One of the first things I did when I got back was to call my friend Emmanuel, our old day guard. But his phone was out of service, as was his wife’s Vida. When we left in June, Emmanuel had been sick, and when I went to see him, he was in poor spirits, depressed because he couldn’t find work, depressed because he was sacked from our house, and the security company. He had this listless defeated spirit to him, one I had not seen in him like that before. The last thing he said to me was to send him a text from the states. I can do that, I thought.
So last week, I get a flash from a number I didn’t know. Flash is a Ghanaian thing, where you ring a friend’s cell phone, but hang up before they answer, sending the message,” call me, I’m out of units.” Usually, I don’t call back on mystery flashes, but a day earlier I ran into a friend of Emmanuel’s and asked him to get a message to him, call me, I said. The flash was Emmanuel, he had lost his phone in June, and was in town for a funeral, but would stop by sometime this week. “I’ll flash you,” he said.
On Friday an hour before the power went off (our night for the load shedding exercise), Emmanuel stops by our house. It has been raining hard for about an hour, he was soaked, but was looking great. Gone was that defeated look, he had the confidence of a successful man, assured of his future. It was great to see him standing straight, head up, proud. It seems that shortly after we left he started shoe trading business in Tackoradi, a port town in the Western Region of Ghana, where his mother’s family is from. A few years ago he and Vida had moved from Tackoradi, to Accra to find work, and a better educational system for their girls. Now he was back, but his family stayed in La.
His business is to sell shoes, fancy shoes from both men and women. He buys them wholesale in Accra, new shoes made in China, from Dubai, or the states, and takes them by TroTro to Tackoradi, and then goes around to the various markets in the area. No kidding, the first thing I noticed about him was his shoes, they are the long, pointy type of dress shoes that Ghanaian men wear.
It is for me interesting to see how our relationship is changing. He sat at our table as equals, something he would have never done as our guard. I offered him a drink, to stay for dinner, but all were declined. When Suzanne came in, from another one of her long days at Ashesi, he was excited to see her, and said, “You are looking FAT!” but he said it the way someone one who say, “You look GREAT!” I say, “Emmanuel, that is the worst thing you could ever say to an American Woman.” We know what he means, and we laugh and go off into the whole cultural thing understand of the situation. I imagine the Ghanaian woman saying, “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” and the correct answer being, “YES?!”
[Suzanne grading papers on a light-out night. Like the cool headlamp?]
He says that in Ghana, when you tell someone they are looking thin, or even trim, it carries with it the implication that they look sickly, that’s why they have lost weight. But saying someone looks fat, means that they look healthy, and are eating well. Its not that people are actually fat, its just an expression. As he is leaving, I ask for him to take my blessing to his girls and Vida, and say, “May she always be fat,” and he says, “no, no, no!” Oh so its OK to call my wife fat, but not wish it upon yours?
It is great to see him again, and as Suzanne says, important for him for us to see that he is doing well. I asked him about how it was, the transition. Months before he was finally sacked (read about it here), Emmanuel had been moving in that direction, lacking only the courage to actually leave. Now that he is back, we both know it has been for the best.
Its always weird to return to a place where you once worked, to negotiate the relationship changes in the absence of formal set of rules between employee and employer. For us, the line between friend and boss was always blurred. He would take me on adventures, I’d teach him to drive, and together we learned so much about the other’s customs and traditions.
I told Emmanuel about his replacement, who ironically had been sacked from our house earlier that same day. Seems that on Thursday, John had somewhere else to go, and so left his post, all day. I don’t mind the guards leaving to go buy food, or run a quick errand, but on that particular morning, Suzanne and I were heading to the kids school for meeting, and I to a pastor’s conference that was starting up, leaving no one to watch the house.
Understand that we are watched constantly. Everything that we do is monitored. For example last week I was buying units for my cell phone from the Grumpy Bottle Lady (Titles are big here, and this lady earned hers, by “worrying me toooo much” about my bottles, but that is another story). So I’m buying a 17.40 cedi card and paying 18 for it and the Grumpy Bottle Lady lays into me for our week-end guard, Stephen, how his sister has not paid her back. I’m about ready to call her the Grumpy Units Lady, and wasn’t aware that she even knew where we lived since her market stand is a block and a half from our house, and everything is behind the compound walls. But here she knowing where I live, and who guards out house, its not the first time it has happened.
So you can bet that if all leave the house, and the guard isn’t there, someone is going to notice, so I stay behind. After three hours, I call the company and complain about John, and two hours later, along with a few more calls, a new guard arrives, and his supervisor. I explain it might be better if they assigned a new guard since John isn’t the sort of guard you want guarding your house, and the likelihood of him changing is small. He likes to sleep all day, and when he’s working night, so soundly that you have to yell in his ear and shake him just to get him to open the gate. Doesn’t inspire confidence. So John shows up on Friday morning saying apologizing for yesterday, and then asks leave again. After 20 minutes I learn he is going to a place that will take him all day to get to and return, and I wonder if I should ask for his uniform, and guard my own house. He wants me to let him go, which I will not do.
When Eric and I leave to run errands, he is gone, and so this time I stop by the security office and leave a friendly message, “they are worrying me too much,” that if they continue, I’ll sack the company from my house. I feel bad for John, unemployment is high here, and good jobs hard to keep. I’ve explained my expectations to John several times, but he doesn’t change. I know being a guard is the most boring job in the world, sitting all day waiting to open the gate, receive a bill, collect the paper, keep bad guys from breaking in. I know of other obrunies that have had trouble firing their employees, stories of people begging, laying prostrate before them, holding on to their legs weeping, crying, visits from the chief, and getting the whole community involved. I wonder what impact it will have on the other guards, both at my house and the neighborhood. I take each one aside and explain the reasons, and they are OK with I guess.
[Daniel, with the UT cap I gave him – which blogger won’t upload]
I learn that they didn’t really like Emmanuel, and most likely were the ones who were reporting him to the office for various imagined or otherwise offences. “He is the one you loved,” Eric says, telling me what the other guards have told him, and it sounding a bit like scripture. They were jealous. Emmanuel wishes they could see him now, but the only employees of his former company he sees are new, so he does not have the chance to tell them he forgives them for the things they did. He already has, but he wants them to know he has, it is important to him.
Which makes me wonder, can you forgive someone without ever telling them you have? Is that an integral part of the process, or is forgiveness enough? I know personally, I’ve forgiven a lot of people, but sometimes the transaction seems incomplete unless I have received the receipt.