About the Author:
Nana Akua Owusu is a speech and language therapist living and working in Ghana. Nana trained in the United Kingdom before returning to Ghana to partner with an audiologist to open a private practice (Speech and Hearing Centre) and start a charity (AwaaWaa2) which provides speech and language therapy to children with communication disabilities. She helped set up the Ghana Stammering Association and takes active part in its activities each year. Nana Akua has also been involved in the development of the profession in Ghana including the implementation of a university training programme and is currently the programme coordinator. Areas of interest include early years, deaf and literacy, stammering, training and the inclusion of persons with disability.
Fish is safe, volunteered an onlooker. So, fish I got with no further drama. Thank God the shito (black pepper sauce), the stew and rest were almost all compulsory. That is, it was very much a part of waakye (rice and beans prepared with special herbal leaves) So, I got my waakye, wrapped and tidied in a little black plastic bag and bolted out of the place but not before I’d heard the giggles, chuckles and plain sucking of teeth at me for being awkward and taking up precious time. Did I hear the young lady say not to talk in future if I can’t talk?. Yes, I’m sure I did. Write your request on paper and show it next time she reinforced her already insensitive comment. I looked at her, a mere child, yet had the boldness to talk to me and tell me off. No, this can’t continue. No, my life must change!
As Eben tucked into the waakye, he recalled what had happened. I can’t go through this stress and anguish every time I want to get waakye, he thought to himself. And I can’t stop eating waakye because I stammer. At this point, he saw the fish on the waakye instead of the goat meat he wanted and got more determined to do something about the stammer. But I can’t just stop stammering he said to himself, I just can’t stop because I would’ve done that long ago if it was so simple. It’s the people I must face and stand up to, he thought. If only they would be patient with me for a moment, if only they’d not all look at me like I’m an idiot, if only they were not all in a rush, if only, if only, sighed Eben.
He’d just finished eating the waakye but only a little of the fish. He doesn’t like fish, but this is what sometimes happens to people who stammer. They are denied their choice but give up trying to argue or demand their right. I can’t continue life like this. Eben continued to lament. I become too tense with frustration and anger and even hatred sometimes. When Eben felt this way, everyone who came his way suffered. He became cheeky, withdrawn and moody and he could go for days without really engaging with anyone. He knew this was also not good and not the right way to deal with the situation but nobody understood how he felt as someone who stammers.
His parents, especially his father, have never understood him. In fact, they always felt he could just make it go away. That he was doing that on purpose. For what? He’d ask his mum. Why would I pretend to struggle when I talk, mum? What do I get from that, apart from your threats and disappointment in me for opening my mouth? Dad hardly talks to me because he hates to see me stammer and gets very agitated which makes me more nervous and anxious so I stammer even more. I believe my parents were worried I would not be able to join in the creation of the family of doctors’ business my father, older brother and cousin had started. Yes, my father once told us that an interviewing panel had asked one of their best candidates for medical school to seek help and obtain some level of fluency before returning to apply to do medicine. He was offered some biological sciences courses for his first year whilst he worked on his stammer. Wonder what ever happened to him, my unknown colleague stammerer. I know of many people who have not been able to follow the career of their dreams because they stammered.
The one person with some understanding of my situation, is Obaa Feli, my sister Felicia. She’s a year and half younger than me and I call her Obaa Feli because we get on very well and she has so much time for me. Obaa, simply means woman in the Twi language but it can also be used to refer to someone in an affectionate way and to express how formidable you find her to be. Although Obaa Feli is younger, she is mature and gives me good advice and encouragement most of the time. Bro, (brother cut short) she’d say, I met a guy the other day who couldn’t say a single word in 2 minutes or more. You don’t have a problem, Bro, “tumu da” (literally means go to sleep it’s not serious) You get stuck sometimes but not all the time so don’t get too worked up on it. In fact, she even tried to fix me up with two of her female friends. Well, not at the same time though. I couldn’t sustain the relationships because of the low self esteem and how I saw myself at the time. So, now I’m “girl – less”; no intimate relationship with any young woman although I have hope that things would change.
Anyway, I hatched a plan to go with Obaa Feli for waakye some few days later after my lone encounter. As usual, there was a queue and we joined it like dutiful and respective citizens of the land. My heart dropped some six blocks each time we got closer to be served. I should be pleased I’m going to be served soon but no, somehow I wished it was never going to be my turn. Obaa Feli took a glance at me; my feelings must’ve been displaying openly in my face and body language. “Bro, aden?” (Bro why?) she queried? “Wo yem hyehe wo?” (are you scared?). Thankfully, the waakye seller was ready for her and so she didn’t wait for an answer. Waakye five cedis, goat meat five cedis, a little garri and some taalia (spaghetti) …… yes some veg too and add some more shito, please, …… thank you. Obaa Feli was nearly done and it was going to be my turn next. I had watched my sister enviously as she seemed to express her wishes without feeling any intimidation. Yes, I felt intimidated by the stammer I knew would never fail me. It never does. Every time I anticipate or expect it to happen it does without fail. I’ve been told several times by many well-meaning men and women not to think about it. Can’t you forget that you’re a stammerer for once?, asked one of my cousins. Why must you spoil everything with your stammering? I knew my cousin George had no idea what he was saying but still his comment cut deep. It simply worsened how I was already feeling about myself and desire to join in our family group conversations. So that’s what others think about this stammer eh? It’s not my stammer, by the way. I never asked to stammer and I hate it just as much as my cousin and others seem to. Why would I want to pretend I stammer when I don’t? Obviously, only someone who did not stammer would think that way. Nobody in their right minds who stammers would want to continue to stammer if they could wave a wand to stop it. My cousin’s comment only succeeded in shutting me up some more especially whenever he was present.
Y..e..e..s.., krakye (gentleman) the waakye seller’s voice rammed through my silent ramblings. What do you want?. I don’t know why I looked at her and back at my sister for a quick second before attempting to respond. I noticed she’d finished ordering hers and had it in the black polythene bag in her hand waiting for me to get mine. Somehow, the presence of my sister gave me some confidence and I started to put through my request. Waa….kye, f..f..ive cedis, g….oat meat ten cedis and on I went, till my order was through. There was hardly any stammering after the initial few words. It felt surreal for I was relaxed more than any day I could remember regarding my waakye encounters. Whilst I considered what went on, I realised I was not the only one who seemed different that day. I noticed the waakye seller was patient with me. She did not shout or hurry me to get my order through. Previously, she would say things like, Krakye there’re others waiting, wae, (ok?) please, hurry or she’d repeat “what do you want” several times to the hearing of people around including some in the queue. This particular day, she seemed calm and I thought she even helped me by asking me questions that required single word or short answers. “Fish or goat meat?, she asked and then paused for me to decide. She also used the ladle to tap the pot with the fish when she said fish and the pot with the goat meat stew when she said goat meat. This allowed me time and the opportunity to say goat, fish, nod or shake my head accordingly, in response as she also maintained eye contact on and off throughout. I felt less pressured and must have forgotten I stammered …. I remember asking for talia, more veg and all the extras; something I don’t often do when I go for waakye. In the past, both the seller and myself would be in a rush mainly because of the pressure from others in the queue so I only end up with waakye and fish alone. Today, even the waakye seller asked someone in the queue who expressed impatience to exercise patience. I wondered whether the way my sister stood there with that look on her face which seemed to say “we’re all entitled to this service” had any impact on the seller and those in the queue. One of the young ladies who assisted the waakye seller, who was fond of making teasing comments whenever I went for waakye, was nowhere to be seen or heard.
As my order was being packed, I looked up briefly and caught Obaa Feli’s face, beaming with pride and a certain sense of satisfaction. Are you done, Bro? she asked. “Yes,’ I replied. I took my polythene bag of waakye and said, “thank you Amaliya” to the waakye seller as she looked briefly at me and smiled. I’d never had the chance to show how courteous I was after being served and today I was able to demonstrate that. I did not feel rushed and I thought to myself. Getting waakye can be a really cool experience…… very cool indeed!
As we walked home with our waakye, I said to Obaa Feli, “you know, I always felt I was fully responsible for the stammering episodes and all that. Today, I’ve realised that “my stammering” is affected by how others relate to me ooh, … when they rush me and tease and make all those negative comments whilst I’m trying to make my voice heard, I stammer more. So, it’s others and not the stammer that intimidates me. Did you notice how calm I was when ordering for my waakye today?”. Yes”, said Obaa Feli. I did ask Amaliya to exercise a little patience when it was your turn. I told her to ignore any impatient people in the queue. After all, things sped up when there was no teasing so no one had to wait more than necessary in the queue. Aha…Obaa, so that is the reason. You did well. Thank you so much Obaa, because of you I’ve experienced the change I always dreamed of and it’s good to know it didn’t have to come from me alone. I feel so good today, Obaa. By now they both had their waakye spread out on their plates on the table ready to tuck in. Eben looked at the waakye …. and smiled. Poor waakye and goat meat, he said, I’m going to butcher you with a difference today. Yes, you should, Obaa Feli responded but I wanted to ask, did you intend to buy ten cedis goat meat or that was the stammer? They looked at each other and burst out laughing!
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