The Value is (basically, sort of) the Same-ish
The following is a conversation I had with a Taxi driver the other day. It is largely translated from Twi but the spirit of the conversation lives on in the hallow curves of the English language (wow… how very Edgar Allen Toni Morrison of me! ha!)
Me: Good Afternoon, boss. Please, I am going to Alisa Hotel. Well the World Bank near Alisa Hotel.
Taxi Driver: I don’t know the World Bank, but it’s on the Alisa road right?
Taxi Driver: Ok then, let’s go.
Me: (hop into the car and blurt out) Four cedis right? Yes… good, ha! <bats eyelashes and flips hair>
Taxi Driver: (chuckles) Wow… I can not take four cedis and now even the price I was going to say you will say its too much. Ok give me 5 cedis.
Me: (with a look of mock incredulity) eish! hmmm… ok.
Taxi Driver: (after some minutes of driving) You know, I will pray that God will give you the kind of job where when you sit in my taxi you won’t even have to ask the price. You will just give me double what it requires and go on your way.
Me: In Jesus Name. Amen!
Taxi Driver: See like… if you were in America, by now you would be rich. Even me, I could do this same job and have so much more money to take home
Me: (look at him, snicker, check my place of privilege, carefully consider how to frame what I want to say back) Ummm… I don’t know you know. My dad was a taxi driver in America and he didn’t make it seem much more glamorous. The same way you complain about your wages here is the same way people complain there. The value is the same.
Taxi Driver: No not true. Look at the street cleaner people or house workers. Here they take home like 150- 200 GHC a month. But in the US, people doing the same jobs, when they come home they can build houses and do business. Like if I got the chance to go to America shaaaaaa. There people pay taxes and you see the result, here…what do we have to show for it?
Me: (check my place of privilege… check my place of privilege) Hmmm… that’s fair. But you know, there are so many opportunities for business here too you know. Like you can save money and do something like Tilapia fishing… you can even borrow money.
Taxi Driver: Pssshhttt… it’s true you can do business here. But it’s better to work hard in America and then come back to Ghana.
Me: hmmmmm… <insert self righteous glare and head shake>
I love conversations with Taxi drivers. They are, as I have said before, the pulse of the nation. If you need to know or understand any social dynamic, go to the local taxi rank and they can give you all the scoop. There are so many ways I wanted to tackle this conversation:
1. This is not the brain drain era when people went to America and were being hired quickly and amassing money. This is the recession era and people coming without proper paperwork are struggle-bussing it all up and down the alleys of Americas underbelly.
2. Why would you be willing to quote work hard in America but not exert a similar effort of working, saving and luxuriating here in Ghana? I am not sure how your work ethic suddenly becomes more focused because you are in the land of quote milk and quote honey. <yes… I am making air quotes.> Somehow if you were about that Afircan immigrant life of hustle, bustle, struggle, rinse, repeat… build a house in Ghana, you would probably be on your Amoabeng status.
3. THERE IS MILK AND HONEY IN GHANA!!!!!!!! and now everyone else is hip except the taxi drivers. Which is problematic because you already have the Chinese selling us faulty condoms (in a country with a rising HIV rate– really?!?) and the Indians selling us fake drugs (in a nation where public health is only inching its way toward reform). Meaning they recognize business opportunities but are also taking advantage of loopholes in the system. So there are numerous opportunities for SME’s to flourish, especially Ghanaian ones (though I know there are many things stacked against Ghanaian businessmen— namely
self-hate fear-mongering jealousy GH government Everyone elses government lack of skills limited access to capital people-stopping-their-own-people-from-being-great).
4. People make 200 GHC a month… and live in Accra?! Is that even humane?!?!?!!??!?!!?!??!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!? #icant
But I decided to go the route of… the value is the same.
The thing is, people don’t understand that American struggle/ suffering… British immigrant struggle/ suffering… Ghanaian struggle/ suffering— the value is the same.
My parents own a store in Laurel, MD where they sell African groceries. They operate a Moneygram machine in the store. And its so sad to see people haggard, tired, worn- down and sending maybe 1/5th of their paycheck home to take care of their myriad of family. It is almost like… for the simple fact that you made it out, you now have to carry a double load. It’s like the most unfair burden of progress in the world— and people legit die from this. Heart attacks, strokes, fatigue, high blood pressure, erm, juju… it’s ridiculous.
Just because they are stressing somewhere with <seemingly> better public schools and better access to water, these public goods don’t take away the fact that they are still on that same struggle bus… who cares if its a decked out struggle bus sitting on 14’s with Bose speakers— the engine is the same. the value is the same. the person is still huffing and puffing their way through life.
Amma— check your position of privilege.
But when I see people coming to the store tired… wishing they could just go back home and be… and then I sit here with taxi drivers who may be struggling but have a strong support system, and aren’t paying two families rent, and three peoples school fees and covering EVERYONE’S funeral expenses… I want to tell them to check their OWN position of privilege… somehow the value is not the same.