26 February 2011 – Country of Contrasts

When I arrived at my hotel i was exhausted too tired even to read so I turned on the Tele. A Nigerian movie was on. As best I could figure out an auntie had gone to America. She was not doing well but she was telling the family back in Nigeria she was working for the UN and making a lot of money.

Then the commercials came on. STAR beer is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is giving away prizes. Flip the bottle cap off, look at the inside and see if you’ve won. A car – A television – An ipod – 1000 cedis

In the next commercial a young woman was laying on her stomach on her bed. The room would make any American girl envious. She was talking about how to use her MTN mobile money on her cell phone to add credit to her phone account.

Then next scene, of the same commercial, a younger girl is surrounded by her school mates. They are all walking down the steps of a school building. The voice over said “i can even transfer money to my younger sister, Beatrice.”

The older girl then came back on screen in front of a very plain background and with very slick graphics gave the steps to transfer money.

The last commercial I remember started with video clips of Kwame Nkrumah. Nkruman was the first president of Ghana. Then there was a picture of a modern Ghanaian actor with the announcement that his one man show was going to be in Accra this month.

When I saw the commercial about the prizes from STAR beer I thought of my village and wondered if the people there could even use a Tele or an Ipod since they don’t have electricity. They don’t even have indoor plumbing!

I do realize that the standard of living portrayed in the second the commercial is even beyond the middle class’s standard of living here in Ghana. That’s true in USA as well. But what surprised me was that I think the concept of was also beyond even most of the middle class in Ghana. Ghana is a cash society. They don’t write checks. They don’t use ATM cards at point of purchase. They don’t have credit cards. Money is a physical object.

I remember talking about E-commerce in one of my high school classes. The students were with me when I talked about the benefits of being able to show your products to the whole world and the fun of buying things from all over the world. Where I lost them was on how to pay. The concept of a credit card made about ½ of the class’s eyes glaze over.

So who are the people who understood this concept of using the cell phone to pay for things or transfer money to other people? Maybe it was like the first time we had debit cards and could use them at point of sale. The people who are eager and willing to try something new tried it. They liked and the they told their friends and family.

My hotel, here in Winneba, reminds me of a small hotel that I stayed in during an American Libraries convention in New Orleans. IT has two stories. The top story has a blue awning over a balcony with a blue decorative railing. The hotel is built in a u shape and surrounds a central courtyard that is used for a dining room. My room is small but clean and has running water and a flush toilet. It has all i need, a chair, an end table, a desk and chair and a wardrobe.



When I leave this European hideaway I turn on to on a dirt road. Next to the hotel are two women with table top shops. Behind them is a rough wooden building where Ghanaian fast food is sold and some small provisions and snacks.







Further down the road I see a lovely new two storey home. There is a balcony on the second floor with a black cast iron railing. As I look at the building notice that there is a garbage pile in front of it. I haven’t even noticed the over grown weeds and grasses around the house because that has become normal for me.




As I walk further down the road I see children in some torn second hand clothes. They are running and shouting Obruni Obruni.

After my walk at dinner I saw a Ghanaian family. The children were dressed in their Sunday clothes and on their best behavior. The father had a blackberry type phone.

As I sat and thought about the contrasts of this culture I wondered if the gap would close in 10 or 20 years?

Maybe I’ll come back to Ghana and see.



1 Comment

  1. April 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I stumbled on this thoughtful and considered piece by accident: it is beautifully written and has so broadened my horizons.I’m from the UK and I’ve never been to Africa.

    Thank you.

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