Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Issue of Honesty

In my last post, I talked a bit about my family, and I feel as if I did a decent job of giving a basic impression of what my family and family life is like. However, there was one big thing I forgot to mention, and that is the issue of honesty.
The integrity of my family, namely my brothers, first came into question last October, not all that long after I had arrived in Sunyani. Over a period of a few days, I had five Cedis (a dollar is worth 1.2 Ghana Cedis) stolen from my suitcase, as well as a Swiss Army Knife given to me by my grandfather before my departure that was very dear to me. In response to this I questioned all my brothers and alerted my host mom, but I wasn't able to find out who the thief was so I bought a padlock to guard against further theft. The lock seemed to have solved the problem until just about a month ago, at which time I received a couple boxes from the U.S. and theft reared its ugly head at me once again. The boxes contained a whole lot of books, which nobody but me seemed too interested in, as well as a lot of candy bars and other food items that everybody else were definitely interested in. When the boxes arrived I shared out close to half the candy bars as well as some delicious chocolate covered espresso beans, and I thought I had been pretty darn generous. However, candy bars and the espresso beans soon started disappearing in large quantities, and I realized that someone or multiple someones hadn't thought I was all that generous. At first I thought the problem was that the thief had found a key to my lock that I had misplaced, so I bought a new lock, but on the same day that I bought the lock more stuff disappeared so I then assumed the trickster knew how to pick locks. At that point I realized that I needed to figure out who the culprit was, so I immediately talked to all my brothers and let everybody know what was going on. As you might imagine this didn't really work, because believe it or not thieves don't particularly like to own up to their crimes if they aren't under any pressure. I honestly don't think I would have been able to get anywhere if it weren't for my host brother B.B., who commands more than a bit of respect from my younger brothers and who was able to get them to own up. It turns out that my brother Ben had indeed felt like I hadn't shared enough with him, and in response he had cut a hole on the bottom of a pocket on the top flap of my suitcase, and had been snagging candy bars and chocolate covered espresso beans through it. B.B. also was able to get two of my other brothers, Solo and Oraku, to admit that they had known what Ben had been doing for quite some time, although they had not known how he was getting the bars. At first I was furious and wanted to give Ben especially a bit of a slapping session, but after a bit I managed to cool down and realized the best thing to do would be to turn them over to my host mom and let her deal with them. Unfortunately, before I could make them do this Ben ran off, and Solo and Oraku followed saying they were going to bring him back. This was of course but more lies from them, and none of the three of them reappeared until after my host mom had gone to bed.
The theft ordeal was quite a difficult experience for me, but once it all had been figured out I made a conscious effort to put my anger aside so that I could think about the causes of the thievery. Before I had the self-control to do this, I was outraged that people I had considered my brothers and friends would steal from me, because as a member of a first world family this kind of behavior is unthinkable to me. But as I cooled down, I realized that the difference of course is that this not the first world, this is the third world and theft is unfortunately an incredibly common occurrence here, even with families and between friends. My family here is definitely solid Ghanaian middle class, not rich enough to be driving around Mercedes or BMW's like the rich of Ghana do, but comfortable enough to own a nice house and to send all the kids in the house to school. Despite this relative financial security, it is incredible to see just how little my siblings have in the way of material possessions. Before leaving the U.S., I had top pack all my belongings away for storage, and to do that it took numerous boxes and big black garbage bags. In contrast, I imagine that my siblings could pack all their worldly goods into a small suitcase. While I had to pack away multiple pairs of skis, bike gear, books, cds, and lots of clothes, all my siblings would have to pack would be a small pile of used clothing, a couple pairs of shoes, and there school bag and notebooks. So I suppose that because of this it is no surprise then that when my brothers see something that they'd like and can snag without the owner noticing, they do so. On top of that, this behavior is not discouraged because even when a thief is caught, there are no big consequences it seems. After I alerted my host mom to what my brothers had done, I expected that they would be in fairly deep trouble, but it never happened. It almost seemed as if she was a bit amused by the whole incident, I imagined she was thinking, "The little stinkers cut a whole in his bag just to get some chocolate?" Well, whatever she was thinking, she never thought to punish them in any way, and a day after I had found them out everyone but me was acting like nothing had ever happened. I will not deny that I am still a bit unsettled by this theft ordeal. I once and for all have realized that I cannot allow myself to trust people here, but unfortunately that puts me in a bit of an odd place as far as my family goes. As I said, they all seem to have forgotten the incident, but I am having trouble forgetting about it and for the rest of my stay I don't think I am going to be able to see my brothers in the same brotherly light. Whenever they tell me something, there is this little nagging voice in the back of my mind saying, "Is he telling the truth? You do remember what happened last time you believed him right...?", and that little voice makes things quite difficult. Recently during a phone conversation with my parents, I told them that I've learned that with people here, such as my brothers, I just have to look beyond the trust issue. Yeah, they can be liars and thieves, but it seems that that is almost part of being an adolescent boy here, and it doesn't necessarily make them bad people. I am trying to think in this way, and in many ways my life at home is still OK. I still laugh and joke with my bros, and I expect they feel forgiven. But in other ways, the way I feel about being in this family has been damaged irreparably. I have been brought up by parents who have instilled in me a sense of how important honesty and trust are, and I can never fully feel a part of a family that does not seem to value these traits. Time keeps passing quickly, and I know that I will survive my remaining four months just fine. But there is no denying that my whole being will be filled with relief when I am back with the family that I love and trust completely.


Leah Ford said...

Great blog, Wes. I can tell that you're learning A LOT.

The pale observer said...

Hi Wes - as you know, I've been here for 12 years and your sotry is sadly familiar. Ghanaianas steal. And the culture does nothing to discourage this behaviour. It seems a long as you can get away with something it is fine. This is harsh I know, but I thought you'd appreciate reading the most recent blog entry by an American lady in Ghana who is married to a Ghanaian.

Please read and then let me know your thoughts...

Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

People steal all over the world, sadly...
I doubt it's a problem more specific to Ghana than anywhere else..:)

antye504 said...

"because as a member of a first world family this kind of behavior is unthinkable to me"

I'm really sad to say that I'm more than a little disappointed in the way you think Wes because you seem like a well-brought up, smart, open-minded guy. So to see something like the above is quite a let down. Like Here, There, Elsewhere said 'people steal everywhere', even in your first world country so to make unrealistic implications like that is frankly ludicrous. Theft is a crime globally and thieves come in all nationalities, shapes and races.

@ The Pale Observer, Ghanaians steal, granted. But so do Belgians, Americans and British so wash the prejudiced scales from your eyes and begin to think in a clearer and more unbiased way. You've either always been biased or have just been around the wrong people for 12 years, think about it! As for the culture, I won't even start because you're clearly quite ignorant, and probably unwilling learn, but just in case you are, look for a market where a thief has been 'freshly-caught'. People are different and just because some people have no values DOES NOT mean the whole country condones it! Gosh!

Wes, it is obvious that the family you stayed with is NOT middle-class or the representation of the average Ghanaian family; I know this because that is what my family IS and its members do not behave like that! Just like in every society, there are the bad nuts, and its unfortunate that you got to stay with the half-rotten kind.

I do hope your perception of Ghanaians is not irreversibly tainted and you will give Ghana another chance in the future. You seem like a smart, open-minded guy who just got thrown in the wrong setting and I hope you will look past the trash you hear and the obviously terrible situation you were in to see that this family is not a representation of Ghanaians as a people.

Do check out my blog: expressionandpoesy.blogspot.com

Best Wishes

lena_todd said...

Yup i am ghanaian and i def agree with antye105, that family is def not middle class and therefore are not priveleged to have chocolate etc. Also they probably perceive u to be a rich obroni and feel that depriving u of ur chocolate or woteva would not rili affect u as u have it all the time. put urself in their shoes, this was probbably their only chance at having some of this choc. once u leave their house, there will prob be no further opportunities.
@the pale observer- what ignorant comments u make.