Looking Down on Ghana While It Rises Above
road to the beach here twists through dozens
of neighborhoods, and every one of them
is God-fearing. "Believe in Jesus Electrical
Parts Store," says one colorfully painted
sign hanging in front of, well, an electrical
parts store. "God is Great Catering
and Fast Food," says a sign in front
of a shack selling cans of Fanta and Coca-Cola
and tins of biscuits.
friends and I - all Liberian - are on the
way to the beach, and indulging in a favorite
Liberian pastime: making fun of Ghana. Sure,
Ghana is one of our West African neighbors,
but the country just seems so different.
Beyond the Ghanaian quirk - which occurs
far less often in Liberia - of naming businesses
after Bible verses, people here like kooky
logos on their buses that have nothing to
do with transportation. "Observers
Are Worried" is posted on one bus.
"Sea Never Dry" is on another.
don't like the food. "I can't believe
these people put tomatoes in ground-pea
soup," I complain to one Liberian friend
over lunch at a local restaurant in Accra.
don't understand the social system. Ghanaian
men seem to like going out stag. "I
just don't get it," says my friend,
Richard, shaking his head. "When I
first moved here, these dudes invited me
out. But the whole night, it was just us
guys. Who wants to go out with just guys?"
I'm not normally particularly nationalistic
- I dropped my Liberian passport after becoming
a citizen of my new home, America - but
when I'm in Ghana, this side comes out.
Why? The answer, actually, is simple. Even
as I'm joining my Liberian expat friends
in making fun of Ghanaians, I know exactly
why we're doing this. We are jealous. We'll
never say it out loud, but Ghana is what
we Liberians aspire to.
list of what Ghanaians have that we don't
is a mile long:
Liberia hasn't had it since 1991, thanks
to the former President Charles Taylor and
the civil war he started. But here in Ghana,
you can just walk into a room and turn on
a light, and it works. And when it gets
dark, you can still see.
water We don't have that in Liberia either,
again thanks to Mr. Taylor and Liberian
government officials more concerned with
lining their own pockets than with providing
services most people would consider basic.
Taking a bath usually requires contortions
involving buckets. Alas, in Ghana, you can
take showers. What a treat.
functional country These Ghanaians may spend
a lot of time coming up with Biblical passages
to name their businesses after, but they
seem to have figured out how to run a country,
something we Liberians have proved to be
woefully dismal at. People actually - though
sporadically - remove the garbage from the
street in downtown Accra. Downtown Monrovia
has trash piled up higher than the S.U.V.'s
that the United Nations workers use.
rub salt in the wound, there's even a Liberian
refugee camp just outside Accra for some
70,000 Liberians who fled the war. There
are few amenities at the camp; replicating
things at home, the place is devoid of flush
toilets. But all is not lost - I've heard
the food there is way better than anything
you can find in downtown Accra.
it the inability of Liberians to form a
really unified society that did us in, or
is it that Ghanaians are just far more industrious
than we are? We have great bars and discos,
and we love to party, but we've made a mess
out of running our country.
few months ago, I went home to Monrovia
to take a look at the rebuilding going on
now that Charles Taylor is finally gone
and our civil wars are over. I arrived at
Robertsfield Airport in Liberia and was
promptly hit up for a bribe by the immigration
woman who demanded my passport.
didn't even think twice about giving her
a dollar when she asked me what I had brought
home for my people. I knew that was code
for "give me money or I'll keep you
here in this hot little room until you come
to your senses."
three hours of my arrival back in Monrovia,
I was cavorting with friends at Musu's Spot,
a rowdy outdoor bar across the street from
the United Nations relief mission. West
African highlife music was blaring, and
people were laughing and drinking our delicious
it weren't for the dozens of one-legged
former child soldiers begging for money
on the side of the potholed road, you'd
have no idea that you were in a city still
recovering from 10 years of vicious civil
called my Liberian friends in Accra. "You
should be here," I yelled at Richard.
But while Richard is happy enough to make
fun of Ghanaians whenever the mood strikes
him, he's no fool.
he said. "I'm happy right here."