One fork and a sixty-dollar Organ

by Ernest Armah

Have you for a moment paused to observe a typical below-poverty line family in Ghana?
On a number of occasions, I have seen such families and casting my mind back, I think I have been in such a family before. There are some interesting dynamics of such families which I would like to talk about on this page. Let me begin with two contexts.
The first context. A poor family in Ghana would never buy the idea of the necessity of balancing their diet, for the simple reason that they do not have money. A friend of the family dies. All of a sudden, the family which was not able to cater for its nutritional needs is able to conjure funds to buy not only a new funeral cloth but also prepare an assortment of meals and drinks and even charter a taxi to the funeral. There are also those who would spend lavishly at outdoorings and defer payment of their wards school fees or worse, decide not to pay.
The second context. Homowo is a festival celebrated by the Ga people of Ghana. It is marked to bring to remembrance their triumph over hunger some centuries ago. It is characterized by a special dance called kpalogo, a special food called “kpoikpoi”, and other interesting events. So the euphoria has been all over my neighborhood since last week. But I am not here to tout the essence of that festival, which personally speaking, I find no more useful than a cathartic event.
Last night, whilst I trudge through the crowds to get supper, I intentionally shut my mind to all the cacophony brewing as a result of the celebration until some familiar faces caught my attention. Childhood friends, former class mates, neighbors and so on.
These people have spent lavishly on new dresses to look good for the occasion. That was no big deal. What was more disturbing was the extravagant spending. Before you say this is none of my business, let me say this. These are people who are unemployed, have no place to lay their heads and some are even teenage parents.
In the early hours of the morning, you would see these same people breaking their backs and stressing their legs to and fro to make little money to survive. Some even beg for food.

And yet, they become ‘wealthy ladies and gentlemen’ during the night very wasteful.
I was hoping that the traditional authorities, that is the chief and priests would use this festival as a medium to set things right; stress to the youth the essence of education and discipline, the need to tackle the issue of broken families, the health implications of poor sanitation, and so on. Rather unfortunately, the festival has become a medium to make more ‘accidental’ babies and gratify hedonism.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln (the 16th President of the US) issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order which liberated over 3 million slaves in the United States at the time. Unbelievably, after the proclamation, some of the slaves still could not believe they were free to live their own life and pursue their dreams and aspirations.
And there were some who wanted to prove to their former colonial masters that they were now at par with them. So what did they do? They emulated the lifestyles of their former colonial masters; from style of dressing to choice of music and so on. Booker T Washington in his autobiography “Up from Slavery” narrates an incident which baffled him:

I remember that on one occasion when I went into one of these cabins for dinner, when I sat down to the table for a meal with the four members of the family, I noticed that, while there were five of us at the table, there was but one fork for the five of us to use. Naturally there was an awkward pause on my part. In the opposite corner of that same cabin was an organ for which the people told me they were paying sixty-dollars in monthly installments. One fork and a sixty-dollar organ

Our society has broken into fragments of instant gratification, poor leadership, reckless lifestyles, negative influences and irresponsibility. The situation is largely psychological. Conformity because of the need for acceptance is the issue. So these people act the way they do simply because they want to keep up with the Joneses. We are suffering identity-crisis in this country. Aside from being Ghanaians, we do not know who we truly are and what we are capable of achieving. Anything goes.
So almost all of us are bent on ‘micro-softing’ a world where there would be short-cut for everything. People have clenched to so many defense mechanisms that they can no longer sit down to realistically audit their circumstances and chart a realistic course for a positive change. It is either the cholera is the result of witchcraft or the government should make healthcare free.