Life Got Hotter

It is one thing to be hot, and quite another to be hot on a night when the light is out, and then add to that a completely breezeless night, and then discovering too late that we are completely of water. Put all that together and discomfort moves it to another level. Apparently the city water has been off for some time, but since we have a reserve tank, and a gravity fed reserve tank (like our own private water tower), we didn’t know it…until it was our load shedding night, and while we were gone, one of the guards thoughtfully turned off the pump to the water tower, so now that the light is off, there is no power to pump water into the tank and into our house, and it is really hot and I could use a shower.

Our two empty water tanks

I can’t tell you how unpleasant it is to go to bed hot and sticky, without a fan, without a breeze and without water to take a cold shower before bed. Enter the rains. Its about 1am and I’m just not sleeping, I’m hot and sticky, and under this mosquito netting, it snags any hint of breeze from reaching me. Then I hear rain, and I think: Shower, so I put on my bathing suit, grab a bar of soap, head out to the balcony and feel the rain, ahhhhh, relief.

Meanwhile, I see our night guard Daniel watching, wondering what is oburnie up to now? Actually he calls me “boss” or “master” but it comes out masser. I’m scrubbing away with the soap, wanting to hum, “singing in the rain” but don’t. I figure Daniel is about my age or maybe a few years older and clearly has been working this job for a number of years. Maybe he has seen this before. He is always professional and greets me standing at attention, with a sharp salute “Good Evening masser.” It is amazing to me how connected we get to these people who guard our house. Daniel has had a hard time of it lately. About a month ago we came home he didn’t stand at attention as he greeted us. There was this distant look about him and I asked if everything was alright, and he told us “my daughter is in hospital.” He has the worried father look, and learning more details we promise to pray for them, and turn in for the night. She is one of 11 children, and a mother of two. By the next day she has been sent home, by the grace of God, but they don’t know why she was so sick. The week later he has a pronounced limp, and I ask about it. He tells me he was bathing, which he pronounces like the word is actually spelled “bath-thing”, except because the “th” is hard to say, so he uses a sort of “rf” sound in its place, so the whole word sound like he is saying barf-fing, or barfing. “I was barfing and felt small, small pain, here in my leg,” and the pain grew until he could hardly walk. But still he was out there guarding our house, and opening our gate, and closing it. Guarding has to be one of the most boring jobs in Ghana. Unemployment is high and so any job, and especially those with a uniform, are highly coveted. Here are its duties: open the gate when we arrive or leave, and close it. Chase away beggars and hawkers, introduce visitors that they allow inside, collect the newspaper, the water bill, know how the house works (ie: how to keep water pressure in the house) and record everything in a journal. It is amazing to look at this journal.

7:10 am, M. Steven leaves by car to take children to school
7:24 am, Madame leaves by foot for Ashesi.
8:00 am, examined the premises and found all secure.

This goes on 24/7 and there is a stack of books in the guard house to prove it from all the previous tenants of this house. One day, two guys followed me home from the TroTro stop shouting “Hey obrunie, we want to talk to you” or “come look at this obrunie”. I try not to panic, but it is a several block walk and I figure I have just enough time to make the distance before they catch up with me. They are about 10 ft away, when I open the gate, step inside, lock it and say: “Mr. Emmanuel, would you please deal with those two gentlemen, they followed me home.” Inside, I go upstairs, hearing a sharp exchange of words I don’t understand from the outside the compound. I am thankful, very thankful that we have guards.

[Daniel, our night guard in happier times]

Finally things got so bad with Daniel’s leg that I had a taxi take him to the hospital, but they could do nothing for him and that night he was back to work. Suzanne hooked him up with some Motrin, and he felt better for a few days, but was also sleepy. I’d go to the guard shack and see him passed out on the floor, out cold, and didn’t have the heart to wake him. I can open the gate, I think, and when I return he’d have that sleepy look wondering “How did you get out?” Another week goes by and the Motrin isn’t working as well and so he tries the hospital again and this time they treat him and he improves quickly.

We don’t know Daniel as well as our day guard Emmanuel, but still the connection is there. When we return from Anamambo, Daniel greets us and I see a look I’ve seen before and ask. “My daughter has died.” It seems a messenger was sent from her village tell him and he has just received the news. And here he is, I think, guarding our house. I didn’t know her, but still my heart goes out to him. I want to ask what he is doing here, why isn’t he with his wife, her mother, but already I know the answer, he needs the money.
“I can’t imagine what you are feeling,” I say as we talk about the arrangements. “The Lord give her to us,” he says, “and now he take her.” Ahh, so the stages of grief work the same way here, I think. “Was this the daughter that was sick about a month ago?”
“Yes, masser.” I wish he would stop calling me that, it makes me sound like a slave owner.

Her funeral will be December 8. I’ve heard that funerals are long drawn out affairs in Ghana, often taking months or even years to plan, and all week-end to execute well. I wonder if we will be invited.

It is the next evening and Emmanuel and I are about to go pay our respects. It is a tradition not unlike ours in the States, where you stop by to greet the grieving family at home, at least pastors are expected to do that. Just as we are about to leave, thinking someone else would come relieve Emmanuel, Daniel shows up. It seems the company has given him only one day to bury his daughter, and so he will use it later. Tonight he will be here opening our gate, and guarding the house. In return we will grieve with him, and hold him up in our prayers.

Grief is something that is best shared, not that it makes any of it easier, but somehow knowing that others are hurting with you makes it more manageable. And that’s what grief is, a process that you manage until it doesn’t hurt so bad. Godspeed Daniel.

Post-note: After some investigation, Emmanuel has determined that it was Daniel’s niece that died, not his daughter. The misunderstanding might have been mine, or as Emmanuel suspects, because the company had not paid him and he needed a short term loan. In any case, the loan has been returned.


One thought on “Life Got Hotter

  1. Ah, that’s lesson 101 into the extended family system in Ghana. Everyone is a brother or sister (if they are in the same age group) or mother or father (if a bit older). The story about the shwoer in the rain qot quite a chuckle here.

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