I remember my childhood in flashes, rather like watching an outdoor play where the characters appear intermittently and only when the lightning strikes. I remember the dry heat, the electric tingle of an impending thunderstorm, the smell of wet earth and the guttural chorus of a choir of unseen frogs. That’s what I remember most about growing up in Ghana. Extremes of weather punctuated by frogs calling out abuse to each other in the bushes.
Of course there were people too. One brother, two sisters and several relatives whose exact location in the family tree is still not entirely clear to me after all these years. My father was an electrical engineer and my mother a teacher. She’s 92 years old and still runs the nursery school she founded 30 years ago and is as busy as she’s ever been.
I was always intrigued by how things fit together and fashioned little boats from sardine tins and pilfered electric motors. Many years later I would take my much loved Mecanno set with me to university in London only to have a well-meaning friend whisper to me that it wasn’t ‘cool’ to carry such paraphernalia around. But I digress. In Ghana we made spinning tops from the shells of garden snails who come to think of it, must have suffered horribly to be gouged out of their homes by a group of wide-eyed small boys. We attached flaps of cardboard to the spokes of our bicycles to make them sound like motorbikes and rode nonchalantly to the ends of our known universe, which looking back was not very far. Look Ma, No hands.
Then followed university in London with my ill-fated Mecanno set where I studied Civil Engineering. That was followed soon after by a masters in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Ronald Reagan lived close by and so did Michael Jackson. My abiding memory of California however, was of working through a mathematics assignment one night in my room and gasping at the simplicity and elegance of the solution that emerged when I was least expecting it. For me, that was akin to a religious experience.
After Santa Barbara and not quite understanding what I’d let myself in for, I found myself in the Libyan desert in orange overalls and a hard hat, running sensors down oil wells in a high tech search for hydrocarbons. I remember eating dates and drinking sweet mint tea while sitting in the shade of a laboratory truck. I also remember one of my crew members admitting to me during a 500 km drive through the desert that he’d made a mistake when he applied for the job. How do you mean I asked? He looked rather sheepish and replied, I thought I’d have an air conditioned office and a secretary. It would have been unkind to rub it in so we drove on in silence to the sound of Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice’ playing over and over again.
Algeria, Nigeria, Angola, Gabon Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast came hard on the heels of Libya, sometimes finding oil, sometimes not. The desert was special though. I still miss the haunting cry of the muezzin in the morning when it was still dark and bitterly cold, calling the faithful to worship. It was in the desert that I started to write and all my novels somehow trace their origin to that time.
After more than a decade in assorted roles ranging from strategy consulting to private equity, I’m fortunate today to be able to work in Data Analytics with Ixio Analytics. We like to think we help organisations make sense of their data and make better decisions. Much better decisions, I might add. I enjoy the beauty of numbers and the patterns they make when you’re not looking. If one part of my life is about telling stories with words, the other is most definitely about telling stories with numbers.