AS THEY SAY, 'the world's a stage,' and Ghana is no different, as you can well imagine, though ours would involve much theatrics and over acting.
All anyone has to do is to figure out their role in this oxymoron of our great never ending three part Kumasi film, follow the scripts, and voila, their life in Ghana becomes hassle free. Granted, all the fun that comes with the trials and tribulations of living in Ghana will be lost . . . "So, what's the point," I hear you rudely interrupt. What's the point indeed!
However, if you happen to be one of those people who doesn't want continual - unnecessary, at that - melodrama in their lives, you will be interested in some of these imperative ‘must learn’ cultural script scenarios that an imported one or a visitor needs if they intended to keep their sanity.
Many moons ago, when I arrived, I immediately discovered the delights of eating waakye for breakfast and would send the houseboy to the local waakye seller, ordering waakye, gari, macaroni, fish and a boiled egg as soon as I’d brushed my teeth. So excited by this discovery, I ordered the same meal for a whole week until I was reminded by a small piece I read in a magazine about the link between cholesterol and the eating of too many eggs.
The next day, I made the same order, omitting the boiled egg. So what did he bring me? Waakye, gari, macaroni, fish and a boiled egg, of course.
No big deal, but the obvious puzzled look plastered itself across my face as I asked, “Errm, I didn’t order an egg, did I?”
What followed was the first lesson I learnt in the baffling Ghana script. Though I still can’t figure out why it happens, you can bet that I’d hazard a couple of guesses.
He stated, as per the script, “But you always eat waakye, gari, macaroni, fish and boiled egg!”
‘Always,’ was the key word, and instead of ‘taking it as it is,’ – I didn’t know any better then, I don’t think I do now either – I felt the need to educate myself as the reasons behind his logic.
“But, I didn’t order an egg, so I don’t understand why I got an egg?”
His blank expression obliged me to explain the reason why I hadn’t ordered an egg this time, as if that was going to have any effect.
Foolishly, I was of the notion that if a person explained the reasons for their actions, then the other – even if they don’t agree – would see another perspective to their own. It doesn’t work, as I have found to my detriment and yet, I still insist on foolishly repeating my script. Meaning, unconsciously, I crave the melodrama.
The Ghanaian grin, on cue, made its appearance and he repeated his statement, probably in the belief that if he said it enough times, I would understand and get with the plan. I didn’t.
I hate being baffled and will go out of my way, as if on some sort of life saving quest to get to the bottom of things. I need to know, however trivial the matter.
For a few weeks after, I experimented altering my breakfast order. I would add an item here, take another away there, but still I got the same result. He’d return with the same order, I’d open it, look at him with a questioning smile and raise my eyebrows waiting for the punch line – ta-naaaaa! He’d smile, “Eh, I forgot. But, you always order . . .” My confusion increased.
Unbeknown to me, my mind was steadily ticking and tocking over this quandary, though the answer played hide and seek, refusing to reveal itself for a few years to come.
I went to lunch with a cousin. She stared with wonder as I ordered yam, a plain onion and tomato gravy and fish. “What’s the matter,” I asked.
“Yam always goes with nkontommire!” She stated.
“Oh! I didn’t know that. Has it become law?”
She smiled as if indulging a child. “Oh no! It’s just that I haven’t seen someone eating yam like this before!”
Jolted by a memory still on its quest for the answer to the quandary, I felt the need to explain that there were no fixed food combinations and anyone had the right - after all, it wouldn’t change the world stock market prices, to put any groupings of food together at the same time - in London, I used eating weetabix on toast and condensed milk sandwiches, for crying out loud – hoping it would elicit a nugget of knowledge that would set my mind at rest. The only thing that made an appearance was ‘the grin’ and the subject was quickly shelved. I could imagine her gossiping with her work colleagues later on, ‘can you imagine she was eating yam with plain stew!’
Now just to sidetrack, when Ghanaians become embarrassed - after you have spot-lighted a behaviour or trait of theirs that is confusing, annoying or upsetting, i.e. insulting your intelligence - they grin or laugh instead of acknowledging it or, heaven forbid, apologise. If you are fool enough – having confused the reason for their laughter - to try explaining further as to why you are upset, the more they would continue to grin and laugh, making you feel that your views are not being taken seriously. That is not the intention, according to this particular Ghana script. Embarrassment is expressed through laughter and grinning. Confusing, I know, so learn the script.
Now, if you are not careful and continue to push your point, they move into phase 2 by grinning and laughing some more. The domino effect of that is you feel they are trivializing the situation and become more upset, which is only natural. With wires crossed, once they reach a point where they can’t laugh any further, the only option is, Phase 3, to get offended.
Why the hell are you not ‘taking it as it is,’ after all, this is how things are done in Ghana and . . . more importantly, Ghanaians are always right. Ghanaian logic, get with the script babe.
Years later, I’m still going through the food order saga with the local coco seller and, well, any other food seller in the neighbourhood. At the coco seller, my usual order used to be coco – 30 pesewas and kosε – 20 pesewas. One fine day, I decided to vary my order in the hope of adding a little pizzazz to my sad little life.
She didn’t in fact know what I was going to buy, but she told me, “The kosε is finished!”
I had forgotten that most Ghanaians are psychic and so asked, “Do you have coco?”
“Yes! But you always buy coco and kosε and the kosε is finished!”
‘Always,’ that key word again.
Haven’t still learnt the crucial lesson, I had to get sarcastic, “Am I allowed to buy the coco without kosε even though I normally buy coco and kosε together?”
The grin, “Eh, yes!” She served me the coco.
This deathly sameness scenario plays itself out every day and I wonder why people insist on complicating their lives more by refusing to acknowledge that change does happen. The example of food ordering is petty, but it does give a good indication as to the societal effects of this type of rigid thought process, especially, if applied to more important issues.
Being the Good Samaritan that I am, I thought I would make the coco seller’s life easier and forewarned her that there was a possibility of my buying different amounts in the future – that I could vary my order. A lot of good it did me. Ghanaian logic! As long as Ghanaians are doing it, it is logical.
I’d arrive and before I had made my order, she had already packaged coco – 30 pesewas and kosε – 20 pesewas, and stretching her hand out for her money.
I’d scratch my head and ask, “Have I ordered yet?”
“But you always buy coco 30 pesewas and kosε 20 pesewas,” her eyes telling me that I was on the wrong page of the script.
“Well, today, I only want kosε 10 pesewas.”
“Oh!” She rummaged around the bag and took one kosε out, throwing me an exasperated ‘wo yε troublesome paaa’ look as she moved onto the next customer.
The next day, we went through the same motions. And the next and the next and the next.
I wondered how long it would take before she realised that it may be a good idea for her to wait until I made my order before serving me. I also wondered why she would archive one piece of information and insist on it being an unchanging part of my culinary script. And I seriously wondered why I just didn’t accept whatever she wanted to serve me, just for a simpler life.
Funnily enough, on the days that I decided to make the order that according to the imposed script, had become a part of who I am - coco – 30 pesewas and kosε – 20 pesewas – that’s when the seller would ask me what I wanted to order.
Then I’d say, “Coco - 30 pesewas and kosε - 20 pesewas, please!”
As if put upon, she’d make a mini saga of getting my order ready and throw me her scripted exasperated ‘wo yε troublesome paaa’ look.
I have to admit, it does give me a little buzz.
Unfortunately, this inevitably took us back to square one, because the following day – when I’d decided to change my order – she’d have the ‘scripted Alba’ order ready and would get exasperated, throwing me the ‘wo yε troublesome paaa’ look as she rummaged in the bag taking out items. Our uncoordinated script going round and round in a crooked circle.
Oh, the small joys of my mundane life.
Now, I wouldn’t mind if it were an isolated case, but it seems as if the neighbourhood, collectively, have decided that I can only buy certain items or certain quantities of things. For example, if I arrive at a kiosk where I normally buy coffee, the owner assumes that coffee is the only thing I could want and would have it waiting for me before I’d opened my mouth. They are always surprised when I order something else, asking, “Don’t you want coffee?”
Then I'd get the 'you're not following the script' look.
Then I'd make the mistake of asking, "Is it by force that I buy coffee each time I come here?
"On cue, the grin makes its appearance.
The funniest is when I just happen to be passing by and they call out telling me that my ‘scripted item’ is either out of stock or that they have it ready for me. I loved the puzzled look on their faces as I say, “I was only passing by!”
If I’m in enough of a bitchy mood, I ask, “Look, can I only pass by this way, if I’m coming to you? Does this pathway only lead to you? Are you the wizard of Oz to whom and only whom the yellow brick road can lead to?”
The grin or the glare plus a little confusion. Whichever of the two, the scripted scenario would be replayed the next time I’m in the vicinity. The experiences of yesterday not having any effect whatsoever on the repeated actions taken today.
Of course, there has to be a bright side to these time wasting sagas I go through. My warped mind has decided that these vendors - so happy to have me as a customer - feel the need to give me the utmost in customer care by remembering what I order, elevating me to VVIP status. The fact that they become disgruntled when I order something else is a mere blip on the radar, but I do worry as to why we continue to resist internal change while the rest of the world gallops on.
The ticking quandary clock was getting louder and faster, and then suddenly it hit me. Ping.
Could it be possible, that there is a genetic script that is encoded in each Ghanaian cell? An unchangeable script that is reinforced and justified by experiences of ‘this is how we do things.’ So, people learn to do and say the same things and expect the same results for those same actions, because each action is considered an entity on its own, therefore, the reactions and results should be the same. Basically, the domino effects of action reaction don’t apply to the Ghana script. There is only one road to the market. Are you still with me? Good, because it’s the only logical conclusion for those of us still muddling through the script.