Wednesday, November 30, 2011

121. The Imported Ghanaian by Alba Kunadu Sumprim

Title: The Imported Ghanaian
Author: Alba Kunadu Sumprim
Illustrator: Alba Kunadu Sumprim
Genre: Non-Fiction/Satire
Publishers: Marvik
Pages: 264
Year of First Publication: 2006
Country: Ghana

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
  1. Ghanaians don't like taking responsibility for anything;
  2. Ghanaians are always right
  3. Ghanaians know everything
  4. Ghanaian logic is very simple; whatever the Ghanaian does is logical because Ghanaians are doing it
  5. The Ghanaian male was created solely for entertainment
  6. 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.

12 comments:

  1. i have always jumped Alba's book but i don't know why. Maybe it's about time i give her an attention. thanks for this beautiful review.

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  2. It sounds like Alba is very reactionary and prejudiced if you ask me! What horrible things to say about a whole country and it's people! First of all, men should not be blames for all the ills of society, and picking an entire gender (or culture) to bash in a book seems just flagrantly rude and inhospitable. I can imagine that this book made you steam, as it would have probably made me very angry as well. What ever happened to practicing tolerance and acceptance? It seems sad that people are going to read this book and get the wrong idea about Ghana in it's inhabitants. I happen to know a very nice guy from Ghana, and he is one of the most friendly and social people that I have ever met. I think this book sounds deplorable, but I am thankful to have read your thoughts and to see that you gave an honest and thoughtful analysis of it. Thank you, Nana.

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps you should read the book.

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  3. Great Review! I do not like generalizations and maybe Alba should have stated that these are a few of her experiences and not necessarily generalizations. That is always taken well. Man-bashing is also always a no-no, bash each sex equally while you're at it, no sex is perfect. She must have had some bad male relationships or break-ups. :) I must say I do agree with Zibilee's comments also, however, growing up and living in many different countries in Africa and elsewhere, I do not necessarily agree with Alba's comments, but I do understand where she is coming from. I lived in Ghana for over a decade and I do have to say that I believe what Alba wants is some sort of a middle ground. For example, customer service could do with a huge facelift, Ghanaians need to be more time conscious and answer a direct question. It is so frustrating to ask a direct question and not a direct answer but another question or a loosely related statement. Sellers in the market place do need to sell their items without yanking on everyone they see. If you were sure about what you're saying and are asked many times, by many different people "are you sure" you're bound to get frustrated or give a smart sarcastic response. Regarding the "enye hwee" comments, I do agree to let something go and let peace reign, but not letting it go and seeing it to the end is not going to necessarily cause a fight. I believe what irked the Alba was that things that comment prevented her from speaking her mind or correcting mistakes that have been made. If I ordered a meal and the wrong meal came up or there was a fly or hair in my meal, I would not want to be told "enye hwee." On some Ghanaians thinking they're right or imposing their thoughts on others, my pet peeve is Ghanaians trying to correct left handed persons from using their left hands to write or even to eat (gasp!) I am left-handed and I vehemently opposed it when people tried to correct me. That is the way God made me and you can choose to believe that the left hand is unclean- the food is not going into your stomach, it's going into mine, beside I washed my hands. I can understand it if people did not wash their hands, etc. Guess what, I mentioned this a few times to others and was told I was "too known" go figure.

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  4. @Anon I don't want sound apologetic for some people's bad or ignorant behaviour. But you should give the seller the benefit of the doubt when you order fries and get rice, unless one hasn't made such mistakes before. I'm not saying take it and eat what you didn't order. But don't the two words sound similar? Besides fries is usually referred to as chips and when chips was mentioned she got what she wanted. Did it ever happen to her again to make it a Ghanaian attitude? We were not told.

    As to getting the straight answer, I say the foreigner must learn and imposition of ones behaviour on a people. Besides, this might be the lingua of a given trade. You learn it or you don't complain.

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  5. Hmmm interesting Nana. Sounds on one hand like an interesting book, but too bad it was so negative. I wonder if some people can get away with making generalizations like this (for example, How to be a Nigerian by Peter Enahoro) because they are actually from that locale and culture whereas one coming in from outside will come across as too negative instead of as one of their own poking fun. I would assume that she meant it as a joke overall, but that it didn't come across as such. Is that true?

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  6. @Geosi, if you are reading, get a big heart and read it with an open mind. Again, don't fret too much. It works at a different level.

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  7. @Zibilee, if I say Ghanaians are not found in any of the topics discussed I'd be the biggest liar. Besides, Ghanaians are not from Mars. They belong to this planet. They have their foibles. My issue with this book is this: how many of the experiences stated here were encountered by the author to make it merit such broad description? Does a characteristic become a Ghanaian characteristic if you meet it once, twice or what? That's the issue here. For instance, she took trotro several times, did she face the problem of communication every time she did? Or it was that once? Did she always get rice when she orders fries? etc.

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  8. @Amy, Authors who generalises about their own country gets away on the issue of being described as a racist but does not run away from the bashing they receive at home. I can't want to bash Alba. Doing so will mean that what she said are all lies, which is not true. However, I can't say Alba, though a Ghanaian, comes from the locale. She was born and raised in the UK and therefore has different mannerisms. That's where the culture shock issue comes in. I might not be seeing what she is seeing because I was born and raised here in Ghana.

    I actually don't think she meant it as a joke. She might want it to sound sarcastic or perhaps tongue-in-a-cheek. If so then perhaps she failed on both as it comes across as a scathing judgement on life in Ghana by a foreigner. And when issues come across like this it is difficult for people to read without passion, which is not good. This book must be dispassionately read and that is what I tried doing.

    Let's not forget that it also offers several laughable points.

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  9. This was a very interesting review of The Imported Ghanaian. I, unlike the majority of people who have replied to your post, have read the book. I will allow that you are very much entitled to your opinion and I actually respect it because your perspective is unique. Just like Alba’s! The book is from her perspective and her experiences. She never claims that the book is a work of fact. All throughout the book the reader knows that it is one woman’s experience in Ghana. This is how she views Ghana and she is not the only one who does. As I read it I could relate to her experiences as a Ghanaian coming home, and I laughed because my experiences weren’t isolated and there was someone who had been through some of the same things I had.
    I didn’t view the book as being negative towards men. I thought she was describing her experiences as she saw them, and if men were the cause of a whole lot of problems, well then.... εnyε hwee.
    I gave the book a high rating and sent it to a Jamaican friend who said she could relate because the people of Jamaica were very similar in behaviour. Isn’t that fascinating! When I loaned the book to one of my Ghanaian friends, he kept saying that the εnyε hwee aspect was very true. He laughed throughout the book and was loathe to give it back to me. I told him to buy his own.
    Thanks for reviewing the book. I hope people buy it and form their own opinion about it.

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    Replies
    1. Nana Perhaps I was afraid to look at myself in that Alba's mirror. I agree... like I stated, no Ghanaian will dare say that there is nothing Ghanaian in Alba's writing and that it is a pack of lies. Definitely, none!

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  10. I'm so happy I came across your post. I recently bought The imported Ghanaian whilst on holiday in Ghana. I was pretty excited to read it. I unashamedly admit I was sold by both the cover and the title. I am a Ghanaian that was born and brought up in the UK so I was very eager to read. I'm halfway through the book and I find parts of it offensive. Reason being exactly what you have put in your blog post. She generalizes. At first, I found some of the things she said funny but then I got uncomfortable reading it. Sections that annoyed me include The digging for treasure (nose) and noise pollution chapters. She generalizes a lot and yes there are some truths to what she says but imagine a non Ghanaian picking this up and reading this about our people? It's embarrassing. I'm eager to finish the book to see what else she believes 'Ghanaians' commonly do. I also bought her second book too out of excitement but I'm not sure I'll be patient enough to read it! I went onto the facebook page for the book and saw many positive comments...i'm thankful I found your post because I thought it was only me!

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