“Ayekoo,” I spontaneously saluted the decorator dedicatedly painting the wall of the central hospital corridor. The word was meaningless to him. He had been working quietly and diligently all week with only the music from his radio set for inspiration and company. Most people walked past him without any greeting or word of encouragement. They appeared not to notice him. If they had wanted to acknowledge him what would they have said? “Good day,” “Lovely day,” “Hi?”
Ayekoo is a Ghanaian salutation, which is commonly used. Depending on the context, it variously means “Well done,” “Congratulations,” and often implies “Welcome” and “Thank you.” As far as I know, there is no equivalent in English. A typical instance when “Ayekoo” is used is domestic—when the father of the home returns from a hard day's work, or when the children come home after a laborious day at school. It acknowledges the value of their efforts before they settle to tell their stories. The greeting marks the temporary respite in an important undertaking, and it is vital to acknowledge that. Yet “Ayekoo” need not wait until the task is completed. It is still applicable while the labourer is fully engaged carrying out his brief. In this context it is meant to encourage and inspire. Hence it was appropriate to salute “Ayekoo” to the decorator at work, and “Ayekoo” to the hospital domestic performing her lonely task polishing the floor after the routine day has drawn to a close. But if “Ayekoo” in these circumstances simply demonstrates traditional etiquette there are many instances in which it tacitly expresses gratitude. When an effort has been undertaken on behalf of another, especially when it has involved risk, loss, or inconvenience, “Ayekoo” verbalises your appreciation of the sacrifice.
If these are tangible instances which provide a relevant and familiar context for acknowledgment there are less tangible, almost spiritual, instances when “Ayekoo” is most apt. The recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of VE Day is a distinct example. The lives of over 300000 British men and women and many from the rest of the British Commonwealth had been the price of peace. The present generation, which now takes peace for granted, ought to give thought to them but, much more, we should salute them individually and corporately “Ayekoo” for their bravery and enormous sacrifice. “Ayekoo” provides each of us a kind and unique word of thanks to those who did not return from battle.
The history of medicine is punctuated with extraordinary deeds of men and women who took risks sometimes to their lives, health, reputation, and livelihood. Of particular relevance is Hideyo Noguchi, the Japanese bacteriologist who perished while investigating yellow fever in Ghana, then the Gold Coast, in 1928. Indeed, immovable monuments have been erected in their memory, but their true eternal epitaph should be summarised in the one solemn salutation from those of us who now benefit from their exceptional courage “Aa-nye-koo!” (plural).