Title: The Imported Ghanaian
Author: Alba Kunadu Sumprim
Illustrator: Alba Kunadu Sumprim
Illustrator: Alba Kunadu Sumprim
Year of First Publication: 2006
This book was supposed to be reviewed within the Ghana Literature Week hosted by Kinna. However, I had to defer it.
Alba Kunadu Sumprin's book is a difficult book that provides an unapologetic and scathing look at some supposed Ghanaian eccentricities and foibles. How much the issues discussed are a general Ghanaian problem and how prevalent they are to merit such generalisation is what need to be discussed not whether they occur or not. However, there are certain things that must be cleared before I discuss this book:
- If you are a man be careful when reading this. According to the author, almost all the things she discussed are caused by men. Even when she was discussing the problems of women, she found ways of making their problems male.
- The author placed herself on some high pedestal of morality, civility and knowledge and Ghanaians in a box of 'badly nurtured, ignorant, undisciplined zombies' who have not yet come out of the eolithic age.
- The author makes everything she saw, read or was told look inferior to the mannerisms she has acquired in UK, where she was born and raised.
Thus, as a Ghanaian male forgive me if I tend to be defensive instead of discussing this book. This book is the antitheses of both of Kofi Akpabli's books.
To begin with, it would be deceitful to say that none of what has been discussed by the author is alien to Ghana. It is not. In fact they do occur and I have personally witnessed or being a victim of some of them. However, where I disagree with the author - the author herself states that she doesn't expect the reader to agree or believe everything she has written - is her penchant to generalise.
The book opens with a list of 20 Things You Need to Know and each begins with 'Ghanaians ...'. First on this list of was:
First and foremost, Ghanaians know everything and are always right. If you try to tell or show the Ghanaian something or a better way of doing things, then you are too known, and they are not going to listen to you.
I guess, the Ghanaian has never been to school or learnt a vocation. If the Ghanaian has then I wonder how they learnt from their teachers or masters. It is wonderful that by accusing Ghanaians of knowing everything and being always right, the author herself exhibited this trait by condemning everything - at least those in the book - she saw or experienced and prescribing what should be done instead. She knows the correct way Ghanaians should dress and the proper body-weight they should have. In the latter, I don't know if Ghana is an obese country compared to the UK or Europe, where governments spend more on obese-related health issues than any other.
The author does not understand why Ghanaians would ask you 'are you sure?' after you have provided them with an information (and note that this never occurs in a formal setting; it's always between friends). I have never travelled anywhere or as extensive as the author, but I guess each country has its own such 'unique' words or phrases they use, which to the uninitiated ears doesn't sound right. Having lived in Ghana all my life, I never take offense to this. The questioner is not doubting your integrity, he or she wants confirmation. And this is not a matter of semantics. Recently, a guy had to come to my office for something. He called to say he was there and I asked if he was sure he was there. Why? because I was in the office, had even come out of the building but he wasn't around.
Perhaps experiencing some form of culture shock, Alba decided to put down her experiences as a freshly arrived Ghanaian. She describes Ghanaians as individualistic but pretending to love the communalism. She says when the Ghanaian says you are invited (to his or her food), you're really not invited and she experimented this with a MAN who later looked shocked that his food was really going to be shared. I was also shock because unless the author is telepathic, something she accused Ghanaians of in one of the chapters, she could not have known why the man was shocked. I have friends who will not wait to be asked before they join in my food. And I do same to them. If one has worked in the rural areas one would know that the first code of ethics in working in such places is that 'do not refuse anything you are given' and these are the most poor people you will meet in Ghana. They can surprise you with the gift they will give you. In fact, some years back people prepared more food they can eat and keep some in expectation of a visitor: family or otherwise.
Then there is the issue of the εnyε hwee (literally, it is not anything, just stop) phrase which she used to explain most of the topics she discussed. This phrase or statement is used to calm down tempers and resolve problems. Here one of the parties, especially the aggrieved one is made to drop the issue at hand and forget about it. And this is what the author vehemently spoke against. She would want to educate the perpetrator of the effect of what he or she had done or nearly did to her. Why should people tell her to drop the issue? This also leads to why several street arguments do not degenerate into fist-fights; why someone will just pop up and utter the "εnyε hwee" phrase to whittle tempers, and she doesn't understand this. I was partly surprised by this notion; partly, because for one who is describing Ghanaians as having a Neanderthal behaviour to prescribe the reenactment of William Golding's Lord of the Flies as a way of resolving problems is shocking. Perhaps it is this attitude, despised by the author, that has kept the country together, have prevented all our elections from descending into civil conflicts, though we have been to the brink on many occasions. On the other hand, I think we, as Ghanaians, need to stop being bias towards these foreigners who parade our streets and should insist on the right thing as the author wants. But to fight to get there? No.
She describes how people spits about, urinate and ease themselves anywhere they get to, dig into their noses, and most of these are men's behaviour. However, had the author not been told that the buta (a kettle-like plastic container) that Muslim carry contains water, she thought it was a urine container they carry with them. Is this not a clear example of misconception and misconstruing of people's way of living?
Under Wires Crossed she discussed how Ghanaians respond to questions. In asking a driver's assistant (popularly referred to as Mate) whether the trotro (public bus transport) will pass through Achimota, the mate responded that he doesn't have coins. And here the author was worried. She needed a yes or no answer. But hasn't the mate responded and added a condition? I would have jumped onto it because subtly the mate had said yes, but she shouldn't get on board if all she has are bigger notes as he has no smaller notes to be used as change. And this is the reason I refer to some of her experiences as ordinary culture shock. Again, it is not good to pretend that everybody speaks or understands English especially the kind which comes with the American or British accent, no matter how the words are enunciated.
There is also the discussion of Ghanaians making other people's business their business. I laughed when I read this. This is what most Ghanaians who have lived abroad (abroad meaning North America and Europe) will tell you they miss the most about Ghana. According to them, the stress and lifestyle of living in such countries makes impossible to share their problems with others. Here in Ghana you can strike a conversation with an unknown stranger and before you are aware he or she has shared with you all her family problems. The Guardian reported of Joyce Carol Vincent, a socialite young woman who died (on her bed) and was undiscovered for three years. Soon after discovery, the British behaviour of keeping to themselves became the topic of discussion. Is this the route the author wants us to take? Well, what I know is that this will never happen in the place I live in Ghana, though it will happen in residential areas.
The author described a situation where people gawked at her because she was wearing an afro-wig and here I was shocked because wig-wearing is not new, afro-wig included. This chapter antagonised other chapters in the section; for whereas the author wanted people to accept the fact that wearing afro wig was alright, which I know most Ghanaians already know, she also went on to complain about how poor Ghanaian women dress in terms of their hair and nails.
Not even beauty contests escaped Alba's lens. And like most of the topics she managed to make it a male one:
Previously, I'd been against the idea of beauty pageants, considering them to be mere cattle markets for attractive skinny women to parade their skinny butts in front of salivating members of the male species.
Whether she is discussing the giving of chop money (upkeep money) or cat fight (where she discussed women fighting over a 'short' man - I don't know if the author is averse to short men) she made them male problems and accused them for being the cause.
If there is something that this book does, it is generalisations. It treats Ghanaians as a brainless, mannerless, amorphous group whose thinking and actions are backward; perhaps, the author's use of Neanderthals and Stone age show her perspectives and views. Consider this statement:
When it comes to customer services, Ghana is still somewhere in the Stone Age. Restaurants, chop bars, shops, renting property, utilities services, communications, you name it, the moment Ghanaians get thrown into the equation, expect the fun and games to being. [Part VII, Customer Services]
I will reiterate that the Ghanaian can be found in almost all of the topics mentioned: for instance who has not complained of the numerous feet-stomping, hands-clapping, microphone-bursting churches in their environs, or the speedily waltzing trotro and its ear-splitting fuzzy radios, or some of the poor music coming out these days. But do they merit the broad paintbrush treatment? The way it has been presented, it is akin to me saying that all Americans or Europeans are nudists when I see one nude walking the streets or that they are all serial killers when I read of one in the newspapers.
Perhaps, it is Alba's writing style in being judgmental whilst generalising that makes people take offense to these scathing issues. Who knows? she might be able to change one or two people with her straightforwardness. And there are those who minces no words in getting themselves heard. Or perhaps I am one of those Ghanaians afraid of taking responsibility, who always think they are right and who get angry when their country is being described as such. It should, however, be noted that there are several humorous descriptions in the book that one will enjoy. I couldn't help but laugh at some of Alba's descriptions of her experiences and observations. I will end with a list of some of her generalisations:
- Ghanaians don't like taking responsibility for anything;
- Ghanaians are always right
- Ghanaians know everything
- Ghanaian logic is very simple; whatever the Ghanaian does is logical because Ghanaians are doing it
- The Ghanaian male was created solely for entertainment
- Just like their men, Ghanaian women are also an interesting case study
About Author: Alba Kunadu Sumprim was born in London. She has been writing for as long as she can remember and regularly flips through, with a wry smile, the stacks of notebooks that contain what can only be described as the melodrama of her teenage years. She graduated from the Cuban film school and earns her living writing radio dramas, screenplays and weekly social commentary column in The Daily Dispatch newspaper. She lives in Accra, where she is regularly accused of being Senegalese, Malian, Ivorian, Liberia or Zimbabwean, in fact, any other nationality but Ghanaian. She is adamant that she is just as Ghanaian as any other ... though imported. (Source: The Imported Ghanaian) Visit the author here.