Thursday, April 1, 2010
Advertising Death in the Taxis of Accra
I have reported occasionally on notices in the back windows of taxis and tro–tros because they contain enigmas, ironies or plain challenges to my own imagination. Two that I have seen during the past week are symbolic of key forces that are shaping Ghanaian society. If you have read previous blogs you would know that drivers go off to a cheap store and buy acid coloured sticky-backed letters which they then form into words or messages for following drivers and passengers to read. They are mostly religious, declaring their love of God (or fear of Him) usually via the channel of Christianity. They declare bits of biblical text and warnings if these are not heeded. But, as inferred at the outset, some seem to have been written by inscrutable minds, determined to baffle, amuse or create philosophical discourse.
The first one I saw was, “Heaven gate: no bribe”. Now isn’t this the perfect drawing together of religious and social politics? Ghana, despite Obama’s flattery about it being politically clean, is riven with problems of ‘chopping’, the local word for bribery. It is a great shame for the people here are generally courteous, passive and tolerant and the country would do much better if corruption was eradicated. At every level of business, most individuals who have a direct role in one’s life seem to expect backhanders, whether it is customs, Government grants, traffic cops and all the usual Ministries. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that people, merely doing the job they are paid to do, will refuse to do it in good time, unless they are paid bribes. Even sometimes refusing to do it at all! Here, people shrug and say that that is the way of it. Some even suggest that it is no bad thing, since no-one is paid a decent basic salary in the first place. But to get into Heaven requires a purity of purpose and spirit that does not exist in every day realities.
The second sign was, “Ending is the problem”. How do you read its sense? I pondered a long time, after initially laughing out loud at its strange, cryptic truthfulness. For all of us, the ending is the problem. Wittgenstein, the philosopher, a conformed atheist, was seconds away from the final curtain when he realised that his impeccable logic, which proved that there could not be a God, could mean, equally, that there was a God! Deathbed revisionism. It is said that a sizeable proportion of lapsed Catholics enjoy a return to the fold during these dimming times. Anyway, as a writer and a mortal, I have often found endings to be a problem. We humans want the stories of our lives like those of good books, to be satisfying with everything tied up neatly and properly, regardless of whether we hope to spend eternity with a handful of virgins or a pastel Heaven full of angels with harps or being blown through the universe, dissembled into the atoms that originally came together to construct us.