It’s taken me so long to post this book review because I struggled to find the right words to summarise what I deem a message about the neglected and rejected in society. I cannot give a brief summary to this insightful novel, so here is my review of Amma Darko’s Faceless…
When Maa Tsuru tells Fofo that Baby T’s mutilated body has been found at Agbogbloshie, Fofo sets out to find justice for her sister’s murder. In a twist of fate, she runs into Kabria who works with a non-governmental organization called MUTE which functions as an interventionist and alternative library for every social, gender and child issue.
Kabria takes an interest in Fofo’s case and determines to find out what led to Baby T’s death. With the help of Sylv Po, the reporter from Harvest FM, they work their way into a syndicate led by Poison, the street lord, that trades in child prostitutes, drugs and is linked to all manner of street crime.
In one of the most hostile parts of Accra, Fofo’s story draws Kabria and her colleagues’ attention to the socioeconomic menace that comprises a community of drifters and hustlers in a slum called Sodom and Gomorrah, so named after the Biblical city that God destroyed because of its numerous sins.
Amma Darko’s quest to find out how Accra’s squalid Sodom and Gomorrah sprung up out of her old neighbourhood at Old Fadama led to a series of revelations that inspired Faceless, her third novel.
Although the author uses ficticious names, she narrates what can possibly be described as real-life events at venues that really exist. Agbogbloshie, Makola Market, Korle-Gonno, Kaneshie, Abossey-Okai, Abeka and the all-notorious Sodom and Gomorrah can really be found in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana.
SOME IMAGES OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH
In making up the various characters and narrating their stories, Darko enlightens her reader about the information she amassed after nearly two years of research into street children, life in Sodom and Gomorrah, Agbogbloshie and its environs.
Fofo would have spent the Sunday night into Monday dawn with her friends across the road at the squatters enclave in Sodom and Gomorrah watching adult films her fourteen years required her to stay away from, and drinking directly from bottles of akpeteshie, or at best, some slightly milder locally produced gin. Ultimately, she would have found herself waking up Monday morning beside one of her age group friends, both of them naked, hazy and disconcerted; and oblivious to what time during the night they had stripped off their clothes and what exactly they had done with their nakedness. Sucked into a life on the streets and reaching out to each new day with an ever-increasing hopelessness, such were the ways they employed to escape their pain.
Darko draws her audience’s attention to the AIDS prevention campaign versus the situation prevailing in such communities:
Sylv Po’s female studio guest was on and complaining about the AIDS prevention programme not driving home the message of abstinence and faithfulness with the same intensity as the use of condoms. Then she touched on the AIDS issue versus the street-children phenomenon…
“During a recent survey we conducted for a programme, all the girls we talked to out there were already sexually active. And we also established that, for many of them, rape was their first sexual experience. And I am talking about girls as young as seven. Many were child prostitutes. They had no idea at all about the extent of self-damage to themselves. Sex to them was just a convenient means of survival. Many were roaming about, oblivious to whether or not they were HIV positive, so…”
In the course of her narration, Darko compares and contrasts Kabria’s family life with that of Fofo and her street companions. She outlines the benefits of family planning, especially in communities where womanhood is proven by having many children and barrenness is abhorred, and mentions some old wives’ tales about the correlation between how a baby is born and its behavioral pattern.
Kabria is the backbone of her family. She multitasks as a mother, wife and social worker. Adade, Kabria’s architect husband, contents himself with his work, joining co-workers to drinking spots to release tension, and returning home for dinner. Their constant argument about Creamy, Kabria’s stubborn hand-me-down VW Beetle, does not get in the way of a stable marriage because Kabria handles the situation tactfully. Their children – Obea, Essie and Ottu – are all in school. Each child’s character is a force to reckon with, but their parents take care of their needs. In a chaotic, but stable environment, the family is able to get along.
What of Fofo and the other street-children? How did they end up on the streets in the first place?
Darko uses the story of Maa Tsuru’s curse to unravel the process of birth to street life.
When a teenage girl is betrayed by the young man who impregnated her, she rains curses on him and all his descendants as life drains out of her in giving birth to the baby who will later be known as Maa Tsuru. Maa Tsuru grows up labelled as a cursed person. People distance themselves from her in her family house, where she also resides. After having two sons and two daughters with Kwei, he abandons them. Fofo and Baby T’s older brothers leave as soon as they are able to fend for themselves.
Then a new man worms his way into Maa Tsuru’s bed and connives with Maami Broni, who promises to find work for Baby T through Mama Abidjan’s questionable recruitment agency, in exchange for periodic payments to feed Maa Tsuru’s new family. Fofo too is forced to leave home because there are two new mouths to feed. Baby T is later found dead behind a hairdressing salon.
Fofo’s best friend, Odarley, share’s a similar story. Odarley’s mother also has a new husband and children she’d had by him. She resents Odarley because her father abandoned them and constantly accuses her daughter of stealing from her. So she drives Odarley out to live on the streets.
Then there is the story of the innocent boy who ran away from home to escape the constant abuse of a drunken stepfather. He ended up as a messenger in a brothel, worked his way up by bullying, raping and murdering and is now known as Poison the street lord.
A boy and a girl of about Fofo’s age and making their home on the streets of Accra like her were once asked by a reporter from one of the private FM stations during a survey about their most passionate dreams…
“My dream,” began the boy, “is to be able to go home one day to visit my mother and see a look of joy on her face at the sight of me. I want to be able to sleep beside her. I wish her to tell me she was happy I came to visit her. Whenever I visit her, she doesn’t let me stay long before she asks me politely to leave. She never has a smile for me. She is always in a hurry to see my back. Sometimes I cannot help thinking that maybe she never has a smile for me because the man she made me with that is my father probably also never had a smile for her too. One day she said to me, ‘Go. You do not belong here.’ If I don’t belong to where she is, where do I belong? But I know that it is not just that she doesn’t want to see me. She worries about the food that she has. It is never enough. So she worries that it may not suffice for her two new children if I joined. The ones she has with the man who is their father and who is her new husband. He hates to see my face. I often wonder what it is I remind him of so much.”
The girl said, “One day a kind woman I met at a centre made me very happy. Before I went there, I knew that by all means she would give me food. But this woman gave me more. She hugged me. I was dirty. I smelled bad. But she hugged me. That night I slept well. I had a good dream. Sometimes I wish to be hugged even if I am smelling of the streets.”
In an introductory essay by Kofi Anyidoho, Amma Darko is described as a major female Ghanaian writer whose works are akin to the likes of Efua T. Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo. Both her first and second novels, Beyond the Horizon and The Housemaid, focus on the plight of women and young girls in a merciless world dominated by greedy, irresponsible and often cruel men in their life. Faceless adds up to the other two novels to form what Anyidoho calls an important trilogy. Her stories revolve around feminism and abused women and children in society.
In using what I call simple ‘Ghanaian English’ to narrate the epic tale in Faceless, she gives her reader a feel of Ghanaian urban culture and idiosyncratic transliterations Ghanaians use as we blend our native dialects with English. Her narrative style may be a bit unusual, but she puts her message across well.
Faceless is about the children who have been long forgotten in the rush for modernisation and development in most countries. These young people can be an immense asset to the economy, but are lost to the machinations of poverty and illiteracy, losing their identities in the process.
In writing this book, Amma Darko reminds us…
The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.
– John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)