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Worteh Koo Comes to Town: A Reflection

Literally interpreted as Dirt Devil or Garbage Devil, Worteh Koo was the name given to the government’s sanitation worker who toured the country side at least once every year. I am not sure if the same thing went on in the urban areas but each year it was announced that Worteh Koo was coming to town. It would first start as a rumor just like a boil which start like a little pimple then rapidly grows into a hot red ball on the skin, our worst fears would be realized. As our people would say “it did not leave fear concealed in my heart”. Thank God, the inspection tours were all announced although rumors about such visit kept people on their toes all year round. When the time for Woteh Koo fully drew near, the town crier would go through the length and breadth of the town to announce when he would arrive and what was expected of us. There was no further tutoring required; everyone understood what the expectations of Worteh Koo were and not exceeding those expectations was not an option. To be honest, I did not witness any of those activities neither did I see the coming of Worteh Koo. No, never ever; either I was not born or too young to remember. At the time I came to know myself, the practice was either abandoned or abolished. But I heard stories both horrific and humorous about those visits of Worteh Koo and the preparations leading up to those visits. My elder siblings who took part in those pre and post Worteh Koo activities tell me as they too are now fully understanding what it all meant. There was a lot of work put into the preparations. As Juplu tells me the story, I hear forlornness in her voice and see pains in her eyes as she paints a picture of the town prior to the coming of Worteh Koo. As her eyes sweep across my face as if touring from Nequilee to Jokoken, she speaks of the broad streets swept with yard brooms, the high bushes beaten back away from the town and the decorative designs lining the wall of every hut or house. Mesmerized in her thoughts more than what she could tell me, she raised her eyes towards me and murmured aloud as if expecting answers from me “I wonder where all that creativity has gone?” Juplu was quiet for a while and I could tell that she has slipped back into her thoughts. As she emerged from her deep reminiscence, she began talking to me again.

As a child, I feared even the town crier. Yhee, Papah or any grown up didn’t have to tell you to be quiet when the town crier spoke his first word: greetings or welcome back home or good evening. As a female first and then as a child, true feminine beauty and respect for authority were tested here so I dare not veer off the road. As a child, I was rough and very much unlike the typical girl child but my frisky behavior did not extend so far to utter a word when the Town Crier was disseminating his message.

The work done on those houses and streets to prepare for the arrival of Worteh Koo was exceptional. You wouldn’t believe that we literally swept the street clean of every litter. You could look straight from Oldman Kah’s house to Doctor Sahlee’s house which sat remotely at the far end of town because the road that connected the two was as straight and clean as the road that leads to heaven. We also painted our favorite characters on the walls of mainly the kitchens in a way that it brought about competition. From Rabbit or Nmoh the trickster to Antelope the dumbest of all animals; from the handsome Kanibluh to the immoral Blakutu, we put together colorful work of arts that in today’s market would sell for a good sum of money.

There were always fines levied for the least of reasons Worteh Koo could find. Chickens, goats, sac full of clean rice and a little bit of money went to him for violating some city ordinances that he probably made up on the fly. Or those could be his pay, I don’t know. A small number of men were sometimes tied up and beaten for not living up to some expected standards. I still don’t remember what those standards were but those men were often let go upon paying fines.

So were those days when Worteh Koo came to town. Some painful experiences and some memorable events that refused to go away ever since the last time Worteh Koo came to town.

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