TREE MAN AND THE URIC REVOLUTION
Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, Journalist & Media Consultant
I have been much exercised over the "man in the tree" story which was carried by several newspapers at the weekend. In case you missed it, the simple outline is this: a man who is said to have won a large amount of money on the lottery decided to climb and live in a tree at Adabraka in Accra after investing his winning in a taxi. According to newspaper reports, he had stayed in this tree for up to six months, depending on which press you read or believe.
Suddenly, he came to media attention and therefore became the subject of public interest. Last weekend, a team of police and fire service people, according to the press, forced him down from the tree and took him to hospital. I have been thinking about this all week because I can't understand why the police and fire service thought it necessary to pluck him down. Many homeless people sleep in far more unsanitary places in Accra, including along the smelly gutters in Accra Central, which these days is glamorously called the Central Business District. No one has gone to take them to hospital so why did they violate the human rights of the tree man?
As living places go, a tree is arguably a more hygienic environment than many of the kiosks in which hundreds of thousands of our compatriots pass their nights. But even if the tree man was not thinking primarily of hygiene and health there are several reasons why a person, especially a lotto winner might choose a tree instead of a house as a permanent abode. First of all we have the usual problem of the troublesome mother-in-law. Who knows, perhaps he was fed up with one of these or even with his wife. Indeed bad neighbours could drive us all up the nearest tree if we had the courage and convictions of the tree man.
Or, the man could be an environmentalist or even a rent-rise protester. The fact that he has won the lotto is no reason to give in to the rapacious and rampaging rent increases charged by landlords and landladies in Accra. Indeed, if we all climbed and stayed in trees we could teach these shylocks a harsh lesson. But whatever his reasons, I think the man was perfectly entitled to stay in a tree if he was not breaking any law (it is difficult to break the law in a tree), and his forcible removal calls for the sternest protests from our human rights activists.
What worries me about this "man-in-tree" business is the desire of the majority to force nonconformists and eccentrics to conform to the conventional worldview. The man may already have achieved fame by beating the world record for the longest stay in a tree, in which case we ought to alert the Guinness Book of Records to claim this for Ghana. It is more than the Black Stars have done for us lately, and at no cost to Hon. Baah Wiredu's treasury. In any case, when a famous mountain climber was asked why he chose to climb Mount Everest, he replied that because it was there. The tree was there too.
The motives that drive human beings to do things for love or profit are unfathomable. Some of the most sensible suggestions often lead to ludicrous behaviour. Take the case of urine, which was championed very vigorously by Mr. Albin Korem in his Weekly Spectator column at the weekend. In case you missed that too let me give you a summary. With the headline URINE - A Wasted Resource, Mr Korem sought to educate us on how we could use this so-called waste to fertilise our farms.
Mr Korem is a European ecologist who has lived in Ghana for many decades and dedicated his life to the cause of environmental awareness. According to him, if every Ghanaian urinates an average of only one litre every day this would produce 22 million litres of urine every day or eight billion in a year. This would be equal to the country importing 5.7 million tonnes of sulphate of ammonia. This is sensible stuff. He also explains that "human urine contains phosphorous, potassium, calcium and other plant nutrients. I could tell him that some people's urine contain other things not known to science but I think it is better not to go down that route.
Now, in order to harness this vast potential, we would need to alter our lives in ways that are guaranteed to bring out not only the police and the fire service but the Vice President too. To start with, we would need to alter habits that are not only the result of life time practice but rather natural. Most people pass water when they pass solids but to gather the water for this patriotic purpose we would have to devise a means of restraining or retaining the water part when we sit on the loo.
Having achieved this feat, there is the task of collecting all this retained water. The government would have to set up a urine collection agency at national, regional, district, metro and sub-metro levels. This would give employment to hundreds of thousands of urine collectors who would call at homes across the length and breadth of this country before six in the morning. The president's promise of employment creation would be exceeded at a stroke.
On the other hand, we could apply direct intervention. This would require every Ghanaian to go and piss on a farm everyday. This would suit the CPP activists who are clamouring for the return of state farms. In this case, restricting ourselves to Accra, large state farms on the Dodowa Plains could benefit from the urine of four million mass "urinators" everyday. Of course, this would call for an adjustment of the time people would report at work but it can be done. To catch it fresh, it could be arranged that first thing in the morning everyone goes to their allotted state farm to contribute their litre to the national cause.
The beauty of this system is that it could have equity built into it by allocating the farms fartherest from Accra to the people from Airport Residential Area and East Legon so that for once there could be proper daily use for those gas-guzzling 4x4s, while poorer folk, going on foot or bicycles, get to piss just north of Adenta. However, we would truly be one nation, one people with one common destination. And special farms would be established all over the country for the same purpose. I mean, if the thing is worth doing it must be done very well.
According to Mr. Korem, this could bring in some 20 million litres of fresh and useful urine everyday, which he has conveniently calculated for us to mean eight billion litres a year. It would be more if the Ministry of Tourism and the Modernisation of the Capital City pulls in the expected one million tourists next. Tourists too have urine. Of course the whole urine project would be the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture which would be renamed Ministry of Agriculture and the Collectivisation of the People's Piss.
Or maybe, Mr. Korem meant this urine thing to be a small scale enterprise level activity so that we all water our own little backyard. I can well imagine all the people on my estate doing it at 6.30 every morningŠ Now, the point is, if the proverbial man, or woman (who knows?) from Mars appeared suddenly and found us in this mass activity, he or she would think we had all gone bonkers instead of applauding us for preserving the earth from chemical pollution.
The alternative lifestyle is always difficult to appreciate but has its rewards. Imagine if Mr. Albin Korem were to write in the Spectator that those who live in trees automatically added 20 years to their lives. The people from the Airport Area and East Legon would immediately abandon their houses to buy trees at which point the treeless masses would move into the abandoned mansions to live their short lives. But you can say that the poor would have inherited the earth or at least the land under the tree.