Somehow we survive
and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither.
Dennis Brutus, A Simple Lust
Somehow we survive.
The treacherous heat that relentlessly oppresses, threatening to snuff the very life out of you; the warm, syrupy, humid air that meanders, thick as molasses; the ennui that engulfs like a straitjacket, daring you to break free; the cheeky rogue Time that moves forward at arbitrarily varying speeds, depending on who his accomplice is. Conniving little scoundrels bent on having their way with you.
Somehow we survive.
As a ‘native expatriate’ of Ghana, I marvel at the resilience, stoicism and courage of fellow ‘returnees’’ attempts to come home and stem the brain drain, trapped in a pressure cooker of stifling heat, laid-back attitudes, widespread corruption, disregard for the law, and the ubiquitous traffic jam. Is it for this we leave behind the corporate rat race?
I arrive on Monday, with meetings set up for Tuesday at 11am and 4pm. I am off to a good start, anticipating a very efficient use of my relatively short stay. I slot in a visit with my mother between 12:30pm and 3pm for a nice leisurely lunch. Wishful thinking.
After navigating through the perilous roads to Madina and barely making it on time, my contact for my 11am appointment is not even in the office! I’m not one to wait interminably, so I leave a polite note saying I came by. I look forward to spending more time with Mother. 45 minutes later, I get a call from my contact’s office as I am driving cross-city, white-knuckled and weaving my way through pedestrians sharing the right of way with cars and peddlers who act as human lane-dividers. She would like to see me now. So I turn around and begin the drive back.
The meeting goes well, and we are done by about 2:30pm. So I call to see if my 4pm appointment will be on time and am assured that we will be on time. Indeed, she is not far away and will be there as soon as her meeting is over – most likely before 4pm. So much for lunch plans…
I return to my operations base and commence my wait. 4pm comes and goes. 4:15, 4:30, and still no word. So I begin calling up to set up other meetings. One colleague suggests meeting up today – as a matter of fact, he could be there in 45 minutes! Swell, I think, I could still be productive. After an hour, he still has not arrived and neither has my original 4pm appointment. So I call up to check and he’s visiting a friend in hospital and will be there in 20 minutes.
Needless to say, I don’t have a meeting in 20 minutes or in an hour. My meetings actually take place more in the region of 8:15 pm and 9:00 pm. And I eventually get to my mother’s at about 11pm.
A couple of days later, I have a meeting scheduled for 2pm so I walk in for my meeting at 2pm. The gentleman looks up, bewildered: “Is it 2 o’clock?” Yes, unfortunately, I say to myself. He reluctantly peels himself off his seat.
Is it the heat that evaporates all alacrity? Or is it the thick, humid air that threatens to suffocate all vim and vigour? Neither of these impedes the animated ‘winding’ of an ample derrière to the rhythm of a hot hiplife tune nor the lurid cheers of obsessed football fans in a stifling stadium. Not by a long shot. Life is great in the tropics: music, dancing, football and sex. Oh – and throw in some palm wine or Star Beer, for good measure!
The Ghanaian concept of the fluidity of time is by no means unique to Ghana. Across Africa, even in the United States, and by any name – be it ‘Ghana Man Time’ or GMT or ‘Coloured Peoples Time’ or CPT – time, as a concept is dependent on myriad variables of life with priorities (if such a thing exits) that change from one moment to the next. Between birth and death is this chasm that holds the thick, rheumy lake of Time that is constantly churned by Life at varying speeds and in different directions. Whatever happens in this abyss, happens, and though you row your boat in the heading you want, your speed and direction is dictated to a large extent by a power outside of you. It becomes much easier to just go with the flow….to rest….perchance to sleep….
By my fourth day, I have an attitude adjustment and resign myself to going with the flow. I no longer edgily look for the first opportunity to overtake a truck driving at 10 miles per hour. I am no longer impatient with the driver ahead coasting along while talking on his mobile phone. I no longer roll my eyes when the receptionist has to finish her conversation with her girlfriend, casually ignoring me while I wait for her attention. I no longer seethe when my order for a glass of wine takes 45 minutes to arrive. I no longer complain that I have spent two out of my three weeks in Ghana….waiting. Emasculated and acquiescent, I wait, Ghana style, and sing a tune my mother used to sing:
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
Much as the West sets much store by punctuality and time management, there is something to be said for a system – if that – where time is not equivalent to the proverbial money. A world that does not run by the clock, that lets everything come to pass in its own time, that looks to the savouring of each moment for what it is worth. Everything happens in time. The overriding mindset is that there is nothing too important that can’t be dealt with in the morning. In my estimation, the result is lower stress levels, a greater capacity to enjoy the little things in life, a communion with nature and one’s bio-rhythm. It’s called living in the now. And, for my leisure moments, I miss that.
That is how life is survived in Ghana.