Building Relationships We Can All Be Proud Of

Thursday, 4 May 2017


The very first major national Dumsor was in 1998. Bill Clinton was coming to Ghana. I remember when the lights went off in the evenings, area boys would just come out and sit in front of our houses, some will congregate on the street in front of a particular person’s house. We would chat and talk about everything. It was around this time of the year, so it was kind of hot. The cool fresh air outside did a lot of good to us. Sometimes, we would talk and dream for hours. By 10 pm, we would start trickling out into our various dark holes... This was In Takoradi, Anaji Estates (around John Davies' house), as it was so for many neighbourhoods across the country.

We had a life.

It is unsettling that the advent of social media has resulted in huge gullies in real-time face-to-face relationships. We have all been alienated and cut us off from each other. Because of the guy inside my phone, I am not so eager to meet the new guy who moved in next door. Because of the many things I get to see and laugh about on social media, I don't bother to try laughing with my neighbours. Now we give each other highlight in traffic, or give each other strange looks, or completely avoid each other and hurry off to our little 'Intel Inside' machines and send them heartfelt messages of how we saw them in traffic and gave them a light... How we were not sure of their reaction so we looked and walk on... How we were not certain (about what we don’t know) so we did not approach at all.

I lived in Tema for 5 years. My neighbour to the left of my residence was Middle Eastern Looking; I assumed was Lebanese. My neighbour to the right had the similar features. They had children. The children would see me drive inside anytime I came home, and they were playing outside. They would smile at me and I would respond with a curt smile. To my shame, there was not a single time I stopped to give them toffee or ask their names. I would wave at their parents (the men) and drive off...or in. As culturally enlightened a person that I am, I completely avoided interacting with the women who were always clad in their black hijab.

They were my neighbours; the aroma from my kitchen was in their noses, and the moanings from their boisterous lovemaking were in my bedroom. We were spatially close yet socially very far apart. I was closer to the folks inside my phone… folks in London, Takoradi, Accra, even New York... than I was to these families… humans that lived next door.

The day I finally decided to move out, I went to my neighbour to the right, and I told him I was moving out. I actually met him at the entrance to his house. The place was too far from my workplace; it makes me tired. I told him. He could barely understand me (He spoke Arabic…I think). But he said, please come in. He took me in, instructed his wife to hurriedly go cover her face and bring me a glass of water. I nearly turned the water down. These are strangers. I can't drink from them. But the better part of me took it and gulped it down. I looked at his eyes and his hair closely, and I noticed they were a bit different - lighter. Are you Syrian? He said no. Jordanian. I said Ah. I met a Jordanian man once in Europe. We once in a while stay in touch on Facebook. He was very cosmopolitan. We had something to share and smile about. Amman? I asked. He said yes. His eyes beamed like the headlights of a Beamer. Ah, you know about Amman. I answered quietly, I know the entire Middle East well... Of course, I did not have to tell him I am a fan of the various News channels and their different perspectives, and also a fan of History.

In about 5 minutes, my visit was over. This stranger had had enough of my time. I needed to drive off so I could catch up with my friends inside my phone. Those who are in Chicago, Glasgow, and Rome. The guys on my phone who will not be there when I needed someone to help me push my car because my ignition is spurting and my battery won't kick. They won't be there to carry me to the hospital in the event of an emergency, or… borrow salt from when I suddenly discover I am low on salt and I don't have to drive a kilometer or two to buy some.

Over the weekend (just this weekend) I saw the lady who has moved into my next door for the first time after she moved in about two months ago. During Christmas, I managed to say hi to the other neighbour who had been staying around for the past 6 months. I notice them when they come, I just don’t talk to them.  She said she was called Ang... Angela.... Angelina... OK. I will probably have to call her Angie, so I don't embarrass myself. I remember asking her name when we exchanged greetings. I was locking my gate she was opening hers. But most importantly, I was chatting with my friend who lives in Tanzania, that I did not listen to the one next door mention her name. What happened to us? Or it is just me? Why is this happening to us? Maybe it is just me.

Last night when WhatsApp went down, I was asleep. I woke up to see the emptiness in people as they posted online looking for answers. Individuals who live among people in densely populated areas. All they had to do was to walk out and chat with a friend... But alas all their friends live on their phones, and the only way to link up with them was to resort to another lifeless means of reaching out.... FACEBOOK.

And to think that it is not just WhatsApp and social media that is messing our way of life up, but since 1998 till date, no sensible government has been able to fix Ghana’s energy problems. 19 years and counting... 19 years of stories, excuses, and foolish grand plans.

PG Sebastian

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