I’ve stopped asking average Ghanaians how they are doing. (“Average” refers to waiters, cooks, cleaners and people of that ilk.) Every time I’ve asked, I receive a coded request for money.
- “My grandmother just passed. I have to go to a funeral this weekend in Kumasi,” the grounds keeper mentioned. Normally, when you hear of such news you are expected to make a contribution to help with funeral arrangements.
- “We’re managing… I haven’t been paid for 7 months,” replied a waiter at Bella Roma. He then asked if I wanted to hire him. My friend and I looked at each other and thought he was lying. Who in their right mind goes to work for 7 months without pay? I figured that he’s making money off of tips which probably covers his expenses.
Basically, any time I’ve asked the insincere American “How are you?” I get some story about a sick family member, poor wages, rising costs, or funeral expenses. I even heard tales of woe from my staff. My most annoying sales lady asked for a “loan” because she had used most of her savings for a certificate/masters program. Another lady wanted an advance for school fees.
For a while I was sympathetic and may give “something small.” Now, I just don’t ask. If I forget myself, then I will respond to the latest tale of woe by saying, “I’m just managing as well.” That usually keeps them quiet.
A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a friend in his car. A young boy of 8 or 9 saw me from at least 100 ft and walked up to my open window. He made the universal sign for “I’m hungry” and “I beg.” His brashness put me off. Instead of moving on, he just kept standing there. So I moved the car down the road. He walked to me and repeated his begging pose. I moved the car again. And again he followed. At this point, my friend returned and he scolded the boy and was getting ready to smack him. I convinced him to refrain from beating him and we went on our way.
This habit of asking for money is so common that I often wonder if these Ghanaians feel any shame in asking. To be fair, I came across the same baksheesh culture when I was in Egypt. (Some people there expect you to give them money without providing a service or good in return.) Probably not. In contrast, both Americans and East Asians would rather not ask for financial assistance unless it was absolutely necessary. Actually for some people they would rather pretend that everything is fine than reveal any sign of weakness. Obviously, I don’t live in that world.