Building Relationships We Can All Be Proud Of

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

THE BOURGEOIS NEXT DOOR

Lifestyle, living within your means, living to impress others and the proverbial saying that evil company corrupts good morals. These were some of the things I was discussing with a couple of my boys a few days ago. We concluded that most young Ghanaians, single and married, are ill influenced to adopt lifestyles that have one endpoint – self destruction. Most of us are living way above our means; living to impress others,because of the kind of company and social groupings we belong to. 


We live in a time where meeting our daily needs has become something like a demanding mistress – nothing seems enough and everything is almost done on impulse. Our urges are fueled by what we see on TV or read about in the newspapers, or see others do. From the world of fashion, to technological yearnings to cravings in the type of residential location and the kind of wheels that convey us, we acquire things based on a lot of external or impulsive influences rather than genuine need for them.

A lot of young people have undergone protracted and often painful divorce proceedings with the word CAUTION and are now unrestrained by it, freeing themselves to doing anything or aspiring to having anything that may pop up in their fitful hearts. There was a time choices and decisions were made after a careful contemplation of the pros and cons of same. Now caution has been evicted from the equation and in its stead a silently haunting and often enthralling rhythmic chants of Do it! Do it! Do it! And I must admit in this day and age where one thing comes up with sunrise and disappears with sunset, there is always the ever pressing, yet often unnecessary, need to be a part of the trend or the talk of town…and chalk one’s name on the board of the fashionistas around. This, most unjustly, drives poor and gullible young men and women to run amok looking for money, opportunity and contacts to help them catch a glimpse and be a part of the bliss that comes with the galactic happenings before the sunsets down on it and see that trend rise no more. 


It was a common thing for people to use their Nokia 3310 phones for years before they saw the need to change them. Now in a year, the average income earner in Ghana – and I mean someone who earns less than the equivalent of $1,000.00 a month, changes his or her phone, sometimes, twice, hopping from one high end phone to the other. I wish I could blame the manufacturers for always churning out mouthwatering killer-app-infested phones, but no, the blame, as far as I am concerned, rests with those who do not see the importance of managing their craze for these things.

Beyond the addiction of phones and other portable personal gadgets are the other related lifestyle demands which all together determine if a person is living within their means or not. 

Let’s talk about clothing. Now it is a normal thing to see a young Ghanaian wear a shirt or dress costing GHC200 which translate to about $85.50 for work [and do not forget to look at it through the lens of the same average income mentioned above] It is a common thing to go to a shop and pick a pair of shoes, ladies or gents, and see a price tag of GHC250.00. Yes, they are in the shops to be sold and be bought. The problem is those who buy them. And I need not tell you that most often the prices include the cost of having those shoes and clothes sitting in the boutique for months without purchase and the cost of daily keeping them there; rent, and other utility bills that accrues to them. The truth is some of these clothes are cheap imitations from third world countries or clothes sold on sales in European shops. These clothes are sometimes sold for twice the prices their original prices were going for in Europe. 

Ah, let’s talk about cars. We all want to drive either the latest SUVs or the stylish pimped up rides, not thinking of the fuel they guzzle, the cost of maintaining them and the cost of spare parts when we have to get them. One of my boys who drives a Beamer said, anytime he hears the slightest squeak in his car, his heart picks up speed because the cost of diagnosing the fault may be as high as a fourth of his salary. And if there is a real problem, he either dips into his savings or borrow money to sort it out. You are asking the same question I am asking, why not sell the ride? And your answer is as good as mine, how can he? How can he come down? 

Renting a house in Accra is another killer. A regular two bedroom house in the prime and less congested locations will set you back between $300.00 and $3,500.00 a month. Yes. And they charge in USD and take at least a year’s rent. And guess those who go in for them? Regular average income earning Ghanaians. I understand we all want to live in nice neighbourhoods and feel a little bit secure. But safety is not necessarily East Legon or Cantonments where young people who want to be seen as having arrived [mostly on loans and borrowed money] go to live among those who are truly and legally rich. 

I can go and on, but in the end it comes to one thing: Ability to fuel your lifestyle. I was having lunch with a couple of friends and we were talking about how to have multiple streams of income to augment our regular incomes. We talked about how the bank guys earn good cash, drive the latest high end cars and have mortgages going on for them. One of my friends opened our eyes to something that made us stop to think for a moment. The bankers get access to ridiculously low interested if not interest-free loans. Loans for cars, for rent, for mortgage, personal loans, educational loan, stupid-reasons loans, no-reason loans… name it, there is a loan for it. So at the end of the month, after they have been paid, some of them end up with the equivalent of $300 after all deductions are made. You may see them looking all nice and crisp, but some could be walking around on borrowed life. If that is the reality, then it is a sad reality.

That is the lifestyle of most of us at different levels. We have all been caught in the sticky mesh of consumerism, living for and working to pay debts; debts we willfully contract to fuel our gluttonous heart desires. Always buying and always appearing to be on point just to be seen as part of the ‘ish’ crowd yet in the end when we all recoil into our cocoons, we lay in our beds counting the invisible numbers on our ceiling, calculating and strategizing on how to wreak in the next cache of cash to keep us running, depriving ourselves of precious sleep and forgetting we are only borrowing to extend our borrowed life. 

I Cannot rave and rant without mentioning the effect of this on the family and various relationships. There are young women who kill their young husbands who are starting up with their tastes. I call them the Range Rover type. You can have them, but you may let them go in no time when the maintenance costs start hitting you; something young men are yet to wake up to. The wedding must be done at the beach. No matter the frown on the man’s face; she is yet to start. There must be twelve bridesmaids and twelve groomsmen. Clearly that comes with clothing cost and car rental charges. Every table must have its own champagne, everything must be customized and everything for the wedding must be imported. The guy is about dying. But he forces himself to stay alive. ‘Oh honey after the wedding we must live at East Legon or Airport Residential Area until we can buy our own house in two years’ time. Pressure.   

The problem is not with the woman; she has her taste and she should, of course. What we have here is a man who is trying to live above his means by indulging a woman who is clearly out of his league.  This taste did not just show up; it started from somewhere. At your level [economic mostly] in life, it was not yours to take her to Movenpick, and LaPalm for weekends, paying for expensive trips to Dubai and all that. Maybe it was one off and you could afford it for that moment, but after marriage, if both of you do not sit down to plan and clearly chart a financial road map, it becomes a pattern and a wearying routine. 

In other to prove the size of his guts [You know the real word I wanted to use], from the onset the man uses expressions like, Oh no problem’. ‘Oh seriously?’ ‘Trust me, I am paying for this’. ‘Oh no, you don’t have to worry; I will take care of it.’ In the end, the impression created is that, ‘she can pick, you will pay’. What we fail to see is that once it gets to marriage, the frequency is sustained and can become a vicious cycle if you do not have a considerate woman with her head effectively detached from her heart. 

‘Baby we need to have a Jacuzzi at home.’ These are the comments that start getting the man moody and inexplicable grouchy. Jacuzzi....Seriously? When we just started life.

Some modern Ghanaian women do not have it, but have the taste the size of India for it. A man who indulges it may end up carrying a load he did not plan carrying; a load the one encouraging him to carry has not carried before. Some women have it; it could be from her family, her career success or from previous relationships. What some men do not do is to pause to ask if they can continue fueling such demands and tastes if they get entangled with such women. Some women are expensive, if you cannot afford them, do not waste their time. It is like Onion to their eyes. One millionaire was asked how he became a millionaire. He said his wife made it possible. The impressed host asked him what he was before he met his wife, his answer was simple: A Billionaire!

The good thing is some women are moderate and mature, knowing not to burden their men with their lifestyle demands. Some women have their own cash, they take care of their own business and sometimes extend it to the men in their lives. Some women also fine tune their tastes to suit their financial status and or that of the men in their lives. Some women have sponsors who pay. Whoever a woman is, there will be peace around her if she can sort her own business out from her own purse, or there is a man who can pay or she appreciates the adage of sewing her dress in a style commensurate with the length of the cloth she has.  Anything aside the above will make her and invariably the man in her life miserable.  There is no shame to back out if you cannot pay as a man. I think it is more shameful to pierce yourself trying to pay; trying to prove a point where there is none. It is only shameful to have domestic problems because of demands you cannot meet yet keep indulging. 


Talking about sponsors. I heard of a lady who has so lived above her means she planned the biggest wedding in town. Everything was up to the last detail. Then a month to the wedding, people started coming up with excuses, phones went off, people traveled. Most of these sponsors were guys. You should have seen the frustration. Why can’t a sister leave within her means and plan a wedding which is affordable to her? No. She wanted a wedding that was to match her self-ascribed status, but with no financial muscles to push it through. In the end women like that end up sleeping around to raise up the funds, lie to borrow and do everything a woman about to marry must not even think of. 

A good portion of the blame will surely go the men. How come we do not ask where the money is coming from? And if we do, do we find the answers satisfactory? Your girlfriend is a bank Teller. She drives a $28,000.00 showroom SUV in Ghana; you should be asking questions. You should, especially when she is also doing an MBA and sends money to her mum who is not working. Her apartment is on point in its décor and location, you need to ask questions. She is always on point on her appearance. You need to ask questions. Clearly GHC2,000.00 cannot afford all that. Who is carrying the excess load? Uncle? Cousin? How come all her siblings come to collect money from her? If an uncle is that generous, why is the uncle spending money on the one who is working and not those who are in school and not working? Go to the lab and do a research. The sad thing is men start asking these questions after they are married to the women. 

Enough of the ladies. So we have men who create the impression they can fuel the life style of these women, by borrowing to do so, and those who create the impression they have so  create a social image for themselves. This does not just happen without consequences. There will be demands made upon you based on who you claim to be. You will be viewed and judged based on the things you claim to have. For any woman with taste to accept or reject you, it will be based on the picture you paint of yourself. It is not any woman’s fault that she likes the fine things that once in a while pop up in this plebeian existence of ours; no. If you brandish gold under her nose she will assume you have it. 

Some young men in Ghana do not do this to please only women; they live above their means as a means to belong or gain entry into certain class that they are effectively excluded from. Some also do that because of their obsession with themselves, the sense of fulfillments that comes with knowing that you are the talk of town, the gossip among the boys and of course the ooo and aaa of women. Such ugsome competition with no one but one’s own sick ego.


I feel that every man or woman ought to be bold to question the source of their partner’s income and the income that fuel their lifestyle. Yes, you might be high on it and may not want to rock the boat, in case they wise up and turn the tap off on the portion that drips your way. But if you two are thinking of something serious like marriage, you need to look at your finances well. Many decisions will be made in the light of perceived financial strength and the ability to sustain your marriage will be based on that perception. If it is a floating one with no solid foundation, it is only a matter of time before that hoax is revealed, and once the fake paint wears off and the true colors come out, you may have more than money to deal with; you will have trust as well to deal with. 

It is ok if all that was a show just to impress the woman, but if it is becoming something serious and permanent both of you need to declare your true financial status. This helps manage expectation. We all do things to impress, but there is always an expiry date to the impression version, soon the real you must come out and it must come at a time where if one of you is not comfortable with the feedback of that revelation, it will be safe to withdraw.

A woman need to be bold to ask a guy who works as a Client Relations Executive in an IT firm how he is able to afford all the luxury around him. A man needs to have that piece of information about the woman. Your joy and peace of mind and sustainability of your marriage depends on that information. What if some sugar mummy is paying for all that? What if he is borrowing them? What if he is into something sinister or illegal? What if it is the woman…maybe she has a big boy who is paying and sharing her with you...Don't you want to know?

We are not in competition with anyone in this life. Wealth is good and living large is not a sin. But a wise man is the one who lives on what he can pay; the one that indulges what he can afford. We may all borrow at one point in time or the other, depending on the circumstances, but do not borrow to fuel your prodigality or worse that of someone else. Do not follow someone into destruction. most people have their reality and their façade; scratch a little and you may discover that indeed, not all that glitter is golden. 


 PG Sebastian
Copyrights 2014
      

Friday, 3 January 2014

BUNDLE OF JOY



The doorbell rang twice in rapid succession as if whoever was ringing it was intended on making noise rather than drawing attention to the gate. It rang the third time after a brief pause. Rita could not be bothered. She was too busy with many little things it felt like every other distraction was a road of pins she must tread on bare feet. 

Rita pulled her breast out to feed Jamie. Her breasts were full and overflowing, the evidence of which was the soaked breast pad. It was the fourth time she was feeding little Jamie within the last three hours and that routine was enervating. She felt as though, without bones, her body was being held together on a frame of zeal and the urge not to breakdown. Yet, beyond the stress of hourly feeding through the dead of the night, she has found an incomprehensible solace in the enthralling smiles of her son. There were times regardless of how tired or sleepy she felt, his smiles, from lips that parts economically, yet gaily, set in a face that makes cherubs blush in confusion, became the high no excitant could generate.

Jamie was her first child and she was sure he was the first of the many to come. At two months, he looked too healthy with too much energy it took the fun  out of the whole baby thing. He was not much of a cry baby… unless he pees or poops, or she picks her phone to make a call or goes to the kitchen to cook.

Kitchen! Oh no! Rita, jumped at the thought of it, nearly tripping on some used diapers and soiled burp clothes on the floor and dropping his feeding bottle in the process. She steadied herself and tiptoed to the kitchen through ounces of freshly pumped milk wildly creeping and spreading on the tiled floor. 

She knew she had to pick the diaper bag before it got soaked with milk; yet every second spent trying to curtailed the advancing spilled milk was the gravy that was going to burn the more and probably waste the entire effort she had put in juggling between cooking something for herself and Richard, feeding Jamie, changing his diapers twice, changing her own dress twice because she got peed on by Jamie who sometimes, out of the authority of his little mind decide when to pee on his parents. She had put in so much effort doing little little house chores. Bloody tiring.

Luckily the Gravy had not burnt itself off, having contemplated the act and deciding in its mindlessness that it would be too much an agony to take Rita through. Rita turned the cooker off and grabbed a mop and headed back to the hall. And like everything, there was an opportunity cost. The forgone alternative of having to salvage the gravy was the diaper bag that was drenched in fresh tasteless milk together with all the loose diapers in it. 

Without uttering a word, she mechanically picked the bag and took out those things she could salvage intact and those that must head for the washing machine. Those that could not be reused she dropped them off in the trash can; three diapers, some wipes. 

Jamie for whatever reason, burst into nerve racking screams. Rita had attempted to put him in his car seat so she could quickly wipe the floor; that was her crime. And she paid dearly by carrying him in one hand and attempting to mop with the other hand. 

They say babies are Barbarians. Rita was thinking there could be some truth in that assertion. They have a mind of their own and they act in ways only they can understand. Two things Jamie loves to bits, that is if he even appreciates the true meaning of love; his car seat and his mummy’s melons. Everything else can come later. Nonetheless, the barbarian in him was at work, and all of a sudden, the bed of Roses in his Car seat which is now synonymous to his cot, had become a putrid bed of puke he wanted to avoid at all cost. A baby's car seat is supposed to be in the car, but Jamie's is everywhere he goes.

Rita grabbed a pacifier and stuck it into his mouth to appease him and help him stop the heartbreaking screams. He spat it out with the strength of a prehistoric baby mammoth, lifting his voice to the next notch in a scream that eventually become an eerie shrilling sound. Rita dropped the mop and started rocking him, singing a classic Diana Washington track ‘Mad About A Boy’

Mad about the boy
I know it's stupid to be mad about the boy
I'm so ashamed of it but must admit the sleepless nights I've had
About the boy

On the silverscreen
He melts my foolish heart in every single scene
Although I'm quite aware that here and there are traces of the cad
About the boy

Lord knows I'm not a fool girl
I really shouldn't care
Lord knows I'm not a school girl
In the fury of her first affair

Will it ever cloy
This odd diversity of misery and joy
I'm feeling quite insane and young again
And all because I'm mad about the boy

So if I could employ
A little magic that will finally destroy
This dream that pains me and enchains me
But I can't because I'm mad...
I'm mad about the boy

Jamie, calmed down into a bout of shoulder heaving sobs as his mother sung him a song that was too intense to be a lullaby. Rita was keenly aware it had been over an hour since Jamie last fed so without any fuss, she sat down in the sofa and pulled her breast out again. 

The transformation was instantaneous. Jamie’s eyes were kindled with flames of excitement at the sight of his mum's breasts and the position his mother had placed him. To him, it could mean just one thing…Food! And food it was as he grabbed the sorry breast that used to be the curiosity of men, but in rapid decline in glory and rapid gain in elasticity, was becoming a common sight in public places; thanks to Jamie. He fought over the nipple with himself hitting, biting, wrestling and doing everything to tighten his grip on the nipple and not let go. 

Occasionally the bite got to Rita but she was too tired to bother. She had been running around the house for over four hours doing what takes less than two hours to do. She was tired. Her eyes were fasten on her baby as he sucked, finally, gently, easing the pressure on her breast from the build-up of milk. 

Her phone rang; it was Richard. She picked it and put it on speaker. 

“Hey Baby. Whatsup?” She asked him
“Nothing much ooh. Just calling to check up on you. You sound tired”
“I am tired. And your son won’t let me be. I have spilled all the milk I pumped this morning”
“Oh what happened?”
“I was cooking, and after giving me all the drama in the book, I finally settled down to feed him. It then occurred to me the gravy was still on fire. So I was rushing to go turn off the fire when I tripped on his soiled burp cloth and dropped the feeding bottle in my hand.
“Oh dear.”
“Yea…my bundle of joy ooh”
“I know right….So where is he now?”
“He is sucking quietly after screaming like someone was after his life”
“Charlie. But you are done cooking right?”
“Yea.”
“Ok, you just clean him up, wash down and get some rest. When I come I will deal with the kitchen and the laundry. Leave the front door unlocked so I don’t disturb you when I came and you are asleep.”
“But when are you coming home?”
“The usual time… by 630pm. But I want you to rest. I don’t want to wake you up when I come and you are sleeping.”
“Oh ok”
“Yea…a tired you is a cranky business. I don’t want that.”
“Hmm. Look at this man. Hurry home and relieve me”
“No problem, I will be there in 3 hours.”
“Ok darling”
“Gotta go. You will be fine”
“I am fine. I love you”
“I love  you too.”

And fine she was. Her husband has been of great help. Aside the fact that she does all the nightly wakes and feeding, he has been a great husband to her. He has been supporting her, encouraging her, helping around with the house chores; literally becoming a houseboy for them. She knew if he could even have a paternity leave, he would have taken it just to stay home with her. He has suspended many part of his busy life just to ensure that she and baby were comfortable, vehemently kicking against the notion of a nanny until she was due to resume work. For him, the best thing any parent could give their children is the gift of being there.

Jamie was not interested in the milk; he was interested in holding the breast, playing with it and giving his mother his swaying smiles that could make any woman’s heart melt into pulp.

Rita rocked Jamie the more until he completely calmed down, started dozing off and monotonously sucked on her breast, farting in between and melting into a peaceful sleep. She did not see it; she was busily melting into her own slumber with Jamie clung to her bosom and her hands wrapped about him. She fell asleep with the muted television speaking to her, used diapers and wipes strewn on the tiled floor of the living room, milk partly solidifying on the tiles in patches, a mop stick laying on the floor in a bizarre manner, an air conditioner silently humming its observation away and trying its best to deal with the salmon scent in the room from Rita’s clothes after hours of cooking.

This is the routine Rita had had to live with ever since she gave birth. Hourly feeding of a toddler who is never full, painful blisters on the nipples that will not be allowed to heal, sleep deprivation and general deprivation from doing anything a woman knew how to do before becoming a mother.

But babies are a bundle of Joy and the pain of pregnancy and the pangs of delivery cannot be compared to the joy of holding another life in your hands; a life that will depend on you to nurture it into something that will, in the end, also reproduce itself. A life that will take you down the road of love, patience, sobriety, kindness, providence, maturity, respect, and joy inexplicable.

Babies are a joy bundled into a swaddling cloth for those that have them. Husbands; do well to support your wives in every aspect of the journey. That is the evidence of your unfailing love. Pretending the journey is the woman’s alone is not characteristic of a mature man. 



During this period of considerable drought, keep yourself and preserve your dignity; she did not become pregnant of her own accord. Be faithful to her during the period where she cannot satisfy your desires. It is only a matter of time before she comes back on the road again.

And mothers, you carry a noble title; show responsibility in your motherly duties. Do it without condition.   

PG Sebastian 
Copyrights 2014