Friday, November 21, 2008

The There is not There

I used to be the kind of person who talked about problems. I developed a keen sense of awareness, and a remarkable knack for perceiving many of the far reaching consequences of existing problems. Perhaps I am blessed to come from Ghana because here, we have many real problems and all one has to do is look to find broken systems, corrupt people, weak leaders, and many other things that need fixing. But after attending Smith College, one of the most socially conscious and politically active colleges in the US, perhaps second only in that regard to Wesleyan College right down the street in Middletown CT, where most students were passionately championing one cause or another, I changed.

I turned from one who talked about problems to one who talked about solutions. At the time of my transition, I was very active on a number of internet message boards, notably Ghanathink, Clubgh, and Odadee (Presbyterian Boys' Secondary School, Legon, Ghana) forums. One on of these message boards, I recall viciously lashing out at KSM after reading one of his articles in which he’d expounded further on Ghana’s problems. I felt that we all knew the problems and did not need anyone to explain to us the state of our own backyard. I’d expected more, more in the way of practicable ways of solving our problems, and was disappointed that Ghana was heralding a man who was not moving us nearer to the fixing things. At that time, what I was looking for was a KSM who talked about ways to move forward.

Time passed and like wine, I matured. In time I started to get dissatisfied with my own methods. I started to see the futility of talking about solutions. I no longer enjoyed calling up my friends to talk about what Ghana needed to do. Discussions with my boyfriend quickly disabused me of the erroneous notion that Ghana is behind in development because people in Ghana lacked ideas. I bought into his belief that there were people in Ghana who were even smarter than us, were better schooled than us, and had still failed to move the country forward because "the there is not there". When a Ghanaian man says "the there is not there", he means there is no cash. If one looked at the universities in Ghana, one could see that they had some of the world’s finest brains but how were they to conduct research, and publish papers when "the there is not there"? But in time, I moved away from that position also.

It is worth noting that Databank, the most respected company in Ghana received its seed money from a Ghanaian bank, and even though access to capital remains a major hurdle to be surmounted by would-be entrepreneurs, I am now convinced that chief among our liabilities as a people is that we lack the will to do, and we do not believe enough in our own power to create change. The real there that is not there is the will, not the cash. Several reasons account for this lack of will certainly, among them, poor financial planning on the part of our parents which makes them over-reliant on their children when they are no longer able to work. This saddles us with burden of not only providing for our parents but also for our siblings, and makes us more likely to remain in the stable job, instead of taking a risks that are required to start businesses or pursue careers that are less lucrative but which we are passionate about and in which we can be truly creative and exemplary. Just as many reasons account for our own lack of confidence in the power we wield to change the world. As an example, one big-mouthed friend of mine told me that I am able to take certain risks because I am a woman and therefore the Ghanaian society does not expect me to be a bread-winner. As a woman, I am not expected to build a house, or be financially independent. I’m not expected to purchase items on a list provided by a would-be bride’s family. Now that stung! This guy was unwilling to allow that maybe, just maybe, I have more gumption than he does and so he chose to justify his decisions by saying that the world expects more of him, never mind that he was speaking to a woman who had never showed a lack of ambition, who wants the house, the job, the respect, and will marry someone’s son and pay dowry if she needs to. But I need not tell you all that because you already know. My point is that the Ghanaian youth has headaches, but those headaches need not weigh us down. My friend did not believe he could do all that he wants to do if he lets go of what he currently holds and jumps into unknown territories. But, I believe he can!

Somewhere along the line, I stopped talking about solutions and I decided that I needed to implement, to do, to talk less and do more. If I say the presenters on some of the morning shows in Ghana are not articulate or interesting enough, I should be willing to step up and do a better job, or shut up and let those who will, do. My boss at my former job told me once that the world is not changed by those who can, it is changed by those who will. Of what use is it to the world that you can if you don’t?

So the next question that springs up in my mind is, how do you get to the point where you let go of all your fears and jump in? My answer? I don’t know. It is probably different for everyone, but I’ll share how I got to where I am. (Where I am meaning, I’m at the point in my life where I’m jumping into everything, doing what excites me, trying all that I’ve ever wanted to try and not thinking that I’ll fail but knowing that if I do, I can live with myself because I tried and I’ll have a basis for talking later). For me, so many things converged to provide me the will. I’ll share two for now.

The first is that someone insulted my pride. I’ve always been fiercely proud of being Ghanaian. Have always loved Ghana for the little things, but I lived in the US. One day a white American friend of mine told me to my face that Africans are always at the bottom of everything. Man! I knew that. This was no news, but to have someone else tell me that my house is dirty made me want so badly to clean it up that I upped and left. I don’t know if my being in Ghana makes any difference. Actually I’m pretty insignificant. People are still poor, and one person crossing the ocean doesn’t do much, but everyday I wake up, I know that someone insulted my pride and I acted. I didn’t stay and keep taking shit when I knew that America is at the top because people like me contribute to make it so.

The second is that at Duke I joined a small community of intellectuals and dreamers who were engaged in the spiritual search and who met regularly to discuss books, life and self-knowledge. I was heavily influenced by writings of Jung, Emerson (particularly self-reliance) and Krishnamurti among others. I wanted to lead a meaningful life, I wanted to be happy and most of all, I wanted to stop preparing to live and live. I’d already figured that school was getting in the way of my learning. I wrote essays about myself for myself, I wanted to know who I was. Who do I want to be, who do I love and how does every day of my life count towards answering those questions. The one that impacted me most was when one of my friends asked me, Esi, what would you do if you had six months to live, and I blurted out, without thinking, without having to think, that I would move back to Ghana. Her next question was why are you here?

How does being in Ghana make a person a do-er? It doesn’t, but it makes you confront the problems on a daily basis. When I was in the US, I just sat back and said Ghanaian movies suck. But only this week, I gave a man who has been an actor for over fifteen years a ride, and he told me in the one hour he was in my car, a lot of the reasons why Ghanaian movies suck. I kept asking, really? really? I had no idea of the issues but suddenly after meeting this man, the problem seems more real to me, and I ask myself who I expected to write scripts for the better Ghanaian movies if I until now have done nothing about it myself. Yes, I’m going to work on a script for a movie. Being here puts the problems right in my face and I can’t help but be moved to act.

One may wonder about the Ghanaians who have never left Ghana. Aren’t the problems in their face too? Why don’t they have the will? Some people do, and you’ll find many inspiring stories of people creating change in Ghana. I believe Ghanathink often tells these stories, but there is a pervasive acceptance of the status quo. Many of the young professionals seem too busy with their day jobs. At the audition that I mentioned in my last blog entry, I saw more of the same actors we complain about. As they say, if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. If we want to see good movies, we need more people who read blogs to audition. From where did we inherit this notion that highly schooled people are too good for Ghanaian plays and movies? Sure, we’re too good for the movies we have always seen but can we dream of a Ghanaian movie that is comparable to the best elsewhere and that we’re proud to be associated with and would consider acting in? Sure, why not? Ours is not the kind of country where children grow up wanting to be actors, and movie directors. At least it hasn’t been in the past and won’t be until we change that. That is our reality. So to develop our movie industry, since we don’t have a mass of talented people screening to act, we need schooled people to be versatile, to try things that they find interesting and be our James Bonds. Can you imagine what would happen if all Ghanaian actresses were KNUST graduates and graduates of the Ivy-League. We’d be better than Hollywood, and why the hell not?

How do I anticipate we will find the time to do all that? Well, you know what they say. Where there is a will, everything else is secondary. The only problem is that "the there is not there". Or is it?


  1. What catharsis! You have raised so many points I could discuss, but maybe it's better done face to face ;-)

    I really connected with ...

    "The difference here being that the sellers (who can barely wield a chisel) pretend to be the carvers too."

    ... because that is exactly how I feel.

  2. Being a brother I must say the brother is kinda right about having the burdens of a man--but only half-right. More generally I think most of the people I know who I think aren't adventurous enough are weighed down by real considerations that go along the lines of "if I fall right now I can fall really far so why take unnecessary risks". For this dude he's expressing it as the need to build financial security. Now that they have a lot to lose ("after all that school") they're much less willing to be bold. When they had much less to lose they took fantastic risks (like leaving Ghana to go live alone in a foreign country to go to school). I think the real problem is probably that these folks who've taken an initial bold step then choose to play it safe not realizing that they can't really fall as far as they believe they will because they have a great track record of succeeding with big bets (graduating from that foreign school for example). They've got the gumption already; they've got the worldliness; the bravado; the chutzpah--ok I've run out of SAT words , but you get what I mean...

    Instead the real problem is that they've become too comfortable in their latest achievement and lost (are losing) the taste for 'the thrill of victory'. So yeah, you're right--most folks are just simply copping out, playing it safe. Like you mentioned elsewhere on this blog, talking to older folks who've done some of the things we're only just about to do is very illuminating. Hearing their stories you can almost tell where they lost the boldness when they simultaneously advise you to conserve your gains and also express wistfulness about "not having done this when I was your age before I started doing this" thing they've been doing for the past xx years.

    The there is there no worries, probably just not the self-awareness.

  3. I can't find another way to reach you, so I'm doing it here. I'm requesting permission to use this article for serious article section of the inaugural issue of our magazine: Game Gbee 3ntertainment.

  4. Hey Terrarist, I'm not sure that the entry will work for your purposes as it was written with blog readers in mind but feel free to use it if you deem it appropriate. Just give the necessary credit to Wo Se Ekyir, and all the best with Game Gbee! You dey create den bash the online version of chaskele for derr?

  5. Thanks alot. I soo hope that happens. There's so many inspirations for games creation in Ghana (aside the other art forms). Why hasn't it been done before?