This is it. There’s no working group coming to the rescue. There’s nobody else hidden on some other floor. There is just us. This line lifted from the film Zero Dark Thirty seems incongruously fitting for what I am to describe.
This is it, a time and place where history and perhaps fate meet; an instantaneous compression of the past, present and the future as I stare at the photo hearing myself gently tell him, ‘there is just us’.
We dream like any young person blithely living. What could that little grinning boy tell me now as he looks on nonchalantly? What could I tell him after almost 40 years passing? It is the year when Punk is declared dead in Britain, the 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter pardons Vietnam draft dodgers and Apple is upgrading to an Inc.
In Ghana, (Africa, a continent, blazoned in the title for poetic affect) is about to be gripped by military coups. Hope and opportunity are about to be rare commodities as I see out my last days in Prep School. Our teacher Joseph Amuzu’s predilection for latin, and steadfast coaching in life is an invisible blanket I have only just recognised. The latin on the photo reads, Vel Primus Vel cum Primis” — “Either First or With the First”
Seeing yourself generations apart is like staring at a long lost cousin bound by the exact genetic fingerprint, yet separated by coils of lived experiences. What could I tell him in this fabled time machine, that could impact his trajectory? There is a strong emotional intelligence you’ll need to develop to succeed, I will tell the boy.
In a country where everyone is black, you have no concept of racism, so you will need to develop an understanding of this thing to survive when you decide it’s time to travel outside the country again. You will need to rely on your emotional core, and have your parents, friends and teacher’s meme guide you.
There will be many, many hurdles — some naturally part of any young boy’s growing pains, but you’ll need many lines of defence to address the others.
Those films you watched: The Burning Train (1980), Sholay (1975) Shaolin Temple (1982)— a cinematic buffet of India and Chinese will set you up in ways you can’t imagine. That inquisitive mind that wonders watching the only bunsen burner illuminate phosphorus, don’t let go; it is axiomatically the root of the second profession you are yet to discover you seek — journalism.
Those games you played to ease periods of food shortage and hunger, like Herodotus and the Greece games, have alternative motives; to enrich the mind, ensure its nimbleness, reward endeavour.
Sometime the world will begin to tip on its axis, giving way to an authoritarianism that will want to see past you and many others. Your strokes on the keyboard, and eye through the lens must be used creatively and with purpose.
That proto journalism you practise gilded by rules, framed by men unknown, will prove to be an edifice held up by antiquated rules. History is reef of the victors and you must find a place in that legion to disrupt these decrepit thinkings. It’ll require an irrational approach to rationality, but you should be alright because you’ve seen some in this brilliant vibrant culture. See you at Apple in years ahead
You have a gift you will use to work with others, but you have something else equally pressing — the will to work hard and succeed. Use it wisely, generously and without rancour.
Practise the wise words Mr Amuzu imparts to you daily. This one Mens sana in corpore sano — a sound mind in a sound body. You will need to summon this in gargantuan tests, from your PhD, a defining illness that will befall your family, or proving to others you are worthy from all those years of life’s experience — management and responsibility.
That little African Tech Dreamer whose whims covered science and tech, storytelling, art and culture will need to stay sturdy to convert these dreams. Vel Primus Vel cum Primis”, the board reads; “Either First or With the First”. See you soon young man!
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah heads up the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster. He is an international award winning journalist and Knight Batten Winner who has worked for BBC Newsnight, and Channel 4 News to name a few. His work has been profiled by Apple, SXSW and several academic books. He leads a new practice called Cinema Journalism.
Forty years Later...in London… then in December going back to Ghana to see people in that photo I have not seen since.