The beggars have lost all trust in us, I tell you.
Before we get into this whole matter of the many beggars busily roaming the streets of this country, and of its capital city, Accra, let’s talk first about those flags standing idly at the Flagstaff House (permit this colonially-tainted archaic name).
Recession makes a people philosophical, I tell you. One begins to notice things they hadn’t before noticed when their homes a.k.a. nations get submerged in a deep recession… Like the flags flanking the nation’s Flagstaff House for instance (again, please forgive this name, but it has ‘flag’ in it, and that serves our anecdote well) … Just look at that one, that lone majestic flag sitting atop the head of the nation’s President…I mean, of the nation’s Presidential palace… You’ve seen it, right? Good.
Now, please stop looking that far ahead and high above. Deign to bring your eyes down and closer. Right before you, a few metres away from you as you sit in a car or stand on that Liberation Road, you find a set of flags—the same red, yellow, green, and black star—this time around not hoisted high above, atop that stool of a building, but down below, on the ground, as planted to the ground as you are to that car or those feet of yours. I tell you, there is poetry in there.
It was last week Tuesday afternoon, and I had once again not yet written and submitted my article to the great folks at B&FT. Needless to say, I was feeling rightfully bad about it. Because that meant the next day, Wednesday, Attempted Prophecies was going to be a no-show. But why beat myself up? It’s been a crazy and hectic set of weeks, hasn’t it? How have you been doing by the way? I, myself, have been fine, thank you… As fine as any ‘good’ recession will allow, thank you… Where were we? Oh, on the street of Sankara…
Heading from Airport Residential to Cantonments, I had driven through the Airport Bypass Road, and had been accosted in quick succession in that traffic light, as one mostly is on that stretch, by beggars—male, female, young, and old. And I’ll tell you this, the attitude these beggars have taken on, in this economic climate is nothing short of abysmal!
I mean, look at this teenager approaching me, with nkatebowie in his mouth… It’s a hot afternoon, and he’s too tired to break the pod with his two hands; better still, with a hand in collaboration with his teeth—as us all normal Ghanaians do. He just has this pod clenched between his teeth, lazily nibbling on it, clearly not too anxious to discover those groundnuts contained within. With his head tilted to the right, his eyes barely opened, his eyes dreamy as though his left ear had ntakra within it, tickling away, he waves a lazy left hand at these lined-up static cars, most of which had their windows rolled all the way up…
Because that’s what one does when they approach the beggar zones within this country, no? One rolls their windows up, up, up. And the beggars, knowing they are the cause of this self-imposed increase in fuel consumption; these beggars knowing too well that the average Ghanaian, particularly in this fuel-imposed-harsh economic climate, would not on their own accord, even in this heat, in traffic, choose artificial A/C over natural air; these beggars knowing themselves to be the cause of this ‘A/C time’ these drivers begrudgingly choose to afford themselves, always have an antidote to this rejection showed them. What do they do? To assert their present still, they lean close to our windows, their faces and palms pressed against our windows. One wonders where they learnt this aggressive begging from.
But on this very hot Tuesday afternoon when cars on the Airport Bypass Road, waiting to exit the T-junction into Cantonments, Burma Camp, 37, etc. were rightfully left to the mercies of the nation’s beggars, this beggar boy approaching…what does he do? With eyes barely opened, mouth barely opening a pod of groundnut, he moves among us, static vehicles, from one to the next, barely gesturing for alms, absentmindedly tapping at our car windows, doubting us even as he begs. He is just going through the motions. He doubts we have anything to give.
But that is just one beggar we are talking about here. Maybe this whole thing was more about him, than it was about us, prospective givers. Maybe he was just having a bad day.
So I thought until I heard a soft tap on the window to my right—the passenger side. Finally, a beggar with an aim. She’s a little girl. Ghanaian, I assume. I didn’t really catch a glimpse of her face because she was gone even before I could turn my head. Stupid of me, I had spent a second too long looking at that slowly approaching unenthusiastic begging gentleman. She had no time to waste on bad prospects like me. All she could afford me was a lazy tap on my window. Two seconds was too long a waiting time for her; I had missed my window—literally. So, yes, she was gone even before I could turn. In my rearview mirror I watched her move on—to the next vehicle, then the next, then the next, wasting no time on each. I wasn’t the only hopeless person on this fateful Tuesday afternoon, it seemed. The beggars have really lost faith in us, I tell you. They doubt not our willingness to give, but our ability to give.
But c’mon! You and I should just take our time… Before we go about writing ourselves off; before we go about doubting our own power and status as potential givers, we should experience other beggars elsewhere. Maybe the distinguished alms-seekers of the Airport Bypass stretch were just having a bad, unmotivated day…
So I thought until I found myself on the following day, a Wednesday morning on the Independence Avenue, with the World Trade Centre to my right and the National Theatre a junction away to my left. The light was red, and a beggar/worker decided that all of us lined up in traffic on the Independence Avenue, all of our cars were dirty and needed cleaning. The weather was good; it was morning after all—balmy. Hawkers abounded on that street—typical. One particular newspaper seller got me feeling worse than the day before, because there he was carrying the Wednesday edition of B&FT, and there I was, knowing very well that I was absent. But before I could find for myself comfort in the fact that it was not my fault, and that it had been a crazy and hectic set of weeks, there, I saw approaching, this beggar-cum-worker with his impeccably clean yellow duster, hopping from car to car, strategically choosing just the four-wheel drives, supposedly wiping them clean. Naturally, the drivers of these vehicles shooed him off with a dismissive wave. And strangely, with just a wave—just one wave, my brothers and sisters—this beggar-cum-worker complied… with each and every vehicle he approached. This is strange, isn’t it? That all I have to do is mouth a tired no, and a Ghanaian beggar posing as a worker doing me the service of cleaning when in fact it is alms he’s begging for, will leave me alone. This is an insult, is it not?
It’s like these beggars… it’s almost like they are…err it’s almost like they are insulting us. It’s like they know…it’s like someone close to us all have informed them… it’s like they have figured out this secret: that these cars people have been sitting in… noorrtin dey. It’s like these beggars have almost come to accept the truth that money often times tend to allude us all. It’s like they have accepted the truth that the kpa-kpa-kpa movement is almost—almost—a nationwide movement… That we all have, from time to time—especially in this particular economic climate—been kpa-kpa-kpaing. These beggars have lost all faith in us, I tell you brothers and sisters. Because they have cracked the code; they have found out the secret, that things are not just hard for them, but for many of us too.
Look at that, I could not even buy a copy of the Business & Financial Times because I was afraid that that beggar lurking behind the newspaper seller might use my rolled-down window as an opportunity to unenthusiastically demand his share of my income. I wasn’t going to risk it—especially on a beggar who technically has lost all faith in me.
I know so far, this article has seemed to be about beggars and windows, but really, it is about wind…
Tuesday and Wednesday had been revealing, so of course I had my eyes wide open on Thursday. There I was that breezy afternoon, before the Jubilee House. Google said it was going to rain later that day; the flags flanking that building seemed to agree strongly. Most especially, the one sitting majestically atop the building. I had never taken particular notice of it before… It really is a majestic piece of instrument. Please give it a gander the next time you pass by. I mean, you should have seen it float with that Thursday afternoon breeze—majestically flapping itself about in perfect folds and rhythm. Flawless, an impeccable red, untainted yellow, unblemished green, and a shining black star—black that shines as though gold! One wonders how it stays so clean.
It’s movement, it’s almost sensual—seductive; a person could write an epic poem about it. I tell you, that flag has the same graceful motion as a cat. It flaps as well as a cat ‘catwalks.’ Oh, it made me mighty proud to be Ghanaian.
But then, you know how we humans tend to ruin things. Trust us to always find ways of ruining a perfectly good thing! Because what do I do after experiencing this wave of patriotism? I look down. Ladies and gentlemen, I look down. And that is when I saw it. Right in front of the opening gate—that gate being metres away from that stool of a building, I look down to find the lowly flags doing an awkward dance. The ones right in front of the entrance gate are quite alright—not as majestic and impeccable looking as the one atop the building. They are just…alright. (Funny thing is, as one’s eyes progress further away from the entrance gate, one finds that even among these ground flags, there is a bit of a difference—aesthetically). These ground flags are unimpressive—barely moving, barely dancing to the glorious tune of the glorious breeze, and somewhat dirty even—in varying degrees. It’s poetic, I tell you. A sad one—but poetry still.
To stand on the same premise, but be on different planes—one above; one below. To scientifically experience the same breeze, but empirically feel this wind differently—one feels a cosy breeze, the other barely a whiff. When there is supposed abundance, there are few who are strategically placed to do the ‘gobbling up’—unimpeded by law or the enforcement thereof. Those people are that flag standing majestically atop the Jubilee House, unfaced and unblemished by the dirt of tough grind and hardship—dancing majestically in their bubble of a cosy breeze.
Stationed below, metres away, you have some ground flags, standing right by the entrance gate. These flags are close enough to the gate… close enough to the gatekeepers that they experience some level of breeze and tune to which to dance to. These folks are unlike the flag stationed atop, high above the ground, but they are close enough to the ‘action’ to experience the ‘glorious’ breadcrumbs falling from the high table.
When there is scarcity (alleged and real alike) it is those flags metres away that suffer the most… Dirtied by the tough grind, no music to dance to, barely moving in the wind; barely making do with the little air left for the dancing. It’s all so poetic, I tell you. Bad poetry—but poetry still.
So far, this article seems to be about winds (and their relations to flags), when really it is about oceans. But before we move to the ocean, let’s talk about plantains.
It’s Saturday and I am too hungry and tired to prepare a meal (a.k.a. the cost of food items is too high, so I’d rather buy Kofi Brokeman). So, Kofi Brokeman it is—off from North Legon to TF Junction I go. On that Haatso-Atomic lane, there is a line-up of a fair number of roasted plantain sellers. As one is passing, one best slow down—don’t stop at the first spot you see, because the plantain may be too wrinkled and dry for your own good. What you want to do is to drive very slowly—never mind the cars behind you. Most of them are tro-tro and taxis stopping haphazardly, searching for and dropping off passengers anyway. This is Kofi Brokeman we are talking about here; you are allowed a tiny level of selfishness when it comes to situations like these.
But what do I find even after engaging in this hunger-fuelled reckless driving—itself very reminiscent of the greed endemic of our governances…? None of these plantain women at work! Not a single one! Apparently, it was too early for roasted plantain. Please ooo, since when was 9:00 am too early to begin roasting plantain?
The Kofi brokeman sellers have lost all respect for us, I tell you! They doubt not our hunger, but our sustained purchasing power.
Of course, I was angry—on top of being hungry. What better remedy is there for anger in this modern Ghana of ours than to take a trip to the petrol station? So instead of turning and heading back home, I decided to go fill my tank in preparation for the coming week. Yes, I stand by what I just said—fuel prices are good remedies for anger in this modern era, because they have the rare ability of quickly transforming anger into sadness. There is more catharsis in sadness than there is in anger—that you can be assured of.
So anticipating sadness, I drive towards the Total fuel station at Atomic. I didn’t even have enough time to judge the Palace Mall, lying to my left, as I have done in the past weeks. The mall which has chosen to talk about Christmas at this crucial point. As early as the early part of the fourth quarter of the year, this mall has had its Christmas decorations up. I must say, I respect that—it signals trust. Even though the beggars of Ghana recently seem to be doubting my ‘giving power’, at least there we have this mall trusting my ‘purchasing power’. So, the good people of Palace Mall, I say, ayekoo! Thank you for your continuous hope in us, consumers—it’s an unfounded hope, but thank you still. In fact, we are so grateful for this gesture that we might pass through one of these days. Granted, the best we will be able to give you will be window—window shopping. I hope you’ll accept this kind gesture of ours in good faith. Please don’t knock windows—they present opportunities.
I was too engrossed in those pretentious Christmas trees and lights displays that those policemen stationed to my right side of the road had to wave a little harder than usual. They had been trying to get my attention for a while, it seemed. ‘Park here’, one of them gestured with his hand. What was his problem?—or, if we be fair, my problem? It’s my insurance sticker. He tells me, “It’s fake”. Not in a million years, of course it can NOT be fake. His colleague tells me to dial *920*57#. Very sure of the validity of my sticker, I punched those numbers into my phone. And—your guess is right—my vehicle number was not in the Motor Insurance Database (MID). But no, my sticker can NEVER be fake. They tell me, “We will have to go to the station”. I tell them, “Okay, let’s do that”. They are unhappy with my compliance, so they come back much more bluntly, unified in their purpose, “So what are you going to do for us this morning?”
I agree with them that there seems to be a problem with my insurance sticker… “But I don’t have any money on me…” Just because I didn’t get Kofi Brokeman to buy did not mean I was going to give the money out to Papa Policemen. “There must be a problem with the network,” I say. So, he tells me to try dialling any of the passing tro-tros’ registration numbers into that short-code. I oblige. And it turns out the network is working perfectly fine. So is my sticker fake? Aha! Let me call my insurance broker. “Officers, give me a second, let me call my broker…” So right in front of them, I start dialling…
And that’s when these policemen realised I wasn’t serious. Calling a broker on a Saturday?! They must have thought me mad—broke and mad. How broke must a person be to go so far as to call their broker on a potentially simple matter such as this? Their eyes told me this. ‘Boss, please go.’ They feign a respectful dismissal. My brothers and sisters, it is with sadness/happiness that I tell you this: the extorting police are losing faith in us.
It turned out the people at DVLA, particularly the one in charge of writing down my vehicle number on my registration documents, had terrible handwriting and had written a ‘J’ like an ‘S’, so GJ in my broker’s mind became GS. And that is how I ended up driving around with a car registration number that read GJ and an insurance sticker that said GS—complicit, myself, in the crime, having not cross-checked. But of course, these policemen had no time to waste. The extorting segment of our nation’s police force are beginning to lose faith in our ‘bribing power’, I tell you!
Chapter 4: The Talking Down
So, we have chosen to talk down each of our respective moneys in this country, haven’t we? The beggars with their shoddy begging attitudes are talking down our money. The plantain sellers with their reduced level of dedication to selling are talking down our money. The extorting segment of our police force, they are talking down our money with their half-commitments to bribery. How can a policeman catch me on such a clear violation, and just accept the excuse that I have no money—just like that. How?! I tell you what, by accepting the fact that I was in fact broke, these policemen were talking down my money.
This whole mess about beggars and windows, flags and winds, Kofi Brokeman, and the bribe-loving policemen calls to mind the ocean. So how did this whole nationhood thing of ours take such a bad turn? We ask. Well as they say, little drops of water—since independence—make a mighty mess of an ocean… Oh, and also Covid-19 and Russia/Ukraine War—let’s not forget those two.