Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Liar, Our Witch and my Wardrobe

Sometimes I am just completely blind sided by Ghana. There are moments when I am busy minding my own business, living my little expat life within the confines of this African republic, and culturally I trip over something that just has me reeling.

And then I remember that despite my hard drives full of pirated American TV series that fill us with the ultimate superficial each weekday evening, and the goat cheese in my salad, made with imported iceberg lettuce; this is NOT North America, and this little capsule called our home is situated squarely within an entirely different world.

There are undercurrents that pulsate just below the surface in Ghana, in my office, in my yard, in the strangers who pass me on the street. And there are moments when they peek out, when that reality faces me. At those times I am never prepared.

Last night I was bopping around my humid kitchen, wearing my Hello Kitty pyjama set, with my freshly washed hair tied up; I was dishing up our supper plates, anxious to head back into the relative cool of the living room to watch some mind numbing TV series.

“Madam” came the low voice from the pool of darkness beyond my kitchen window.
“Eric?” (assuming it was our gardener, (term used very loosely) who lives at the back of the house).

“Madam, I believe you are busy but I need to speak to you. Very important, very urgent. I beg.”

I begrudgingly put down my ladle and agreed to meet Eric around the side of the house.

So we met, I in cartoon pants with brightly coloured kittens scattered about my legs, opening the sliding doors, the bright and cool mixing with the dark heat. Eric stood glumly almost out of sight on the veranda.

“Yes Eric, what is wrong?” – I of course, assuming there would be a long winded story of medical or other woe, and a plea for money. But this was a different problem altogether.

Eric shifted and stuttered and said Madam a few times.

“It’s about Gilbert” (our cook and cleaner who has worked for the company over 12 years).

“Yes Eric?! What about Gilbert?”

“Well Madam, he is disturbing me in ways you won’t understand. In fact, it is very serious.”

“Ok, well you tell me and I’ll see what I can do” (me, clueless)

“Madam, in fact, he has been trying to… trying to… well he has been determined to kill me spiritually”.


My first instinct is to laugh, which probably won’t go over well. I can see the shiny sweat on Eric’s forehead, reflecting the light from behind me. He is very serious.

“Madam, maybe these things you cannot understand. But even physically, he has been doing things. I am having so many challenges in life. Josephine has gone (this was Eric’s girlfriend, who was always way out of his league in my opinion), and Gilbert even today, he…. Well I must confess there was a problem in this house today”

Eric went on to explain that Gilbert had called a certain driver and started to talk to him loudly about how Eric had not been pulling his weight around the house, implying he was useless, and ‘damaging’ his name. Eric then came out of his room and they argued. Gilbert is a liar and possibly a witch?!

I was really not sure why the two of them would be arguing, nor what I was expected to do. But mostly I was pinching myself, wondering if really, I had been called out to hear that one of my staff was trying to kill the other spiritually. Juju. Again. This theme keeps reappearing.

And it’s not just among the relatively uneducated. Making that assumption would be to miss the undercurrent and remain completely oblivious to how this society functions.

I got up this morning with last night’s event freshly in my mind. I greeted Gilbert who was busy making eggs and saw Eric through the window. He was wielding a machete, and hacking away at the overgrown weeds. He gave me a look. His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed. And he nodded. As if we had shared something… as if I should now understand… Yet I just smiled and carried on as the shallow obruni I am.

I arrived at work, thinking I’d left behind the sinister world of magic cooks and revengeful gardeners… and then I saw this.

A respected Member of Parliament in Ghana’s opposition party, on Ghana’s most popular morning television talk show this week, has claimed he has ‘conclusive evidence’ that the current president, John Atta-Mills, used a magic ring to win the election. He apparently wore the ring only during the election campaign – never before and never after. That is the only proof needed apparently. So there it is. Juju. Things I’ll never understand.

Eric left me with one final comment/warning as we parted ways at my sliding door last night.

“Madam- there are other things. When you go away Gilbert brings his own things to wash at your house. He delays in doing your things. And madam, I just want to say, THAT IS THE MAN WHO MAKES YOUR FOOD.”

And he wandered off pensively into the night.

And there I stood. I looked down. Hello Kitty smiled innocently back up at me. And I acknowledged that I who knows nothing, will have to resign myself to that fact.

Above - a table at a fetish market - selling ingredients for magic brews and curses....
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Expat mum said...

PLease tell me that they don't have those tables everywhere in Ghana. My 18 year old daughter will literally have a fit if she sees that when we're over in July!

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

What a great tale, and so well written. I loved this, but I do hope this is the end of the saga! Are you watching your food?

I've fond memories of visiting the juju market with T and L! Sadly, no juju market in Moldova where I just moved.

@Expat Mum: You won't find the juju market unless someone takes you there.

DIDI said...

This is funny and soo not funny at the same time. if U asked my opinion i guess its best they all get fired so their cold war can continue elsewhere. For Eric to come to you and complain,it means there have been lots going on in secret. Why did he choose to report past events now?? something smells fishy coz he knows if he reports,U might fire the other guy and he gets to be alone *think about it* As for the politicians from the RING issue..THEY ARE EXHIBITING CHILDISHNESS at its peak..

Solvang Sherrie said...

Wow, such a different life. I love that magic is part of every day reality there, that a member of parliament can talk about a magic ring and not get laughed off the planet. But the witch in your kitchen, making your food, um, yeah, that would give me pause. Don't want to piss him off!

Tracey said...

I'm not sure that your post is complete without a photo of the wardrobe!

Danielle said...

Hi Holli,

I stumbled on your blog while searching for info on life in Ghana - I'm getting ready to move to Accra for a year in mid-July. I'd love to chat over email about what to expect and any tips you might have, or if you're in Accra when I'm there, maybe we could meet up?

In any case, I'm looking forward to reading through more of your blog!


Anonymous said...

The juju thing has been driving me crazy lately too. All of my friends seem to be the target of vengeful witchcraft. Just yesterday, my friend asked me for 100 cedis because his brother's ankle is swollen, and it is clearly the work of juju of his ex co-worker.

Anonymous said...

My dear Girl, here we go again.

Are you telling me that the picture of the tabke at a fetish market was taken in Ghana?

Did you actually take this picture or did you pick this up from somewhere?

Are you sure about this?

You lived in Ghana for 15years, married and all and can write such lies?

My God?

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