01 December 2011

Don't Fence Me In: Traditions Kept, Bent and Broken

Part One: Traditions Kept

Note: This will probably be my only Incredibly Pro-American Post, but it follows in the tone of how we created Thanksgiving for our guests.  So deal.

I’m on a trotro out of Lawra, heading down the Jirapa road toward Wa. The road is rough, but it definitely could be worse; the plastic windows are open as far as they'll go, which is about halfway. Ghana’s Upper West region is rushing by, abstracted by that infamous gritty red haze. I’ve been watching a layer of that same grit gather on the vinyl of the seat back in front of me, because that's the price you pay for the circulation of air. Figure out for yourself what that means for my clothes and hair and lungs. However, for the moment, I’m thinking more about the last week I've spent here. I cohosted an American holiday – Thanksgiving– with Abbie, another American volunteer, at her home. All for a bunch of Brits, a couple of Dutch, and a Canadian. I'm not sure, but I think we’ve been planning since March. Many, many laborious hours have been spent in coordinating this event. We've learned a lot, and as volunteers, we're all about CAPACITY-BUILDING and the SHARING OF SKILLS.  So let’s review the recently compiled 15 Steps to a Successful American Thanksgiving in Ghana:

1. Turkey selection and purchase (by someone qualified, in this case, Enoch).

2. Turkey naming (Slutty MW, full name not to be disclosed - this is careful work, not to be rushed. Name turkey something meaningful, yet not something you might have difficulty murdering).

3. Ongoing feeding of Turkey (Enoch!).

4. Menu decisions.

5. Guest decisions.

6.  Request Thanksgiving-related items from family/friends.* This may include: Honeymaid graham crackers, Hershey's chocolate, marshmallows (oh, you don't recall s'mores as part of the Thanksgiving holiday tradition? it's new.), stuffing, cornbread and biscuits (American biscuits, not British biscuits, there is a clear distinction).

7. Guest revisions, based on food availability.

8. Request immediate emergency back-up box of Thanksgiving-related items be sent by family/friends.(*) As in, that box filled with stuffing and cornbread hasn't arrived yet, and it's been 6 weeks. Can another set of parents send an identical box?

9. Decisions as to how to spend guests’ money on menu items. (Very important)

10. Selection and download of (American) football game (please don’t call it a ‘match’, it’s a GAME; 'match' implies politeness, like 'tennis match' - football isn't polite.).

11. Procurement of projector for watching football game (I'm assuming you have learned your lesson on country origin of game and its distinction from  a 'match') and surface for projecting game onto. The nice white reverse surface of a world map taped to a door frame with blue electrical tape is acceptable.

12. Last minute call for forgotten items from nearby swank cosmopolitan hubs, like Wa (please don't ignore sarcasm).  Forgotten items may include: canned corn (not available in stores but in a volunteer's possession who is willing to part with 2 cans, for small fee) and extra baking dishes (not available at all).

13. Preparation of Thanksgiving-related oratories/songs (i.e. Pledge of Allegiance, America the Beautiful) and Thanksgiving crafts.

14. Last visit to Turkey, and Pre-Day of Slaughter Picture-Taking.

15. Get ready to have some fun! (too much?)

*So ok, in reality, Thanksgiving was actually only made possible through the support of our generous (American) family and friends, either sending or bringing packages filled with food and construction paper and marshmallows (we’ll get to that). And we are EXTREMELY grateful.  

So here's the breakdown. 

Upon our Monday arrival in Lawra, Abbie took me immediately  (Step 14) to where Slutty has (oh! had...) been fattening up to his full beautiful 20 pound self  over the last 7 months – the home of Enoch, our Turkey Daddy.  We didn't care that the light was fading, or that Abbie had never driven her moto in the dark, or that she had almost no experience driving with a passenger. Sometimes you just have to look at what's really important, and count to three.

both Slutty and I looking a little ... wild

Tuesday, we did nothing. I recovered from my many injuries sustained thus far on the journey (tripping over a cement block at 4 a.m. in the Tamale bus station, scraping up left leg and foot and hand, in front of a lot of people; followed almost immediately by falling in the mud at the beginning of the Safari Walk at Mole National Park the next morning, which actually didn't hurt but was also in front of a lot of people; and finally, the 2nd degree burn on my right leg from the exhaust pipe of a moto 2 hours after falling in the mud, while leaving Mole National Park).

Not so bad, but for comfort food, I'm sticking
with (American) Kraft Mac N Cheese.
But Wednesday was a big day. As a matter of fact, it was officially Day One.

We let the Brits do One Non-American Thing, which was beans on toast with egg, tomato on the side.  

Abbie and I did some Pre-T-day baking. 
How Domestic!!

And shortly before 3 p.m., we made our way to Enoch's house.  So I could explain the murder, but I think perhaps photos say it best.
the Last Walk of Slutty

A & K learn to slit a turkey's throat
with a water bottle as a visual aid
The Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Chase
(Enoch thought we were crazy.
he sprinkled a little food on the ground, and slutty came right over.
imagine that.)
Releasing Slutty for the Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Chase.
What - don't you do that at home?
Turkey Mamas and Aunties
Moment of truth, and thus death. Except we don't do it right.
So a moment later Enoch will step in.

Enoch looks on...worriedly

nothing to say here.

A quick note here.  Right off, Abbie and I had developed a points system for all Non-Americans.  Points would be accumulated based on general enthusiasm for all activities; demonstrated knowledge of enjoyment of T-day, including foods involved; "natural" use of american slang and/or swears; and doing things that Abbie and Kelly approve of.

Given that, try to identify the guests who received (or lost!) points based on above criteria:

waiting Brit #3: Adele
waiting Brit #1: Georg

waiting Brit #2: Hannah -
but she is keeping amused.

T-day kick-off continued, and shall otherwise be known as S'mores Day (all products imported). The Brits received very careful instructions on  S'mores-related topics (Stick Selection, Proper Graham Cracker Breakage, Marshmallow Placement, Toasted vs Burned Marshmallow, Teamwork for S'mores Success and Eating Your S'more), but (I have to say) they were quick learners. God this was a complicated holiday.

Obviously, we started with the Pledge of Allegiance

Essential S'mores ingredients.

Teamwork for S'mores Success!

Eating Your S'mores

Thanksgiving... also, Day Two.

Obviously, more baking was done.  Enoch put Slutty in the oven at noon.  And we undertook the time-honored elementary school (yes, same as primary school) tradition of making the Thanksgiving Turkey Hand.  It took alot of explaining, but the Brits finally caught onto what we were trying to accomplish. Go ahead, play the "who won points" game with yourself.  It's easy. 

We each did two - one for what we're thankful for here in Ghana, and the other was what we're thankful for back in our home countries. Some examples:
"I am thankful for..."
Ghana - flushing toilets; Koala (posh supermarket in Accra); sunlight dish soap (which cleans dishes and turkeys, we've learned); mangoes; Raid
US/UK - reliable public transport, fresh cold milk, cheese, family and friends, proper mattresses

So the baking was finished...

Slutty arrived...

...and was sliced up, in a manner of speaking, since it's really difficult to 'carve' when you don't have any sharp knives.

the Plate.
Then we ate RIDICULOUS amounts of food and listened to only American music.  Points were gained by Brits who compiled American musicians into a Thanksgiving Dinner Playlist.  Points were lost because some Brits tried to eat their biscuits with a fork and knife, and worse, their cornbread muffins with a fork and knife. Points were also lost for those who didn't like pumpkin pie.  Points were regained by going back for seconds, and then for thirds, post-football game.

And finally, we watched the football game - Bears vs Eagles - original play from sometime in early November. And - i have to say - points to Georg for actually getting into the game, unlike other people (Adele) who just fell asleep but pretended to be watching.

And Day Three.

Day Three brought one Central Region volunteer and a bunch of UW volunteers into Lawra on their motos, bringing their own contributions, just like the Pilgrims.  That's right, it was a little potluck dinner - although 'potluck' is evidently an American term, and thus had to be explained. 

They went through the Turkey Hand activity beautifully. Adrienne even raised her hand to ask a question without being told to do so!

The Pledge was said again, this time with proper group participation.
Adele was treated to a 'cake' made up of leftover mashed potatoes, yams and stuffing with birthday candles. 
Then we called her inside and a very select group ate it.  That includes Georg, she's taking the picture. I don't want her to feel left out by not mentioning her.

Finally, the award ceremony for First Place winner of Most Points, and Runner-up! 

Congratulations went to Adrienne, our First Place winner, who received the pumpkin centerpiece and an autographed picture of Abbie and Kelly, with the charge to recreate an American Thanksgiving next year - thus beginning a new Ghana tradition! And congrats also to runner-up, Bob, who received an autographed picture.  Adrienne was selected for her Outstanding Participation in the Turkey Thanksgiving Hand activity (particularly for raising her hand), the fact that she enjoyed and asked for extra pumpkin pie, enjoyed and asked for more s'mores, wanted to learn the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, and built and kept the bonfire; plus she is generally cool.  Bob won because he sang a song during his Turkey Hand presentation, asked for seconds at dinner, brought Bailey's and sang again at the bonfire. 

But really, to the original Brits - major Points.  We couldn't have done it without you. Well, we probably could have, but it wouldn't have been as fun.
So recently, someone asked me: why do you bother to keep this tradition? Pretty simple, really. It's a way of reconnecting with the familiar.  Abbie and I truly did start planning this back in March or April - because we wanted, or perhaps needed, a little something from home.  Traditions are certainly comforting, be they found in food or elementary school crafts; but the irony is how much our traditions actually change over the years.   As a child, I remember going to my aunt and uncle's house, playing with my cousins and the dogs in the backyard, relatives everywhere, food a distant thought.  Well, the pie was important.  When my parents got divorced, all the holidays shifted left and right and sideways, but eventually settled into new patterns that accommodated a new community of individuals.  Then I grew up a little more, to that age when you prepare a Thanksgiving dinner on your own for the first time; traditions shifted again.  We make it what we want, don't we?  We define where and what and how as we choose, and with whom we choose to share it.  Some things from the past we are willing to let go of, like a physical location, or even a set list of people.  Some things we aren't.  Like pie, that's still really important.  Oh, and maybe giving thanks. 
Now some people try to recreate past holidays, whether by using their grandmother's china, or carving the turkey how their father taught them, or by making their great aunt's stuffing.  So we provide ourselves with a sense of continuity, and the reassurance that previous generations are not being lost.  Does that mean that we won't be lost, either? Will my niece bake my mother's pumpkin pie, and use her great-grandmother's china on her table?  Will that even be important to her? 

I don't know what my niece's traditions will be.  What's important for her to find in them, however, is the same thing that's important for all of us to find: a community of loved ones and the closeness that follows, the sense of continuity found in chosen rituals, and maybe the comfort of really good pie. Because in all of this, in all of our traditions kept, is the renewal of shared experiences and expressions of love.
Boil it all down, down to the very basics: What's the REAL American Thanksgiving recipe?  Ok, Brits, here it is, copy and paste if you need to. 
1. Food (negotiable),
2. Friends and/or family (not negotiable),
3. Fun (inevitable), and
4. Actually doing the whole "giving thanks" bit (indisputable). 

And seriously, you can't eat cornbread with a fork and knife.  Stop it right now.

Hannah, Georgina, Kelly, Abbie, Adele

04 November 2011

The Danger of a Single Story, or How a Monday Can Make You Cry

Daily Times Headline: President Mills Calls Cameron’s Bluff: No Way for Gays
This morning, the radio program that Godwin and I listen to (well, that Godwin listens to, it’s in Twi, I listen for the odd phrase in English and random Twi words that I can understand) found a particularly hot topic.  That’s right, homosexuality in Ghana.  Which is very, very illegal.  As you may have heard, David Cameron threatened to withdraw UK aid to Ghana if it does not take action to decriminalize homosexuality.  Mills, just in time to bolster his political career, told the British Prime Minister to piss off.  Well, in nicer language.   
So at 8:50 a.m. (Godwin was a little late, he said he wanted to give me time to drink my coffee, “like a good husband”), I climb over a red muddied tire into the van.  Godwin had clearly been listening transfixed; shaking his head disbelievingly to “This story…this story…”  I’m as yet unaware of the day’s headlines, so I invite political turmoil into the van by asking Godwin to translate.  What Godwin translates is the same ugly horror story I’ve heard on countless occasions.  Full length title: The Story of the Homosexual Deviant Who Sexually Abused the Innocent Heterosexual Male.  

Now it’s my turn to shake my head, although it’s my insides that are really starting to wobble.  This doesn’t get easier, no matter how long I’m here.  This stays as painful, as raw.  I walk around with this covered up, most of the time, but every now and then the plaster gets ripped off.  And there it is, still, unhealed.

Godwin and I have enough of a relationship that we can talk about the difference between the U.S. (well, my U.S.) and Ghanaian perspectives on what being gay means.  But I tread lightly, and change the subject to some amusing tro-tro lettering (“Humble Lion” – it really wasn’t that amusing, I just needed a distraction) when it’s time.  I can make my point from a scientific perspective.  I can tell other stories, about loving relationships, and marriage, and families, and people who just live their lives as part of society – working, voting, shopping at the supermarket – not hiding, and certainly not abusing anyone.   I can remind him of all the newspaper articles about sexual abuse committed by pastors that I've read aloud to him as he's driven, the conversations we've had in this very van.  But right now, it doesn’t matter.  “It’s madness,” Godwin says.  And to both of us, that’s certainly true. 
Edward T. Hall's cultural iceberg. behavior on top,
beliefs and core values underneath.
Where is our common ground? How do we find our shared values in this? VSO, I’m afraid there is no penguin that can leap between our resident cultural icebergs and form a bridge between us.  Agree to disagree, and not to discuss it? But that isn’t always realistic.  Not today, when the first question I received when I walked through the office door was, “So Kelly, there was a matter that came up today…about the UK…what is your reaction to it?”  

Kelly: Well, colleague, I’m feeling a little sad today.
Colleague: Why? Because of what David Cameron did?
Kelly: Colleague, you know we feel very differently about this issue.  I believe that the law against homosexuality is wrong.
Colleague: [scoffs a bit] But what do you think about what David Cameron did? Do you think it’s fair that he should withdraw aid to Ghana?
Kelly: I think that it would be very hard for Ghana to change its mind on this issue right away.  Oh, my friend is skyping me.  Do you mind if I get that? (Thank god for Humble Lion – and by the way, Humble Lion is either a Jamaican football team or a reggae musician, I looked it up.)  

Chimamanda Adichie is a wonderful Nigerian author who I was introduced to as part of my VSO volunteer training.  In a talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story,” she says this about the interplay between judgment, stereotyping and power:
“…That is how to create a single story. Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

Adichie told her own story – growing up in Nigeria, reading children’s books about snow and ginger beer written by English authors; her house boy, about whom she knew so little, except that his family was poor; the university student who was shocked that her African roommate knew how to operate a stove; the vacation to Mexico, and subsequent revelation that not all its people are clawing at the U.S. border – but are working and living their lives.   Adichie’s story allows us to understand her flaws, and gives us permission to reveal our own – if we are only willing to tell.  But we have to tell; because we must come to the realization that when we have limited knowledge of the “other,” we are doomed to create stereotypes, make assumptions, cast judgment, and come to inevitably false conclusions.  As Adichie, countless sociologists, and other intelligent people will tell you, stereotypes aren’t always wrong*, but they are never the whole story.  Or the only story.

*Although some are wrong, 99% of the time.

I cannot and will not do Ghana the injustice of telling a single story now.   In the process of looking for other stories, about how Ghanaians feel about homosexuality, and about the experience of being gay in Ghana, this is some of what I found:
  • A woman emailed in the following comment to a television broadcast discussing Mills’ actions:
“I don’t see what’s wrong with being gay.  I’m a Christian, and I don’t have a problem with it.  It’s just two people in love.” 
Her comment did get torn apart, of course.  But first it got read aloud, on air.  
  • And here’s another story, this one from GhanaWeb, a comment by G.K. Berko regarding an article on Ghana surviving the withdrawal of UK aid:
“In fulfilling our obligations to the International Human Rights expectations, we should enter into a serious dialogue with the appropriate entities to explain that our Society still, even in the 21st Century, has not adequately evolved to comfortably accommodate certain values in the West like on Homosexuality… But we will eventually get there.  The West must, therefore, refrain from imposing their Sexual values on us with that kind of directives as PM Cameron gave. The West did not transform overnight to accept the same Rights, either…it would be unfair for the British PM and any other entity in the West to order us to adopt immediately what took them Centuries to accept...”
  • And, also courtesy of GhanaWeb,  "Lady Professor Drops Gay Bombshell"
…Prof Akosua Adomako Ampofo turning her attention to the issue of gays which could prompt another bout of public discourse on the subject…She said “although we may see homosexuality as evil there is no universal moral obligation to prevent all evil by any and all means that we may consider necessary.”  Condemnation of homosexuals, she noted, will not transform a homosexual into a heterosexual, adding “if we feel strongly about an issue and seek to persuade people we should pray for them, but we cannot force people to follow any particular moral code...She said there is ample evidence to show that homosexuality like other practices or sins, is not uncommon in Africa historically...As a religious person she expressed amazement at what for her is the passion and fear homosexuality has generated, adding, 'We are surrounded by crimes and sins daily that receive no comment, let alone a demonstration.'"
  • "Homosexuals are as normal as 'you' and 'me'", a posting on gayghana.org.

"Ghana's Human Rights Protects every citizen no matter his or her colour,gender,race or political view except his or her sexuality, this means that GLBT people in Ghana are second class citizens? have we forgotten our Motto:? FREEDOM AND JUSTICE?
Why should GLBT people in Ghana be beaten,harassed and jailed simply because of their sexual orientation? ...i want to confirm that homosexuals are as normal as ‘you’ and ‘me'. just because they love ‘their own kind’, they are ostracised and hounded by the law. And branded as "kwadwo basia, batty boy, and even the most violence word like "trumutu" meaning a** f**ker. ‘‘Homosexuals are normal humans attracted to their own gender". Relationships are defined by comfort levels and not societal sanctions..."

As Adichie stated,“The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” So how will we recognize each other? Between gay and straight, Ghana and the Global North, how will those without power, without voice, add their own stories to what has already been written – and then be heard? The foundation of human rights is the need to preserve human dignity. Perhaps it's the need to proclaim human dignity as well.  
The Talk Party Series: Gay in Ghana http://youtu.be/8EmvW2juke8
So go proclaim.

27 October 2011

Eating the Elephant

Last year August, a fellow blogger published a post entitled, “ACCRA WILL FLOOD AGAIN NEXT YEAR!” Well, it’s next year, and it’s flooding.  Pictures on the front page of the nation’s newpapers are congested with images of flood victims: houses and cars submerged, a man clinging to a floating tree, the young woman killed by a collapsing wall while she slept. In fact, flooding has been making headlines across the globe.   We’ve looked at the pictures and we’ve watched the clips, shaking our heads as parts of Southeast Asia, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Dominica have been swept away by rivers and rising tides of muddy water.  And that's just October.

What does the World Meteorological Association say?  Floods result from a combination of meteorological and hydrological extremes, but are additionally influenced by human factors.   There are land-use changes (like urbanization and deforestation).  Occupation of the flood plain.  Inefficiency or non-maintenance of infrastructure, and inefficient drainage.  From global climate change to the urban microclimate, precipitation events are enforced by people.  And then there is Accra, just like Dhaka and Ibadan.  A heavily populated city with an inadequate waste management system that is reliant on open concrete drainage channels – which become clogged and overflow with rubbish during flooding.  Shall I break it down for you some more?  People throw rubbish in channels because there is nowhere else to throw it.  People use channels as toilets, because in many areas there is no public sanitation.  Add in the weather this week, and it's just disastrous.  In case you're starting to wonder, this isn't a preview to the end of days.  This is what comes from too much rain and too little infrastructure.  And here comes the cholera.
So did I mention rivers of muddy water before? Let’s amend that. 
Muddy water and rubbish.

With Accra's floods this week, there have been no formal reports of casualties by government agencies - although Ghanaians are reporting slightly higher numbers to local radio stations and newspapers. One person was reportedly electrocuted when he attempted to rescue his refrigerator from flood waters (Government officials do acknowledge that electrocution is a serious concern). A resident of a low-lying area, Adabraka, a “physically challenged” man, also is reported dead.  Kwame Nkrumah circle, the major roundabout in Accra, is underwater. Cars are overturned. And again, last night, it started raining. It didn’t stop until early this morning.

How to fix this situation?  Civil engineers, environmentalists and researchers in Ghana are happy to offer solutions, from the mundane to the innovative.  Mandatory rain gutters on houses and other structures.  Underground piping.  A reliable waste disposal system and a recycling programme.  And, of course, a ban on even thinking about building any more open drainage channels.  I’m going to borrow this African proverb, as cited by E.B. Danquah:“The best way to eat the elephant standing in your path is to cut it up into little pieces."  Right now, in the midst of severe flooding, it’s the elephant in the path - or the road - that we see first.  It's enormous.  The sentiments being passed around the people's table are of anger and frustration and fear.  If you're sitting at the big boy's table, perhaps on that committee that was supposed to have solved Ghana's infrastructure issues, you're probably busy trying to point to another elephant into the room.  It's all about distraction and deflection.      
flooded road in Accra
Recent presidents have promised to solve the flooding problem, including Mills.  So far, no one has seen much in the way of follow-through.  Well, I am thrilled to report that the Accra Metropolitan Assembly announced 23 hours ago that it would be “solving the drainage problem.”  Indeed, “the AMA says it will require 500 million dollars to fix the drainage problem in the metropolis…President Mills promised to support the AMA to raise the necessary resources to fix the drainage situation in Accra. He shared in the plight of those who have lost their property to the floods…"  Then my favorite part: "President Mills said the situation where a few people disregard the law with impunity and build on water ways must stop.”  Pointing at another elephant, I guess.  Shall we say hallelujah for a crisis firmly in hand?  Just like Obama, Mills is now under the umbrella of Election Countdown.  The Days of Political Pressure and Propoganda have come (if they were ever really gone).  Talk about end of days.  We’ll see if he survives the weather. 

I wonder if I should have used my backup title for this posting, though..."Accra Will Flood Again Next Year!"

21 October 2011

Most Troublesome Network, EVER.

MTN, Africa’s biggest telecommunications provider, is the alpha dog of three major companies here in Ghana – the other two, Vodafone and Airtel, follow anxiously at its heels.  (Expresso is in fourth place, but no one is really paying attention.)  A few months ago, these three had a sit-down and decided to simultaneously double their rates.  In Ghana, credits for calls and internet are prepaid, in amounts between 1 and 20 GHC.  Billing isn't an option when no one has a residential address, or a credit rating. So when the price hike came, it seemed like the ground was suddenly littered with little scratch cards.  We were going through them like water. Us poor customers never stood a chance.  Where are those anti-trust laws when you need them?  

So I, along with almost everybody else, have MTN, because MTN covers most of Ghana.  Ok, let me amend that statement: MTN covers most of Ghana, but only some of the time.  MTN’s real name is Most Troublesome Network, according to every Ghanaian who bothers with it. And oh god, the Troubles.  When I first arrived, everything went smoothly.  You and I talked, and texted, and Skyped.  The phone signal was great, except for in the Volta Region – but hey, I don’t live there. No big deal.  My USB modem was always fast.  Well, fast is relative, so maybe not 3G, maybe 2.5. Maybe 2.  So reasonably fast. 

And then about a month and a half ago, MTN, in its true, basest state, bared itself to me.  Suddenly, my phone signal was ghostly.  The "As low as 1.5 pesewas/minute" was revealed to be on Sundays, from 9-11 a.m. ONLY.  And we were all hemmoraging texts.  I'd receive identical texts, maybe 19 in a row, from a friend.  (It's amazing how quickly text message alerts can become grating.)  Another friend was likewise receiving mine. 19 in a row.  Was someone having a laugh? Was this a conspiracy? And was I getting charged? Absolutely. Then, charmingly, my cute little modem became worthless.  Just a piece of plastic, meaninglessly monopolizing a USB port.  You and I would try to Skype; all we would see of each other was one frozen, pixelated moment before being cruelly disconnected. 
Finally it was time to make a complaint.  If MTN wanted to keep my business, my 40 GHC/month business, they would have to woo and wow me.  However, MTN likes to be tricky with its customers; call customer service and find how often they are “unavailable at this time,” and how often there is simply no answer at all.  Now, imagine my delight to find my ringing rewarded.  And that my conversation will be monitored for quality assurance purposes. Excellent! My representative and I would reach for the highest climbs of customer service together.  Team effort.  And I would reap the rewards.  Then there's that wonderful click, with the sounds of a live human. It has begun.  Our conversation plays out something like this:

Kofie:    Good evening, thank you for calling MTN.  My name is Kofie.  How may I assist you? [His tone is polite, soothing and responsive all at once.  The wooing has begun.]
Kelly:     Hi, good evening.  How are you?
Kofie:    I’m well. How are you?
Kelly:     Great, thanks. Please, let me tell you why I’m calling.  Yesterday at 11 a.m., I called and spoke with a customer service representative about [insert issue]. She said I would get a call within 24 hours. It’s now been 30 [vaguely irritated but controlled by politeness]. So I’m still waiting.  What can you do for me?  
Kofie:    I am so sorry that you have had this experience [convincingly apologetic]. Where are you calling from?
Kelly:     Cape Coast.
Kofie:    Where do you stay in Cape Coast?
Kelly:     Fourth Ridge.
Kofie:    And what is your address?*

*I am instantly suspicious. This man cannot POSSIBLY be from Ghana, if he’s asking for an address. Therefore his name is not Kofie. Our conversation is a lie.  I am saddened.

Kelly:     I don’t have one. I live on Fourth Ridge. In the first block of houses.  After you go up the little hill and before you go up the big hill. By the girl’s school.
Kofie:    Oh, yes. I see.  It looks as if there is some problem with connectivity in that particular area.*

*Suspicions deepening.

Kelly:     Ok, well I also work at the University of Cape Coast.
Kofie:    Let me investigate. [pause] Yes, it looks like there is some disruption in that area as well.  How long has this been a problem?
Kelly:     About a month.
Kofie:    [with shock and dismay] Oh wow!* Well, I will call the office in Cape Coast.  They are probably not aware of the problem.
[Kelly’s face looks doubtful, as in, how in the world is THAT possible]

*Ok, maybe he is Ghanaian after all.

Kelly:     Great. But what will that accomplish exactly?  I used to be able to Skype with my family and friends, and now I can’t even get a signal.  Even when it reports that there is a signal, there’s no signal.
Kofie:    I [with empathy] am so sorry to hear that. That is terrible.  I [assertively] will report that right away, and [assuredly] we’ll get that fixed by morning.  I will personally see to it. 
Kelly:     [Kelly’s face: !!!?????!!!! followed by a pause] Um, wow, thanks, Kofie. 
Kofie:    Please call again if you have any other concerns. 
Kelly:     Oh I will. Thanks so so much. Bye.
Kofie:    Goodbye, and [profoundly] thank you for calling MTN.

Ok, super customer service.  Super, except for that last total and complete fabrication.  Americans are fond of complaining about huge customer service departments being outsourced to other countries, with representatives who pretend to be calling from Des Moines.  And here we have Kofie, blessedly assuring me that a major issue with connectivity could be addressed, overnight, with one phone call.  Everyone fibs, evidently, to weave an illusion of comfort, calm and satisfaction tailored to each customer. I just got delusions of grandeur thrown in.  It was flattering to think that I could be responsible for solving the MTN problem in Cape Coast, just by bringing the matter to their attention.  I did briefly consider sending out an email announcement regarding my accomplishment.  But, unfortunately, it’s been over three weeks since my talk with Kofie.  You and I still haven’t Skyped.  Well, not for longer than 3 or 4 seconds.

Maybe I'll try Expresso.