Friday, September 1, 2017

Culture, Bartering, or Racism?

I have met many good people in Ghana so far but some things about the culture can be pretty screwed up. I hope not to sound too negative with this post but I'm really fed up today with some recent events. Most of my experiences being discriminated against here have been in the financial arena. When you take a taxi a certain distance most locals pay 2 cedis (the local unit of money.) When I try to take a taxi the same distance, drivers tell me it is 10 to 20 cedis. Why do they charge me 5 to 10 times more? Is it just because of the color of my skin or is it because they know I’m from America and they think I'm rich and clueless? I don’t care which one it is. It still pisses me off.

I have always hated bartering. When I went to Mexico after high school I couldn’t stand having to play negotiating games and put so much effort into buying something simple like a can of soda pop. When we need to make almost any big purchase or repair here, we have to send Brian who is a Ghanain who lives with us to get a fair price, otherwise everything is much more expensive when they see who really needs the service. 

Yesterday I got sick of the horrible dirt roads that we have to carefully maneuver around in our neighborhood so I went out with my boys with our shovels and we worked on fixing them. After about half an hour, the “caretaker” of the home we rent who lives across the street noticed us working and asked if he could help. He has previously offered to help us with things and then comes back later presenting us with an excessive bill for his efforts. When we mentioned this to our landlord he got mad at him since he is already paying him so the other day he offered to help around our yard and assured me he didn’t want money in return so I asked if he had a wheel barrow we could use since we were carrying buckets of dirt half a block away to fill in holes in the road. He came back a few minutes later with one and helped us. After a couple hours of hard labor in the afternoon sun we had finished our street. Just then a man who identified himself as a neighbor who was building a nearby home came by and said he had some extra gravel he would put down over the dirt.

He never came back so I walked around the block to where the road is really bad and saw a pile of large rocks, broken tiles, garbage, and dirt that he was referring to. It was not gravel but there were several men working on filling in huge holes in the road in that area. I had my shovel with me so I decided to pitch in and help them fill in the road for about 45 more minutes until I got dizzy in the heat and went home.

My wife took this picture since she was excited to see people fixing the road.
As I arrived home I saw my younger kids picking up garbage off the streets with some little neighbor kids. Nobody uses garbage cans here so the streets are heavily littered. The only place I have seen a public garbage can since I arrived is at the mall. We have a small dumpster and pay for a weekly garbage service but most people just have piles of garbage on their property or litter in the streets and gutters. We gave the little neighbor kids some ice cream for helping my kids pick up trash. I then went in feeling good that we were able to make improvements to the neighborhood.

So today I got back home from some errands and I was told that the guy who offered "gravel" for the street came by and wanted to collect money from me for the road improvements. I was shocked. It was not gravel and it was not even used on our street. Our local friend Brian told him to go collect money from everyone in the surrounding neighborhood and after they pay we’d consider it knowing it was just a bluff to try and get money from us. Why would someone try to charge me for making improvements to a neighborhood dirt road and for spending my time doing manual labor on a road on the other side of the block? Because I’m an Obroni (white man) and he lives in a culture where you try to overcharge and rip off people for anything. It is so backwards that someone would try to get money from you for volunteering your time to improve their neighborhood.

The irony about this is that if someone is caught stealing at the market, a mob will chase them down and may kill them for their crime before the police can even get there, yet the same culture allows dishonest business dealings and ripping people off. They equate it to being shrewd or having business saavy. I guess it's kind of similar to how some massive white collar crime in the US can receive lesser punishments than violent petty crime. 

We've had many people try to take advantage of us since we've been here and some have been successful. I know this problem is not unique to Ghana and people take advantage of each other all around the world in a variety of ways, but it's a challenge for me to keep a positive, loving attitude towards people I'm trying to help when I know many of them just see me as a big money target because of the color of my skin.

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