Alive, Alert and Aware

A taxi driver threatened to kill me today.

I think.

A simple misunderstanding over my intended destination was the root of the problem and that misunderstanding amounted to five Ghana cedis, or roughly $3.62 CAD.

That much, I know.

When I arrived at the Accra Mall, my actual destination, and gave my initially agreed upon five cedis, it was rejected – with extreme prejudice. My formerly friendly driver sprung out of his car to follow me to the mall entrance, where I was headed with my back turned.  I didn’t make it very far before my right arm was seized mid-swing under the vice-like grip of the cabbie’s fingers.

“You bring ten cedis,” he barked.

“No. You said five. I got in the cab for five,” was my resolute reply.

This driver was also quite determined – to grab my wallet. He only loosened his grip of my arm momentarily to take a swipe at my purse. Naturally, this got my attention and I replied with language that can roughly be translated from the streets of Accra to this forum as: “Please sir, I don’t appreciate your aggressive physical contact. Please refrain from touching me and kindly go away.”

My driver responded in kind: “You said Accra Mall, not shopping centre. Bring me ten cedi.” Unbeknownst to me, at the time I was trying to go to the Accra Shopping Centre, that some locals call Accra’s most famous market, Makola, the Accra Mall.

The conversation bounced back and forth like an increasingly angry ping pong match, refereed by a small mob of idle taxi drivers and parking attendants that had nothing but a he-said, she-said set of emotionally-charged stories to render a verdict on.

In spite of the parking lot jury being stacked with cabbies, they sided with me.

Game. Set. Match.

Sadly, my victory was short-lived. After the ticked-off taxi driver got into his car and proceeded to pull out of the parking lot, he rolled up next to me, looked me up and down and bid me adieu:

“You don’t know me,” said the cabbie, furiously wagging his finger at me like an enraged head teacher at a naughty student. “I will punish you.”

“Are you threatening me?” I asked, suddenly relieved that I had scrawled down the driver’s vehicle i.d. number moments earlier.

He drove away, without answering.

The incident left me shaken, but fortunately, the questions in my head were the only things stirred. “Why would he be so desperate to squeeze me for five cedi?”

“Why do I feel like I’m constantly being hustled here?”

“Why is there so much corruption here?”

Then, as I strolled down the aisles of Shoprite supermarket, several thoughts came to mind.

One: minimum wage in Ghana, as of February 1, 2010, was 3.11 Ghana cedi a day, which is about $2.24 CAD.

Two: The national rate of inflation in Ghana has been on a steady incline, resting at 9.52% as of June 2010. Canada’s current rate, as of June 2010, is hovering just over 1 per cent.

Three: I just picked up a dish cloth that cost about 10 cedi. Even on my modest, but fair salary, here in Ghana, at this Shoprite, as was the trend at so many places in Accra, the prices weren’t right at all. I couldn’t afford a dish rag. Though my uni days were long behind me, I was eating instant noodles again, out of necessity.

Truth be told, I never really feel unsafe here in Ghana, but I do feel like everything I do requires all of my energy. Whether I’m fetching water for a bath, or sifting through my change purse for money for chicken, rice and a bag of pure water, I’m infinitely more aware that life is often harder here. I’m more aware of life, in general, which also, on a positive note, makes me feel, more alive too.

Alive, alert, and aware.

In a country with such abundant mineral wealth, it’s amazing that so little wealth actually reaches the pockets of Ghanaians. It’s no wonder that sometimes, people will do almost anything, including swipe at the pockets of others, to make that extra cedi.

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About Antoinette Sarpong

Antoinette Sarpong was born in Toronto and grew up in Courtice, ON. After living in Burkina Faso for several months during a Canada World Youth exchange, she attended Ryerson University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2005. She then worked as a story producer at CTV’s Canada AM before moving to Osaka, Japan, to teach English and write features for Kansai Scene magazine for five years. A self-confessed travel junkie, Antoinette is thrilled be part of the jhr team. Her journey is coming full circle to Africa, and Ghana, nonetheless, the country from which both her parents hail. She will be stationed in Accra for six months, working as a media rights educational officer at the African University College of Communications where she will be producing a human rights workshop curriculum, and collaborating with AUCC students, staff and local journalists in a variety of ways to promote human rights awareness on campus and in the community.

4 thoughts on “Alive, Alert and Aware

  1. Andrea

    Awesome post. I think you clearly summed up a lot of our experiences in our respective placement countries, in addition to pointing out what we take for granted. I definitely agree with your statement- Alive, alert and aware.

  2. Doreen

    Hey Antoinette – The minimum wage is 3.11 GHS a DAY, not per hour. 3.11 GHS would actually be pretty decent as minimum wage.

  3. Antoinette

    Doreen, thanks for pointing that out. You’re absolutely right about the daily wage being 3.11. Wishful thinking on my part at the keyboard.

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