Rob Taylor lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He lived in Accra in 2006-07 with his wife, Marta. His poetry has appeared in over forty print and online magazines and anthologies, and he has published three chapbooks, entitled splattered earth, Child of Saturday and Lyric. The manuscript for his first full-length poetry manuscript won the 2010 Alfred G. Bailey Prize.
Rob is a co-founder and editor of One Ghana, One Voice.
Five Questions with Rob Taylor (asked by Prince Mensah):
1. The mood of the poem is quintessentially that of an open and crowded Ghanaian market. Can you give us insights into the exact moment that triggered this poem?
The exact moment? No. I don’t think there was an exact moment, instead it is based off my collected memory of dozens of similar trotro rides out of various markets and stations, most commonly around Makola Market and Nkrumah Circle in Accra.
2. Do you think hawkers in general are a nuisance or do they add to the color (and commercialization) of a country's identity?
A bit of both, of course. I think though it comes down mostly to mindset – if you want what they are selling, then you love them! I am a disorganized person who generally does things at the last minute, and I regularly run out of the house having forgotten to eat a meal. In Ghana, the solution was easy. In Canada, where I’m now again living, I just sit on the bus feeling my stomach slowly start to digest itself. Another benefit of hawkers for a Canadian guy – desperate to beat the heat at all times - is Fan Ice! Fan Ice hawkers saved me from heat-induced insanity on more than occasion.
All that said, when the guy trying to sell me a set of coat hangers would come by my waiting-to-load trotro for the fifth times, the scene would quickly change from “colourful” to “annoying”. I mean, if I didn’t want them the fourth time...
3. The poem is centered around child hawkers who sing about the price of their wares to passengers. What are your sentiments about child labor in Ghana, as someone who comes from a country where that practice is punishable by the law?
Of course I am opposed to child labour. I am also opposed to fees to attend school, and any other barriers that keep children out of the classroom. But these things are only universally possible with money and stable households for all children. Every country (including Canada), if you go back far enough, used child labour – at the very least children were active workers on family farms. But at some point they became wealthy enough, both as individuals and a state, to generally not require the work of children, and then banned the process on ethical grounds.
But the issue isn’t really the legal “banning” of the practice – Ghana has long had laws on the books against child labour, but 20% of children are still working. It’s about the economy, and the socio-economic stability of the family and the state. The problem cannot be conquered simply by focusing on the particulars of child labour, but instead by uplifting the economy in general, putting more money in the pockets of parents and state support agencies, and reducing the pressures on children to work.
4. Tuesday, (or Benada, as it is called in Akan) is sacred to some Ghanaian tribes, especially the ones located on the coast. It is also used in the phrase, odo benada (which means weeding on Tuesday in Akan), that connotes impotence. Your poem, Tuesday, captures both the sacredness of the day and the impotence of individuals, including children, to get out of bleak socio-economic conditions. Was that intentional or coincidental?
Wow! It’s a wonderful coincidence, a testament to the many-angled light that words, and poems, can cast out, eh? I thank you a great deal for this observation, Prince.
I chose “Tuesday” as the title because, to me, Tuesday is the worst day of the work week. Mondays are unpleasent, but you are (hopefully) rested and ready for it. By mid-day Wednesday, you are halfway through the work week, and on your way out (same for Thursday and Friday). But Tuesdays! I think of Tuesdays as the slowest, hardest day of the week, at least when you are employed doing something you don’t enjoy.
I also chose it, and this seems funny given your observations, because Tuesday is to me one of the days least charged with meaning. Mondays, Wednesdays (“hump day”), Fridays, Saturdays, and (of course) Sundays are all days in which something really happens, whereas Tuesday (and Thursday) are “filler” days between the others, days that “go quickly if we let them.”
But of course, no day is pure “filler”, as you have so aptly demonstrated with "Tuesday", which is why we should enjoy them while we can.
5. As a Ghanaian at heart and in spirit, what is your enduring memory of the country, in terms of its socio-economic dynamics?
I’ll focus on the “economic” side of “socio-economic”, in keeping with the discussion so far.
One memory I have is of the entrepreneurial spirit of Ghanaians, how everyone is always trying to make something happen, even if it doesn’t result in great (or even good) financial returns. I think there might be a small-business for every man, woman and child in Ghana! There is a misconception in the West that Africans are waiting around to be “saved”, or something like that. But that’s not true at all. Most “common people” are busting their butts to make things happen.
The flip-side memory is probably that of visiting the Akosombo Dam on a trip, and spending the evening in the dark due to rolling blackouts – mere miles from Africa’s greatest hydro-electric dam! It was a depressing night, to say the least, thinking of the pitfalls in Ghanaian history, from Nkrumah to the present day, that led to that sad situation.
I think my overall feeling is somewhere in between these two memories. A feeling of people working very hard for not enough return, and of a country attempting to rise from under the restraints of an exploitative global trade system. Overall, it’s a hopeful feeling, but not one without pain.
Websites: RobLucasTaylor.com, spread it like a roll of nickels