neither of these reasons was a bother to me. But my face during the first part of the ceremony was like a man who had been forced to chew a bitter pill and keep it in his mouth. I was not facing the guests, so not many of them saw how I looked. But my wife saw it. And the photographs confirmed it.
Why did I look unhappy? The reason was Pastor Mensa Otabil, the founder and general overseer of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC).
When Pastor Mensa Otabil agreed to officiate my wedding in Aburi, one thing I did not need to be told was that lateness on the day would not be tolerated. Before I left for the occasion that Saturday afternoon, I sternly warned my bride, “I will not forgive you if you come there late.” I had heard what make-up artists often tell brides and for which reason they are comfortable being late: “Today is your day. Take your time. They can’t start without you.”
At 12:45 I had entered the Aburi Garden. And Pastor Mensa Otabil arrived shortly afterward. My wife-to-be, who was about 300 metres away from the garden, was ready to be signaled to come in. We were to start at 1:00pm. Suddenly, there was power outage. We knew we were not tying the knot in “dumsorless” Washington D.C. so we had arranged for a generator. We were still within time. But I was agitated. Any slip meant that we would start late. And that was what happened.
When the generator was powered and the programme was about to begin, we realised the sound system had suddenly developed a fault. The man in charge had left the garden. The messing up of my happy day had begun.
Rev. Joshua Abbey, the ICGC Pastor who coordinated the programme had cautioned against a faulty sound system. He said Pastor Mensa Otabil hated it when the sound system had problems. I had communicated this to my friend, Euclid Addo, and the man he laid hands on was trusted to give us a flawless sound.
Rev. Joshua Abbey was there that morning to ensure that everything was in place. From the morning until the lights went out, the sound system was impeccable. But when we needed it, it faulted, and the man to fix it was not by the machines at that moment. Those few minutes seemed to have outlasted eternity. The sound engineer was called and he came to fix it after shuttling between his machines and the generator a number of times. When he was sure to have fixed it and Pastor Mensa Otabil took over the programme, the sound went from bad to terrible.
Pastor Otabil’s cordless microphone was replaced with one with a cord, but the problem still persisted. He had to pause from time to time or repeat what he had said when the connection broke. As if that humiliation was not enough, the clouds and thunder above were threatening to disrupt the programme.
Now put yourself in my shoes and imagine how you would feel. When the sound was interrupted at a point and the sound engineer intervened to restore it, Pastor Mensa Otabil said, “Manasseh has forgiven you.” He may have seen the look on my face. Almost everyone laughed at that statement, but I could not afford to smile.
“So I have brought this great man of God all the way from Accra to come and mess up and disgrace myself,” I thought. When the first part of the wedding was done, and the reception began, the sound system was perfect till we closed. It was only then that I remembered Mr. Gideon Nii Lamptey’s call to me that morning. He had said I should not allow any unforeseen circumstances to ruin my joy, for no matter how prepared one was, something could go wrong. He advised that I should not be hard on myself.
In Ghana, we begin almost every formal occasion with an apology for starting late. And poor sounds at functions are normal. So why did I have to fret so much over a wedding that started 30-minutes late because of a power outage and a poor sound that was caused by the interruption in power supply? It was because I was dealing with a man who is “unGhanaian” in his ways, a man whose thinking and actions are a bit too “weird” for those of the “normal” Ghanaian. I would have felt different if it had been any other pastor, a “true Ghanaian” who understands our way of doing things here. We could even blame the devil for trying to ruin the day.
On the Sunday after my wedding when I went to the Christ Temple of the ICGC for the Thanksgiving Service with my wife and our families, we were enchanted by the orderliness, discipline and civility with which the service was conducted in that church. The quality of the sound in the church was that of perfection and that gave me more reason to be guilty of what had happened the previous day.
“If you attend this church and your life is not different, then you too, something is wrong with you,” one of my brothers remarked after the service. Recently, Pastor Mensa Otabil was trending on social media for saying or professing his “unGhanaianness” once again. This was after he had spoken at the 2017 Springboard National Convocation in Accra. This year, Rev. Albert Ocran and Comfort Ocran decided to inspire the youth of Ghana to set 10-year goals for themselves. After the motivational messages and strategies by well-chosen speakers, Pastor Mensa Otabil gave the keynote address. His message was titled, “VUCA: Objectives, obstacles and strategy.”
He explained VUCA as an acronym in the American Army used to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of conditions and situations. He told the youth that sometimes, despite the elaborate planning and strategies, something unpredictable could take place and turn the strategy upside down hence the need to adapt to the new reality to reach their objectives despite the obstacles. Maybe my wedding was VOCAed!
It was during this delivery that he said one of the biggest challenges Africans faced was our inability to adapt to global changes and new ways of doing things. He used the reason people eat with their fingers and why he had stopped eating fufu as illustrations. Pastor Otabil said he did not have problems with people who ate with their fingers in an era of cutlery sets but he had problems with the mindset that made them do so – the claim that it is African.
On fufu, Pastor Mensa Otabil said he had stopped eating it because of the laborious process in its preparation. He also raised issues about probably the most unhygienic cooking utensil in a Ghanaian home – the mortar.
Such a deep message calls for serious reflections, but what made it to social media was the bit about fufu. I was out of Accra and until I listened to the full speech, what I read on social media was that Pastor Otabil had said fufu was bad. On Facebook, that statement was mocked and looked at from a purely humorous point of view.
Ghanaians take enormous pride in ourselves as a people with a good sense of humour. “The Ghanaian will find humour in everything even if it is a catastrophe,” we often boast. But should that really be the case? A person who jokes about a situation he or she should seriously think about and find solutions to should not be praised for having a good sense of humour. That person, in my view, is destined for destruction. Even if we decide to reduce Pastor Mensa Otabil’s message to the bit about fufu, we still have enough to worry about, especially the part he called for a scientific research on the mortar being a potential home for bacteria.
The mortar and the pestle are, perhaps, the only cooking utensils that are not washed with soap. The tip of the pestle is shaped in such a way that it can hoard soap or soapy water. The mortar often has a few cracks that can keep soapy particles and since we do not want to taste soap in our fufu, we wash the mortar with plain water and a soapless sponge, just to remove the remaining particles of fufu that stick around it. And only a few are able to clear all the particles before another fufu meal beckons.
Where do we keep the pestle and the mortar? In the traditional Ghanaian home, we turn the mortar upside down in order to drain the water after washing. This is either on a cemented floor or bare ground in our traditional kitchens or outside the kitchen. The pestle has to lean against a wall or lie on the ground and we only wash it with plain water when we are ready to use it. And this is not funny. It’s no laughing matter. We ought to think seriously about it and act differently.
We can change the way we do things and still achieve the same purpose.
Last year when the CEO of Kama Group of Companies, Mr. Michael Agyekum Addo, was installed a sub-chief in the New Juabeng Traditional Area, the ritual demanded that he be carried by people. But he refused. For him, it did not make sense for his fellow human beings to carry him. He rode in his SUV with the top open and the procession milled around him. This is progressive thinking. It did not deny him his chieftaincy title.
When cities and towns have to be shut down over the death of someone, we should be thinking about the millions of cedis that is lost on such occasions and not pride ourselves in what we term culture. The culture of a people should be how they live, not how they lived.
People who think and behave like Pastor Mensa Otabil and Mr. Michael Agyekum appear very weird, but if we look at how they have built empires of sanity in the midst of dirt and misery around them, then we may need to learn from their weird thinking. After 60 years of independence, our most glorious moments as a nation are 50 years old. We should begin to think and stop mistaking our lack of critical thinking for a good sense of humour. We must begin to think weirdly. And act weirdly sometimes!