Sunday, April 3, 2011
Upwardly and laterally mobile in Ghana
Maybe life is a struggle for everyone, rich or poor if you see it through the eyes of each individual but it doesn’t look like that from the outside. While students in developed countries fight to maintain their grants and fulfil the expectations of having universal education, albeit with varying degrees of fee-paying in the latter stages, what happens when you are born and brought up in a Ghanaian village where, if you are lucky, there is some rudimentary primary education and little else afterwards for the vast majority?
I will try not to be sentimental about what follows. A young man, in his early twenties came to the house as a gardener. Illiterate and not speaking English (the post-colonial language of Ghana) he worked very hard and with intelligence. He was moved to the factory which sells uniquely designed clothes directly to customers in the UK and elsewhere but not in Ghana. Here the staff at all levels are paid three or four times the national average for their levels of work in the fashion industry. Our young man became an ironer. A couple of years later he was literate and taking photographs of garments (having a very rare eye, even for so-called professional photographers). Now he is quality controller in the factory and patrols every phase of production with a forensic eye and a completely immovable force (resisting sixty staff’s desire to bend the rules has broken a few spirits!). He is earning money he could never have dreamed of. He still spends his Saturdays with us, cleaning. Much of his income goes back to send his sister through school and for other family needs.
Where does he live, here in the sprawling morass that is Accra? Every possibility exists, from under a tree to a sumptuous gated property with armed guards. But the majority live in kiosks and rough-made dwellings built from any available material, usually small, windowless and in acreages of the same or – and here we come back to the protagonist of this blog – on any available land that has not yet succumbed to the builders, both private and municipal. Just so with our man. Yesterday he could not come to clean because the Accra Metropolitan Authority was moving his kiosk on. At this moment his house will be on a trailer heading for a little plot he has had his eye on for some time. This is his third such move in three years. I expect he has found somewhere and I will hear about it tomorrow, at work in the factory.