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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Recent Happenings

Last weekend we went to our second and last Ghanaian funeral. The deceased was our friend L’s sister-in-law’s father. This was a very low budget, low-key affair compared to Mercy’s funeral in Ayirebi because the man was universally considered a bastard. He was a sub-chief, so a big man, but a strict disciplinarian who married several women, beat his many children, and financially supported only himself. They handed out the usual pamphlet with his obit, which was the funniest one I’ve ever read. “We called him Papa, he was too cold and hard to be ‘Daddy’. Papa’s favourite expression was ‘come here, let me beat you.’ He believed that to spare the rod was to spare the child. He taught us the meaning of the phrase ‘baker’s dozen’, because after 12 blows he was sure to make it a baker’s dozen.” It went on from there and at least respectfully thanked him for teaching them to be accountable and take care of themselves. There was drumming, but no dancing. We sat for a while at let everyone stare at us, the MC made several oboruni jokes which were translated to us as ‘he is welcoming you’ as everyone clutched their bellies in hysterics, a guy took Miia’s phone number, Conor ate some cow-hoof soup.
Even in what to us is a fairly humble home in a poorer part of town, with no running water and frequent power outages, we can’t escape occasional pleas for money. A couple weeks ago a neighbour we’d not yet met dropped by to exchange pleasantries and ask us for a few bucks to help pay her daughter’s transport back to school. Conor spared me the trouble by saying no right away, explaining that we had no vehicle ourselves, travelled by trotro, made very little money, and were facing great expenses back home, all true. It’s a difficult position to be in because one feels cruel saying no, but A) doesn’t want to contribute to the rich white bank machine stereotype and B) does not want to create relationships based on dependency. Yet it’s tempting because, assuming the woman was being straight with us, a little of our money could go a long way.

Then on Sunday, we got a knock on our window from a neighbour who told us we had a guest, “a white man.” It was a Greek guy who was living in Accra but had come on hard times, couldn’t afford to feed his wife and child. The neighbours, seeing that he was white, sent him to us. We gave him some produce, canned goods, rice and milk, and Conor gave him some multivitamins so he could at least get some nutritional supplements if he wasn’t eating well [he caught us at one of those bare cupboard moments].

Charity is a strange thing – I don’t see it ever creating a just world, yet it’s needed as a short term model. Miia and I were figuring our income and expenses in Ghana and we basically broke even, but given our white guilt and colonial history and ongoing inequalities and all that, we feel driven to give a little more back, want to donate to some educational expenses for students in need, who would otherwise just drop out, particularly girls who are most likely to do so. We also hope our work was of some value to Ghana, but that is less tangible and harder to judge. Having said all that, what I can’t stand is self-congratulatory rich eco-maniacs who think that because they give a little something they should be international heroes.

“It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in this world.” -Mary Wollstonecraft
The other day I got a call from Miia telling me she had been sexually assaulted again – that’s three times, all in the same area, which unfortunately surrounds the best internet café in town where she does a lot of her work. Some guy had jumped at her shouting words she didn’t understand and grabbed her breast hard. The first time something like this happened, when a guy grabbed her crotch, I was with her but didn’t see the problem until Miia was punching the guy and giving him the finger and a stream of profanity. The next two times I wasn’t there. The only time I’ve really got involved was with that cabbie who I shoved away and away and away from her after he hit her face (I think by accident, but still he was being an asshole on so many levels). I’m not a violent guy, I don’t think. I don’t have a history of violence. But when Miia calls me so upset, so frustrated, so at a loss as to what she is supposed to do, I want to hurt somebody. These guys who do these things are sick in the head, and I don’t know if there’d be anything gained in breaking their faces, other than blowing off steam. But when you consider this, that my wife has been sexually assaulted three times in five months here, can you blame us if it makes us furious at times? I hope this is the last time, believe me, because if I’m around when some guy tries that kind of shit again, I don’t know if I’ll be able to restrain myself. On a side note, I read an article by a Ghanaian in the UK, a psychologist, who wrote that being black in the UK is bad for your mental health, and he backed it up statistically. I’m sure the same is true for being a racialized minority in any country, including Ghana – it’s definitely been a challenge for my mental health anyway. It’s amazing what humans can do to people they perceive as being different.
We’re starting to say our goodbyes here, which is sad. We met with Patrick last night, who loves to talk politics. His main complaint with this government, of which he is a party member, is that even though he’s a long-time supporter they don’t give him contracts. “It’s not African,” he quipped. Patrick’s a whiz with the one-liner. He kindly drove us a long way home, past the Pentecostal revival going all Easter weekend in our hood. “Christians taking money from the poor,” he said. We may go back to the village of Ayirebi with him on Wednesday.
I never thought I’d see this: yesterday on the midday news they did a poll asking “should homosexuality be encouraged?” Eighty percent said yes. In Ghana!

1 comment:

benjibopper said...

'ecomaniacs' was supposed to read 'egomaniacs'. Freudian slip?