I practically raised my younger sisters. It’s not a complaint, that’s just the way it is. It was the late 80s/ early 90s, my mum wanted us to live in a 3 bedroom house in the suburbs as well as fufill her wish of having her own business, she a nurse, my dad a blue collar worker. My dad is a man of few words, he worked around the clock to fulfill her dreams and she got there, eventually she could give up her job and become a business woman and he could have peace, in the meantime, I babysat, walked my sister to school, make sure that we had eaten, on the weekends we’d be rewarded with a take-out. When I was 14 I went out to work, helping out for tips, making cups of tea, sweeping the hair off the floor and running errands for the customers. In today’s world, somebody would probably have called social services but back then, everybody minded their own business.
At the age of 16, I realized that I had been so pre-occupied with my siblings, my parents, I had forgotten about myself, and so started to raise myself, after wondering around aimlessly for the next decade I started see the light and long story short, found my way here. This is not a knock at my parents, on the contrary, I can’t say I really suffered. They sacrificed a lot, we had a back yard to play in, we lived in a safe neighbourhood, the bills were payed, we had a tutor for to help us with subjects we struggled in but at the same time we weren’t spoilt. We knew the value of a pound. If we wanted something like a dress to go out to a party, or a slap up meal (at that age a slap up meal was I was McDs or KFC later upgraded to Nandos). My father’s favourite line was ‘am I sending you’, so if you wanted to go the movies or something on the weekend, it would have to be negotiated 2 weeks in advance and even that, you would get the bare minimum. Bus fare and the cinema ticket money, any extras I would save my dinner money and do some weekday hours in the salon after school. When I was ‘legal’, I got myself a Saturday job, and I have been working ever since. Throughout college, university and post-grad, I have worked in some capacity, I was a Saturday sales girl, worked in a bank, did telesales (that lasted a day), then I finished studying, worked full time (studied part time), then I came to Ghana to work some more.
Why am I saying all this, as I walk through this journey, as much as I wish I had a solid foundation here, I am starting to appreciate my Oyibo upbringing. It taught me to value people, as well as value money, because I have had had to work hard to maintain both. I was responsible for my little sisters growing up and I was responsible for myself beyond that.
Here, it is all so timely and routine. Your average family (one which I can liken to an average family living abroad), has a nanny and some type of house help to look after their kids. Kids go to junior secondary school, high school is most likely a boarding school, from their they stay at home for a year or so, maybe do some kind of national service work if they are lucky, usually working for some relative, maybe teaching, go to university come out, national service at some company, if they are lucky, somebody knows somebody on the board who gets them the job. They do that for a year, if they are lucky they get taken on, if not they go on the job trail. They are then taken on somewhere, and there they stay and work their way up. Those with a bit of balls take their experience and move on (usually those who have had some kind of experience living outside of Ghana), others stay where they are until retirement. Working in a restaurant or shop is seen as a job for the lower classes so you will never find a Legon student working in Accra Mall or in a boutique in Dzorowulu. Everybody is striving for the office or the bank.
When they work, they work by processes. They work to better the processes. But to use their mind to think outside the box, well that’s a crime worst than murder. To think about the people in the team, or welfare of colleagues around them, why, don’t they get paid at the end of the month.
People don’t value money either, it’s a dog eat dog world. Everybody is faster or cleverer than the rest, if they can take the shirt off your back they will, why not, you can afford to buy a new one. I live in a nice 2 bedroom bungalow, on the outside you would think I have it all, but I am crying now because the dollar rate has gone up by an extorbidant amount compared to last year, where as my salary increment will be minimal. I drive a decent car bought in 2009 brand new but it took my last bit of savings and a helping hand to get it, I still also have to pay for its servicing, insurance and when a tro-tro decides to use it as a bumper car, I am stuck with the bill. However the man outside looking in thinks I am rich. So will add a lot extra to the cost of cement when I hire him to do some work. The security guard at the front gate will tell me ‘Madam, you didn’t give me my christmas/easter/valentines/me just being here day. I will be sitting in traffic and someone will tell me they are hungry. They don’t want food mind you, no, it’s your hard earned cash that they want.
The guy in the office thinking about processes says that’s the world we live in, doesn’t really care or cares to do about changing the way of thinking, because that would actually mean about thinking.
This is why I appreciate my upbringing across the pond. You are expected to challenge, you are expected to see the worlds grey areas, it is not just ‘chew and pour and pass your exams’, you are encouraged to actually learn. So when you are looking at the processes you are also looking at those that make the processes work.
Today I am going to an all day meeting. It is being done in a hotel, basically so that we don’t open our laptops and start reading our emails. What’s on the agenda. Processes.
I was not feeling to good yesterday, a terrible migrane bought on by too much thinking, so I stayed at home. I got a phone call from our team coordinator. The guy with the many teeth who laughs to loud and I don’t trust him one inch. He called to tell me about today’s meeting and that I should think about the current processes and how it can be improved. I have a friggin migrane for goodness sake, the last thing I want to do is think, let alone think about processes.
I got a phone call this morning from another colleague, another process freak, calling to confirm if I was coming for the meeting. I don’t know what value I will add, whatever I say on the topic well it will be undermined by the boss anyway (they are big on this heirachal system even though we are working in a matrix system, it is supposed to empower the ‘little’ people, but I just find you have more bosses than you would like).
But I will go, it is at Best Western Hotel, I was there for my cousins wedding reception and the food was very nice, I am hoping that it wasn’t just a one-off because of the wedding, hey silver lining.
I hated waking up early on a Saturday morning to sell mobile phones at the age of 19 in a phone shop in Bayswater, but looking back it taught me a lot. I met different people, I worked in a team, our aim was to make money, but how we did it wasn’t done by any kind of process but refining your skills. Think for ones self and not just about the processes.
But this is the life I have chosen for now, until I am in a position to change it, I shall just shat up and deal with it. But I will get to that position one day soon, so the process champions better watch out…
Funnily enough, I too am (albeit slowly) coming to the same conclusion about life in the Western Caribbean. People and attitudes are much the same as you describe in Ghana and I am wondering (despite the life changing decision I made to move from Oyibo-land back home to the Caribbean) if it is ultimately for me…
As you say: “…this is the life I have chosen for now, [and] until I am in a position to change it, I shall just shat up and deal with it.” Madam, I wholeheartedly concur!!