Monday, June 22, 2009

So wealthy, so successful, so brilliant, and that's your kid?

I know a lot of young people who come from affluent homes. Affluent, at least, by Ghanaian standards. But many of these acquaintances have parents who grew up in villages and then, thanks to the relative ease of social mobility, have now become, people with somebodiness, as Martin Luther King would have put it. The nouveaux- rich.

But constantly, i’m struck by how much narrower their experiences have been, their particular struggles, especially with money, and their lack of self-determination, and sometimes confidence, and I can this be? How can a man who comes from nothing, garner the highest academic achievements by hardwork, rise through corporate ranks to become, say the CEO of a can such a man end up with an aimless son, who lives from paycheck to paycheck, instead of becoming someone, who by virtue of the fact that he had a leg-up in life, should in every way be better than his father? How does the son of a president of a church dupe his friend? How does a much-respected vice-chancellor of a university have a son, who brings upon not only himself but his family so much shame? How does the head of a company like the then Ashanti Goldfields, a man who started in the pits, have a child who is dealing in heroin? How does one of the highest ranked people in the police force have a son who considers peddling hard drugs? How do you who grew up in the village eating bankye ampesi with palm oil , hustler like your type now have kids who neither can speak twi or find their way to the Kwame Nkrumah circle without a driver? How does this happen?

That it happens is especially disconcerting for two reasons. The first of them is that this is not the life the parents hope for their kids. Parents usually want for their kids, a life that's better than the ones they themselves had. I would even go as far as to say that at the heart of it, what we really want is for our children to be better -in every sense of the word-than we are. And yet, despite their parents better hopes for their kids, the kids don’t turn out well. The second reason is that when kids turn out this way, it actually drags our country backwards as they take two steps back when their parents took two steps forward.

So here’s the heart of today’s blog post:
Why did these great people fail to raising their kids to become better than them, and more importantly, how can we who will be tomorrow’s greats learn from their failures so that we may get it right?

I have some ideas. While I recognise that parenting is such that even when you know what to do, it’s not always easy to do it right, I think a better understanding of the fundamental problem (s) can still be helpful.

First, is that they spend a lot of time on their jobs and away from their kids. They’re not there to correct them, and train them. I this accounts for part of the problem but I think the second point I’m about to share is really where much of the problem comes from.

Second, if you’re poor and yet high-achieving, you end up in a lot of spaces where you’re the only one like you. You feel different, and that’s okay, because you are different. You may talk differently, dress differently (sometimes shabbily) and dream differently (a little less boldly). But you also realise that there is another reality...a better life...and you find that if you do excellent work, you can attain this life and escaping poverty and non-significance. So you do, and all is great. It seems to me that when Ghanaians become successful, they let go of every aspect of their past, the food inclusive and embrace without question their new life, including, unfortunately, its associated ills. Why do they let go of their past?

1. They think, erroneously, that everything of worth is found in this new world.
So when they have kids, they give them all that the new world offers such as the material things they did not have - tvs, the nice clothes, the computer games, a room of one’s own, and trips abroad. For example, whilst the parent may have lived in Kumasi and spent their holidays in a village, fully immersed in the life there they buy into the hype that letting your child visit the US or London gives them “exposure”...even if the child only stays indoors all day, and then finally at the end of the stay, returns to Ghana with new mall-bought stuff. How is that any more of an “exposure” than times spent in a Ghanaian village? When parents buy into this hype, they trade in one set of limited experience (knowledge of village life) for another (a summer of watching tv all day in someone’s living in Maryland) ...when they could have offered their kids so much more by giving them both. So in actuality, the kids end up being no better off than their far as being worldly is concerned. In many cases, they are actually worse off.

2. They are ashamed of their past
I don’t know why, really. I guess because some aspects of growing up poor were unpleasant, they don’t want to have anything to do with things that remind them of this past. What they fail to see if that there were things about that past that contributed in making them who they are. If anything, that past is to be celebrated, not discarded. Afterall, if it were so bad, it wouldn’t have produced someone as accomplished as you. But no...parents want their kids to be everything they were not. Example dadaba. But what does it mean to be a dadaba? In our culture, the true meaning of dadaba is always negative. Dadaba connotes, spoiled. Rich people’s kids who are properly brought up are not referred to as dadaba. It is usually the kids who are overdoing it, over-indulged, untrained that we refer to as dadaba. Instead of raising kids based on their values, we find parents who came from poor backgrounds consciously cultivating their children to become adadamba...and then they’re surprised when their kids do what adadamba do.

I’ll end by asking the question again:

Why do successful people fail at raising their kids to become better than them, and more importantly, how can we who will be tomorrow’s greats learn from their failures so that we may get it right? On a personal level, what will you do differently?

If you think I’ve got it wrong, I’ll be more than happy to hear what your own ideas are. I look forward to your comments.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The New Ghanaian Man

When Ato* is in the kitchen,

wearing an apron,

and old school dad ,

comes in and says,

ei, na adan besia a? (tr: have you now turned into a girl?)

new-school Ato responds,

ɔnyɛ besia nkotsee na ɔbɔ eyi yɛ edziban o (it is not only girls who wear aprons, and cook)

*Ato is my little brother who has been mentioned in previous blog posts like Ghanaian Humor, Guess who is debating the issues and A Ghanaian breakfast

photo credits:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How not to piss me off

I'm a fairly stable person. Slow to anger, certainly. And even when you piss me off, I don't shout or bang doors. really get to me. Like when you compare me with someone else. It's one of those things I just can't stand. My voice falters. I react immediately and I feel a tightening in my chest. This is what will be going on in my mind. or if i shout, what I'll tell you. Well, fuck it, i'm not that person. I'm never going to be that person. I'm not even trying to be that person. Shit, that person and I are like fish and dog. That's what I told someone this morning.

Every day of my life, i'm trying to be myself. Find what I am, find what I like, find how i react, why i react as i do, what has my past got to do with it, what has my present got to do with it, what has my future got to do with it, what does truth and authenticity have to do with it, what does religion and morality have to do with it? Who am I, who do I want to be? Why do I want to be that? What's wrong with who I am now? And when i get there, then what? I'm always digging deep, into myself. Many hours of introspection. I try. I have to try, because this world will tell you what to want, what to like, even what to be if you don't answer that question for yourself. So I think part of the reason I react so violently when you compare me with another person is because it is so important to me to be me. the best version of me, certainly but me, nonetheless.

Some history.

I was an only child for the first ten years of my life. With no siblings, there was no one to compare me with. I didn't have to be as smart as anyone else or as beautiful or as polite or anything. I was a smart kid, but I wasn't first in class...i suspect, mostly because I was careless and impatient. I'm still careless. I'm still impatient. But that's okay. Point is, my parents were alright with me. Report time was only a time to see how I'd done in school.No one ever asked me why I wasn't this or that. I wasn't expected to be anything but who I was. So i grew up thinking I was okay. However I was. And i think i turned out okay. I still think i'm great, and i know myself more than you know me, so that's the end of that discussion. When you ask me why i can't be like someone're messing with a system i believe in. And you're telling me i'm not okay.

My response? Fuck you.

If you think think x, y, z rocks your boat, then go hang out with x, y, z. Don't try to get me to become like x, y, z, because i'm not even going to try. I'm not interested. I'm too busy trying to be more of me. How good of x,y,z can i ever get? Even if i tried, I'd never be x or y or z. I'll always just be me. And me is great, so love it or leave it.

Now that doesn't mean i won't ever grow or change but i'm never going to be trying to change to be like x. So you can tell me you think i'm too insensitive. And i'll consider your opinion. I really will. And if i think there's some value in being diplomatic, i'll try to be that. I'll try. But I won't be changing because you asked me to. I'll be changing because you brought my attention to something, i've considered it, and made the decision myself. But if you come to me and say Esi, why can't you dress like Ama. I'm going to tell you...I'm not Ama. Let Ama dress like Ama, and allow me to dress like me.

Yeah, this whole post is true, and it's about me. I know that this blog is supposed to be about Ghana and all that good stuff but some days, a woman just has to talk about what's foremost on her mind.

If forced to find a link between this entry and the general theme of the blog, i'd say sometimes i wish Ghanaians would discover what it means to be Ghanaian, create Ghana, be Ghana, instead of imitating. Sure, you can be inspired by something you've seen elsewhere. You can see someone carve a unity stand from a tree and you can ask yourself, given the same material, what would i do with it? what would i create? But don't take the damn tree and reproduce the unity stand...what are you thinking? what did you bring to it?

Wo se ekyir...nyE wo dEw, a, EhO ara na etafer is another way of yourself. you're all you've got.

But if you take away nothing from this post, take this: Learn to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not. ~Henri Frederic Amiel

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why do doctors in Ghana complain so much?

I’m out of tune with what’s making news in Ghana. I neither watch tv, nor listen to the radio. I don’t even read the newspapers. But even I who am so out of tune know that there’s been some deal with doctors going on strike to get the government to pay attention to their demands for better conditions of service, including salary increment. But hey, I’m your average Ghanaian. I heard the news, I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it, and it didn’t affect me directly (there are no doctors in my family...maybe I should marry one) so I went on with my life. Until a few weeks ago when I went to Korle-Bu for my annual breast exam and pap test.

When I got to the maternity department, I met a classmate of mine who is now a doctor. She asked me to guess how long she’d been working. I guessed 12 hrs. That’s as long as I could imagine working at a stretch. I was wrong. She’d been working for the past 36 hours. When I saw my doctor, he and I got into conversation about their working conditions. It was clear that this is an issue that is close to his heart. The picture that he painted for me was in sharp contrast to what I’d been hearing on the news. See, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital is often heralded as the premiere healthcare facility in Ghana, and news reports mention such facilities as the MRI and CT scanners as evidence of the hospital’s progress. In the past year, it’s been reported that the hospital has successfully performed its first kidney transplant.

According to the doctor, what the media fails to mention is that the CT scanner has not worked for close to a year, and the MRI scanner breaks down regularly. Also, the elevator in the maternity ward is so old that it breaks down almost every week. He added that even though MTN has remodelled the theatre of the hospitals maternity department as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility, the telecommunications company did not provide the medical equipment and the hospital has also not provided equipment so the theatre remains closed. Newspapers have also been known to publish sensational headlines that say doctors are earning 3000 GHC supported by stories that mention that doctors are provided free housing, can import cars without paying import duty and receive benefits such as subsidized lunch and car servicing yet in some cases doctors do not enjoy these benefits and even where they do, the benefits are not as good as they’re reported to be. Even some basic materials such as long gloves used for surgery are not available and doctors regularly risk their own health when performing surgery on HIV patients and their upper arms are covered in blood- an act of sacrifice.

Despite these sacrifices, when Ghanaian doctors threaten to go on strike, media coverage seems to favour the perception that doctors are well respected, well-remunerated people who have little to complain about but who are just crying for more. Once I listened to one interview in which the person being interviewed suggested that doctors complain too much. Adding that as a developing nation, most workers are dissatisfied with their salaries but they do not complain so doctors should also quit complaining. One of my friends even makes the argument that before people go to medical school, they are fully aware of the working conditions and so if they go ahead to choose that career path, then they have little justification to complain later. He goes further to mention that if with the benefit of hindsight, a doctor can still say that he’d choose the medical profession if he were in a position to choose a career all over again, then it goes to show that that doctor derives some unquantifiable pleasure from his/her profession and that they’re not in it for the numeration. If this is so, my friend says, and then doctors should not complain about remuneration since that is not the reason they do what they do.

Maybe my friend is right. Maybe he’s wrong. But I what I would like to highlight is that doctors are right to complain when they get less than their due. Even though on paper, specialists are supposed to earn about 3000 GHC as is reported by the newspapers, the truth is that they are earning only about a third of that, whilst newly minted doctors are earning less than 700 GHC. On paper, doctor’s salaries are to be reviewed every two years but in practice, they have not been reviewed for the past 3 years. In theory doctors should not perform surgeries when there are no long gloves, but in practice, they do so every day. On paper, doctors have air conditioning in their consulting rooms. In actuality, the air-conditioners do not work. In theory, the government services doctor’s cars. In actuality, they receive a small allowance which will not even cover the cost of one oil change. They are not really asking to be paid more. They are merely asking to be paid the amount stated in their employment contract, and for this, I think they are justified.