Thursday, April 7, 2011

Live and Let's Die

Did you ask if I believe in miracles? I don't need to believe in miracles; I am a miracle. I epitomized, encapsulate and synopsized miracles. I am THE miracle.

I have been nothing but miracle all my life. I am on the wrong side of thirty and each day of those long years have been lived miraculously. Take my personal finances for example: My Savings account - the loose changes in my pockets - consist of three hundred and twenty cedis. My Current account balance - the capital I hid away under the mat, tins and wall openings in the shack I live - amounted to a whopping six hundred and seventy cedis. All in all, I am worth almost one thousand cedis! Praise be to Allah for his everlasting showers of blessings.

It is not that I don't hold a job or that I'm lazy. No. I suffer from various ailment, but laziness is certainly not one of them. I work as a general-factotum for Alhaji. I think that his real name is Alidu or something. But Alhaji is far too big for me to worry about his real name. He is Alhaji to me and that's that. He has money like no man's business. In Nigeria, they will call him a 'deep-pocket.' He has his hand in every business you care to name. Building Contracting, Business Consultancy, etc, etc.

Wheeling and Dealing is however Alhaji's real passion. He has irons in several fires. He oozes money and it shows. No one messes up with Alhaji - he is as big as they come. Fleet of cars adorned his plenty, elegant bungalows. Alhaji has bequeathed uncountable mosques to thank Allah for his huge kindness. His religion allows one to marry as many wives as one can support, Alhaji can support many, so his wives are numerous and his children are multitudinous. I doubt if Alhaji knows the difference between illicit and legitimate businesses and it's equally doubtful if he cares. Many a times I saw top police officers go into Alhaji's office frowning, but they always emerged smiling like a virgin on her first date.

It would be difficult to give my job description; that explains why I called myself Alhaji's factotum. I am a sort of major-domo. I am a driver when Alhaji say so. I'm transformed into a petrol attendant when Alhaji gives his command - he has numerous petrol stations - I heard rumors that they are sometimes supplied by illegal refineries. I become a gardener whenever Alhaji wanted me to become one. A nanny, messenger or a shepherd-boy when it fancies Alhaji. Alhaji controls me like the Lords controlled their serfs in medieval times. It is sometimes difficult for me to know whether or not Alhaji knows the difference between those of us who work for him and the cattle we keep for him. For all my troubles, my take home pay is ten thousand cedis a month. You are laughing. Why? Alhaji considers himself a generous man. Every pay day is important to him. At least, Alhaji pays what he promised. Most of my friends, whose jobs have not been wiped out by market forces, complain to me about how their bosses perform 'hide-and-seek' when it is pay time. Alhaji is far too big to mind petty, petty things and do such things. He never deducts from what he promised to pay us. He's a man of God who doesn't break his words. Every Friday a fat cow is dragged from Alhaji's ranch near Dome. The beast is slaughtered to appease Allah and entreat him for more bounties. Of course, ordinary mortals like me are not to partake in the merry-making. I never will understand human beings, especially rich mortals. Rich men pay their workers starvation wages and lavish their loot on PR!

What do you do in modern Ghana with ten thousand, you're sneering. At my level of the poverty divide, plenty, I'll answer you. Renting a room? You can forget it. I live in a shack sandwiched between two uncompleted buildings. My shack has been well graffitied by AMA quit notices - someone should take these guys to court for wasting public money on useless paints.

The shack belongs to a kind Ewe lady who used to sell fried yam and fish and shito. My beneficiary married early - a gun-designer took advantage of her good looks when she was still in School. A baby boy was the product of their illicit liaison. Her family promptly disowned her. Hubby number one joined Auntie Gloria to his growing harem and the boy to his numerous (actually, uncountable) children.

Therefore, she didn't finish her education. The man finds it beneath his contempt for his wives to work. His business was booming and 'chop' money was no problem, so none of the wives was allowed to learn a trade. They exist only to satisfy the copious sexual caprices of their husband. Nothing good last forever, though. Husband number one died suddenly one bright afternoon. His family suspected the wives of demonolatry and drove all of them out with their children. Witchcraft was blamed for the death of a young man, with fourteen wives and countless concubines, who drank a full bottle of gin a day, and worked sixteen hours every blessed day. When they cut him up for the autopsy, they found a liver bigger than a house.

Auntie Gloria, a victim of superstitious, took her victimization in good stead. She moved to Accra to join a cousin who sells THINGS at Kaneshie. An uncle (they were just from the same village) who works as a freelance mason helped rescued some planks from his places of work and slapped them together to make a shack for Auntie Gloria, to sell fried yam and fish and shito. He was rewarded for his gallant efforts. Baby number two was not long in coming. He was married and since his religion frowned on polygamy (but obviously not on adultery), he only comes now and then to 'chop' Auntie Gloria small small.

Auntie Gloria belongs to that special class of African women. Those redoubtable, indefatigable and eternally optimistic ladies, who believe that they could triumph against all odds. Five husbands have deserted Auntie Glory due to no fault of hers. Other people would have let that get them down. But, not Auntie Gloria. She remains hopeful: 'As long as there's God in heaven, I'll find my true love.' She used to tell me.

Auntie Gloria is religious. She has belonged, one time or the other, to all the major sects in Accra and a host of the minor ones. Her third husband's mother was a prophetess who sees visions and held direct communication with HIM all the time. HE must have frowned upon the marriage as the prophetess took a special disliking to Auntie Gloria. To counter her machinations, Auntie Gloria changed churches. Her new pastor is a young, sartorially competent man who speaks with an American slang and carries himself with the elegance and grace of angels of heavens. He divined Auntie Gloria's problem. Only Atlantic water from Fetteh Gomoa could cure it. Auntie Gloria was desperate. She wasted no time in fetching the water. She was bathed in it. Her clothes were washed with it and her room (oops, shack) sprinkled with the blessed Holy Water. It was Spiritual power versus Spiritual power. The impartial Father in heaven must have sided the prophetess; Auntie Gloria lost husband number three. She also lost numbers four and five.

To double her insurance policy, Auntie Gloria doesn't rely exclusively on the Christians alone, she also dabbles in juju given to her by the numerous traditional spiritualists she consults regularly.

How did I know? It happened when husband number five came to 'shake' my favorite aunt. Within a twinkle of an eye, Auntie Gloria removed and threw away her wrapper. From her voluptuous waist she produced the most ferocious-looking olode (talisman) I ever saw in my life apart from the one the Alhaji wrap around his waist. She untied the thing and muttered some incantations. Seeing the leathery tali, hubby number five uttered some inanities, his legs already in motion working like well-oiled pistons. He didn't stop running until he reached his abode at Dansoman.

I believe that the importers of our alien faiths - Christianity and Islam - should not crow: No matter our outward postures, Africans are still traditionalists at heart.

Auntie Gloria remains an enigma to me, as are most ladies. What does she see in THEM? She's a capable woman who could look after herself. Why then does she allow THEM to mess up her life - she has nine children to show for her troubles? Psychologists should investigate these phenomenons.

Anyway, I'm running ahead of my story. Auntie Gloria lives with her nine children in her one room. Few months down, she was engaged by a big fish-dealing woman to help sell fish in Accra. She knew my predicament and offered to help. I could use the shack on the condition that I shall vacate it as soon as she gives the world. I bought a full bottle to celebrate my good fortune. Yaw came with another bottle. Yaw? He's my best friend. We rounded up a host of friends and had a ball as only poverty-ridden people know how have balls.

How do I manage on ten thousand cedis, you're wondering. I just narrated how I got a free accommodation, courtesy of Auntie Gloria. The Frafra girl Alhaji employed as cook throws some food in my direction whenever Alhaji is not around to see her felonious act. We are too scared to contemplate what will happen if he should find us out. No one works for Alhaji who's not scared of him. I 'chopped' the girl a few days after she's engaged and free food was her way of saying thank you to me. She's a greenhorn from 'up country' glad to be 'noticed' by a civilized Accra guy like me. I am also giving it to the Bankwu seller around my shack. Her husband works at Tema and by sheer good-luck (bad-luck to him), he's a five-to- eighter. He goes to work at five in the evening and comes back home around eight the following morning. The woman caught me in a compromising position one day. She took pity on me and took charge of things since then we've been having regular trysts.

We poor people have to give big hallelujah to our father in heaven for the blessings of our women. They are the kindest creatures on earth. No matter your level of poverty, you'll find a woman to take pity on you. I not only get free sex; I also get free Bankwu to keep the muscles in shape. Therefore, we have to remove sexual- expenses from my imprest account. I live about five kilometers from Alhaji's headquarters. So, I walked and sometimes ran to work every day. It was too long time ago I took a transport on my own volition. Whenever Alhaji sends me on errand, he either give transport money or allow me the use of one of his wagons if I have to carry a heavy load. We can safely move transportation cost out of the way. My wife left me long time ago. She cast a disdainful look at my face one early morning. It was a Sunday. I didn't know how I got home the previous night. I had gone out with Yaw and the result is always predictable: dead drunk. She shook me rudely and woke me from a drunken sleep. My rheumy, drunken eyes roamed her pretty face - she's pretty, my wife. I saw some bundles on the floor. "What are those things doing there?" I inquired. Without raising her voice, she ended our marriage with the following declaration: "I am going away, taking Thommy with me. You're a dirt of a husband." With that she walked out. I was weakened. I wish she could have fought me. Her calm voice and composure deflated me. The words lashed at my heart, wounding me. It took several hours for the true import of her words and departure to registered. We, thus, have to remove family allowances from my expenditure.

No, I am not blaming her. I blame myself. She did and tried her best to hold our marriage together. I was just a good-for-nothing husband. I cannot remember the last time I gave her money for food. I cannot buy her cloth because the last time I bought a common singlet for myself was about seven years ago. Shoes are out of the question. I have only one - a service-boot - courtesy of Alhaji, God protect his sandals. I've worked for Alhaji for eight years, and he's given me boots twice. "Use am for work, ehn." He bellowed like a Biblical patriarch. He meant that they are strictly working boots not meant for my socializing.

I missed my little boy, Thommy. By what right did I call him my 'little boy?' He also must think of me as a dirt of a father. After all, he didn't ask me to bring him into my poverty-ridden life. I felt sorry for him. Seeing him in his tattered rags, I sometimes feel like crying. Seeing the smartly-dressed children of other mortals, I felt certain that my Thommy must be cursing his good-for-nothing father who cannot provide him with decent raiment. I don't even remember his date of birth, not to mention organizing a party for him. He must be seven or eight or nine. I heard that his mother took him to her aunt in the Volta Region. I hope that my boy is fine.

I am not complaining too much even if it sounds like that to you. I have plenty to thank Allah for. At least, I have a job for eight years even if I am still on the same salary. Yaw, my friend, has not had a job since he was thrown out of his ministry job six years ago when SAP demanded that the civil service must be controlled by market forces. He has two wives and seven children and they all live in one room. The younger wife stroll at the Nkrumah Circle. She helps pay the rent and give the hubby money for the bottle so he cannot complain. This is what SAP has done to our family life!

I have mentioned the bottle a lot of times. I am not referring to beer - no one in my position can afford to drink beer. I am referring to God's greatest gift to Ghanaian men - akpeteshi. Come to think of it, I think that it is time our government award a national honor to the first man or woman to distill our contribution to world's beverage. Where would Ghana men be without their kind women and theiakpeteshikpeteshie? I went with Alhaji to a supermarket recently. Out of curiosity and boredom, I checked the price tags. I couldn't believe my eyes. Is it true that in our Ghana, men pay six-figure for a bottle of drink! That's more than ten times the money I earn in a whole month. I need one of their super-computers to calculate how many boakpeteshikpeteshie I could buy for that amount.

Another enigma, this SAP thing. Onakpeteshikpeteshie bar I frequent has a small color television. The others have black and white sets and many simply have none. I do occasionally catch our well-fed elite on the tube arguing the arcane subject they call economics. Are they talking about you and me? From the way they dress, talk, and comport themselves, those guys live in an entirely different world. However hard they try, they cannot relate to my reality. How could they? If the economy has been growing eight percent for the past five years, how did I come to be on the same salary for eight years? How could they relate to the poverty of people like myself when they are adorned in suits that cost over a million cedis? Do they know what poverty is?

Yes, I could resign. Resign and join the hordes of unemployed like my friend, Yaw. Resign and miss my Frafra girl and her nice dishes. The economy could be growing for them, but it is contracting me in the process.

SAP put a lot of fine cars on our new roads and put a lot of our children out of school. I never will understand these contradictions. As the rest of mankind are awaiting the new millenium with hope, we continue to die of CURABLE disease. Imposing buildings are springing up like mushrooms in the rainy season and they carry impressive price tags (no cedis around there, strictly dollars, thank you), yet many of our people are sleeping rough on the streets, in the markets, in the gutters, and under the bridges.

United Nations dem come get name for us Dem go call us under-developed nations We must be underdeveloped to sleep ten ten in one room First and second day dem go call us Third-World We must be Third-World to dey sleep inside dustbins Dem go call us Non-Aligned Nations We must dey craze for head to dey sleep under bridge Ordinary thing for man to enjoy for town nko, o E no dey. - Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

As you might rightly have guessed, I am ill-educated. I lost both parents when I was too young to remember. The uncle who vowed on my father's sick bed to look after me and give me a good education broke his vow as soon as my old man passed away. He did gave me some education, though - I have the imprints of his lashes to show for his brand of education. The closest I got to school was when I had to carry his children boxes to school.

Don't blame me if I appeared simple-, even feeble-minded. Don't blame me if SAP theories, Market Forces are incomprehensible to me. I just don't know why I am hungry when our economy is booming. I cannot understand why all my friends have to lose their jobs to market forces that also threw their children out of school. I don't know why our television stations have to invite fat cats to come and talk about poverty - they are not the ones feeling the pinches of grinding poverty.

If you cannot beat them, join them, they say. We are in the mess we are because most of us choose that escape route. What legacy, fellow patriots, may I ask you, are we bequeathing to posterity?

Can we go and face the ancestors and say, "Oh, Grand-pa, Father, I messed up big time!"

No, I won't join them. I prefer to remain in my poverty, carry my anger like an ugly sore, and drown in my drink, rather than join the Market Economists. As long as my poverty-ravished body can vibrate, I shall continue my condemnation and denunciation. I shall not waver; I will not equivocate; neither will I prevaricate; I will not compromise; I shall never tergiversate. Patriotism and Personal-Integrity is my motto and shall continue to be my battle cry.

Where is the bottle!

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" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb