24 November 2007

On The Twins

October 1

Note: Essel is in a blue shirt, Felix in white, when we went to visit Miss Lilian. Not our typical night out to eat.

My hosts in Accra, Essel and Felix, are twins. The traditional Ewe names are Etse and Atsu/Atchu (in Gambia it's Adama and Awa, or Assan and Ousainou if both are boys). Both worked as "anyworks" -- young boys who made a little money by running errands and cleaning for students on campus. Essel worked for the Gambians on upper A (Dollar) Block, then for some of my American friends there, so that's how I got to know him. Felix worked for a friend of mine in another hall, among others.

After Junior Secondary School, Essel went to a Senior Secondary School east of Accra, while Felix went to the national vocational school to study electrical work. Both have now finished school and are looking for regular work.

Essel finished at Old Ningo S.S.S. last year, and has gotten a bit discouraged. Having been convinced that he cannot go far without further education (in IT or his personal favourite, business), he has not been proactive in seeking work opportunities. In a country with limited job prospects this leaves him with no chance of getting anywhere. So we are working on strategies that could help him make headway in this environment.

Felix has more prospects thanks to his electrician qualifications, but so far he has only had short-term odd jobs through word of mouth. With construction booming, there should be ample opportunities for Felix to get consistent work.

The twins are not lacking in work ethic. As "anyworks" they put themselves through J.S.S./middle school, when their father and uncles were unable and/or unwilling to help with their fees. They remain in the family compound, which has fallen into neglect. Some of the better-off uncles have moved out, leaving tenants in their place. Although by and large wonderful people (they are taking great care of me), the tenants cannot be expected to help out the twins and attend to the compound the way an owner might. Their father and the remaining uncle spend on alcohol what little money they earn. The few times I've run into the twins' father, he has stunk of booze. On the one occasion he didn't, he was on his way to the bar and was visibly shaking. Essel and Felix are not on speaking terms with their father.

Essel and Felix never knew their mother. But a few months ago she came to visit them in Kisseman. She had remarried and lives with her Malian husband in Bamako. Essel and Felix now have a brother (12 years old) and sister (6) in Bamako, and two more sisters in their early 20s living in Lome, Togo. It was a happy reunion, and their mother and step-father now call from time to time.

Essel is the more serious of the two, and more reserved. He is conservative in his spending and manner. Although I was pleased with this discipline, I think his modesty and reticence stifles his search for employment.

Felix, by contrast, is a fun-loving individual. He is happy to spend on a spot of drink, although he is not as nihilistic as his father. While Essel would prefer we just have some water with dinner, Felix encourages us to get some minerals or beer. But on our big night out, to my former study abroad director Doc's wife's restaurant in East Legon, Felix just went for banku with pepper soup. Our visit to Essel's congregation two Sundays ago was the first service Felix or I had attended in quite some time. But it was good to stop in as the pastor is a friend and mentor of Essel's.

We have been working on resumes/CVs and approach/cover letters so that Essel and Felix can leave a more lasting impression than saying "I need a job" and leaving only a phone number. They seemed quite pleased with the results, which should give them a little more confidence on the job search. We shall see what has come of it once I return from a week in the north.

We have been looking at some IT (well, typing and MS Office) courses for Essel. The understanding is that Essel will find work to occupy him along with the coursework. Even if the work is very low-paying or voluntary, it will get him out of the house and meeting people, and give him more work experience. Essel's aspiration is to attend the national polytechnical school in Koforidua to study business, perhaps next year. But that qualification won't provide him a livelihood without initiative and motivation. Hopefully this year will be a more productive one.

A few things Essel has said shed light on his outlook, which I am trying to change. Once, Essel mused about how much more money he might have if he'd been an "anywork" in America. I told him there was no point in wondering, as it wasn't so, plus his laundry skills (far superior to my own) would be of little use in America, anyway. His wistful attitude tends to substitute for going out and finding better options.

Another night, we visited a former teacher of Essel's who I once had a parent-teacher conference with many years ago. Her husband seemed to think we had come to beg or steal; we had to wait outside the big gate until Miss Lilian welcomed us in (any compound that has to have a gate opened by someone is a nice place). Anyway, during our conversation Miss Lilian related the tale of her stay in the UK. Her husband worked as a petrol station attendant while he pursued his master's degree and Lilian (a qualified teacher) worked as a cleaner to help with the bills. Miss Lilian, and I, clearly hoped the moral of this story for Essel and Felix would be that you cannot be too proud to take any work that is available, and to do whatever you can to better your situation. Shit, I probably would have settled for Essel wondering how Lilian's husband could forget his humble, but admirable, work and look askance at two random young men and their obruni friend. Instead, Essel remarked after we left, "Imagine what you could do with a little money earned overseas!" I retorted with what I deemed worth gleaning from Miss Lilian's experience, and again thought about how difficult it is to change people's attitudes.

ADDENDUM: It should be noted that Lilian's husband Francis was a great host when we came on an announced visit to their home. Also, my purpose in this article is to give a little idea of the situation in Ghana, and my hopes for a great friend of mine.

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