I had a crisis this week. I awoke the other morning to my laptop spontaneously beeping. I was a little surprised because it woke me from a fairly sound sleep but I have been having problems with it since I got to Ghana so I was not entirely taken aback. Sure enough, I opened my computer and the beep of death continued to blare. I used all the tricks that I had looked up online the last time this happened but to no avail. I was feeling a bit panicky and after I consulted two different Apple repair establishments I found out the problem—my motherboard is in need of replacement (if that is not an analogy for life as my 50th birthday looms large I do not know what is). For anyone who is a college student you know how important it is to have access to a computer. Not knowing how difficult it would be for me to replace my laptop I felt I was having a computer crisis. As I type this however I note that the word crisis sounds so dire and urgent. This and a conversation I had with an Uber driver the other day, has gotten me thinking about the language we use and how we use it.
It is not at all uncommon in the US to ask someone how their day went and to hear them respond using words like ‘worst day ever’ or ‘horrible’. Or to ask, “How did the meeting go today?” to hear the response “It was a catastrophe!” if things did not go as planned. Worst day ever, horrible, catastrophe and yes, crisis are potent phrases and words when you think about it.
Not long before I came to Ghana the director of the CSU International Program spoke to the students who were headed the University of Ghana. We were warned to watch our language. He was not referring to profanity though. When hungry, you do not say that you are ‘starving to death’ because most likely there are people very near you who are actually starving. We were told that as students it would automatically be assumed that we are rich so to be mindful of how we interact in the community. But that was Africa in the abstract and so it did not really register with me…..entirely.
The reality versus the abstract that continually hits me in the face here in Ghana happened again when I took charge of my ‘crisis’ by getting a new laptop. I simply used my Uber App (on my iPhone) and got a ride to the mall (GHS 11)—this means 11 Cedis. I walked into the mall and bought my new laptop, and I hailed an Uber back to the university (GHS 12). It was on my Uber ride back that I was quickly reminded of the privilege that I had been so thoughtlessly taking for granted.
I sat in the front seat with the driver. I always ask their names and we end up chatting. Honestly riding and chatting with the Uber drivers has been one of my favorite parts of coming to Ghana. I have the most interesting conversations and am continually reminded of how kind most Ghanaians are. Anyway, as I sat in the front seat visiting with Christopher we started to talk about where he learned his English. He had only attended school through middle school he told me, which is where he learned to speak his limited English. His native language was Fante and he was from Cape Coast. We spoke of education and that led to talking about employment. I told him that I was in awe of how hard most Ghanaians work to make due here as unemployment is quite high. In the end, he told me that he works from very early in the morning until after midnight each day. And that he only earns GHS 20 per day. Just so you understand the gravity of this, he works for the equivalent of $4.55 PER DAY. On this meager amount of money, he supports his wife, his three year old daughter (who is full of questions, questions, questions) and his 4 month old twin boys……..I sat with my brand new laptop in my lap and honestly felt shame for the extravagance that was just sitting there in front of us both like the elephant in the room. The price of my laptop would feed his family for months.
My ‘crisis’ was not a crisis at all. It was an inconvenience and nothing more. If there is anything that I will take from my experience in Ghana (at least thus far) it will be to have perspective on what it is in life that we have and to be grateful each day. I will remember to not dramatize what is only inconvenient. I think I needed this Ghana paradigm shift. I have heard others who have been here say that coming here has changed them forever. I know that if I left here today that would be true for me. Does that mean I have been successful in replacing my personal ‘motherboard’? I hope so.