04 June 2006

An End to Ponding?

27 January 2006 -- I was listening to some listener feedback on the BBC World Service this morning. This is always entertaining, as the BBC will put just about any text message, now matter how deranged, on the air (Network Africa is especially fun because of this). Anyway, the callers and texters were commenting on a piece that focused on initiation rites at universities. The original story was about one man's experience with some form of hazing at a university in central Africa (I believe it was Congo-Kinshasa).

One of the respondents wrote about "ponding," a rite of passage into Commonwealth Hall (a.k.a. Vandal City) at the University of Ghana. Built by the Brits in the 1940s, the University features some nice architecture. Commonwealth, on top of the hill, has a terraced structure, and here and there are small rectangular ponds. It is into these ponds that new Vandals are violently dunked (in the case of Freshers) or allowed to gently roll in (exchange students such as myself). A little while ago, the listener wrote, one victim of a vigorous ponding (around 10 Vandals hold you and slam you up and down on the water) suffered a "sprained femur" and ended up missing the school year.

The university authorities suspended those responsible and banned ponding, draining the ponds (which I think have relied on rainwater rather than plumbing for the last few decades) for good measure. I was saddened to hear this, as I look back on that night with some fondness. To be sure, my initiation as a Vandal was gentler than more, but there was still plenty of vitriolic epithets to take in (not to mention the latent homoeroticism of young men carrying on in various states of undress). Another incident made this a seminal night in the early days of my stay in Ghana. Shortly before being carted off for ponding, our hardy crew (there were six of us from America in the dorm - me, Isaac, Ziggy, Kwame, Guy Jesus, and Snake) was robbed by a couple of shady guys (not university affiliated). The next several days saw us pushing the police into action (with much credit due to plying them with yoghurt ice creams) to capture the thieves. The eventual early morning raid (complete with automatic firearms) would not have been possible without the assistance of two young men who remain great friends to this day -- Senanu and Essel. Senanu's quite old now, though.

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